Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 21, 2009

Re: A Telling Poll

John McLaughlin, CEO of McLaughlin & Associates, held a bloggers conference call this afternoon regarding the foreign policy poll Jennifer Rubin ably analyzed yesterday. The call was organized by One Jerusalem.

McLaughlin said that the poll demonstrates the public is “way out in front” of the country’s political leadership on issues relating to Iran and nuclear terrorism. A total of 91% of likely voters think Iran supplying a nuclear umbrella for terrorists is a serious threat — a finding that runs across the political spectrum (95% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats, and 89% of Independents). A total of 79% think it likely Iran would provide nuclear weapons to terrorists to attack an American city (85% Republicans, 72% Democrats, and 79% Independents).

A total of 60% would approve blockading imports of gasoline and food to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon (72% Republicans, 54% Democrats, and 52% Independents). Military action by either Israel or the U.S. commands clear majority support from both Republicans (70%) and Independents (60%), and plurality support (45%) from Democrats.

According to McLaughlin, while there are some expected divergences of opinion between the various political subgroups in the United States, what is most striking is the broad consensus in the poll about the seriousness of the situation with Iran and the necessity for strong action to resolve it, particularly after the contentious foreign policy debates of the last few years.

The poll did not ask whether respondents thought there is a link between confronting Iran and pursuing a two-state solution, but the question undoubtedly would have been superfluous: the respondents do not think a two-state solution will solve even the Israeli-Palestinian problem, much less help deal with Iran. By a margin of 60-18, respondents believe if Palestinians were given a state, they would not live peacefully with Israel but continue their efforts to destroy it.

The poll was a national survey of 600 likely voters conducted on May 8-9, with statistical accuracy of +/- 4% at a 95% confidence interval. McLaughlin said increasing the sample to 1,000 people would have improved its accuracy only to +/- 3%. He noted that, since the poll was taken, Iran launched a long-range missile and the FBI broke up a Muslim terrorist attack in the U.S. — so it seems unlikely the percentages have gone down.

John McLaughlin, CEO of McLaughlin & Associates, held a bloggers conference call this afternoon regarding the foreign policy poll Jennifer Rubin ably analyzed yesterday. The call was organized by One Jerusalem.

McLaughlin said that the poll demonstrates the public is “way out in front” of the country’s political leadership on issues relating to Iran and nuclear terrorism. A total of 91% of likely voters think Iran supplying a nuclear umbrella for terrorists is a serious threat — a finding that runs across the political spectrum (95% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats, and 89% of Independents). A total of 79% think it likely Iran would provide nuclear weapons to terrorists to attack an American city (85% Republicans, 72% Democrats, and 79% Independents).

A total of 60% would approve blockading imports of gasoline and food to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon (72% Republicans, 54% Democrats, and 52% Independents). Military action by either Israel or the U.S. commands clear majority support from both Republicans (70%) and Independents (60%), and plurality support (45%) from Democrats.

According to McLaughlin, while there are some expected divergences of opinion between the various political subgroups in the United States, what is most striking is the broad consensus in the poll about the seriousness of the situation with Iran and the necessity for strong action to resolve it, particularly after the contentious foreign policy debates of the last few years.

The poll did not ask whether respondents thought there is a link between confronting Iran and pursuing a two-state solution, but the question undoubtedly would have been superfluous: the respondents do not think a two-state solution will solve even the Israeli-Palestinian problem, much less help deal with Iran. By a margin of 60-18, respondents believe if Palestinians were given a state, they would not live peacefully with Israel but continue their efforts to destroy it.

The poll was a national survey of 600 likely voters conducted on May 8-9, with statistical accuracy of +/- 4% at a 95% confidence interval. McLaughlin said increasing the sample to 1,000 people would have improved its accuracy only to +/- 3%. He noted that, since the poll was taken, Iran launched a long-range missile and the FBI broke up a Muslim terrorist attack in the U.S. — so it seems unlikely the percentages have gone down.

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He Thinks What??

Andy McCarthy and Ed Whelan held a blogger conference call today on the nomination of Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Whelan’s extensive writings on Koh can be found here. In short, McCarthy and Whelan argue based on voluminous review of Koh’s extensive writing, and specifically Koh’s self-described adherence to “transnationalism,” that Koh seeks to impose a radical view of American law and advocate its subservience to international law. What does this mean? Whelan explains that in this world view international law and norms “supplant ordinary processes of representative democracy.” The Supreme Court, in Koh’s view, should import international law to erode what Koh disparages as America’s “distinctive rights culture” (this is a bad thing in Koh’s view). In Koh’s vision the Supreme Court should invent new rights and apply treaties — even those not ratified by the U.S. — to override domestic law. While this may seem remarkable, even unbelievable, in its extremism, Koh’s ample scholarship clearly supports this summary.

I asked why then there hasn’t been more opposition within the Senate, where his nomination was passed from a committee by a 12 to 5 vote with Sen. Richard Lugar voting “yes.” (Further information on Koh’s views and the progress of his nomination can be seen here.) The answer: in some sense Koh has benefited by the notion that he “can’t possibly be this bad” — yet his views are indeed nearly unprecedented for any potential high-ranking U.S. official. McCarthy suggested that moderate Democrats reconsider whether Koh’s extremism is really a philosophy with which they want to identify. After all, as McCarthy explained, Koh views the Iraq war as a violation of international law because it was not authorized by the UN, leaving the inevitable conclusion that those who nevertheless voted to authorize use of U.S. forces are guilty of war crimes.

It is worth noting that if we have learned anything in the last month, it is that Obama seems to have no stomach for fights in defense of the extreme Left’s agenda. If presented with robust opposition, would he go to the mat for this nominee? I think that’s highly doubtful.

Andy McCarthy and Ed Whelan held a blogger conference call today on the nomination of Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Whelan’s extensive writings on Koh can be found here. In short, McCarthy and Whelan argue based on voluminous review of Koh’s extensive writing, and specifically Koh’s self-described adherence to “transnationalism,” that Koh seeks to impose a radical view of American law and advocate its subservience to international law. What does this mean? Whelan explains that in this world view international law and norms “supplant ordinary processes of representative democracy.” The Supreme Court, in Koh’s view, should import international law to erode what Koh disparages as America’s “distinctive rights culture” (this is a bad thing in Koh’s view). In Koh’s vision the Supreme Court should invent new rights and apply treaties — even those not ratified by the U.S. — to override domestic law. While this may seem remarkable, even unbelievable, in its extremism, Koh’s ample scholarship clearly supports this summary.

I asked why then there hasn’t been more opposition within the Senate, where his nomination was passed from a committee by a 12 to 5 vote with Sen. Richard Lugar voting “yes.” (Further information on Koh’s views and the progress of his nomination can be seen here.) The answer: in some sense Koh has benefited by the notion that he “can’t possibly be this bad” — yet his views are indeed nearly unprecedented for any potential high-ranking U.S. official. McCarthy suggested that moderate Democrats reconsider whether Koh’s extremism is really a philosophy with which they want to identify. After all, as McCarthy explained, Koh views the Iraq war as a violation of international law because it was not authorized by the UN, leaving the inevitable conclusion that those who nevertheless voted to authorize use of U.S. forces are guilty of war crimes.

It is worth noting that if we have learned anything in the last month, it is that Obama seems to have no stomach for fights in defense of the extreme Left’s agenda. If presented with robust opposition, would he go to the mat for this nominee? I think that’s highly doubtful.

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Zobgy to Obama: Bleep the Jews

Pollster John Zogby is, as everyone knows, the brother of Democratic activist and Israel foe James Zogby. The latter was often frustrated by the overwhelming support for Israel among Democrats but a new poll from his brother should certainly be encouraging to all those who would like the see the Democratic Party shake off the influence of the pro-Israel community.

John Zogby writes in Forbes today that a Zogby interactive survey reveals that while 78 percent of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain see Israel’s and America’s interests as “identical,” only 28 percent of those who voted for Barack Obama think that is true.

Of course, the question is a false one. No two countries, not even America and Israel, which share common values and a belief in democracy, have “identical” interests. The United States is the sole superpower in the world while Israel is a tiny country the size of New Jersey, beset by enemies wishing to destroy it. There’s no way the two nations could or even should see eye-to-eye on everything. The question is whether they allow tactical differences to obscure the vast areas of agreement between the two.

However, Zogby is undaunted by this false choice and reports similar gaps between Republicans and Democrats to other questions such as whether Israel strengthens U.S. security or whether the U.S. should “get tough” with Israel over settlements. All show McCain voters more sympathetic to Israel than Obama voters.

Partly, this reflects something that is surely true. The base of the Republican party — religious Christians — are overwhelming sympathetic to Israel, more so in some cases than American Jews, the vast majority of whom voted for Obama.

