Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 23, 2009

A “Distinctly ‘Feminist Procedure’”

Yesterday evening, Senator Harry Reid filed cloture on the nomination of Harold Koh, formerly Dean of Yale Law, to be Legal Adviser to the State Department.  There were multiple holds on Koh, so absent administration willingness to make a deal this was the only way forward. It will take every Democratic vote to get to the sixty required.

No matter where you stand on Koh it’s difficult to avoid a sneaking admiration for him.  So much of academia at its most public is performance art – even if the issues at stake are serious – and Koh is a superb performer.

Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment has already come in for extensive criticism, and Jennifer Rubin, among others, has raised wonderful questions about the “noxious double standard” involved in the Judge’s membership in the all-female Belizean Grove.  But Koh’s gotten in on the feminist act too.  His views on American exceptionalism, sovereignty, and treaties, among other subjects, have been widely ventilated, but no one has picked up on his 1993 article in the University of Cincinnati Law Review on “Two Cheers for Feminist Procedure.”

On two dimensions – the cognitive and the critical – Koh gives feminist procedure “very high marks.”  By cognitive, Koh means that feminist theory, correctly in his eyes, reveals that legal procedure “reinforces certain values which could be called ‘male’: individualism, neutrality, formality, separateness, and autonomy” and devalues the female “connectedness, reciprocity, empathy, relationship, informality, and context.”  By critical, Koh means that feminist theory has  introduced “a new dichotomy – the male/female dichotomy – to the study of procedure.”

I’ve rather lost track of whether feminists believe in innate differences between men and women, or whether they believe it’s all socially constructed.  Koh’s not too clear on this either: he says differences are socially constructed, but also claims the dichotomy between men and women will soon be basic to legal procedure.  It’s on that basis that Koh applauds the “very substantial contributions that feminist theory can make to the study of [legal] procedure.”

So what’s lacking?  Feminist procedure, according to Koh, hasn’t yet – or hadn’t yet, in 1993 – “begun to address a constructive program of reform” to create a world in which “gender issues are taken systematically into account,” in which procedural rules are significantly tailored to the personal attributes – i.e. the gender – of the litigant.  That, in Koh’s words, is “the unfinished task.”  So, onwards to the world of Judge Sotomayor and the “wise Latinas.”

And then comes the performance twist.  Koh’s been around long enough to see the attack coming: he’s asked for feminist procedure to formalize itself, but feminist procedure, according to him, is anti-formalist, formalism being a male virtue.  So by asking this, he’s revealed his own complicity in the gendered nature of justice. He parries with the skill of a judo master, with a mea culpa that he is, after all, a man – more essentialism – and that it’s important for feminists to “reach out beyond the converted” if “we” are to move to a “distinctively feminist procedure.”

As performance, this is wonderful stuff.  But as law, it is – well, it is not law.  It is procedure made anew for every case.  In other words, it is arbitrary.  It is also a ridiculous slander on both men, who are capable of appreciating context, and women, who are capable of being neutral.  And that is one of the worst things about the kind of justice Koh, and Sotomayor, are espousing: far from condemning legally-approved social separation as inherently unjust (as liberals used to), they are actively promoting it in the name of their brand of justice.

Yesterday evening, Senator Harry Reid filed cloture on the nomination of Harold Koh, formerly Dean of Yale Law, to be Legal Adviser to the State Department.  There were multiple holds on Koh, so absent administration willingness to make a deal this was the only way forward. It will take every Democratic vote to get to the sixty required.

No matter where you stand on Koh it’s difficult to avoid a sneaking admiration for him.  So much of academia at its most public is performance art – even if the issues at stake are serious – and Koh is a superb performer.

Judge Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment has already come in for extensive criticism, and Jennifer Rubin, among others, has raised wonderful questions about the “noxious double standard” involved in the Judge’s membership in the all-female Belizean Grove.  But Koh’s gotten in on the feminist act too.  His views on American exceptionalism, sovereignty, and treaties, among other subjects, have been widely ventilated, but no one has picked up on his 1993 article in the University of Cincinnati Law Review on “Two Cheers for Feminist Procedure.”

On two dimensions – the cognitive and the critical – Koh gives feminist procedure “very high marks.”  By cognitive, Koh means that feminist theory, correctly in his eyes, reveals that legal procedure “reinforces certain values which could be called ‘male’: individualism, neutrality, formality, separateness, and autonomy” and devalues the female “connectedness, reciprocity, empathy, relationship, informality, and context.”  By critical, Koh means that feminist theory has  introduced “a new dichotomy – the male/female dichotomy – to the study of procedure.”

