Hillary’s old friend, Sid Vicious

Hillary Clinton doesn’t talk much to reporters and when she does, she reveals as little as possible. But she revealed plenty when she described Sidney Blumenthal as “an old friend.”

It’s hardly surprising Blumenthal is a friend of Hillary’s. For her, his combination of viciousness and weakness for conspiracy theories must be irresistible. What’s interesting is that Clinton admits to the friendship.

I’ve heard it said that Blumenthal’s legendary viciousness was a response to attacks against the Clintons during the 1990s — “the Clinton Wars,” as he calls them — which featured some pretty wild conspiracy allegations against the First Couple. Don’t believe it.

During the 1980s, Blumenthal became alarmed by the rise of conservatism as an intellectual-political movement. As a reporter for the Washington Post, he attacked those whom he viewed as in the vanguard of that movement, especially, it seemed, if they happened to be Jewish. Among his targets were Elliott Abrams (who, Blumenthal thought, didn’t take John Lennon’s death seriously enough), Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and David Horowitz, who writes about Sid’s viciousness here.

Michael Ledeen and his wife Barbara would again experience that viciousness in the late 1990s, when Blumenthal was working for the Clintons. By this time, Barbara had established the Independent Women’s Forum, which ripped Hillary for, among other things, kowtowing to China in spite of the Chinese government’s deplorable treatment of women (e.g., forced abortions).

Blumenthal’s vehicle for attacking the Ledeens, and many other conservatives, was a lawsuit he filed against Matt Drudge, who had accused Sid of beating his wife (Drudge would retract the accusation). Blumenthal had his lawyer subpoena for deposition Michael and Barbara Ledeen and approximately two dozen other critics of the Clintons. He also subpoened the records of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Blumenthal’s purposes were two-fold. First, he wanted to harass the Clintons’ critics. Second, he wanted to conduct a fishing expedition into “the vast right wing conspiracy” that he and Hillary had invented.

Michael Ledeen responded by having the transcript of his deposition, which went badly for Blumenthal, posted online. He also responded with a priceless “open letter” to the other conservatives — “the Blumenthal 25,” as he called them — who had been summoned by Sid’s attorney.

Here, with almost no edits, is the text of that letter:

Dear Friends,

I thought you might be wondering what Sidney Blumenthal has in mind by calling you to testify in his libel suit against Matt Drudge, and since Barbara and I have already been through it, our experiences will help you prepare.

As usual with the bizarre folks that work in the Clinton/Clinton/Gore White House, their announced intentions have very little to do with their real schemes.

Yes, you will be asked whether you know the source of Drudge’s short-lived story that Sidney beat his wife, but that doesn’t take long to answer (we didn’t know anything at all about it), and you should expect several more hours of questioning. These subsequent questions will have to do with you, your family, your friends, your associates, and, if you have written or broadcast anything, with your opinions.

Remember when Sidney stood on the courthouse steps during the Starr grand jury investigation into Clinton’s lies about Monica? Sidney falsely accused the Starr people of asking him about his conversations with journalists. He piously declaimed that he would never have believed, in this country that so values freedom of the press, that he would be asked about such things.

He wasn’t. But he’s going to ask you about your conversations with journalists (no doubt some of you are on the list of 25 because we “outed” you as journalists with whom we had spoken). And he’ll be asking you about anything you ever wrote or said critical of Sidney (with me, he tried to deconstruct the word “consigliere,” since I had suggested that Sidney was one of Clinton’s consiglieri), as well as your secret thoughts about Sidney.

We were both asked if we hated him; I was asked if I thought he was qualified for his White House position (I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but my own view is that Sidney is superbly qualified to work for the Clintons).

You might wonder why he asks all these outrageous questions. I think he sees this as an opportunity to fill in the details of his favorite fantasy: the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

You and I know that it’s madness, but he really believes it (not for nothing do his cohorts call him “Grassy Knoll Blumenthal”), and you’ve made his suspect list. That’s why he wants to know whom you talk to.

