Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 14, 2009

Commentary of the Day

ian, on Peter Wehner:

Photographs are often a propaganda tool. If you have tales of abuse, it doesn’t penetrate the public’s consciousness. But if you get a photo, the image overrides everything else, even the facts. Then the event documented in the image becomes all-encompassing and takes on a life and meaning of its own. For those mining the torture narrative, this is propaganda and public manipulation gold. It matters little if such images add nothing to what we already know or the conflicting balance of interests involved. Those committed to the revelation of such images are not interested in educating the public or preserving the historical record, but in obfuscating what occurred by the power of an image to influence and distort the general perception of events, knowing full well the harm the US will suffer in world opinion whether it is warranted or not and hoping for nothing less.

ian, on Peter Wehner:

Photographs are often a propaganda tool. If you have tales of abuse, it doesn’t penetrate the public’s consciousness. But if you get a photo, the image overrides everything else, even the facts. Then the event documented in the image becomes all-encompassing and takes on a life and meaning of its own. For those mining the torture narrative, this is propaganda and public manipulation gold. It matters little if such images add nothing to what we already know or the conflicting balance of interests involved. Those committed to the revelation of such images are not interested in educating the public or preserving the historical record, but in obfuscating what occurred by the power of an image to influence and distort the general perception of events, knowing full well the harm the US will suffer in world opinion whether it is warranted or not and hoping for nothing less.

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Livni’s Relative “Urgency”

Israel’s head of opposition, Tzipi Livni, issued a stark warning to the Israeli government about the future of Israel. According to a Ha’aretz report,

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Thursday warned that time was running out on achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians, saying “we mustn’t delay the inevitable with useless diplomatic moves.” “Time is not working in favor of those who want to retain Israel’s Jewish identity, and time is not in favor of moderate powers in the region,” Livni declared at a conference of the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya.

We do not hold a crystal ball, and therefore we are unable to tell whether Livni’s prediction is right. There is however a minor glitch in Livni’s argument. If time is running out, how does she reconcile her warning with this piece of news? Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice asked the government to explain why six outposts slated for evacuation five years ago were still standing in the West Bank. Until March, Tzipi Livni was Foreign Minister (and had been for three years). Before that, she was Justice Minister, and before that she held several other posts  since early 2001. So the government’s failure to evacuate those outposts was also her own.

If time is running out for those who wish to retain Israel’s Jewish identity, and doing so demands that Israel abandons settlements in the West Bank, where was her sense of urgency during the eight years she spent as a cabinet minister, four of which she spent as a senior minister? Why did she not feel this urgency while in the cabinet? Should she not have resigned, if the matter was so urgent and her colleagues were stonewalling? Should she not have bolted the coalition, abandoned her party to establish a new one, or left politics in disgust, given that for five years, while she was a minister (and the current Prime minister sat in opposition), not even these six minuscule outposts could be evacuated?

Or has she discovered this sense of urgency only now that she lost her seat?

Israel’s head of opposition, Tzipi Livni, issued a stark warning to the Israeli government about the future of Israel. According to a Ha’aretz report,

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Thursday warned that time was running out on achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians, saying “we mustn’t delay the inevitable with useless diplomatic moves.” “Time is not working in favor of those who want to retain Israel’s Jewish identity, and time is not in favor of moderate powers in the region,” Livni declared at a conference of the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya.

We do not hold a crystal ball, and therefore we are unable to tell whether Livni’s prediction is right. There is however a minor glitch in Livni’s argument. If time is running out, how does she reconcile her warning with this piece of news? Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice asked the government to explain why six outposts slated for evacuation five years ago were still standing in the West Bank. Until March, Tzipi Livni was Foreign Minister (and had been for three years). Before that, she was Justice Minister, and before that she held several other posts  since early 2001. So the government’s failure to evacuate those outposts was also her own.

If time is running out for those who wish to retain Israel’s Jewish identity, and doing so demands that Israel abandons settlements in the West Bank, where was her sense of urgency during the eight years she spent as a cabinet minister, four of which she spent as a senior minister? Why did she not feel this urgency while in the cabinet? Should she not have resigned, if the matter was so urgent and her colleagues were stonewalling? Should she not have bolted the coalition, abandoned her party to establish a new one, or left politics in disgust, given that for five years, while she was a minister (and the current Prime minister sat in opposition), not even these six minuscule outposts could be evacuated?

Or has she discovered this sense of urgency only now that she lost her seat?

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Truth? They Can’t Handle the Truth

In its unflagging mission to be the most transparent administration ever, the Obama team has denied Dick Cheney’s request to declassify two memos which Cheney says document the intelligence benefits derived from the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. The excuse (priceless, really): these are subject to a pre-existing FOIA request that the administration is fighting.

As Andy McCarthy explains in some detail, this is the ultimate politicization of FOIA and national security. Just as he did with regard to the interrogation memos, the president could declassify the memos  Cheney requested in order to provide the American people with insight into the query, “But did the interrogation techniques work?” We can assume from Cheney’s request and repeated public statements about these two documents that they have relevant and persuasive information. But Obama won’t  let us see those. No siree. Americans will only be getting the pre-selected slice of the picture of the interrogation story from this administration.

I realize the mainstream media is obsessed with the “Cheney — Is he hurting the GOP?” storyline. But that’s silliness on stilts. Cheney’s not running for anything. (And I suspect some ad campaign eighteen months from now harping on the former vice president would bring looks of incredulity from average voters, who unlike the MSM, have “moved on.”)  Cheney is however doing real and material damage to the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats — revealing their craven politicization of national security, half-truths, and hypocrisy. Now the American people have a glimpse of what’s going on and it is not pretty. The vendetta against the Bush administration has turned into  a series of revelations about the gamesmanship and lack of candor by those who would rather the American people not learn why we did what we did, what it accomplished, and which lawmakers cooperated and facilitated the policies that now are the subject of Democrats’ ire.

If lawmakers and administration officials can’t stand the light of day, they should get out of the “truth commission” and prosecution business. And if they want to maintain their present level of sanctimonious condemnation, they should have the decency to let Americans judge all the information for themselves.

In its unflagging mission to be the most transparent administration ever, the Obama team has denied Dick Cheney’s request to declassify two memos which Cheney says document the intelligence benefits derived from the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. The excuse (priceless, really): these are subject to a pre-existing FOIA request that the administration is fighting.

As Andy McCarthy explains in some detail, this is the ultimate politicization of FOIA and national security. Just as he did with regard to the interrogation memos, the president could declassify the memos  Cheney requested in order to provide the American people with insight into the query, “But did the interrogation techniques work?” We can assume from Cheney’s request and repeated public statements about these two documents that they have relevant and persuasive information. But Obama won’t  let us see those. No siree. Americans will only be getting the pre-selected slice of the picture of the interrogation story from this administration.

I realize the mainstream media is obsessed with the “Cheney — Is he hurting the GOP?” storyline. But that’s silliness on stilts. Cheney’s not running for anything. (And I suspect some ad campaign eighteen months from now harping on the former vice president would bring looks of incredulity from average voters, who unlike the MSM, have “moved on.”)  Cheney is however doing real and material damage to the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats — revealing their craven politicization of national security, half-truths, and hypocrisy. Now the American people have a glimpse of what’s going on and it is not pretty. The vendetta against the Bush administration has turned into  a series of revelations about the gamesmanship and lack of candor by those who would rather the American people not learn why we did what we did, what it accomplished, and which lawmakers cooperated and facilitated the policies that now are the subject of Democrats’ ire.

If lawmakers and administration officials can’t stand the light of day, they should get out of the “truth commission” and prosecution business. And if they want to maintain their present level of sanctimonious condemnation, they should have the decency to let Americans judge all the information for themselves.

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It’s Very, Very Profane…

…so be warned, but this latest posting by Iowahawk is, truly, one of the sharpest pieces of political satire written in the English language in ages.

…so be warned, but this latest posting by Iowahawk is, truly, one of the sharpest pieces of political satire written in the English language in ages.

