Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2009

The Peace Process and the Princess Bride

Those of you who have seen the movie will remember the scene well: our hero, Westley, has finally engineered a showdown with the cowardly Prince Humperdinck, who has attempted to steal his one true love. But over the course of his long battle to reach Humperdinck, Westley was captured and tortured to death in the Pit of Despair (a place much, much worse than Gitmo). He is revived by Max the miracle worker, but is so weak that he cannot even stand up on his own. He presses on nonetheless. In the climactic confrontation, Humperdinck finds Westley in a room in his castle, laying on a bed, his head propped up with pillows, his sword at his side. All he has the strength to do is talk — but Humperdinck doesn’t know this, so he challenges him to a duel. Westley responds by haranguing Humperdinck with horrible descriptions of his dismemberment should they duel. (“The first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.”) Through sheer bravado, he avoids exposing his powerlessness until one of his associates, the great swordsman Inigo Montoya, arrives to help him — and then it is too late for Humperdinck. He has been tricked.

If you read Jackson Diehl’s column today about his interview with Mahmoud Abbas, it’s hard to avoid recalling this scene. Diehl is mystified by what he says is Abbas’s “waiting game.”

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. …

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.

Instead, he says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said.

There should be no mystery about what Abbas is up to. His flippant declaration of passivity is transparently employed because he is powerless. It is his only way of avoiding the embarrassing spectacle of falling flat on his face the moment it comes time for him to take action. So he speaks in grandiose terms about how everyone else must move before he does, when in reality — like Westley — he is paralyzed. Call it the Princess Bride strategy. And it appears that, for the time being at least, he has a willing sponsor in the Obama Administration.

Those of you who have seen the movie will remember the scene well: our hero, Westley, has finally engineered a showdown with the cowardly Prince Humperdinck, who has attempted to steal his one true love. But over the course of his long battle to reach Humperdinck, Westley was captured and tortured to death in the Pit of Despair (a place much, much worse than Gitmo). He is revived by Max the miracle worker, but is so weak that he cannot even stand up on his own. He presses on nonetheless. In the climactic confrontation, Humperdinck finds Westley in a room in his castle, laying on a bed, his head propped up with pillows, his sword at his side. All he has the strength to do is talk — but Humperdinck doesn’t know this, so he challenges him to a duel. Westley responds by haranguing Humperdinck with horrible descriptions of his dismemberment should they duel. (“The first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.”) Through sheer bravado, he avoids exposing his powerlessness until one of his associates, the great swordsman Inigo Montoya, arrives to help him — and then it is too late for Humperdinck. He has been tricked.

If you read Jackson Diehl’s column today about his interview with Mahmoud Abbas, it’s hard to avoid recalling this scene. Diehl is mystified by what he says is Abbas’s “waiting game.”

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. …

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.

Instead, he says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said.

There should be no mystery about what Abbas is up to. His flippant declaration of passivity is transparently employed because he is powerless. It is his only way of avoiding the embarrassing spectacle of falling flat on his face the moment it comes time for him to take action. So he speaks in grandiose terms about how everyone else must move before he does, when in reality — like Westley — he is paralyzed. Call it the Princess Bride strategy. And it appears that, for the time being at least, he has a willing sponsor in the Obama Administration.

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Obama’s Nonsensical Criteria

If President Obama hopes to win Republican votes for his Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, he better hope that GOP Senators approach matters differently than Senator Obama did. Obama, of course, opposed the nominations of both John Roberts and Samuel Alito – and, in fact, said he would join in a filibuster of Alito. It’s worth recalling what Obama said in stating his opposition to Roberts (his case against Alito was almost identical):

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law…

The problem I face… is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point… in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart… The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts’ record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak… given the gravity of the position to which he will undoubtedly ascend and the gravity of the decisions in which he will undoubtedly participate during his tenure on the Court, I ultimately have to give more weight to his deeds and the overarching political philosophy that he appears to have shared with those in power than to the assuring words that he provided me in our meeting.

The votes against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were, in my judgment, irresponsible. They were driven, I suspect, by one of two factors (or a combination of them). The first may have been rank partisanship. Obama was eager to gain the support of liberals in anticipation of his run for the presidency, and this is a vital issue for Democratic activists. The second option is that Obama believes in the argument he is making.

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If President Obama hopes to win Republican votes for his Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, he better hope that GOP Senators approach matters differently than Senator Obama did. Obama, of course, opposed the nominations of both John Roberts and Samuel Alito – and, in fact, said he would join in a filibuster of Alito. It’s worth recalling what Obama said in stating his opposition to Roberts (his case against Alito was almost identical):

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law…

The problem I face… is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point… in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart… The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts’ record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak… given the gravity of the position to which he will undoubtedly ascend and the gravity of the decisions in which he will undoubtedly participate during his tenure on the Court, I ultimately have to give more weight to his deeds and the overarching political philosophy that he appears to have shared with those in power than to the assuring words that he provided me in our meeting.

The votes against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were, in my judgment, irresponsible. They were driven, I suspect, by one of two factors (or a combination of them). The first may have been rank partisanship. Obama was eager to gain the support of liberals in anticipation of his run for the presidency, and this is a vital issue for Democratic activists. The second option is that Obama believes in the argument he is making.

Obama insists that no quality is more important for a Supreme Court justice to possess than “empathy,” which is the latest semantic cloak for judicial activism. What Obama is looking for is “experience” – “experience,” he said in announcing Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court nominee – “being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers. It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live. And that is why it is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court.” [emphasis added]

Those are fine qualities to find in an individual; it’s far less clear – in fact, it is downright ridiculous – to insist they are necessary to be a Justice. For one thing, a person can be an outstanding Justice without having dealt with the kind of hardships and misfortune that Obama insists is the sine qua non to serve on the Supreme Court. What happens if the dissenting vote in Plessy v. Ferguson happened to have come from a person born to a well-to-do family and whose life was relatively free of hardship (no life is completely free of it, of course)? Should a person like John Marshall Harlan – who called slavery “the most perfect despotism that ever existed on this earth” – be excluded from the Supreme Court, and should his reasoning be invalidated, because he doesn’t have the right “life experiences”? If John Marshall didn’t face the obstacles and barriers deemed essential by Mr. Obama, should he have been kept off the Court, even if he possessed a deep and wise understanding of the law? Would Marshall be any less great of a Justice if his life was relatively free of hardship? And of course if Obama took his hardship standard seriously, he would be a great champion of Clarence Thomas, whose life story is a deeply inspiring one, filled with overcoming myriad hardships and misfortune.

Second, Obama’s use of the terms “empathy” and “compassion” are highly selective. One could reasonably ask why he doesn’t show empathy for, say, unborn children – or, in Obama’s case, for children who are born having survived an attempted abortion (as a state legislator, Obama wanted to deny protection to such children). What about low-income children who want to attend good private schools instead of awful public ones, but can only do so through a school choice program? And – to pull an example out of mid-air – what about empathy for a firefighter with serious learning differences (like dyslexia) who works extremely hard for a promotion, studies eight to 13 hours a day, hires someone to read to him because of his dyslexia, but is denied it because of the color of his skin? Obama’s sympathy for the weak and the powerless is clearly conditioned by his ideology. His sympathies magically attach themselves to those who can advance his political and ideological causes.

More fundamentally, Obama’s views do real damage to the concept of justice and equality before the law. He clearly wants Justices to favor one group (whom he deems to be the weak) over another (whom he deems to be powerful). But as Charles Krauthammer points out, the Supreme Court oath itself states, “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. … So help me God.”

President Obama wants the law to favor some over others, based on a very subjective standard – a sentiment, really – of who should win and who should lose. This view is deeply unwise and unjust. Republicans and conservatives ought to say so, and they ought to explain why it is so.

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Does It Take Two To Engage?

Michael Hirsh (defying the odds by writing something other than the sort of fawning tribute to Obama which has become the mainstay of the new Newsweek) reviews North Korea’s behavior of late and writes:

As much as he might like to, it doesn’t look as if the president has anyone to engage with, even in North Korea’s traditional language of blackmail.

The puzzle in Pyongyang is bad enough for Obama, but it’s just one part of a larger problem now facing Washington.

On a number of perilous fronts—Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Mideast—this most diplomatically oriented of American presidents, who came into office four months ago eager for “engagement,” has few responsible or dependable parties with whom he can negotiate. As a result, despite Obama’s best intentions, each of these foreign-policy problems is likely to grow much worse—possibly disastrously worse—before it gets any better.

Hmm. That sounds problematic. What’s more, it suggests that Obama is in his own make-believe world in which dialogue, “respect,” and smart diplomacy are met with goodwill, reciprocal gestures and acts of loving kindness. It suggests that the president has constructed an approach to foreign policy that is divorced from reality. Well, what to do about this? Hirsh explains:

The result of all this one-sided talking is likely to be stasis, drift and a certain amount of incoherence, as spokesman Kelly demonstrated this week. Repeatedly questioned about U.S. policy toward North Korea, Kelly said the Obama administration still believed a “multilateral approach” in the form of six-party talks was the best way forward—even though his boss, Clinton, recently told Congress that she thought the likelihood of Pyongyang returning to those talks was “implausible, if not impossible.”

Perhaps we should just talk among ourselves.