Technically, of course, it won’t be Sidney himself, it will be his legal mouthpiece, an attorney from Baltimore named McDaniel (although Sidney and his wife were both present for our depositions, and Sidney passed little scribbles to his lawyer from time to time). McDaniel is one of those attorneys who thinks that you can be shaken and intimidated by the asking of nasty questions in an aggressive manner. McDaniel’s going to make you as uncomfortable as he can; he wouldn’t let Barbara get a glass of water when she got thirsty.

Think of it as an opportunity to show the American people what sort of frauds work in the White House nowadays. Sidney poses as a defender of free and open journalism, but his actions show he’s just the opposite. I’d be grateful if you all insist that the depositions be open to the public (he refused when we requested it). If he says no, then ask that a pool reporter be permitted to attend (he refused that one, too. . .).

And when you’re done, do what we did: Get the transcript from the court stenographer, and post it on the Net. Sidney doesn’t want everyone to know what he’s really up to; he demanded that the judge forbid any future posting. Don’t let him get away with it. Last time I checked the First Amendment was still on the books.

Sidney Blumenthal has re-entered our consciousness just in time to remind us what a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like. The notion of a “new” Hillary Clinton was always implausible. Now, as Rich Lowry says, “it’s impossible to credit ‘the new Hillary’ so long as she is dependent on the same old cronies.”

The Wages of Liberalism Is Death

The Left’s ceaseless attacks on law enforcement are having the predictable effect: elevated homicide rates in the cities where policemen have come under attack. Paul wrote here about out-of-control violence in Baltimore in the wake of the anti-police protests there, and the indictment of six officers. Baltimore’s CBS outlet updated the numbers yesterday:

It’s the deadliest month Baltimore has seen in more than 15 years. More than two dozen shootings over the holiday weekend alone have city police working around the clock. …

From West Baltimore, to the East Side, Govans, to Reservoir Hill, a spike in weekend violence is plaguing all parts of the city. Over the Memorial Day Weekend alone, city police report 28 shootings and 9 homicides.

It is no coincidence, of course, that May was the deadliest month in more than 15 years, i.e. since the 1990s. Violent crime in the U.S. peaked during the mid-1990s, and since then has been cut approximately in half, largely as a result of more aggressive law enforcement techniques that were pioneered in New York City. When the police are seen to be hamstrung, criminals seize the opportunity, as they did decades ago.

Speaking of New York, the Post reports that homicides are up 45%. Mayor de Blasio campaigned on a promise to do away with stop-and-frisk. He has made good on that promise, and the result is more dead New Yorkers:

Murders are way up so far this year in Manhattan, The Post has learned. Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11. That’s an increase of about 45 percent.

Shootings in the borough have also soared. There have been 50 “shooting incidents” since Jan. 1, compared with 31 in the same time period in 2014 — an increase of about 38 percent. Some of these “incidents” involved more than one victim. The number of shooting victims nearly doubled, from 33 to 61.

Congratulations, Mayor de Blasio! De Blasio is now running for president, or something, so maybe someone will fill him in on the numbers next time he passes through the city. (By the way, apropos of nothing in particular, did you know that de Blasio’s real name is Warren Wilhelm? He became Bill de Blasio in 2001, at age 40.)

Another place where there has been a massive attack on law enforcement is Ferguson, Missouri, which is about eight miles from St. Louis. What has happened to the homicide rate in St. Louis? KMOV reports:

Twenty people were killed in St. Louis City throughout the month of April, bringing the yearly total homicide count to 60. …

According to officials, the number of homicides at this point in the year has doubled over the past two years.

St. Louis City Police said crime is up across the board. There has been a 43 percent increase in robberies, 15 percent increase in aggravated assaults and 40 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a gun. Burglary, larceny and car thefts are up a combined 17 percent, according to police.

