Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.
The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.
If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.
We can all breathe a little easier this evening knowing that justice triumphed at the trial of Kermit Gosnell. A Philadelphia jury found the abortionist guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for his killing of three infants who were born alive after botched abortions. He was also convicted of a count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of one of his patients as well as more than 200 other charges involving conducting illegal late-term abortions or not observing the mandatory waiting period before performing the procedure. The 71-year-old doctor will now face the sentencing phase of his trial, as the court will decide whether he gets the death penalty or a lengthy prison term.
The trial closes one chapter in the story of this one doctor and the butchery committed at the clinic he ran. But there is more to this controversy than the fate of one person convicted of monstrous crimes. The national media had to be shamed into covering a case that showed the country the dark side to abortion that has rarely been discussed in the decades since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Abortion rights supporters have argued that this is an isolated case and demonstrates the need for support for better health care choices for women. But the question hanging over the country today is whether there are other places where doctors are performing dangerous late-term abortions resulting in similar atrocities.
After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.
The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:
An addendum, if I may, to Peter’s excellent dissection of the New York Times editorial page and Jonathan’s equally excellent dissection of the Times’s journalistically astonishing story on the IRS this morning and, especially, its even more astonishing headline. It should be noted that the Times has, apparently, decided to jettison 180 years of newspaper history and revert to the journalism of the six-penny press that flourished in this country in the early days of the Republic.
To see what I mean, just compare the Times’s egregiously and unabashedly slanted story on this hot-button political issue to today’s story in the Washington Post, which is hardly a wholly-owned subsidiary of the far right. The latter’s headline is, “IRS targeted groups critical of government, documents from agency show.” The Post’s editorial opinion can be summed up in one word, finding the IRS action, “appalling.”
The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.
But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.
President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.
But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.
The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.
Regardless of where the investigation into the IRS’s enormous abuse of power leads, the scandal is already a headache for the Obama administration–and the Democratic Party in general–for the simple reason that it highlights the irresponsibility of the left’s project of ever-expanding and unaccountable big government. The fact that the IRS has been engaged in a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and suppression of conservative non-profits during the Obama presidency has rightly been the focus of reporting on the scandal. But there is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
We now know that the IRS campaign targeted not just explicitly “Tea Party” or other patriotic-sounding organizations, but “ones worried about government spending” and those who “criticize[d] how the country is being run,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. In other words, the IRS targeted anyone who disagreed with the president. Yet as outrageous as this is, there is an element of inevitability to it. The IRS is empowered to silence groups that IRS officials believe may oppose the IRS’s powers–which the IRS is abusing at will for its own financial and political benefit. So they simply used the powers they were given, and which are expanding under ObamaCare, to protect themselves and the administration from their common foes.
The fact that 60 percent of Pakistanis voted in parliamentary elections, thereby defying Pakistani Taliban intimidation, is a good sign. So is the likelihood that Pakistan will see the first succession since the country’s founding in 1947 from one elected government to another after the first government had completed its full term in office.
But we should not expect much change in foreign policy from presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who got his start in politics as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. In the 1990s, during an earlier stint as prime minister, he was a supporter of the Afghan Taliban and has remained cozy with Islamic militant groups ever since; during this campaign he refused to come out strongly against the Pakistani Taliban, which helps to explain why that group did not attack rallies held by his Pakistan Muslim League party. Although Sharif is said to favor better ties with India, his most famous act as prime minister occurred in 1998 when he approved Pakistan’s first nuclear test, thereby ratcheting up tensions with India.
On March 21, 2013, after years of armed struggle, Abdullah Öcalan—Turkey’s imprisoned Kurdish leader—accepted a peace deal proffered by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While Erdoğan will claim credit for winning an agreement to have PKK fighters withdraw, the life expectancy of the deal remains in question because Erdoğan seems unwilling to implement the confederation which Turkey’s Kurds and Öcalan’s followers demand. Such a confederation would not only require political reorganization, but would also demand fundamental reform of Turkey’s arm forces and security services to enable Kurds to serve in the bodies which once oppressed them.