Perhaps we should try something else. Maybe stop needlessly hammering Israel to prevent its citizens from building add-ons to their homes in the West Bank in search of some nonexistent “peace process.” Maybe it’s time to reverse decisions to curtail missile defense programs. In other words, respond to the world as we are experiencing it rather than pursuing a fruitless policy of talk, talk, talk with people who don’t want to listen. We were told this president was going to be “pragmatic” and not be driven by “ideology,” but the question remains whether he persists, despite all evidence to the contrary, on an entirely ideological and a-factual policy which is allowing dangerous problems to fester. Is it too much to hope for a change?

Michael Hirsh (defying the odds by writing something other than the sort of fawning tribute to Obama which has become the mainstay of the new Newsweek) reviews North Korea’s behavior of late and writes:

As much as he might like to, it doesn’t look as if the president has anyone to engage with, even in North Korea’s traditional language of blackmail.

The puzzle in Pyongyang is bad enough for Obama, but it’s just one part of a larger problem now facing Washington.

On a number of perilous fronts—Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Mideast—this most diplomatically oriented of American presidents, who came into office four months ago eager for “engagement,” has few responsible or dependable parties with whom he can negotiate. As a result, despite Obama’s best intentions, each of these foreign-policy problems is likely to grow much worse—possibly disastrously worse—before it gets any better.

Hmm. That sounds problematic. What’s more, it suggests that Obama is in his own make-believe world in which dialogue, “respect,” and smart diplomacy are met with goodwill, reciprocal gestures and acts of loving kindness. It suggests that the president has constructed an approach to foreign policy that is divorced from reality. Well, what to do about this? Hirsh explains:

The result of all this one-sided talking is likely to be stasis, drift and a certain amount of incoherence, as spokesman Kelly demonstrated this week. Repeatedly questioned about U.S. policy toward North Korea, Kelly said the Obama administration still believed a “multilateral approach” in the form of six-party talks was the best way forward—even though his boss, Clinton, recently told Congress that she thought the likelihood of Pyongyang returning to those talks was “implausible, if not impossible.”

Perhaps we should just talk among ourselves.

Perhaps we should try something else. Maybe stop needlessly hammering Israel to prevent its citizens from building add-ons to their homes in the West Bank in search of some nonexistent “peace process.” Maybe it’s time to reverse decisions to curtail missile defense programs. In other words, respond to the world as we are experiencing it rather than pursuing a fruitless policy of talk, talk, talk with people who don’t want to listen. We were told this president was going to be “pragmatic” and not be driven by “ideology,” but the question remains whether he persists, despite all evidence to the contrary, on an entirely ideological and a-factual policy which is allowing dangerous problems to fester. Is it too much to hope for a change?

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The Mother of All Myths

Dennis Ross, Special Advisor on Iran for the Secretary of State, has a book coming out next month that inconveniently takes issue with the Obama Administration’s thesis of “linkage.” “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East,” Ross writes in a chapter titled “The Mother of All Myths,” “one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away.” Meanwhile, the Obama Administration – which Ross currently works for – is pressuring Israel in part because the president hopes progress toward the resolution of the Palestinian conflict will help derail Iran’s drive for the development of nuclear weapons.

Ross finished the manuscript and sold it to Viking Press before the president hired him, but he was right when he wrote it, and he’s still right today. The biggest problems in the Middle East – and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons surely is one of them – have little or nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Iranian regime’s hatred of Israel is real, to be sure, and nuclear missiles in its arsenal would pose a serious threat, but Iran, in all likelihood, would wish to arm itself with the world’s most powerful weapons even if Israel did not exist.

Scholar Martin Kramer identifies nine regional “conflict clusters” and argues that “these many conflicts are symptoms of the same malaise: the absence of a Middle Eastern order, to replace the old Islamic and European empires. But they are independent symptoms; one conflict does not cause another, and its ‘resolution’ cannot resolve another.”

Ross almost sounds like he’s debunking a strawman when he says believers in the theory of ‘linkage’ think “all other Middle East conflicts would melt away” if only the Palestinians had a state. I don’t know if President Barack Obama would go that far, but former President Jimmy Carter nearly does. “Even among the populations of our former close friends in the region,” Carter said, “Egypt and Jordan, less than 5 percent look favorably on the United States today. That’s not because we invaded Iraq; they hated Saddam. It is because we don’t do anything about the Palestinian plight. Without doubt, the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” Read More

Dennis Ross, Special Advisor on Iran for the Secretary of State, has a book coming out next month that inconveniently takes issue with the Obama Administration’s thesis of “linkage.” “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East,” Ross writes in a chapter titled “The Mother of All Myths,” “one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away.” Meanwhile, the Obama Administration – which Ross currently works for – is pressuring Israel in part because the president hopes progress toward the resolution of the Palestinian conflict will help derail Iran’s drive for the development of nuclear weapons.

Ross finished the manuscript and sold it to Viking Press before the president hired him, but he was right when he wrote it, and he’s still right today. The biggest problems in the Middle East – and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons surely is one of them – have little or nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Iranian regime’s hatred of Israel is real, to be sure, and nuclear missiles in its arsenal would pose a serious threat, but Iran, in all likelihood, would wish to arm itself with the world’s most powerful weapons even if Israel did not exist.

Scholar Martin Kramer identifies nine regional “conflict clusters” and argues that “these many conflicts are symptoms of the same malaise: the absence of a Middle Eastern order, to replace the old Islamic and European empires. But they are independent symptoms; one conflict does not cause another, and its ‘resolution’ cannot resolve another.”

Ross almost sounds like he’s debunking a strawman when he says believers in the theory of ‘linkage’ think “all other Middle East conflicts would melt away” if only the Palestinians had a state. I don’t know if President Barack Obama would go that far, but former President Jimmy Carter nearly does. “Even among the populations of our former close friends in the region,” Carter said, “Egypt and Jordan, less than 5 percent look favorably on the United States today. That’s not because we invaded Iraq; they hated Saddam. It is because we don’t do anything about the Palestinian plight. Without doubt, the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.”

The populations of Egypt, Jordan, and other Arabic countries have a nearly inexhaustible list of grievances against the United States. Many are based on phantasmagoric and state-manufactured conspiracy theories that have nothing to do with the West Bank, Gaza, or anything else in the real world. And their populations certainly were inflamed by the invasion of Iraq regardless of what they thought of Saddam Hussein. American support for Israel aggravates a huge number of Arab Muslims, but most of the region’s “conflict clusters,” as Kramer calls them, have little or nothing to do with either Israel or the United States.

Former President Carter, like most Westerners, has a Western-centric view of the world. It could hardly be otherwise. Most Chinese have a Chinese-centric view of the world, Indians an Indian-centric view, etc. One of former President Carter’s problems here is a Western-centric analysis.

Of the Middle East’s five most serious problems aside from the Arab-Israeli conflict, only one – the war in Iraq – was caused in any way by Israel or the United States. And Israel is not involved in the war in Iraq. The other four – radical Islamism, the dearth of democracy outside Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s push for regional hegemony, and the conflict between Sunnis and Shias – simply can’t be blamed on the United States, Israel, or the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Let’s look at these problems in order. The war in Iraq obviously involves the United States, but neither Israelis nor Palestinians have much, if anything at all, to do with it. “Certainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq are interactive,” former National Security Advisor for President Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski said in 2003. At best, that was barely true in 2003 and the idea is nonsense today. Iraq’s insurgents and terrorist groups spent the last six years fighting Americans and each other. What could a car bomb in a Baghdad marketplace set by Iraqis to kill other Iraqis possibly have to do with Israel? I’ve visited Iraq seven times and only once heard an Iraqi mention Israel before I asked about it myself. Almost all Iraqis I’ve spoken to about the Arab-Israeli conflict seem to find my questions strangely off-topic and irrelevant to their problems and lives.

Radical Islamists hate Israel and the United States, but they would still cause trouble even if Israel and the United States ceased to exist. The modern Sunni variant of radical Islam began with the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and has since expanded to six continents. It’s easy enough to de-link this problem from the Arab-Israeli conflict just by looking beyond the Middle East. The Taliban isn’t fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan to “liberate” Gaza. They throw acid in the faces of unveiled women. They blew up ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan with anti-aircraft guns. An independent Palestinian state could not possibly sate their bigotry or their appetite for destruction against others. And that’s just one example.

It’s hardly Israel’s fault that most Arab regimes are not democratic, and “linking” the Arab-Israeli conflict to Arab despotism only serves the region’s tyrants. Jay Nordlinger effectively skewered what he calls the excuse-makers after attending the World Economic Forum on the Middle East a few weeks ago in Jordan. “Arab countries can’t drop crippling socialism until Israel leaves the West Bank,” he wrote, paraphrasing these excuse-makers. “Nepotism must continue until Israel leaves the West Bank. Women cannot drive until Israel leaves — and ‘honor killings’ must go on. Corruption must prevail in Arab countries as long as Israel occupies the West Bank. Etc., etc. This attitude is not only insane — it is harmful to the point of destructiveness.”

No doubt the Iranian regime sincerely hates Israel, and an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a grave threat to Israelis, but the Iranians aren’t at all likely to give up their push for these weapons if the West Bank and Gaza become sovereign. Iran’s current government has been aggressively striving for regional dominance over the Arab states since the Khomeinists emerged as the strong horse in the post-revolution struggle for power. Iran, or the Persian Empire as it used to be called, has fought for regional dominance since the time before Islam even existed.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, far more people have been killed by Sunnis and Shias slugging it with each other (a million alone in the Iran-Iraq war, and tens of thousands in Iraq much more recently) than have ever been killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The hatred of Sunnis and Shias for one another predates the founding of Israel by more than 1,000 years.