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Misunderstanding 1948 and So Much Else

Historian Benny Morris performs a public service both for Israel’s friends as well as its foes today in a column in the Guardian. Morris’s immediate task is to take down an earlier piece in the newspaper by Max Hastings that recycled all the usual evil-Israelis-have-been-corrupted-by-power stuff. Morris points out that Hastings, who poses as a disillusioned admirer of Israel, fundamentally misunderstands the history of the country.

Morris takes down the hackneyed claim of “disproportionate” Israeli military actions and rightly dismisses it as “moral relativism.” But his broader point is about the whole idea of a good country that went bad. However great or small Israel’s shortcomings might be, they have been bred by a war that preceded its birth and which has never ended:

The simple truth is that since before its inception, the Arab world has laid siege to the Zionist enterprise and tried to destroy or badly weaken it, in war after war and terrorist campaign after terrorist campaign, by continuous political delegitimisation, assault and boycott. And that much that is bad about Israel today – insensitivity toward Palestinian suffering, declining school standards, even the growing power of religious parties – is, directly and indirectly a result of this Arab belligerence.

The point Morris makes is one that many Israelis, who similarly mythologize the generation of 1948 while decrying the current state of their nation, ought to take to heart. It is a commonly heard criticism that the Jewish State was ruined by its victory in the Six Day War. But such reasoning ignores the intransigent Palestinians and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world who have dictated the history of conflict not only for the last forty years, but during the two wars that preceded that period.

Historian Benny Morris performs a public service both for Israel’s friends as well as its foes today in a column in the Guardian. Morris’s immediate task is to take down an earlier piece in the newspaper by Max Hastings that recycled all the usual evil-Israelis-have-been-corrupted-by-power stuff. Morris points out that Hastings, who poses as a disillusioned admirer of Israel, fundamentally misunderstands the history of the country.

Morris takes down the hackneyed claim of “disproportionate” Israeli military actions and rightly dismisses it as “moral relativism.” But his broader point is about the whole idea of a good country that went bad. However great or small Israel’s shortcomings might be, they have been bred by a war that preceded its birth and which has never ended:

The simple truth is that since before its inception, the Arab world has laid siege to the Zionist enterprise and tried to destroy or badly weaken it, in war after war and terrorist campaign after terrorist campaign, by continuous political delegitimisation, assault and boycott. And that much that is bad about Israel today – insensitivity toward Palestinian suffering, declining school standards, even the growing power of religious parties – is, directly and indirectly a result of this Arab belligerence.

The point Morris makes is one that many Israelis, who similarly mythologize the generation of 1948 while decrying the current state of their nation, ought to take to heart. It is a commonly heard criticism that the Jewish State was ruined by its victory in the Six Day War. But such reasoning ignores the intransigent Palestinians and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world who have dictated the history of conflict not only for the last forty years, but during the two wars that preceded that period.

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Re: Pelosi On the Ropes

Pete, I agree entirely with your take. And I would only add a few additional points.

As a preliminary matter, let me say if the Democrats thought the CIA was out to get them before, they better barricade their offices now. Calling out specific officials for lying to Congressional leadership is serious stuff and I don’t expect those accused of lying to take this meekly.

Moreover, her colleagues aren’t buying it. (And one is left to ponder if this isn’t going to go down as “the worst press conference in history” and a training video for politicians and spokespersons on what not to do if you want to quell a controversy.) This report suggests what is in store:

I think the problem is, the speaker has had way too many stories,” [Minority Leady John] Boehner said today of Pelosi. “They were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were… It seems to me, they want to have it both ways. They can’t have it both ways.

And Sen. Lieberman is having none of her “the CIA lies all the time” canard.

There are a few problems, to say the least, with her tale. First, other lawmakers will say they were told precisely what was being done, so why did the CIA “lie” just to Pelosi? Second, there may be notes and other documentary evidence (Rep. Pete Hoekstra seems to think there are) debunking Pelosi’s tale. Third, we were told Pelosi agreed with Jane Harman’s letter protesting waterboarding, which would be strange had she been told there was no waterboarding. Fourth, why is the “I was lied to” defense coming up only in May 2009? Fifth, don’t we really need her and others’ testimony under oath to get to the bottom of who is deceiving whom?

Let me hazard a guess on this one: the latest spin is not going to put the matter to rest.

Pete, I agree entirely with your take. And I would only add a few additional points.

As a preliminary matter, let me say if the Democrats thought the CIA was out to get them before, they better barricade their offices now. Calling out specific officials for lying to Congressional leadership is serious stuff and I don’t expect those accused of lying to take this meekly.

Moreover, her colleagues aren’t buying it. (And one is left to ponder if this isn’t going to go down as “the worst press conference in history” and a training video for politicians and spokespersons on what not to do if you want to quell a controversy.) This report suggests what is in store:

I think the problem is, the speaker has had way too many stories,” [Minority Leady John] Boehner said today of Pelosi. “They were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were… It seems to me, they want to have it both ways. They can’t have it both ways.

And Sen. Lieberman is having none of her “the CIA lies all the time” canard.

There are a few problems, to say the least, with her tale. First, other lawmakers will say they were told precisely what was being done, so why did the CIA “lie” just to Pelosi? Second, there may be notes and other documentary evidence (Rep. Pete Hoekstra seems to think there are) debunking Pelosi’s tale. Third, we were told Pelosi agreed with Jane Harman’s letter protesting waterboarding, which would be strange had she been told there was no waterboarding. Fourth, why is the “I was lied to” defense coming up only in May 2009? Fifth, don’t we really need her and others’ testimony under oath to get to the bottom of who is deceiving whom?

Let me hazard a guess on this one: the latest spin is not going to put the matter to rest.

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Re: Anti-Semitism, Tel-Aviv Style

David Hazony blogged earlier about Gideon Levy’s take on Ramat Aviv residents exhibiting dangerous prejudice against ultra-Orthodox Jews who were trying to move into their neighborhood. I share his reflexive habit of disagreeing with Levy and I agree with the need to make an exception for this latest column — except that Levy tends do be wrong even when he’s right.

Consider his description of the Ramat Aviv community: “the entry of a handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews to this lovely, modest and tranquil neighborhood has provoked an unlovely wave of racism, tearing the thin veil of openness and liberality from this seemingly left-wing community.” (emphasis added)

What’s the problem with the above characterization, you might say? The qualifier “seemingly.” For Levy, a left-wing community that turns ugly on the Haredim is clearly one that has betrayed its political calling, or one that held the banner of the Left with hypocrisy. The problem is that when it comes to the Left, prejudice is almost invariably an inherent element of its ideology — and it is bound to emerge, sooner or later, when the much heralded leftist tolerance is tested by even the mildest form of dissent. There is nothing uncharacteristic, therefore, about these self-proclaimed progressives turning intolerant. After all, anti-Semitism in Western Europe today is overwhelmingly the province of the Left. No surprise then, that their Israeli counterparts turns out to be just the same.

David Hazony blogged earlier about Gideon Levy’s take on Ramat Aviv residents exhibiting dangerous prejudice against ultra-Orthodox Jews who were trying to move into their neighborhood. I share his reflexive habit of disagreeing with Levy and I agree with the need to make an exception for this latest column — except that Levy tends do be wrong even when he’s right.

Consider his description of the Ramat Aviv community: “the entry of a handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews to this lovely, modest and tranquil neighborhood has provoked an unlovely wave of racism, tearing the thin veil of openness and liberality from this seemingly left-wing community.” (emphasis added)

What’s the problem with the above characterization, you might say? The qualifier “seemingly.” For Levy, a left-wing community that turns ugly on the Haredim is clearly one that has betrayed its political calling, or one that held the banner of the Left with hypocrisy. The problem is that when it comes to the Left, prejudice is almost invariably an inherent element of its ideology — and it is bound to emerge, sooner or later, when the much heralded leftist tolerance is tested by even the mildest form of dissent. There is nothing uncharacteristic, therefore, about these self-proclaimed progressives turning intolerant. After all, anti-Semitism in Western Europe today is overwhelmingly the province of the Left. No surprise then, that their Israeli counterparts turns out to be just the same.

