Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 12, 2008

It’s Not About the Kids, It’s About the Woman

Surely the most talked-about “lifestyle” piece of the month will be Lisa Belkin’s cover story in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, called “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The subject is a movement called “equally shared parenting,” according to whose tenets all tasks relating to a couple’s children are divided 50-50 between father and mother. There’s nothing new here — the piece details how, no matter what happens, women do twice as much housework and parent-duty work as men; that it was true 90 years ago and is true now; and that this just doesn’t seem fair. Key paragraphs:

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

The lopsided ratio holds true however you construct and deconstruct a family. “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

“And the most sadly comic data is from my own research,” he adds, which show that in married couples “where she has a job and he doesn’t, and where you would anticipate a complete reversal, even then you find the wife doing the majority of the housework.”

When behaviors are as deeply ingrained as these seem to be, social science has no answers for why this is happening. Neither does Lisa Belkin. What is astonishing about her piece is that the equal-parenting movement has absolutely nothing to do with the children. No one claims in the course of this piece that it is better for the children that fathers and mothers share all tasks equally. That would be an interesting piece, with an interesting argument. The sole issue for Belkin is the burden placed on the woman in a marriage, and how it might interfere with her self-actualization. The women in the article all have husbands who have bought into the equal-parenting line. And yet, all they do is whine. Or condescend to the men in their lives. Which, given the whining and the “I just didn’t want to be part of the rat race” blather the men indulge in, is really quite understandable.

Surely the most talked-about “lifestyle” piece of the month will be Lisa Belkin’s cover story in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, called “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The subject is a movement called “equally shared parenting,” according to whose tenets all tasks relating to a couple’s children are divided 50-50 between father and mother. There’s nothing new here — the piece details how, no matter what happens, women do twice as much housework and parent-duty work as men; that it was true 90 years ago and is true now; and that this just doesn’t seem fair. Key paragraphs:

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

The lopsided ratio holds true however you construct and deconstruct a family. “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

“And the most sadly comic data is from my own research,” he adds, which show that in married couples “where she has a job and he doesn’t, and where you would anticipate a complete reversal, even then you find the wife doing the majority of the housework.”

When behaviors are as deeply ingrained as these seem to be, social science has no answers for why this is happening. Neither does Lisa Belkin. What is astonishing about her piece is that the equal-parenting movement has absolutely nothing to do with the children. No one claims in the course of this piece that it is better for the children that fathers and mothers share all tasks equally. That would be an interesting piece, with an interesting argument. The sole issue for Belkin is the burden placed on the woman in a marriage, and how it might interfere with her self-actualization. The women in the article all have husbands who have bought into the equal-parenting line. And yet, all they do is whine. Or condescend to the men in their lives. Which, given the whining and the “I just didn’t want to be part of the rat race” blather the men indulge in, is really quite understandable.

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Does the Obama Camp Even Check?

Because every bad thing they can think up about George Bush needs to be tied to John McCain, the Obama camp simply assumes that McCain and Bush agree on certain issues even when they do not. This is true on Guantanamo and military tribunals. Today Obama claimed McCain supported Bush’s position. But in fact McCain has been a thorn, a very sharp one, in the Bush administration’s side on Guantanamo and the provision of legal access to detainees for a long time. See here and here and here. (This is not to say that McCain favored full habeas corpus rights for detainees; he did not. But he can hardly be deemed to be a Bush clone on this one.)

Some conservatives might have liked McCain to have followed a harder line, but he didn’t. And to contend that he backed Bush’s stance is absurd. The McCain camp is obviously conflicted and in no hurry to remind conservatives of differences with them on this national security issue. Still, it would be nice if the media asked Obama what the basis for his accusation against McCain is.

Because every bad thing they can think up about George Bush needs to be tied to John McCain, the Obama camp simply assumes that McCain and Bush agree on certain issues even when they do not. This is true on Guantanamo and military tribunals. Today Obama claimed McCain supported Bush’s position. But in fact McCain has been a thorn, a very sharp one, in the Bush administration’s side on Guantanamo and the provision of legal access to detainees for a long time. See here and here and here. (This is not to say that McCain favored full habeas corpus rights for detainees; he did not. But he can hardly be deemed to be a Bush clone on this one.)

Some conservatives might have liked McCain to have followed a harder line, but he didn’t. And to contend that he backed Bush’s stance is absurd. The McCain camp is obviously conflicted and in no hurry to remind conservatives of differences with them on this national security issue. Still, it would be nice if the media asked Obama what the basis for his accusation against McCain is.

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Duck! It’s Another Media Food Fight

Get this: Keith Olbermann says Katie Couric is the worst person in the world. (This by the way seems to seriously lower the bar for what has become a conservative badge of honor.) The Huffington Post says Olbermann has some nerve.

Does the fact that media folk publicly snipe at one another out of political considerations have anything to do with the fact that people think the media is biased and unfair? Let’s just say the notion that a job is a “profession” rests in part on professional behavior, accepted norms of conduct and civility toward one’s peers. By that standard alone it is worth questioning whether it is time to give up the illusion that TV news personalities are “professional journalists.” They increasingly seem to be neither professional or journalists.

Get this: Keith Olbermann says Katie Couric is the worst person in the world. (This by the way seems to seriously lower the bar for what has become a conservative badge of honor.) The Huffington Post says Olbermann has some nerve.

Does the fact that media folk publicly snipe at one another out of political considerations have anything to do with the fact that people think the media is biased and unfair? Let’s just say the notion that a job is a “profession” rests in part on professional behavior, accepted norms of conduct and civility toward one’s peers. By that standard alone it is worth questioning whether it is time to give up the illusion that TV news personalities are “professional journalists.” They increasingly seem to be neither professional or journalists.

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Gas Prices

The McCain team is piling on over Barack Obama’s comments that he would have preferred that gas taxes go up more gradually. I get that Obama’s comments sound a bit out-of-touch, dare I say insensitive, but I think everyone is protesting too much. High gas prices are, conservatives tell us, a function of the marketplace (and of the chokehold by OPEC abetting by our inane failure to develop domestic oil sources). When the market functions as it should and gas gets too expensive, consumers will conserve and producers will develop alternative sources that become cost effective in relative terms. And what exactly would be the alternative to high gas prices now (other than the gas tax holiday and some other stop-gap measures)? We should go harass and tax the energy companies some more? (I never understood how a windfall oil tax helps consumers, but it’s always on the list of Democratic “solutions” to energy issues.)

Obama probably could have phrased it differently. But isn’t the current price spike the greatest non-regulatory impetus to developing alternative energy sources we’ve seen so far? Sure beats carbon taxes and complicated cap and trade systems. (And it is a pretty darn good argument to increase domestic drilling.)

The McCain team is piling on over Barack Obama’s comments that he would have preferred that gas taxes go up more gradually. I get that Obama’s comments sound a bit out-of-touch, dare I say insensitive, but I think everyone is protesting too much. High gas prices are, conservatives tell us, a function of the marketplace (and of the chokehold by OPEC abetting by our inane failure to develop domestic oil sources). When the market functions as it should and gas gets too expensive, consumers will conserve and producers will develop alternative sources that become cost effective in relative terms. And what exactly would be the alternative to high gas prices now (other than the gas tax holiday and some other stop-gap measures)? We should go harass and tax the energy companies some more? (I never understood how a windfall oil tax helps consumers, but it’s always on the list of Democratic “solutions” to energy issues.)