It will be a great day when the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved at last. But the Middle East would remain a violent dysfunctional backwater if it ended tomorrow. It’s not at all likely to end on President Obama’s watch anyway. It won’t be the president’s fault. Nothing anyone can do in the short term will persuade the likes of Hamas to give up the dream of the destruction of Israel, let alone sign a permanent peace treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu. It certainly won’t happen before Iran can develop nuclear weapons, as the president hopes. The time left on that clock is too short.

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Sestak Won’t Be Chased Off

Joe Sestak says even a plea from the president won’t keep him out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary race against Arlen Specter. And that’s not all:

Sestak also said that he wouldn’t back off even if the major unions reached a deal with Specter on health care and on the Employee Free Choice Act and endorsed Specter in the primary. And in an ironic twist, Sestak also revealed that a few months ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election — and that it showed Sestak winning. Specter, of course, is now the DSCC’s candidate.

Specter is leading in a recent poll but that is close to meaningless over a year before the primary and at a time when Sestak is still not widely known.

Some might think Sestak is being lured into the race by Big Labor and others who simply want Specter to “shape up” and start voting the Democratic party line. But there are two problems with that. First: Specter vote the party line!? Yeah, right. And second: the Democratic primary voters might just like Sestak more. There’s no telling what they’ll think a year from now — after a year of watching Specter and after watching millions of dollars in ads.

What is noteworthy is that at least in some races the prospect of the president and Democratic Beltway establishment campaigning for an opponent isn’t all that intimidating. In fact, by 2010, it may be a net plus.

Joe Sestak says even a plea from the president won’t keep him out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary race against Arlen Specter. And that’s not all:

Sestak also said that he wouldn’t back off even if the major unions reached a deal with Specter on health care and on the Employee Free Choice Act and endorsed Specter in the primary. And in an ironic twist, Sestak also revealed that a few months ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election — and that it showed Sestak winning. Specter, of course, is now the DSCC’s candidate.

Specter is leading in a recent poll but that is close to meaningless over a year before the primary and at a time when Sestak is still not widely known.

Some might think Sestak is being lured into the race by Big Labor and others who simply want Specter to “shape up” and start voting the Democratic party line. But there are two problems with that. First: Specter vote the party line!? Yeah, right. And second: the Democratic primary voters might just like Sestak more. There’s no telling what they’ll think a year from now — after a year of watching Specter and after watching millions of dollars in ads.

What is noteworthy is that at least in some races the prospect of the president and Democratic Beltway establishment campaigning for an opponent isn’t all that intimidating. In fact, by 2010, it may be a net plus.

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When Obama Goes to Dresden

President Obama will be visiting two places in Germany on June 5: the concentration camp at Buchenwald and Dresden.  It is hard for me to convey how tactless, bad, and wrong I think this juxtaposition is.  In fact, I do not think that Obama should go to Dresden at all.  As I’ve noted in a paper just published by the Heritage Foundation, the Anglo-American bombing raid on Dresden on February 13, 1945, is the subject of a great deal of mythology, most of it concocted by the Nazis and spread by the Communists after the war.

But mythology matters, because it creates its own symbolism.  Whether he intends it or not, Obama’s appearance at Dresden will, to many Germans, have the feel of the Emperor’s pilgrimage of penance to Canossa.  There are better and worse ways to handle a visit to Dresden: the worst would be for Obama to start apologizing for Dresden – which, given its iconic status in myth, would be an apology for the air war as a whole.

The myth of Dresden is essentially unchallengeable in the minds of those who want, for reasons of contemporary politics, to accept it. It would have been better if Obama had recognized this.  He should
simply have said to the Germans that, while he felt it was necessary to go to Buchenwald, he did not feel the same compulsion about Dresden, and that he would prefer to meet Chancellor Merkel somewhere
else.

The fact that Obama accepted the Dresden location gives me the horrible feeling that he recognizes its symbolism and intends to do in Germany what he has already done in Strasbourg: apologize for the U.S. Except in this case, he will be apologizing for the Allied conduct of World War II.  I hope I am wrong about this.

Dresden’s symbolism is particularly potent now, because Germany is holding European elections on June 7, and national elections on September 27.  Whether he intends it or not, Obama is intervening in German politics by giving Merkel the kudos of being the German leader who brought an American president to Dresden.  That is a minor matter compared to the fundamental moral issues raised by the Holocaust and the Second World War, but it is unwise nonetheless.  From Egypt to Germany to France, this latest trip is all about symbolism, and, in Germany, Obama, so far, is striking a note that could not be more discordant with his final stop on the beaches of Normandy.

President Obama will be visiting two places in Germany on June 5: the concentration camp at Buchenwald and Dresden.  It is hard for me to convey how tactless, bad, and wrong I think this juxtaposition is.  In fact, I do not think that Obama should go to Dresden at all.  As I’ve noted in a paper just published by the Heritage Foundation, the Anglo-American bombing raid on Dresden on February 13, 1945, is the subject of a great deal of mythology, most of it concocted by the Nazis and spread by the Communists after the war.

But mythology matters, because it creates its own symbolism.  Whether he intends it or not, Obama’s appearance at Dresden will, to many Germans, have the feel of the Emperor’s pilgrimage of penance to Canossa.  There are better and worse ways to handle a visit to Dresden: the worst would be for Obama to start apologizing for Dresden – which, given its iconic status in myth, would be an apology for the air war as a whole.

The myth of Dresden is essentially unchallengeable in the minds of those who want, for reasons of contemporary politics, to accept it. It would have been better if Obama had recognized this.  He should
simply have said to the Germans that, while he felt it was necessary to go to Buchenwald, he did not feel the same compulsion about Dresden, and that he would prefer to meet Chancellor Merkel somewhere
else.

The fact that Obama accepted the Dresden location gives me the horrible feeling that he recognizes its symbolism and intends to do in Germany what he has already done in Strasbourg: apologize for the U.S. Except in this case, he will be apologizing for the Allied conduct of World War II.  I hope I am wrong about this.

Dresden’s symbolism is particularly potent now, because Germany is holding European elections on June 7, and national elections on September 27.  Whether he intends it or not, Obama is intervening in German politics by giving Merkel the kudos of being the German leader who brought an American president to Dresden.  That is a minor matter compared to the fundamental moral issues raised by the Holocaust and the Second World War, but it is unwise nonetheless.  From Egypt to Germany to France, this latest trip is all about symbolism, and, in Germany, Obama, so far, is striking a note that could not be more discordant with his final stop on the beaches of Normandy.

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New Haven Firefighters

The story of Frank Ricci will be known to millions of Americans before the confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotormayor is finished. He is the white dyslexic firefighter who doggedly studied for the New Haven firefighter promotion exam, even buying special materials so he could master the information by listening rather than reading. The city threw out his test when seventeen whites and two Hispanics but no African Americans got passing scores.

The district court rejected Ricci’s claim because everyone’s test was tossed, and that meant there was no discrimination. (Yes, tossing the losers’ tests isn’t really “tossing,” but more about that later.) Sotomayor and two colleagues on the Second Circuit gave the claim short shrift and in a paragraph (with no examination of the Constitutional issues) upheld the district court decision. Sotomayor’s colleague Jose Cabranes at the time was clearly displeased that Sotomayor and her two panelists, he said, “failed to grapple with the questions of exceptional importance raised in this appeal.”

At the Supreme Court, the justices seem to agree:

Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at the claim that rejecting the results was racially neutral. “It’s neutral because you throw it out for the losers as well as for the winners?” he asked. “That’s neutrality?”

Chief Justice John Roberts, who views with distaste nearly all racially conscious government actions, suggested that the city junked the results because people of the wrong race came out on top. Does the city “get do-overs until it comes out right?” he asked. The court’s four solid conservatives appeared likely to get a fifth vote in Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has found race-conscious programs acceptable only if they don’t target specific individuals.

So what does this mean for Sotomayor? Several things, I think. First, her legal craftsmanship or lack thereof is an issue. Why the cursory opinion? It is not clear whether she missed the big issues or whether she was trying to keep the case from a full review. Neither is a good. Second, what is her conception of equal protection if not the right to be judged equally by the government according to one’s ability? (Does she really think the city was practicing race neutrality?) Third, if empathy is her watchword how did that figure into the case here, if at all? Ricci seems a deserving fellow, at least entitled to an explanation from the court, if not his promotion.

In this one case we see the multiple issues which will be at the center of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. And what’s more we have a story that the average American can understand and relate to. The disabled guy worked hard under adverse circumstances and did better than most of his non-disabled peers, only to be told, “Sorry, the ‘numbers’ didn’t come out right.” And this is justice? Most Americans, I suspect, will think not and will want to know why Sotomayor acted as she did.

The mainstream media and some nervous, largely unnamed Republican strategists are suggesting that opposing Sotomayor will be bad politics. But really, which is more politically dangerous: asking hard questions of a lifetime appointee or defending a judge who gave Ricci the boot without so much as a full opinion? We’ll find out this summer.

The story of Frank Ricci will be known to millions of Americans before the confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotormayor is finished. He is the white dyslexic firefighter who doggedly studied for the New Haven firefighter promotion exam, even buying special materials so he could master the information by listening rather than reading. The city threw out his test when seventeen whites and two Hispanics but no African Americans got passing scores.

The district court rejected Ricci’s claim because everyone’s test was tossed, and that meant there was no discrimination. (Yes, tossing the losers’ tests isn’t really “tossing,” but more about that later.) Sotomayor and two colleagues on the Second Circuit gave the claim short shrift and in a paragraph (with no examination of the Constitutional issues) upheld the district court decision. Sotomayor’s colleague Jose Cabranes at the time was clearly displeased that Sotomayor and her two panelists, he said, “failed to grapple with the questions of exceptional importance raised in this appeal.”

At the Supreme Court, the justices seem to agree:

Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at the claim that rejecting the results was racially neutral. “It’s neutral because you throw it out for the losers as well as for the winners?” he asked. “That’s neutrality?”

Chief Justice John Roberts, who views with distaste nearly all racially conscious government actions, suggested that the city junked the results because people of the wrong race came out on top. Does the city “get do-overs until it comes out right?” he asked. The court’s four solid conservatives appeared likely to get a fifth vote in Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has found race-conscious programs acceptable only if they don’t target specific individuals.

So what does this mean for Sotomayor? Several things, I think. First, her legal craftsmanship or lack thereof is an issue. Why the cursory opinion? It is not clear whether she missed the big issues or whether she was trying to keep the case from a full review. Neither is a good. Second, what is her conception of equal protection if not the right to be judged equally by the government according to one’s ability? (Does she really think the city was practicing race neutrality?) Third, if empathy is her watchword how did that figure into the case here, if at all? Ricci seems a deserving fellow, at least entitled to an explanation from the court, if not his promotion.

In this one case we see the multiple issues which will be at the center of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. And what’s more we have a story that the average American can understand and relate to. The disabled guy worked hard under adverse circumstances and did better than most of his non-disabled peers, only to be told, “Sorry, the ‘numbers’ didn’t come out right.” And this is justice? Most Americans, I suspect, will think not and will want to know why Sotomayor acted as she did.

The mainstream media and some nervous, largely unnamed Republican strategists are suggesting that opposing Sotomayor will be bad politics. But really, which is more politically dangerous: asking hard questions of a lifetime appointee or defending a judge who gave Ricci the boot without so much as a full opinion? We’ll find out this summer.

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You Need an Advanced Degree to Be This Dumb

Over the last week or so, two colleges have made national news for acts of colossal stupidity. And, in a refreshing reminder of how some things are truly bipartisan, they came at it from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

First up, at Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell) the administration came to a conclusion: it is simply not possible to be a good Christian and a Democrat. So they withdrew official college recognition of their chapter of the College Democrats. Members are appealing the school’s ruling, but it appears that the national Democratic party’s pro-choice stance on abortion is the deal-breaker for the school.

Meanwhile, this week  a student at the Community College of Alleghany County attempted to form a new organization. Christine Brashier whipped up and handed out pamphlets in an attempt to recruit enough fellow students to form a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. This group attempts to persuade schools to rethink their “gun-free zone” policies and allow those students who possess a valid permit to carry a concealed firearm to do so on campus as well.

Well, that didn’t go over very well with CCAC officials, who banned her pamphlets, ordered her to destroy all copies, and threatened her with further academic discipline.

Fortunately for Ms. Brashier, CCAC is a public school that takes public funding, so the Constitution protects her rights. She has FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) on her side, and a pretty strong argument to back her up.
In both cases, universities have let their ideology blind them to reason and common sense. In both cases, students were seeking to present an alternative to school policy in a non-confrontational, civil way, hoping to inspire discussion and debate on matters they thought important.

Silly students. Don’t they know that’s the last thing that colleges are interested in nowadays?

Over the last week or so, two colleges have made national news for acts of colossal stupidity. And, in a refreshing reminder of how some things are truly bipartisan, they came at it from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

First up, at Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell) the administration came to a conclusion: it is simply not possible to be a good Christian and a Democrat. So they withdrew official college recognition of their chapter of the College Democrats. Members are appealing the school’s ruling, but it appears that the national Democratic party’s pro-choice stance on abortion is the deal-breaker for the school.

Meanwhile, this week  a student at the Community College of Alleghany County attempted to form a new organization. Christine Brashier whipped up and handed out pamphlets in an attempt to recruit enough fellow students to form a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. This group attempts to persuade schools to rethink their “gun-free zone” policies and allow those students who possess a valid permit to carry a concealed firearm to do so on campus as well.

Well, that didn’t go over very well with CCAC officials, who banned her pamphlets, ordered her to destroy all copies, and threatened her with further academic discipline.

Fortunately for Ms. Brashier, CCAC is a public school that takes public funding, so the Constitution protects her rights. She has FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) on her side, and a pretty strong argument to back her up.
In both cases, universities have let their ideology blind them to reason and common sense. In both cases, students were seeking to present an alternative to school policy in a non-confrontational, civil way, hoping to inspire discussion and debate on matters they thought important.

Silly students. Don’t they know that’s the last thing that colleges are interested in nowadays?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The New York Times runs a remarkably tough piece on Sotomayor’s temperament. Her defenders call her tough. “But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor’s sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner — some lawyers have described her as ‘difficult’ and ‘nasty’ — raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen.” Read the whole thing — including the lawyers’ reviews. Be prepared to hear the “it’s just sexism” defense.

Obama says he doesn’t want to run car companies. Hmm: “While President Obama has said he has no interest in running GM or Chrysler, into which the government has poured more than $20 billion combined, he has said officials have an interest in protecting the taxpayers’ investment. Nevertheless, federal officials are preparing to be deeply involved in the companies well after they emerge from their respective bankruptcies.”

And the results are far reaching: By rescuing a “favored class” (i.e. the UAW) over bondholders Obama has potentially undermined other industries. Some analysts and bondholders now fear “unionized companies will have trouble attracting cash in the bond market if the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler give creditors substantially smaller payouts than they traditionally received.”

Meanwhile, some companies have gotten wise: the toxic asset purchase plan and the FDIC Legacy Loan program are fizzling. It seems financial institutions are wary about doing business with the government, fearing “the program’s rules will change in a political atmosphere hostile to Wall Street.” Can’t say they haven’t learned something in the last four months.

USA Today reports: “States hit hardest by the recession received only a few of the government’s first stimulus contracts, even though the glut of new federal spending was meant to target places where the economic pain has been particularly severe.” You don’t think money was awarded for political reasons, do you?

In the New Jersey gubernatorial primary race the rock-ribbed “conservative” Steve Lonegan sounds like a Beltway Democrat: “Lonegan conceded yesterday during a meeting with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board that as many as half of New Jersey residents would pay more under a flat tax plan. But he said lower-income residents can afford to pay a few hundred dollars more to foster an economic climate that would improve their chances of landing a high-paying job.”

Rasmussen has Chris Christie with a double-digit lead over Lonegan going into Tuesday’s New Jersey gubernatorial primary election.

In Florida’s GOP senate primary race Marco Rubio scores some conservative endorsements and Charlie Crist raises some taxes.

Meg Whitman picks up endorsements from John McCain and Eric Cantor in California’s gubernatorial primary.

The Virginia gubernatorial primary gets dicey: “In a governor’s race that’s all about jobs, Terry McAuliffe is facing questions about huge profits he made from a company that collapsed two years later, leaving 10,000 people unemployed.The multimillionaire businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, a close friend of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, is pledging to use his business savvy to land more jobs for his state than any of his fellow governors. But since he entered the race in January, he’s been dogged by questions about his investments in telecom giant Global Crossing.”

Via Jake Tapper: “William Cohen, a Republican senator from Maine who served as President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary from 1997 through 2001, says that President Obama’s decision to reduce the funding commitment to the US missile-defense system by $1.4 billion ‘sends the signal that we do not take the threats of rogue regimes seriously, and are willing to take the risk that current technologies are sufficient to prevent devastating accidents or miscalculations.’ Given North Korean actions, Cohen says, this is a big mistake.”  If Obama is looking to reverse a bad call (i.e. cutting missile defense) wouldn’t now be a good time to send a muscular signal to rogue states?

The New York Times runs a remarkably tough piece on Sotomayor’s temperament. Her defenders call her tough. “But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor’s sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner — some lawyers have described her as ‘difficult’ and ‘nasty’ — raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen.” Read the whole thing — including the lawyers’ reviews. Be prepared to hear the “it’s just sexism” defense.

Obama says he doesn’t want to run car companies. Hmm: “While President Obama has said he has no interest in running GM or Chrysler, into which the government has poured more than $20 billion combined, he has said officials have an interest in protecting the taxpayers’ investment. Nevertheless, federal officials are preparing to be deeply involved in the companies well after they emerge from their respective bankruptcies.”

And the results are far reaching: By rescuing a “favored class” (i.e. the UAW) over bondholders Obama has potentially undermined other industries. Some analysts and bondholders now fear “unionized companies will have trouble attracting cash in the bond market if the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler give creditors substantially smaller payouts than they traditionally received.”

Meanwhile, some companies have gotten wise: the toxic asset purchase plan and the FDIC Legacy Loan program are fizzling. It seems financial institutions are wary about doing business with the government, fearing “the program’s rules will change in a political atmosphere hostile to Wall Street.” Can’t say they haven’t learned something in the last four months.

