There’s ominous (is there any other kind?) news from North Korea. South Korean intelligence has reported that Kim Jong-un has executed some fifteen of his top officials, including the vice minister of forestry. Granted, as satraps of the world’s cruelest regime, it’s hard to gin up much sympathy for the dead. But, unfortunately, it does indicate that the dauphin Kim is every bit as brutal as his father and grandfather were. They would be so proud.
The news also underlines the fact that we’re – alas – highly unlikely to see any kind of Perestroika, economic or political, under Kim Jong-un’s leadership. There are two reasons for this. For one, Kim has evidently taken to quite literally executing officials who lobby for reforms. He appears to be fully committed to maintaining his country’s ghastly system as it is.
Secondly, as the perceptive North Korea analyst Andrei Lankov has pointed out, the incentives facing North Korea’s intelligentsia are aligned in such a way as to discourage reform. After all, as soon as the regime lets in even a bit of daylight, it will plant the seeds of its own demise. That is to say, if the North Korean people were to find out how they lived compared to people in the rest of the world (let alone in South Korea), there’s little doubt that Kim and his henchmen would get the Ceausescu treatment. Deservedly.
Hillary Clinton is against Barack Obama's trade policy, the Huffington Post reports:
Hillary Clinton is opposed to a critical piece of the Obama administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would give corporations the right to sue sovereign nations over laws or regulations that could potentially curb their profits.
The policy position is contained in her book Hard Choices, and was confirmed to HuffPost by a spokesperson for her presidential campaign. Obama and congressional Democrats are locked in a bitter public feud over TPP -- a deal between 12 Pacific nations -- with much of the controversy derived from concerns it will undermine regulatory standards.
Clinton writes in her book:
"Currently the United States is negotiating comprehensive agreements with eleven countries in Asia and in North and South America, and with the European Union. We should be focused on ending currency manipulation, environmental destruction, and miserable working conditions in developing countries, as well as harmonizing regulations with the EU. And we should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors." (Emphasis added.)
Obama's TPP deal would be enforced by a process known as "investor-state dispute settlement," which allows foreign companies to attack domestic laws or regulations before an international tribunal if they believe those rules unfairly curb investment returns. Those tribunals can't directly overturn laws, but they can impose hefty fines on the countries they rule against.
When President Obama visited Jamaica in early April, he held a town hall meeting with "Young Leaders of the Americas" at University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. The president made remarks and took questions for only about 75 minutes in the Assembly Hall building on the Mona campus of the university, but the State Department issued four contracts totaling almost $50,000 for "staging" and the installation of generators and air conditioners.
The initial "staging" contract was $39,935 with a followup change order for $3,675. The exact nature of the work is not spelled out, and the contractor is simply listed as "Miscellaneous Foreign Awardees." Photos of the event appear to show a low stage with several rows of seating on risers for selected representatives of the Young Leaders of the Americas and a row of flags from the nations represented at the meeting. Behind the stage, a high white wall was emblazoned with an official seal and draped with red, blue and gold bunting.
There were also two contracts for the generators and air conditioners, one for $4,060 and another for $1,264. Temperatures in Kingston were in the 80s on the day of the president's visit. It is unclear if the building, Assembly Hall, is usually air conditioned. The university's website says the hall is the "main ceremonial venue" for the school, and is offered for rent on weekdays to outside groups for $50,000 and on weekends for $70,000. The website cooltechnologies.org says that the Mona campus underwent a "conversion of nearly 4,000 window, mini-split and central air conditioning units" to more efficient "hydrocarbon units" for "significant cost benefits", but does not specifically mention the Assembly Hall building.
Bill Kristol, chairman of the Emergency Committee for Israel, has released a statement calling on senators to strengthen the Corker-Cardin Iran bill:
"The Emergency Committee for Israel supports efforts by several senators to strengthen the Corker-Cardin bill. That the legislation needs to be strengthened is clear from today's statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, who has obviously been assured by Secretary Kerry that Iran need not worry about the Corker bill in its current form. But if Iran need not worry, then the Corker bill as currently drafted, and the process it envisions, is not only toothless but worthless.