But Zogby uses this data to jump to some misleading J Street-style conclusions. He thinks it means that most American Jews who voted for Obama did so because they, like some on the left, really wanted him to distance America from Israel and to pressure it to make concessions that the Jewish state’s democratically elected leaders think are unwise. What he fails to understand is that GOP efforts to entice Jewish Democrats to reject Obama last year did not fail because most Jewish Democrats don’t care about Israel. They failed because Obama’s efforts to reassure them that he was reliably pro-Israel allowed them to vote for him because of their substantive agreement with the Democrats on domestic issues.

Zogby is right when he says: “Concern about Israel is only one of the many issues that Americans Jews care about. Most back Obama’s liberal policies on the economy, social issues such as reproductive and gay rights and other questions of equality and fairness.” It is also true that support for Israel is getting very thin on the left and that assimilation has taken its toll on the pro-Israel sensibilities of some American Jews whose ties to the rest of the community, as well as to Israel, have weakened.

But jumping to a conclusion that mainstream Jewish Democrats would happily support a president who puts unconscionable pressure on Israel to make concessions to Hamas, or fails to take action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is another thing entirely.

Zogby is clearly urging Obama to do just that and argues that, since ardent supporters of Israel didn’t vote for him in the first place, there would be no political danger in abandoning the Jewish State. In this way, Zogby seems to be channeling former Secretary of State James Baker who in 1991 memorably noted that the Jews didn’t vote for his president so “F___ ‘em.” The difference here is that Jews did vote for Obama and he would be making a big mistake in assuming that most of them wouldn’t blink if he threw Israel under the bus.

Pollster John Zogby is, as everyone knows, the brother of Democratic activist and Israel foe James Zogby. The latter was often frustrated by the overwhelming support for Israel among Democrats but a new poll from his brother should certainly be encouraging to all those who would like the see the Democratic Party shake off the influence of the pro-Israel community.

John Zogby writes in Forbes today that a Zogby interactive survey reveals that while 78 percent of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain see Israel’s and America’s interests as “identical,” only 28 percent of those who voted for Barack Obama think that is true.

Of course, the question is a false one. No two countries, not even America and Israel, which share common values and a belief in democracy, have “identical” interests. The United States is the sole superpower in the world while Israel is a tiny country the size of New Jersey, beset by enemies wishing to destroy it. There’s no way the two nations could or even should see eye-to-eye on everything. The question is whether they allow tactical differences to obscure the vast areas of agreement between the two.

However, Zogby is undaunted by this false choice and reports similar gaps between Republicans and Democrats to other questions such as whether Israel strengthens U.S. security or whether the U.S. should “get tough” with Israel over settlements. All show McCain voters more sympathetic to Israel than Obama voters.

Partly, this reflects something that is surely true. The base of the Republican party — religious Christians — are overwhelming sympathetic to Israel, more so in some cases than American Jews, the vast majority of whom voted for Obama.

But Zogby uses this data to jump to some misleading J Street-style conclusions. He thinks it means that most American Jews who voted for Obama did so because they, like some on the left, really wanted him to distance America from Israel and to pressure it to make concessions that the Jewish state’s democratically elected leaders think are unwise. What he fails to understand is that GOP efforts to entice Jewish Democrats to reject Obama last year did not fail because most Jewish Democrats don’t care about Israel. They failed because Obama’s efforts to reassure them that he was reliably pro-Israel allowed them to vote for him because of their substantive agreement with the Democrats on domestic issues.

Zogby is right when he says: “Concern about Israel is only one of the many issues that Americans Jews care about. Most back Obama’s liberal policies on the economy, social issues such as reproductive and gay rights and other questions of equality and fairness.” It is also true that support for Israel is getting very thin on the left and that assimilation has taken its toll on the pro-Israel sensibilities of some American Jews whose ties to the rest of the community, as well as to Israel, have weakened.

But jumping to a conclusion that mainstream Jewish Democrats would happily support a president who puts unconscionable pressure on Israel to make concessions to Hamas, or fails to take action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is another thing entirely.

Zogby is clearly urging Obama to do just that and argues that, since ardent supporters of Israel didn’t vote for him in the first place, there would be no political danger in abandoning the Jewish State. In this way, Zogby seems to be channeling former Secretary of State James Baker who in 1991 memorably noted that the Jews didn’t vote for his president so “F___ ‘em.” The difference here is that Jews did vote for Obama and he would be making a big mistake in assuming that most of them wouldn’t blink if he threw Israel under the bus.

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Commentary of the Day

Matt in Portland, on Max Boot:

I don’t think it’s correct to make a distinction between “wannabe terrorists” and terrorists based on whether the bombs exploded or not. These individuals planted bombs with the intention of killing American civilians. That makes them terrorists. I don’t think the putative motivation of the FBI agents in any way diminishes what these men did.

The planned bombing wasn’t thought crime, these men actually did something–they put bombs in cars outside of houses of worship. The plan was to indiscriminately murder people who were praying to God, and they carried out a series of actions to do so. You’ve made some very good points about critically evaluating information, but at the end of the analysis, I think the appropriate response is strong concern about what happened here.

This is directly relevant to President Obama’s plans to put try terrorists in the American civilian court system, because if convicted, the terrorists will be placed in contact with violent American criminals. Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the connected terrorists will be placed in contact with disaffected violent individuals. Mr. Obama is arranging the opportunity for conversion and contact with violent radicals.

Matt in Portland, on Max Boot:

I don’t think it’s correct to make a distinction between “wannabe terrorists” and terrorists based on whether the bombs exploded or not. These individuals planted bombs with the intention of killing American civilians. That makes them terrorists. I don’t think the putative motivation of the FBI agents in any way diminishes what these men did.

The planned bombing wasn’t thought crime, these men actually did something–they put bombs in cars outside of houses of worship. The plan was to indiscriminately murder people who were praying to God, and they carried out a series of actions to do so. You’ve made some very good points about critically evaluating information, but at the end of the analysis, I think the appropriate response is strong concern about what happened here.

This is directly relevant to President Obama’s plans to put try terrorists in the American civilian court system, because if convicted, the terrorists will be placed in contact with violent American criminals. Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the connected terrorists will be placed in contact with disaffected violent individuals. Mr. Obama is arranging the opportunity for conversion and contact with violent radicals.

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Re: Fear

John, you touch on the inherent contradiction in Obama’s agenda, and indeed his presidency. On the one hand, he spends valuable time whining about the Bush administration and excoriating it for obsessing about terrorism. A helpful Capitol Hill aide tallied up the slights and digs at Bush — nineteen of them — to illustrate how obsessed the president is with distancing himself from his predecessor. Yet he urges us not to look back and eschews the Truth Commission idea because it may not settle the score exactly as he would prefer.

Moreover, he has continued all those supposedly fear-based policies put in place by the Bush administration. He has continued the military tribunals, propounded the state secrets doctrine, and refused to release the detainee abuse photos. We have a robust domestic surveillance program, are completing the mission in Iraq, and seeking victory in Afghanistan. Why? I’d imagine because Obama would fear for Americans’ safety if he did otherwise. Indeed, that was the explicit justification for refusing to release the photos.

So if Bush got it all wrong and capitulated to fear, why are so many of his policies remaining in place – on advice of our military? Although George W. Bush is happily retired in Texas, Obama feels compelled to continue the fight rhetorically but not substantively against the former president in absentia and in the same news cycle as the former vice president. (Can one imagine Bill Clinton trying to bump Dan Quayle out of a news cycle or George W. Bush responding to Al Gore?) Obama hasn’t actually departed in any meaningful way from the “mess” of the Bush “fear-inspired” policies he inherited. To do that would be dangerous. Well, there are people out there who want to kill us, right? And so we come full circle.

The lack of seriousness was not lost on members of either party. Sen. Mitch McConnell blasted away, while even the hapless Harry Reid was forced to concede the speech wasn’t a “game changer.” Bottom line: it was an unserious speech delivered out of pique at the former vice president.

One final thought: Obama has placed his presidency in the hands of America’s enemies. Should they succeed in any significant operation, his words disparaging his predecessors’ efforts will come crashing down on him and his party. In politics, as in life, you never want to give over control of your destiny to others. But in a shocking way the Presdient of the United States did just that today.

John, you touch on the inherent contradiction in Obama’s agenda, and indeed his presidency. On the one hand, he spends valuable time whining about the Bush administration and excoriating it for obsessing about terrorism. A helpful Capitol Hill aide tallied up the slights and digs at Bush — nineteen of them — to illustrate how obsessed the president is with distancing himself from his predecessor. Yet he urges us not to look back and eschews the Truth Commission idea because it may not settle the score exactly as he would prefer.

Moreover, he has continued all those supposedly fear-based policies put in place by the Bush administration. He has continued the military tribunals, propounded the state secrets doctrine, and refused to release the detainee abuse photos. We have a robust domestic surveillance program, are completing the mission in Iraq, and seeking victory in Afghanistan. Why? I’d imagine because Obama would fear for Americans’ safety if he did otherwise. Indeed, that was the explicit justification for refusing to release the photos.