Obama probably could have phrased it differently. But isn’t the current price spike the greatest non-regulatory impetus to developing alternative energy sources we’ve seen so far? Sure beats carbon taxes and complicated cap and trade systems. (And it is a pretty darn good argument to increase domestic drilling.)

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Plenty of Kool Aid to Go Around

Sometimes it is easy to assume campaigns are captives of their own spin and don’t read or watch enough coverage to get themselves unspun. But on further inspection they might do well to steer clear of some of the pundits who are likely to get them even more muddled. There is this one on the Johnson affair:

And why did the Obama campaign, if they were standing on principle, decide to back down in the face of criticism? If Obama’s choice of Johnson was a mistake in the first place, then that’s one thing. But if the campaign doesn’t believe they made an error — and they don’t — why give the Republicans a trophy head?

Psst: there was no principle. It was a glaring error in judgment and they tried to fake their way through it for awhile.

This one which tells us this demonstrates Obama “has absorbed much from his crash-course in presidential campaigning. One lesson he has internalized is how to cut his losses quickly.” The latter pundit nevertheless does let on that Obama:

has yet to master the art of keeping his cool when someone (an opponent or the press) has the temerity to question his decision-making. We learn that his first instinct is to brush off criticism with a flick of a finger.

So I don’t envy those on the campaigns trying to get their bearings. In particular, there are plenty of mainstream media types anxious to encourage Obama’s worst tendencies: refusal to accept responsibility, paranoia about the right-wing attack machine, and determination to ignore facts which don’t fit the liberal policy agenda.

At least for John McCain there is no shortage of people telling him what to do and how to do it. That, by the way, is not a bad thing.

Sometimes it is easy to assume campaigns are captives of their own spin and don’t read or watch enough coverage to get themselves unspun. But on further inspection they might do well to steer clear of some of the pundits who are likely to get them even more muddled. There is this one on the Johnson affair:

And why did the Obama campaign, if they were standing on principle, decide to back down in the face of criticism? If Obama’s choice of Johnson was a mistake in the first place, then that’s one thing. But if the campaign doesn’t believe they made an error — and they don’t — why give the Republicans a trophy head?

Psst: there was no principle. It was a glaring error in judgment and they tried to fake their way through it for awhile.

This one which tells us this demonstrates Obama “has absorbed much from his crash-course in presidential campaigning. One lesson he has internalized is how to cut his losses quickly.” The latter pundit nevertheless does let on that Obama:

has yet to master the art of keeping his cool when someone (an opponent or the press) has the temerity to question his decision-making. We learn that his first instinct is to brush off criticism with a flick of a finger.

So I don’t envy those on the campaigns trying to get their bearings. In particular, there are plenty of mainstream media types anxious to encourage Obama’s worst tendencies: refusal to accept responsibility, paranoia about the right-wing attack machine, and determination to ignore facts which don’t fit the liberal policy agenda.

At least for John McCain there is no shortage of people telling him what to do and how to do it. That, by the way, is not a bad thing.

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Re: The Guantanamo Bay Decision

One doesn’t have to go back far to find inconsistencies in the Court’s ruling. From Scalia’s dissent:

And today it is not just the military that the Court elbows aside. A mere two Terms ago in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U. S. 557 (2006), when the Court held (quite amazingly) that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 had not stripped habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo petitioners’ claims, four Members of today’s five-Justice majority joined an opinion saying the following:

Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority [for trial by military commission] he believes necessary. Where, as here, no emergency prevents consultation with Congress, judicial insistence upon that consultation does not weaken our Nation’s ability to deal with danger. To the contrary, that insistence strengthens the Nation’s ability to determine—through democratic means—how best to do so. The Constitution places its faith in those democratic means.” Id., at 636 (BREYER, J., concurring).

Turns out they were just kidding. For in response, Congress, at the President’s request, quickly enacted the Military Commissions Act, emphatically reasserting that it did not want these prisoners filing habeas petitions. It is therefore clear that Congress and the Executive—both political branches—have determined that limiting the role of civilian courts in adjudicating whether prisoners captured abroad are properly detained is important to success in the war that some 190,000 of our men and women are now fighting . . . But it does not matter. The Court today decrees that no good reason to accept the judgment of the other two branches is “apparent.” Ante, at 40. “The Government,” it declares, “presents no credible arguments that the military mission at Guantanamo would be compromised if habeas corpus courts had jurisdiction to hear the detainees’ claims.” Id., at 39. What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.

This majority seems to have no problem overturning even recent precedent.

One doesn’t have to go back far to find inconsistencies in the Court’s ruling. From Scalia’s dissent:

And today it is not just the military that the Court elbows aside. A mere two Terms ago in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U. S. 557 (2006), when the Court held (quite amazingly) that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 had not stripped habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo petitioners’ claims, four Members of today’s five-Justice majority joined an opinion saying the following:

Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority [for trial by military commission] he believes necessary. Where, as here, no emergency prevents consultation with Congress, judicial insistence upon that consultation does not weaken our Nation’s ability to deal with danger. To the contrary, that insistence strengthens the Nation’s ability to determine—through democratic means—how best to do so. The Constitution places its faith in those democratic means.” Id., at 636 (BREYER, J., concurring).

Turns out they were just kidding. For in response, Congress, at the President’s request, quickly enacted the Military Commissions Act, emphatically reasserting that it did not want these prisoners filing habeas petitions. It is therefore clear that Congress and the Executive—both political branches—have determined that limiting the role of civilian courts in adjudicating whether prisoners captured abroad are properly detained is important to success in the war that some 190,000 of our men and women are now fighting . . . But it does not matter. The Court today decrees that no good reason to accept the judgment of the other two branches is “apparent.” Ante, at 40. “The Government,” it declares, “presents no credible arguments that the military mission at Guantanamo would be compromised if habeas corpus courts had jurisdiction to hear the detainees’ claims.” Id., at 39. What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.

This majority seems to have no problem overturning even recent precedent.

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Bookshelf

The novels of John P. Marquand are no closer to a revival than when I last wrote about them in COMMENTARY in 1987. To be sure, Marquand’s melancholy, satire-flecked studies of middle- and upper-middle-class American life were immeasurably popular in the 40’s and 50’s, but they are largely forgotten today, save for The Late George Apley, which won their author a Pulitzer Prize long, long ago. The Library of America shows no signs of taking an interest in Marquand’s oeuvre, and virtually all of his books have gone out of print. Fortunately, they sold so well when they were new that they’re easy to find on the used-book market, and I commend seven of them--Apley, H.M. Pulham, Esquire, Wickford Point, So Little Time, Point of No Return, Sincerely, Willis Wayde and Women and Thomas Harrow–to the attention of anyone in need of high-quality vacation reading.