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Pelosi on the Ropes

In her statement today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did several remarkable things. She accused the CIA of misleading and lying to her about waterboarding. So she has shifted her story once again, from originally insisting she was not told about waterboarding in a September 2002 briefing to now saying she was told it was not being employed. Accusing America’s intelligence agency of knowingly misleading a Member of Congress, and particularly a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, is quite an explosive charge. She better be able to prove it. And if she is lying — as Porter Goss, then ranking Republican on the House Committee who later served as C.I.A. Director, seems to believe — there will be an enormously high price for her to pay.

There is another thing Pelosi said that needs to be stressed as well: she concedes in her remarks today that Michael Sheehy, a top aide, informed her about waterboarding. In other words, Ms. Pelosi did learn about waterboarding no later than February 2003, according to her own account — and she didn’t do anything about it. A letter was sent to the CIA’s general counsel, Pelosi says — but it was not sent or signed by Pelosi (Representative Jane Harman sent it). “No letter could change the policy” according to the Speaker. But of course there were several options available to Ms. Pelosi; she exercised none of them.

Democrats have long thought that the issue of waterboarding would do great political damage; they may well be right. But what they may have not anticipated is that the person who would be most damaged in this whole thing might well be the current — and perhaps at some point soon, the former — Speaker of the House.

In her statement today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did several remarkable things. She accused the CIA of misleading and lying to her about waterboarding. So she has shifted her story once again, from originally insisting she was not told about waterboarding in a September 2002 briefing to now saying she was told it was not being employed. Accusing America’s intelligence agency of knowingly misleading a Member of Congress, and particularly a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, is quite an explosive charge. She better be able to prove it. And if she is lying — as Porter Goss, then ranking Republican on the House Committee who later served as C.I.A. Director, seems to believe — there will be an enormously high price for her to pay.

There is another thing Pelosi said that needs to be stressed as well: she concedes in her remarks today that Michael Sheehy, a top aide, informed her about waterboarding. In other words, Ms. Pelosi did learn about waterboarding no later than February 2003, according to her own account — and she didn’t do anything about it. A letter was sent to the CIA’s general counsel, Pelosi says — but it was not sent or signed by Pelosi (Representative Jane Harman sent it). “No letter could change the policy” according to the Speaker. But of course there were several options available to Ms. Pelosi; she exercised none of them.

Democrats have long thought that the issue of waterboarding would do great political damage; they may well be right. But what they may have not anticipated is that the person who would be most damaged in this whole thing might well be the current — and perhaps at some point soon, the former — Speaker of the House.

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Message Over Substance

David Axelrod was up on the Hill helping the Democrats spin healthcare reform. You see they don’t want Americans getting the idea that government is taking over healthcare, so the new buzz words will be “affordability” and “choice.” Mind you, they are not contemplating dumping the public option that would, in fact, squeeze out private insurance and set us on the road to government-controlled healthcare. No, this is just about what they say, not what they do.

One is reminded of the stimulus-bill debate, in which Axelrod was dispensed to the Hill not to push the president’s policy preferences but to coach Congressional Democrats in using “investment” to describe the pork-a-thon. He didn’t bother instructing Congressional Democrats on the substance of the stimulus (other than giving them a total figure) or chase them off their plans to make this the fulfillment of a liberal wish-list.

The pattern is becoming clear: the emphasis is on message and spin, not the underlying policy issues. If Axelrod had spent more time coaching Democrats on the substance rather than the spin of the stimulus bill, it might not have turned into a grab-bag of un-stimulating junk. We’ll see if on healthcare the White House makes the same mistake it did on the stimulus — concentrating too heavily on spin and deferring too much to the liberal Democratic draftsmen. If healthcare is to be the centerpiece of the Obama legislative agenda, they’d do well to get the details right (e.g., how to pay for it, how to maintain private competition, how to align payrolls and consumers of healthcare) and let the substance speak for itself.

David Axelrod was up on the Hill helping the Democrats spin healthcare reform. You see they don’t want Americans getting the idea that government is taking over healthcare, so the new buzz words will be “affordability” and “choice.” Mind you, they are not contemplating dumping the public option that would, in fact, squeeze out private insurance and set us on the road to government-controlled healthcare. No, this is just about what they say, not what they do.

One is reminded of the stimulus-bill debate, in which Axelrod was dispensed to the Hill not to push the president’s policy preferences but to coach Congressional Democrats in using “investment” to describe the pork-a-thon. He didn’t bother instructing Congressional Democrats on the substance of the stimulus (other than giving them a total figure) or chase them off their plans to make this the fulfillment of a liberal wish-list.

The pattern is becoming clear: the emphasis is on message and spin, not the underlying policy issues. If Axelrod had spent more time coaching Democrats on the substance rather than the spin of the stimulus bill, it might not have turned into a grab-bag of un-stimulating junk. We’ll see if on healthcare the White House makes the same mistake it did on the stimulus — concentrating too heavily on spin and deferring too much to the liberal Democratic draftsmen. If healthcare is to be the centerpiece of the Obama legislative agenda, they’d do well to get the details right (e.g., how to pay for it, how to maintain private competition, how to align payrolls and consumers of healthcare) and let the substance speak for itself.

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Higher Education, Inc. and the Credit Card Bill

One of the more amusing sub-plots of the credit card regulations bill working its way through Congress — pushed by both the White House and Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) — is the story its supporters tell about the relationship between credit cards and college students.

According to Sen. Dodd, college students are sinking ever deeper into credit card debt because of the irresponsible companies that issue the credit cards. Indeed, says Dodd, this is the single most important reason to pass his bill: “We must protect our young people — who are faced with an onslaught of credit card offers, often years before they turn 18, or as soon as they set foot onto a college campus.”

Of course, college students are adults, and credit cards are entirely legal: Dodd likely has a couple himself. So there’s a certain piquancy in the claim that students who are old enough to vote, enlist, drive, and decide on their own majors are not mature enough to handle a credit card. Undoubtedly, some college students do go heavily into debt on their cards — but then, so do quite a few people a good many years removed from college.

Curiously, Dodd places very little blame on the students, and most of it on the credit-card industry. He conveniently downplays the cozy relationship between that industry and higher education. As the New York Times reported late last year, hundreds of universities have long-term contracts with various
issuers that give them exclusive rights to market intensively on campus.

Bank of America, for instance, “has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students’ names and addresses and use of the university’s logo. The more students who take
the banks’ credit cards, the more money the university gets.” This is unseemly.

Universities sometimes try to distance themselves from these deals by suggesting that the contracts are between their alumni associations and the banks. Of course, this explanation ignores the on-campus marketing, for which the universities are entirely responsible. But in any case, as the Times points out, it’s the universities that provide their alumni groups with information on students, which the groups then resell to banks.

If universities aren’t expected to have any educational standards about what all students should be required to learn in order to graduate — which is, after all, their job — it’s hard to see why anyone would expect them to have any ethical standards either.A few legislators, like Rep. Maloney (D-NY), have noticed the incongruity involved in attacking the credit card industry for having contracts with higher education while saying nothing about universities. In fact, credit card solicitations in higher education would disappear almost completely if universities wanted to put an end to them.

Whether legislating that would be a good idea is not for me to say: as my colleague David C. John points out, regulating access to credit is tricky stuff. And as universities obviously believe that cutting deals with credit companies is good business, they will likely respond to any Congressional action by finding a new, unregulated way to stay in the business. The deals reveal the irresponsibility not of the credit card industry, but of higher education.

One of the more amusing sub-plots of the credit card regulations bill working its way through Congress — pushed by both the White House and Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) — is the story its supporters tell about the relationship between credit cards and college students.

According to Sen. Dodd, college students are sinking ever deeper into credit card debt because of the irresponsible companies that issue the credit cards. Indeed, says Dodd, this is the single most important reason to pass his bill: “We must protect our young people — who are faced with an onslaught of credit card offers, often years before they turn 18, or as soon as they set foot onto a college campus.”