I’ve rather lost track of whether feminists believe in innate differences between men and women, or whether they believe it’s all socially constructed.  Koh’s not too clear on this either: he says differences are socially constructed, but also claims the dichotomy between men and women will soon be basic to legal procedure.  It’s on that basis that Koh applauds the “very substantial contributions that feminist theory can make to the study of [legal] procedure.”

So what’s lacking?  Feminist procedure, according to Koh, hasn’t yet – or hadn’t yet, in 1993 – “begun to address a constructive program of reform” to create a world in which “gender issues are taken systematically into account,” in which procedural rules are significantly tailored to the personal attributes – i.e. the gender – of the litigant.  That, in Koh’s words, is “the unfinished task.”  So, onwards to the world of Judge Sotomayor and the “wise Latinas.”

And then comes the performance twist.  Koh’s been around long enough to see the attack coming: he’s asked for feminist procedure to formalize itself, but feminist procedure, according to him, is anti-formalist, formalism being a male virtue.  So by asking this, he’s revealed his own complicity in the gendered nature of justice. He parries with the skill of a judo master, with a mea culpa that he is, after all, a man – more essentialism – and that it’s important for feminists to “reach out beyond the converted” if “we” are to move to a “distinctively feminist procedure.”

As performance, this is wonderful stuff.  But as law, it is – well, it is not law.  It is procedure made anew for every case.  In other words, it is arbitrary.  It is also a ridiculous slander on both men, who are capable of appreciating context, and women, who are capable of being neutral.  And that is one of the worst things about the kind of justice Koh, and Sotomayor, are espousing: far from condemning legally-approved social separation as inherently unjust (as liberals used to), they are actively promoting it in the name of their brand of justice.

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s impossible to get excited about this. The moment is passing as we dither. Right now, at this very minute, is when the gas would need to be drying up for the Iranian regime, if we wanted its loss to do the reform protestors any good. This is obvious to other nations as well, and the likelihood of anyone joining us in a gasoline embargo declines with each passing hour.

Maybe Obama has been affected only by polls and criticism in the US, in his recalibrated level of outrage. Maybe he has been affected by increasing certainty that the existing regime is going to win this one. He now knows more about what’s going on in Iran than the rest of us do, through the national intelligence apparatus.

I’d really love to be wrong on the likely outcome here. But at this point, I assess the following as about equally likely, with a slight edge for the second:

1. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad remain where they are.

2. There is some shuffling of personnel on the Guardian Council, and in the national executive, and that is what is taking time right now. An outcome along these lines is being negotiated. It will be designed to prevent complete loss of control by the hardliners, represented by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, but institute some pro forma power-sharing with reformers. The intention of this would be a gesture, not an opening to true liberalization, and what would take the time is coming up with a permutation of power position assignments that would hold things together as much through tension as through loyalty or cohesion.

J.E. Dyer, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s impossible to get excited about this. The moment is passing as we dither. Right now, at this very minute, is when the gas would need to be drying up for the Iranian regime, if we wanted its loss to do the reform protestors any good. This is obvious to other nations as well, and the likelihood of anyone joining us in a gasoline embargo declines with each passing hour.

Maybe Obama has been affected only by polls and criticism in the US, in his recalibrated level of outrage. Maybe he has been affected by increasing certainty that the existing regime is going to win this one. He now knows more about what’s going on in Iran than the rest of us do, through the national intelligence apparatus.

I’d really love to be wrong on the likely outcome here. But at this point, I assess the following as about equally likely, with a slight edge for the second:

1. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad remain where they are.

2. There is some shuffling of personnel on the Guardian Council, and in the national executive, and that is what is taking time right now. An outcome along these lines is being negotiated. It will be designed to prevent complete loss of control by the hardliners, represented by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, but institute some pro forma power-sharing with reformers. The intention of this would be a gesture, not an opening to true liberalization, and what would take the time is coming up with a permutation of power position assignments that would hold things together as much through tension as through loyalty or cohesion.

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Not What It Seems

The president’s press conference was a tour de force of misdirection.

On healthcare, remember the guarantee that we were all going to keep our existing coverage? Obama won’t admit he misled us but Jake Tapper spots the new lingo:

It seems he wasn’t saying “no one” will take away any American’s health insurance – he was saying the government wouldn’t.

