At today’s press briefing, Jay Carney reiterated much of what he said yesterday regarding the multiple scandals plaguing the Obama Administration, once again working to distance the president himself from his wayward colleagues.
Unlike yesterday’s hammering, today’s briefing focused on President Obama’s statement regarding the IRS scandal, issued last night. Reporters wanted to know what, exactly, the president meant when he said he wants those responsible to be held accountable. Does he support firings? Jail time?
Calling the behavior “inappropriate” and “wrong,” Carney could not say anything specific about “accountability.” However, he pointed out that the president would be meeting with Treasury officials this afternoon, including Secretary Jack Lew, to discuss the matter. President Obama feels “very strongly” about the need for accountability and ensuring this never happens again, said Carney, although he couldn’t say what that meant, specifically, as “the president cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.”
“I have no personnel announcements to make,” he said.
Yesterday, Carney refused to comment on what the president thought of the IRS scandal, continually saying “if it happened” (despite IRS officials’ own admissions that the IRS targeted conservative groups), and refusing to comment on the matter until the president reviewed the Inspector General’s report.
Today, although he noted that the president felt “strongly” about the need for the tax code to be applied in a neutral manner, Carney made a point of saying that the president had no reason to doubt the IRS officials who claimed that the targeting was for purposes of efficiency. In other words, Carney seemed to suggest that the president didn’t believe the targeting was politically motivated—and yet, in the same breath, he noted a lack of “neutrality,” indicating that there was political bias present. "The president has no reason to doubt the Inspector General's report," Carney said, in which political bias was not named a factor in the targeting.
Turning to another unfolding indiscretion, reporters in the room seemed awfully curious about the president’s sudden renewed interest in passing media shield legislation, to help protect the press from unwarranted scrutiny over sources. Given the AP hacking discovery, isn’t the timing rather suspect, and perhaps a transparent attempt to save some face?
No, Carney maintained, the president just felt it was “the right time” to have Sen. Chuck Schumer reintroduce his legislation. “The president has a long record of strong support for the First Amendment,” he said, although there was some apparent skepticism among the questioners.
Reporters also wished to know what the president had to say on the hacking scandal, but again, Carney refused to comment owing to the “ongoing criminal investigation,” and the fact that there is a “firewall” between the White House and the Department of Justice during times such as these.
Interestingly, at one point a reporter expressed skepticism that the president was actually learning about all the scandals from news reports, as the White House has consistently maintained whenever something goes awry.
“I would be interested to see reports if it was about the White House interfering with a Department of Justice criminal investigation,” came the response. Indeed, it seems that’s about the only thing that hasn't happened this week.
I had the chance to sit down with Eric Metaxas, a writer and speaker who, along with Dr. Ben Carson, addressed CPAC about the importance of religious liberty in America. Metaxas, author of bestseller "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," spoke at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast, where he gave a speech that was no doubt a challenge for President Obama and his cohorts to hear. It's worth watching, as he gives a good-humored but deadly serious talk about having true faith in God, rather than simply paying lip service with Scriptural quotes (contrast President Obama's subsequent speech for an example of what Metaxas spoke of -- it's a bit startling, actually).
Metaxas continues to sound the alarm about state encroachments on religious liberty, a term that, as he points out in the video below, most Americans don't really understand. Here, he gives some insight into what he considers to be one of America's most troubling problems, and how the decline of religious liberty affects all Americans, not simply people of faith.
To learn more about Eric Metaxas (especially if you need help spelling that URL!), check out his website at www.ericmetaxas.com.
For all the hoopla over Ashely Judd's potential run for Sen. Mitch McConnell's seat in 2014, it seems she may not make the ticket after all. Democrats are slowly backing away from her candidacy, reports The Washington Times, owing to her far-Left views and habit of saying truly strange things.
“She’s going to have a tough road to hoe,” said Jim Cauley, campaign manager for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in 2007, in a ThisWeek.com report. “She doesn’t fit the damn state,” which is a conservative stronghold. Fully 60 percent of Kentuckians voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Democrats have begun expressing concern about some of Ms. Judd's statements and views. ThisWeek.com reports, “Democrats worry that Judd, a political neophyte, could cost the party a winnable race.”
