Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 27, 2009

Re: Banking on Biography

The Hill reports:

White House officials have assembled a squad of distinguished legal experts to rebut charges that Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, is an intellectual lightweight who puts her political views ahead of the law.

White House advisers and allies have scrambled to repair the damage to Sotomayor’s reputation inflicted by an article published early this month in The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine, which painted Sotomayor as “not that smart.”

I don’t recall the need for such an effort in the John Roberts or Sam Alito nominations.

This is what comes from a roll-out that puts biography and personal anecdotes above all else. Well, actually this is what comes from choosing a judge who isn’t known for scholarship, has a reversal rate of 60% and has said some pretty wacky things. (Ed Whelan is doing the hard work of plowing through another Sotomayor speech and finds no evidence of deep thinking.)

It is a mistake for critics to accuse Sotomayor of being “dumb.” She completed law school and has been a sitting judge for eleven years so she’s not dim. But that’s not the test here. We’re talking about the Supreme Court. As Jonathan Turley said, a first class intellect should be the primary consideration for the Court. If that was the case here, I suspect that the Obama administration wouldn’t need a damage control team.

The Hill reports:

White House officials have assembled a squad of distinguished legal experts to rebut charges that Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, is an intellectual lightweight who puts her political views ahead of the law.

White House advisers and allies have scrambled to repair the damage to Sotomayor’s reputation inflicted by an article published early this month in The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine, which painted Sotomayor as “not that smart.”

I don’t recall the need for such an effort in the John Roberts or Sam Alito nominations.

This is what comes from a roll-out that puts biography and personal anecdotes above all else. Well, actually this is what comes from choosing a judge who isn’t known for scholarship, has a reversal rate of 60% and has said some pretty wacky things. (Ed Whelan is doing the hard work of plowing through another Sotomayor speech and finds no evidence of deep thinking.)

It is a mistake for critics to accuse Sotomayor of being “dumb.” She completed law school and has been a sitting judge for eleven years so she’s not dim. But that’s not the test here. We’re talking about the Supreme Court. As Jonathan Turley said, a first class intellect should be the primary consideration for the Court. If that was the case here, I suspect that the Obama administration wouldn’t need a damage control team.

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New Newsweek, Week 2

When last we discussed the new Newsweek, there was general incredulity at the patent disingenuousness of its editor, Jon Meacham, describing the magazine as “not partisan.” Today, the magazine’s website features two pieces about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The magazine’s partners, the Washington Post and Slate, direct you to the site’s articles in a box that reads:

Newsweek

*The GOP’s Misguided Attack on Sotomayor

*The Cynical Attack on Sonia Sotomayor

Because, you know, not partisan at all…

When last we discussed the new Newsweek, there was general incredulity at the patent disingenuousness of its editor, Jon Meacham, describing the magazine as “not partisan.” Today, the magazine’s website features two pieces about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The magazine’s partners, the Washington Post and Slate, direct you to the site’s articles in a box that reads:

Newsweek

*The GOP’s Misguided Attack on Sotomayor

*The Cynical Attack on Sonia Sotomayor

Because, you know, not partisan at all…

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on Peter Wehner:

Stuart Rose — proliferation is the immediate problem, and to address it a blockade isn’t actually necessary. Continuation of what we’ve been doing for years now — using intelligence to identify suspicious shipments, and intercepting them (with Israel occasionally attacking plutonium reactors under construction) — is actually a fairly adequate method. That isn’t to say it’s a perfectly effective method, of course. But North Korea can only transport prohibited materials to bad customers by sea, with a lesser role for air, and her commercial activities are not so varied or robust that suspect shipments are all that hard to identify.

If there is a tripwire in this regard, it may be hit if Pyongyang starts dealing directly with non-governmental entities; e.g., Al Qaeda.

I saw Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion that Japan be encouraged to go nuclear, and this is one on which I have to disagree with him. Bad idea. What we should be doing instead is staying on track with our missile defense program, instead of cutting its funding, cutting the Multiple Kill Vehicle element entirely from the program, and (an Obama/Gates move that looks insane in light of Pyongyang’s activities in April and May 2009) leaving the intercept sites planned for Alaska incomplete: basically, without their interceptor missiles installed.

Missile defense would be an excellent principle on which to build a ramped-up exercise series with Japan (and Australia, if they’ll join in). We also need to just be bustling about the Far East as noisily as possible, reevaluating the security situation of the Korean peninsula, taking another look at Taiwan’s defense procurement requests, charming the socks off Indonesia, and giving big wet smooches to India, and inviting her armed forces into as many regional exercises as we can come up with. Seems like we haven’t had a good heart-to-heart with Vietnam for way too long. And Thailand? An ally we’ve been neglecting. Really need some joint naval and air exercises with Bangkok. We’d all benefit from practicing some antipiracy and counterterrorism in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, with Singapore and the Philippines joining in. A great place for India to participate too.

There’s more than one way of influencing China’s sense of what’s going on. A project best undertaken with a smile.

J.E. Dyer, on Peter Wehner:

Stuart Rose — proliferation is the immediate problem, and to address it a blockade isn’t actually necessary. Continuation of what we’ve been doing for years now — using intelligence to identify suspicious shipments, and intercepting them (with Israel occasionally attacking plutonium reactors under construction) — is actually a fairly adequate method. That isn’t to say it’s a perfectly effective method, of course. But North Korea can only transport prohibited materials to bad customers by sea, with a lesser role for air, and her commercial activities are not so varied or robust that suspect shipments are all that hard to identify.

If there is a tripwire in this regard, it may be hit if Pyongyang starts dealing directly with non-governmental entities; e.g., Al Qaeda.

I saw Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion that Japan be encouraged to go nuclear, and this is one on which I have to disagree with him. Bad idea. What we should be doing instead is staying on track with our missile defense program, instead of cutting its funding, cutting the Multiple Kill Vehicle element entirely from the program, and (an Obama/Gates move that looks insane in light of Pyongyang’s activities in April and May 2009) leaving the intercept sites planned for Alaska incomplete: basically, without their interceptor missiles installed.

Missile defense would be an excellent principle on which to build a ramped-up exercise series with Japan (and Australia, if they’ll join in). We also need to just be bustling about the Far East as noisily as possible, reevaluating the security situation of the Korean peninsula, taking another look at Taiwan’s defense procurement requests, charming the socks off Indonesia, and giving big wet smooches to India, and inviting her armed forces into as many regional exercises as we can come up with. Seems like we haven’t had a good heart-to-heart with Vietnam for way too long. And Thailand? An ally we’ve been neglecting. Really need some joint naval and air exercises with Bangkok. We’d all benefit from practicing some antipiracy and counterterrorism in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, with Singapore and the Philippines joining in. A great place for India to participate too.

There’s more than one way of influencing China’s sense of what’s going on. A project best undertaken with a smile.

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You Saw This Coming

Talking Points Memo reports that Joe Sestak is in fact jumping into the Pennsylvania primary race against Arlen Specter. This comes as no surprise to those following Specter’s bumbling, stumbling defection to the Democratic Party. Sestak, a retired Vice Admiral, will run no doubt as the “real” Democrat and will be happy to pick up all those former GOP ads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee has been using to taunt Specter (George W. Bush loved him!).

The president and Ed Rendell have promised to campaign for Specter but the president is not known to expend his personal political capital on questionable efforts (e.g. the Georgia Senate run-off election). Big Labor is tugging and pulling at Specter but now has a solidly dependable liberal to consider in the race should it choose to throw its weight and finances into the primary.

In the end, the Democratic primary voters will decide Specter’s fate. Has Specter’s craven opportunism finally reached its end? Or will the party regulars welcome Specter, as unreliable and infuriating as he may be, into the fold? It will be one heck of a race. And one other factor: Specter is 79 years-old, hardly out of the age-range of the U.S. Senate but plainly not the future of the party. I would expect that to be an issue.