Which is not to say that the government wouldn’t create a situation where such a thing would happen.

ABC News asked how the president could make such a guarantee if the public run plan were cheaper, thus possibly enticing employers to enroll employees in that plan.

“When I say if you have your plan and you like it,…or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans, what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform,” the President said.

Translation: no, you won’t get to keep your insurance because a public option will herd everyone into the government plan. As the independent Lewin Group explained:

Premiums under the public plan would be up to 30 percent less than private insurance plans if Medicare payment levels are used. Due to this substantial cost advantage, we estimate that up to 119.1 million of the 171.6 million people who now have private employer or non-group coverage would move to the public plan (70 percent).

A real whopper came on cap-and-trade. The president said that climate change would be “paid for by the polluters.” Well, if you consider every business that emits greenhouse gases and every consumer to be a “polluter,” that would be accurate. But when you have over $800B in taxes that will be passed on to consumers, isn’t it downright misleading to say some phantom “polluters” are going to pay for all this?

Even worse was his denial of what everyone knows: the president’s language on Iran has toughened in response (one supposes) to critics inside and outside the administration who found his initial statements inexcusably weak:

So we’ve been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we’ve approached this. My role has been to say the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what’s happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people.

Does he even believe this? We went from “no meddling” and no real difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi to “appalled” and “condemn.” You judge. And why does the president lie? Is he, like George Bush, loath to admit error?

But the real travesty was the faked exchange between the Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney and the president. Michael Calderone explains:

“Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran,” Obama said, addressing Pitney.  “I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

Surprise, Surprise — Pitney did! Calderone reports on the White House’s response to raised suspicions:

Deputy press secretary Bill Burton responds: “We did reach out to him prior to press conference to tell him that we had been paying attention to what he had been doing on Iran and there was a chance that he’d be called on. And, he ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian.”

Innovative or fraudulent? If the Huffington Post pretends to be a real news organization, it might want to avoid staging interchanges with officials. What is amazing, of course, is that the president couldn’t manage handling the usual softball questions or work in the information he wanted without faking a Q and A with a willing flunky.

It is hard to know what is worse — the fake policies or the fake presentation. In any event, it seems the “most transparent” administration in history is one of the least.

The president’s press conference was a tour de force of misdirection.

On healthcare, remember the guarantee that we were all going to keep our existing coverage? Obama won’t admit he misled us but Jake Tapper spots the new lingo:

It seems he wasn’t saying “no one” will take away any American’s health insurance – he was saying the government wouldn’t.

Which is not to say that the government wouldn’t create a situation where such a thing would happen.

ABC News asked how the president could make such a guarantee if the public run plan were cheaper, thus possibly enticing employers to enroll employees in that plan.

“When I say if you have your plan and you like it,…or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans, what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform,” the President said.

Translation: no, you won’t get to keep your insurance because a public option will herd everyone into the government plan. As the independent Lewin Group explained:

Premiums under the public plan would be up to 30 percent less than private insurance plans if Medicare payment levels are used. Due to this substantial cost advantage, we estimate that up to 119.1 million of the 171.6 million people who now have private employer or non-group coverage would move to the public plan (70 percent).

A real whopper came on cap-and-trade. The president said that climate change would be “paid for by the polluters.” Well, if you consider every business that emits greenhouse gases and every consumer to be a “polluter,” that would be accurate. But when you have over $800B in taxes that will be passed on to consumers, isn’t it downright misleading to say some phantom “polluters” are going to pay for all this?

Even worse was his denial of what everyone knows: the president’s language on Iran has toughened in response (one supposes) to critics inside and outside the administration who found his initial statements inexcusably weak:

So we’ve been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we’ve approached this. My role has been to say the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what’s happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people.

Does he even believe this? We went from “no meddling” and no real difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi to “appalled” and “condemn.” You judge. And why does the president lie? Is he, like George Bush, loath to admit error?

But the real travesty was the faked exchange between the Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney and the president. Michael Calderone explains:

“Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran,” Obama said, addressing Pitney.  “I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

Surprise, Surprise — Pitney did! Calderone reports on the White House’s response to raised suspicions:

Deputy press secretary Bill Burton responds: “We did reach out to him prior to press conference to tell him that we had been paying attention to what he had been doing on Iran and there was a chance that he’d be called on. And, he ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian.”