So if Bush got it all wrong and capitulated to fear, why are so many of his policies remaining in place – on advice of our military? Although George W. Bush is happily retired in Texas, Obama feels compelled to continue the fight rhetorically but not substantively against the former president in absentia and in the same news cycle as the former vice president. (Can one imagine Bill Clinton trying to bump Dan Quayle out of a news cycle or George W. Bush responding to Al Gore?) Obama hasn’t actually departed in any meaningful way from the “mess” of the Bush “fear-inspired” policies he inherited. To do that would be dangerous. Well, there are people out there who want to kill us, right? And so we come full circle.

The lack of seriousness was not lost on members of either party. Sen. Mitch McConnell blasted away, while even the hapless Harry Reid was forced to concede the speech wasn’t a “game changer.” Bottom line: it was an unserious speech delivered out of pique at the former vice president.

One final thought: Obama has placed his presidency in the hands of America’s enemies. Should they succeed in any significant operation, his words disparaging his predecessors’ efforts will come crashing down on him and his party. In politics, as in life, you never want to give over control of your destiny to others. But in a shocking way the Presdient of the United States did just that today.

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Obama’s Speech in Historical Context

I have read president Obama’s speech and was struck by several things. Among them is that for a man who insists on not wanting to re-litigate the last eight years, he has certainly done a splendid job of doing just that.

President Obama’s core complaint is the Bush Administration “went off course” and was guilty of undermining the rule of law. It failed to “use our values as a compass” and broke faith with the Constitution and basic human rights. And of course the main offense was waterboarding, which was used against exactly three known al Qaeda terrorists and was then discontinued. This is, in the world according to Obama, the main legacy and the overriding achievement of the Bush presidency.

But if Mr. Obama wants to tear into past presidents for violations of the Constitution and basic human rights during war time, perhaps he should start with those whom he must surely consider the worst violators of our Constitution and our values: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Harvard Professor Jack Goldsmith — who worked in the Bush Justice Department and who opposed waterboarding — has written that

in response to the secession crisis that began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, Lincoln raised armies and borrowed money on the credit of the United States, both powers that the Constitution gave to Congress; he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in many places even though most constitutional scholars, then and now, believed that only Congress could do this; he imposed a blockade on the South without specific congressional approval; he imprisoned thousands of southern sympathizers and war agitators without any charge or due process; and he ignored a judicial order from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to release a prisoner detained illegally.

“No president before or since Lincoln,” Goldsmith has written, “has acted in such disregard of constitutional traditions.” Perhaps President Obama can therefore devote an entire speech to what he must consider to be the awful and unforgivable assault on the Constitution by Lincoln, his purported hero. Read More

I have read president Obama’s speech and was struck by several things. Among them is that for a man who insists on not wanting to re-litigate the last eight years, he has certainly done a splendid job of doing just that.

President Obama’s core complaint is the Bush Administration “went off course” and was guilty of undermining the rule of law. It failed to “use our values as a compass” and broke faith with the Constitution and basic human rights. And of course the main offense was waterboarding, which was used against exactly three known al Qaeda terrorists and was then discontinued. This is, in the world according to Obama, the main legacy and the overriding achievement of the Bush presidency.

But if Mr. Obama wants to tear into past presidents for violations of the Constitution and basic human rights during war time, perhaps he should start with those whom he must surely consider the worst violators of our Constitution and our values: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Harvard Professor Jack Goldsmith — who worked in the Bush Justice Department and who opposed waterboarding — has written that

in response to the secession crisis that began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, Lincoln raised armies and borrowed money on the credit of the United States, both powers that the Constitution gave to Congress; he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in many places even though most constitutional scholars, then and now, believed that only Congress could do this; he imposed a blockade on the South without specific congressional approval; he imprisoned thousands of southern sympathizers and war agitators without any charge or due process; and he ignored a judicial order from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to release a prisoner detained illegally.

“No president before or since Lincoln,” Goldsmith has written, “has acted in such disregard of constitutional traditions.” Perhaps President Obama can therefore devote an entire speech to what he must consider to be the awful and unforgivable assault on the Constitution by Lincoln, his purported hero.

After that, President Obama might want to devote an entire speech — or perhaps several speeches — to FDR. After all, President Roosevelt gave order for the mass internment of Japanese-Americans and people of Japanese descent during World War II, a violation of rights President Bush has never approached. All told, around 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals were forcibly relocated and interned in “War Relocation Camps.” President Reagan signed legislation apologizing for the policy, which stated that the government’s action was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

After that speech, President Obama might want to devote a speech — better yet, a month of speeches — to what Obama must surely consider the war crimes of Harry S. Truman.

It was President Truman, of course, who gave the order to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese in order to prevent the deaths of what was estimated to be more than a million American soldiers.

And in the interest of transatlantic condemnation, perhaps President Obama can travel to London to condemn Prime Minister Churchill for allowing, in cooperation with President Roosevelt, British and U.S. bombers to drop hundreds of thousands of explosives on the German city of Dresden. According to a 14 February 1945 BBC broadcast,

Last night, 800 RAF Bomber Command planes let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000lb bombs in two waves of attack. They faced very little anti-aircraft fire. As soon as one part of the city was alight, the bombers went for another until the whole of Dresden was ablaze. “There were fires everywhere with a terrific concentration in the centre of the city,” said one Pathfinder pilot.

I invoke these historical examples not because they necessarily justify all of the policies pursued by the Bush Administration. But they do help place the Bush Administration’s policies within some kind of historical context. And by historical standards, the Bush Administration acted in ways that were far more respectful of the Constitution and the rules of war than virtually any other wartime President’s. Justice John Roberts, for example, wrote in his dissent in Boumediene v. Bush that the Bush Administration had put in place “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.”

Indeed, in this entire debate, there is an astonishing lack of knowledge about history — for example, for how detaining captured enemy soldiers without charge or trail, until a conflict is over, is a traditional wartime authority; for how military commissions are traditional wartime tools that were used extensively in World War II, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the Revolutionary War; for how the traditional American view that the Geneva Conventions did not provide POW protections to combatants who fought out of uniform and failed to comply with the laws of war; for why the Geneva Conventions are provided to POW but not to groups like al Qaeda, in order to provide incentives for soldiers to follow the rules of war; and for why President Bush, in choosing Guantanamo Bay as the main detention site for terrorists, was doing what past Presidents had done. (All of this can be found almost verbatim from Professor Goldsmith’s excellent book, The Terror Presidency).

I don’t, for a moment, expect President Obama to be fair-minded in his appraisal of the Bush years. But one might hope he would resist the temptation to disfigure the past so blatantly and so repeatedly, especially since Obama fancies himself as America’s philosopher-king, a person astonishingly free of bias and ideology, a one-man antidote to finger-pointing and division, our great healer and forward-looking leader. Alas, Mr. Obama — who is, I will grant you, a man of prodigious political talents — is falling a good deal short of the standards he has set for public discourse.

I would add one other observation to what President Obama said today. In an important article in the New Republic, Professor Goldsmith writes

The new administration has copied most of the Bush [anti-terrorism] program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric.

Professor Goldsmith methodically examines eleven essential elements of the Bush approach to counter-terrorism and concludes, “at the end of the day, Obama practices will be much closer to late Bush practices than almost anyone expected in January 2009.”

To take just one example, on the matter of habeas corpus, Goldsmith writes this:

During the campaign, former professor Obama spoke eloquently about the importance of habeas corpus review of executive detentions of enemy soldiers. Habeas corpus is “the foundation of Anglo-American law” and “the essence of who we are,” he said. But his administration has applied this principle in the same narrow fashion as the late Bush administration. It has argued that Guantanamo detainees can challenge the “fact, duration, or location” of confinement on habeas review, but not their “conditions of confinement.” It has maintained that “the Geneva Conventions are not judicially enforceable by private individuals” in habeas proceedings. And it has made clear its belief that the limited habeas rights it recognizes for the two hundred or so detainees on Guantanamo Bay do not extend to the 600 or so detainees in Bagram Air Base. This latter position might prove more controversial for President Obama than for President Bush. The new president’s enlarged military commitment in Afghanistan and Pakistan, combined with the forthcoming closure of Guantanamo, means that the number of suspects detained in Bagram — without charge or trial and without access to lawyers or habeas rights — is likely to increase, perhaps dramatically.

How exactly does President Obama square his policy of not extending even limited habeas rights to detainees in Bagram Air Base with, say, his speech today?

I look forward to an enterprising and, in today’s climate, an intrepid reporter asking this question, and insisting on an intellectually serious response.

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Re: A Telling Poll

Yesterday Jennifer Rubin linked to a new poll and pointedly remarked that:

Perhaps the most interesting response comes to this question: “Given that Iran has publicly threatened to annihilate Israel, would Israel be justified in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities?” 67% of Republicans, 47% of Democrats and 57% of Independents answer “yes.” That’s a rather startling and wide gap according to party identification, far wider than the gap regarding the generic “should we care about Israel’s security” query.