Talking Points Memo reports that Joe Sestak is in fact jumping into the Pennsylvania primary race against Arlen Specter. This comes as no surprise to those following Specter’s bumbling, stumbling defection to the Democratic Party. Sestak, a retired Vice Admiral, will run no doubt as the “real” Democrat and will be happy to pick up all those former GOP ads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee has been using to taunt Specter (George W. Bush loved him!).

The president and Ed Rendell have promised to campaign for Specter but the president is not known to expend his personal political capital on questionable efforts (e.g. the Georgia Senate run-off election). Big Labor is tugging and pulling at Specter but now has a solidly dependable liberal to consider in the race should it choose to throw its weight and finances into the primary.

In the end, the Democratic primary voters will decide Specter’s fate. Has Specter’s craven opportunism finally reached its end? Or will the party regulars welcome Specter, as unreliable and infuriating as he may be, into the fold? It will be one heck of a race. And one other factor: Specter is 79 years-old, hardly out of the age-range of the U.S. Senate but plainly not the future of the party. I would expect that to be an issue.

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Giving Up Gitmo — and Our Sovereignty

Here’s an update on Europe and the Guantanamo detainees:

The EU and the US are negotiating rules for sending ex-Guantanamo detainees to Europe, including on the thorny issues of compensation and whether the United States itself takes some in, diplomats said Wednesday.

[. . .]

The goal is “to obtain guarantees from the US” that it is abandoning the former Bush administration’s excesses in the war against terror and moving closer to a “more European” approach which better respects human rights, one European source said.

One thing is for sure: signing on to these EU rules will finally put the truth to Obama’s fiction about not having to choose between our ideals and our security. With a European approach to fighting terrorism, we’ll toss out both. Europeans’ answer to Islamism was to create a sharia-constitutional law hybrid and keep their fingers crossed. Europe now protects misogyny, punishes critical thought, and extends full welfare benefits to domestic saboteurs. Shockingly, that hasn’t done the trick, so the actual fighting part goes to the U.S. NATO troops are barely permitted to do more than put on combat uniforms and Europe’s military budget can just about pay for the dry cleaning. We can move closer to a European approach as long as someone else moves closer to an American one. As they say, someone’s got to be the parent.

That’s enough good news. Here’s where things get interesting:

“We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

“We take note that the United States recognizes its responsibility to accept certain former detainees who indicate a desire to be admitted,” says the draft text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

That’s pretty much the definition of ceding sovereignty. While the House passes a bill forbidding Guantanamo detainees from being released into the U.S., European diplomats are drafting a document that demands the opposite. No wonder Europeans love Obama; they think he’s giving them back their colonies.

Here’s an update on Europe and the Guantanamo detainees:

The EU and the US are negotiating rules for sending ex-Guantanamo detainees to Europe, including on the thorny issues of compensation and whether the United States itself takes some in, diplomats said Wednesday.

[. . .]

The goal is “to obtain guarantees from the US” that it is abandoning the former Bush administration’s excesses in the war against terror and moving closer to a “more European” approach which better respects human rights, one European source said.

One thing is for sure: signing on to these EU rules will finally put the truth to Obama’s fiction about not having to choose between our ideals and our security. With a European approach to fighting terrorism, we’ll toss out both. Europeans’ answer to Islamism was to create a sharia-constitutional law hybrid and keep their fingers crossed. Europe now protects misogyny, punishes critical thought, and extends full welfare benefits to domestic saboteurs. Shockingly, that hasn’t done the trick, so the actual fighting part goes to the U.S. NATO troops are barely permitted to do more than put on combat uniforms and Europe’s military budget can just about pay for the dry cleaning. We can move closer to a European approach as long as someone else moves closer to an American one. As they say, someone’s got to be the parent.

That’s enough good news. Here’s where things get interesting:

“We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

“We take note that the United States recognizes its responsibility to accept certain former detainees who indicate a desire to be admitted,” says the draft text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

That’s pretty much the definition of ceding sovereignty. While the House passes a bill forbidding Guantanamo detainees from being released into the U.S., European diplomats are drafting a document that demands the opposite. No wonder Europeans love Obama; they think he’s giving them back their colonies.

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Netanyahu’s Plea for Obama to Lay Off

What are we to make of a New York Times report in which an unnamed “Israeli official” has told the paper, “The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements … despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition.”

Does this leak of a plea by the Netanyahu government show that Jerusalem believes the Obama administration will actually unveil a new peace plan that will explicitly prohibit the construction of a house or add-on anywhere over the green line?

The question of settlement growth has been something of a red herring for years. Israel isn’t building new settlements and hasn’t since the 1990s. But unless the United States is going to adopt a position that every single one of these Jewish communities must be held in a choke hold — the better to ease them out of existence — natural growth must be allowed.

George W. Bush’s June 2004 statement in which he explicitly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state (albeit one that would not be ruled by supporters of terror and corrupt actors, something that pretty much renders such a state impossible under the existing circumstances) also said that any peace agreement must take into account the changes that have occurred on the ground since 1967. In other words, the large Jewish suburbs on the outskirts of Jerusalem and elsewhere close to the old border were not going to be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstances. Then, as now, most Israelis would be willing to give up outlying settlements but now the clusters close to the old green line are where most of the “settlers” live. Ariel Sharon paid in hard diplomatic currency for this American statement but his successors soon discovered that the purchase was worthless.

Despite the fresh hype that Obama’s people have pumped into the peace process, the plain fact remains that no Israeli government — not even one that would adopt the policies of the coalition that was voted out of office this past winter and which spent its entire time in office trying to make peace — would ever hand over an inch of the West Bank if it means a repeat of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal fiasco that Bush’s gift to Sharon set in motion. Nor would any government be willing to transfer the Jews living in these suburbs merely to allow a Palestinian state, run by an irredentist Hamas/Fatah coalition, to come into existence.

Indeed, even if fruitful negotiations were a remote possibility — which they are not — why should the United States expect Israel to concede in advance that it will not keep any of the settlements in a peace deal? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the two parties to negotiate? If the Palestinians are not expected to concede their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or give up in advance on the right of return before talks begin, why should America insist that Israel act in such a way as to irrevocably doom the settlements. That is not a peace feeler but a dictate.

Can it be that Netanyahu is hoping American supporters of Israel will take this cue to rise up and petition Obama to back off? In the aftermath of last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, supporters of Israel have largely kept quiet, hoping that any disagreements between the two can be finessed or at least worked out behind closed doors. If Jerusalem is starting to go public with its hopes for a change in tone by Obama prior to his much-anticipated Cairo speech, then they may be thinking that those disagreements are about to be aired out in a way that will not to be to Israel’s advantage.

What are we to make of a New York Times report in which an unnamed “Israeli official” has told the paper, “The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements … despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition.”

Does this leak of a plea by the Netanyahu government show that Jerusalem believes the Obama administration will actually unveil a new peace plan that will explicitly prohibit the construction of a house or add-on anywhere over the green line?

The question of settlement growth has been something of a red herring for years. Israel isn’t building new settlements and hasn’t since the 1990s. But unless the United States is going to adopt a position that every single one of these Jewish communities must be held in a choke hold — the better to ease them out of existence — natural growth must be allowed.

George W. Bush’s June 2004 statement in which he explicitly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state (albeit one that would not be ruled by supporters of terror and corrupt actors, something that pretty much renders such a state impossible under the existing circumstances) also said that any peace agreement must take into account the changes that have occurred on the ground since 1967. In other words, the large Jewish suburbs on the outskirts of Jerusalem and elsewhere close to the old border were not going to be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstances. Then, as now, most Israelis would be willing to give up outlying settlements but now the clusters close to the old green line are where most of the “settlers” live. Ariel Sharon paid in hard diplomatic currency for this American statement but his successors soon discovered that the purchase was worthless.