It happens that I just got back from a visit to the small Missouri town where I grew up. A copy of Point of No Return, Marquand’s best novel, can still be found on the bookshelves of my mother’s house, and so I decided to read it again for the first time in a number of years. Once more I found myself caught up in the tale of Charles Gray, a small-town Massachusetts boy turned Manhattan banker who takes stock of his life to date and finds it inexplicably unsatisfying. I was so impressed that I looked up what I’d written about the book in “Justice to John P. Marquand,” my COMMENTARY essay, and found that I hadn’t changed my mind one bit:

Viewed from a technical standpoint, Point of No Return is quite impeccable. The satirical scenes are for the first time in Marquand’s work wholly integrated into the overall texture of the novel. The framing action has the economy of a short story, while the long central flashback is handled with cinematic fluidity. Moreover, Point of No Return is one of the few genuinely convincing treatments of the business world to appear in [American] fiction. Anyone who has traveled the long road that leads from a small-town childhood to an urban career will immediately appreciate the sympathetic accuracy with which Marquand has portrayed Charles Gray’s transformation into a polished banker.

That last sentence goes to the heart of the matter. When I first read Point of No Return, I was stuck by the precision with which it conveys what it feels like to partake of an experience that was and is central to American life. The Great Gatsby, to my mind the great American novel, tells a similar story more artfully, but also with a heightening touch of melodramatic lyricism that is necessarily less true to life. Not so the plainer-spoken Marquand. Writing in 1949, he suggested with uncanny exactitude much of what I felt when I came to New York as a young man some three decades later.

I especially like the scene in which Charles Gray arrives at Grand Central Station in 1930, having put his troubled past behind him to come looking for a job:

Outside the station, the streetcars and the traffic were already running in a steady stream under the ramp at Pershing Square. The shops on Forty-Second Street, the drugstores, the optical stores and haberdasheries, were already opening for the day. When he reached Fifth Avenue the lions in front of the Public Library looked white and cold and those old buses with the seats on top were moving in lines on the Avenue, but New York was sleepy still. New York had the appearance of having been up very late, and everyone on the streets had a patient, complaining look of having been routed too early out of bed. As he walked up the Avenue the city seemed to him as impersonal as it always did later and he loved that impersonality. Now that he had left his bag at the parcel room there was nothing to tie him. The tides of the city moved past him and he was part of the tide. His own problems and his own personality merged with it.

Point of No Return is by no means a great novel, nor was Marquand a great novelist, but I do think it says something about the American experience that few other writers have succeeded in putting on paper. It deserves to be remembered–and read.

The novels of John P. Marquand are no closer to a revival than when I last wrote about them in COMMENTARY in 1987. To be sure, Marquand’s melancholy, satire-flecked studies of middle- and upper-middle-class American life were immeasurably popular in the 40’s and 50’s, but they are largely forgotten today, save for The Late George Apley, which won their author a Pulitzer Prize long, long ago. The Library of America shows no signs of taking an interest in Marquand’s oeuvre, and virtually all of his books have gone out of print. Fortunately, they sold so well when they were new that they’re easy to find on the used-book market, and I commend seven of them--Apley, H.M. Pulham, Esquire, Wickford Point, So Little Time, Point of No Return, Sincerely, Willis Wayde and Women and Thomas Harrow–to the attention of anyone in need of high-quality vacation reading.

It happens that I just got back from a visit to the small Missouri town where I grew up. A copy of Point of No Return, Marquand’s best novel, can still be found on the bookshelves of my mother’s house, and so I decided to read it again for the first time in a number of years. Once more I found myself caught up in the tale of Charles Gray, a small-town Massachusetts boy turned Manhattan banker who takes stock of his life to date and finds it inexplicably unsatisfying. I was so impressed that I looked up what I’d written about the book in “Justice to John P. Marquand,” my COMMENTARY essay, and found that I hadn’t changed my mind one bit:

Viewed from a technical standpoint, Point of No Return is quite impeccable. The satirical scenes are for the first time in Marquand’s work wholly integrated into the overall texture of the novel. The framing action has the economy of a short story, while the long central flashback is handled with cinematic fluidity. Moreover, Point of No Return is one of the few genuinely convincing treatments of the business world to appear in [American] fiction. Anyone who has traveled the long road that leads from a small-town childhood to an urban career will immediately appreciate the sympathetic accuracy with which Marquand has portrayed Charles Gray’s transformation into a polished banker.

That last sentence goes to the heart of the matter. When I first read Point of No Return, I was stuck by the precision with which it conveys what it feels like to partake of an experience that was and is central to American life. The Great Gatsby, to my mind the great American novel, tells a similar story more artfully, but also with a heightening touch of melodramatic lyricism that is necessarily less true to life. Not so the plainer-spoken Marquand. Writing in 1949, he suggested with uncanny exactitude much of what I felt when I came to New York as a young man some three decades later.

I especially like the scene in which Charles Gray arrives at Grand Central Station in 1930, having put his troubled past behind him to come looking for a job:

Outside the station, the streetcars and the traffic were already running in a steady stream under the ramp at Pershing Square. The shops on Forty-Second Street, the drugstores, the optical stores and haberdasheries, were already opening for the day. When he reached Fifth Avenue the lions in front of the Public Library looked white and cold and those old buses with the seats on top were moving in lines on the Avenue, but New York was sleepy still. New York had the appearance of having been up very late, and everyone on the streets had a patient, complaining look of having been routed too early out of bed. As he walked up the Avenue the city seemed to him as impersonal as it always did later and he loved that impersonality. Now that he had left his bag at the parcel room there was nothing to tie him. The tides of the city moved past him and he was part of the tide. His own problems and his own personality merged with it.

Point of No Return is by no means a great novel, nor was Marquand a great novelist, but I do think it says something about the American experience that few other writers have succeeded in putting on paper. It deserves to be remembered–and read.

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The Uniter

There are rumblings of two distinct but related problems for Barack Obama. The first is elected moderate and conservative Democratic officials trying to distance themselves from Obama. The second is Democratic voters expressing queasiness about Obama. The latter no doubt is responsible for much of the former (i.e. if your constituents don’t like the top of the ticket, it is wise to distance yourself from him).

So what happened to the storyline that Hillary Clinton was the most divisive politician of our time? Well, much of that chatter referred to her toxic quality with independents and Republicans. But we have yet to see polling that shows Obama is eating into McCain’s base or taking the lion’s share of independents. So if he isn’t doing that well outside the base and he’s created a problem within the base–isn’t he more divisive than Clinton?

There are rumblings of two distinct but related problems for Barack Obama. The first is elected moderate and conservative Democratic officials trying to distance themselves from Obama. The second is Democratic voters expressing queasiness about Obama. The latter no doubt is responsible for much of the former (i.e. if your constituents don’t like the top of the ticket, it is wise to distance yourself from him).

So what happened to the storyline that Hillary Clinton was the most divisive politician of our time? Well, much of that chatter referred to her toxic quality with independents and Republicans. But we have yet to see polling that shows Obama is eating into McCain’s base or taking the lion’s share of independents. So if he isn’t doing that well outside the base and he’s created a problem within the base–isn’t he more divisive than Clinton?

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Half a Century in Captivity

In 1953, a 21-year-old Jewish woman was abducted from her home in Baghdad, just ahead of her intended emigration to Israel where the rest of her family had already fled. The woman, Hannah Menasheh, was kidnapped by a Muslim neighbor, who forced her to renounce her Judaism and raise his children, keeping her true identity a secret, under penalty of death.

Now, Hannah is back. After the death of her captor last year, the 76-year-old woman somehow found her way to an Israeli embassy in a European country, looking to be reunited with her long-lost family. The story is shocking and moving — and one wonders how many more stories there are like this one coming out of the new Iraq.