"The Emergency Committee for Israel also strongly objects to efforts by Senators Corker and Cardin to stifle debate and prevent votes on the various amendments that have been offered. Senators Corker and Cardin are engaged in various parliamentary maneuvers to prevent votes on important and germane amendments. What are they scared of? And what are the outside groups that support a no-amendments strategy trying to accomplish? Their efforts, if successful, would ensure passage of a bill that both President Obama and the Iranians are confident will have no effect in blocking a bad deal later.
"But passage of a toothless bill is not assured – as is suggested the desperate efforts of its sponsors, the Administration, and the Iranian government to shut down criticism and debate. It's understandable that the Iranian government loathes debate and prefers the blocking of votes. It's unfortunate that the Obama Administration and the sponsors of this bill seem to agree."
Kristol is, of course, also editor of this magazine.
Florida senator Marco Rubio went to the Senate floor on Wednesday to push for votes on amendments to legislation concerning a nuclear deal with Iran. "If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for office," Rubio said. "Be a columnist. Get a talk show."
Rubio has introduced several amendments, but he tried to get a vote on just two this afternoon. One amendment would prohibit sanctions relief for Iran until Iran had fully implemented all requirements outlined by the White House on April 2. The other amendment would require Iran's leadership to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland strongly objected to Rubio's Israel amendment, calling it a "poison pill" that would defeat the bill. The most important thing is to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Cardin said, but "the Rubio amendment, although it's not intended to do that, would say, 'No that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is to negotiate the language about what Iran says about Israel, not their nuclear weapons program.'"
“I appreciate the senator from Maryland’s passion,” Rubio replied, but he defended the amendment and said that Cardin had simply made the case "for why we should not pass this amendment," not why the amendment shouldn't receive a vote at all.
Rubio explained that he had not introduced the amendments in committee because he had been given assurances that they would receive a vote on the Senate floor. "I was told ... by multiple members that the right place and the right time for me to offer this amendment would be on the floor, not in committee because the hope was to get it to the floor as quickly as possible," Rubio said.
Republican senator Ted Cruz said Wednesday afternoon he is “long-term optimistic and short-term pessimistic” on the question of passing any immigration reform legislation. Speaking with Javier Palomarez, the president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Texan presidential candidate said he considers himself a “proponent of immigration reform.” But, Cruz added, political leaders should focus on those aspects that have “bipartisan support.”
“I think we should address these issues one at a time,” Cruz said, arguing that there is consensus for securing the border and reforming the legal immigration system, but stopped short of saying what he would do for those illegal immigrants currently in the country.
“When it comes to immigration, I don’t think you have to solve every issue all at once,” he said.
Cruz spent much of the discussion on immigration reforming criticizing the way Barack Obama has approached the issue. The president, he said, has been exploiting the issue of immigration reform for political purposes. “What he’s doing is focusing deliberately on the most partisan, the most divisive issue on this debate,” he said.
“Neither President Obama nor the Senate Democrats want to solve this problem,” Cruz added. “They want to use it to scare the Hispanic community.”
Cruz, whose father immigrated to the United States from Cuba, said “there is no stronger advocate for legal immigration in the U.S. Senate” than himself. He cited his support for an amendment to the Gang of Eight’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill to expand the number of H-1B visas.
“When that amendment came to a vote, every single Democratic member on the Senate Judiciary committee voted against it,” said Cruz, who ended up voting against the Gang of Eight's bill. “I think the way to get something done is not to play the divisive politics.”
When arguing before the Supreme Court, a lawyer normally takes pains to convince the Justices that ruling in his or her favor in that particular case would not have dramatic consequences elsewhere. In Hobby Lobby, for example, Paul Clement urged that exempting his clients from part of HHS's contraceptive mandate would not open the doors to a flood of other exemptions. Or in DC v. Heller, Alan Gura argued that the Court's recognition of the Second Amendment's personal right to own ordinary firearms would not entitle people to own "machine guns" or "plastic, undetectable handguns."