Despite the fresh hype that Obama’s people have pumped into the peace process, the plain fact remains that no Israeli government — not even one that would adopt the policies of the coalition that was voted out of office this past winter and which spent its entire time in office trying to make peace — would ever hand over an inch of the West Bank if it means a repeat of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal fiasco that Bush’s gift to Sharon set in motion. Nor would any government be willing to transfer the Jews living in these suburbs merely to allow a Palestinian state, run by an irredentist Hamas/Fatah coalition, to come into existence.

Indeed, even if fruitful negotiations were a remote possibility — which they are not — why should the United States expect Israel to concede in advance that it will not keep any of the settlements in a peace deal? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the two parties to negotiate? If the Palestinians are not expected to concede their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or give up in advance on the right of return before talks begin, why should America insist that Israel act in such a way as to irrevocably doom the settlements. That is not a peace feeler but a dictate.

Can it be that Netanyahu is hoping American supporters of Israel will take this cue to rise up and petition Obama to back off? In the aftermath of last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, supporters of Israel have largely kept quiet, hoping that any disagreements between the two can be finessed or at least worked out behind closed doors. If Jerusalem is starting to go public with its hopes for a change in tone by Obama prior to his much-anticipated Cairo speech, then they may be thinking that those disagreements are about to be aired out in a way that will not to be to Israel’s advantage.

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How Does It Work?

Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society, asks some interesting questions:

Should federal court of appeals and district judges decide to apply or not to apply the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade based on whether they empathize with fetuses or with women seeking abortions?

Should federal prosecutors decide to bring or not to bring indictments in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike an accused defendant?

Should General David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff follow President Obama’s directives and orders based on whether or not they empathize with or dislike the President?

Should citizens filling out their tax returns decide what to do in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike the federal government?

His point is well taken. The president mouths pablum about “empathy” as a great asset (if not a qualification) for the Court, but how does this work in practice? Judges don’t write opinions declaring “We find the petitioner utterly compelling and an American success story and therefore. . .” So are we to believe that Sotomayor and other “empathetic” judges are supposed to make up fake reasons for their decisions while making sure the “right” party wins? That doesn’t seem right.

But if Sotomayor is billing herself (or accepting the billing) as the empathy judge, maybe we should hear for whom she has empathy. Let’s hear what parties, what hard luck cases she has a soft spot for. Otherwise, how can we be sure she meets the empathy standard?

Oh, you say, this is all silliness and not what the courts are all about. Then what exactly is all the blather about empathy mean? If it’s simple bias for liberal interest groups, the president and his supporters should be honest. If it’s nothing more than “awareness of the impact of the law on real people” then anyone who reads the news, not to mention has been a judge, gets that — and it hardly qualifies one to serve on the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear what is going on here. The president wants a “safe” liberal vote on the court. He wants to satisfy a key constituent group. He doesn’t have an activist Scalia whose brainpower is going to wow the country. So he’s selling empathy — and in the process, revealing contempt for the rule of law. I suspect he’s overplaying his hand and only riling up the opposition. But we’ll see what the nominee has to say for herself and what we learn along the way.

Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society, asks some interesting questions:

Should federal court of appeals and district judges decide to apply or not to apply the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade based on whether they empathize with fetuses or with women seeking abortions?

Should federal prosecutors decide to bring or not to bring indictments in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike an accused defendant?

Should General David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff follow President Obama’s directives and orders based on whether or not they empathize with or dislike the President?

Should citizens filling out their tax returns decide what to do in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike the federal government?

His point is well taken. The president mouths pablum about “empathy” as a great asset (if not a qualification) for the Court, but how does this work in practice? Judges don’t write opinions declaring “We find the petitioner utterly compelling and an American success story and therefore. . .” So are we to believe that Sotomayor and other “empathetic” judges are supposed to make up fake reasons for their decisions while making sure the “right” party wins? That doesn’t seem right.

But if Sotomayor is billing herself (or accepting the billing) as the empathy judge, maybe we should hear for whom she has empathy. Let’s hear what parties, what hard luck cases she has a soft spot for. Otherwise, how can we be sure she meets the empathy standard?

Oh, you say, this is all silliness and not what the courts are all about. Then what exactly is all the blather about empathy mean? If it’s simple bias for liberal interest groups, the president and his supporters should be honest. If it’s nothing more than “awareness of the impact of the law on real people” then anyone who reads the news, not to mention has been a judge, gets that — and it hardly qualifies one to serve on the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear what is going on here. The president wants a “safe” liberal vote on the court. He wants to satisfy a key constituent group. He doesn’t have an activist Scalia whose brainpower is going to wow the country. So he’s selling empathy — and in the process, revealing contempt for the rule of law. I suspect he’s overplaying his hand and only riling up the opposition. But we’ll see what the nominee has to say for herself and what we learn along the way.

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Banking on Biography

Jan Greenburg Crawford writes about the White House’s decision-making process:

As the first Hispanic nominee, with a compelling life story and rich judicial experience, Sotomayor would be hardest for Republicans to oppose, they argued, and therefore easiest for Obama to get confirmed.

Indeed, some Republican senators, while publicly vowing a fight, privately conceded the difficulties they will face in opposing the first Hispanic nominee.

Those calculations could have given her the edge over Wood, who would be more of a fight, political advisers warned, in light of her paper trail of speeches and appeals court opinions.

Obama’s advisers also were aware of a political reality on the Left, sources said. Sotomayor has the added bonus of placating his base, which has grown increasingly angry over some of Obama’s recent positions on terrorism.

[. . .]

With Sotomayor’s experience and personal story, one top adviser said, “there was no question where the arrow pointed.”

Jonathan Turley comes right out and says it: she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

These observations from non-conservatives are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, Sotomayor — who has made identity politics her life’s work — has now reached the top of her profession, as an identity politics champion and a bone tossed to leftist interest groups. How nice! Well, except if you agree with Turley that legal smarts should be the primary consideration for the Court.

Second, for a constitutional “scholar,” the president seems notably unmoved by legal scholarship. Biography and politics triumph over all. We have hit a new low in Supreme Court selection when a pick’s Nancy Drew reading is worthy of mention in the presidential announcement. (Really, who cares?) The announcement statement is remarkable and, in some sense, shocking in its reliance on long passages entitled “An American Story” and “Commitment to Community.” (Compare this to the announcement of John Roberts’s nomination, which discretely and briefly mentions some personal data points.) These details shouldn’t matter, but to the president they are virtually all that matters.

Dana Milbank put it bluntly:

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as “big thicket” — and that’s just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

He’s right, of course. And it is — or should be — breathtaking.

Third, because the president prizes politics and biography above all else he assumes conservatives do as well and therefore his nominee will have an easy time. But is this right? Are conservatives less inclined to vigorously contest someone who is offered up as an exemplar of identity politics and who doubts her own impartiality? Are they not  excited about opposing a judge whose commitment to affirmative action goes so far as to engage in legal gamesmanship that results in denying firefighter Frank Ricci an appeal on the merits of his claim? Well, as they say, perhaps the president was misinformed.

Whatever this is, it sure isn’t post-racial politics. And I suspect it won’t be an easy confirmation.

Jan Greenburg Crawford writes about the White House’s decision-making process:

As the first Hispanic nominee, with a compelling life story and rich judicial experience, Sotomayor would be hardest for Republicans to oppose, they argued, and therefore easiest for Obama to get confirmed.

Indeed, some Republican senators, while publicly vowing a fight, privately conceded the difficulties they will face in opposing the first Hispanic nominee.

Those calculations could have given her the edge over Wood, who would be more of a fight, political advisers warned, in light of her paper trail of speeches and appeals court opinions.

Obama’s advisers also were aware of a political reality on the Left, sources said. Sotomayor has the added bonus of placating his base, which has grown increasingly angry over some of Obama’s recent positions on terrorism.