Of course, college students are adults, and credit cards are entirely legal: Dodd likely has a couple himself. So there’s a certain piquancy in the claim that students who are old enough to vote, enlist, drive, and decide on their own majors are not mature enough to handle a credit card. Undoubtedly, some college students do go heavily into debt on their cards — but then, so do quite a few people a good many years removed from college.

Curiously, Dodd places very little blame on the students, and most of it on the credit-card industry. He conveniently downplays the cozy relationship between that industry and higher education. As the New York Times reported late last year, hundreds of universities have long-term contracts with various
issuers that give them exclusive rights to market intensively on campus.

Bank of America, for instance, “has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students’ names and addresses and use of the university’s logo. The more students who take
the banks’ credit cards, the more money the university gets.” This is unseemly.

Universities sometimes try to distance themselves from these deals by suggesting that the contracts are between their alumni associations and the banks. Of course, this explanation ignores the on-campus marketing, for which the universities are entirely responsible. But in any case, as the Times points out, it’s the universities that provide their alumni groups with information on students, which the groups then resell to banks.

If universities aren’t expected to have any educational standards about what all students should be required to learn in order to graduate — which is, after all, their job — it’s hard to see why anyone would expect them to have any ethical standards either.A few legislators, like Rep. Maloney (D-NY), have noticed the incongruity involved in attacking the credit card industry for having contracts with higher education while saying nothing about universities. In fact, credit card solicitations in higher education would disappear almost completely if universities wanted to put an end to them.

Whether legislating that would be a good idea is not for me to say: as my colleague David C. John points out, regulating access to credit is tricky stuff. And as universities obviously believe that cutting deals with credit companies is good business, they will likely respond to any Congressional action by finding a new, unregulated way to stay in the business. The deals reveal the irresponsibility not of the credit card industry, but of higher education.

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Healthcare Reform by Photo Op

While the president does one feel-good heathcare reform event after another, Congress and the punditry are maintaining a fairly sober debate on the issue. A surprising consensus is emerging that Obama’s plans are a pipe dream of ill-conceived funding.

Larry Kudlow writes:

Does anybody really believe that adding 50 million people to the public health-care rolls will not cost the government more money? About $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion more? At least. So let’s be serious when evaluating President Obama’s goal of universal health care, and the idea that it’s a cost-cutter. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Costs are going to explode. Think of it: Can anyone name a federal program that ever cut costs for anything? Let’s not forget that the existing Medicare system is roughly $80 trillion in the hole.

And does anybody believe Obama’s new “public” health-insurance plan isn’t really a bridge to single-payer government-run health care? And does anyone think this plan won’t produce a government gatekeeper that will allocate health services and control prices and therefore crowd-out the private-insurance doctor-hospital system?

And at the New York Times, David Leonhardt describes the scramble over figuring out how to pay for the next giant entitlement program. We could cap “the deduction” (I think he means the exclusion from income) on employer-provided health insurance just as John McCain suggested. That would be a bit politically embarrassing given all those Obama campaign ads vilifying the idea) and exclude the other half of the McCain equation: providing a tax credit so people can buy their own insurance. But all the liberal interest groups hate that idea, so we move on.

Run up the debt some more? That’s getting dicey. Pass a mega-tax increase? Good luck to those running in 2010. But as Leonhardt notes, there is another way to go: “Another possibility, however, is that we need to begin thinking about whether health care reform is possible even if some significant number of people remain uninsured.” Work on cost control, employ some of the ideas McCain raised in the campaign to increase competition and lower costs, and help small businesses create pools to buy more affordable insurance.

Now that would take a complete reorientation of the healthcare debate, away from the public option and government mandated universal coverage, and toward a system that reconnects the purchasers of insurance with the users. That we might be able to afford and that might aggregate some broad consensus. Liberals are horrified and imagine this is their golden opportunity for healthcare “reform” (i.e., nationalizing healthcare). But until they figure out how to pay for it, all we have is feel-good photo ops. Which, comes to think of it, is why we are seeing so many of them.

While the president does one feel-good heathcare reform event after another, Congress and the punditry are maintaining a fairly sober debate on the issue. A surprising consensus is emerging that Obama’s plans are a pipe dream of ill-conceived funding.

Larry Kudlow writes:

Does anybody really believe that adding 50 million people to the public health-care rolls will not cost the government more money? About $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion more? At least. So let’s be serious when evaluating President Obama’s goal of universal health care, and the idea that it’s a cost-cutter. Can’t happen. Won’t happen. Costs are going to explode. Think of it: Can anyone name a federal program that ever cut costs for anything? Let’s not forget that the existing Medicare system is roughly $80 trillion in the hole.

And does anybody believe Obama’s new “public” health-insurance plan isn’t really a bridge to single-payer government-run health care? And does anyone think this plan won’t produce a government gatekeeper that will allocate health services and control prices and therefore crowd-out the private-insurance doctor-hospital system?

And at the New York Times, David Leonhardt describes the scramble over figuring out how to pay for the next giant entitlement program. We could cap “the deduction” (I think he means the exclusion from income) on employer-provided health insurance just as John McCain suggested. That would be a bit politically embarrassing given all those Obama campaign ads vilifying the idea) and exclude the other half of the McCain equation: providing a tax credit so people can buy their own insurance. But all the liberal interest groups hate that idea, so we move on.

Run up the debt some more? That’s getting dicey. Pass a mega-tax increase? Good luck to those running in 2010. But as Leonhardt notes, there is another way to go: “Another possibility, however, is that we need to begin thinking about whether health care reform is possible even if some significant number of people remain uninsured.” Work on cost control, employ some of the ideas McCain raised in the campaign to increase competition and lower costs, and help small businesses create pools to buy more affordable insurance.

Now that would take a complete reorientation of the healthcare debate, away from the public option and government mandated universal coverage, and toward a system that reconnects the purchasers of insurance with the users. That we might be able to afford and that might aggregate some broad consensus. Liberals are horrified and imagine this is their golden opportunity for healthcare “reform” (i.e., nationalizing healthcare). But until they figure out how to pay for it, all we have is feel-good photo ops. Which, comes to think of it, is why we are seeing so many of them.

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Brace for a Hezbollah Victory

Brace yourself for a possible Hezbollah victory in Lebanon. On June 7, 2009, Lebanese voters will go to the polls, and even some in Beirut’s current “March 14″ government think the Hezbollah-led “March 8″ coalition might squeak out a win.

Lebanon, though, isn’t Gaza. A “March 8″ upset at the ballot box, if it happens, won’t come about the same way Hamas won the last Palestinian elections. Palestinians had only two viable parties to choose from, Fatah and Hamas. One Palestinian I know said Fatah’s corrupt men were so hated that even then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might have won if he stood for election against them.

Politics are much more complicated in Lebanon. The country is so ideologically fractious it makes Iraq look cohesive. Lebanon has almost as many political parties as people, yet most end up in one absurdly diverse coalition or the other. Not everyone in the anti-Syrian “March 14″ camp is a liberal democrat, and not everyone on the “March 8″ side is a jihadist.

“March 14″ includes both right-wing Christians and the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. They agree on Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah being menaces, but little else. Liberal Christians, libertarian Sunnis, disgruntled Shias, and most of the Druze are there, too.

Hezbollah leads the “March 8″ bloc, but is just one part of it. The Party of God is joined by the secular Shia Amal party because the two make a formidable duo in promoting Shia interests within Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

Michel Aoun’s predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement viscerally fears and loathes Saudi Arabia. And the Aounists, for now anyway, would rather forge a cynical tactical alliance with Syria, Iran, and the radical Shias than get in bed with Wahhabis and the rest of the Arab world.

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Brace yourself for a possible Hezbollah victory in Lebanon. On June 7, 2009, Lebanese voters will go to the polls, and even some in Beirut’s current “March 14″ government think the Hezbollah-led “March 8″ coalition might squeak out a win.

Lebanon, though, isn’t Gaza. A “March 8″ upset at the ballot box, if it happens, won’t come about the same way Hamas won the last Palestinian elections. Palestinians had only two viable parties to choose from, Fatah and Hamas. One Palestinian I know said Fatah’s corrupt men were so hated that even then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might have won if he stood for election against them.