In 1953, a 21-year-old Jewish woman was abducted from her home in Baghdad, just ahead of her intended emigration to Israel where the rest of her family had already fled. The woman, Hannah Menasheh, was kidnapped by a Muslim neighbor, who forced her to renounce her Judaism and raise his children, keeping her true identity a secret, under penalty of death.

Now, Hannah is back. After the death of her captor last year, the 76-year-old woman somehow found her way to an Israeli embassy in a European country, looking to be reunited with her long-lost family. The story is shocking and moving — and one wonders how many more stories there are like this one coming out of the new Iraq.

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Islamabad’s Choice

Yesterday, Pakistan summoned the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, to the Foreign Ministry to protest the death of eleven Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. The soldiers, part of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, were killed Tuesday night by American bombs intended for Taliban fighters attacking into Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. The Pakistani Army disputes the American account of events but has so far failed to explain how its soldiers could have been in such close proximity to attacking Taliban fighters. An Army statement called the airstrike “completely unprovoked.”

We acted without provocation? The Taliban has substantially increased its cross-border attacks into Afghanistan since March, soon after the new government in Islamabad reached an accommodation with tribes in its Waziristan region. As a result of the tribal deals, Pakistan has generally allowed Taliban insurgents to operate in its territory and the Taliban has ended suicide bombings inside that country. The bombings were in response to American airstikes in Pakistani territory. The United States has bombed inside Pakistan because the Taliban has used that country to launch attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

There is bound to be trouble because the government in Islamabad does not control its tribal areas, which have become staging grounds for Taliban fighters. Pakistan’s complaints of American incursions into its territory have now taken on a ritualistic quality to them, but it is time for Washington to stop ignoring the protests and begin a more public conversation with the Pakistanis. For too long, American Presidents have been afraid of Pakistan, long considered unruly, unstable, and dangerous. Consequently, we have tiptoed around important issues, whether Islamabad’s selling of nuclear weapons technology or providing sanctuaries for Taliban fighters.

Of course, having honest discussions will immediately raise tensions with Islamabad, but our current approach has ensured the indefinite continuation of a series of problems. If we want to remain at war in Afghanistan for decades, then by all means, let’s continue our present course of action. We can continue bombing Pakistan’s territory in secret–Tuesday’s strike was perhaps the sixth this year–and the Pakistanis can continue to get angry at us. Or we can assert our right of self-defense and conduct the war openly.

Pakistan has a choice. It can, if it wants, provide safe havens to the Taliban. Or it can support us. It’s time to force Islamabad to stop accommodating both sides and make a choice. After all, we have choices too.

Yesterday, Pakistan summoned the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, to the Foreign Ministry to protest the death of eleven Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. The soldiers, part of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, were killed Tuesday night by American bombs intended for Taliban fighters attacking into Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. The Pakistani Army disputes the American account of events but has so far failed to explain how its soldiers could have been in such close proximity to attacking Taliban fighters. An Army statement called the airstrike “completely unprovoked.”

We acted without provocation? The Taliban has substantially increased its cross-border attacks into Afghanistan since March, soon after the new government in Islamabad reached an accommodation with tribes in its Waziristan region. As a result of the tribal deals, Pakistan has generally allowed Taliban insurgents to operate in its territory and the Taliban has ended suicide bombings inside that country. The bombings were in response to American airstikes in Pakistani territory. The United States has bombed inside Pakistan because the Taliban has used that country to launch attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

There is bound to be trouble because the government in Islamabad does not control its tribal areas, which have become staging grounds for Taliban fighters. Pakistan’s complaints of American incursions into its territory have now taken on a ritualistic quality to them, but it is time for Washington to stop ignoring the protests and begin a more public conversation with the Pakistanis. For too long, American Presidents have been afraid of Pakistan, long considered unruly, unstable, and dangerous. Consequently, we have tiptoed around important issues, whether Islamabad’s selling of nuclear weapons technology or providing sanctuaries for Taliban fighters.

Of course, having honest discussions will immediately raise tensions with Islamabad, but our current approach has ensured the indefinite continuation of a series of problems. If we want to remain at war in Afghanistan for decades, then by all means, let’s continue our present course of action. We can continue bombing Pakistan’s territory in secret–Tuesday’s strike was perhaps the sixth this year–and the Pakistanis can continue to get angry at us. Or we can assert our right of self-defense and conduct the war openly.

Pakistan has a choice. It can, if it wants, provide safe havens to the Taliban. Or it can support us. It’s time to force Islamabad to stop accommodating both sides and make a choice. After all, we have choices too.

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Re: The Guantanamo Bay Decision

John, I want to second your post and add some of my own thoughts. Today, in short, the Court held that the Great Writ, as the right of habeas corpus is known, can only be suspended explicitly by Congress in case of invasion or rebellion. Moreover, the alternative system set up by Congress was held to be insufficient. A useful summary is here. Vigorous dissents came from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia.

Roberts focused on the alternative system devised by Congress:

Declaring that petitioners have a right to habeas in no way excuses the Court from explaining why the DTA [Detainee Treatment Act] does not protect whatever due process or statutory rights petitioners may have. Because if the DTA provides a means for vindicating petitioners’ rights, it is necessarily an adequate substitute for habeas corpus.

Roberts contends that the majority misread the DTA which, in Roberts view, is adequate to address claims by the detainees.

Scalia in his dissent reminds us that such a ruling, namely that enemy detainees enjoy habeas corpus rights during a war, marks a stunning departure from practice in previous wars. He begins his dissent:

Today, for the first time in our Nation’s history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war.

Where does that leave us? The ruling does not close Guantanamo nor free prisoners. We will now presumably watch the spectacle of detainees marching into Article III courts with the full panoply of judicial rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens, including access to government evidence to contest their detention. The media will focus on “Bush loses.” But if in fact the government is faced with dozens and dozens of cases in which the choice is to share classified material or release terror suspects who may kill again, the “loss” will be to all Americans’ safety and security.

John, I want to second your post and add some of my own thoughts. Today, in short, the Court held that the Great Writ, as the right of habeas corpus is known, can only be suspended explicitly by Congress in case of invasion or rebellion. Moreover, the alternative system set up by Congress was held to be insufficient. A useful summary is here. Vigorous dissents came from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia.

Roberts focused on the alternative system devised by Congress:

Declaring that petitioners have a right to habeas in no way excuses the Court from explaining why the DTA [Detainee Treatment Act] does not protect whatever due process or statutory rights petitioners may have. Because if the DTA provides a means for vindicating petitioners’ rights, it is necessarily an adequate substitute for habeas corpus.

Roberts contends that the majority misread the DTA which, in Roberts view, is adequate to address claims by the detainees.

Scalia in his dissent reminds us that such a ruling, namely that enemy detainees enjoy habeas corpus rights during a war, marks a stunning departure from practice in previous wars. He begins his dissent:

Today, for the first time in our Nation’s history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war.

Where does that leave us? The ruling does not close Guantanamo nor free prisoners. We will now presumably watch the spectacle of detainees marching into Article III courts with the full panoply of judicial rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens, including access to government evidence to contest their detention. The media will focus on “Bush loses.” But if in fact the government is faced with dozens and dozens of cases in which the choice is to share classified material or release terror suspects who may kill again, the “loss” will be to all Americans’ safety and security.