It is really quite extraordinary. Violent crime rose until the mid-1990s, when the public demanded a widespread police crackdown that proved immensely successful. Homicide rates declined nationwide by around 50%, and there were similar drops in robbery, rape, aggravated assault and other violent crimes. QED: America had learned how to combat violent crime. But now that lesson has been unlearned, as liberals have concluded that police forces are to blame for the ills of inner-city America. The resulting attack on law enforcement has crippled multiple police forces’ ability to fight crime aggressively. So, what has happened? In areas where liberals have seized control and attacked the police, violent crime appears to be returning to its mid-1990s level.

Will liberals ever learn? Don’t hold your breath.

More Thoughts on Today’s Fifth Circuit DAPA Decision

Paul has already written about the order today by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit, declining to lift the injunction the district court in Texas v. United States of America has imposed against implementation of the administration’s DAPA program. I want to emphasize one or two points about the status and significance of this case.

First, while this is not always clear from news accounts, no court has yet gotten anywhere near the merits of the case. The trial court found that the State of Texas and the other plaintiff states are likely to prevail on a single argument on the merits, that is, that the administration did not comply with the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in adopting DAPA. The other issues raised by the states, including the constitutionality of Obama’s executive order and whether DAPA is authorized by any statute, have not yet been addressed in even a preliminary way. That will happen down the road, when the district court holds a trial or hearing on the merits of the case.

Second, the debate so far has been mostly over the states’ standing and the justiciability of the claims asserted by the states–that is, whether the federal courts have the authority to hear those claims. Today’s panel split two to one. The two judges in the majority held that the states do have standing, as they will suffer concrete monetary harm if DAPA is implemented. They held further that Congress has not placed the administration’s actions beyond judicial review.

The dissenting judge, an Obama appointee, argued that DAPA is merely an “internal guidance document” that articulates DHS enforcement policies, and as such is not reviewable by the courts:

I would hold that Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit caselaw forecloses plaintiffs’ arguments in challenging in court this internal executive enforcement guideline. …

For the foregoing reasons, I would grant a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction because I believe the policy articulated in the November 20 memorandum is non-justiciable.

Here is the point: the Obama administration has launched a broad attack on the rule of law, extending over multiple fronts. It has sought not only to bypass Congress, but to reverse and annul federal legislation by executive order. It has directed federal agencies to carry out programs that were never enacted by Congress. All of this is happening at a time when many are questioning whether the entire apparatus of the administrative state–the fourth branch of government–is consistent with the Constitution.

At this moment in history, it is imperative that the federal courts be willing to review the administration’s executive orders (and those of any future administration) on the merits; that is, to determine whether they are constitutional and authorized by statute. The already-tangled history of Texas v. United States of America shows how doctrines of standing and justiciability can raise significant obstacles to such review. Judicial oversight is at best a cumbersome process, but in the months and years to come it is essential that judicial oversight be allowed to function.

Fifth Circuit denies stay of the injunction against Obama’s executive amnesty

A panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Obama administration’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction against implementation of its Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) pending appeal. The Court also declined to narrow the injunction’s scope. As readers will recall, Judge Hanen issued the injunction on the view that the government is likely to lose the lawsuit challenging DAPA

The Court of Appeals denied the government’s motion because it concluded that “the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction.” The decision was 2-1, with the Republican appointed judges voting to affirm and the Obama appointed judge voting to reverse.

The opinions are here. The majority, per Judge Smith, undertakes a long, persuasive slog through the factors that apply when a party seeks to stay an injunction pending appeal. As such, there is no single “money quote.”

The majority’s discussion of “prosecutorial discretion” — the basis upon which Team Obama purports to justify granting amnesty and eligibility for benefits to millions of illegal immigrants — is illuminating, though. Here is what Judge Smith had to say about this issue:

Some features of DAPA are similar to prosecutorial discretion: DAPA amounts to the Secretary’s decision—at least temporarily— not to enforce the immigration laws as to a class of what he deems to be low-priority aliens.

If that were all DAPA involved, we would have a different case. DAPA’s version of deferred action, however, is more than nonenforcement: It is the affirmative act of conferring “lawful presence” on a class of unlawfully present aliens. Though revocable, that new designation triggers eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available.