USA Today reports: “States hit hardest by the recession received only a few of the government’s first stimulus contracts, even though the glut of new federal spending was meant to target places where the economic pain has been particularly severe.” You don’t think money was awarded for political reasons, do you?

In the New Jersey gubernatorial primary race the rock-ribbed “conservative” Steve Lonegan sounds like a Beltway Democrat: “Lonegan conceded yesterday during a meeting with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board that as many as half of New Jersey residents would pay more under a flat tax plan. But he said lower-income residents can afford to pay a few hundred dollars more to foster an economic climate that would improve their chances of landing a high-paying job.”

Rasmussen has Chris Christie with a double-digit lead over Lonegan going into Tuesday’s New Jersey gubernatorial primary election.

In Florida’s GOP senate primary race Marco Rubio scores some conservative endorsements and Charlie Crist raises some taxes.

Meg Whitman picks up endorsements from John McCain and Eric Cantor in California’s gubernatorial primary.

The Virginia gubernatorial primary gets dicey: “In a governor’s race that’s all about jobs, Terry McAuliffe is facing questions about huge profits he made from a company that collapsed two years later, leaving 10,000 people unemployed.The multimillionaire businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman, a close friend of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, is pledging to use his business savvy to land more jobs for his state than any of his fellow governors. But since he entered the race in January, he’s been dogged by questions about his investments in telecom giant Global Crossing.”

Via Jake Tapper: “William Cohen, a Republican senator from Maine who served as President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary from 1997 through 2001, says that President Obama’s decision to reduce the funding commitment to the US missile-defense system by $1.4 billion ‘sends the signal that we do not take the threats of rogue regimes seriously, and are willing to take the risk that current technologies are sufficient to prevent devastating accidents or miscalculations.’ Given North Korean actions, Cohen says, this is a big mistake.”  If Obama is looking to reverse a bad call (i.e. cutting missile defense) wouldn’t now be a good time to send a muscular signal to rogue states?

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CBO Rains on Obama Parade

The president is “upbeat” about the economy these days, but increasingly others who can hardly be characterized as partisan critics are casting doubt on the impact of the stimulus and the outlook for recovery. This report explains:

The CBO report found that through April only about $19 billion in stimulus funds has been spent.

In addition, [Douglas] Elmendorf predicted, unemployment is expected to peak at 10.5 percent in the second half of next year. Last month’s rate was 8.9 percent, up from 8.1 percent in February, when the stimulus became law. The number of unemployed increased by 1.26 million during the past two months to 13.7 million.

The administration’s report Wednesday was nonetheless upbeat, maintaining that in the past 100 days, “We have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs and helped communities and tribes in every state and territory.”

[. . .]

Now, Elmendorf said, the economy has weakened to the point that, “If we were writing down a new forecast today, we would go off that peak and we would raise it. Currently, we expect the unemployment rate might peak around 10.5 percent in the second half of next year.”

Worse, he warned, “The recovery will falter in 2010 if private sector demand for goods and services doesn’t accelerate to offset the diminishing federal stimulus.”

If the CBO is right, does Obama declare his own stimulus plan a failure and ask for a second one? Or do the unlucky Democrats running in 2010 just have to buck up and face the voters? I suspect that Congress will find it hard to justify yet another Keynesian boondoggle after earlier attempts by both George W. Bush and Obama failed. And, after all, Obama himself has told us the already accumulated debt is “unsustainable.” Perhaps the same can be said for  Obama’s economic approach.

The president is “upbeat” about the economy these days, but increasingly others who can hardly be characterized as partisan critics are casting doubt on the impact of the stimulus and the outlook for recovery. This report explains:

The CBO report found that through April only about $19 billion in stimulus funds has been spent.

In addition, [Douglas] Elmendorf predicted, unemployment is expected to peak at 10.5 percent in the second half of next year. Last month’s rate was 8.9 percent, up from 8.1 percent in February, when the stimulus became law. The number of unemployed increased by 1.26 million during the past two months to 13.7 million.

The administration’s report Wednesday was nonetheless upbeat, maintaining that in the past 100 days, “We have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs and helped communities and tribes in every state and territory.”

[. . .]

Now, Elmendorf said, the economy has weakened to the point that, “If we were writing down a new forecast today, we would go off that peak and we would raise it. Currently, we expect the unemployment rate might peak around 10.5 percent in the second half of next year.”

Worse, he warned, “The recovery will falter in 2010 if private sector demand for goods and services doesn’t accelerate to offset the diminishing federal stimulus.”

If the CBO is right, does Obama declare his own stimulus plan a failure and ask for a second one? Or do the unlucky Democrats running in 2010 just have to buck up and face the voters? I suspect that Congress will find it hard to justify yet another Keynesian boondoggle after earlier attempts by both George W. Bush and Obama failed. And, after all, Obama himself has told us the already accumulated debt is “unsustainable.” Perhaps the same can be said for  Obama’s economic approach.

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Commentary of the Day

Epee, on Jennifer Rubin:

The views expressed by Sotomayor are basically legal realism or, as one of my law professors called it, “vulgar legal realism.” The idea is that the law is indeterminate and judges may be influenced by something as petty as what they had for breakfast. To Sotomayor, the decisions she reaches will be affected by her life experiences, which include those related to her being an Hispanic and a woman. She and other legal realists see nothing wrong with that, and believe that this is a more accurate view of how decisions are made than pretending that there’s a fixed law which all impartial judges will find.

As a result, her “32 words” are of a piece with her comments that the Court of Appeals is where policy is made. She figures out what she wants the decision to be, and then finds a basis for it, influenced by her life experiences. The same thinking underlies Obama’s call for “empathy” in decision-making, which is just another way of avoiding things like statutes and the Constitution. Or one could take the approach of Justice William Douglas in his concurring opinion in Roe v. Wade, where he couldn’t find support in the Constitution, so he claimed that it was there in the “penumbras.” The legal realist judge says that the law is whatever she says it is, the judicial version of Barack Obama’s “I won.”

Epee, on Jennifer Rubin:

The views expressed by Sotomayor are basically legal realism or, as one of my law professors called it, “vulgar legal realism.” The idea is that the law is indeterminate and judges may be influenced by something as petty as what they had for breakfast. To Sotomayor, the decisions she reaches will be affected by her life experiences, which include those related to her being an Hispanic and a woman. She and other legal realists see nothing wrong with that, and believe that this is a more accurate view of how decisions are made than pretending that there’s a fixed law which all impartial judges will find.

As a result, her “32 words” are of a piece with her comments that the Court of Appeals is where policy is made. She figures out what she wants the decision to be, and then finds a basis for it, influenced by her life experiences. The same thinking underlies Obama’s call for “empathy” in decision-making, which is just another way of avoiding things like statutes and the Constitution. Or one could take the approach of Justice William Douglas in his concurring opinion in Roe v. Wade, where he couldn’t find support in the Constitution, so he claimed that it was there in the “penumbras.” The legal realist judge says that the law is whatever she says it is, the judicial version of Barack Obama’s “I won.”

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Roxana Saberi Tells Her Story

Roxana Saberi has given an interview to NPR describing her harrowing tale of captivity in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. It should be read in its entirety. It provides a useful and rare insight into the nature of the regime. One part of the interview I thought particularly poignant:

MS. SABERI. . .So I think these experiences, they taught me a lot and I learned a lot from the other political prisoners there, too – the other women – because after several weeks, I was put into a cell with them – many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression.

Many of them are still there today; they don’t enjoy the kind of international support that I did.  And they’re not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they’re released; they would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in.

MS. BLOCK:  What were those conversations like?

MS. SABERI:  They gave me a lot of inspiration.  I learned a lot from those women.  I think they’re some of the most admirable women I’ve met, not only in Iran, but all over the world.  I shared a cell with Silva Harotonian, who is a researcher of health issues, and she’s been sentenced to three years in prison.  I also shared a cell with university students, Baha’is – a wide range of women.

I couldn’t help but think: why is it that we don’t hear of these women? Well, for starters, our American media which remains obsessed with Obama’s “outreach” to Iran shows no interest in describing the nature of the Iranian regime and its victims. And more important, the Obama administration has gone mute on human rights, whether in Iran or China. Addressing such issues constitutes a stumbling block to “better relations.”

Unlike Natan Sharansky and the refuseniks of the Soviet Union who gained strength and were sustained during the Cold War by Ronald Reagan’s persistent commitment to freedom there is no such voice today to offer hope or comfort to those locked up in Evin or similar hell holes around the world. “Hope” and “change” apparently don’t extend to them.

Saberi has demonstrated a type of grace and courage at which most of us can only marvel. Moreover, she has done what her own government is failing to do — shine a bright light on the face of tyranny.

Roxana Saberi has given an interview to NPR describing her harrowing tale of captivity in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. It should be read in its entirety. It provides a useful and rare insight into the nature of the regime. One part of the interview I thought particularly poignant:

MS. SABERI. . .So I think these experiences, they taught me a lot and I learned a lot from the other political prisoners there, too – the other women – because after several weeks, I was put into a cell with them – many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression.

Many of them are still there today; they don’t enjoy the kind of international support that I did.  And they’re not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they’re released; they would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in.

MS. BLOCK:  What were those conversations like?

MS. SABERI:  They gave me a lot of inspiration.  I learned a lot from those women.  I think they’re some of the most admirable women I’ve met, not only in Iran, but all over the world.  I shared a cell with Silva Harotonian, who is a researcher of health issues, and she’s been sentenced to three years in prison.  I also shared a cell with university students, Baha’is – a wide range of women.

I couldn’t help but think: why is it that we don’t hear of these women? Well, for starters, our American media which remains obsessed with Obama’s “outreach” to Iran shows no interest in describing the nature of the Iranian regime and its victims. And more important, the Obama administration has gone mute on human rights, whether in Iran or China. Addressing such issues constitutes a stumbling block to “better relations.”

Unlike Natan Sharansky and the refuseniks of the Soviet Union who gained strength and were sustained during the Cold War by Ronald Reagan’s persistent commitment to freedom there is no such voice today to offer hope or comfort to those locked up in Evin or similar hell holes around the world. “Hope” and “change” apparently don’t extend to them.

Saberi has demonstrated a type of grace and courage at which most of us can only marvel. Moreover, she has done what her own government is failing to do — shine a bright light on the face of tyranny.

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Re: 32

Supporters of the Sotomayor nomination are getting nervous about those 32 words. Lanny Davis declares, “She misspoke.” But did she? And how would Davis know that?

The difficulty with implementing all the helpful suggestions (“Don’t just clarify the statement, take it back.”) is that this may really represent her deeply held views and not be an isolated utterance. It just might be that she doesn’t think much of the notion that judges can or should be impartial and instead thinks it’s a good thing to bring some distinctive Latina jurisprudence to the bench. ( Don’t get me wrong — this is nonsense in my view, but I take her words crafted for a speech at a prominent law school as representative of her thinking, not some off-the-cuff slip.)

John Eastman points to other troubling statements, and the Wall Street Journal suggests there is more of this sort of thing out there:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives an honorary degree at Northeastern University in 2007. In law-school lectures, she has argued that the law reflects the experiences of those applying it.

“The law that lawyers practice and judges declare is not a definitive, capital ‘L’ law that many would like to think exists,” Judge Sotomayor said in her 1996 lecture at Suffolk University Law School, summarizing Judge Frank’s work.

Confidence in the legal system falters, she said, because the public “expects the law to be static and predictable” when in fact courts and lawyers are “constantly overhauling the law and adapting it to the realities of ever-changing social, industrial and political conditions.”

The fact that the White House hasn’t swooped in with the repair crew indicates either they don’t know what she thinks or they don’t know how to fix it without upsetting the very same leftist interest groups and civil rights groups that think this sort of thing is just swell. It is hard to believe the White House didn’t see this coming and didn’t have a game plan, but then we’ve seen their vetting process before. And, of course, in a White House and Justice Department populated by those who support the cottage industry of racial grievances and preferences this simply might not have seemed all that exceptional.

Once again, we see that Supreme Court confirmations are always interesting and rarely predictable.

Supporters of the Sotomayor nomination are getting nervous about those 32 words. Lanny Davis declares, “She misspoke.” But did she? And how would Davis know that?

The difficulty with implementing all the helpful suggestions (“Don’t just clarify the statement, take it back.”) is that this may really represent her deeply held views and not be an isolated utterance. It just might be that she doesn’t think much of the notion that judges can or should be impartial and instead thinks it’s a good thing to bring some distinctive Latina jurisprudence to the bench. ( Don’t get me wrong — this is nonsense in my view, but I take her words crafted for a speech at a prominent law school as representative of her thinking, not some off-the-cuff slip.)

John Eastman points to other troubling statements, and the Wall Street Journal suggests there is more of this sort of thing out there:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor receives an honorary degree at Northeastern University in 2007. In law-school lectures, she has argued that the law reflects the experiences of those applying it.

“The law that lawyers practice and judges declare is not a definitive, capital ‘L’ law that many would like to think exists,” Judge Sotomayor said in her 1996 lecture at Suffolk University Law School, summarizing Judge Frank’s work.

Confidence in the legal system falters, she said, because the public “expects the law to be static and predictable” when in fact courts and lawyers are “constantly overhauling the law and adapting it to the realities of ever-changing social, industrial and political conditions.”

The fact that the White House hasn’t swooped in with the repair crew indicates either they don’t know what she thinks or they don’t know how to fix it without upsetting the very same leftist interest groups and civil rights groups that think this sort of thing is just swell. It is hard to believe the White House didn’t see this coming and didn’t have a game plan, but then we’ve seen their vetting process before. And, of course, in a White House and Justice Department populated by those who support the cottage industry of racial grievances and preferences this simply might not have seemed all that exceptional.

Once again, we see that Supreme Court confirmations are always interesting and rarely predictable.

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In Praise of Disgust

Nicholas Kristof gets neuro-political:

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals.

How shall I put this?

Guilty. As. Charged.

There is no end to things that are okay with liberals but disgusting to me: human rights abuses in China, human rights abuses in Myanmar, human rights abuses in Egypt, human rights abuses in Iran, human rights abuses in Syria, the neglected population of Gaza, the malnourished population of North Korea, the imprisoned population of Cuba, an al Qaeda led Iraq, a re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and so on.

What liberals these days call realism is nothing but a studied indifference to the planet’s grotesqueries. Iran is the world leader in child hangings? Let’s call it a great culture and offer our hand in friendship? The Chinese manufacturing sphere uses an army of industrial slaves? Let’s give ‘em a wink and talk about the weather. Cuba outlaws dissent? Let’s throw some business their way. Egypt jails political bloggers? Set up a presidential address.

Kristof is onto something here.

But, then, wasn’t it Harry Reid who found the odor of common Americans wafting from the tourist area of the Capitol too much to bear?

Nicholas Kristof gets neuro-political:

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals.

How shall I put this?

Guilty. As. Charged.

There is no end to things that are okay with liberals but disgusting to me: human rights abuses in China, human rights abuses in Myanmar, human rights abuses in Egypt, human rights abuses in Iran, human rights abuses in Syria, the neglected population of Gaza, the malnourished population of North Korea, the imprisoned population of Cuba, an al Qaeda led Iraq, a re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and so on.

What liberals these days call realism is nothing but a studied indifference to the planet’s grotesqueries. Iran is the world leader in child hangings? Let’s call it a great culture and offer our hand in friendship? The Chinese manufacturing sphere uses an army of industrial slaves? Let’s give ‘em a wink and talk about the weather. Cuba outlaws dissent? Let’s throw some business their way. Egypt jails political bloggers? Set up a presidential address.

Kristof is onto something here.

But, then, wasn’t it Harry Reid who found the odor of common Americans wafting from the tourist area of the Capitol too much to bear?

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Let Pat Tillman Rest in Peace

Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal’s nomination to head coalition forces in Afghanistan is once again reviving the Pat Tillman controversy.

Tillman, you will recall, was an NFL player who became an Army Ranger and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time and as such he approved a Silver Star citation for Tillman which said he had died “in the line of devastating enemy fire.” Subsequently it emerged that he had been killed not by enemy fire but by “friendly fire”– that grotesque term for accidental casualties inflicted by one’s own forces.

Tillman’s parents and numerous others accused the Army of a cover-up designed to protect its own image. There may be an element of truth here, but so what? In addition to protecting the Army, Tillman’s superior officers were also protecting his own reputation. Much better to die at the hands of the enemy, after all, than at the hands of one’s own mates.

Since time immemorial soldiers have been dying by accident — sometimes because of their own stupidity, sometimes because of the stupidity of their fellow soldiers, more often because a battlefield is a terrifying and uncertain environment and mistakes get made in the heat of action. And since time immemorial commanders have been tidying up accounts of soldiers’ deaths to spare the feelings of their families.

Traditionally, officers will tell parents that their sons died “instantly,” “without feeling any pain,” and that they were heroic defenders of their nation’s honor. Often the reality is otherwise. A soldier may have died a long agonizing death after considerable suffering, and his actions may not have affected the outcome of the battle one iota. But why inflict the ugly truth on the home front?

What purpose does it serve? The only impact of publishing the truth, as the Tillman case demonstrates, is that it leads to hurt feelings all around and somehow diminishes the fallen soldier.

In the end, unless homicide is involved, it really doesn’t matter who fired the weapon that killed a soldier. Simply by being on the battlefield and putting himself (or herself) in harm’s way, the deceased is a hero and deserves to be remembered as such. Personally I would give Tillman’s commanders a medal — not a dressing down — for trying to prettify this typically terrible incident that occurred in the fog of war.

Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal’s nomination to head coalition forces in Afghanistan is once again reviving the Pat Tillman controversy.

Tillman, you will recall, was an NFL player who became an Army Ranger and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time and as such he approved a Silver Star citation for Tillman which said he had died “in the line of devastating enemy fire.” Subsequently it emerged that he had been killed not by enemy fire but by “friendly fire”– that grotesque term for accidental casualties inflicted by one’s own forces.

Tillman’s parents and numerous others accused the Army of a cover-up designed to protect its own image. There may be an element of truth here, but so what? In addition to protecting the Army, Tillman’s superior officers were also protecting his own reputation. Much better to die at the hands of the enemy, after all, than at the hands of one’s own mates.