Politics are much more complicated in Lebanon. The country is so ideologically fractious it makes Iraq look cohesive. Lebanon has almost as many political parties as people, yet most end up in one absurdly diverse coalition or the other. Not everyone in the anti-Syrian “March 14″ camp is a liberal democrat, and not everyone on the “March 8″ side is a jihadist.

“March 14″ includes both right-wing Christians and the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance. They agree on Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah being menaces, but little else. Liberal Christians, libertarian Sunnis, disgruntled Shias, and most of the Druze are there, too.

Hezbollah leads the “March 8″ bloc, but is just one part of it. The Party of God is joined by the secular Shia Amal party because the two make a formidable duo in promoting Shia interests within Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

Michel Aoun’s predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement viscerally fears and loathes Saudi Arabia. And the Aounists, for now anyway, would rather forge a cynical tactical alliance with Syria, Iran, and the radical Shias than get in bed with Wahhabis and the rest of the Arab world.

The Aounists are just using Hezbollah because they think it’s expedient and convenient. “The situation in the South is finished,” one of them told me, referring to the violent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. “If it happens again, [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah will lose his case.” “We’ll extend our hand and ask them to join us,” said another. “But we can’t wait forever. If they refuse to disarm, we’ll crack the sh*t out of them.”

Hezbollah supporters themselves are all over the place ideologically. Many thrill to jihad and the destruction of Israel as the leadership does. Others believe Hezbollah’s military strength is Lebanon’s only defense against an impending Israeli invasion. They want deterrence, not war, and simply fail to understand that a disarmed Hezbollah is their best bet for peace and quiet. They are bombarded daily with hysterical propaganda on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV and in Hezbollah’s schools against the supposedly warmongering “Zionist Entity.” Others simply reward Hezbollah with votes out of gratitude for their network of hospitals, schools, and other humanitarian fronts.

On my last trip to Lebanon, several “March 14″ supporters made a convincing case that daily life in Lebanon wouldn’t change much if “March 8″ won in June. Hezbollah has the freedom to do whatever it wants even now, because Lebanon’s government has always been weak and a hair’s breadth away from irrelevance no matter who runs it. Hezbollah itself is only expected to win ten parliamentary seats out of a total of 128. That’s less than eight percent.

Geopolitically though, everything will change. Lebanon’s current “March 14″ government is an ally of the West and of Arab governments other than Syria’s. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora has repeatedly – and I think honestly – stated he wants a renewed armistice agreement with Israel. A “March 8″ government would reverse all those diplomatic efforts and push Lebanon back into, or at the very least toward, the Syria-Iran axis. War prospects with Israel would increase, and any eventual war would almost certainly turn out more destructive than the last one if the people of Lebanon willingly elect a coalition led by a jihadist party vowing war and destruction.

The Obama Administration is indicating through diplomatic jargon the U.S.’s  response to a Hezbollah victory. Former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman had this to say to Congress: “The shape of the United States’ assistance programs in Lebanon will be evaluated in the context of Lebanon’s parliamentary election results and the policies formed by the new cabinet.” “It won’t surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Beirut recently. “We want to see a strong, independent, free and sovereign Lebanon.” Her statement may sound generic, but everyone in Lebanon knows exactly what it means. It’s an endorsement for “March 14.”

President Barack Obama wouldn’t be able to maintain the same warm relations with a Lebanon led by “March 8″ even if he wished to. Despite the president’s overtures toward leaders in Tehran, a party with “Death to America” as a slogan cannot be an ally. Hezbollah refused to meet with, of all people, former President Jimmy Carter a few months ago because he’s perceived as too ardent a “Zionist.” If Hezbollah’s leaders can’t handle Carter, they certainly won’t tolerate an American administration whose staff supported Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza a few months ago.

If Hezbollah does eke out a victory, Hassan Nasrallah will find himself in an interesting position. He’ll have more power than ever, but he’ll also have much more to lose. Many supporters of the Hezbollah-led coalition agree with “March 14″ on certain key points. The International Peace Institute produced some revealing data last summer. Eighty-two percent of Lebanese polled said they support UN Resolution 1559 that requires the disarmament of all Lebanese and Palestinian militias – including Hezbollah. Eighty-four percent said they support Resolution 1701 that bans shipments of arms to militias – including Hezbollah. Only 34 percent said they are confident Hezbollah can provide security in their neighborhood, compared with 93 percent who say the Lebanese Army can. Seventy-six percent said only the Lebanese Army should be armed, and 55 percent said Hezbollah’s very existence as an armed militia makes war with Israel likelier.

Lebanese political coalitions are ever-shifting kaleidoscopes. All internal alliances are unstable. Today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend, and vice-versa. It’s impossible for anyone who votes for one or another slate of parties to be happy with everything they’re going to get. Should Nasrallah win, it would be wise of him not to blow his victory and country away by starting something stupid with Israel. But as Druze chief Walid Jumblatt said of him recently, “It is not nice to be in a bunker. Being away from reality, you will ultimately fail to grasp reality.”

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Can We Get Back to Capitalism?

In a refreshing defense of capitalism the Washington Post editors write:

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and it was with this thought in mind that we endorsed the federal government’s decision to pump billions of dollars into the automakers. But the spectacle of creditors being stripped of their legal rights in favor of a labor union with which the president is politically aligned does little to attract private capital at a time when the government and many companies need these investors the most. Investors’ fears will only be compounded if the administration follows a similar blueprint with GM.

This is of course only one aspect of the Obama mega-government that sucks up everything and anyone in its way. As government’s grasp extends — to car companies, executive compensation, healthcare,  industrial emissions and more — fewer and fewer decisions are made on their economic merits and more policies becomes a matter of political calculation.

It is not just that government is getting bigger and more unaffordable, it is that it corrupts private-sector decision making. Hedge funds don’t operate on behalf of their shareholders because they are currying favor with the government. CEOs don’t honor executive compensation deals with their employees because they fear the mob. And soon doctors, insurers, drug companies, and the other healthcare players will be operating without regard to patients, customers, and shareholders solely to maximize their deal from the government.

We are told the president doesn’t really “like” doing any of this and that day-to-day operation of private firms will vanish when the “emergency” passes. Unfortunately, it is hard to see, even if he keeps his word, what will be left of large segments of the economy and how the habits of government dependency can be unlearned once government recedes. Perhaps the Chryslers, GMs, and AIGs will all collapse under the weight of their gross mismanagement and enfeebled leadership which looks to Washington rather that to the markets for direction. And then, their failure will remind the survivors that it is dangerous to become the ward of an ever-avarice government.

In a refreshing defense of capitalism the Washington Post editors write:

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and it was with this thought in mind that we endorsed the federal government’s decision to pump billions of dollars into the automakers. But the spectacle of creditors being stripped of their legal rights in favor of a labor union with which the president is politically aligned does little to attract private capital at a time when the government and many companies need these investors the most. Investors’ fears will only be compounded if the administration follows a similar blueprint with GM.

This is of course only one aspect of the Obama mega-government that sucks up everything and anyone in its way. As government’s grasp extends — to car companies, executive compensation, healthcare,  industrial emissions and more — fewer and fewer decisions are made on their economic merits and more policies becomes a matter of political calculation.

It is not just that government is getting bigger and more unaffordable, it is that it corrupts private-sector decision making. Hedge funds don’t operate on behalf of their shareholders because they are currying favor with the government. CEOs don’t honor executive compensation deals with their employees because they fear the mob. And soon doctors, insurers, drug companies, and the other healthcare players will be operating without regard to patients, customers, and shareholders solely to maximize their deal from the government.

We are told the president doesn’t really “like” doing any of this and that day-to-day operation of private firms will vanish when the “emergency” passes. Unfortunately, it is hard to see, even if he keeps his word, what will be left of large segments of the economy and how the habits of government dependency can be unlearned once government recedes. Perhaps the Chryslers, GMs, and AIGs will all collapse under the weight of their gross mismanagement and enfeebled leadership which looks to Washington rather that to the markets for direction. And then, their failure will remind the survivors that it is dangerous to become the ward of an ever-avarice government.