Innovative or fraudulent? If the Huffington Post pretends to be a real news organization, it might want to avoid staging interchanges with officials. What is amazing, of course, is that the president couldn’t manage handling the usual softball questions or work in the information he wanted without faking a Q and A with a willing flunky.

It is hard to know what is worse — the fake policies or the fake presentation. In any event, it seems the “most transparent” administration in history is one of the least.

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Re: Re: Much Better

I agree with you, Abe and Jen, about the shift by Obama. I think it’s all to the good. But I do wonder what to make of the arguments he and his supporters have employed during the last week or so. All of those who implored the president to speak up in defense of the forces of liberty were told by Obama and his allies that this was a naïve and counterproductive approach, with some predictably fevered minds over at the Atlantic and Time insisting it was all a neoconservative trap to guarantee war with Iran. “Meddling” into the affairs of Iran, saidith Obama, was a sure way to set us back. But today Obama said (among other things) this:

If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights [the right to assembly and free speech], and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

What is this, if not “meddling”? Why aren’t statements like this – and expressions of Obama’s being “appalled and outraged” at what the Iranian regime is doing – going to be used against the U.S.? In saying what Iran “must” do, how is he not now playing into the narrative he said we had to avoid? Isn’t America the “foil for the Iranian government” that he said we should not become? The concern some of us had early on was that the president should be careful to justify his position by making arguments (we shouldn’t be seen as “meddling” in the internal affairs of Iran) that fall apart under scrutiny.

Obama’s analysis was never correct; now that he appears to have changed his mind, all power to him. But it would be commendable if the man who said early on in his presidency that he would eagerly admit to his mistakes would do just that. It would be nice if he conceded he has recalibrated his approach in light of the facts and determined that his early arguments are now inoperative. But rather than admitting such a thing, Obama insists that he’s been consistent all along, that he is magically immune to the “hothouse of Washington” that everyone else cannot escape, and that unlike so many others, he is not trapped in the “24-hour news cycle” mindset.

The truth is that Obama’s initial position on Iran was cautious and timid, to some degree understandable but also, I think, quite wrong. His worst mistake was in declaring early on that there was no real difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi – a statement that now looks misinformed and unwise. It was said by a man who did not seem to fathom that revolutions can shift former alliances and allegiances.

Mr. Obama needed to change his posture and he seems to be doing just that – admittedly only a step at a time. The truth is that the French government and others found their voices before Obama found his. But Obama’s other-worldly self-regard, which may be his besetting sin, will not allow him to admit it. It’s a thin line between self-confidence and arrogance. It seems clear to me which side of the line Obama is on, and I suspect it’ll end up costing him down the road.

I agree with you, Abe and Jen, about the shift by Obama. I think it’s all to the good. But I do wonder what to make of the arguments he and his supporters have employed during the last week or so. All of those who implored the president to speak up in defense of the forces of liberty were told by Obama and his allies that this was a naïve and counterproductive approach, with some predictably fevered minds over at the Atlantic and Time insisting it was all a neoconservative trap to guarantee war with Iran. “Meddling” into the affairs of Iran, saidith Obama, was a sure way to set us back. But today Obama said (among other things) this:

If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights [the right to assembly and free speech], and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

What is this, if not “meddling”? Why aren’t statements like this – and expressions of Obama’s being “appalled and outraged” at what the Iranian regime is doing – going to be used against the U.S.? In saying what Iran “must” do, how is he not now playing into the narrative he said we had to avoid? Isn’t America the “foil for the Iranian government” that he said we should not become? The concern some of us had early on was that the president should be careful to justify his position by making arguments (we shouldn’t be seen as “meddling” in the internal affairs of Iran) that fall apart under scrutiny.

Obama’s analysis was never correct; now that he appears to have changed his mind, all power to him. But it would be commendable if the man who said early on in his presidency that he would eagerly admit to his mistakes would do just that. It would be nice if he conceded he has recalibrated his approach in light of the facts and determined that his early arguments are now inoperative. But rather than admitting such a thing, Obama insists that he’s been consistent all along, that he is magically immune to the “hothouse of Washington” that everyone else cannot escape, and that unlike so many others, he is not trapped in the “24-hour news cycle” mindset.

The truth is that Obama’s initial position on Iran was cautious and timid, to some degree understandable but also, I think, quite wrong. His worst mistake was in declaring early on that there was no real difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi – a statement that now looks misinformed and unwise. It was said by a man who did not seem to fathom that revolutions can shift former alliances and allegiances.