[. . .]

With Sotomayor’s experience and personal story, one top adviser said, “there was no question where the arrow pointed.”

Jonathan Turley comes right out and says it: she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

These observations from non-conservatives are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, Sotomayor — who has made identity politics her life’s work — has now reached the top of her profession, as an identity politics champion and a bone tossed to leftist interest groups. How nice! Well, except if you agree with Turley that legal smarts should be the primary consideration for the Court.

Second, for a constitutional “scholar,” the president seems notably unmoved by legal scholarship. Biography and politics triumph over all. We have hit a new low in Supreme Court selection when a pick’s Nancy Drew reading is worthy of mention in the presidential announcement. (Really, who cares?) The announcement statement is remarkable and, in some sense, shocking in its reliance on long passages entitled “An American Story” and “Commitment to Community.” (Compare this to the announcement of John Roberts’s nomination, which discretely and briefly mentions some personal data points.) These details shouldn’t matter, but to the president they are virtually all that matters.

Dana Milbank put it bluntly:

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as “big thicket” — and that’s just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

He’s right, of course. And it is — or should be — breathtaking.

Third, because the president prizes politics and biography above all else he assumes conservatives do as well and therefore his nominee will have an easy time. But is this right? Are conservatives less inclined to vigorously contest someone who is offered up as an exemplar of identity politics and who doubts her own impartiality? Are they not  excited about opposing a judge whose commitment to affirmative action goes so far as to engage in legal gamesmanship that results in denying firefighter Frank Ricci an appeal on the merits of his claim? Well, as they say, perhaps the president was misinformed.

Whatever this is, it sure isn’t post-racial politics. And I suspect it won’t be an easy confirmation.

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EU Membership?

From the country that Barack Obama wants immediately shoved into the European Union:

A Turkish author on trial over accusations that his latest book insulted Islam denied the charges Tuesday and insisted he was respectful of religion.

Nedim Gursel faces up to a year in prison if found guilty on charges of humiliating religious values and inciting religious hatred in his novel “The Daughters of Allah.”

Gursel, who was born in Turkey but has French citizenship and is based in France, is the latest intellectual to be prosecuted in Turkey under laws that restrict free speech.

Gursel is accused of mocking religious figures in his novel.

Hey, Rush Limbaugh was accused of mocking a political figure and he was targeted by the Executive Branch of the United States. At least Obama is consistent.

From the country that Barack Obama wants immediately shoved into the European Union:

A Turkish author on trial over accusations that his latest book insulted Islam denied the charges Tuesday and insisted he was respectful of religion.

Nedim Gursel faces up to a year in prison if found guilty on charges of humiliating religious values and inciting religious hatred in his novel “The Daughters of Allah.”

Gursel, who was born in Turkey but has French citizenship and is based in France, is the latest intellectual to be prosecuted in Turkey under laws that restrict free speech.

Gursel is accused of mocking religious figures in his novel.

Hey, Rush Limbaugh was accused of mocking a political figure and he was targeted by the Executive Branch of the United States. At least Obama is consistent.

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In Praise of Democracy

Give this Washington Post writer credit for candor:

The ruling Tuesday by California’s Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road toward full marriage rights remains difficult — particularly when voters are given a direct say.

Yeah, if it weren’t for darn voters the march of progress would go more smoothly.

The decision is remarkable in its clarity: the Court held that the people of California through its system of referenda have the ability to decide for themselves to reject creation of a new right. It is, at its core, a reaffirmation of the right of self-government and a rejection of the invitation to go hunting about for a theory by which to invalidate a controversial measure. The vote was 6-1.

None of this goes to the merits of gay marriage. That’s an issue to be decided by the people of California and the other forty-nine states, several of which have or are recognizing same-sex marriages. We have seen in a number of other states that when utilizing the democratic process, advocates of gay marriage can convince their fellow citizens of the merits of their cause. And the opponents of gay marriage are free to make their case and persuade their fellow citizens of its merits. The potential for debate, compromise, and resolution can proceed.

This, it seems, is the preferred course for those favoring gay marriage — or any other social policy. The mistake abortion rights advocates made (confessed to in moments of candor even by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) was to constitutionalize a hot-button issue and remove it from the public square. The result was resentment, a natural byproduct of courts usurping the normal democratic process.

There is some irony in the California decision being issued on the same day as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. The degree to which she supports letting the people rather than the courts decide controversial issues is a topic worth exploring. And for advocates of judicial restraint, the opinion is one worth studying and explaining as an example of the division between judging and legislating. The timing could not have been more poignant.

Give this Washington Post writer credit for candor:

The ruling Tuesday by California’s Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road toward full marriage rights remains difficult — particularly when voters are given a direct say.

Yeah, if it weren’t for darn voters the march of progress would go more smoothly.

The decision is remarkable in its clarity: the Court held that the people of California through its system of referenda have the ability to decide for themselves to reject creation of a new right. It is, at its core, a reaffirmation of the right of self-government and a rejection of the invitation to go hunting about for a theory by which to invalidate a controversial measure. The vote was 6-1.

None of this goes to the merits of gay marriage. That’s an issue to be decided by the people of California and the other forty-nine states, several of which have or are recognizing same-sex marriages. We have seen in a number of other states that when utilizing the democratic process, advocates of gay marriage can convince their fellow citizens of the merits of their cause. And the opponents of gay marriage are free to make their case and persuade their fellow citizens of its merits. The potential for debate, compromise, and resolution can proceed.

This, it seems, is the preferred course for those favoring gay marriage — or any other social policy. The mistake abortion rights advocates made (confessed to in moments of candor even by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) was to constitutionalize a hot-button issue and remove it from the public square. The result was resentment, a natural byproduct of courts usurping the normal democratic process.

There is some irony in the California decision being issued on the same day as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. The degree to which she supports letting the people rather than the courts decide controversial issues is a topic worth exploring. And for advocates of judicial restraint, the opinion is one worth studying and explaining as an example of the division between judging and legislating. The timing could not have been more poignant.

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Have they Got a Deal for You

It sounds like a joke: GM is in such bad shape that not even the UAW wants it. But you, the taxpayer, are stepping up to the plate. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. government is taking a 70% stake. The president claims he doesn’t want to run a car company? He is. This is nationalization, plain and simple.

The UAW was going to take a 39% stake but decided on a small share plus some preferred shares instead. The Journal quotes someone in the talks: “The fear at the UAW was that ownership in GM could eventually be worth very little.” The government has no such fear.

Bailouts and creeping statism make Americans uncomfortable. In fact, they represent the least popular aspect of the president’s agenda. After the hoopla over Sotomayor is over, people may find out they own a failing car company. And they might not like it.

It sounds like a joke: GM is in such bad shape that not even the UAW wants it. But you, the taxpayer, are stepping up to the plate. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. government is taking a 70% stake. The president claims he doesn’t want to run a car company? He is. This is nationalization, plain and simple.

The UAW was going to take a 39% stake but decided on a small share plus some preferred shares instead. The Journal quotes someone in the talks: “The fear at the UAW was that ownership in GM could eventually be worth very little.” The government has no such fear.

Bailouts and creeping statism make Americans uncomfortable. In fact, they represent the least popular aspect of the president’s agenda. After the hoopla over Sotomayor is over, people may find out they own a failing car company. And they might not like it.

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Calling World Police!

I know Iraq was supposed to have compromised America’s standing as a formidable global power, but it sure doesn’t look that way:

“If North Korea stages a provocation, we will respond resolutely,” the South Korean military said in a statement, reacting to the North’s threats. Citing a “strong” military alliance with the United States, it said, “We advise our people to trust our military’s solid readiness and feel safe.”

Does citing a strong military alliance with the Unites States still put one’s enemies on notice or is it a nostalgic reference (Mikheil Saakashvili is ready with an answer right about now)? That’s up to Barack Obama. South Korea just grabbed a number and got in line behind all of Eastern Europe, India, Israel, and Japan.