So what is Turkey’s motive for pushing a peace process which the Turkish leadership is not willing to see to the end? In my Kurdistan Tribune column, I cynically suggested two theories: First was Erdoğan’s desire to win the Kurdish vote for any constitutional referendum that could propel Erdoğan into a revamped presidency, offering him even greater powers. And the second was a desire to win the 2020 Summer Olympics, the award of which to Turkey could personally net Erdoğan’s family hundreds of millions of dollars since, regardless of what debt hosting the Olympics might incur to the Turkish people, seldom is there a large project which Erdoğan cannot direct to Çalik Holdings, a company run by his son-in-law.
The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.
Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.
I rarely read editorials by the New York Times anymore, not because they’re liberal (Michael Kinsley is liberal and worth reading) but because they’re banal. I was reminded of this when I actually did read a recent Times editorial, in this case one titled “The Republicans’ Benghazi Obsession.”
The editorial is worth referencing only to make a broader point, which is the dangers that can happen to journalists when they begin to view themselves as on a team rather than as individuals dedicated to unearthing truth (the role of reporters) or deepening the public’s understanding of issues (the role of commentators). I spoke about this issue during the last few minutes of my interview on NPR’s program On Point.
What often happens is ideology trumps detached judgment. So in the case of the Times, a cover-up by the Obama administration is characterized as nothing more than a GOP obsession. A false account of a lethal attack on an American diplomatic outpost given by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the U.N. ambassador, and the president’s press secretary? Not a problem. Because the point isn’t to find out the truth, let alone speak “truth to power.” It’s to be a fierce advocate for a fixed ideology.
For anyone wondering what liberal elites really think about the IRS scandal, the front page of today’s New York Times gave us the answer. After burying the story inside over the weekend, the headline on the front page screamed the fears of the media establishment: “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” The story gives the latest updates on the controversy in which conservative groups were targeted for scrutiny, including the troubling time line about knowledge of the abuses by top leaders of the IRS which gives the lie to their assurances to Congress in 2012 that no such abuses were going on. It also points out that the special treatment was not limited to organizations with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names but extended to those who didn’t like the way the country was being run.
Virtually no one is defending the IRS this morning, but most mainstream commentary on it is stressing that to date there has been no link established between the White House or top Obama administration figures and this scandal. That is true, but as angry as citizens should be about what the tax agency has done, few are asking the crucial questions about it: why did it happen? How is it possible that what amounts to a political purge of conservatives from the roll of tax-exempt organizations was undertaken by what we are told was only a bunch of low-level civil servants in an office in Cincinnati? Can anyone truly believe that a decision to target conservatives and those who were unhappy with a government led by a liberal Democrat was simply a spontaneous event with no political guidance or input?
Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.
Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?
There is an unfortunate pattern in which countries believe that they can utilize al-Qaeda against their enemies, and never suffer the consequence for such cynicism at home. In the early 1990s, for example, Saudis both publicly and privately donated to al-Qaeda. The extremists’ jihad was fine—even honorable—many Saudis believed so long as they fought abroad and not within Saudi Arabia itself. While al-Qaeda was perfectly happy accepting Saudi largesse, within a decade al-Qaeda terrorists were striking at the Kingdom, targeting not only foreign compounds but also seeking to assassinate members of the ruling family.
Syria likewise played with al-Qaeda throughout much of the last decade, turning Syrian territory into an underground railroad for suicide bombers and other terrorists destined for Iraq. The Sinjar documents (analyzed here in an excellent report by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter) show how al-Qaeda transited Syria with the cognizance if not direct assistance of senior Syrian officials. Today, of course, al-Qaeda-linked radicals have turned their guns on the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad played with fire, and his regime got burned.
While almost all liberals and Democrats are still in denial about the implications of the Benghazi scandal, none of them is choosing to defend the IRS officials who targeted Tea Party groups for investigations that would deny them tax-exempt status. Like the White House, the chattering classes are united in decrying the blatantly illegal actions by what we are told were just low-level IRS employees. But the universal condemnation of these acts doesn’t mean that this administration can shrug this story off as easily as that. The IRS investigations aren’t merely a chilling abuse of power. They go straight to the heart of conservative distrust of Barack Obama’s worldview.