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The Daily Has Ditched

You knew it would happen, and you knew it would be soon. Andrew Sullivan has turned with indignant fury against Barack Obama. The triggering event for Andrew was President Obama’s decision to seek to block the release of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees held by U.S. authorities. And it is not simply that Obama has done a grave moral wrong. “Slowly but surely,” Sullivan writes, “Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’ [sic] war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to proscute [sic] them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt [sic] his successor.”

The full depth of this co-option is not readily apparent to most people — but nothing gets past Andrew’s keen eye, which can discern intricate patterns where the rest of us see only dots. “Given the president’s decision to start aggressively covering up the torture policies of his predecessors and thereby owning them,” Sullivan writes, “Obama’s pick as head of his — and it now truly is his — war in Afghanistan [Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal] is interesting.” And why, you might ask, is it “interesting”? Because McChrystal has been “praised to the skies” by none other than… Dick Cheney. Ah, yes, the Evil Genius Cheney is co-opting the naïve, unknowing Obama.

But there is more, much more, to this sordid tale.

President Obama, we learn from Andrew, is the “neocon in chief.” That may come as news to you, but not to Sullivan. “From extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed,” Andrew writes, “Obama now has new cheer-leaders [sic]: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot.”

A veritable Axis of Evil, those three.

But it doesn’t stop there; the tentacles of this conspiracy just keep spreading. According to Sullivan, another unholy troika — Andrew McCarthy, Jonah Goldberg, and I — are involved in the web as well. “It’s critical for their position,” Andrew writes, “that the lie that Abu Ghraib was an exception and not policy be maintained. Any evidence to the contrary must be suppressed. And if they can get Obama to cover up for Bush, their own task in preventing accountability for war crimes becomes much easier.”

And so our efforts to “get Obama to cover up for Bush” are finally, at long last, paying off. Those endless, expensive, curse-laden private lunches with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod — held at an undisclosed restaurant in a nondescript building located somewhere outside of D.C. (and paid for by Dick Cheney) — are finally bearing fruit.

And who, you might ask, will stand up against this vast conspiracy? Why, Andrew Sullivan, of course. It’s true that people like the Washington Post’s David Ignatius are unwitting tools in this grand cover-up. “The MSM cannot see the question of torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right and wrong, of law and lawlessness,” Sullivan writes. “There is truth and power,” you see. “In this town, you know what side the MSM is on.” Thankfully for us, Andrew the Intrepid is on the side of truth. But it comes at a very high cost. “[T]he advocates for real change and accountability have to go through this buzz-saw of resistance,” we learn.

What Andrew has had to endure as a Watchman on the Walls of Truth, it appears, has been even more difficult than undergoing waterboarding itself.

And what is next, you might ask? A friend of mine pointed out to me what I was too blind to see. “It won’t be long,” he wrote, “before Andrew questions the paternity of the Obama children, and the dog.”

You knew it would happen, and you knew it would be soon. Andrew Sullivan has turned with indignant fury against Barack Obama. The triggering event for Andrew was President Obama’s decision to seek to block the release of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees held by U.S. authorities. And it is not simply that Obama has done a grave moral wrong. “Slowly but surely,” Sullivan writes, “Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’ [sic] war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to proscute [sic] them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt [sic] his successor.”

The full depth of this co-option is not readily apparent to most people — but nothing gets past Andrew’s keen eye, which can discern intricate patterns where the rest of us see only dots. “Given the president’s decision to start aggressively covering up the torture policies of his predecessors and thereby owning them,” Sullivan writes, “Obama’s pick as head of his — and it now truly is his — war in Afghanistan [Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal] is interesting.” And why, you might ask, is it “interesting”? Because McChrystal has been “praised to the skies” by none other than… Dick Cheney. Ah, yes, the Evil Genius Cheney is co-opting the naïve, unknowing Obama.

But there is more, much more, to this sordid tale.

President Obama, we learn from Andrew, is the “neocon in chief.” That may come as news to you, but not to Sullivan. “From extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed,” Andrew writes, “Obama now has new cheer-leaders [sic]: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot.”

A veritable Axis of Evil, those three.

But it doesn’t stop there; the tentacles of this conspiracy just keep spreading. According to Sullivan, another unholy troika — Andrew McCarthy, Jonah Goldberg, and I — are involved in the web as well. “It’s critical for their position,” Andrew writes, “that the lie that Abu Ghraib was an exception and not policy be maintained. Any evidence to the contrary must be suppressed. And if they can get Obama to cover up for Bush, their own task in preventing accountability for war crimes becomes much easier.”

And so our efforts to “get Obama to cover up for Bush” are finally, at long last, paying off. Those endless, expensive, curse-laden private lunches with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod — held at an undisclosed restaurant in a nondescript building located somewhere outside of D.C. (and paid for by Dick Cheney) — are finally bearing fruit.

And who, you might ask, will stand up against this vast conspiracy? Why, Andrew Sullivan, of course. It’s true that people like the Washington Post’s David Ignatius are unwitting tools in this grand cover-up. “The MSM cannot see the question of torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right and wrong, of law and lawlessness,” Sullivan writes. “There is truth and power,” you see. “In this town, you know what side the MSM is on.” Thankfully for us, Andrew the Intrepid is on the side of truth. But it comes at a very high cost. “[T]he advocates for real change and accountability have to go through this buzz-saw of resistance,” we learn.

What Andrew has had to endure as a Watchman on the Walls of Truth, it appears, has been even more difficult than undergoing waterboarding itself.

And what is next, you might ask? A friend of mine pointed out to me what I was too blind to see. “It won’t be long,” he wrote, “before Andrew questions the paternity of the Obama children, and the dog.”

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Where Do You Go after Hysteria?

For years now the Left has been deriding and smearing conservatives who have pointed out that abuses at Abu Ghraib constituted an isolated instance of misconduct — that is, a violation of existing policy — which was correctly dealt with as a disciplinary matter. Those on the Right who have been making this argument are accused of peddling “a lie that Abu Ghraib was an exception and not policy,” as the Atlantic’s maternity guru puts it.

But now the president has come forward to say precisely the same thing. Ben Smith reports:

He described abuses “carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Those calling for a broader investigation of torture have made the case that the incidents at all levels flowed from policy decisions in the White House and the Pentagon, and suggested that the soldiers charged in abuse were scapegoats. Obama seems determined not to go that route.

So the Left must now argue one of three things: Obama is in on the “cover up“; Obama is a dupe of the Right; or those on the Left were wrong — indeed, hysterical in their allegations — all along. So far it doesn’t look like the third is under serious consideration. But the Left might consider taking a page from the Obama book: it’s never too late to reverse course, especially to preserve one’s intellectual credibility.

For years now the Left has been deriding and smearing conservatives who have pointed out that abuses at Abu Ghraib constituted an isolated instance of misconduct — that is, a violation of existing policy — which was correctly dealt with as a disciplinary matter. Those on the Right who have been making this argument are accused of peddling “a lie that Abu Ghraib was an exception and not policy,” as the Atlantic’s maternity guru puts it.

But now the president has come forward to say precisely the same thing. Ben Smith reports:

He described abuses “carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Those calling for a broader investigation of torture have made the case that the incidents at all levels flowed from policy decisions in the White House and the Pentagon, and suggested that the soldiers charged in abuse were scapegoats. Obama seems determined not to go that route.

So the Left must now argue one of three things: Obama is in on the “cover up“; Obama is a dupe of the Right; or those on the Left were wrong — indeed, hysterical in their allegations — all along. So far it doesn’t look like the third is under serious consideration. But the Left might consider taking a page from the Obama book: it’s never too late to reverse course, especially to preserve one’s intellectual credibility.