It’s been a fun four months, but it sure is starting to look like the planet needs the U.S. to “police the world.” Of course the same Left that believes in the existence of a “world community” doesn’t believe there should be a “world police” to watch over things. But with atomic tests, warship fleets, and missile launches erupting along the edges of Asia, they’ve been outvoted. In fact, what’s the first tool South Koreans reached for when Pyongyang tested an atomic bomb? A Bush-era program developed by John Bolton known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). South Korea immediately joined the international effort to interdict the transfer of proscribed weapons, materials, and technology. Funny that Bolton, such a detested “unilateralist,” introduced this vital international agreement, isn’t it?

The good news is that our president may be catching on. According to Reuters, “U.S. President Barack Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday of Washington’s ‘unequivocal commitment’ to the defense of South Korea following a nuclear test by North Korea.” Not a bad start, but there needs to be more. If we do not extend regional and strategic missile defense to South Korea any future conflicts between the Koreas will be unnecessarily devastating. Moreover, any future North Korean test missiles must be shot out of the sky. If American protection becomes the stuff of nostalgia, so too will global security.

I know Iraq was supposed to have compromised America’s standing as a formidable global power, but it sure doesn’t look that way:

“If North Korea stages a provocation, we will respond resolutely,” the South Korean military said in a statement, reacting to the North’s threats. Citing a “strong” military alliance with the United States, it said, “We advise our people to trust our military’s solid readiness and feel safe.”

Does citing a strong military alliance with the Unites States still put one’s enemies on notice or is it a nostalgic reference (Mikheil Saakashvili is ready with an answer right about now)? That’s up to Barack Obama. South Korea just grabbed a number and got in line behind all of Eastern Europe, India, Israel, and Japan.

It’s been a fun four months, but it sure is starting to look like the planet needs the U.S. to “police the world.” Of course the same Left that believes in the existence of a “world community” doesn’t believe there should be a “world police” to watch over things. But with atomic tests, warship fleets, and missile launches erupting along the edges of Asia, they’ve been outvoted. In fact, what’s the first tool South Koreans reached for when Pyongyang tested an atomic bomb? A Bush-era program developed by John Bolton known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). South Korea immediately joined the international effort to interdict the transfer of proscribed weapons, materials, and technology. Funny that Bolton, such a detested “unilateralist,” introduced this vital international agreement, isn’t it?

The good news is that our president may be catching on. According to Reuters, “U.S. President Barack Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday of Washington’s ‘unequivocal commitment’ to the defense of South Korea following a nuclear test by North Korea.” Not a bad start, but there needs to be more. If we do not extend regional and strategic missile defense to South Korea any future conflicts between the Koreas will be unnecessarily devastating. Moreover, any future North Korean test missiles must be shot out of the sky. If American protection becomes the stuff of nostalgia, so too will global security.

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Double Standard-itis

Stuart Taylor notes the concern among some critics of the Sotomayor pick:

The choice of Sotomayor also puts Republicans and moderate Democrats who may be deeply unhappy with her jurisprudence in a lose-lose position, and Obama in a win-win position. If Republicans attack Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial actions, they risk provoking a backlash among Hispanic voters, who have already been moving into the Democratic column in droves.

Let me just observe the irony in those who criticize Sotomayor for declaring that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” themselves being subject to a tidal wave of complaints because no one can just go around questioning the intellectual bona fides of Latinas. Or something like that. The double standards leave you dizzy.

Howard Kurtz reports:

Some critics say Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage and modest background should play no role in judging her fitness for the high court. But after Sotomayor spoke of being raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “I would hate to be a senator on the Judiciary Committee who tried to give that person a hard time.”

Wow, isn’t it grand to live in a country where a Latina can be nominated for the highest court and then treated with kid gloves because everyone is scared to treat her like any other nominee? Not so much, actually.

But let’s be honest: there is a political reality to what Taylor says. Senators, like all politicians, are remarkably sensitive to being labeled “racist” — or the less inflammatory version, “insensitive.” (No, it didn’t insulate Clarence Thomas from a political onslaught but the rules are different, we all know, for a conservative nominee.)

So what do conservatives do? Stick to the point. The point is impartiality. The point is whether, as Richard Cohen notes, it’s time to jettison the mindset of racial favoritism. (“Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted.”) The point is what Sotomayor thinks her job as a judge is, as distinct from what the job of a legislator or president is.

After all, it is Sotomayor who must avoid playing the racial victim and convince the Senate and the country she’s not a proponent of a racial spoils system at odds with Americans’ sense of fairness. If she and her proponents balk at the same sort of questions John Roberts, Sam Alito, and others before them endured, the jig will be up.

So it’s simple, really: Ask the questions, let the judge speak. Let the country decide.

Stuart Taylor notes the concern among some critics of the Sotomayor pick:

The choice of Sotomayor also puts Republicans and moderate Democrats who may be deeply unhappy with her jurisprudence in a lose-lose position, and Obama in a win-win position. If Republicans attack Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial actions, they risk provoking a backlash among Hispanic voters, who have already been moving into the Democratic column in droves.

Let me just observe the irony in those who criticize Sotomayor for declaring that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” themselves being subject to a tidal wave of complaints because no one can just go around questioning the intellectual bona fides of Latinas. Or something like that. The double standards leave you dizzy.

Howard Kurtz reports:

Some critics say Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage and modest background should play no role in judging her fitness for the high court. But after Sotomayor spoke of being raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “I would hate to be a senator on the Judiciary Committee who tried to give that person a hard time.”

Wow, isn’t it grand to live in a country where a Latina can be nominated for the highest court and then treated with kid gloves because everyone is scared to treat her like any other nominee? Not so much, actually.

But let’s be honest: there is a political reality to what Taylor says. Senators, like all politicians, are remarkably sensitive to being labeled “racist” — or the less inflammatory version, “insensitive.” (No, it didn’t insulate Clarence Thomas from a political onslaught but the rules are different, we all know, for a conservative nominee.)

So what do conservatives do? Stick to the point. The point is impartiality. The point is whether, as Richard Cohen notes, it’s time to jettison the mindset of racial favoritism. (“Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted.”) The point is what Sotomayor thinks her job as a judge is, as distinct from what the job of a legislator or president is.

After all, it is Sotomayor who must avoid playing the racial victim and convince the Senate and the country she’s not a proponent of a racial spoils system at odds with Americans’ sense of fairness. If she and her proponents balk at the same sort of questions John Roberts, Sam Alito, and others before them endured, the jig will be up.

So it’s simple, really: Ask the questions, let the judge speak. Let the country decide.

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Hosni’s Apology

What a relief. Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Culture Minister and candidate to head up UNESCO, has apologized for saying he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in an Egyptian library.

It’s a relief because Israel had just dropped its objection to Hosni’s candidacy, as an apparent goodwill gesture to Egypt. That would have been very embarrassing, no? For Israel to agree to having an outright Judeobibliophobe heading up the UN’s leading educational and cultural body. Just think of all those books in Hebrew the UN might have to consider burning — beginning with the Bible. Olaf Zimmermann, the head of Germany’s Culture Council, told Der Spiegel that “Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake… UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

But now that he’s apologized, we can wipe the slate clean and start over. Hosni has now fully internalized UNESCO’s values, and now the reverse can happily happen as well. Isn’t the UN great?

What a relief. Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Culture Minister and candidate to head up UNESCO, has apologized for saying he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in an Egyptian library.

It’s a relief because Israel had just dropped its objection to Hosni’s candidacy, as an apparent goodwill gesture to Egypt. That would have been very embarrassing, no? For Israel to agree to having an outright Judeobibliophobe heading up the UN’s leading educational and cultural body. Just think of all those books in Hebrew the UN might have to consider burning — beginning with the Bible. Olaf Zimmermann, the head of Germany’s Culture Council, told Der Spiegel that “Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake… UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

But now that he’s apologized, we can wipe the slate clean and start over. Hosni has now fully internalized UNESCO’s values, and now the reverse can happily happen as well. Isn’t the UN great?

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No Garden Party for Corzine

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Some observers chalk up Mr. Corzine’s troubles to the recession, with shrunken budgets across the nation making many states’ governors unpopular. Others say he is a poor politician who squandered chances to address the state’s tax burden and slim its bloated bureaucracy. Last month, more than half of all voters polled by Quinnipiac University said they disapproved of Mr. Corzine’s performance, and 60% don’t like the way he is addressing the economy.

And then there are the ethics issues:

Hanging over his first term have been reminders about his former relationship with Carla Katz when she was the local branch head of the CWA. Once in office, Mr. Corzine was accused of having back-channel labor negotiations with her. The union fired Ms. Katz in 2008, accusing her of misusing dues for personal expenses. Mr. Corzine wasn’t implicated in the union’s investigation, and a state ethics panel cleared Mr. Corzine of wrongdoing.

Some voters say Mr. Corzine has done little to fulfill a vow made in his 2006 inaugural address that “my highest priority will be ethics reform.” Mr. Corzine’s package of proposed ethics changes has been delayed by the budget debate, lawmakers say.

All that said, New Jersey remains an overwhelmingly Democratic state and Corzine has a ton of his own money (well, not as much as he used to) to flood the media with ads. But it will be an interesting test of two issues that may be at the heart of the 2010 congressional races: economic mismanagement (New Jersey’s deficit is projected to go as high as $9B in 2010) and ethics (Speaker Pelosi might want to get cracking on “draining the swamp” before Murtha, Moran, et al. become the poster boys in the 2010 ad campaign). Many interested observers will be looking on.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Some observers chalk up Mr. Corzine’s troubles to the recession, with shrunken budgets across the nation making many states’ governors unpopular. Others say he is a poor politician who squandered chances to address the state’s tax burden and slim its bloated bureaucracy. Last month, more than half of all voters polled by Quinnipiac University said they disapproved of Mr. Corzine’s performance, and 60% don’t like the way he is addressing the economy.

And then there are the ethics issues:

Hanging over his first term have been reminders about his former relationship with Carla Katz when she was the local branch head of the CWA. Once in office, Mr. Corzine was accused of having back-channel labor negotiations with her. The union fired Ms. Katz in 2008, accusing her of misusing dues for personal expenses. Mr. Corzine wasn’t implicated in the union’s investigation, and a state ethics panel cleared Mr. Corzine of wrongdoing.

Some voters say Mr. Corzine has done little to fulfill a vow made in his 2006 inaugural address that “my highest priority will be ethics reform.” Mr. Corzine’s package of proposed ethics changes has been delayed by the budget debate, lawmakers say.

All that said, New Jersey remains an overwhelmingly Democratic state and Corzine has a ton of his own money (well, not as much as he used to) to flood the media with ads. But it will be an interesting test of two issues that may be at the heart of the 2010 congressional races: economic mismanagement (New Jersey’s deficit is projected to go as high as $9B in 2010) and ethics (Speaker Pelosi might want to get cracking on “draining the swamp” before Murtha, Moran, et al. become the poster boys in the 2010 ad campaign). Many interested observers will be looking on.

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Who Burned Ayman Nour?

On Friday night, prominent Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was attacked in Giza, sustaining first-degree burns to his face and losing 20% of his hair after a young assailant sprayed him with flames from a pesticide aerosol. Naturally, the immediate suspect is the Egyptian government, which has persecuted Nour and his Ghad party relentlessly since Nour finished a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections. However, many analysts have been reluctant to accuse the regime of ordering the attack for three key reasons:

First, for all of the regime’s violence against opposition movements, it typically waits until its most prominent dissidents are behind bars before torturing them. Indeed, an attack on someone of Nour’s stature in broad daylight is practically unheard of. Second, the attack was remarkably rudimentary – again, the attacker used basic household items in a very sloppy assassination attempt. Third and most important, the attack would represent a stunning departure from the regime’s typically cautious modus operandi. After all, it comes barely two weeks before President Barack Obama is set to deliver a major speech to the Muslim world from Cairo — a location that was chosen, much to liberal dissidents’ consternation, as a carrot to the Mubarak regime.

Still, the regime has a clear motive for ordering an attack against Nour: since releasing Nour from political imprisonment in February, it has failed in its efforts to contain him. In this vein, despite the regime’s attempt to place his Ghad party under the control of a puppet, Egypt’s nominally independent courts have recognized Nour as the official leader. Moreover, Nour has maintained an active speaking schedule and, last week, declared his intention to run in the 2011 presidential elections. Finally, Nour recently testified via speakerphone before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, supporting a resolution that sharply criticized the Egyptian government. Looking ahead to Obama’s forthcoming speech in Cairo, the regime likely feared that Nour would get an audience with the U.S. President — a daunting prospect for Mubarak, 81 years old, as he pushes for his son’s seamless succession.

So here’s one theory: perhaps the Mubarak regime struck Nour when the international community would least suspect it of doing so — ordering an attack that did just enough damage to keep Nour out of commission, yet looked too rudimentary to be traced back to the government conclusively.

For the moment, two developments support this theory. First, according to a source, one of the key witnesses to the attack on Nour is being harassed via frequent phone calls and drop-in visits to his apartment — the regime’s typical intimidation tactics. Second, three days after the attack on Nour, the regime dropped its prison sentence against liberal dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who had been convicted of criticizing the government in the foreign press. As Dina Guirguis notes, this is the regime’s classic “bait and switch” move: using one “goodwill gesture” to distract the international community from its larger abuses.

Again, it is impossible to link the Mubarak regime conclusively to the attack on Nour. Indeed, the overall lack of clarity surrounding the incident is a big part of the reason the mainstream media has been slow to report on it. But if the regime did order the attack — and there is ample circumstantial evidence to suggest it had the motive to do so — then its strategic calculations regarding the means and timing of the attack were spot-on. After all, the international community has been totally silent on Nour, who is refusing to appear in public until his face is healed. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is moving ahead with its plans for a major address in Cairo, the capital of Middle Eastern authoritarianism.

On Friday night, prominent Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was attacked in Giza, sustaining first-degree burns to his face and losing 20% of his hair after a young assailant sprayed him with flames from a pesticide aerosol. Naturally, the immediate suspect is the Egyptian government, which has persecuted Nour and his Ghad party relentlessly since Nour finished a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections. However, many analysts have been reluctant to accuse the regime of ordering the attack for three key reasons:

First, for all of the regime’s violence against opposition movements, it typically waits until its most prominent dissidents are behind bars before torturing them. Indeed, an attack on someone of Nour’s stature in broad daylight is practically unheard of. Second, the attack was remarkably rudimentary – again, the attacker used basic household items in a very sloppy assassination attempt. Third and most important, the attack would represent a stunning departure from the regime’s typically cautious modus operandi. After all, it comes barely two weeks before President Barack Obama is set to deliver a major speech to the Muslim world from Cairo — a location that was chosen, much to liberal dissidents’ consternation, as a carrot to the Mubarak regime.

Still, the regime has a clear motive for ordering an attack against Nour: since releasing Nour from political imprisonment in February, it has failed in its efforts to contain him. In this vein, despite the regime’s attempt to place his Ghad party under the control of a puppet, Egypt’s nominally independent courts have recognized Nour as the official leader. Moreover, Nour has maintained an active speaking schedule and, last week, declared his intention to run in the 2011 presidential elections. Finally, Nour recently testified via speakerphone before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, supporting a resolution that sharply criticized the Egyptian government. Looking ahead to Obama’s forthcoming speech in Cairo, the regime likely feared that Nour would get an audience with the U.S. President — a daunting prospect for Mubarak, 81 years old, as he pushes for his son’s seamless succession.

