Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Obama Legacy Deserves to Be Destroyed




It’s strange that a president who had such a transformative effect on our national discourse will leave such a negligible policy legacy.

But Barack Obama, whose imperial term changed the way Americans interact and in some ways paved the way for the Trump presidency, is now watching his much-celebrated and mythologized two-term legacy be systematically demolished. This, in many ways, tells us that American governance still works.

When President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, he was able to do so without much difficulty because the agreement hinged on presidential fiat rather than national consensus. Obama’s appeasement of Iran was only one in a string of unilateral norm-busting projects that deserve to be dismantled.

You’ll remember the panic-stricken coverage we endured when the United States withdrew from the faux international Paris climate agreement last year. It’s true that the deal was oversold as a matter of policy (by both parties for political reasons), but it was symbolic of how the Obama administration concerned itself more with international consensus than domestic compromise.

We know this because the president would never have won ratification for a deal remotely similar to the one he entered—nor did he attempt to. Obama, despite the hagiographic framing of his scandal-ridden presidency, had about as much interest in genuine concession as his political adversaries did.

Obama allies at home incessantly pointed to poll numbers as a justification for his executive abuse, mostly because the only polls that really mattered, congressional elections, continued to soundly reject his agenda.

The defense rested on the idea that the Republican-led Congress had failed to “do its job” and act on issues Democrats had deemed vital. But Congress, of course, “acted” all the time by checking the president’s ambitions. This was not only well within its purview but also in many ways the reason the electorate handed the GOP Congress in the first place.

Even if you substantively supported Obama’s actions—as I do on legalizing the children of immigrants who are in the country illegally, for instance—the reasoning that girded these supposedly temporary executive decisions was soon revealed to be abusive.

In 2012, Obama told the nation that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which by any standard was a stand-in for legislation, was merely a “temporary stopgap measure.” By the time Trump overturned it, the measure represented “who we are as a people.” That’s because by “temporary,” Obama always meant “until Democrats can make it permanent through the courts or electoral victories.”

Even when implementing laws Congress could pass, Obama and his allies relied on coercing participation through mandates. But when it became inconvenient, they began arbitrarily implementing parts of laws. Administrative discretion became administrative abuse. When the president decided Obamacare’s employer mandate was politically inconvenient, for example, he simply skipped it for expediency.

The Constitution doesn’t say, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law unless liberals tell us it’s super important.” Yet shortly after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration realized it would need more subsidies and asked for an appropriation from Congress.

When Congress, then teeming with politicians elected on the promise of overturning Obamacare, refused, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew ordered the administration to begin making “cost-sharing reduction” payments anyway, without any public legal justification.

Obama created a $7 billion per year appropriation for insurance companies participating in the supposedly self-sufficient and competitive state health care exchanges. Not a single liberal pundit that I know of concerned himself with this norm-breaking.

One federal court found the Obamacare subsidy unconstitutional, and the case was working its way toward the Supreme Court. But then again, no administration in memory was stopped more often by courts, often by unanimous Supreme Court decisions. 

Whether it was ignoring the Senate in making appointments or claiming to rewrite employment law, Obama tried to function without constitutional restraints.

None of this even breaches the unprecedented regulatory regime Obama built to circumvent the legislative branch. Even The New York Times characterized his governing as “bureaucratic bulldozing, rather than legislative transparency.”
Fortunately, it is also unsustainable. 

As we now see, this kind of governance not only corrodes constitutional order but also undermines stability, as new presidents busy themselves overturning the executive actions and international agreements enacted by the previous.

While most Americans aren’t sticklers for process, it seems they are content with destroying legacies built on the rickety foundation of unilateralism for political reasons.

That’s fine, too. It means that if Trump engages in similar legislative efforts through the executive office, his agenda will also be dismantled one day. That’s as it should be.


Friday, May 18, 2018

HISTORIC: Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA director, first woman to lead agency




Gina Haspel was confirmed Thursday as CIA director, becoming the first woman to lead the agency and overcoming initial Democratic opposition regarding her role in post-9/11 interrogation and detention practices.

The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm President Trump's nominee, with six Democrats supporting and two Republicans defecting. Haspel, whose nomination was endorsed by the Senate Intelligence Committee a day earlier, previously was deputy director and has spent her career with the agency.

Trump tweeted his congratulations after the vote.

Haspel earned emphatic support from GOP lawmakers as well as intelligence community members from both Democratic and Republican administrations.

"The safety and security of the American people depend on capable intelligence leadership. Gina Haspel is the right woman at the right time," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. 

But her history as base chief at a black-site prison in Thailand in 2002, where techniques such as waterboarding were used on terror suspects, came under scrutiny during the confirmation process. 

Republican supporters accused Democrats of politicizing her nomination and initially trying to derail an otherwise highly qualified nominee.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Democrats grilled her on her views on what they deemed torture, as well as objecting to what they saw as the CIA’s selective declassification about information on her. She was also questioned at length about the 2005 destruction of more than 92 interrogation tapes -- a move she said she supported to ensure the safety of CIA agents.

Haspel refused to criticize her colleagues and superiors for their conduct during what she called a “tumultuous time,” but said the CIA under her watch would not resume such techniques. She also defended her own conduct.

“After 9/11 … I stepped up. I was not on the sidelines, I was on the frontlines in the Cold War and I was on the frontlines in the fight against Al Qaeda,” she said in response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Haspel’s confirmation had been in question after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., later joined by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he would not vote for her.

“While I thank Ms. Haspel for her long and dedicated service to the CIA, as a country we need to turn the page on the unfortunate chapter in the agency's history having to do with torture,” Flake said in a statement Wednesday.

Along with the absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., it meant that Haspel needed Democratic votes to assure her confirmation.

But in the days leading up to Thursday's vote, she picked up Democratic support, particularly from those in tough midterm re-election fights. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., came out to back her last week, and others followed. 

A key factor may have been a letter she wrote to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the intelligence committee, on Tuesday, saying: “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken."

Warner subsequently said in a statement that he believes she “is someone who can and will stand up to the president if ordered to do something illegal or immoral -- like a return to torture.” 

Haspel will replace now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Adam Shaw is a Politics Reporter and occasional Opinion writer for FoxNews.com. He can be reached here or on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.

_________________

IN OTHER NEWS

Texas high school shooting leaves 8-10 dead, 1 suspect in custody, 1 detained



Students console each other following a school shooting at Santa Fe High School.  (AP)

A Texas high school student unleashed a hail of bullets inside one of his classes early Friday morning, gunning down eight to 10 people and explosive devices were found at the school, police said.

The suspected shooter was taken into police custody and a second suspect has been detained. The suspect in custody and the suspect detained for further questioning were both students.

Police officers responded to Santa Fe High School around 8 a.m. CDT after reports that a shooter opened fire inside.

The Santa Fe Police Department confirmed explosive devices were found at the campus of the high school and the "surrounding areas adjacent to the school." The school has been evacuated and the campus was cleared, the Santa Fe Police Department said.

A school resource officer was shot and injured and another officer was also injured in the incident, CBS News reported.

The chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch told reporters the center received two adult patients and one person under 18 years old.

Galveston County Sheriff's Maj. Douglas Hudson said units responded to reports of shots fired. Witnesses say a gunman opened fire inside an art class during first period. A student in the class told KTRK she witnessed at least one girl being shot.

"We thought it was a fire drill at first but really, the teacher said, 'Start running,'" the student told the news station.

Two seniors at the school told KHOU 11 their friend pulled the fire alarm after spotting the shooter and urged other students to run. They also said they saw an injured female student.

“Now I am worried about everyone else,” one student commented. “ I don’t even want to go to graduation now.”

The student said she did not get a good look at the shooter because she was running away. She said students escaped through a door at the back of the classroom.

Authorities have not yet confirmed these accounts.

A 17-year-old student told Fox News her friend was shot in the leg.

"It was very dramatic because I thought she was going to the ambulance because we all had to run through and she's very dramatic so I thought she rolled her ankle or something but when I called her she was screaming crying saying she got shot in the leg and so much is going on and is was dramatic," the student told Fox News.

A parent of one of the students told Fox News they drove to the school immediately after hearing about the active shooting situation.

"If it can happen in Santa Fe, Texas, it can happen anywhere," the parent said. "I mean it's just unbelievable."

President Trump tweeted Friday regarding the shooting stating, "School shooting in Texas. Early reports not looking good. God bless all!"

Trump mentioned the school shooting during a speech at the White House Friday.


 Eight to 10 people were killed Friday in a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.  (AP)

“Unfortunately I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting in Texas,” he said. “We send prayers and support for everyone affected in the horrific attack.

Trump also tweeted again saying he "grieved for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas."

"To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High School - we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever," he concluded.

Trump spoke with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to "offer his condolences for those affected by the shooting at Santa Fe High School," an official told Fox News.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said it was also on the scene. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted early Friday that he arrived at the school to assist officers with the Galveston County Sheriff Office.

Santa Fe is a city of about 13,000 residents, located 30 miles southeast of Houston. The incident is the nation's deadliest school shooting since the February attack in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.

Fox News' Madeline Rivera and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How #MeToo Has Undermined the #Resistance




Caitlyn MacGregor dons a “pussyhat” and attends the second annual Women’s March in Cambridge, Mass., January 20, 2018.(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The steady drumbeat of sexual scandal is eroding the Left’s moral authority.
In 2016, the Democrats made a significant mistake in opposing Donald Trump:

They framed their opposition to Trump in moral terms, but failed to provide a better alternative. In 2017 and 2018, they’re making the same mistake again, adopting an attitude of moral superiority in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary.

The Left’s failure in the presidential election was glaringly obvious. 

You claim Trump is dishonest? So is Hillary Clinton. 

You claim that Trump’s financial dealings are shady? Let’s walk through Whitewater, cattle futures, and the Clinton Foundation. 

Trump is a predator? Voters who lived through the 1990s remember “bimbo eruptions,” Monica Lewinsky, a rape allegation, and a wife who consistently covered for her husband’s horrible behavior. The Clintons were a package deal, and that deal included a legacy of tawdry, shocking sexual scandal.

Hillary centered her entire campaign on the notion that Trump was a bad person. She was the worst candidate to make that argument. 

But when 2016 entered history, so did she. 

Her book tours and headline-grabbing gaffes notwithstanding, she’s largely yesterday’s news. 

The #Resistance, on the other hand, is fresh. And it has the moral authority that Hillary lacked. It can speak clearly about “norms” and “values.” It can condemn Trump’s multiple moral failings in the strongest possible terms, unencumbered by all that Clinton baggage.

At least until #MeToo.

I truly don’t think the Left understands how the relentless drumbeat of sexual scandal looks to Americans outside the progressive bubble. 

Left-dominated quarters of American life — Hollywood, the media, progressive politics — have been revealed to be havens for the worst sort of ghouls, and each scandal seems to be accompanied by two words that deepen American cynicism and make legions of conservative Americans roll their eyes at the Left’s moral arguments: “Everyone knew.”

Let’s put this in the clearest possible terms: 

For years, as Hollywood positioned itself as America’s conscience and as the media lauded its commitment to “social justice,” it was harboring, protecting, and indeed promoting truly dreadful human beings as leaders and taste-makers. Progressive politicians who proclaimed support for women’s rights on Twitter were groping women on airplanes or punching them in the bedroom.

All this was happening at the precise time that the dominant argument — particularly against social conservatism — was that “you people are haters and bigots.” 

It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which conservative Americans have felt scolded and hectored. 

So how do you expect us to react when it’s revealed that all too many of the self-appointed moralists weren’t just the kind of preachers who’d run off with the secretary, they were the kind of monsters who’d press a button in their office, lock the secretary in the room, and assault her?

And again, people knew.

Progressives might immediately respond, “Well, at least we’re cleaning house.”

And it’s true that the number of politicians and celebrities who’ve resigned or been fired is growing long indeed. 

But conservatives have their own retort: “We are too.” Bill O’Reilly is off Fox. Roger Ailes was forced out before he passed away. Roy Moore lost an unlosable Senate seat. Missouri’s governor may well face impeachment.

That leaves, of course, the presidency, which puts us right back where we started, with the terrible dilemma of 2016. 

Do Democrats honestly believe that they can put forth a corrupt candidate and then, when that candidate loses, adopt a morally scolding position that Republicans should demand the discipline or resignation of their victor? 

If they do, they’re in for a rude awakening: 

Most living voters remember all too well how they circled the wagons in 1998 around a man who was credibly accused of rape — not just defending him, but trying to reorder American sexual morality and destroy his accusers and investigators in the process.

There are very good reasons why there is collapsing trust in American public institutions, and #MeToo has only hastened that collapse. 

Make no mistake, it’s a welcome reckoning. 

But it’s also dismantling progressive moral credibility. 

It’s revealing a deep rot and entrenched corruption. 

And it’s leaving Americans with a profound, unanswered question: 

You say the Trump GOP is morally bad, but where is your morally superior alternative?

Moral arguments are always perilous to make. 

They invariably put a spotlight on the person and the movement making them.

They carry with them an implicit requirement to be better

Hillary Clinton could never manage that burden. 

Now the #Resistance is saddled with the collapsing credibility of major progressive cultural institutions.

The housecleaning is welcome and long overdue. 

Victims have been crying out for justice for far too long. 

But justice has a way of revealing truth, and for the Left that truth is hard to face: 

In the battle for American hearts, it has lost the standing to make its moral case.

DAVID FRENCH — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. @davidafrench

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Unresolved IRS Scandal


By Bradley A. Smith | The Wall Street Journal

Congress should take tax collectors out of the business of regulating political activity.

Imagine if liberal groups discovered that President Trump’s Internal Revenue Service was targeting them for heightened scrutiny or harassment. 

The media and Democrats would decry this assault on the First Amendment and declare the U.S. on the brink of autocracy. The scandal would dominate the midterms, and the legitimacy of the election would be called into question.

Strangely enough, the IRS did target organs of the opposition party during the last administration, but the episode has largely faded from public memory without resolution. May 10 marks the fifth anniversary of the revelation that President Obama’s IRS targeted conservative groups for more than two years prior to the 2012 presidential election.

While some of the faces at the IRS have changed, the law that enabled their misuse of power has not. Congress’s failure to address the problem leaves the U.S. democratic process vulnerable to further abuses.


Lois Lerner, the career official at the center of the IRS scandal, retired on full pension after invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress.


John Koskinen, appointed IRS commissioner by Mr. Obama to lead the agency “in difficult times,” served his full term, spending the better part of four years stonewalling congressional requests for information. On his watch, the IRS destroyed evidence subject to subpoena.

The response from the political system showed early promise but quickly fizzled. 

After initially expressing shock, Mr. Obama abandoned any pretext of interest, suggesting it was a “phony scandal.” And why not? 

A 2012 American Enterprise Institute study found that tea-party organizations substantially increased conservative turnout in the 2010 midterms. 

The agency’s suppression of those groups in the following years might have given Mr. Obama’s re-election a boost.

Democratic officials deserve much of the blame for the IRS’s improper and likely illegal harassment. 

The president warned against tea-party groups in ominous terms, describing them as threats to American democracy. Democratic senators repeatedly wrote to IRS leadership to urge them to investigate conservative nonprofits.

The IRS responded to this hectoring from the political branches. 

Its initial reaction to the scandal was to propose new regulations institutionalizing the discriminatory practices, as if the problem was merely that conservative organizations didn’t know in advance that the IRS would single them out. 

A public outcry stopped those regulations in their tracks, and in budgets since 2015 Congress has prohibited the IRS from spending money on that rule-making project.

With that congressional tweak and the retirement of Ms. Lerner, many conservatives seem to think Washington has turned the page on IRS abuse. Meanwhile, too many Democrats seem to think that this could never happen to them. Both are wrong. 

The IRS scandal was not the result of a few rogue IRS employees; the problem is that the IRS is involved in regulating political activity.

A group that engages in politics is not necessarily considered a “political committee” by the IRS. Such well-known political actors as the Sierra Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Planned Parenthood engage through their affiliates in substantial activity related to politics—including get-out-the-vote drives, legislative advocacy and even candidate ads.

But because the IRS designates the affiliate groups as “social welfare” organizations, they are subject to less-stringent disclosure requirements.

The tea-party groups that sprang up in 2009 sought to engage in these types of activities, but some Democrats didn’t like it. If the IRS denied these groups status as social-welfare organizations, they would be forced to either reorganize as for-profit organizations or as political committees subject to greater regulatory burdens. 

That’s how the IRS was able to hassle conservative groups.

The easy fix here would be for Congress simply to scrap restrictions on political activity by social-welfare organizations, thereby stripping the IRS of authority to decide which groups are “political committees” and which aren’t. 

In a democracy, political activity is part of social welfare. Such a change would not affect federal revenue, as contributions to social-welfare organizations are not tax-deductible. There would be no “subsidizing political activity.”

The Federal Election Commission—a bipartisan agency staffed by experts and created to oversee election-related activities—is the proper authority to determine whether an organization should be subject to regulation under campaign-finance laws. 

The IRS—an agency under control of the president, with no bipartisan checks, subject to congressional pressure, and tasked with collecting revenue—is not.

There is a long history of presidents from both parties using the IRS to harass political opponents. Democrats and Republicans alike should recognize that, fix the law, and get the IRS out of politics.

Mr. Smith, a law professor at Capital University and chairman of the Institute for Free Speech, was chairman of the Federal Election Commission in 2004.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Before and After Welfare Handouts


By Walter E. Williams

Before the massive growth of our welfare state, private charity was the sole option for an individual or family facing insurmountable financial difficulties or other challenges.

How do we know that?
There is no history of Americans dying on the streets because they could not find food or basic medical assistance. 

Respecting the biblical commandment to honor thy father and mother, children took care of their elderly or infirm parents. Family members and the local church also helped those who had fallen on hard times.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, charities started playing a major role. In 1887, religious leaders founded the Charity Organization Society, which became the first United Way organization. 

In 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America started helping at-risk youths reach their full potential. 

In 1913, the American Cancer Society, dedicated to curing and eliminating cancer, was formed. 

With their millions of dollars, industrial giants such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created our nation's first philanthropic organizations.

Generosity has always been a part of the American genome. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French civil servant, made a nine-month visit to our country in 1831 and 1832, ostensibly to study our prisons. Instead, his visit resulted in his writing "Democracy in America," one of the most influential books about our nation. 

Tocqueville didn't use the term "philanthropy," but he wrote extensively about how Americans love to form all kinds of nongovernmental associations to help one another. These associations include professional, social, civic and other volunteer organizations seeking to serve the public good and improve the quality of human lives. 

The bottom line is that we Americans are the most generous people in the world, according to the new Almanac of American Philanthropy -- something we should be proud of.

Before the welfare state, charity embodied both a sense of gratitude on the behalf of the recipient and magnanimity on the behalves of donors. There was a sense of civility by the recipients. 

They did not feel that they were owed, were entitled to or had a right to the largesse of the donor. 

Recipients probably felt that if they weren't civil and didn't express their gratitude, more assistance wouldn't be forthcoming. In other words, they were reluctant to bite the hand that helped them. 

With churches and other private agencies helping, people were much likelier to help themselves and less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior. 

Part of the message of charitable groups was: "We'll help you if you help yourself."

Enter the federal government. 

Civility and gratitude toward one's benefactors are no longer required in the welfare state. 

In fact, one can be arrogant and hostile toward the "donors" (taxpayers), as well as the civil servants who dish out the benefits. 

The handouts that recipients get are no longer called charity; they're called entitlements -- as if what is received were earned.

There is virtually no material poverty in the U.S. 

Eighty percent of households the Census Bureau labels as poor have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have at least one computer. Forty-two percent own their homes. 

What we have in our nation is not material poverty but dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives, aided and abetted by the welfare state. Part of this pathological lifestyle is reflected in family structure. 

According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children and 3 percent of white children were born to unwed mothers. 

Today it's respectively 75 percent and 30 percent.

There are very little guts in the political arena to address the downside of the welfare state. To do so risks a politician's being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today's dependency is likely to become permanent.