A similar dynamic was seen, sometimes, at yesterday's oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases, Obergefell v. Hodges. Lawyers arguing that same-sex couples should have a federal constitutional right to state marriage licenses suggested that establishing such a right would not result in ministers being forced to conduct same-sex marriages. "No clergy is forced to marry any couple that they don't want to marry," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Mary Bonauto told Justice Scalia. "We have those protections" under the First Amendment.
But given that such concerns surround this case -- say, for wedding photographers or cake bakers -- it was rather stunning to see Solicitor General Verrilli leave open the door to what could be the most significant consequences to eventually flow from the creation of a constitutional right to same sex marriage: namely, that religious organizations could eventually lose their tax-exempt status if they do not embrace the new constitutional right.
Such concerns are based on the Supreme Court's approach in Bob Jones University v. United States (1983), where the Court held that the IRS could strip two private religious schools of their tax-exempt status because the schools maintained racially discriminatory policies abhorrent under the Fourteenth Amendment. Bob Jones University, for example, prohibited its students from inter-racial dating.
"Entitlement to tax exemption depends on meeting certain common-law standards of charity," wrote the Court; "namely, that an institution seeking tax-exempt status must serve a public purpose and not be contrary to established public policy." To receive a tax exemption, the institution must "demonstrably serve and be in harmony with the public interest." And because, in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education thirty years earlier, America had adopted "a firm national policy to prohibit racial segregation and discrimination in public education," neither the Tax Code nor the First Amendment allowed the schools to receive tax benefits while maintaining their repugnant racist policies. The Court's analysis was correct in that case, given how well-established and widely respected the constitutional right against racial discrimination was. But how would the IRS and courts apply such themes in other cases, involving other constitutional rights?
At a Manhattan fundraiser yesterday (as noted by The Hill), potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke of the rioting in Baltimore by invoking a theme of the Obama administration: the need for reform of the criminal justice system.
According to this critique, the current crisis in our cities, in particular focused on violence involving the police and African Americans, has its roots in America’s policies of criminal justice.
Former Secretary of State Clinton insisted that we must “reform our criminal justice system” and, according to The Hill, “made a reference to ending ‘mass incarceration,’ but the specifics were drowned out by applause.”
The charge of “mass incarceration” is often attached to changes in criminal justice sentencing that were put in place in the mid-1990s, and led by political figures such as Vice President Joe Biden, a strong supporter of so-called “three strikes” laws and author (as a senator) of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
It should be remembered that such measures were politically popular during that decade, driven by the striking damage done to our cities (as well as to vulnerable women), by rising crime rates, in particular, crimes of violence. The circumstance has changed for the better so dramatically that current politicians can perhaps be forgiven for losing sight of the problems that such measures were crafted to address.
Reform of unjust laws is a constant duty, but we should not forget the genuine suffering of criminal victims that led to efforts at protecting those at risk. The reality is that the tough laws were put in place for a reason, to shelter those being devastated by crime and drugs and predatory behavior.
Few doubt that a result of the application of those laws, beyond unintended injustices, was that a great deal of predatory behavior was stopped, though as a consequence, incarceration numbers grew accordingly. The intended effect was produced, as the rate of crime fell dramatically and continues downward to this day.
A graph of forcible rapes reported to the police as found in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports can represent the nature of the overall criminal threat, and the impact of sentencing “reform” (as it was called then) has been surely one of the social factors driving this steep decline in crime. As can be seen, the incidence of “forcible rape” was climbing steeply until the time (1993-1995) that the reforms were implemented.
These laws were strong measures, but surely the sense at the time was that they were necessary, given the dangers to which they were the answer. It would be ironic, indeed, if we now, the very beneficiaries of the decline of violent crime were to reverse such conditions, in the hope of applause.
America has a rather unique role for the wives of Presidents and other office holders -- we designate them “First Ladies” and make available to them the bloody pulpit of their husbands’ office and considerable staff support. At times there is a public benefit: teacher-librarian Laura Bush did considerable work to expand literacy. But then there are times when we rather wish the first would be last among us. Eleanor Roosevelt pestered FDR to reduce his enthusiasm for imperialist Winston Churchill; fortunately for the WWII war effort, her husband paid little heed. Hillary Clinton’s work in the health care field almost brought Bill’s government down -- the arrogant secrecy surrounding its formulation and her love of central government direction were precursors of things to come, and made Obamacare seem like a benign alternative to Hillarycare. Michelle Obama opted for the role of First Parent and directed mothers and fathers what to pack in their kids’ lunch boxes.