Seven days ago, President Obama went to the Ohio State University to give a commencement address during which he heaped scorn on those who oppose his efforts to expand the power of government:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.
But the problem here is not just that a branch of that government has been caught using their almost unlimited power to harass political opponents of the president. It is, as Ross Douthat points out today in the New York Times, that the president and his cheerleaders in the press have spent the last three years demonizing those targeted by the IRS. There was, of course, one element to his indictment of this mentality that he left out: That his own newspaper had actually editorialized in favor of this harassment in March of 2012.
On Friday, I wrote about what seemed to be a solid wall of liberal indifference to the recent revelations about Benghazi. The chorus of “move along, there’s nothing to see here” admonitions from Democrats and liberal journalists lacked credibility. As Peter Wehner said this morning, White House spokesman Jay Carney’s disgraceful “no regrets” performance Friday afternoon showed just how desperate the administration has become. But its determination to keep stonewalling and denying was rooted in a not unreasonable conviction: So long as the Democrats and liberal journalists close ranks behind the president, and more importantly, the reputation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Benghazi will be viewed as a partisan club used by Republicans rather than a genuine scandal.
But while most in the chattering classes are sticking to the new talking points, a prominent exception today marks a significant crack in that heretofore-solid wall of liberal opinion. Conservatives rightly disdain Maureen Dowd as the New York Times’s queen of snark, a writer whose work has long become the byword for pointless nastiness and deeply unserious takes on the news of the day that gives a bad name to political hatchet work. Yet, harking back to her salad days in the 1990s when she earned a reputation as the rare liberal who was willing to challenge Bill Clinton’s cult of personality, Dowd has today written what may be the first sign that Hillary is not going to be able to escape accountability for 9/11/12 and the cover-up that followed that tragedy.
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has declared his candidacy for the forthcoming Iranian election, subject to approval of his candidacy from the Guardian Council, a body that determines which candidates are loyal enough to the supreme leader to appear on the ballot. For example, when Mohammad Khatami won the presidency in 1997, he defeated three other candidates but only after the unelected Guardian Council disqualified 234 other candidates deemed too liberal or insufficiency loyal to the supreme leader. More than 680 candidates have registered to run for next month’s election; most will never have their names appear on a ballot.
The Western press appears both dangerously infatuated with and enthusiastic about Rafsanjani, falsely attributing moderation to the former leader:
On November 28, 2012, during a press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney–in addressing the matter of the talking points the Obama administration used to characterize the attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi–said this:
The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two, of these two institutions were changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility,” because “consulate” was inaccurate.
We now know that statement was false. Enormous substantive changes were made at the request of the State Department. And it’s not simply that changes were made; it’s that the changes did violence to the truth. With each new revision, the story became less and less accurate, so by the time U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday talk shows, a massive fabrication was being peddled. And the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state all participated in the false narrative.
The decision of science superstar Stephen Hawking to join in the boycott of Israel was a major coup for those working to delegitimize the Jewish state. Hawking’s reputation as a man of reason and a media magnet gave a boost to a movement whose triumphs to date have been confined to figures dwelling in the fever swamps of the far left or right. While many Western European intellectuals have bought into the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) appeal, Hawking’s celebrity is such that he may help anti-Israel activists gain traction in the United States where they have had little success in getting mainstream attention or support.
But there is another downside to Hawking’s move. Rather than stiffen the resolve of the pro-Israel community to stand up against the economic war against the Jewish state, seeing a big name join the crowd piling on in this fashion has the effect of discouraging some and causing others to rationalize the boycotters. That’s the upshot of a couple of posts on the subject over at the Open Zion blog at the Daily Beast where left-wing columnists saying the right reaction to the boycott is to agree with its supporters that Israel is in the wrong. Rather than to fight a boycott that even some of them will admit is tainted by anti-Semitism, they council surrender to it. Thus, although adding Hawking to the roster of those who hypocritically and wrongly seek to ostracize Israel, perhaps the most important aspect of this is the way it could lead some who ought to know better to make their peace with the boycott instead of treating it as just another instance of Jew-hatred.
Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.
Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact: