Sequester showdown in Washington

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 23, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report." President Obama turns up the heat on Republicans warning of dire consequences if those March 1st spending cuts kick in. John Boehner says the sequester wasn't his idea but should he try to stop it?

Plus New York City's murder rate hits a 50-year low but the policy, many credit for that achievement, is once again under fire. Could stop and frisk soon be a thing of the past?

And just in time for the Oscars, it's the return of the Hollywood black list. We'll take a closer look at the campaign against "Zero Dark Thirty."

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

With just days to go President Obama turned up the heat on Republicans this week saying that they would be to blame if across-the-board spending cuts take effect on March 1st. Appearing on Tuesday with firefighters, police officers and other first responders, the president claimed the consequences of such cuts would be dire.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: People will lose their jobs. It will jeopardize our military readiness. It will eviscerate job-creating investments, thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.


GIGOT: But in a Wall Street Journal op-ed House Speaker John Boehner shot back saying the sequester was the White House's idea in the first place and a product of President Obama's failed leadership.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger. Political Diary editor Jason Riley and Washington columnist Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, let's start with the merits first and the president's claims of catastrophe if those spending cuts kick in. Is that -- is that correct?

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, we don't exactly know. What we do know is the president has every incentive here to make it sound as always going to be absolutely the most dreadful thing.

Look, the reality is, Paul, it's a 2.5 percent cut to the federal budget.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: $85 billion out of a $3.8 trillion budget. If you can't find that much to cut then there is a problem.

GIGOT: Is there enough flexibility in the sequester to make a difference to these -- agency heads will be able to maneuver and prevent things like, Jason, cuts to air traffic control, for example?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, that's what Republicans would like to do and give the president some flexibility. The problem is Democrats who want the Armageddon narrative are opposed to --

GIGOT: And why is that?

RILEY: Well, they like this narrative. They want to pretend like --

GIGOT: That any cuts at all in government are catastrophic?

RILEY: That these are cuts are catastrophic so they don't want to give the president flexibility. But the fact of the matter is we are talking about 5 percent domestic spending, 7 percent in Defense. These are doable. And while --

GIGOT: You say domestic spending. These are discretionary spending, because this isn't a cut in Social Security or in entitlements.

RILEY: Right. No entitlement. Right.


RILEY: But this is -- this is doable. And the rhetorical lens that the president is going to present this as, you know, the four horsemen of the apocalypse coming, it's ridiculous.

GIGOT: Kim, does your -- does your reporting suggest that Harry Reid has in fact explicitly rejected -- that's the Senate leader -- a request by the Republicans to be able to add more flexibility to the -- to the cuts?

STRASSEL: Well, we don't know that in particular. But what we do know is that the White House, they had on official down in front of the Senate recently. They were asked about giving this -- being given this flexibility provision and they openly said, came back and said, we would reject any effort to actually lessen the pain of this sequester.

And so the president here is getting himself into a situation where he's warning about all this doom and gloom. The Republicans are giving him a way out of this and they're increasingly looking to be rejecting that just so that they can continue to bring down the hammer.

GIGOT: And the president, Dan, is insisting not just on other spending cuts alternatives, or even weakening the cuts, he's saying, look, I want a tax increase, too.

What is that all about? I mean, we just had a huge tax increase that is -- that is already, according to the newspaper reports, hurting consumer spending. Why do we -- why does he want another one?

DANIEL HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: He wants that because it's part of the strategy that he has been running all along which is to make it virtually impossible for the Republicans to do business or sign up for it. He wants them to be in a rejectionist mode so then he can blame them for pushing the government into the sequester.

Add one more thing, Paul. Flexibility. There's another word for flexibility, it's responsibility. And I do think the Republicans should push the continuing resolution that has this so-called flexibility. The president is in charge of the executive branch. Let him take the responsibility for deciding how these cuts should be administered which he has been dodging for three years.

RILEY: I think, Paul, the president is feeling very confident now. His approval ratings around 50 percent. But it's 20 or so points higher than that of Republicans. He figured I --

GIGOT: Only 20?

RILEY: He figures, I beat them on the debt ceiling debate in 2011.


RILEY: I beat them on the fiscal cliff. I can do it again. The polls show the public will be with me. Now whether that is well founded confidence, we'll find out but I think that is what is driving some of this. He feels like he can win this fight.

GIGOT: But can you think it may be overconfidence on the part of the president? That this is different than those other two fights Jason mentioned. How so?

STRASSEL: It absolutely is. Republicans no they got beat on the debt ceiling fight and the fact that they are embracing the sequester is their strategy, deliberate strategy to make sure it doesn't happen again. Look, they are -- ready and willing to let this thing go into effect because think of it. Step back. What are we talking about at the moment? We're not talking about Republicans' lack of unity on taxes. We're talking about spending, we're talking about the size of government. We're talking about the president's addiction to spending. We're talking about priorities.

This is exactly where the Republicans want this debate to be.

GIGOT: But could they split over Defense spending, Kim, where they -- you know, a lot of their members don't want the damage that this could do to the Pentagon?

STRASSEL: Well, and this is where the president is going to bring down the hammer the hardest and tried to (INAUDIBLE) the most. But what is notable here, Paul, is that even the Republicans who have some qualms about how this is going to hit defense, even they, the vast majority of them, understand the necessities, strategic, policy wise, politically, of allowing the sequester to go into effect.

And the reality is that given that the law is kicking in on March 1st, there really isn't any real legislative option that is open to -- I mean, that Republicans would go for that would change it.

GIGOT: Right. And if Republicans give in on a tax increase again, they are toast in 2014.

When we come back, New York City saw murders plummet in 2012 to their lowest rate in 50 years. But the policy, many say, is is responsible for that historic success. It's coming under attack. Should stop and frisk be a thing of the past?



NEW YORK CITY MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I understand that innocent people don't like to be stopped but innocent people don't like to be shot and killed either. And stopped -- take hundreds of guns off the streets each year.


GIGOT: That was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his state of the city speech, defending his police department's stop and frisk policy. Although the city's homicide rate reached a record low in 2012, the controversial crime fighting tactic is once again under fire.

Last week NAACP president Ben Jealous accused Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly of engaging in fear-mongering for their claim that stop and frisk has made New York City safer. And a federal judge in Manhattan ruled last month in one of three pending lawsuits that a key part of the city's program is unconstitutional.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz also joins us.

So, Jason, on the facts, has this policy reduced crime?

RILEY: Certainly. And that's certainly what the mayor believes. It's what the police commissioner believes. And it's what the statistics show. Last year, a record number, low number of homicides, 400 or so. In the early '90s the number was around 2,000. And even more importantly, Paul, it's saving the lives of people in those most vulnerable communities. In other words it's saving black and Latino lives.

Heather McDonald, the Manhattan Institute, has looked at this and said, if we had the same murder rate today that we had in the 1990s you're talking about 10,000 or so more black men -- black and Hispanic men dead.

GIGOT: Let's look at comparative murder rates in New York City versus some of the other big cities in America. You can see it, New York City per 100,000 citizens has had five murders whereas four times less than Philadelphia, for example, or Chicago.

Dorothy, so if Jason is right why any objections?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, there are no reason -- two reasons for objections. This is shear demagoguery. Let's go to that old saying the constitution is not a suicide pact. It's not a suicide pact for minorities either. And the basis of all of their claims that minorities are hurt is bizarre.

If I could just make a bit -- a quick trip to the Los Angeles police officer who shot those people which brought a vocal group out, saying, well, yes, we don't want to shoot people but the police are corrupt. It is a very good mirror image of the Ben Jealous view. First and foremost --


GIGOT: But here's -- let me introduce a couple of facts here. Eighty-four percent of these -- the stop and frisk people who are stopped and frisked are minorities according to 2011 and 88 percent of those who were stop and frisked, there was no summons, there was no arrest. So the accusation is look, it's a kind of racial profiling, number one, and number two, it's way over done.

RILEY: Well --

GIGOT: You don't need to do it because these people actually aren't threatening.

RILEY: But that doesn't take into effect -- the deterrence effect that it could be having.


RILEY: If people know if there's a police presence in these communities are people more -- less likely to be either engaged in behavior or carrying items that they shouldn't be carrying that are illegal. But this is all based on behavior. Black behavior. That's what Ben Jealous doesn't want to talk about. Ben Jealous and the NAACP are interested in maintaining the relevance of the NAACP. They are in the grievance industry and the fact of the matter is they want to ignore the black behavior that is driving these policies.

GIGOT: Jason, is it --

RILEY: But blacks are only 13 percent of the population, Paul, but there are 50 percent of people committing homicides and 90 percent of their victims are other black people.

GIGOT: But is -- OK. But is it still overdone?

RILEY: I think the tradeoff in saved lives is worth it. And if you go talk to the people in these communities, Mayor Bloomberg said innocent people don't like to get shot. Most of the people living in these ghettos are law-abiding citizens. They don't want these knuckleheads on the -- on their block selling drugs, engaging in illegal behavior. They appreciate this pro-active policing. They know it's saving lives.

GIGOT: Dorothy you know a lot of cops, so do I. And we know that they are not all saints. Could some of them be using this an excuse to harass people?

RABINOWITZ: No. Is there any logic even in that suspicion? Look at this. If you have a minority neighborhood filled with minorities, you are going to have an overrepresentation of people. If these are high --


GIGOT: Who are stopped and frisked.

RABINOWITZ: Who was stopped and frisked. There is no logic to any of this. You have to show a pattern of choice of minorities. You go into a 98 percent black or Hispanic neighborhood and you stop and frisk people and then there are complaints that they're almost all black. Doesn't make any sense.

GIGOT: That gets to the legal point, Dan, "Ontario versus Ohio" 1968, Supreme Court case said that stop and frisk was legal. You could -- police could go outside and check people's clothing but they needed more than a hunch. They needed a specific set of facts to be able to justify.

HENNINGER: They need a reasonable suspicion to do that and in these cases reasonable suspicion does exist. Can abuse happen or can people be harassed? Yes. These are situations where some of the people they're frisking are carrying guns. These are cops working in violent situations. It's up to the people managing the police department to try to do the best they can to ensure that 95 percent of the cops are not behaving in an abusive way.

It's inevitable in a situation like this that at the margin things like this will happen. But as Jason suggested, if you ask the residents of these neighborhoods whether they want them to stop doing this, the answer is no. They are safer neighborhoods as a result.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you.

Still ahead, on this Oscar weekend the return of the Hollywood black list. We'll take a closer look at the campaign against "Zero Dark Thirty," next.


GIGOT: Well, just in time for this weekend's Academy Awards. Are we seeing the return of a Hollywood black list? "Zero Dark Thirty," perhaps the best reviewed film of 2012, has become an Oscar long shot, thanks to the backlash over its depiction of rough interrogation in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Actor Ed Asner urged Academy voters to snub the film and author Naomi Wolf called its director, Kathryn Bigelow, torturous handmaid, comparing her to a Nazi propagandist.

And in a December letter to Sony Pictures Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain got in on the act. Announcing the movie and claiming that, quote, "The film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to -- the location of Osama bin Laden."

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Matt Kaminski recently sat down with the film's screenwriter Mark Boal. He joins us now.

So, Matt, is this going to hurt the film's Oscar chances?

MATTHEW KAMINSKI, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I mean, it certainly hurt them throughout the -- you know, the award season, this sort of -- a sentiment shift against "Zero Dark Thirty," and it dates back really to its Christmas release and the letters from the senators. You know, it is one of the best reviewed films. It's done very well at the box office.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: So the viewers aren't complaining. But it's defined really as the torture film. And it's been hijacked by the politics of torture and so much far more so in Washington than in Hollywood itself.

GIGOT: You met with Boal, interviewed him for our paper. What's his argument here that he thinks this is unfair, I assume?

KAMINSKI: Absolutely. I mean, I think he's both defensive and frustrated. And impassioned, too. Because I think he's been out -- and remember, this is a film about an event that took place less than two years ago. You can't really think of film that tries to do something similar. He set out and report it himself. He's a former journalist. He still is a journalist. He reported this story out and actually news in the film, you know, how the CIA piece this together how frustrating it was, how hard it was.

But he really tried to present it in a very non-judgmental way. The film does not say torture or enhanced interrogation -- whatever you want to call it -- was central to finding bin Laden. But it's only part of the story. You know, we did interrogate the high value al Qaeda targets in such a way and these targets did provide information that led us to bin Laden.

GIGOT: So you're saying it's actually realistic in its depiction of it. Not a -- a moral celebration of it or somehow saying that --

KAMINSKI: Absolutely not. No. I mean, it really does spell it out the way it was and tries to give the history in a straight way.

GIGOT: Dorothy, I can't remember when politicians got into this, the politics of film making in such a way. What do you think of the senators' intrusion?

RABINOWITZ: Well, I think it is an outrage and a lot of people do remember such a time that was the time of the Hollywood black list. When?

GIGOT: And the McCarthy area.

RABINOWITZ: And the McCarthy era.

GIGOT: Right. Communist in Hollywood accusations?

RABINOWITZ: They brought -- they did exactly what the Senator Feinstein and Senator McCain did. They summoned the attention of these filmmakers and asked them to change the film. They wanted the right propaganda influence. They wanted the right view. There is no difference between this. Hollywood has spent the last 60 years putting out films about the martyrdom of the great film community.

GIGOT: Well then why would they be so craven down as to bend to this pressure and not -- and vote against it for the --

RABINOWITZ: Well, they have short memories. And because in Hollywood they understand where the wind goes politically. They said, yes, well, this is the progressive view. We are not for the torture. The cowardice of the Hollywood community on the face of this is remarkable.

GIGOT: We should add that the senators aren't just sending letters to Sony Pictures. They've actually unleashed their staff, you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee, to go investigate the CIA in the extent to which it cooperated with the filmmakers. And Mark Boal has had to hire an attorney in anticipation of that investigation. So this is again an attempt to maybe go in and intimidate the CIA?

HENNINGER: Well, certainly, and they are talking about having Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal come and testify before Congress about what relationship they had with the CIA.

GIGOT: But (INAUDIBLE) on that point, federal agencies cooperate with Hollywood all the time.

HENNINGER: And have it since World War II. Since World War II. John Ford, one of the most eminent directors in American film, won an Academy Award for making a documentary for the Navy department during World War II, what is now described as a propaganda film. So this relationship has gone on since the beginning of time.

GIGOT: So what's the motive for the senator?

HENNINGER: The motive for the senators, Paul, really interesting question. This is a reflection of certain kind of a liberal mindset that focuses on nothing but these enhanced interrogations which occurred in the context of 9/11, the London bombings and Madrid train bombings and -- train station bombings, and it forced al Qaeda which was blowing up civilians. The purpose of the interrogations was to prevent future events from happening which they failed at in --

GIGOT: And so why are senators against that?

HENNINGER: Because they are intent on just focusing on one thing, torture, to the exclusion of these other issues. That's -- in my opinion -- why they're doing it and because senators are egotistical grandstanders.

RABINOWITZ: You're looking at the very definition of ideology and ideologically driven. If it's not in Senator Feinstein's mind that this is all about the bombings and the terror but we want to change your view. This is an outrage. And when she said dark time, the dark time, she's taking us back to.

GIGOT: Briefly, Matt, is it going to win?

KAMINSKI: I doubt it.

GIGOT: OK. All right. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our hits and misses of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: Amidst the Congressman Ed Markey for his latest extreme statement this one claiming unbelievably that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen United, which actually gives outside groups more freedom to give money in political campaigns was somehow equivalent to the Supreme Court 19th century decision upholding slavery.

Now we have long known that Democrats like Mr. Markey who is running for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts despise the idea of outside groups challenging him in his bid for higher office. What will be revealing to the members -- residents of the bay state is he actually equates that to one of the greatest moral atrocities in the American history.

GIGOT: And now he wants to go to the Senate. So thank you, Massachusetts. It's OK. Jason?

RILEY: Paul, this is a hit for Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas. He's doing a wonderful job of getting under the skin of the liberal press. He's become the latest conservative that liberals love to hate. They are complaining that he is too outspoken given his junior status. He should be more deferential.

But what I suspect, Paul, is that they really have a problem with his conservatism. I mean, the freshman senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, is not exactly known for his -- for her congeniality but where are the articles about her sharp elbows?

GIGOT: All right, Jason. Matt?

KAMINSKI: Here's the hit to Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan Tires, a tire maker in Ohio. In the last week he's gotten a very public argument with the current French government. A socialist government which really -- has raised taxes and moved against business. He said they tried to get him to invest in a tire company in northern France.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: He said how stupid do you think you are? The unions there are far too powerful for me. I am staying away.


GIGOT: OK. All right. Thanks, Matt.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. And all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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