And the National Journal reports, “the honeymoon is over for Ashley Judd.” The actress had traveled to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago to meet with top Democratic Party officials, including those with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats.
Given that the Democrats feel they can win this seat -- and of course they desperately want to -- it's no surprise they might shy away from running an offbeat candidate. Her celebrity isn't enough to justify some of her more outrageous statements, or worse, her position on coal mining, an industry essential to the Kentucky economy. That the Democrats don't want to run a candidate known for protesting "the rape of Appalachia" bespeaks the level of practicality still present in politics today.
Alas. Dennis Rodman's promise of eternal friendship was not enough. Renewed aggression from North Korea has prompted newly-installed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to beef up missile defense sites, deploying 14 new interceptors in Alaska. After its nuclear test, which of course America gave North Korea no choice but to do, it seems the reculsive communist nation has prompted U.S. officials to be prepared for the worst, just in case.
The new interceptors will be based at Fort Greely, an Army launch site about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska, and are projected to be fully deployed by 2017, Hagel said. The additions will bring the U.S.-based ground interceptor deployment from 30 to 44, including four that are based in California.
That will boost U.S. missile defense capability by 50 percent and "make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression," he said in a briefing at the Pentagon.
North Korea is famed for its much-hyped, minimally successful weapons tests, so it may seem like they're just blowing smoke again. But recently, they've stepped up the belligerent language, and are threatening to pull out of armistice, thereby reigniting the unresolved Korean War. For example, Kim Jong-Un gave this lovely speech to his troops the other day:
New video broadcast on North Korean television showed the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, addressing his troops along the border on Monday and issuing a blood-chilling threat, "Throw all enemies into the caldron, break their waists and crack their windpipes." It was the same location he and his late father visited in November 2010, just two days before the North shelled an island, killing four South Koreans.
The bellicose comments have been intensifying over the past months, increasing worry about Kim's unpredictability.
"I am very concerned about what they might do. And they are certainly, if they chose ... could initiate a provocative action against the South," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Of course, the administration wanted to emphasize that we're not really worried about nuclear apocalypse courtesy of the DPRK, so perhaps President Obama said it best:
"They probably can't, but we don't like margin of error," Obama told ABC News.
The white smoke and ringing bells announced to the world that the cardinal electors had chosen a new pope, and about an hour later, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio took St. Peter's balcony as Pope Francis I. He has the distinction of being the first pope from the Americas, as he is an Argentinian of Italian descent. He formerly served as the head of the Jesuit order, as well as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and is currently 75 years old. Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal. He is said to be known for his humility and devotion to simplicity, which includes taking the bus. He came in second to Benedict XIV eight years ago, but was not among the frontrunners named ahead of the voting this time.
Francis now must lead the Church through a host of challenges, from managerial obstacles to the crucial task of evangalization. Prior to the voting, cardinals commented that they were seeking a pope who would understand the Church's needs, especially at so critical a time, and when those needs are so diverse.
Ahead of the election of a new pope, cardinals said they were looking for “a pope that understands the problems of the Church at present” and who is strong enough to tackle them, said Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the archbishop emeritus of Prague who participated in the general congregations but was not eligible to vote in a conclave.
He said those problems included reforming the Roman Curia, handling the pedophilia crisis and cleaning up the Vatican bank, which has been working to meet international transparency standards.
“He needs to be capable of solving these issues,” Cardinal Vlk said as he walked near the Vatican this week, adding that the next pope needs “to be open to the world, to the troubles of the world, to society, because evangelization is a primary task, to bring the Gospel to people.”
For Catholics worldwide, including me, this is a beautiful day, and I know I'm not alone in praying for Francis as he takes up this incredible new mission. Indeed, when giving his first Urbi et Orbi ("To the City and the World") blessing, he requested that we pray for God's blessing on him, even as he did the same for us. Below, his first address (h/t NRO), in which he noted that the cardinals had "gone to the end of the world" to find a pope, but that there he was.