So here’s one theory: perhaps the Mubarak regime struck Nour when the international community would least suspect it of doing so — ordering an attack that did just enough damage to keep Nour out of commission, yet looked too rudimentary to be traced back to the government conclusively.

For the moment, two developments support this theory. First, according to a source, one of the key witnesses to the attack on Nour is being harassed via frequent phone calls and drop-in visits to his apartment — the regime’s typical intimidation tactics. Second, three days after the attack on Nour, the regime dropped its prison sentence against liberal dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who had been convicted of criticizing the government in the foreign press. As Dina Guirguis notes, this is the regime’s classic “bait and switch” move: using one “goodwill gesture” to distract the international community from its larger abuses.

Again, it is impossible to link the Mubarak regime conclusively to the attack on Nour. Indeed, the overall lack of clarity surrounding the incident is a big part of the reason the mainstream media has been slow to report on it. But if the regime did order the attack — and there is ample circumstantial evidence to suggest it had the motive to do so — then its strategic calculations regarding the means and timing of the attack were spot-on. After all, the international community has been totally silent on Nour, who is refusing to appear in public until his face is healed. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is moving ahead with its plans for a major address in Cairo, the capital of Middle Eastern authoritarianism.

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Obama World

John McCain, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg which predated the North Korean nuclear test, sounds the following warning:

 I really believe that reality is going to strike with this (Administration). I don’t think you’re going to get progress by quote-unquote talking to the Iranians. I don’t think you’re going to get the progress they think they’re going to get with some of these countries, with North Korea.

What has North Korea done since Obama came to office? And we were going to have a new dialogue with them. God Almighty! You know? Two journalists are now in prison. They announced they’re reprocessing, proceeding with the fissile material. They were threatening or did shut down that town that the South Koreans funded for them. I mean, I think reality’s going to hit the Obama Administration. 

Well, reality it hitting right and left, but what the Obama team makes of it remains to be seen. Are we  just not trying hard enough? Maybe our diplomacy needs to be a wee bit “smarter.”  The yearning for comity and calm is great and understandable. But it may be at odds with the world in which we find ourselves.

Lost in the shuffle of the Supreme Court nomination was yesterday’s Eugene Robinson column which perfectly exemplifies the naive longing for some other reality than the one we face. Robinson writes:

In Obama World, it’s always morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the pollen count is low. In Cheney World, it’s perpetual twilight. Somewhere in the distance, a lone wolf howls at the rising moon.

Gosh, don’t ya want the bird to chirp? Well, as much as the next person. But much as Robinson and others might want it to be so, we don’t live in “Obama World.” (By the way it isn’t a lone wolf — there are a bunch of them out there.) Iran doesn’t yearn for peace with Israel; North Korea doesn’t strive to make the “most improved” human rights list. Syria really isn’t making moves to separate itself from Iran.  It’s a drag but in our world there are some dangerous characters who don’t respond to empty gestures of goodwill. They simply aren’t impressed when the American president touts his childhood experiences and denigrates his predecessors’ assertions of American interests.

At times the president seems to recognize some hard realities — in Iraq and in Afghanistan for example. But he too often falls back on pablum — “engaging the Islamic Republic of Iran” and insisting on  moving ahead on a nonexistent peace process — which is scarily divorced from factual data and requires we ignore or excuse the behavior of our foes. And when he, for example, trims our missile defense programs one has to wonder if he really is in his own world.

Maybe McCain is right and reality is going to hit the Obama administration. The question remains: will the Obama administration notice?

John McCain, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg which predated the North Korean nuclear test, sounds the following warning:

 I really believe that reality is going to strike with this (Administration). I don’t think you’re going to get progress by quote-unquote talking to the Iranians. I don’t think you’re going to get the progress they think they’re going to get with some of these countries, with North Korea.

What has North Korea done since Obama came to office? And we were going to have a new dialogue with them. God Almighty! You know? Two journalists are now in prison. They announced they’re reprocessing, proceeding with the fissile material. They were threatening or did shut down that town that the South Koreans funded for them. I mean, I think reality’s going to hit the Obama Administration. 

Well, reality it hitting right and left, but what the Obama team makes of it remains to be seen. Are we  just not trying hard enough? Maybe our diplomacy needs to be a wee bit “smarter.”  The yearning for comity and calm is great and understandable. But it may be at odds with the world in which we find ourselves.

Lost in the shuffle of the Supreme Court nomination was yesterday’s Eugene Robinson column which perfectly exemplifies the naive longing for some other reality than the one we face. Robinson writes:

In Obama World, it’s always morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the pollen count is low. In Cheney World, it’s perpetual twilight. Somewhere in the distance, a lone wolf howls at the rising moon.

Gosh, don’t ya want the bird to chirp? Well, as much as the next person. But much as Robinson and others might want it to be so, we don’t live in “Obama World.” (By the way it isn’t a lone wolf — there are a bunch of them out there.) Iran doesn’t yearn for peace with Israel; North Korea doesn’t strive to make the “most improved” human rights list. Syria really isn’t making moves to separate itself from Iran.  It’s a drag but in our world there are some dangerous characters who don’t respond to empty gestures of goodwill. They simply aren’t impressed when the American president touts his childhood experiences and denigrates his predecessors’ assertions of American interests.

At times the president seems to recognize some hard realities — in Iraq and in Afghanistan for example. But he too often falls back on pablum — “engaging the Islamic Republic of Iran” and insisting on  moving ahead on a nonexistent peace process — which is scarily divorced from factual data and requires we ignore or excuse the behavior of our foes. And when he, for example, trims our missile defense programs one has to wonder if he really is in his own world.

Maybe McCain is right and reality is going to hit the Obama administration. The question remains: will the Obama administration notice?

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Cat Got Their Tongues?

A number of good writers have already commented on “Obama and the Middle East,” a new essay by Hussein Agha and Rob Malley in the New York Review of Books.

So what does the article say?

Interestingly, the answer is “not much.” It says that life isn’t easy; that chances for peace aren’t great; that both Israelis and Palestinians have many grievances; that the U.S. failed, so far, in its attempts to reach an understanding. It also says a couple of more controversial things. For example, that Yasser Arafat deserves credit for the good things he did to advance the two state solution — Agha and Malley share a repulsive history as leaders of the the-failure-in-Camp-David-wasn’t-Arafat’s-fault camp.

The writers seemingly show some sympathy to Israeli settlers and suggest that the U.S. “recognize their views and concerns, consider their interests, and invite them to take part in discussions.” But this is a shameful trick. First, because it de-legitimizes the Israeli government, and essentially calls upon the international community to talk to Israeli political groups separately. Second, because it is only one more way for the authors to justify their insistence on talking to Hamas.

The piece is not very impressive because the more the authors stray from what happened and the more they delve into “what needs to be done now” – the less specific they become. Vagueness can be a sign of thoughtfulness, but it usually covers for a lack of new ideas.

Take a look:

The task, in other words, would not be to polish up answers to questions of borders, security, Jerusalem, or how to compensate refugees. That approach increasingly is becoming a sideshow, chiefly of interest to official negotiators. Nor would talk center on creating Palestinian institutions or extolling a two-state solution’s value in combating extremism or reshaping the region.

So what should we do?

There may be another way. Its starting point would be less of an immediate effort to achieve a two-state agreement or propose US ideas to that effect. Rather, it would be an attempt to transform the political atmosphere and reformulate the diplomatic process.

Transform to what? Again, there are no specifics, just aphorisms like “A new language would help; so too would a broader audience.” But what will we tell this “broader audience” (namely, Palestinian refugees, Hamas, settlers and the other groups the authors want to talk to)?

The most urgent task is to prepare the way for that day by countering the skepticism that has greeted and torpedoed every recent American idea, good or bad…

How? The great orator Obama will somehow better communicate with the alienated groups of the region, by telling them something the authors refuse to specify, from which a new plan, also un-specified, will emerge.

