Hillary lectures reporters, gets standing ovation

Hillary Clinton told a crowd of journalists that she wants a new beginning in her relations with the press. Then, to prove her sincerity she entertained questions for 20 minutes.

Just kidding. Clinton did talk of a new beginning, but she took no questions, according to the National Journal.

The assemblage of hard-nosed reporters was clearly put off by Clinton’s unwillingness to take questions. Accordingly, Clinton received only polite applause when she finished her remarks.

Just kidding. Charmed by Clinton’s one-liners (almost certainly written by someone else), the journalists gave her a standing ovation.

In her remarks, Clinton offered the reporters tough love, or something. She called on them to focus on “serious” and “substantive” journalism going forward.

Translation: Don’t burden my presidential campaign by discussing anything that goes to my character or integrity.

Name the Republican politician who would get a standing ovation from journalists having just, in effect, criticized them for being insufficiently serious and substantive.

Clinton has received well-deserved criticism from a few journalists for her use, exclusively, of a private email account to transact State Department business, a violation of the rules. But by and large, the mainstream media continues to run interference for her.

It does so, for example, by pretending that Clinton differs significantly from Elizabeth Warren and other leftists on substantive issues. In this way, it can present Clinton as essentially a moderate — a characterization that, if it sticks, will undoubtedly help her in the 2016 general election.

Today’s Washington Post features a story called (in the paper edition) “Clinton: Problems aren’t fixed in ideological bunkers.” In the article, Ann Gearan lends credence to Clinton’s self-serving claim that she’s a pragmatic problem-solver who wants to “reach across [ideological] divides and come up with some solutions.”

Yet, the only issue Gearan cites as to which separation exists between Clinton and her party’s left wing is free trade. That’s not nothing, but neither is it anything to build a religion around.

One can build a religion around income inequality. In fact, radicals have done so for decades.

In her speech decrying “ideological bunkers,” Clinton “came back repeatedly to the issue of income inequality that is the touchstone of her own party’s left flank,” as Gearan reports to her credit. But this reporting comes deep into her story. The headline and the opening paragraphs reinforce the image of Clinton, the moderate problem solver, based on a speech that, in substance, promotes leftist orthodoxy.

This kind of reporting is worth thousands of standing ovations. But to me, the standing ovation is a tip-off that Clinton will receive thousands of instances of this kind of reporting.

Congress’s Spies in Tel Aviv

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.” Sounds like a blockbuster, but this is one of those less-there-than-meets-the-eye stories. It begins:

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said.

But what did Israel’s “spying” consist of? Despite the Journal’s headline, it is not clear that the Israelis spied on the U.S. at all:

The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel [! -- Ed.] intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.

That is not, obviously, evidence of spying, let alone spying on the U.S.

Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said. …

While U.S. officials may not be direct targets, current and former officials said, Israeli intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.

It is not exactly page one news that Israel spies on Iran. What is noteworthy here is not that the Israelis wanted to know what was going on in the negotiations with Iran, but rather that the Obama administration tried to prevent them from finding out.

Which put Israel in the same position as Congress: Obama didn’t want Senators and Congressmen to know what was being negotiated, either. What really made the administration angry was that the Israelis shared information about the negotiations with Congress:

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

So the Obama administration’s real enemy isn’t Iran, or even Israel–it is Congress! The Journal describes what the Israelis passed on to lawmakers:

Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides information the White House was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges, devices used to process nuclear material, said congressional officials who attended the briefings.

The Israeli officials told lawmakers that Iran would also be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale, meeting participants and administration officials said. Israeli officials said such fuel, which under the emerging deal would be intended for energy plants, could be used to one day build nuclear bombs.

The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.

One can debate the political merits of the path chosen by Prime Minister Netanyahu, which included his speech to a joint session of Congress. But what seems beyond dispute is that the Israelis’ blowing the whistle on the status of the negotiations, which was followed by the open letter posted by Tom Cotton and 46 other Senators, has made it difficult if not impossible for the Obama administration to make a terrible deal with Iran, force it down the throats of the French and other allies, and then spring it on Congress and the American people as a fait accompli. Which is exactly what the Obama administration had planned on doing.

Is Ted Cruz’s limited experience in major office a serious concern?

Ted Cruz’s announcement that he’s running for president was greeted by some Republicans with a warning against electing a first-term Senator to our highest office. Didn’t we just try this? How has it worked out?

I agree that, other things being about equal, a governor (or former governor) is preferable to a Senator, when it comes to fitness for the presidency. And an experienced Senator is preferable to an inexperienced one.