Then there is the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, wife of mayor Bill de Blasio. Ms. McCray, whose husband has assigned her a taxpayer funded staff, has taken to dropping in on administration officials meeting to discuss children’s issues, a role the electorate neglected to confer on her. Never mind. At a recent meeting she asked for permission to sing to the assembled pols, and treated them to a lullaby she had used with her own children, presumably to emphasize the importance of music to children. After what could only be characterized as an obligatory round of applause, reports the New York Times, the administration aides “taken with Ms. McCray’s impromptu performance” decided to record her lullaby, which “will soon be featured in a promotion about early childhood development.” Talent will out.
Of course, none of this first lady stuff will be relevant should Hillary Clinton succeed in bringing her family back to the White House, along with her private email server. We have had no experience with a First Gentleman, so one hopes Bill will take Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis as a model. Denis always kept out of the limelight: his motto, “Always present, never there.” With the exception of an outburst or two -- refusing to act as escort to Winnie Mandela at an official function being one such. His money-making career ended when his wife became Prime Minister, and she in turn prepared his breakfast whenever her travel schedule permitted. It is, of course, uncertain that Bill has the capacity for self-effacement that Denis exhibited. If Hillary proves a less attractive campaigner than Bill, we may never know.
We're living in a transgender moment in America -- which is a little odd, when you think about it. For transgender people are not exactly new to the news: The British travel writer James Morris became Jan Morris as long ago as 1972, and the ophthalmologist Richard Raskind became tennis pro Renee Richards in 1975. Nor are they new to American celebrity culture: A young ex-GI named George Jorgensen traveled to Denmark in 1951 and, after surgery, returned home as night-club entertainer Christine Jorgensen.
And while it is true that, this past January, Barack Obama became the first president to use the term "transgender" in a State of the Union address, the concept is not exactly new to politics, either. Some may remember -- with amusement and/or indignation -- Vice President Spiro Agnew's 1970 characterization of Sen. Charles Goodell (R-N.Y.) as the "Christine Jorgensen of the Republican party." Of course, Agnew did not intend that as a compliment, but everyone knew what he meant.
I was reminded of that now-forgotten Agnew one-liner the other evening when Diane Sawyer of ABC News interviewed Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and Kardashian in-law, who revealed himself to be transgender. The public memory seems to be short enough that Sawyer and ABC News believed that, prior to Jenner, there had never been a high-profile person "in transition" before. But of course, that's not true. Nor was the revelation about Bruce Jenner news to anyone who has stood in a grocery checkout line during the last year.
For that reason, among others, the most memorable exchange in the interview had nothing to do with Bruce Jenner's gender, but his politics. When Sawyer alluded to the president's public use of the word "transgender," Jenner offered mild praise for the gesture but then allowed as how he is "more on the conservative side" than Obama. This, clearly, more than Jenner's sexual identity, was a shock to Sawyer, who asked, "Are you a Republican?" He replied, "Yeah, is that a bad thing? I believe in the Constitution."
There are two points to be made here. First, Sawyer's incredulity and horror were especially peculiar, coming from someone who first came to the public's attention as one of Richard Nixon's White House staff assistants.
And second, the news that Bruce Jenner -- male in transition to female -- is a Republican is an interesting, and instructive, rebuke to the popular culture. The political class, and its allies in the media, tend to segregate political opinion into arbitrary, and highly misleading, categories: All women, gay people, blacks, and Hispanic voters are Democrats; all white men, suburban residents, financiers, and evangelical voters are Republicans. Yet none of these general assertions are categorically true, and all feature exceptions that illustrate the danger of assigning political allegiance based on race, sex, geography, or religion.