“The time is for a clean break, in words, style, and approach,” they write. We know that by time they mean “now,” or even more specifically, “next week” in Cairo. We know that by “clean break” they mean, “no more Bush.” We might also know what “style” means (Obama). But the two most important things – what new “words” and what new “approach” the authors would suggest – remain suspiciously vague. Either the proposals they have are so outrageous that even these two didn’t want to utter them out loud – or they have nothing productive to offer. Given Malley’s friendly past with Hamas and Agha’s time as an advisor to Arafat, and given the anti-Israel tenor of their previous work, I’ll leave it for you to decide.

A number of good writers have already commented on “Obama and the Middle East,” a new essay by Hussein Agha and Rob Malley in the New York Review of Books.

So what does the article say?

Interestingly, the answer is “not much.” It says that life isn’t easy; that chances for peace aren’t great; that both Israelis and Palestinians have many grievances; that the U.S. failed, so far, in its attempts to reach an understanding. It also says a couple of more controversial things. For example, that Yasser Arafat deserves credit for the good things he did to advance the two state solution — Agha and Malley share a repulsive history as leaders of the the-failure-in-Camp-David-wasn’t-Arafat’s-fault camp.

The writers seemingly show some sympathy to Israeli settlers and suggest that the U.S. “recognize their views and concerns, consider their interests, and invite them to take part in discussions.” But this is a shameful trick. First, because it de-legitimizes the Israeli government, and essentially calls upon the international community to talk to Israeli political groups separately. Second, because it is only one more way for the authors to justify their insistence on talking to Hamas.

The piece is not very impressive because the more the authors stray from what happened and the more they delve into “what needs to be done now” – the less specific they become. Vagueness can be a sign of thoughtfulness, but it usually covers for a lack of new ideas.

Take a look:

The task, in other words, would not be to polish up answers to questions of borders, security, Jerusalem, or how to compensate refugees. That approach increasingly is becoming a sideshow, chiefly of interest to official negotiators. Nor would talk center on creating Palestinian institutions or extolling a two-state solution’s value in combating extremism or reshaping the region.

So what should we do?

There may be another way. Its starting point would be less of an immediate effort to achieve a two-state agreement or propose US ideas to that effect. Rather, it would be an attempt to transform the political atmosphere and reformulate the diplomatic process.

Transform to what? Again, there are no specifics, just aphorisms like “A new language would help; so too would a broader audience.” But what will we tell this “broader audience” (namely, Palestinian refugees, Hamas, settlers and the other groups the authors want to talk to)?

The most urgent task is to prepare the way for that day by countering the skepticism that has greeted and torpedoed every recent American idea, good or bad…

How? The great orator Obama will somehow better communicate with the alienated groups of the region, by telling them something the authors refuse to specify, from which a new plan, also un-specified, will emerge.

“The time is for a clean break, in words, style, and approach,” they write. We know that by time they mean “now,” or even more specifically, “next week” in Cairo. We know that by “clean break” they mean, “no more Bush.” We might also know what “style” means (Obama). But the two most important things – what new “words” and what new “approach” the authors would suggest – remain suspiciously vague. Either the proposals they have are so outrageous that even these two didn’t want to utter them out loud – or they have nothing productive to offer. Given Malley’s friendly past with Hamas and Agha’s time as an advisor to Arafat, and given the anti-Israel tenor of their previous work, I’ll leave it for you to decide.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In case you were wondering who won the Guantanamo debate: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now disagree with President Barack Obama’s decision to close the prison camp for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, conducted after the President’s speech on Guantanamo last week, shows that 38% agree with his decision. Just 25% share the President’s view that the Guantanamo camp weakened national security. Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree with that perspective.”

Harry Reid is flip-flop-flipping on Guantanamo closing. Perhaps Yucca Mountain is available.

Uh-oh: “In a Nov. 13 conversation recorded by the FBI, Roland Burris told Rod Blagojevich’s brother he feared he’d ‘catch hell,’ with the public if he gave the governor money at the same time he was lobbying for a Senate seat appointment. Still, Burris ends the call with a promise: ‘I will personally do something OK? And it will come to you before the 15th of December.'” What say you, Mr. Reid?

Sen. Jeff Sessions sets out the key consideration for the Supreme Court: “Of primary importance, we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one’s own personal preferences or political views.” Would anyone want an umpire who doubted her ability to put aside, for example, her lifelong affection for underdog teams?

And Fred Barnes rightly warns about assumptions of inevitability: “If Sotomayor emerges as a thoroughgoing activist or radical as the media and conservative interest groups research her life and career–and she reinforces this impression in her conformation hearing–it could prompt a Republican filibuster or at least an attempt to mount one.In Sotomayor’s case, the perils of the confirmation process may seem less daunting than usual. We’ll see. It’s wise to remember that this process has cut down more accomplished nominees than Sotomayor.”

A useful summary of the New Haven firefighter case in which Sotomayor tried (it turns out unsuccessfully) to hide the constitutional issues from further review. At the very least there is some explaining to do: “The problem for Sotomayor, instead, is why she didn’t grapple with the difficult constitutional issues, the ones [Clinton appointee Jose] Cabranes pointed to. Did she really have nothing to add to the district court opinion? In a case of this magnitude and intricacy, why would that be?”

The Washington Post editors provide a fair and useful summary of some of the troubling issues which the Senate should examine.

Why does Sen. Ben Nelson think card check is a “fool’s errand” that isn’t happening? According to a poll sent around by Nebraskans for Workers Rights, 64% of the state’s voters oppose card check. So it would be foolish to support it, I suppose.

In case you were wondering who won the Guantanamo debate: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now disagree with President Barack Obama’s decision to close the prison camp for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, conducted after the President’s speech on Guantanamo last week, shows that 38% agree with his decision. Just 25% share the President’s view that the Guantanamo camp weakened national security. Fifty-one percent (51%) disagree with that perspective.”

Harry Reid is flip-flop-flipping on Guantanamo closing. Perhaps Yucca Mountain is available.

Uh-oh: “In a Nov. 13 conversation recorded by the FBI, Roland Burris told Rod Blagojevich’s brother he feared he’d ‘catch hell,’ with the public if he gave the governor money at the same time he was lobbying for a Senate seat appointment. Still, Burris ends the call with a promise: ‘I will personally do something OK? And it will come to you before the 15th of December.'” What say you, Mr. Reid?

Sen. Jeff Sessions sets out the key consideration for the Supreme Court: “Of primary importance, we must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one’s own personal preferences or political views.” Would anyone want an umpire who doubted her ability to put aside, for example, her lifelong affection for underdog teams?

And Fred Barnes rightly warns about assumptions of inevitability: “If Sotomayor emerges as a thoroughgoing activist or radical as the media and conservative interest groups research her life and career–and she reinforces this impression in her conformation hearing–it could prompt a Republican filibuster or at least an attempt to mount one.In Sotomayor’s case, the perils of the confirmation process may seem less daunting than usual. We’ll see. It’s wise to remember that this process has cut down more accomplished nominees than Sotomayor.”

A useful summary of the New Haven firefighter case in which Sotomayor tried (it turns out unsuccessfully) to hide the constitutional issues from further review. At the very least there is some explaining to do: “The problem for Sotomayor, instead, is why she didn’t grapple with the difficult constitutional issues, the ones [Clinton appointee Jose] Cabranes pointed to. Did she really have nothing to add to the district court opinion? In a case of this magnitude and intricacy, why would that be?”

The Washington Post editors provide a fair and useful summary of some of the troubling issues which the Senate should examine.

Why does Sen. Ben Nelson think card check is a “fool’s errand” that isn’t happening? According to a poll sent around by Nebraskans for Workers Rights, 64% of the state’s voters oppose card check. So it would be foolish to support it, I suppose.

Read Less




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