“[A]lthough prosecutorial discretion is broad, it is not ‘unfettered.’” Declining to prosecute does not convert an act deemed unlawful by Congress into a lawful one and confer eligibility for benefits based on that new classification. Regardless of whether the Secretary has the authority to offer
those incentives for participation in DAPA, his doing so is not shielded from judicial review as an act of prosecutorial discretion.67 And as shown above, neither the preliminary injunction nor compliance with the APA requires the Secretary to prosecute deportable aliens or change his enforcement priorities.

This logic seems unassailable. Unless you’re a partisan, I don’t see how you reject it.

The Justice Department is said to be “reviewing its options.” They include attempting to get the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider the panel’s ruling.

Both the State of Texas and the Obama administration have signaled their willingness to take the case to the Supreme Court. That Court would be unlikely to decide it until 2016 — a presidential election year.

Another option would be simply to wait for a full hearing of the government’s appeal of the district court’s underlying decision, which is scheduled for July. Jonathan Adler points out, however, that this appeal will be heard by same panel rendered today’s decision, which provides “a fairly good indication of how the court is likely to rule.”

I’m not personally up-to-date with the Fifth Circuit anymore, but it is said to a be pretty conservative court. Thus, Adler believes the Obama administration might well proceed directly to the Supreme Court.

We will probably have more to say about today’s decision, including perhaps the dissent.

Venezuela Circles the Drain

We have chronicled the accelerating decline of Venezuela’s economy under its narco-socialist rulers. When a country can neither produce nor buy toilet paper, you know the end is approaching. Now, Venezuela’s international reserves are disappearing, as its currency implodes. Dimitra DeFotis reports at Barron’s:

Russ Dallen, who contributes to a newsletter for investors, and writes about Latin America, writes today that “Venezuela’s situation continues to unravel at increasing speed as the bolivar tumbled 30% over just the last week, while the country’s international reserves simultaneously hit a new 12-year low, closing at $17.5 billion.” He says the weak currency and decline in reserves means the country is “essentially running on fumes.” He writes:

“Venezuela’s reserves have now fallen 21% since the beginning of the year, but more importantly $6.7 billion from their high just 2 months ago – a high that not only included $2.8 billion from mortgaging Citgo, $1.9 billion from the selling of $4 billion of oil receivables from the Dominican Republic, and the transfer of previously unreported China Fonden funds into the reserves.”

Venezuela’s regime is long past eating its seed corn; now it’s selling the furniture. Will Maduro’s government default on the country’s debt, some of which carries 30% interest? Moody’s rates Venezuelan debt as “speculative and subject to very high credit risk.”

We believe the sovereign will likely be able to close its 2015 external funding gap. Nevertheless, should oil prices remain at current levels through 2016, the sovereign could run down its external assets, heightening the probability of a default despite the authorities’ strong willingness to meet debt payments…

Total international reserves have fallen steeply in recent months, to $17.9 billion in mid-May, their lowest level since 2003.

The IMF is helping to keep Venezuela’s economy afloat, and if oil prices rise, the Maduro regime might be able to buy a little more time. But the end game is obvious: economic collapse.

Hollywood’s Chavez/Maduro acolytes haven’t been heard from for a while, have they? Maybe Sean Penn would like to contribute some much-needed hard currency to Venezuela’s coffers. Just kidding. More likely, the Hollywood left would join Maduro in blaming Venezuela’s decline on “wreckers” and “saboteurs.” But the only wrecker is socialism, and the only saboteurs are the leftist elite who suck out the country’s remaining wealth.

STEVE adds: I have been meaning to post this piece (PDF file) from economist Steve Hanke of the University of Maryland and the Cato Institute, which tells the same story and has some nifty charts showing Venezuela’s precipitous decline. Hanke reports:

I estimate Venezuela’s annual inflation rate at 335%. That’s the highest rate in the world. For those holding bolivars, it amounts to: “no rule of law, bad money.” It is worth noting that currency debasement and inflation robbery were not always the order of the day in Caracas. During the decade of the 1950s, the average annual inflation rate was only 1.7% — not much above Switzerland’s.