Mr. Obama needed to change his posture and he seems to be doing just that – admittedly only a step at a time. The truth is that the French government and others found their voices before Obama found his. But Obama’s other-worldly self-regard, which may be his besetting sin, will not allow him to admit it. It’s a thin line between self-confidence and arrogance. It seems clear to me which side of the line Obama is on, and I suspect it’ll end up costing him down the road.

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That’ll Show ‘Em

Prompted by the expulsion of two British diplomats from Tehran, Her Majesty’s government today announced it is retaliating by expelling two Iranian diplomats. Wow. Watch European Chancelleries spring into action as they match their strong and courageous rhetoric against Iran’s crackdown of its civilian population with an avalanche of sanctions. Alright, maybe not.

The fact is, the UK should not have waited for the Iranians to kick its diplomats. And all 27 members of the European Union should have coordinated at least a first, symbolic step against repression in Iran by recalling their ambassadors for consultation. But even that was too much to ask. Instead, we are waiting for Iran to concoct dark conspiracies and respond by expelling hapless middle ranking Western diplomats.

As always, our moral outrage at the images that come from a distant corner of the world is shallow and short-lived. Whether the Iranians demonstrating in the streets come out on top is a different story — they’ll have only themselves to thank if they succeed. For the cradle of democracy and human rights is too busy planning for summer or too pusillanimous to come to their rescue.

Prompted by the expulsion of two British diplomats from Tehran, Her Majesty’s government today announced it is retaliating by expelling two Iranian diplomats. Wow. Watch European Chancelleries spring into action as they match their strong and courageous rhetoric against Iran’s crackdown of its civilian population with an avalanche of sanctions. Alright, maybe not.

The fact is, the UK should not have waited for the Iranians to kick its diplomats. And all 27 members of the European Union should have coordinated at least a first, symbolic step against repression in Iran by recalling their ambassadors for consultation. But even that was too much to ask. Instead, we are waiting for Iran to concoct dark conspiracies and respond by expelling hapless middle ranking Western diplomats.

As always, our moral outrage at the images that come from a distant corner of the world is shallow and short-lived. Whether the Iranians demonstrating in the streets come out on top is a different story — they’ll have only themselves to thank if they succeed. For the cradle of democracy and human rights is too busy planning for summer or too pusillanimous to come to their rescue.

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They Did Vote for Him, You Know

An informative op-ed in the Washington Times tells us of yet another episode missed by the derelict mainstream media. A “disappointed” Sen. Jeff Sessions gave an under-reported tongue-lashing to Attorney General Eric Holder at a recent hearing, listing his complaints:

When the Office of Legal Counsel attorneys told you something was unconstitutional, I think I’m not happy that you ignored that and went around them. When security officials came to you and said we should keep our interrogation methods confidential, you said no. When the civil rights of Americans were trampled on by members of the Black Panthers at the voting place, you let the offenders get away. And as the American people look to you to lead in the war against terrorism, you have remained too silent. You even granted the release of dangerous detainees, including Jose Padilla’s alleged accomplice and another detainee who reportedly killed an American diplomat.

And as the Times recounts, there was also the putrid Justice Department advice on the release of the detainee abuse photos and the decision to Mirandize terrorists picked up on the battlefield.

But wait a minute. Among the 75 Senators who voted to confirm Holder there was a long list of Republicans — including Jeff Sessions. It’s not as if evidence was lacking which pointed to Holder’s predilection to serve up whatever legal opinion was requested by the White House (e.g., the Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorist pardons). Sessions and more than a dozen Republican colleagues chose to look the other way. They might be “disappointed” now — but they were warned and had an opportunity to mount serious opposition to Holder’s nomination. Perhaps next time, they won’t be so quick to go along for the sake of getting along.

An informative op-ed in the Washington Times tells us of yet another episode missed by the derelict mainstream media. A “disappointed” Sen. Jeff Sessions gave an under-reported tongue-lashing to Attorney General Eric Holder at a recent hearing, listing his complaints:

When the Office of Legal Counsel attorneys told you something was unconstitutional, I think I’m not happy that you ignored that and went around them. When security officials came to you and said we should keep our interrogation methods confidential, you said no. When the civil rights of Americans were trampled on by members of the Black Panthers at the voting place, you let the offenders get away. And as the American people look to you to lead in the war against terrorism, you have remained too silent. You even granted the release of dangerous detainees, including Jose Padilla’s alleged accomplice and another detainee who reportedly killed an American diplomat.