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The Guantanamo Bay Decision

The Supreme Court has ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to appeal their detention in federal court, effectively bringing to an end the nearly seven-year policy of keeping those seized on battlefields or in terror cells in other countries outside the conventional American legal system. The impetus for the Gitmo system, let us not forget, was that Congress declared the nation at war with terrorists, and that it was understood terrorists posed a particular problem because they were operating outside the bounds of the nation-state sytem. They declared their allegiance not to country, but to organization; they lived parasitically inside countries they intended either to attack or to use as a base of operations; and the history of modern terrorism suggested that it was too dangerous to detain them in ordinary prisons, particularly ones outside the U.S., because of the possibility that subsequent terrorist acts would be staged to lead a shell-shocked nation to bargain for their release. By this understanding, the entire world had to be viewed as a battlefield, and a terrorist seized on the battlefield was to be considered not a civil prisoner, but a prisoner of war.

The problem is that this has been, by 20th century standards, an extraordinarily long war — and there was always going to be an issue about how long it would be possible to maintain a detention system of this sort. It has, thankfully, been made more difficult to maintain it because it was so successful — by which I mean, since the Gitmo detentions may well have helped prevent a second major attack on the United States, the sense of imminent danger has lessened and has freed the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, together with Justice Finger-in-the-Air Anthony Kennedy, to elevate the rights of the detained over the safety of the American homeland.

The Supreme Court has ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to appeal their detention in federal court, effectively bringing to an end the nearly seven-year policy of keeping those seized on battlefields or in terror cells in other countries outside the conventional American legal system. The impetus for the Gitmo system, let us not forget, was that Congress declared the nation at war with terrorists, and that it was understood terrorists posed a particular problem because they were operating outside the bounds of the nation-state sytem. They declared their allegiance not to country, but to organization; they lived parasitically inside countries they intended either to attack or to use as a base of operations; and the history of modern terrorism suggested that it was too dangerous to detain them in ordinary prisons, particularly ones outside the U.S., because of the possibility that subsequent terrorist acts would be staged to lead a shell-shocked nation to bargain for their release. By this understanding, the entire world had to be viewed as a battlefield, and a terrorist seized on the battlefield was to be considered not a civil prisoner, but a prisoner of war.

The problem is that this has been, by 20th century standards, an extraordinarily long war — and there was always going to be an issue about how long it would be possible to maintain a detention system of this sort. It has, thankfully, been made more difficult to maintain it because it was so successful — by which I mean, since the Gitmo detentions may well have helped prevent a second major attack on the United States, the sense of imminent danger has lessened and has freed the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, together with Justice Finger-in-the-Air Anthony Kennedy, to elevate the rights of the detained over the safety of the American homeland.

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Obama Helping Putin

While Barack Obama has pledged to “slow our development of future combat systems,” Vladimir Putin is working hard to upgrade Russia’s military technology and revamp training operations and procedures. On the very day Putin became prime minister, he announced big increases in military spending and vowed to beef up Russia’s outdated arsenal. Today, UPI reports that Gen. Yury Baluyevsky has been named the new chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces and “has been tasked with rapidly modernizing them.”

Obama’s commitment to stopping the clock on U.S. military technology would be crazy enough even if Moscow was committed to a pacific, pro-American, pro-democracy course of action. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Tehran on the verge of nuclear weaponization, and an ongoing ideological conflict with Islamism that raises the likelihood of American combat in the near future, there’s something absurd about Obama’s dismissal of new weapons technology. (This is to say nothing of the most lethal threat any nation faces — unknown antagonists.)

But with Russia backsliding into totalitarian bellicosity, such a dismissal is strategically suicidal. The U.S. has just pledged to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin, seeking to reassert Russia’s regional power, stands staunchly opposed to the enterprise. With autocratic Russia — the world’s second largest producer of oil — thoroughly unwilling to aid American pursuits around the globe (most notably stopping Iran), there are very few areas in which the U.S. can meaningfully outmaneuver Moscow. The missile shield is one, and the fact that Russia’s skittish neighbors rely on American military strength will prove to be a critical leveling factor in future conflicts with Putin and his successors. Putin is, of course, well aware of this and Yury Baluyevsky has long been committed to seeing that the missile shield does not go up.

Barak Obama tends to talk about American power and influence is if they are marketing errors that merely induce feared and resentment, and therefore he errs on the side of being lovingly received. The fact is, power and influence are strategic realities, not outmoded concepts that cast negative global shadows. The degree to which the Obama campaign has relied on image could prove to be a disturbing factor in an Obama presidency. In international relations you can’t place messages before realities. And announcing that America is going to slow down weapons technology has concrete ramifications that go far beyond other states finding us likable.

While Barack Obama has pledged to “slow our development of future combat systems,” Vladimir Putin is working hard to upgrade Russia’s military technology and revamp training operations and procedures. On the very day Putin became prime minister, he announced big increases in military spending and vowed to beef up Russia’s outdated arsenal. Today, UPI reports that Gen. Yury Baluyevsky has been named the new chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces and “has been tasked with rapidly modernizing them.”

Obama’s commitment to stopping the clock on U.S. military technology would be crazy enough even if Moscow was committed to a pacific, pro-American, pro-democracy course of action. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Tehran on the verge of nuclear weaponization, and an ongoing ideological conflict with Islamism that raises the likelihood of American combat in the near future, there’s something absurd about Obama’s dismissal of new weapons technology. (This is to say nothing of the most lethal threat any nation faces — unknown antagonists.)

But with Russia backsliding into totalitarian bellicosity, such a dismissal is strategically suicidal. The U.S. has just pledged to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin, seeking to reassert Russia’s regional power, stands staunchly opposed to the enterprise. With autocratic Russia — the world’s second largest producer of oil — thoroughly unwilling to aid American pursuits around the globe (most notably stopping Iran), there are very few areas in which the U.S. can meaningfully outmaneuver Moscow. The missile shield is one, and the fact that Russia’s skittish neighbors rely on American military strength will prove to be a critical leveling factor in future conflicts with Putin and his successors. Putin is, of course, well aware of this and Yury Baluyevsky has long been committed to seeing that the missile shield does not go up.

Barak Obama tends to talk about American power and influence is if they are marketing errors that merely induce feared and resentment, and therefore he errs on the side of being lovingly received. The fact is, power and influence are strategic realities, not outmoded concepts that cast negative global shadows. The degree to which the Obama campaign has relied on image could prove to be a disturbing factor in an Obama presidency. In international relations you can’t place messages before realities. And announcing that America is going to slow down weapons technology has concrete ramifications that go far beyond other states finding us likable.

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Gaddafi’s Wisdom

Every time Muammar Gaddafi opens his mouth, you start wondering how weird international politics can get. The former terror-sponsoring tyrant–who infamously quipped that the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, killed during the hijacking of the ship Achille Lauro in 1985, was “trying to swim for it”–has now offered the following analysis of Barack Obama’s support for Israel:

We suspect he [Obama] may fear being killed by Israeli agents and meet the same fate as [President] Kennedy when he promised to look into Israel’s nuclear program.

This, according to Gaddafi, combined with Obama’s deep “inferiority complex” about being African-American, will push him to be far too pro-Israel. “We tell him to be proud of himself as a black,” says the Colonel with the cool shades, “and feel that all Africa is behind him because if he sticks to this inferiority complex he will have a worse foreign policy than the whites had in the past.”