But it’s a mistake to suppose that Barack Obama’s ruinous presidency has anything much to do with the fact that he entered the Oval Office after only a few years in the Senate and with no relevant administrative experience.

The supposition rests on the premise that, because he was still wet behind the ears when elected, Obama wasn’t competent to handle his big new job. However, to paraphrase Michael Dukakis, the overriding problem with President Obama is ideology, not (lack of) competence.

There have, of course, been a few major instances in which the Obama administration conducted itself incompetently. The Obamacare roll-out is the most notorious. But would the bureaucracy have performed better if Obama had served an extra six years in the Senate? I don’t think so.

Would gubernatorial experience have helped? Perhaps. But one the least successful roll-outs of a state exchange occurred in Oregon, whose governor was in his third term. Maryland’s roll-out was nearly as bad. Our governor was in his second term, following two terms as mayor of Baltimore.

If we look objectively at the big picture, Obama has proven competent in pursuing his ambitious, transformative agenda. He may well succeed in overhauling our health insurance system and eventually, by extension, health care in America. He may well succeed in granting amnesty to several million Americans without the approval of Congress — a feat even he once considered not doable. And his administration has advanced left-wing causes through under-the-radar rules and regulations on multiple fronts.

When it comes to foreign affairs, Obama hasn’t just transformed our policy, in important respects he has stood it on its head. The consequence, to be sure, is that the U.S. has lost its influence, especially in the Middle East, which is falling apart.

But our loss of influence is mainly the product of ideologically-based decisions, not incompetence. Obama is ambivalent at best on the question of whether U.S. influence in the Middle East is desirable, and he’s certain that he doesn’t want to pay the military price required to maintain our influence.

Perhaps the best evidence that ideology, not competence, is Obama’s problem can be found in his second term. Four years in the White House should outweigh twice that amount of experience in the Senate. But Obama’s second term has, if anything, been more misguided than his first.

If incompetence born of inexperience were the problem, we would expect Obama’s performance to have improved (Jimmy Carter seemed to see the error of some of his ways as his one term in office progressed). Because ideology is the problem, Obama has doubled-down on his disastrous policies.

If Ted Cruz is as successful as Obama in pushing America in his ideologically-preferred direction, conservatives will applaud, provided he does so without assaulting the Constitution.

Mounting Campus Backlash, The Sequel

It seems there’s a new protest against campus political correctness from a left-liberal academic appearing almost every day, and today’s entry comes from Todd Gitlin, who got his board certification as head of the SDS back in the 1960s. (He’s now a professor at Columbia.)

Writing at Tablet, Gitlin echoes much of what was said in yesterday’s notice here about the growing backlash from liberals. Gitlin is especially harsh on “trigger warnings”:

Which brings me to the subject of “trigger warnings.” This term does not refer to apprehension about the prospect of guns brought onto campus. It has to do with the subject matter and tenor of texts and films thought, rightly or wrongly, to be frightening. It’s argued that students who’ve been sexually assaulted are particularly vulnerable to flashbacks from unhealed traumas. At Columbia, students read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the required Literature Humanities course (known familiarly as Lit Hum), which runs through the first year of the College’s Core Curriculum. Last year, one student advocate of trigger warnings scoured the entire Lit Hum syllabus and counted “80 instances of assault” in Ovid alone. There are rapes, there are more rapes, and there are attempted rapes. Partly to protect the vulnerable and partly on ideological principle, trigger-warning advocates want to mandate advance alerts in class. Teachers should be required to signal beforehand—Caution: Rapes Ahead.

Having annotated the entire curriculum, this student noted that in the assigned Lit Hum texts “mass rapes were almost always directed at a conquered group.” Who was responsible for these awful choices? she asked, and answered that Columbia’s once-overwhelmingly-dominant white males had compiled a virtual prayer book to enshrine the works—and privileges—of their group.

Put aside for the moment scholarly disputes about the influences of Egypt and Phoenicia on the ancient Greeks. Would the skin color or culture of the Athenians matter to anyone ? If the Greeks themselves had been people of color, would it then be permissible to read The Odyssey? The subject invites a host of absurdities, not least a penchant for rhetorical overkill. This student cited above went on to write: “Our intellectual inheritance is … often shoved down our throats by the administration as absolute and inalienable—we’re asked to be ‘critical readers,’ sure, but rarely to critically examine the content of the texts themselves.” If intellectual force-feeding is what this student experienced, he or she should have her tuition refunded. It’s hard for me to imagine that any of the 60-odd preceptors, faculty, and graduate students who teach the various 22-student sections of the Core command the uncritical ingestion of sacred texts. (I teach sections of another Core course, Contemporary Western Civilization, myself, I must disclose. I don’t teach that way.)