In the 1960s, inflation in Venezuela fell to a 1.2% average annual rate. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Venezuela experienced a decade of double-digit annual inflation. Today, inflation, contrary to the official numbers and amateur estimates, has soared well into triple-digit territory.

The Law of Unintended Consequences Hits Liberals Again

We’ve noted here many times the economic illiteracy of the minimum wage, and even the media are picking up on the perverse effects the $15 minimum wage is having on low-margin businesses such as San Francisco comics shops or fast food restaurants installing touch screens to replace counter clerks (and how long before we have robotic burger flippers?), but this won’t deter liberals.

When I explain to students the 1923 case of Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, the case where the Supreme Court rightly struck down Washington DC’s minimum wage, it is easy to get students to realize that the standard line about this case—that it is an example of an ideological Court in thrall to some cartoonish laissez faire doctrine of unlimited individual liberty—is completely wrong. For one thing, the minimum wage only applied to women, in occupations such as operating a hotel elevator that were not in any way hazardous to their health or safety, thus failing the “police power” test that upheld many other kinds of labor regulations going back into the 19th century. The effect of having a minimum wage for women but not for men was obvious—it resulted in the loss of employment opportunities for women, since you could hire a man for the same job at half the cost. (It is amusing, by the way, to watch liberals and especially feminist legal scholars strain to attack a ruling that upheld women’s equality in the workplace. The contortions are fantastic and hilarious.) This is no more than a price-fixing law, the Court ruled. (For more from the opinion, see below.*)

This is all a long preface to a story in today’s New York Times about how—surprise, surprise!—politically-mandated “family friendly” policies are backfiring everywhere, and reducing wages and employment opportunities for women:

In Chile, a law requires employers to provide working mothers with child care. One result? Women are paid less.

In Spain, a policy to give parents of young children the right to work part-time has led to a decline in full-time, stable jobs available to all women — even those who are not mothers.

Elsewhere in Europe, generous maternity leaves have meant that women are much less likely than men to become managers or achieve other high-powered positions at work.

Family-friendly policies can help parents balance jobs and responsibilities at home, and go a long way toward making it possible for women with children to remain in the work force. But these policies often have unintended consequences.

Heck, a “conservative jurist” from the 1920s could have told you this. More:

Unlike many countries, the United States has few federal policies for working parents. One is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides workers at companies of a certain size with 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Women are 5 percent more likely to remain employed but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before it became law, according to an unpublished new study by Mallika Thomas, who will be an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University. She attributed this partly to companies that don’t take a chance on investing in the careers of women who might leave. “The problem ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized,” she said.

I’m sure liberals will follow the evidence here. Settled science, and all that.

* More from Justice George Sutherland’s majority opinion in Adkins:

But the ancient inequality of the sexes, otherwise than physical, as suggested in the Muller case has continued “with diminishing intensity.” In view of the great—not to say revolutionary—changes which have taken place since that utterance, in the contractual, political and civil status of women, culminating in the Nineteenth Amendment, it is not unreasonable to say that these differences have now come almost, if not quite, to the vanishing point. In this aspect of the matter, while the physical differences must be recognized in appropriate cases, and legislation fixing hours or conditions of work may properly take them into account, we cannot accept the doctrine that women of mature age, sui juris, require or may be subjected to restrictions upon their liberty of contract which could not lawfully be imposed in the case of men under similar circumstances. To do so would be to ignore all the implications to be drawn from the present day trend of legislation, as well as that of common thought and usage, by which woman is accorded emancipation from the old doctrine that she must be given special protection or be subjected to special restraint in her contractual and civil relationships. In passing, it may be noted that the instant statute applies in the case of a woman employer contracting with a woman employee as it does when the former is a man.

Gosh, sounds almost like someone from NOW wrote this. Moreover, this reminds me of a lesson students also take to: it actually pays to read complete Supreme Court opinions, rather than swallowing the gross mischaracterizations that appear in superficial liberal textbooks.