And as the Times recounts, there was also the putrid Justice Department advice on the release of the detainee abuse photos and the decision to Mirandize terrorists picked up on the battlefield.

But wait a minute. Among the 75 Senators who voted to confirm Holder there was a long list of Republicans — including Jeff Sessions. It’s not as if evidence was lacking which pointed to Holder’s predilection to serve up whatever legal opinion was requested by the White House (e.g., the Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorist pardons). Sessions and more than a dozen Republican colleagues chose to look the other way. They might be “disappointed” now — but they were warned and had an opportunity to mount serious opposition to Holder’s nomination. Perhaps next time, they won’t be so quick to go along for the sake of getting along.

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The Art of Insincerity

Earlier in the year the White House feigned some interest in immigration reform. But given the busy agenda — financial reform, healthcare, and climate control, to name a few — it seemed unlikely. This week the press secretary threw in the towel:

The White House on Monday acknowledged that immigration reform is unlikely to move in Congress this year. “I can see the president’s desire for it to happen but understanding that currently where we sit the math makes that real difficult,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Immigration reform was never high on the president’s to-do-list — in part because it would entail going up against his Big Labor allies. (Obama, if you recall, helped kill immigration in 2007 by voting for a series of “poison pill” amendments backed by Big Labor.)

So what does the White House do after giving up on an agenda item? Have a meeting with supporters on the issue. Postpone it a few times. And then don’t really publicize it or send out an invite list in advance:

Backers of comprehensive immigration reform are gearing up for their first big meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday, although it remains to be seen who will be attending and what will come of the bipartisan huddle. Obama is hosting a small group of House and Senate lawmakers to begin discussions on the issue. Like Congressional leaders, Obama has signaled a desire to address the politically volatile issue but has given little detail on when or how to do so. The meeting has been postponed twice over the past several weeks, causing some stakeholders to worry about Obama’s will to advance the issue anytime soon. Details of the meeting remain hazy. Key lawmakers still don’t know if they are invited or what to expect from the gathering.

“Was I invited?” Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) asked.

[. . .]

Since the votes are not there, Gibbs said, there must be more dialogue between people with competing interests. “Keep in mind that there will be people at the White House next week that don’t agree with where the president and others are,” he said.

There is always next year, right? In an election year!? No, I think proponents of immigration reform can join a growing list — the ACLU, fiscal conservatives, Israel supporters, and gays — who were led down the garden path by a lot of happy talk from candidate Obama who told them he took their agenda seriously. President Obama has other priorities.

Earlier in the year the White House feigned some interest in immigration reform. But given the busy agenda — financial reform, healthcare, and climate control, to name a few — it seemed unlikely. This week the press secretary threw in the towel:

The White House on Monday acknowledged that immigration reform is unlikely to move in Congress this year. “I can see the president’s desire for it to happen but understanding that currently where we sit the math makes that real difficult,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Immigration reform was never high on the president’s to-do-list — in part because it would entail going up against his Big Labor allies. (Obama, if you recall, helped kill immigration in 2007 by voting for a series of “poison pill” amendments backed by Big Labor.)

So what does the White House do after giving up on an agenda item? Have a meeting with supporters on the issue. Postpone it a few times. And then don’t really publicize it or send out an invite list in advance:

Backers of comprehensive immigration reform are gearing up for their first big meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday, although it remains to be seen who will be attending and what will come of the bipartisan huddle. Obama is hosting a small group of House and Senate lawmakers to begin discussions on the issue. Like Congressional leaders, Obama has signaled a desire to address the politically volatile issue but has given little detail on when or how to do so. The meeting has been postponed twice over the past several weeks, causing some stakeholders to worry about Obama’s will to advance the issue anytime soon. Details of the meeting remain hazy. Key lawmakers still don’t know if they are invited or what to expect from the gathering.

“Was I invited?” Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) asked.

[. . .]

Since the votes are not there, Gibbs said, there must be more dialogue between people with competing interests. “Keep in mind that there will be people at the White House next week that don’t agree with where the president and others are,” he said.

There is always next year, right? In an election year!? No, I think proponents of immigration reform can join a growing list — the ACLU, fiscal conservatives, Israel supporters, and gays — who were led down the garden path by a lot of happy talk from candidate Obama who told them he took their agenda seriously. President Obama has other priorities.