This is the new, “rehabilitated” Libya?

Every time Muammar Gaddafi opens his mouth, you start wondering how weird international politics can get. The former terror-sponsoring tyrant–who infamously quipped that the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, killed during the hijacking of the ship Achille Lauro in 1985, was “trying to swim for it”–has now offered the following analysis of Barack Obama’s support for Israel:

We suspect he [Obama] may fear being killed by Israeli agents and meet the same fate as [President] Kennedy when he promised to look into Israel’s nuclear program.

This, according to Gaddafi, combined with Obama’s deep “inferiority complex” about being African-American, will push him to be far too pro-Israel. “We tell him to be proud of himself as a black,” says the Colonel with the cool shades, “and feel that all Africa is behind him because if he sticks to this inferiority complex he will have a worse foreign policy than the whites had in the past.”

This is the new, “rehabilitated” Libya?

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Based On What?

Jim Hoagland observes about Barack Obama’s recent handling of his first major general election blunder:

But what is important here is what this incident says about Obama, not about Johnson. The senator’s initial reaction was to portray himself as too busy to keep up with the obscure financial doings of people who are not significant to the campaign and to belittle the media for asking him to “vet the vetters.” To treat Johnson, Holder and Kennedy suddenly as mere fact-checkers is as disingenuous as it is ungracious. Obama is clearly the most intelligent candidate of either party since Bill Clinton. But he can outsmart himself if he goes on expecting the media and the public to accept just about any explanation he gives.

But is that right — the part about him being the most intelligent candidate since Clinton? Yes, it’s a small universe of candidates, but the assumption, which is constantly made by observers, that Obama is exceptionally intelligent perhaps needs further explanation. We know he has degrees from elite universities and we know he is articulate, although we have been lectured not to say that because it is somehow coded racial condescension. But what is the basis for the assumption of intelligence? And what is the definition of intelligence the pundits are using?

It cannot be “emotional intelligence:” that would have prevented him from falling into the ambit of Rezko and Wright. That is to say, he does not demonstrate uncanny judgment of others’ character. It cannot be meant to mean in-depth knowledge: he makes basic factual errors consistently about substantive matters small and large (e.g. the history of presidential summits). It cannot mean the ability to think quickly on his feet. His spontaneous utterances range from medicore to awful.

So perhaps that is just a more politically correct way of saying “articulate.” Or alternatively, it may simply mean that Obama’s razzle-dazzle has snowed many people into believing, without much proof, that he posses great intellectual firepower. But the liberal pundits have told us, during years spent observing Georg W. Bush, that winning elections doesn’t mean you are very smart.

Jim Hoagland observes about Barack Obama’s recent handling of his first major general election blunder:

But what is important here is what this incident says about Obama, not about Johnson. The senator’s initial reaction was to portray himself as too busy to keep up with the obscure financial doings of people who are not significant to the campaign and to belittle the media for asking him to “vet the vetters.” To treat Johnson, Holder and Kennedy suddenly as mere fact-checkers is as disingenuous as it is ungracious. Obama is clearly the most intelligent candidate of either party since Bill Clinton. But he can outsmart himself if he goes on expecting the media and the public to accept just about any explanation he gives.

But is that right — the part about him being the most intelligent candidate since Clinton? Yes, it’s a small universe of candidates, but the assumption, which is constantly made by observers, that Obama is exceptionally intelligent perhaps needs further explanation. We know he has degrees from elite universities and we know he is articulate, although we have been lectured not to say that because it is somehow coded racial condescension. But what is the basis for the assumption of intelligence? And what is the definition of intelligence the pundits are using?

It cannot be “emotional intelligence:” that would have prevented him from falling into the ambit of Rezko and Wright. That is to say, he does not demonstrate uncanny judgment of others’ character. It cannot be meant to mean in-depth knowledge: he makes basic factual errors consistently about substantive matters small and large (e.g. the history of presidential summits). It cannot mean the ability to think quickly on his feet. His spontaneous utterances range from medicore to awful.

So perhaps that is just a more politically correct way of saying “articulate.” Or alternatively, it may simply mean that Obama’s razzle-dazzle has snowed many people into believing, without much proof, that he posses great intellectual firepower. But the liberal pundits have told us, during years spent observing Georg W. Bush, that winning elections doesn’t mean you are very smart.

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To Be a Jew

Should service in the IDF be a criterion for judging whether someone may convert to Judaism? Sounds crazy, right? Yet in a poll appearing yesterday in Ynet, Israelis put IDF service above observance of the commandments or Jewish ancestry as a factor in deciding whether someone has become Jewish. Given the large number of former-Soviet immigrants who are not Jewish according to halakha, and are not observant but do serve in the IDF, this is a serious claim to be making.

From the standpoint of traditional Jewish law, army service means very little in the conversion process, which focuses principally on acceptance of the Torah’s commandments. Yet at the same time, there is something deeper going on in this poll than simple Israeli patriotism, or the militarization of secular-Jewish identity — something that reaches deep into the Jew’s historical perception of himself. The classical example of the convert in Jewish tradition is Ruth the Moabite, who famously told her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people is my people, your God is my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth then married Boaz the Judean, and one of their descendants was none other than King David. Ruth’s commitment was not simply religious (the belief in the God of Israel), but national as well (the belief in the Jewish people). Following this vein, for centuries rabbis would discourage converts, telling them about the horrific trials that the Jews have faced through history, and only accepting them once they had bound their faith up with that of the Jewish people.

Now that the Jewish people have a state, what greater indicator of national commitment can there be than a willingness to fight and die for one’s country? Something for the rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, to ponder.

Should service in the IDF be a criterion for judging whether someone may convert to Judaism? Sounds crazy, right? Yet in a poll appearing yesterday in Ynet, Israelis put IDF service above observance of the commandments or Jewish ancestry as a factor in deciding whether someone has become Jewish. Given the large number of former-Soviet immigrants who are not Jewish according to halakha, and are not observant but do serve in the IDF, this is a serious claim to be making.

From the standpoint of traditional Jewish law, army service means very little in the conversion process, which focuses principally on acceptance of the Torah’s commandments. Yet at the same time, there is something deeper going on in this poll than simple Israeli patriotism, or the militarization of secular-Jewish identity — something that reaches deep into the Jew’s historical perception of himself. The classical example of the convert in Jewish tradition is Ruth the Moabite, who famously told her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people is my people, your God is my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth then married Boaz the Judean, and one of their descendants was none other than King David. Ruth’s commitment was not simply religious (the belief in the God of Israel), but national as well (the belief in the Jewish people). Following this vein, for centuries rabbis would discourage converts, telling them about the horrific trials that the Jews have faced through history, and only accepting them once they had bound their faith up with that of the Jewish people.

Now that the Jewish people have a state, what greater indicator of national commitment can there be than a willingness to fight and die for one’s country? Something for the rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, to ponder.