She is, no doubt, correct in writing that this is a “wide gap.” However, contrary to what readers might think, a 20% gap on Israel between American Democrats and Republicans is the norm rather than the exception.

Here’s one example from January 2009, regarding the Gaza war:

Sixty-two percent (62%) of Republicans back Israel’s decision to take military action against the Palestinians, but only half as many Democrats (31%) agree. A majority of Democrats (55%) say Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution first, a view shared by just 27% of Republicans.

And here you can find two older instances of the gap:

Take, for example, a recent Gallup poll about Americans’ most- and least-favored nations. Israel, fairly popular with Americans, is “viewed more favorably by Republicans than by Democrats,” the survey reports. Eighty-four percent of Republicans rank it favorably, compared with only 64 percent of Democrats. This is hardly a new phenomenon: Back in 2006, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that Republicans favored alignment with Israel over neutrality in the Israeli-Arab conflict 64 percent to 29 percent. By contrast, only 39 percent of Democrats supported alignment with Israel, while 54 percent favored neutrality.

I can list many such examples, but I think the point is clear: Democrats’ support for Israel is not nearly as strong as Republicans’. Not even Democratic activists deny this, as was evident in a 2007 interview with Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council: “Most recent polls,” Forman admitted, “show Republican voters are more supportive than Independents and Democrats. Most of this difference is accounted for by the overwhelming support given to Israel by Evangelical Christians.” That indeed might be the reason for the “gap.” But explaining the gap is just another way of admitting it exists.

Yesterday Jennifer Rubin linked to a new poll and pointedly remarked that:

Perhaps the most interesting response comes to this question: “Given that Iran has publicly threatened to annihilate Israel, would Israel be justified in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities?” 67% of Republicans, 47% of Democrats and 57% of Independents answer “yes.” That’s a rather startling and wide gap according to party identification, far wider than the gap regarding the generic “should we care about Israel’s security” query.

She is, no doubt, correct in writing that this is a “wide gap.” However, contrary to what readers might think, a 20% gap on Israel between American Democrats and Republicans is the norm rather than the exception.

Here’s one example from January 2009, regarding the Gaza war:

Sixty-two percent (62%) of Republicans back Israel’s decision to take military action against the Palestinians, but only half as many Democrats (31%) agree. A majority of Democrats (55%) say Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution first, a view shared by just 27% of Republicans.

And here you can find two older instances of the gap:

Take, for example, a recent Gallup poll about Americans’ most- and least-favored nations. Israel, fairly popular with Americans, is “viewed more favorably by Republicans than by Democrats,” the survey reports. Eighty-four percent of Republicans rank it favorably, compared with only 64 percent of Democrats. This is hardly a new phenomenon: Back in 2006, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that Republicans favored alignment with Israel over neutrality in the Israeli-Arab conflict 64 percent to 29 percent. By contrast, only 39 percent of Democrats supported alignment with Israel, while 54 percent favored neutrality.

I can list many such examples, but I think the point is clear: Democrats’ support for Israel is not nearly as strong as Republicans’. Not even Democratic activists deny this, as was evident in a 2007 interview with Ira Forman, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council: “Most recent polls,” Forman admitted, “show Republican voters are more supportive than Independents and Democrats. Most of this difference is accounted for by the overwhelming support given to Israel by Evangelical Christians.” That indeed might be the reason for the “gap.” But explaining the gap is just another way of admitting it exists.

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Re: Oh, and Incidentally

Max, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post takes a different journalistic approach to the Bronx (would-be) Bombers.  Its coverage starts out:

Four homegrown Muslim terrorists on a mission from hell were arrested last night as they planted what they thought were high-powered plastic explosives at two Bronx synagogues, authorities said.

The Post goes on to spell out just what this is all about:

“They [the United States military] are killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here [in the United States] with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and Stingers, it is equal,” one of the busted men, Onta Williams, allegedly told the informant.

Also arrested was David “Daoud” Williams and Laguerre Payen, a k a Amin or Almondo.

[. . .]

The informant — who had been cooperating with the feds on another, undisclosed case — met Cromitie at Mashjid al-Ikhlas, a mosque in Newburgh.

In their initial meeting in June 2008, Cromitie told the informant about his desire to do “something to America,” the feds charged.

“Cromitie explained to the CW [cooperating witness] that his parents lived in Afghanistan prior to his birth and that, because of his connection to Afghanistan, he was upset about the war there,” according to the legal papers filed in White Plains federal court.

The other three suspects converted to Islam after recent stints in jail, police sources said. Cromitie also has a criminal record.

“[Cromitie] was unhappy that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the United States military forces,” the legal papers said. “Cromitie expressed interest in returning to Afghanistan and spoke to the CW about how if he, Cromitie, were to die a martyr, he would go to ‘paradise.’ ”

The informant told Cromitie — who, like his alleged accomplices, is a US citizen — that he was part of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terror group.

Maybe the Post should adopt a new slogan: “All the News not Fit to Print in the Times.” (This local news report also spells out the details. h/t HotAir)

Max, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post takes a different journalistic approach to the Bronx (would-be) Bombers.  Its coverage starts out:

Four homegrown Muslim terrorists on a mission from hell were arrested last night as they planted what they thought were high-powered plastic explosives at two Bronx synagogues, authorities said.

The Post goes on to spell out just what this is all about:

“They [the United States military] are killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here [in the United States] with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and Stingers, it is equal,” one of the busted men, Onta Williams, allegedly told the informant.

Also arrested was David “Daoud” Williams and Laguerre Payen, a k a Amin or Almondo.

[. . .]

The informant — who had been cooperating with the feds on another, undisclosed case — met Cromitie at Mashjid al-Ikhlas, a mosque in Newburgh.

In their initial meeting in June 2008, Cromitie told the informant about his desire to do “something to America,” the feds charged.

“Cromitie explained to the CW [cooperating witness] that his parents lived in Afghanistan prior to his birth and that, because of his connection to Afghanistan, he was upset about the war there,” according to the legal papers filed in White Plains federal court.

The other three suspects converted to Islam after recent stints in jail, police sources said. Cromitie also has a criminal record.

“[Cromitie] was unhappy that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the United States military forces,” the legal papers said. “Cromitie expressed interest in returning to Afghanistan and spoke to the CW about how if he, Cromitie, were to die a martyr, he would go to ‘paradise.’ ”

The informant told Cromitie — who, like his alleged accomplices, is a US citizen — that he was part of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terror group.

Maybe the Post should adopt a new slogan: “All the News not Fit to Print in the Times.” (This local news report also spells out the details. h/t HotAir)

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A Tale of Two Speeches

One is hard pressed to think of a more unlikely and more lopsided competition for public approval than a debate between Barack Obama and Dick Cheney. The president’s charisma and virtues as a public speaker are no secret. And whether it is entirely deserved or not, Cheney’s reputation as Washington’s prince of darkness is established in the public imagination of the republic. Obama’s easy popularity is matched only by Cheney’s lack of appeal.

And yet if the speeches the two gave this morning on national security and the record of the Bush administration are heard or read alongside each-other, there is no escaping the conclusion that the former vice president got the better of the current resident of the White House. Cheney’s speech was straightforward. He addressed the accusations that have been leveled at the record of the government he served and he calmly and methodically debunked them.

Cheney is right when he said of the “torture” debate, “we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.”

Obama’s address was full of good sound bytes. But in terms of substance, it was nothing but moral preening, condescension and self-congratulation. As is his wont, Obama set up straw men and mowed them down with his attempt to cast himself as opposing those who think “anything goes” when he knows that there was no one in the previous administration who thought that. He went on about Guantanamo and interrogation techniques and made patently dishonest arguments about their failures, when he knows very well there were few. He decries the politicization of national security issues when it was he himself who helped promote this misleading debate. He contends that he knows the waterboarding of three terrorists didn’t help us protect the nation but refuses to disclose the memos that everyone knows prove the opposite. Moreover, much of his posturing is contradicted by his own decisions as “commander-in-chief” to continue most of the Bush administration’s policies.

The contrast between Cheney’s seriousness and Obama’s disingenuous rhetorical flights of fancy couldn’t be starker. In speaking out as he has, Cheney has emerged as virtually the only coherent voice of opposition to the Obama administration that the Republicans have produced in the last five months. This has brought about a mini-boomlet on the Right, of those urging Cheney to continue in this vein and to even consider a run for the presidency in 2012. I think this is highly unlikely if only because Cheney must know that making future elections a referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush would be a colossal mistake. But until the GOP can produce a figure of substance with both the communication skills and the gravitas to take on Obama, it may well be that Cheney will assume the leader’s role for the loyal opposition. Though it isn’t a job with much of a future, it must be admitted that on days like today, it certainly looks as if Dick Cheney is filling that role quite nicely.