Since time immemorial soldiers have been dying by accident — sometimes because of their own stupidity, sometimes because of the stupidity of their fellow soldiers, more often because a battlefield is a terrifying and uncertain environment and mistakes get made in the heat of action. And since time immemorial commanders have been tidying up accounts of soldiers’ deaths to spare the feelings of their families.

Traditionally, officers will tell parents that their sons died “instantly,” “without feeling any pain,” and that they were heroic defenders of their nation’s honor. Often the reality is otherwise. A soldier may have died a long agonizing death after considerable suffering, and his actions may not have affected the outcome of the battle one iota. But why inflict the ugly truth on the home front?

What purpose does it serve? The only impact of publishing the truth, as the Tillman case demonstrates, is that it leads to hurt feelings all around and somehow diminishes the fallen soldier.

In the end, unless homicide is involved, it really doesn’t matter who fired the weapon that killed a soldier. Simply by being on the battlefield and putting himself (or herself) in harm’s way, the deceased is a hero and deserves to be remembered as such. Personally I would give Tillman’s commanders a medal — not a dressing down — for trying to prettify this typically terrible incident that occurred in the fog of war.

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Obstacles to Peace

In “The Two State Solution Illusion,” the Vancouver Sun National Post has a devastating report on a meeting earlier this week with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, held while Ottawa’s political leaders were meeting at the same time with Mahmoud Abbas:

[W]hile the Conservatives condemned Israel’s settlements as an obstacle to a peaceful “two-state solution”, with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Abbas also mouthing support for the same vision for Israel and the Palestinians, Toameh couldn’t help but chuckle. “I laugh when they talk about a two-state solution,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s not going to work. But we all have to say we support it, maybe because that’s what [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants.”

. . . [Toameh] dismisses [the idea of a two-state solution] because, as those living in the territories well know, the Palestinians cannot even co-exist with themselves, let alone with Israel. Since Yassir Arafat died-”the only good thing he ever did,” Toameh says-life for the average Palestinian has gone from miserable to worse; the territories descended into low-intensity civil war, with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the last three years amidst the political and revenge-motivated attacks of Hamas on Fatah and Fatah on Hamas, as well as the marginal mayhem of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. For the first time, more Palestinians are killed from internecine violence than in conflicts with Israel.

Toameh thinks neither Fatah nor Hamas actually govern in their respective areas, and that both have proven themselves incapable of doing so:

Neither [Fatah or Hamas] party enjoys credibility or actually governs in any real sense the anarchic territories, where unemployment exceeds 60%-though Hamas is at least closer to legitimacy, enjoying far more popular support than Abbas does (Palestinians see Western support for Fatah as Zionist meddling, he says, driving them further into the arms of Hamas and other jihadists). “Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” he says.

. . . Far from demonstrating a capability to create a functioning, responsible civil society, he says, Palestinians have only proven their willingness to tolerate chaos, mob-rule and terror. They watched as, instead of building hospitals and schools and infrastructure with the billions sent to Ramallah and Gaza, Arafat lined his own pockets, Fatah fattened its cronies, and Hamas purchased weapons. . . .

. . . Palestinians have opted to make for themselves a new Afghanistan, a savage playground of corrupt warlords and Islamist fanatics. The world already has enough states like that. And any so-called solution that proposes to create another is no solution at all.

Somehow, I don’t think freezing all settlement activity is going to solve this problem, nor will any grand new plan.

In “The Two State Solution Illusion,” the Vancouver Sun National Post has a devastating report on a meeting earlier this week with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Arab West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, held while Ottawa’s political leaders were meeting at the same time with Mahmoud Abbas:

[W]hile the Conservatives condemned Israel’s settlements as an obstacle to a peaceful “two-state solution”, with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Abbas also mouthing support for the same vision for Israel and the Palestinians, Toameh couldn’t help but chuckle. “I laugh when they talk about a two-state solution,” he said. “It’s unreal. It’s not going to work. But we all have to say we support it, maybe because that’s what [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants.”

. . . [Toameh] dismisses [the idea of a two-state solution] because, as those living in the territories well know, the Palestinians cannot even co-exist with themselves, let alone with Israel. Since Yassir Arafat died-”the only good thing he ever did,” Toameh says-life for the average Palestinian has gone from miserable to worse; the territories descended into low-intensity civil war, with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the last three years amidst the political and revenge-motivated attacks of Hamas on Fatah and Fatah on Hamas, as well as the marginal mayhem of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. For the first time, more Palestinians are killed from internecine violence than in conflicts with Israel.

Toameh thinks neither Fatah nor Hamas actually govern in their respective areas, and that both have proven themselves incapable of doing so:

Neither [Fatah or Hamas] party enjoys credibility or actually governs in any real sense the anarchic territories, where unemployment exceeds 60%-though Hamas is at least closer to legitimacy, enjoying far more popular support than Abbas does (Palestinians see Western support for Fatah as Zionist meddling, he says, driving them further into the arms of Hamas and other jihadists). “Abbas doesn’t even have power in downtown Ramallah, where he works and lives,” he says.

. . . Far from demonstrating a capability to create a functioning, responsible civil society, he says, Palestinians have only proven their willingness to tolerate chaos, mob-rule and terror. They watched as, instead of building hospitals and schools and infrastructure with the billions sent to Ramallah and Gaza, Arafat lined his own pockets, Fatah fattened its cronies, and Hamas purchased weapons. . . .

. . . Palestinians have opted to make for themselves a new Afghanistan, a savage playground of corrupt warlords and Islamist fanatics. The world already has enough states like that. And any so-called solution that proposes to create another is no solution at all.

Somehow, I don’t think freezing all settlement activity is going to solve this problem, nor will any grand new plan.

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Step Right Up! Get Your Governor!

Although Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner, the Washington Post’s editorial board endorsed Creigh Deeds in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. There’s not much difference on the issues between them or the third candidate, Brian Moran, but McAuliffe’s personality is, well, distinctive. The Post reports:

There is a certain amount of showmanship in any political race, but those who know McAuliffe best describe a man who was a barker before the political tents ever went up in Virginia. In his personal and professional life, McAuliffe has always talked louder, moved quicker and thought bigger than most of his peers. . . McAuliffe’s personality could work against him if it comes off as too loud, too big, too much. He once wrestled an alligator for a political donation. Another time, he stopped off to give a speech while taking his wife and newborn child home from the hospital.

The rest of the story leaves one exhausted and bemused, not unlike McAuliffe himself would.

But none of this may matter to Virginia primary voters, and only about 4% of them are expected to turn out anyway. Still,  one can’t underestimate how different McAuliffe is from the last two Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who were low-key, business-like and, yes, a little dull. It’s not just that McAuliffe, unlike his predecessors, is new to Virginia state politics; it is that he’s from some other political universe where brashness and boastful exaggeration are considered positive attributes.

How McAuliffe will wear on voters in a long general election is anyone’s guess. But for now he’s hoping Virginia, known for its non-partisan and cordial style of politics, is ready for a change. It’s not every day that Virginia gets, as the Post describes him, a “carnival barker” who wants to be governor.

Although Terry McAuliffe is the front-runner, the Washington Post’s editorial board endorsed Creigh Deeds in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. There’s not much difference on the issues between them or the third candidate, Brian Moran, but McAuliffe’s personality is, well, distinctive. The Post reports:

There is a certain amount of showmanship in any political race, but those who know McAuliffe best describe a man who was a barker before the political tents ever went up in Virginia. In his personal and professional life, McAuliffe has always talked louder, moved quicker and thought bigger than most of his peers. . . McAuliffe’s personality could work against him if it comes off as too loud, too big, too much. He once wrestled an alligator for a political donation. Another time, he stopped off to give a speech while taking his wife and newborn child home from the hospital.

The rest of the story leaves one exhausted and bemused, not unlike McAuliffe himself would.

But none of this may matter to Virginia primary voters, and only about 4% of them are expected to turn out anyway. Still,  one can’t underestimate how different McAuliffe is from the last two Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who were low-key, business-like and, yes, a little dull. It’s not just that McAuliffe, unlike his predecessors, is new to Virginia state politics; it is that he’s from some other political universe where brashness and boastful exaggeration are considered positive attributes.

How McAuliffe will wear on voters in a long general election is anyone’s guess. But for now he’s hoping Virginia, known for its non-partisan and cordial style of politics, is ready for a change. It’s not every day that Virginia gets, as the Post describes him, a “carnival barker” who wants to be governor.

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Sotomayor is Hispanic; Journalists are Lazy

In the aftermath of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the media has focused most centrally on one thing: that she’s Hispanic. And this fascination with Sotomayor’s cultural heritage is hardly limited to the New York Times editorial board, which referenced Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican roots as a key reason for supporting her confirmation only a day after she was nominated.

Indeed, this blatant foray into identity politics is coming just as strongly from the right. In this vein, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal front-page headline, which blared, “Hispanic Picked for Top Court” — not “Sotomayor Picked for Top Court” (doesn’t her last name imply her heritage for those interested?); nor “Second Circuit Judge Picked for Top Court.” Or check out Karl Rove downplaying Sotomayor as a Hispanic trailblazer in the op-ed that Jen referenced:

… Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) …

(Calling Cardozo Hispanic is misleading, if not incorrect: Cardozo’s family resettled in Holland after the Spanish Inquisition — not somewhere in Latin America, which is the broad region to which most people are referring by the term “Hispanic.”)