And like Judith Shulevitz in her New York Times article over the weekend, Gitlin thinks this all speaks ill of the character of millennials:

And on this score, it’s hard to resist the thought that overwrought charges against the trigger-happy curriculum are outgrowths of fragility, or perceptions of fragility, or of fears of fragility running amok. When students are held, or hold themselves, to be just minutes away from psychic disaster, is it because they know “real” fragility is sweeping across the land? Or has there arisen a new generational norm of fragility, against which fortifications are needed? Whatever the case, angst about fragility cuts across political lines and crosses campus borders. Shall we therefore stop talking about rape, lynching, death camps? Shall we stop reading the annals of civilization, which are, among other things, annals of slaughter? I was talking the other day to a Columbia sophomore, Tony Qian, who put the point pithily: “If you’re going to live outside Plato’s cave, you’ve got to be brave.” What ever happened to, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free”? Not comfortable—free.

POSTSCRIPT: Right after I posted this, I came across Walter Russell Mead, offering similar reflections on his American Interest site:

These pieces, and others like them, are signs of a pushback against the infantilization of the university. But there’s still a long way to go before the cocoon culture rebalances itself—and the forces of prudish repression and PC lunacy remain strong. . .

Between the infantilizing of campus culture and the growing global harshness, something has to give and—hint, hint—it won’t be the real world. The worst thing about the current climate of PC stupidity and mandatory cocooning on campus isn’t the ugly repression it entails. The destruction of free speech and free debate in the institutions that ought to be the citadels of intellectual liberty is a terrible thing and a horrible betrayal of everything universities are supposed to be about. But there is yet a worse consequence: the catastrophic dumbing down and weakening of a younger generation that is becoming too fragile and precious to exist in the current world—much less to fight the real evils and dangers that are growing.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.

Democrats and their masters

The Democratic Party appears to take the sacramental view of abortion. Any act that might tend to deter an abortion is to be resisted. It’s the abortion equivalent of the positive good school of slavery. If the party as a whole doesn’t subscribe to this view, its funders certainly must.

Thus the dramatic turnaround in Democratic support for the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with broad bipartisan support. Yet even the bill’s Democratic supporters in committee, such as Minnesota’s own lighter-than-air Senator Amy Klobuchar (a cosponsor of the bill) and angry former comedian Senator Al Franken, turned against it.

What happened? Politico reported on the action behind the scenes in “How abortion politics scuttled a human-trafficking bill.” Politico reports: “Democrats’ explanation [of their newfound opposition to the bill] shifted throughout the week.” Politico leaves the intelligent reader to draw his own conclusions. (Guy Benson has more here and here.)

Committee Democrats claim that they were shocked, shocked to discover the Hyde restriction on abortion funding in the bill. They didn’t know what they were doing when they voted for it! They didn’t mean it.

Klobuchar and other committee Democrats blame their staffers for failing to inform them that the bill included the language. Beyond that Klobuchar has not strayed.

Franken goes further. He says he regrets not seeing the language and regrets his vote for the bill. Now that’s contrition. (As for me, I just regret that he is one of Minnesota’s Senators, but I regret it deeply.)

New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has only cast several votes on the bill supporting the Democratic filibuster. The Manchester Union Leader traces her votes supporting the filibuster of the bill to the marching orders of her biggest supporter: Emily’s List. A Union Leader editorial argues:

Just before the bill was to come up for a vote, the abortion lobby noticed that it contained a long-standing provision, “routinely included in spending bills,” as Politico reported, called the Hyde amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of elective abortions. The call went out: block the bill.
The pro-abortion organization Emily’s List attacked the bipartisan bill as Republican legislation too “extreme” to pass. Emily’s List is Shaheen’s top campaign donor. Shaheen dutifully voted to filibuster the bill, preventing it from being brought up for a vote.

In last year’s Senate race, Emily’s List was Shaheen’s largest supporter, directing $250,231 to her campaign, most from members, $10,000 from the group’s political action committee, according to Opensecrets.org. Since 2001, Emily’s List has directed $1,151,534 to Shaheen. For perspective, her next-largest financier, the League of Conservation Voters, was responsible for $125,341.

In a statement on Tuesday, Shaheen outrageously spun her vote as a principled stand for women’s health. “Human trafficking is too important an issue to be stalled because of unrelated measures aimed at restricting women’s access to healthcare,” she said.

But of course nothing in the bill restricts women’s access to health care. It only prohibits federal taxpayer funding of elective abortions, a broadly popular position…

Shaheen’s full statement on the bill is posted here.