Min Wage Replacements copy

Debating the death penalty

With the left (and some conservatives) now intently focused on vastly reducing the prison population and curbing the police, the attention of the “civil rights” movement has shifted away from the death penalty. African-Americans encounter the police and our prisons every day; executions are rare.

But more thoughtful, less agenda-driven observers remain focused on the death penalty. George Will argued against it last week. The Washington Post’s editors do so today.

I find it difficult to debate the death penalty. For me, the issue comes down to whether one’s sensibilities (ethical or aesthetic, take your pick) are more offended by the state taking a life or by a cold-blooded murderer (let’s say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to take an extreme case) not having his life taken. These days, the latter scenario bothers me more, but I can’t refute those who are more bothered by the former.

There are, to be sure, empirical issues that can be debated. They include the extent to which today’s sparing use of the death penalty deters murderers and the degree of the risk that the sparingly applied death penalty will take the life of anyone later determined to be innocent. I don’t find these issues dispositive, but others might well.

Bill Otis has no difficulty debating the death penalty; in my estimation, he does it brilliantly. His response to George Will is an excellent example. Here is most of Bill’s argument:

Will, often and astutely a fan of history, tells us that, by imposing the death penalty, democratic government is asserting “majesty” and “infallibility.” It is asserting neither.

George Washington — known for, among many other things, turning down majesty — not only supported but used capital punishment, as did Lincoln and FDR. It remains on the books today, as it has for all but four years of our distinctly non-regal history, not because Americans think the government is majestic, but because the people themselves overwhelmingly support it. According to Gallup, 60% or more of the public has supported the death penalty for 40 straight years.

And no one takes the government to be infallible. No one thought it infallible (merely plainly in the right) when the government declared wars, including WWII, that killed exponentially more people, and exponentially more innocent people, than the death penalty ever has. We fought, knowing in advance that thousands would die — many of them adventitiously or from sheer stupidity or mistake — because the nation judged it worth the candle.

That is the test Will misses. The question is not whether X government program is infallible. The question is whether, knowing that it (and all other fallibility) cannot be escaped, the risk of error is so small and the reward to justice so large (as with Tsarnaev and McVeigh) that the benefits are worth the risks.

Much of this answers Will’s next objection — that if we execute an innocent man, the error is irretrievable. That is true, of course, but if (for example) we continue to travel by train, innocent people are certain to die, as they did two weeks ago, and just as irretrievably.

No one suggests, however, that we give up train travel, although it unlike justice is merely a convenience. What they suggest is that we do what we can to make it safer. They propose this although the improvements are likely to cost a lot of money and still won’t make it infallibly safe.. . .

[I]n public policy, everything is a matter of balance — balancing costs, benefits, and trade-off’s. Surprisingly, Will seems to miss this entirely, and thus seems to take the possibility of executing an innocent person as an absolute barrier to capital punishment, rather than merely an extremely serious cost.

Finally, Will points to not a single execution of an innocent person in the last fifty years. That’s because, so far as any neutral authority had been able to determine with any degree of assurance, there has been none. That does not make the risk of executing an innocent disappear, but it does make it vanishingly small.

The deterrent value of the death penalty is much debated; the majority of (but not all) studies say that it does have deterrent value, although (as Will correctly points out) not as much as it would if imposed more frequently.

But to say that it would have more deterrent value if imposed more often is an odd argument that it should not be imposed at all. It also simply walks past the two more frequently cited reasons in its favor: That, for some especially grotesque murders, it’s the only punishment that fits the crime; and that it’s the only certain means of incapacitating the killer.

Will does not discuss, for example, what we are to do with a psychopath who kills once, is given a life term in prison, then kills a guard in an escape attempt (or a prisoner from a rival gang, or some weaker inmate who refuses sexual favors). Just as there is no infallible judicial process, there is no infallible prison security. What is the just punishment in such a case? Loss of canteen privileges?

In my opinion, the death penalty is the just punishment in these and certain other cases.