Human beings have brains, which they exercise at will, and their political opinions are not necessarily determined by glands or skin color. The fact that Bruce Jenner is both Republican and transgender is less surprising than that Diane Sawyer is surprised by the fact.
Later today, Hillary Clinton is expected to give a speech where she comes out in favor of police being required to wear body cameras. I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea, except to say that I doubt it will prove to be the panacea for reining in law enforcement abuses that many of its advocates say it will be. I hope Clinton's speech takes a broader and more serious look at the policies that contribute to police brutality and urban crime, but taken on its own the call for body cameras reeks of small-measure opportunistic Clintonian triangulation. (Remember when Bill Clinton called for school uniforms? It may have polled well and isn't a terrible idea, but taken on its own it's an almost comically inadequate solution to education reform.)
But there's another obvious reason why Hillary Clinton's call for police body cameras is... interesting. Later today, Hillary Clinton is going to stand up on national television and insist that the American people are entitled to an extensive record of evidence documenting the decisions of public officials who are charged with making life or death decisions. The hypocrisy here is too obvious to ignore:
Inevitability is said to be one of Hillary Clinton's hinderances in securing the Democratic party's nomination for president, that she must earn the nomination rather than claim it as a right. But to listen to Mrs. Clinton's recent videotaped message to the South Carolina Democratic Party's convention, one would think she's just waiting to find out who her Republican challenger will be, ignoring the entire primary process.
Mrs. Clinton begins her message by greeting the delegates and thanking them "for organizing precincts, making calls, knocking on doors, registering voters. Thank you for the hours you've spent and the blocks you've walked on behalf of a Democratic South Carolina party."
After naming some issues around which she apparently intends to focus her campaign, Mrs. Clinton says: "Now we don't yet know who the Republican nominee for president will be. But we do know they'll be offering the same economic agenda that has failed American families again and again."
While Mrs. Clinton did not make a personal appearance at the convention, three possible challengers did address the gathering: former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Vice President Joe Biden, another possible contender, neither attended or recorded any remarks for the event.
Earlier today on CBS This Morning, Baltimore mother Toya Graham told her story about the now-viral scene from Monday where she pulled her son Michael off of the streets of rioting Baltimore.
While most Americans appear to view Graham's good parenting positively, others haven't, and have argued that support for Graham's actions is part of a larger effort to "dismiss the anger in Baltimore in insulting and paternalistic terms."
Comedy Central's The Daily Show humorously observed that the largely teen-aged rioters were more likely to be scared by their mom with a spoon then would be of police.
Graham doesn't seemed fazed by detractors, telling CBS on Tuesday: “I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that,” and that “He knew he was in trouble... He said, ‘When I seen you.... Ma, my instinct was to run.’
"Is he the perfect boy?" Graham rhetorically asks herself, "No, he's not. But he's mine. I'm just grateful that I was able to get him home. And we actually sat back and watched the news and everything, and he had Facebook friends, and everybody, you know, making comments, saying, you know, 'You shouldn't be mad at your mother. You should give her a hug." ... I just hope, not sure, but I hope, that he understands the seriousness of what was going on last night."
Asked by Gayle King whether she felt like a hero, Graham responded "I don't."
"That whole scene was not safe, it was not safe at all... To see my son with a rock in his hand... I just lost it."
After recognizing her son and making eye contact with him, Toya recounts her son Michael responded to her ear-grab and "right hook" (as Charlie Rose put it) "Mom. Mom. Mom. OK, Mom. OK, Mom."
"How dare you do this?" Toya told her son, of associating with those who would assault police. "For him to do what he was doing, it was unacceptable."
Graham observed that: "A lot of his friends have been killed." King opined Graham "opened up a can of whoop ass on him, the way I was looking at it." Graham, acknowledging it, laughed.
"He knows right from wrong," Graham said of her son. "He's just like the other teenagers that doesn't have the perfect relationship with police officers in Baltimore City. But you will not be throwing rocks and stones at police officers. At some point, who's to say that they don't have to come and protect me from something?... And they might not want to, knowing that you're bringing harm to them. Two wrongs don't make a right. So, at the end of the day, I just wanted to make sure that I got my son home. "