One is hard pressed to think of a more unlikely and more lopsided competition for public approval than a debate between Barack Obama and Dick Cheney. The president’s charisma and virtues as a public speaker are no secret. And whether it is entirely deserved or not, Cheney’s reputation as Washington’s prince of darkness is established in the public imagination of the republic. Obama’s easy popularity is matched only by Cheney’s lack of appeal.

And yet if the speeches the two gave this morning on national security and the record of the Bush administration are heard or read alongside each-other, there is no escaping the conclusion that the former vice president got the better of the current resident of the White House. Cheney’s speech was straightforward. He addressed the accusations that have been leveled at the record of the government he served and he calmly and methodically debunked them.

Cheney is right when he said of the “torture” debate, “we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.”

Obama’s address was full of good sound bytes. But in terms of substance, it was nothing but moral preening, condescension and self-congratulation. As is his wont, Obama set up straw men and mowed them down with his attempt to cast himself as opposing those who think “anything goes” when he knows that there was no one in the previous administration who thought that. He went on about Guantanamo and interrogation techniques and made patently dishonest arguments about their failures, when he knows very well there were few. He decries the politicization of national security issues when it was he himself who helped promote this misleading debate. He contends that he knows the waterboarding of three terrorists didn’t help us protect the nation but refuses to disclose the memos that everyone knows prove the opposite. Moreover, much of his posturing is contradicted by his own decisions as “commander-in-chief” to continue most of the Bush administration’s policies.

The contrast between Cheney’s seriousness and Obama’s disingenuous rhetorical flights of fancy couldn’t be starker. In speaking out as he has, Cheney has emerged as virtually the only coherent voice of opposition to the Obama administration that the Republicans have produced in the last five months. This has brought about a mini-boomlet on the Right, of those urging Cheney to continue in this vein and to even consider a run for the presidency in 2012. I think this is highly unlikely if only because Cheney must know that making future elections a referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush would be a colossal mistake. But until the GOP can produce a figure of substance with both the communication skills and the gravitas to take on Obama, it may well be that Cheney will assume the leader’s role for the loyal opposition. Though it isn’t a job with much of a future, it must be admitted that on days like today, it certainly looks as if Dick Cheney is filling that role quite nicely.

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Supremely Qualified

This week, President Obama is reportedly considering potential nominees to succeed Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court. He’s discussed the qualities he’s looking for — considerations such as “empathy” and experience outside the judicial world.

Well, I think we might have discovered Obama’s ideal candidate: Bruce Marks.

Marks, like Obama, is a community organizer. He is the head of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Americans threatened with foreclosure to keep their homes. Marks and his group help these folks with some truly innovative and remarkably effective tactics — such as shouting, threatening mass protests, and — in Marks’s own words — “terrorizing” bankers.

The tactics NACA uses should be familiar to anyone who has been observing how the Obama campaign and administration treats its detractors. When it comes across a banker who doesn’t show proper obeisance to their demands, that banker can expect to have his name, address, and photos of himself and his home plastered all over NACA’s website — and mass protests at that home, bused in by NACA. Senators who might voice in opposition to Mr. Marks’s nomination can expect to be treated much the same.

Mr. Marks is also unlikely to run afoul of tax issues, as have so many of Obama’s other nominees. Even though NACA is a registered non-profit that receives millions of dollars each year from the federal government, it keeps its books tightly closed. How much do they take in? How much do they pay their employees? What is their success rate? Nobody’s talking.

And Mr. Marks’s philosophy on the rule of law fits in quite nicely with that of the Obama administration. He has about as much respect for signed mortgage contracts as Obama has for the rules of bankruptcy courts and the validity of other contracts that conflict with his grand economic vision.

The only question is whether or not Mr. Marks would be willing to take a likely pay cut in exchange for lifetime job security.

This week, President Obama is reportedly considering potential nominees to succeed Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court. He’s discussed the qualities he’s looking for — considerations such as “empathy” and experience outside the judicial world.

Well, I think we might have discovered Obama’s ideal candidate: Bruce Marks.

Marks, like Obama, is a community organizer. He is the head of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Americans threatened with foreclosure to keep their homes. Marks and his group help these folks with some truly innovative and remarkably effective tactics — such as shouting, threatening mass protests, and — in Marks’s own words — “terrorizing” bankers.

The tactics NACA uses should be familiar to anyone who has been observing how the Obama campaign and administration treats its detractors. When it comes across a banker who doesn’t show proper obeisance to their demands, that banker can expect to have his name, address, and photos of himself and his home plastered all over NACA’s website — and mass protests at that home, bused in by NACA. Senators who might voice in opposition to Mr. Marks’s nomination can expect to be treated much the same.

Mr. Marks is also unlikely to run afoul of tax issues, as have so many of Obama’s other nominees. Even though NACA is a registered non-profit that receives millions of dollars each year from the federal government, it keeps its books tightly closed. How much do they take in? How much do they pay their employees? What is their success rate? Nobody’s talking.

And Mr. Marks’s philosophy on the rule of law fits in quite nicely with that of the Obama administration. He has about as much respect for signed mortgage contracts as Obama has for the rules of bankruptcy courts and the validity of other contracts that conflict with his grand economic vision.

The only question is whether or not Mr. Marks would be willing to take a likely pay cut in exchange for lifetime job security.

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Let Them Play Golf!

It is true that the UAW has powerful protectors in the Obama administration but that may not be enough to fully cushion the upcoming blows. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the government’s proposed restructuring of GM and Chrysler, the UAW has come away with big victories. Veteran workers will continue to earn an average $28 an hour, several dollars more than workers in many foreign-owned U.S. car plants. And the union’s health care trusts will own 55% of Chrysler and 39% of GM.

Creditors of both companies have complained the UAW is getting a sweet deal. GM has offered bondholders just a 10% stake in exchange for at least $24 billion in debt.

But the union’s ability to use its ownership stakes to protect workers will be limited. The Chrysler trust will have one seat on Chrysler’s board, but that member will have a duty to protect the fund’s financial interests, not the union’s.

And the UAW won’t be able to strike against Chrysler for six years. (The same will likely be true at GM.) Moreover, at least for now, the Obama team is disinclined to block GM’s plans to shift operations from the U.S. to lower wage countries like Mexico, South Korea, and China.

In fact things are so rough that the UAW’s mammoth assets — some $1.2 billion — are now coming under intense scrutiny. While the UAW faces potentially crippling deficits in its benefit funds, members may begin to wonder about money tied up elsewhere:

The UAW’s most notable asset is the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center, which includes the Black Lake Golf Club and 1,000 heavily forested acres in Onaway, Mich.

The union bought the property in 1967. It included a hunting lodge once used by auto executives and celebrities, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who honeymooned there in 1940.

The UAW named its new property after its longtime president, whose ashes were scattered there following his death in 1970.

The Onaway site was envisioned as a place to train Detroit workers at week-long conferences. After a renovation in the 1990s, the property has a gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise facilities, table tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, trails for hiking and biking, sports fields and a boat-launch ramp.

The center offers courses on leadership, political action and civil rights, hosting about 10,000 visitors annually.

In 2000, at the height of the SUV boom, the union commissioned the $6.7 million golf course. Named the No. 2 “Best New Upscale Public Course” in North America that year, it’s ranked 34th on Golf Digest’s current list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.

But the resort has been a drain on the union, losing an estimated $23 million in the past five years and forcing the UAW to borrow to keep it afloat. Given the union’s current troubles, it has become a sore point for many members.

UAW members and retirees can golf at a discount, but according to retiree and union dissident Gregg Shotwell, “It’s more designed for the upper echelon in the UAW.” He says, “We’re supporting a luxury that doesn’t add value to the union.”

“I heard the golf course is spectacular,” adds 40-year-old Ed Kasprisin, who has been laid off from GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant. He says he took a weeklong course at the education center in 2002 and never saw the course. “Is that a necessity in these times? Probably not,” he says.

Little wonder that no UAW spokesperson would comment for the article, is it?

If this seems bizarrely out-of-touch, sort of Louis XIV-like indifference to the little people (ah the members!) you are merely catching on to the realities of Big Labor finances. No wonder they are looking to corral more members via card check to replenish their coffers. With hundreds of thousands of new members, all paying dues, they might be able to take a chunk out of that $23M golf-course deficit.

It is true that the UAW has powerful protectors in the Obama administration but that may not be enough to fully cushion the upcoming blows. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the government’s proposed restructuring of GM and Chrysler, the UAW has come away with big victories. Veteran workers will continue to earn an average $28 an hour, several dollars more than workers in many foreign-owned U.S. car plants. And the union’s health care trusts will own 55% of Chrysler and 39% of GM.

Creditors of both companies have complained the UAW is getting a sweet deal. GM has offered bondholders just a 10% stake in exchange for at least $24 billion in debt.