You heard that right (har har): America’s Most Concerned Mayor has decided to take on overly-loud headphone usage, out of fear that New Yorkers are going deaf. While he’s not quite charging into the same grabby crusade he levied against Big Gulps—there are no proposed laws (yet)—he’s creating a social media campaign to warn New Yorkers of the dire consequences of listening to the ol' iPod on full volume.
Hizzoner’s health officials are planning a social-media campaign to warn young people about the risk of losing their hearing from listening to music at high volume on personal MP3 players, The Post has learned.
“With public and private support, a public-education campaign is being developed to raise awareness about safe use of personal music players . . . and risks of loud and long listening,” said Nancy Clark, the city Health Department’s assistant commissioner of environmental-disease prevention.
The campaign, which will cost $250,000, is being financed through a grant received from the Fund for Public Health, the Health Department’s fund-raising arm.
The Hearing Loss Prevention Media Campaign will target teens and young adults, conducting focus-group interviews and using social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Once again, Bloomberg is micromanaging for “the greater good,” rather than addressing something firmly under his jurisdiction, such as crime rates, or public transit. (And, by the way, studies have shown that the New York City subway is just as damaging as an iPod--have you heard those brakes? Ouch.) Meanwhile, as Erika Johnsen noted, Bloomberg has sunk the city into a pit of financial despair, having doubled its debt in his ten-year reign. And this is what he's prioritizing...? For all New Yorkers’ pride, they sure are fine with debasing themselves by reelecting this man as their leader.
But who knows—maybe their iPods are too loud to hear his ludicrous proposals.
President Obama and company have been beating the drum about the supposed coming disasters of sequestration, but Americans aren’t buying it. Proof: a poll out from ABC news today reveals that the vast majority of Americans are just fine with budget cuts. At the same time, most are not in favor of military cuts, indicating they’d like to see the money come from other places. Some of the numbers:
The public by nearly 2-1, 61-33 percent, supports cutting the overall budget along the lines of the sequester that took effect last Friday. But by nearly an identical margin, Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll oppose an eight percent across-the-board cut in military spending.
These views come before the $85 billion in cuts this year have taken hold, leaving open the question of how the public will respond once the reductions hit home. Nonetheless, the results suggest that warnings about the nation’s military readiness have resonated, while the public is more skeptical about the damage the sequester poses to federal programs more generally.
Support for a five percent reduction in federal spending crosses party lines in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates; it includes 57 percent of Democrats, six in 10 independents and three-quarters of Republicans. Shaving eight percent off the military budget, on the other hand, is opposed by 73 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents, with Democrats split down the middle.
Now, before we all start celebrating, there are a few matters of note. The ABC article also points out that, in a similar poll conducted during the height of fiscal cliff hysteria, Americans were largely opposed to cuts to some of the most expensive programs we run (including Social Security).
However, a December ABC/Post poll during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations found that majorities didn’t want to cut military spending in order to reach a budget agreement. (Most also opposed cutting Medicare, which also is hit by sequestration, and Medicaid and Social Security, which are spared the sequestration cuts.)
Of course, such programs comprise the bulk of the untenably high spending that Americans would like to see reduced; it’s a costly paradox, as making a real dent in the amount the government spends will require reforming some of these programs Americans apparently hold sacred.
In a similar vein, Matt Yglesias over at Slate calls this poll “deeply misleading,” on the grounds that people tend to favor overall cuts, but when it comes down to deciding what specific areas TO cut, they’re more cautious. In other words, he feels that if the individual programs had been extended beyond simply military cuts, people would have said they were opposed to those, too.
Long story short, public opinion on budgetary matters is poorly structured and there isn't a clear and internally consistent policy agenda that you can read from the polls. So if you constructed any ABC-style poll where you first ask about spending cuts and then ask about one particular program, you'd get the ABC result that people want big spending cuts but also want to exempt Program X from the cuts. But that's just a kind of cheap trick. Relative to other programs, cuts to military spending are among the least-unpopular cuts around.
So he takes issue with the idea that Americans want cuts, but not from the military—of course, as he says himself, it’s hard to read the data and find a coherent policy mandate regarding any cuts.
To that end, then, it remains to be seen if the cuts that are about to take effect are as palpably felt—or objected to—as the administration has said they will be. Despite claims that airport lines would double and teachers would be immediately laid off, neither has happened (or in the case of the teachers, certainly not as a result of sequestration).