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Katzav on Trial

The Israeli version of the Monica Lewinsky scandal has the public captivated. Today, when former President Moshe Katzav appeared in court for the first time — denying allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape — all TV and radio stations live-streamed the event. The former President, who had complained bitterly in the past that the media was sentencing him without ever giving him the benefit of the doubt, took the opportunity to repeat these allegations:

Here I won’t be sentenced without being seen, without being heard, and without having all the material of the investigation read… We are heading out on a long and difficult battle to clear my name. God willing, I will remain innocent.

The most striking element of Katzav’s denial — inspiring déjà vu in American observers — is his claim that he never had any sexual contact with any of the women testifying against him. This undermines the credibility of his version of the disputed events, as Katzav was ready to admit sexual contact had occurred when he negotiated a plea bargain in mid 2007.

Katzav later decided to cancel the bargain his lawyers reached, and the result is the renewed trial that started today. It remains to be seen if the scandal will have the Lewinskyesque legs in the Israeli media.

The Israeli version of the Monica Lewinsky scandal has the public captivated. Today, when former President Moshe Katzav appeared in court for the first time — denying allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape — all TV and radio stations live-streamed the event. The former President, who had complained bitterly in the past that the media was sentencing him without ever giving him the benefit of the doubt, took the opportunity to repeat these allegations:

Here I won’t be sentenced without being seen, without being heard, and without having all the material of the investigation read… We are heading out on a long and difficult battle to clear my name. God willing, I will remain innocent.

The most striking element of Katzav’s denial — inspiring déjà vu in American observers — is his claim that he never had any sexual contact with any of the women testifying against him. This undermines the credibility of his version of the disputed events, as Katzav was ready to admit sexual contact had occurred when he negotiated a plea bargain in mid 2007.

Katzav later decided to cancel the bargain his lawyers reached, and the result is the renewed trial that started today. It remains to be seen if the scandal will have the Lewinskyesque legs in the Israeli media.

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Nothing Went Wrong

Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts of the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on the topic “What Went Wrong: Torture and The Office of Legal Counsel in The Bush Administration.” Michael Stokes Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair & Professor of Law at The University of St. Thomas (and author of some sixty articles on national security, separation of powers, constitutional law and interpretation, and Attorney-Advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1989-1991) submitted testimony. In scholarly and measured terms, he explained that in fact “nothing went wrong.” Unfortunately the full testimony is not available online but I will briefly summarize his argument.

Paulsen makes four points. First, he argues that the legal analysis of Jay Bybee and John Yoo was correct:

There exists a basic distinction in the law between what constitutes actual, legal “torture,” under applicable standards, and what may be harsh, aggressive, unpleasant interrogation tactics but not, legally, “torture.” Reasonable people will come to different conclusions as to where precisely that line is, but the Bush administration’s lawyers’ ultimate conclusions are certainly defensible. Indeed, I believe they are ultimately correct, both as an abstract, general matter and in their specific application (matters addressed in a variety of separate OLC memoranda). I do not necessarily agree with every particular point, or argument, . . . [but] [n]onetheless, I  believe that OLC’s essential statutory conclusion that “torture” refers to a narrow, highly specific subcategory of coercive interrogation techniques, is correct. As a legal matter – that is, as a matter of the objective meaning of a particular statutory term-of-art – the term “torture” may differ from, and be more specific than, commonplace or public political usage. That is the distinction that the memoranda draw; and they draw that distinction on the basis of specifically  legal analysis.

Second, he contends that,

 even if one disagreed with the statutory and constitutional analysis in the OLC memoranda in question, or with the application of that analysis to specific facts, the OLC legal analysis and advice clearly falls within the range of legitimate legal analysis and the range of reasonable disagreement common to legal analysis of important statutory and constitutional issues. Not all lawyers agree on all legal questions. This observation is so obviously true as to be almost trite. Nothing is more common than for lawyers, each acting in entire good faith and employing sophisticated analysis, to reach differing conclusions.

Third, Paulsen argues “it is important to recognize the clear distinction between a lawyer’s opinion on questions of legalityand endorsement of a client’s actions themselves. The former in no way implies the latter.” Finally he contends:

I believe it is both shortsighted and foolish to seek to punish lawyers of a prior administration because of disagreement with the content of their legal advice. In addition to reflecting a basic misunderstanding of lawyers’ roles, such an approach unquestionably would have the effect (and probably already has had the effect) of chilling both valuable government service by talented attorneys and the candor, quality, and vigor of the legal advice provided by those who agree to serve as government lawyers in important roles. If a government attorney’s legal advice in the service of one administration is subject not only to being reversed in a subsequent administration of different views (as is common, reasonable, and sometimes to be expected), but, further, also made the subject of retrospective investigation, punishment (in various forms), and personal attacks, there is no question that the attorney’s advice will become more guarded, tepid, inhibited, over-cautious and – in many cases – ultimately unsound. This will be true of Democratic administrations as well as Republican administrations.

One need not agree with the first point to see that the second, third and fourth are virtually incontrovertible. One wonders on what basis then the Obama Justice Department is considering legal action against Bybee and Yoo. Perhaps the same mentality is at work which suggested the president should have passively accepted the Second Circuit decision ordering release of the inflammatory detainee photos.

One hopes that analysis receives a thorough review and appropriate skepticism and that the points raised by Professor Paulsen and others are duly considered. Ultimately, this is the president’s call and he, as he did in the detainee photo matter, has every reason to avoid a dangerous and explosive course of action.

Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts of the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on the topic “What Went Wrong: Torture and The Office of Legal Counsel in The Bush Administration.” Michael Stokes Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair & Professor of Law at The University of St. Thomas (and author of some sixty articles on national security, separation of powers, constitutional law and interpretation, and Attorney-Advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1989-1991) submitted testimony. In scholarly and measured terms, he explained that in fact “nothing went wrong.” Unfortunately the full testimony is not available online but I will briefly summarize his argument.

Paulsen makes four points. First, he argues that the legal analysis of Jay Bybee and John Yoo was correct:

There exists a basic distinction in the law between what constitutes actual, legal “torture,” under applicable standards, and what may be harsh, aggressive, unpleasant interrogation tactics but not, legally, “torture.” Reasonable people will come to different conclusions as to where precisely that line is, but the Bush administration’s lawyers’ ultimate conclusions are certainly defensible. Indeed, I believe they are ultimately correct, both as an abstract, general matter and in their specific application (matters addressed in a variety of separate OLC memoranda). I do not necessarily agree with every particular point, or argument, . . . [but] [n]onetheless, I  believe that OLC’s essential statutory conclusion that “torture” refers to a narrow, highly specific subcategory of coercive interrogation techniques, is correct. As a legal matter – that is, as a matter of the objective meaning of a particular statutory term-of-art – the term “torture” may differ from, and be more specific than, commonplace or public political usage. That is the distinction that the memoranda draw; and they draw that distinction on the basis of specifically  legal analysis.

Second, he contends that,

 even if one disagreed with the statutory and constitutional analysis in the OLC memoranda in question, or with the application of that analysis to specific facts, the OLC legal analysis and advice clearly falls within the range of legitimate legal analysis and the range of reasonable disagreement common to legal analysis of important statutory and constitutional issues. Not all lawyers agree on all legal questions. This observation is so obviously true as to be almost trite. Nothing is more common than for lawyers, each acting in entire good faith and employing sophisticated analysis, to reach differing conclusions.

Third, Paulsen argues “it is important to recognize the clear distinction between a lawyer’s opinion on questions of legalityand endorsement of a client’s actions themselves. The former in no way implies the latter.” Finally he contends:

I believe it is both shortsighted and foolish to seek to punish lawyers of a prior administration because of disagreement with the content of their legal advice. In addition to reflecting a basic misunderstanding of lawyers’ roles, such an approach unquestionably would have the effect (and probably already has had the effect) of chilling both valuable government service by talented attorneys and the candor, quality, and vigor of the legal advice provided by those who agree to serve as government lawyers in important roles. If a government attorney’s legal advice in the service of one administration is subject not only to being reversed in a subsequent administration of different views (as is common, reasonable, and sometimes to be expected), but, further, also made the subject of retrospective investigation, punishment (in various forms), and personal attacks, there is no question that the attorney’s advice will become more guarded, tepid, inhibited, over-cautious and – in many cases – ultimately unsound. This will be true of Democratic administrations as well as Republican administrations.