But the union’s ability to use its ownership stakes to protect workers will be limited. The Chrysler trust will have one seat on Chrysler’s board, but that member will have a duty to protect the fund’s financial interests, not the union’s.

And the UAW won’t be able to strike against Chrysler for six years. (The same will likely be true at GM.) Moreover, at least for now, the Obama team is disinclined to block GM’s plans to shift operations from the U.S. to lower wage countries like Mexico, South Korea, and China.

In fact things are so rough that the UAW’s mammoth assets — some $1.2 billion — are now coming under intense scrutiny. While the UAW faces potentially crippling deficits in its benefit funds, members may begin to wonder about money tied up elsewhere:

The UAW’s most notable asset is the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center, which includes the Black Lake Golf Club and 1,000 heavily forested acres in Onaway, Mich.

The union bought the property in 1967. It included a hunting lodge once used by auto executives and celebrities, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who honeymooned there in 1940.

The UAW named its new property after its longtime president, whose ashes were scattered there following his death in 1970.

The Onaway site was envisioned as a place to train Detroit workers at week-long conferences. After a renovation in the 1990s, the property has a gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise facilities, table tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, trails for hiking and biking, sports fields and a boat-launch ramp.

The center offers courses on leadership, political action and civil rights, hosting about 10,000 visitors annually.

In 2000, at the height of the SUV boom, the union commissioned the $6.7 million golf course. Named the No. 2 “Best New Upscale Public Course” in North America that year, it’s ranked 34th on Golf Digest’s current list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.

But the resort has been a drain on the union, losing an estimated $23 million in the past five years and forcing the UAW to borrow to keep it afloat. Given the union’s current troubles, it has become a sore point for many members.

UAW members and retirees can golf at a discount, but according to retiree and union dissident Gregg Shotwell, “It’s more designed for the upper echelon in the UAW.” He says, “We’re supporting a luxury that doesn’t add value to the union.”

“I heard the golf course is spectacular,” adds 40-year-old Ed Kasprisin, who has been laid off from GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant. He says he took a weeklong course at the education center in 2002 and never saw the course. “Is that a necessity in these times? Probably not,” he says.

Little wonder that no UAW spokesperson would comment for the article, is it?

If this seems bizarrely out-of-touch, sort of Louis XIV-like indifference to the little people (ah the members!) you are merely catching on to the realities of Big Labor finances. No wonder they are looking to corral more members via card check to replenish their coffers. With hundreds of thousands of new members, all paying dues, they might be able to take a chunk out of that $23M golf-course deficit.

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The Gitmo Myth and the Torture Canard

On January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama issued his first executive order: He was closing the detention center at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and calling a halt to  the military commissions created in late 2001 to try terrorist suspects detained there. Like the startling opening chord of a Beethoven symphony, Obama’s action was intended to herald a new tone in America’s “war on terror” and a restoration of America’s moral standing. The response was electric. The facility at Guantánamo (Gitmo for short) had become “America’s most notorious prison,” as Fox News put it. In the minds of many, it was the American equivalent of the Bastille or the KGB’s Lubyanka prison: a dungeon used to isolate, intimidate, and torture generally hapless inmates, many of whom were innocent of any crime against the United States. Dana Priest of the Washington Post took to the paper’s front page to proclaim joyously that “with the stroke of his pen,” Obama had “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as President George W. Bush had defined it.” Now Obama could begin the process of rehabilitating America’s image around the world, the very image Gitmo had done so much to blacken.

_____________

Then several strange things happened. Obama’s order “closing” Gitmo actually left it open for a year, ostensibly until new arrangements could be made for the 240 or so inmates still detained there—though Obama admitted privately it might have to stay open longer than that. Later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, far from being “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights” that Human Rights Watch’s Wendy Patten had dubbed it, Gitmo was in full compliance with the humane-treatment provisions of the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, the military commissions, which Human Rights Watch and others groups had denounced as a travesty of justice, were only being suspended for 120 days, pending a review—and, indeed, following that review, will be reinstated almost exactly as they were before.

If one adds to this mix:
• the twelve separate inquiries into the abuses alleged by critics and former detainees at Gitmo that found no evidence of those abuses taking place;
• the revelation during the release earlier this year of the so-called “torture memos” that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques had been applied to exactly three suspects in the course of eight years and had never been standard operating practice at Gitmo;
• the evaluation by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that 73 percent of Gitmo detainees were “a demonstrated threat” to Americans;
• and, finally, the fact that the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that “all necessary and appropriate force” should be used “against those nations, organizations, or persons” [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September 11;
—one may be permitted to wonder why, exactly, the pressure to close the prison facility has been so intense and long-lasting.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the June issue of COMMENTARY.

On January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama issued his first executive order: He was closing the detention center at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and calling a halt to  the military commissions created in late 2001 to try terrorist suspects detained there. Like the startling opening chord of a Beethoven symphony, Obama’s action was intended to herald a new tone in America’s “war on terror” and a restoration of America’s moral standing. The response was electric. The facility at Guantánamo (Gitmo for short) had become “America’s most notorious prison,” as Fox News put it. In the minds of many, it was the American equivalent of the Bastille or the KGB’s Lubyanka prison: a dungeon used to isolate, intimidate, and torture generally hapless inmates, many of whom were innocent of any crime against the United States. Dana Priest of the Washington Post took to the paper’s front page to proclaim joyously that “with the stroke of his pen,” Obama had “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as President George W. Bush had defined it.” Now Obama could begin the process of rehabilitating America’s image around the world, the very image Gitmo had done so much to blacken.

_____________

Then several strange things happened. Obama’s order “closing” Gitmo actually left it open for a year, ostensibly until new arrangements could be made for the 240 or so inmates still detained there—though Obama admitted privately it might have to stay open longer than that. Later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, far from being “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights” that Human Rights Watch’s Wendy Patten had dubbed it, Gitmo was in full compliance with the humane-treatment provisions of the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, the military commissions, which Human Rights Watch and others groups had denounced as a travesty of justice, were only being suspended for 120 days, pending a review—and, indeed, following that review, will be reinstated almost exactly as they were before.

If one adds to this mix:
• the twelve separate inquiries into the abuses alleged by critics and former detainees at Gitmo that found no evidence of those abuses taking place;
• the revelation during the release earlier this year of the so-called “torture memos” that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques had been applied to exactly three suspects in the course of eight years and had never been standard operating practice at Gitmo;
• the evaluation by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that 73 percent of Gitmo detainees were “a demonstrated threat” to Americans;
• and, finally, the fact that the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that “all necessary and appropriate force” should be used “against those nations, organizations, or persons” [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September 11;
—one may be permitted to wonder why, exactly, the pressure to close the prison facility has been so intense and long-lasting.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the June issue of COMMENTARY.

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Re: Cold Peace With Egypt Gets a Little Colder

Jonathan, you are right to be outraged by Egyptian judge Mohamed Attia, who has ordered the minister of the interior to revoke the citizenship of Egyptians married to Israeli citizens. Indeed, as you wrote, this exemplifies the pernicious “hatred that has sustained the siege of Israel.” However, I respectfully disagree with your policy implication — namely, that this will make Israeli-Egyptian peace “a little colder.”

Actually, this judicial order has far less to do with Egyptian-Israeli peace than it does with the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. Indeed, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s modus operandi has long permitted people like Attia to get just close enough to power, using them to ward off American attempts to promote democratic reforms. Mubarak’s chief argument to the United States goes something like this: “It’s either me or the anti-Israel radicals. If you undermine my regime through so-called liberal reforms, be prepared for an unstable Middle East with people like Attia — if not the Muslim Brotherhood — in power.”  In order for this argument to be credible, the regime needs Attia and his ilk to say or do blatantly hateful things that make Mubarak look like a bulwark of Middle Eastern moderation by comparison.

Regrettably, Mubarak’s cynical strategy has worked like a charm: the U.S. has done little to promote democracy in Egypt in recent years, backing off entirely after the Muslim Brotherhood — with the regime’s help — won 20% of the seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Even pro-Israel groups have bought into Mubarak’s myth: for example, AIPAC has opposed recent efforts to condition aid to Egypt on instituting certain liberalizing reforms, seeing this as undermining a regime that is friendly toward Israel and, so the argument goes, good for regional stability.

In short, the recent Egyptian judicial order seeking to revoke the citizenship of Egyptians who marry Israelis is likely to bring Jerusalem and Cairo — under Washington’s sponsorship — more closely together. Indeed, the more vitriol Mubarak can get out of his well-placed hate-mongers, the more Israel and the U.S. believe they need him.

Jonathan, you are right to be outraged by Egyptian judge Mohamed Attia, who has ordered the minister of the interior to revoke the citizenship of Egyptians married to Israeli citizens. Indeed, as you wrote, this exemplifies the pernicious “hatred that has sustained the siege of Israel.” However, I respectfully disagree with your policy implication — namely, that this will make Israeli-Egyptian peace “a little colder.”