For all the hype about a 5% budget cut, it’s a pretty small amount compared to the deficit. Who knows? We may find that talking about cuts is more painful than actually executing them. And so long as your airport waiting time isn’t abnormally long, who’s to say you’ll notice?
File this one under news of the weird and despicable. Noted American diplomat basketball star Dennis Rodman paid a visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where he and leader Kim Jong Un had a grand ol’ time getting drunk and watching basketball together.
It’s not a joke, and there are already many stories criticizing the eccentric former NBA player and the crew from HBO’s VICE media, who were along for the trip. Rodman, along with a few members of the Harlem Globetrotters, were there on a self-described mission of “basketball diplomacy,” ostensibly to run a camp for North Korean children. The Globetrotters present joined in with North Koreans in a basketball game, followed by carousing with Kim Jong Un.
But their many media comments from the trip show a disturbing lack of regard for the starving, famine-ridden majority trapped under the dictatorial Kim rule. From the Associated Press:
After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans, telling him, "You have a friend for life," [VICE spokesman Alex] Detrick said.
At a lavish dinner later, the leader plied the group with food and drinks and round after round of toasts were made.
"Dinner was an epic feast. Felt like about 10 courses in total," [VICE correspondent Ryan] Duffy said in an email to AP. "I'd say the winners were the smoked turkey and sushi, though we had the Pyongyang cold noodles earlier in the trip, and that's been the runaway favorite so far."
Duffy said he invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader. …
"We knew that he's a big lover of basketball, especially the Bulls, and it was our intention going in that we would have a good will mission of something that's fun," [VICE founder Shane] Smith said. "A lot of times, things just are serious and everybody's so concerned with geopolitics that we forget just to be human beings."
Now, it’s worth remembering a few things about North Korea: first of all, most of its people are starving, so those comments about the lavish feast are beyond out of touch. In fact, Gawker had a pretty astounding post yesterday contrasting the Americans’ tweets of bonhomie with heartbreaking photos of starving North Korean children. Click here if you can handle some truly jarring pictures.
Second of all, it’s rather odd for an American to characterize himself as North Korea’s “friend for life” when that country has spent recent months essentially gearing up for armed conflict with the U.S. Just February 12, it was reported that North Korea had tested a nuclear weapon under ground, claiming they just had to, because the U.S. is evil, and they make North Korea angry, and stuff.
North Korea announced earlier today that it successfully tested a miniaturized nuclear device underground, according to state media.
Official state media said the test was conducted in a safe manner and is aimed at coping with "outrageous" U.S. hostility that "violently" undermines the North's peaceful, sovereign rights to launch satellites. Unlike previous tests, North Korea used a powerful explosive nuclear bomb that is smaller and lighter, state media reported.
North Korea kept up its belligerent talk today, vowing more provocative actions.
If the U.S. "makes this situation complex in hostility, we will come up with second and third reactions," North Korea said in a statement.
The regime blamed the nuclear test on the United States.
"Originally we didn't have to test the nuclear bomb and we didn't plan to," the statement said. "The major purpose of this test is to show our anger to the hostile actions of the U.S. and show off our will and capability to protect our sovereign right to the end."
In other words, North Korea has zero interest in making nice with America, as illustrated by the Great Successor (as he is know) laughing in Rodman’s face upon his issuing an invitation to reciprocate the visit. Kim Jong Un wanted the opportunity to meet his basketball hero, and Dennis Rodman is insane. As for the members of the VICE media group…who knows why they participated so willingly in the festivities. Maybe they had armed guards forcing them to spout compliments to their host (who knows—this is a rogue state we’re talking about here). Frankly, I almost hope that it, because it’s a travesty that the group calls itself a friend to a man who is anything but one to the U.S. and his own people.
He's not exactly one of the usual suspects--many have noted that this whole 'You're gonna regret this' line of talk befits someone like Rahm Emmanuel. But Buzzfeed reports that it was Gene Sperling who emailed Woodward saying, "I think you will regret staking out that claim."