As the Union Leader suggests, Shaheen’s statement is a joke. Fortunately for these Democrats, trafficking in cynicism remains legal in all 50 states.

The world turned upside down, Obama style

As he works toward a deal blessing Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has undertaken a full-throated assault on Israel. The Obama administration treats America’s enemies as friends and friends as enemies. It is Obama’s version of “the world turned upside down.”

In his column today Rich Lowry draws on the metaphor of the world turned upside down to criticize these developments. Rich’s column is posted at Jewish World Review as “When the world’s best hope is France.”

Bret Stephens approaches these developments as Orwellian inversions. His Wall Street Journal column is “The Orwellian Obama presidency” (accessible here via Google). Stephens draws on the same metaphor: “There is an upside-down quality to this president’s world view.” But Orwell provides his theme: “To adapt George Orwell’s motto for Oceania: ‘Under Mr. Obama, friends are enemies, denial is wisdom, capitulation is victory.’” (“Freedom is slavery” also works for Obama, but is’s slightly off point here.)

Michael Goodwin warns of Obama: “Now he’s coming for Israel.” Obama’s antipathy toward Israel must be deep-seated and long-standing. Obama’s mainstream media adjunct has nevertheless dutifully touted Obama’s professed reasons of the moment for moving away from Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu purportedly said one or two things not to Obama’s liking in the course of his campaign for reelection, but these are obvious pretexts for Obama’s hostility. Obmaa means to reorient the United States toward the genocidal maniacs in Tehran.

Why not the worst? Yesterday Senator Tom Cotton gave a short course on the waywardness of Obama’s world-turned-upside-down approach toward Iran in a pointed speech on the Senate floor.

Via Washington Free Beacon.

Justice Kennedy’s testimony about gridlock harkens back to Obamacare case

Justice Kennedy made an interesting comment today when he testified to Congress regarding the Supreme Court’s budget. Responding to a question about politically charged issues before the Court, Kennedy stated:

We think an efficient, responsive legislation and executive branch in the political system will alleviate some of that pressure. We routinely decide cases involving federal statutes and we say, well, if this is wrong the Congress will fix it.

But then we hear that Congress can’t pass a bill one way or the other. That there is gridlock.

SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT SHOULD AFFECT THE WAY WE INTERPRET THE STATUTES. THAT SEEMS TO ME A WRONG PROPOSITION. WE HAVE TO ASSUME THAT WE HAVE THREE FULLY FUNCTIONING BRANCHES OF THE GOVERNMENT, GOVERNMENT THAT ARE COMMITTED TO PROCEED IN GOOD FAITH AND WITH GOOD WILL TOWARD ONE ANOTHER TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF THIS REPUBLIC.

(Emphasis added.)

Law professor Josh Blackman ties this statement to an exchange that occurred during oral argument in King v. Burwell, the case which calls on the Court to decide whether Obamacare provides for subsidies in the federal exchange. Addressing the possibility that, if the Court finds such subsidies not provided for, Congress could “fix” Obamacare by mandating them, the government’s attorney (Solicitor General David Verilli) argued that “this Congress” would not make this fix.

Here is the exchange:

JUSTICE SCALIA: What about ­­ what about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue.

I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, this Congress, Your Honor, I ­­ ­­

(Laughter.)

You know, I mean, of course, theoretically ­­ of course, theoretically they could.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I don’t care what Congress you’re talking about. If the consequences are as disastrous as you say, so many million people without insurance and what not, yes, I think this Congress would act.

It’s likely, I think, that Justice Kennedy’s testified as he did today at least in part with King v. Burwell in mind. But that doesn’t mean Kennedy signaled an intention (or an inclination) to vote in favor of the plaintiffs, who are challenging the grant of subsidies in the federal exchange. At most, it signals that Kennedy wouldn’t reject that result out of fear of that millions will lose their insurance and Congress won’t do anything about it.

During oral argument, Kennedy signaled a concern that might cause him to vote in favor of the government. His concern was that a statute that would potentially destroy the insurance system in states that chose not to establish their own exchanges –- namely the Obamacare statute construed as not providing subsidies in the federal exchange — might amount to an unconstitutional attempt to coerce states to establish exchanges.

Kennedy’s expression of this concern led to speculation that he might strain to construe Obamacare as not “coercing” the states to establish exchanges, and therefore not withholding subsidies to residents of states that opt not to have exchanges. I discussed this matter here and here.

Kennedy’s testimony today about the Court’s presumption that Congress will act to fix major problems does not pertain to the concern he expressed during oral argument. The testimony is interesting, but when it comes to forecasting the outcome of King v. Burwell, I wouldn’t read much into it