Actually, this judicial order has far less to do with Egyptian-Israeli peace than it does with the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. Indeed, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s modus operandi has long permitted people like Attia to get just close enough to power, using them to ward off American attempts to promote democratic reforms. Mubarak’s chief argument to the United States goes something like this: “It’s either me or the anti-Israel radicals. If you undermine my regime through so-called liberal reforms, be prepared for an unstable Middle East with people like Attia — if not the Muslim Brotherhood — in power.”  In order for this argument to be credible, the regime needs Attia and his ilk to say or do blatantly hateful things that make Mubarak look like a bulwark of Middle Eastern moderation by comparison.

Regrettably, Mubarak’s cynical strategy has worked like a charm: the U.S. has done little to promote democracy in Egypt in recent years, backing off entirely after the Muslim Brotherhood — with the regime’s help — won 20% of the seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Even pro-Israel groups have bought into Mubarak’s myth: for example, AIPAC has opposed recent efforts to condition aid to Egypt on instituting certain liberalizing reforms, seeing this as undermining a regime that is friendly toward Israel and, so the argument goes, good for regional stability.

In short, the recent Egyptian judicial order seeking to revoke the citizenship of Egyptians who marry Israelis is likely to bring Jerusalem and Cairo — under Washington’s sponsorship — more closely together. Indeed, the more vitriol Mubarak can get out of his well-placed hate-mongers, the more Israel and the U.S. believe they need him.

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Fear

There is much to say about President Obama’s speech today, but one thing especially jumped out at me—his accusation that the Bush administration’s post-9/11 response was the result of an excess of fear: “Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight,” he said.

Speaking dismissively of “fear,” conceiving of it as a bad thing, is an old trope, dating back to FDR’s notion that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It has within it, this idea, the adult’s condescending and loving laugh when a child is afraid of the vacuum cleaner or of an ant. Fear, from this perspective, is unreasoning and based on ignorance, a misunderstanding of what is and what is not a true threat.

But fear was an entirely responsible response to September 11. Indeed, it was, in some ways, the only responsible response. We had seen an attack on civilians on the American homeland on a scale no one had ever really imagined. Remember that, had the planes crashed into the towers an hour later, well into the workday, the death toll would have been 30,000 and not 3,000. Remember that, had the passengers of Flight 93 not performed their astonishing heroics, the Capitol or the White House might have been destroyed.
Remember, too, that the anthrax attacks came only weeks later.

No one had a sense of what Al Qaeda’s true capabilities were, but it was clear its desires for destruction were unrestrained. It was necessary to be guided by fear in those months, because fear was a means whereby we could envision the worst possible scenarios and begin to think of ways to guard against them. Fear, in this sense, was the handmaiden of foresight.

True, what they did not have foresight for was the appalling response of their political adversaries, who would decide that the fight against terror was not their fight but the fight against the Bush administration was. Had they been more mindful of their personal reputations rather than the safety of the country—had they been, in other words, Colin Powell and his flunkies—the president and Dick Cheney and others might have acted differently.

It is appalling that the new president of the United States, a few months shy of eight years since attacks that were not followed by a second wave, should speak of his predecessor’s administration and its brilliant efforts to thwart mass killings as though its leaders had been afraid only of the vacuum cleaner. We can only pray that President Obama will not have cause, due to disasters born in part from a lack of the prudent fear he dismisses so cavalierly, to look back and rue his words.

There is much to say about President Obama’s speech today, but one thing especially jumped out at me—his accusation that the Bush administration’s post-9/11 response was the result of an excess of fear: “Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight,” he said.

Speaking dismissively of “fear,” conceiving of it as a bad thing, is an old trope, dating back to FDR’s notion that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It has within it, this idea, the adult’s condescending and loving laugh when a child is afraid of the vacuum cleaner or of an ant. Fear, from this perspective, is unreasoning and based on ignorance, a misunderstanding of what is and what is not a true threat.

But fear was an entirely responsible response to September 11. Indeed, it was, in some ways, the only responsible response. We had seen an attack on civilians on the American homeland on a scale no one had ever really imagined. Remember that, had the planes crashed into the towers an hour later, well into the workday, the death toll would have been 30,000 and not 3,000. Remember that, had the passengers of Flight 93 not performed their astonishing heroics, the Capitol or the White House might have been destroyed.
Remember, too, that the anthrax attacks came only weeks later.

No one had a sense of what Al Qaeda’s true capabilities were, but it was clear its desires for destruction were unrestrained. It was necessary to be guided by fear in those months, because fear was a means whereby we could envision the worst possible scenarios and begin to think of ways to guard against them. Fear, in this sense, was the handmaiden of foresight.

True, what they did not have foresight for was the appalling response of their political adversaries, who would decide that the fight against terror was not their fight but the fight against the Bush administration was. Had they been more mindful of their personal reputations rather than the safety of the country—had they been, in other words, Colin Powell and his flunkies—the president and Dick Cheney and others might have acted differently.

It is appalling that the new president of the United States, a few months shy of eight years since attacks that were not followed by a second wave, should speak of his predecessor’s administration and its brilliant efforts to thwart mass killings as though its leaders had been afraid only of the vacuum cleaner. We can only pray that President Obama will not have cause, due to disasters born in part from a lack of the prudent fear he dismisses so cavalierly, to look back and rue his words.

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Re: Obama’s Tone

I did not view either speech but have now read both the president’s and Dick Cheney’s remarks. As a preliminary matter I wonder what the president was hoping to accomplish. Who is his audience and what was his message? He seemed desperately to want to stop the recriminations (and who wouldn’t after a month of watching his party being beaten about the ears?) but he has no substantive response to the issue on everyone’s mind: where are the detainees to go? I don’t see how this stops the frenzy or puts either Congress or Americans’ minds at ease.

Dick Cheney’s message was clear: this is what was done, here is why it was done, and here is the folly in undoing what was done. Agree or not, it had a theme and purpose and substantial evidence to support it.

In a very real sense the president’s address was not a serious one, not one of a leader. As a grad student paper it might rate a B-. Unfortunately, he could not resist the temptation to “face off” against Cheney, who isn’t interested in pleasing the Ivy League faculty. Who had more gravitas and who furthered his rhetorical aims today? No contest.

I did not view either speech but have now read both the president’s and Dick Cheney’s remarks. As a preliminary matter I wonder what the president was hoping to accomplish. Who is his audience and what was his message? He seemed desperately to want to stop the recriminations (and who wouldn’t after a month of watching his party being beaten about the ears?) but he has no substantive response to the issue on everyone’s mind: where are the detainees to go? I don’t see how this stops the frenzy or puts either Congress or Americans’ minds at ease.

Dick Cheney’s message was clear: this is what was done, here is why it was done, and here is the folly in undoing what was done. Agree or not, it had a theme and purpose and substantial evidence to support it.

In a very real sense the president’s address was not a serious one, not one of a leader. As a grad student paper it might rate a B-. Unfortunately, he could not resist the temptation to “face off” against Cheney, who isn’t interested in pleasing the Ivy League faculty. Who had more gravitas and who furthered his rhetorical aims today? No contest.

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The HuffPo’s Lonely Planet Foreign Policy

Roger Cohen seems to have invented a genre. At the very least he has imitators. Olivia Sterns just published a piece at the Huffington Post decrying Syria’s “misrepresentation” in the media and arguing that President Barack Obama “embrace” Damascus’s tyrant Bashar Assad as a peace partner because the locals were nice to her when she visited Syria on vacation.

“Often described as a hotbed of anti-Americanism,” she writes, “that eschews ties to the West under Iranian tutelage, in reality that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth.” Her evidence that Syria isn’t really a hotbed of anti-Americanism? Assad schedules date nights with his stylish wife, locals in the souks are friendly to tourists, and the police keep visitors safe. All these things are true, but so what? Syria is still Iran’s staunchest ally, a hotbed of anti-Americanism, and a state-sponsor of terrorism and “resistance.”

Sterns lives in London and no doubt knows better than I do that European anti-Americanism is often in your face, rude, and obnoxious. The political is sometimes personal in the West, but that’s rarely the case in the Middle East. Arab hospitality even toward visitors from enemy countries is legendary and the stuff of guidebook clichés, yet Sterns writes as though she is startled to discover that Arabs have manners, that Syria isn’t a Mordor teeming with flesh-eating Orcs.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Roger Cohen seems to have invented a genre. At the very least he has imitators. Olivia Sterns just published a piece at the Huffington Post decrying Syria’s “misrepresentation” in the media and arguing that President Barack Obama “embrace” Damascus’s tyrant Bashar Assad as a peace partner because the locals were nice to her when she visited Syria on vacation.

“Often described as a hotbed of anti-Americanism,” she writes, “that eschews ties to the West under Iranian tutelage, in reality that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth.” Her evidence that Syria isn’t really a hotbed of anti-Americanism? Assad schedules date nights with his stylish wife, locals in the souks are friendly to tourists, and the police keep visitors safe. All these things are true, but so what? Syria is still Iran’s staunchest ally, a hotbed of anti-Americanism, and a state-sponsor of terrorism and “resistance.”