The email from Sperling to Woodward, which Woodward read to Politico Wednesday, has transfixed Washington, with Republicans and some in the press charging that it embodies a White House lording it over a cowed press corps.
Woodward, Politico reported, called the top official — identified to BuzzFeed as Sperling — to tell him that he would question Obama's account of negotiations leading to the "sequester" — automatic cuts set to take effect next month.
The aide "yelled at me for about a half hour," Woodward said, and then sent a follow-up email that read, in part: "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim." ...
Sperling, a former aide to Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin who held the same position in Clinton's second term, is a veteran Democratic budget wonk and party insider. Remarked one friend Wednesday, he is "not exactly cut from the classic, no-drama Obama cloth."
First of all, it's a little hilarious to assert that Obama only surrounds himself with the "drama-free"--in fact, I'd argue quite the opposite: many of his closest advisers, the people who go about the cable news shows defending his record, are staunch attack dogs. People like Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina, and the aforementioned Emmanuel are nasty so Obama doesn't have to be (to a certain degree). That's why he can lay some claim to being "no-drama." Others do it for him.
But more to the point here, this White House is awfully testy about something that supposedly doesn't matter: while they've tried to place the policy's origin with the GOP, liberals everywhere claim it isn't a salient point. All that matters is solving the coming crisis. Yet here we have a top White House official--not some campaign hack, but an actual policy advisor--taking a legendary reporter to task for his daring to question the official narrative.
Seems that solutions really do take a backseat to saving face in this administration. 'Government shutdown be damned, it wasn't our fault!'
Update: Politico has published the full emails, and it would appear that Woodward may have exaggerated a bit, or at least failed to provide context where it would be useful. Take the damning "regret" sentence, in this excerpted paragraph:
But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start.
They're having a policy conversation, and in this setting, the "regret" comment comes off more like, "What you're saying is wrong, and you'll wish you had said it differently." Not exactly the, "Change your tune or else" line Woodward suggested. Heck, Sperling even starts the sentence with, "As a friend..."
Sperling also concludes the email by addressing the half-hour "screamfest" over the phone: "My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize."
Most interesting, however, is Woodward's response, which hardly reads like an affronted, threatened journalist. His full email:
From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013
Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob
Seems like this was all a disingenuous non-story--which is not to say the White House is never guilty of shouting down reporters, as it's known for its testy media relations--but it seems Woodward committed quite a bit of manipulation to create the non-troversy in question.
Joe Biden has already let you know that a shotgun will fill all your self-defense needs. Now, he's back with another home protection tip: this time, on how to use your twelve gauge when someone is trying to rob you blind and/or harm your family! In an interview with Field & Stream magazine, Biden dropped this little nugget of wisdom on how to deter home invaders. (Disclaimer: don't try this at home.)
F&S: What about the other uses, for self-defense and target practice?
V.P. BIDEN: Well, the way in which we measure it is--I think most scholars would say==is that as long as you have a weapon sufficient to be able to provide your self-defense. I did one of these town-hall meetings on the Internet and one guy said, "Well, what happens when the end days come? What happens when there's the earthquake? I live in California, and I have to protect myself."
I said, "Well, you know, my shotgun will do better for you than your AR-15, because you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door." Most people can handle a shotgun a hell of a lot better than they can a semiautomatic weapon in terms of both their aim and in terms of their ability to deter people coming. We can argue whether that's true or not, but it is no argument that, for example, a shotgun could do the same job of protecting you. Now, granted, you can come back and say, "Well, a machine gun could do a better job of protecting me." No one's arguing we should make machine guns legal.
Sounds like a crock, yes? Indeed it is. As my pal Erika Johnsen over at Hot Air pointed out:
Honestly, did no one bother to inform the vice president, after his first round of similarly awful advice, that just blasting away on the back porch will 1) reveal your position, 2) leave you effectively disarmed, and 3) possibly get you into some legal trouble?
Yes, that's right: when attempting to defend your home as the Veep suggested, you put yourself at risk for committing negligent homicide with errant shotgun blasts. It's a little remarkable that he's out there prescribing self-defense tactics without having any knowledge of the consequences of such actions--legal or otherwise.
So there you have it, America: this is the man in charge of determining the fate of your guns. God save us all.