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Let Me Get This Straight

On a day in which he is hip-deep in James Johnson goo, Barack Obama did a forum on mortgage lending practices? Nah, it can’t be. That would be the height of hypocrisy and the evidence that Obama’s fine-tuned machine had stepped on it’s own message. Oh, wait–it’s true. It has become clear that until Wednesday Obama still didn’t realize anything was amiss. As the New York Times noted:

Mr. Obama had defended Mr. Johnson as recently as Tuesday, saying that he had only a “tangential” role in his campaign and that he was not troubled by his business activities. He said he had not inquired about his mortgages and would not hire people to, as he put it, “vet the vetters.” But Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Republican Party officials kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of Mr. Johnson. The case became a test of Mr. Obama’s professed independence from Washington insiders and supposed higher ethical standards. Mr. Obama has refused to accept campaign donations from lobbyists and had made criticism of the cozy financial and political relationships in the capital a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric.

Even aside from his poor choice of topics on Wednesday, the hypocrisy watchdogs had spotted the problem. Jake Tapper observed:

A consummate Washington, D.C., insider, Johnson’s leadership role in Obama’s campaign seemed to belie the candidate’s promise to voters that “the stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result.”

But beyond that contradiction and Johnson’s controversial time at Fannie Mae was the issue of what Republicans termed Johnson’s “sweetheart” loan from Countrywide. Earlier this year, Obama and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.”

Tapper noted that, although Obama had excoriated Countrywide in a swing through the Rust belt in March,

[w]hen Obama was asked about Johnson’s special loan from Countrywide Tuesday in St. Louis, outrage seemed the furthest emotion he could muster.

“I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages,” he said after ABC News asked him about the apparent contradiction. “This is a game that can be played. Everybody you know who is tangentially related to our campaign I think Is going to have a whole host of relationships. I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters.”

As Gail Collins put it, “Talk about unnecessary disasters.” Unnecessary but not unexpected. In no other instance of brewing trouble–Bittergate or Rev. Wright, to name two–did Obama’s early warning signal go off that something was amiss. When you believe your own press releases and listen to your media fan club, you wind up thinking that no one will call you on it when you hire a Washington fixer and go to predatory lending events on the day you fire a recipient of discounted loans.

It is becoming easier to understand how Obama got swept into the orbit of Tony Rezko: he seems to lack basic common sense about the appearance of ethical improprieties and possesses the arrogance to believe no one will question his motives. It’s a deadly combination. As the Wall Street Journal editors put it:

As for Mr. Obama, Mr. Johnson now joins an intriguing and growing list of Mr. Obama’s ex-associates that includes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, and former terrorist bomber William Ayers. We might call this list eclectic, except that there is a consistent pattern of bad judgment followed by an initial defense, then followed by rapid disassociation and regret that none of them were the men Mr. Obama “knew.” We can only wonder if Eric Holder, who is also among Mr. Obama’s veep vetters, will be the next to join this club. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, he played a role in the Marc Rich pardon that also deserves to be fully vetted – all the more so if Mr. Holder is on the short list to be Mr. Obama’s Attorney General.

And, finally, can you imagine the Clintons’ reaction–this is Mr. Clean-Hands-Pure-Heart? At least with Hillary Clinton expectations would have been low and a character like Johnson would have elicited only yawns.

On a day in which he is hip-deep in James Johnson goo, Barack Obama did a forum on mortgage lending practices? Nah, it can’t be. That would be the height of hypocrisy and the evidence that Obama’s fine-tuned machine had stepped on it’s own message. Oh, wait–it’s true. It has become clear that until Wednesday Obama still didn’t realize anything was amiss. As the New York Times noted:

Mr. Obama had defended Mr. Johnson as recently as Tuesday, saying that he had only a “tangential” role in his campaign and that he was not troubled by his business activities. He said he had not inquired about his mortgages and would not hire people to, as he put it, “vet the vetters.” But Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Republican Party officials kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of Mr. Johnson. The case became a test of Mr. Obama’s professed independence from Washington insiders and supposed higher ethical standards. Mr. Obama has refused to accept campaign donations from lobbyists and had made criticism of the cozy financial and political relationships in the capital a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric.

Even aside from his poor choice of topics on Wednesday, the hypocrisy watchdogs had spotted the problem. Jake Tapper observed:

A consummate Washington, D.C., insider, Johnson’s leadership role in Obama’s campaign seemed to belie the candidate’s promise to voters that “the stakes are too high and the challenges too great to play the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result.”

But beyond that contradiction and Johnson’s controversial time at Fannie Mae was the issue of what Republicans termed Johnson’s “sweetheart” loan from Countrywide. Earlier this year, Obama and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.”

Tapper noted that, although Obama had excoriated Countrywide in a swing through the Rust belt in March,

[w]hen Obama was asked about Johnson’s special loan from Countrywide Tuesday in St. Louis, outrage seemed the furthest emotion he could muster.

“I am not vetting my VP search committee for their mortgages,” he said after ABC News asked him about the apparent contradiction. “This is a game that can be played. Everybody you know who is tangentially related to our campaign I think Is going to have a whole host of relationships. I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters.”

As Gail Collins put it, “Talk about unnecessary disasters.” Unnecessary but not unexpected. In no other instance of brewing trouble–Bittergate or Rev. Wright, to name two–did Obama’s early warning signal go off that something was amiss. When you believe your own press releases and listen to your media fan club, you wind up thinking that no one will call you on it when you hire a Washington fixer and go to predatory lending events on the day you fire a recipient of discounted loans.

It is becoming easier to understand how Obama got swept into the orbit of Tony Rezko: he seems to lack basic common sense about the appearance of ethical improprieties and possesses the arrogance to believe no one will question his motives. It’s a deadly combination. As the Wall Street Journal editors put it:

As for Mr. Obama, Mr. Johnson now joins an intriguing and growing list of Mr. Obama’s ex-associates that includes the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, and former terrorist bomber William Ayers. We might call this list eclectic, except that there is a consistent pattern of bad judgment followed by an initial defense, then followed by rapid disassociation and regret that none of them were the men Mr. Obama “knew.” We can only wonder if Eric Holder, who is also among Mr. Obama’s veep vetters, will be the next to join this club. As Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, he played a role in the Marc Rich pardon that also deserves to be fully vetted – all the more so if Mr. Holder is on the short list to be Mr. Obama’s Attorney General.

And, finally, can you imagine the Clintons’ reaction–this is Mr. Clean-Hands-Pure-Heart? At least with Hillary Clinton expectations would have been low and a character like Johnson would have elicited only yawns.

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Bush-Hating Fading?

President Bush just left Germany for what’s thought to be his last official visit. So, what makes this visit different from all other visits to Germany? No shoulder-massage for Chancellor Angela Merkel. And no public protests of the visit.

True, President Bush’s term is ending soon, but it’s also true that the Germans, in the meantime, elected one of Bush’s closest European allies–Merkel. (Abe weighed in on the oddly-timed emergence of Bush’s soft side.) The fact that, since Bush assumed office in 2001, Europe has become decidedly pro-American is remarkable. Still more remarkable is that this mainly happened after the start of the Iraq war–especially by countries that staunchly opposed, and continue to oppose, the war. The most glaring examples are Merkel’s election victory over Gerhard Schröder in 2005 and, of course, Nicholas Sarkozy’s win over Ségolène Royal.

Daniel Johnson, writing in The New York Sun, offers an explanation:

This week’s European visit by Mr. Bush, which culminates in Sunday’s symbolic farewell to Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, actually demonstrates that the transatlantic divisions over Iraq have largely been healed. Both Ms. Merkel and President Sarkozy of France are far more sympathetic allies than their predecessors, while Italy recently re-elected Silvio Berlusconi, another pro-American.