One need not agree with the first point to see that the second, third and fourth are virtually incontrovertible. One wonders on what basis then the Obama Justice Department is considering legal action against Bybee and Yoo. Perhaps the same mentality is at work which suggested the president should have passively accepted the Second Circuit decision ordering release of the inflammatory detainee photos.

One hopes that analysis receives a thorough review and appropriate skepticism and that the points raised by Professor Paulsen and others are duly considered. Ultimately, this is the president’s call and he, as he did in the detainee photo matter, has every reason to avoid a dangerous and explosive course of action.

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Anti-Semitism, Tel-Aviv Style

My tendency to disagree with Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has become a natural reflex, an almost-biological urge. Yet this time he is dead-on. Levy writes of a new anti-Semitism, flowering in North Tel-Aviv, aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jews who have moved into the neighborhood.

Anti-Semitism is raising its head. Not in Warsaw, Munich or Paris, and there’s no need for the Anti-Defamation League to wave the evidence around. It’s right here, in our own home, in verdant Ramat Aviv, the most enlightened suburb of Tel Aviv, our most enlightened city. The entry of a handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews to this lovely, modest and tranquil neighborhood has provoked an unlovely wave of racism, tearing the thin veil of openness and liberality from this seemingly left-wing community. If anyone were to behave this way toward Israeli Arabs, the residents might raise a hue and cry, but when it comes to Haredim the gloves are off because attacking the “blacks” is the fashion.

Natan Sharansky has promoted what he calls the “3D” test for anti-Semitism: De-legitimization, Demonization, Double-Standards. Sharansky of course is talking about how to tell legitimate criticism of Israel from the bigotry spreading across Europe. Yet the same test can be applied to internal, Jewish anti-Semitism. Dare I deploy the cliche of “baseless hatred” from the Talmud? We know how that ended up…

My tendency to disagree with Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has become a natural reflex, an almost-biological urge. Yet this time he is dead-on. Levy writes of a new anti-Semitism, flowering in North Tel-Aviv, aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jews who have moved into the neighborhood.

Anti-Semitism is raising its head. Not in Warsaw, Munich or Paris, and there’s no need for the Anti-Defamation League to wave the evidence around. It’s right here, in our own home, in verdant Ramat Aviv, the most enlightened suburb of Tel Aviv, our most enlightened city. The entry of a handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews to this lovely, modest and tranquil neighborhood has provoked an unlovely wave of racism, tearing the thin veil of openness and liberality from this seemingly left-wing community. If anyone were to behave this way toward Israeli Arabs, the residents might raise a hue and cry, but when it comes to Haredim the gloves are off because attacking the “blacks” is the fashion.

Natan Sharansky has promoted what he calls the “3D” test for anti-Semitism: De-legitimization, Demonization, Double-Standards. Sharansky of course is talking about how to tell legitimate criticism of Israel from the bigotry spreading across Europe. Yet the same test can be applied to internal, Jewish anti-Semitism. Dare I deploy the cliche of “baseless hatred” from the Talmud? We know how that ended up…

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Apparently Madame Speaker was not amused — and Steny Hoyer has to walk back his “let the sun shine in” comments on the interrogation investigation.

This pretty much sums it up: “Barack Obama isn’t a reformer. He’s the president of Earmark Nation. We are about to enact the Obama federal health-insurance entitlement, which on top of all the other entitlements and their limitless liabilities will require pulling trillions of dollars more into the federal budget. Whatever nominal public good this is supposed to achieve, it means that they, these 535 pols, most of them gerrymandered for life, will decide in perpetuity the details of how to dole it out.”

Uh oh: “Sales at retail outlets from grocers to furniture stores fell in April, underscoring continued consumer caution and challenging hopes that the economy is on the cusp of recovery.Retail sales fell 0.4% last month from March, the Census Bureau said. The disappointing data on consumer spending prompted stocks to fall, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 2.2% for the day.”

Less than three weeks from the New Jersey gubernatorial primary Chris Christie has a ten-point lead.

Meanwhile: “A coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and other liberal organizations is asking Gov. Jon Corzine to fix the state’s budget problems by raising taxes on the wealthy.” (Yes that’s it– make New Jersey even more uncompetitive so all the jobs and high wage earners go to Pennsylvania! Somewhere Ed Rendell is smiling.)

Megan McArdle nails it: “Perhaps predictibly, someone showed up in the comments to my post on Medicare and Social Security to argue that liberal analysts have very serious plans to cut Medicare’s costs, which is why we need universal coverage, so that we can implement those very serious plans. I hear this argument quite often, and it’s gibberish in a prom dress.” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Rep. Frank Wolf keeps up the struggle to demand answers from Attorney General Holder on Uighurs who may be released from Guantanamo.

Rick Klein lays out the narrative: “The intelligence briefings received by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2002 have developed into a recurring distraction for congressional Democrats.  Instead of arguing over whether waterboarding and other techniques are legal, and whether they represent the right policies, Democrats are on the defensive as questions swirl over what one of the most prominent party leaders knew, and what she did about it. Inconsistencies between the now-public account of the intelligence community and Pelosi’s description of what she knew have given Republicans an opening: They’re arguing that Democrats were complicit in allowing the very interrogation methods that President Obama now labels ‘torture.'”

Republican senate candidates are polling very competitively in New Hampshire. Maybe those flinty New Englanders don’t like all the spending and tax plans coming out of D.C.

64% of Americans are smarter than Ruth Marcus when it comes to gender litmus tests for the Supreme Court.

Apparently Madame Speaker was not amused — and Steny Hoyer has to walk back his “let the sun shine in” comments on the interrogation investigation.

This pretty much sums it up: “Barack Obama isn’t a reformer. He’s the president of Earmark Nation. We are about to enact the Obama federal health-insurance entitlement, which on top of all the other entitlements and their limitless liabilities will require pulling trillions of dollars more into the federal budget. Whatever nominal public good this is supposed to achieve, it means that they, these 535 pols, most of them gerrymandered for life, will decide in perpetuity the details of how to dole it out.”

Uh oh: “Sales at retail outlets from grocers to furniture stores fell in April, underscoring continued consumer caution and challenging hopes that the economy is on the cusp of recovery.Retail sales fell 0.4% last month from March, the Census Bureau said. The disappointing data on consumer spending prompted stocks to fall, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 2.2% for the day.”

Less than three weeks from the New Jersey gubernatorial primary Chris Christie has a ten-point lead.

Meanwhile: “A coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and other liberal organizations is asking Gov. Jon Corzine to fix the state’s budget problems by raising taxes on the wealthy.” (Yes that’s it– make New Jersey even more uncompetitive so all the jobs and high wage earners go to Pennsylvania! Somewhere Ed Rendell is smiling.)

Megan McArdle nails it: “Perhaps predictibly, someone showed up in the comments to my post on Medicare and Social Security to argue that liberal analysts have very serious plans to cut Medicare’s costs, which is why we need universal coverage, so that we can implement those very serious plans. I hear this argument quite often, and it’s gibberish in a prom dress.” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Rep. Frank Wolf keeps up the struggle to demand answers from Attorney General Holder on Uighurs who may be released from Guantanamo.

Rick Klein lays out the narrative: “The intelligence briefings received by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2002 have developed into a recurring distraction for congressional Democrats.  Instead of arguing over whether waterboarding and other techniques are legal, and whether they represent the right policies, Democrats are on the defensive as questions swirl over what one of the most prominent party leaders knew, and what she did about it. Inconsistencies between the now-public account of the intelligence community and Pelosi’s description of what she knew have given Republicans an opening: They’re arguing that Democrats were complicit in allowing the very interrogation methods that President Obama now labels ‘torture.'”

Republican senate candidates are polling very competitively in New Hampshire. Maybe those flinty New Englanders don’t like all the spending and tax plans coming out of D.C.

64% of Americans are smarter than Ruth Marcus when it comes to gender litmus tests for the Supreme Court.

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