Ultimately, the emphasis on Sotomayor’s heritage in analyzing her nomination and confirmation prospects can be traced to one common cause: journalistic laziness.  After all, Sotomayor has served as a federal judge since 1992 and has issued perhaps thousands of rulings — yet it is far easier to discuss the superficial than to attempt any comprehensive analysis of her plethora of prior decisions. Indeed, it is much easier to call her a “racist” for one misguided remark claiming that a “wise Latina woman” would make a better judge than a white male — or to cast her off as a strict “identity politics” pick — than it is to assemble a representative sample of her judicial work.

So here’s one suggestion for the next time we have a judicial nomination: force the nominee to appear in public with a convenient American Bar Association rating stamped on his or her forehead. This will simplify talking heads’ jobs considerably, allowing them to evaluate the most central question regarding new Supreme Court justices: how will they affect the court’s ideological — not its cultural or gender — balance?

In the aftermath of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the media has focused most centrally on one thing: that she’s Hispanic. And this fascination with Sotomayor’s cultural heritage is hardly limited to the New York Times editorial board, which referenced Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican roots as a key reason for supporting her confirmation only a day after she was nominated.

Indeed, this blatant foray into identity politics is coming just as strongly from the right. In this vein, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal front-page headline, which blared, “Hispanic Picked for Top Court” — not “Sotomayor Picked for Top Court” (doesn’t her last name imply her heritage for those interested?); nor “Second Circuit Judge Picked for Top Court.” Or check out Karl Rove downplaying Sotomayor as a Hispanic trailblazer in the op-ed that Jen referenced:

… Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) …

(Calling Cardozo Hispanic is misleading, if not incorrect: Cardozo’s family resettled in Holland after the Spanish Inquisition — not somewhere in Latin America, which is the broad region to which most people are referring by the term “Hispanic.”)

Ultimately, the emphasis on Sotomayor’s heritage in analyzing her nomination and confirmation prospects can be traced to one common cause: journalistic laziness.  After all, Sotomayor has served as a federal judge since 1992 and has issued perhaps thousands of rulings — yet it is far easier to discuss the superficial than to attempt any comprehensive analysis of her plethora of prior decisions. Indeed, it is much easier to call her a “racist” for one misguided remark claiming that a “wise Latina woman” would make a better judge than a white male — or to cast her off as a strict “identity politics” pick — than it is to assemble a representative sample of her judicial work.

So here’s one suggestion for the next time we have a judicial nomination: force the nominee to appear in public with a convenient American Bar Association rating stamped on his or her forehead. This will simplify talking heads’ jobs considerably, allowing them to evaluate the most central question regarding new Supreme Court justices: how will they affect the court’s ideological — not its cultural or gender — balance?

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Reality Hits Obamanomics

When the president let it slip that our current fiscal situation — ever higher mounds of debt — was “unsustainable,” some pundits shrugged it off as a “long-term” problem. Not so long-term.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Treasury yields have shot up, reaching 3.7% on 10-year notes, the highest since November. Why are bond purchasers demanding higher rates? They are spooked:

They have cause to be worried, given Washington’s astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration’s epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder — as do we — whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

This, of course, translates into higher interest rates for homebuyers and works to undo Ben Bernanke’s handiwork. Obama strong-armed the hapless AIG executives and the Chrysler bondholders,but he can’t bully all purchasers of U.S. debt. The best he can do is send Tim Geithner to China to beg them to keep buying our debt.

Obama likes to complain that this is not his doing. But, as John Taylor explains, the facts say otherwise:

Under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, the federal debt is exploding. To be precise, it is rising – and will continue to rise – much faster than gross domestic product, a measure of America’s ability to service it. The federal debt was equivalent to 41 per cent of GDP at the end of 2008; the Congressional Budget Office projects it will increase to 82 per cent of GDP in 10 years. With no change in policy, it could hit 100 per cent of GDP in just another five years.

Those bondholders are right to be nervous. And the inevitable creep in interest rates, the resulting drag on the economy, and the ever greater share of it devoted just to servicing our debt are direct results of Obama’s economic policies. Perhaps the president should be nervous too.

When the president let it slip that our current fiscal situation — ever higher mounds of debt — was “unsustainable,” some pundits shrugged it off as a “long-term” problem. Not so long-term.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Treasury yields have shot up, reaching 3.7% on 10-year notes, the highest since November. Why are bond purchasers demanding higher rates? They are spooked:

They have cause to be worried, given Washington’s astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration’s epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder — as do we — whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

This, of course, translates into higher interest rates for homebuyers and works to undo Ben Bernanke’s handiwork. Obama strong-armed the hapless AIG executives and the Chrysler bondholders,but he can’t bully all purchasers of U.S. debt. The best he can do is send Tim Geithner to China to beg them to keep buying our debt.

Obama likes to complain that this is not his doing. But, as John Taylor explains, the facts say otherwise:

Under President Barack Obama’s budget plan, the federal debt is exploding. To be precise, it is rising – and will continue to rise – much faster than gross domestic product, a measure of America’s ability to service it. The federal debt was equivalent to 41 per cent of GDP at the end of 2008; the Congressional Budget Office projects it will increase to 82 per cent of GDP in 10 years. With no change in policy, it could hit 100 per cent of GDP in just another five years.

Those bondholders are right to be nervous. And the inevitable creep in interest rates, the resulting drag on the economy, and the ever greater share of it devoted just to servicing our debt are direct results of Obama’s economic policies. Perhaps the president should be nervous too.

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The Unanswered Taken Question

At the State Department press briefing yesterday, Department Spokesman Ian Kelly declined to answer two questions, designating them as “taken questions” to be answered later. The first question related to Cuba and was answered by the end of the day with a three-paragraph response. The second, related to Israel, remained unanswered by the end of the day. It was a straightforward question:

QUESTION: Does the Obama Administration regard itself as bound by the contents of the letter that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004?

MR. KELLY: That’s an excellent question, James, and I’ll get you the information on that.

QUESTION: Taken question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, taken question.

Hillary Clinton was asked the same question yesterday and evaded answering it; when pressed, she would only say it was being “looked at.”

Let me take a stab at an answer:  Yes.

The letter in question is not a document setting forth the policy of a prior administration. It is part of an exchange of letters that, taken together, set forth the terms of the Gaza disengagement deal, negotiated between two heads of state. It contains explicit U.S. commitments to Israel regarding defensible borders and the Roadmap, and formal U.S. recognition of certain “realities” regarding settlement blocks and refugees. The letter was endorsed by a concurrent resolution of Congress.

When Israel formally approved the disengagement plan, the letter was incorporated into it. Sharon informed the Knesset that the U.S. commitments would be valid only if Israel proceeded with the disengagement, which Israel did — removing not just settlement “outposts” and not just “freezing” settlement activity, but completely dismantling every settlement, removing every soldier, and turning over the land, buildings, and a functioning greenhouse economy to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel paid twice for the commitments in the letter — first, by proceeding with the disengagement at great political and social cost and at considerable strategic risk; and second, by subsequently bearing the costs of rockets on its civilians year after year, until a new war became necessary to stop the almost daily onslaught. Israel now lives with a terrorist state on its southern border and a kidnapped soldier held for almost three years.

The letter was not simply a statement of policy, nor even simply an agreement; it was an agreement upon which Israel acted in reliance, and thus has the right to insist it be honored.

So yes, the Obama administration is bound by the contents of the letter. Words must mean something.

At the State Department press briefing yesterday, Department Spokesman Ian Kelly declined to answer two questions, designating them as “taken questions” to be answered later. The first question related to Cuba and was answered by the end of the day with a three-paragraph response. The second, related to Israel, remained unanswered by the end of the day. It was a straightforward question:

QUESTION: Does the Obama Administration regard itself as bound by the contents of the letter that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from President Bush in 2004?

MR. KELLY: That’s an excellent question, James, and I’ll get you the information on that.

QUESTION: Taken question?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, taken question.

Hillary Clinton was asked the same question yesterday and evaded answering it; when pressed, she would only say it was being “looked at.”

Let me take a stab at an answer:  Yes.

The letter in question is not a document setting forth the policy of a prior administration. It is part of an exchange of letters that, taken together, set forth the terms of the Gaza disengagement deal, negotiated between two heads of state. It contains explicit U.S. commitments to Israel regarding defensible borders and the Roadmap, and formal U.S. recognition of certain “realities” regarding settlement blocks and refugees. The letter was endorsed by a concurrent resolution of Congress.

When Israel formally approved the disengagement plan, the letter was incorporated into it. Sharon informed the Knesset that the U.S. commitments would be valid only if Israel proceeded with the disengagement, which Israel did — removing not just settlement “outposts” and not just “freezing” settlement activity, but completely dismantling every settlement, removing every soldier, and turning over the land, buildings, and a functioning greenhouse economy to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel paid twice for the commitments in the letter — first, by proceeding with the disengagement at great political and social cost and at considerable strategic risk; and second, by subsequently bearing the costs of rockets on its civilians year after year, until a new war became necessary to stop the almost daily onslaught. Israel now lives with a terrorist state on its southern border and a kidnapped soldier held for almost three years.

The letter was not simply a statement of policy, nor even simply an agreement; it was an agreement upon which Israel acted in reliance, and thus has the right to insist it be honored.

So yes, the Obama administration is bound by the contents of the letter. Words must mean something.

Read Less




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