In eastern Europe fear of resurgent Russian nationalism has reminded even those who opposed the war of which friends they can rely on — and countries heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, such as Germany, are not among them.

As for the perennial transatlantic bones of contention — climate change, human rights, military spending, the Middle East — they are, for the moment at least, much less prominent in Europe than, say, a year ago. The French have even mooted the idea of fully rejoining North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been losing ground. In the war on terror, as in everything else, nothing succeeds like success.

Paradoxically, therefore, Mr. Bush will bequeath the next president a legacy, not of transatlantic tension, but of comparative harmony. What is likely to vitiate the alliance for years to come is not the freedom or democracy agendas that we associate with the Bush administration, but their virtual abandonment. Cutting loose countries on the bloody crossroads between liberty and tyranny is a certain way to plunge the West into conflict, both internal and external.

All fads fade–and Bush-hating is no exception.

President Bush just left Germany for what’s thought to be his last official visit. So, what makes this visit different from all other visits to Germany? No shoulder-massage for Chancellor Angela Merkel. And no public protests of the visit.

True, President Bush’s term is ending soon, but it’s also true that the Germans, in the meantime, elected one of Bush’s closest European allies–Merkel. (Abe weighed in on the oddly-timed emergence of Bush’s soft side.) The fact that, since Bush assumed office in 2001, Europe has become decidedly pro-American is remarkable. Still more remarkable is that this mainly happened after the start of the Iraq war–especially by countries that staunchly opposed, and continue to oppose, the war. The most glaring examples are Merkel’s election victory over Gerhard Schröder in 2005 and, of course, Nicholas Sarkozy’s win over Ségolène Royal.

Daniel Johnson, writing in The New York Sun, offers an explanation:

This week’s European visit by Mr. Bush, which culminates in Sunday’s symbolic farewell to Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, actually demonstrates that the transatlantic divisions over Iraq have largely been healed. Both Ms. Merkel and President Sarkozy of France are far more sympathetic allies than their predecessors, while Italy recently re-elected Silvio Berlusconi, another pro-American.

In eastern Europe fear of resurgent Russian nationalism has reminded even those who opposed the war of which friends they can rely on — and countries heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, such as Germany, are not among them.

As for the perennial transatlantic bones of contention — climate change, human rights, military spending, the Middle East — they are, for the moment at least, much less prominent in Europe than, say, a year ago. The French have even mooted the idea of fully rejoining North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been losing ground. In the war on terror, as in everything else, nothing succeeds like success.

Paradoxically, therefore, Mr. Bush will bequeath the next president a legacy, not of transatlantic tension, but of comparative harmony. What is likely to vitiate the alliance for years to come is not the freedom or democracy agendas that we associate with the Bush administration, but their virtual abandonment. Cutting loose countries on the bloody crossroads between liberty and tyranny is a certain way to plunge the West into conflict, both internal and external.

All fads fade–and Bush-hating is no exception.

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Constitutional Indifference

It is no mystery that the structure of the European Union–with its largely unelected officials handing down sweeping regulations and laws to the member states through a complicated bureaucratic and political process that few in Europe fully understand–suffers from a certain democratic deficiency. When it tried to adopt a European constitution that would revolutionize the works and powers of its institutions, the document was undermined by two referendums, in France and the Netherlands, where the public voted overwhelmingly against.

The cumbersome 485-page constitution was then restyled into a lighter version–the Lisbon Treaty–which came in at a comparatively short 300 pages. The beauty of this cosmetic exercise was, the thinking ran, that a treaty can be passed by parliaments, which are considerable more enthusiastic about the EU’s expanding powers than the ordinary citizens whose approval is required to ratify a Europe-wide constitution.

The problem (how did the EU policy honchos fail to foresee this?) with this plan is that Ireland–alone among 27 members–requires just such a popular referendum for any treaty to be approved. That referendum is today. And though Ireland, with its 4.2 million citizens, accounts for one percent of Europe’s population, an Irish ‘No’ could effectively kill the Lisbon treaty.

We will know which way it goes as the referendum results come in tonight. But, as the International Herald Tribune noted,

[w]ith 287 pages of vintage bureaucratese, the Lisbon treaty, which would, among other things, give the European Union its first full-time president and a powerful foreign policy chief, is hard to explain. Few voters fully understand the treaty or even want to try.

We the people? Hardly.

It is no mystery that the structure of the European Union–with its largely unelected officials handing down sweeping regulations and laws to the member states through a complicated bureaucratic and political process that few in Europe fully understand–suffers from a certain democratic deficiency. When it tried to adopt a European constitution that would revolutionize the works and powers of its institutions, the document was undermined by two referendums, in France and the Netherlands, where the public voted overwhelmingly against.

The cumbersome 485-page constitution was then restyled into a lighter version–the Lisbon Treaty–which came in at a comparatively short 300 pages. The beauty of this cosmetic exercise was, the thinking ran, that a treaty can be passed by parliaments, which are considerable more enthusiastic about the EU’s expanding powers than the ordinary citizens whose approval is required to ratify a Europe-wide constitution.

The problem (how did the EU policy honchos fail to foresee this?) with this plan is that Ireland–alone among 27 members–requires just such a popular referendum for any treaty to be approved. That referendum is today. And though Ireland, with its 4.2 million citizens, accounts for one percent of Europe’s population, an Irish ‘No’ could effectively kill the Lisbon treaty.

We will know which way it goes as the referendum results come in tonight. But, as the International Herald Tribune noted,

[w]ith 287 pages of vintage bureaucratese, the Lisbon treaty, which would, among other things, give the European Union its first full-time president and a powerful foreign policy chief, is hard to explain. Few voters fully understand the treaty or even want to try.

We the people? Hardly.

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Safe To Say

When pundits not normally inclined to criticize Barack Obama take John McCain’s side in a tussle over McCain’s Iraq comments (and for bonus points throw in praise for McCain’s new blogger Michael Goldfarb), it is safe to say that the Obama camp has overreached.

When Joe Klein lauds military and political progress in Iraq (“Indeed, the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as little more than a place-holder only months ago”), it is safe to say things are looking up and the success of the surge is beyond dispute.

When Katie Couric charges the media with blatant sexism in its coverage of Hillary Clinton, it is safe to say she is not just referring to Hillary but to herself.

And when people are building 40,000-square-foot homes in Los Angeles, it is safe to say that Al Gore hasn’t made much of a dent in the environmental conscience of the rich and famous.

When pundits not normally inclined to criticize Barack Obama take John McCain’s side in a tussle over McCain’s Iraq comments (and for bonus points throw in praise for McCain’s new blogger Michael Goldfarb), it is safe to say that the Obama camp has overreached.

When Joe Klein lauds military and political progress in Iraq (“Indeed, the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as little more than a place-holder only months ago”), it is safe to say things are looking up and the success of the surge is beyond dispute.

When Katie Couric charges the media with blatant sexism in its coverage of Hillary Clinton, it is safe to say she is not just referring to Hillary but to herself.

And when people are building 40,000-square-foot homes in Los Angeles, it is safe to say that Al Gore hasn’t made much of a dent in the environmental conscience of the rich and famous.

Read Less




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