Sterns lives in London and no doubt knows better than I do that European anti-Americanism is often in your face, rude, and obnoxious. The political is sometimes personal in the West, but that’s rarely the case in the Middle East. Arab hospitality even toward visitors from enemy countries is legendary and the stuff of guidebook clichés, yet Sterns writes as though she is startled to discover that Arabs have manners, that Syria isn’t a Mordor teeming with flesh-eating Orcs.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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Obama’s Tone

Barack Obama’s tone at the National Archives was so defensive as to be nearly adversarial. But whose wouldn’t be if they were trying to convince the country that having no plan is better than using the plan that kept them safe for nearly eight years?

That’s the substantive takeaway from the address: the people who railed against Guantanamo for years still have no thoughts on a viable alternative.

Barack Obama’s tone at the National Archives was so defensive as to be nearly adversarial. But whose wouldn’t be if they were trying to convince the country that having no plan is better than using the plan that kept them safe for nearly eight years?

That’s the substantive takeaway from the address: the people who railed against Guantanamo for years still have no thoughts on a viable alternative.

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Joined at the Hip

A Democratic pollster has this interesting take on the Nancy Pelosi CIA flap:

There have been rumblings of a palace coup, but nothing tangible has surfaced. The poll numbers to keep in mind are 65 percent, 45 percent and 31 percent — the approval ratings of President Obama, congressional Democrats and Speaker Pelosi herself. If the Republicans are successful in the 2010 elections, or before, in making Nancy Pelosi the face of the Democratic Party — as we did in the mid-1990s with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party — the situation could change fundamentally. With 30 or 40 marginal Democratic seats potentially up for grabs next year from newly elected Blue Dogs, the Democratic Party will be very sensitive to efforts to change the party’s public face from the president to the speaker. And should Republicans get some traction from this strategy, Steny Hoyer could get renewed attention and interest from nervous Democrats.

Well, it’s hard to argue Pelosi’s isn’t the face of the Democratic Party in Congress or that she hasn’t monopolized the stage for a good week now. But the real issue for Democrats and for the White House becomes whether she’s more trouble than she’s worth. If she isn’t doing more for the president and the Democratic agenda than Hoyer could, then she’s replaceable, whenever it will cause the least disruption.

However, unless there is some great revelation before the 2010 campaign, Pelosi in all likelihood is there to stay. Democrats must realize that for better or worse she will inevitably be the target of much of the Republicans’ ire during midterm elections. The price to pay for these escapades comes at the ballot box. In just seventeen months the public will have a chance to register its views on the party Pelosi leads and which continues (for now) to support her — even after her shameful display of duplicity.

A Democratic pollster has this interesting take on the Nancy Pelosi CIA flap:

There have been rumblings of a palace coup, but nothing tangible has surfaced. The poll numbers to keep in mind are 65 percent, 45 percent and 31 percent — the approval ratings of President Obama, congressional Democrats and Speaker Pelosi herself. If the Republicans are successful in the 2010 elections, or before, in making Nancy Pelosi the face of the Democratic Party — as we did in the mid-1990s with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party — the situation could change fundamentally. With 30 or 40 marginal Democratic seats potentially up for grabs next year from newly elected Blue Dogs, the Democratic Party will be very sensitive to efforts to change the party’s public face from the president to the speaker. And should Republicans get some traction from this strategy, Steny Hoyer could get renewed attention and interest from nervous Democrats.

Well, it’s hard to argue Pelosi’s isn’t the face of the Democratic Party in Congress or that she hasn’t monopolized the stage for a good week now. But the real issue for Democrats and for the White House becomes whether she’s more trouble than she’s worth. If she isn’t doing more for the president and the Democratic agenda than Hoyer could, then she’s replaceable, whenever it will cause the least disruption.

However, unless there is some great revelation before the 2010 campaign, Pelosi in all likelihood is there to stay. Democrats must realize that for better or worse she will inevitably be the target of much of the Republicans’ ire during midterm elections. The price to pay for these escapades comes at the ballot box. In just seventeen months the public will have a chance to register its views on the party Pelosi leads and which continues (for now) to support her — even after her shameful display of duplicity.

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Cloak & Dagger

A minor melodrama is playing out in Lebanon, in which Israeli spy networks have been falling like dominoes to the local security forces. The latest developments are in the Jerusalem Post. Are they true? Who knows — much of this could be Lebanese pre-election maneuvering and intrigue. But the details of the stories sure make it sound like something real is happening.

[Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Saniora said on Tuesday that he considers these recent events to be “very important discoveries” and lauded “the effort and the role played by the security services and the military, despite skepticism about them,” according to a report in Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper on Wednesday.

I’m sure many Lebanese — probably the overwhelming majority — feel a great sense of satisfaction that so many informants are being rolled up. I wonder if they also realize that the damage being done to Israel’s intelligence-gathering is only going to make the next round of war that much more destructive to Lebanon. The more Israel knows about Hezbollah, the less collateral damage is done to everything in Lebanon that is not Hezbollah.

A minor melodrama is playing out in Lebanon, in which Israeli spy networks have been falling like dominoes to the local security forces. The latest developments are in the Jerusalem Post. Are they true? Who knows — much of this could be Lebanese pre-election maneuvering and intrigue. But the details of the stories sure make it sound like something real is happening.

[Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Saniora said on Tuesday that he considers these recent events to be “very important discoveries” and lauded “the effort and the role played by the security services and the military, despite skepticism about them,” according to a report in Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper on Wednesday.

I’m sure many Lebanese — probably the overwhelming majority — feel a great sense of satisfaction that so many informants are being rolled up. I wonder if they also realize that the damage being done to Israel’s intelligence-gathering is only going to make the next round of war that much more destructive to Lebanon. The more Israel knows about Hezbollah, the less collateral damage is done to everything in Lebanon that is not Hezbollah.

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A Bailout Everyone Will Hate

So what’s next in California? The Wall Street Journal editors warn:

California voters sent a blunt but welcome message Tuesday about runaway government. By rejecting by nearly two-to-one the political establishment’s $16 billion in higher taxes, spending gimmickry and more borrowing, the voters said it’s time government faced the same spending limits that the recession is imposing on everyone else.

Teachers unions, business leaders and the politicians outspent initiative opponents by six-to-one, and they still lost. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had warned that if these initiatives were voted down, government services would have to be slashed, criminals released early and public employees furloughed. But voters decided that as painful as these cuts may be, the alternative of letting the state’s tax-and-spend machine continue was worse. How right they are.

The response so far from Sacramento is typically short-sighted. Mr. Schwarzenegger, legislators and public-worker unions are now conspiring to roll out plan B: a federal bailout.

Yikes. But won’t the rest of the country be outraged by being asked to pick up the dime for the exorbitant spending of one state? After all, the lopsided two-to-one “no” votes suggest that even in the most liberal states voters have had it with “sky is falling” threats used to bully them into condoning fiscal irresponsibility. Why would a senator from Arkansas or a congressman from Michigan vote to spend money to cushion the comeuppance awaiting California politicians?

I suppose Obama might risk yet another “bailout” to save some loyal supporters, but if there is one aspect of his agenda most hated by a broad swath of voters it is the bailouts. If voters didn’t like bailouts for car companies or banks, they are sure to go bonkers over a bailout for flaky Californians.

So what’s next in California? The Wall Street Journal editors warn:

California voters sent a blunt but welcome message Tuesday about runaway government. By rejecting by nearly two-to-one the political establishment’s $16 billion in higher taxes, spending gimmickry and more borrowing, the voters said it’s time government faced the same spending limits that the recession is imposing on everyone else.

Teachers unions, business leaders and the politicians outspent initiative opponents by six-to-one, and they still lost. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had warned that if these initiatives were voted down, government services would have to be slashed, criminals released early and public employees furloughed. But voters decided that as painful as these cuts may be, the alternative of letting the state’s tax-and-spend machine continue was worse. How right they are.

The response so far from Sacramento is typically short-sighted. Mr. Schwarzenegger, legislators and public-worker unions are now conspiring to roll out plan B: a federal bailout.

Yikes. But won’t the rest of the country be outraged by being asked to pick up the dime for the exorbitant spending of one state? After all, the lopsided two-to-one “no” votes suggest that even in the most liberal states voters have had it with “sky is falling” threats used to bully them into condoning fiscal irresponsibility. Why would a senator from Arkansas or a congressman from Michigan vote to spend money to cushion the comeuppance awaiting California politicians?

I suppose Obama might risk yet another “bailout” to save some loyal supporters, but if there is one aspect of his agenda most hated by a broad swath of voters it is the bailouts. If voters didn’t like bailouts for car companies or banks, they are sure to go bonkers over a bailout for flaky Californians.

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