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What Was Jimmy Carter’s Proposal to Hamas?

After meeting with three different sets of Hamas leaders — in Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza — Jimmy Carter posted a “Trip Report” last week describing his meetings. He said he met with Khaled Meshaal and other Hamas leaders in Damascus and “left written proposals for them to consider.” Two days later he met with Hamas legislators in Ramallah: “They had a copy of the proposal I had made to Meshaal in Damascus and we discussed its wording.” Three days after that, he went to Gaza and “had extensive meetings with Prime Minister [Ismail] Haniya” that the New York Times reported lasted three hours.

Questions about Carter’s trip arose at the State Department press briefing the next day, with Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley responding that Carter “is a private citizen, and the meetings were private.” Asked if the State Department had provided security for Carter, Crowley promised to obtain an answer. There followed a colloquy on whether the administration had any prior contact with Carter (since the Bush administration was “quite outspoken about its opposition to President Carter meeting Hamas”):

MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t know if there were any contacts with him.

QUESTION: Then is it possible to find out? And then if there was contact, which I suspect there probably was, if the Administration took a position on whether he should meet these -

MR. CROWLEY: Without commenting on the specific issue, it’s not unusual when presidents travel around the world. They can check in. I don’t know if he did in this particular case. I’ll – we’ll ask the question.

The next day, the State Department disclosed that there had indeed been prior contacts: Carter had met with Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary David Hale and with National Security staff, and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had assisted the Secret Service with security for Carter’s trip to Gaza. The Department did not answer the query about whether the administration had supported or opposed Carter’s prospective meeting with Hamas.

The following day a “senior Hamas movement’s leader” in Gaza said Carter had “presented a printed text of a proposal that overcomes the international Quartet’s requirements and leads to direct dialogue with the United States”:

Hamas sources in Gaza revealed that Carter presented a one-page proposal that calls on Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative of 2002 and accept that final goal of the Roadmap plan, which is the two-state solution.

Carter told Hamas leaders that if they accept the two suggestions, this will lead to a direct contact with the U.S. administration and will lead to lift the political and financial embargo on Hamas, said the sources.

Blogger Elder of Zion linked to a Google translation of an Al Quds report quoting Hamas leader Yehia Moussa saying “Carter told us that the American President (Barack Obama) wants to go beyond the conditions of the Quartet, and has the desire to do so, but on [sic] Hamas to provide an acceptable scenario.”

Carter told the President [sic] of the Palestinian government (article) in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, during a meeting a few days ago that he had talked with a number of senior officials in the administration of President Obama in this regard, and that he told them that he intended to make contact with the group in this regard, the sources said.

John Hinderaker at Power Line posted an Israeli report quoting Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri as saying that “We know Carter is not acting alone. He is acting as part of the large American system” and that Hamas has “excellent relations with elements in the circle of the decision making in the U.S. administration.”

In his trip report, Carter asserted his “primary goals” were to “induce [Hamas] to comply with the Quartet’s ’3 conditions’ (recognize Israel’s right to exist; forgo violence; and accept previous peace agreements), help form a unity government with elections next January, and exchange the release of Corporal Shalit for a reasonable number of prisoners held by Israel,” and his public position in Gaza was that he was there as a private citizen.

But we now know Carter met not only with the State Department before his trip, but with the administration’s national security staff; the State Department helped facilitate his visit to Gaza; he carried with him a written proposal, whose contents have not been disclosed, which the administration undoubtedly saw before it was presented; he discussed the proposal with multiple Hamas leaders in three cities; and he apparently told them he had been in contact with senior Obama officials regarding his efforts.

There is a certain imbalance in an administration that asserts the strictest possible interpretation of Israel’s Phase I Roadmap obligations, while simultaneously facilitating meetings for a former president with the terrorist group the Palestinians — as part of their own Phase I obligations — are required to dismantle. And the proposal presented at the meetings does not appear to have been merely one by a private citizen: the proposal ought to be disclosed, together with a better explanation of the administration’s role in it.

After meeting with three different sets of Hamas leaders — in Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza — Jimmy Carter posted a “Trip Report” last week describing his meetings. He said he met with Khaled Meshaal and other Hamas leaders in Damascus and “left written proposals for them to consider.” Two days later he met with Hamas legislators in Ramallah: “They had a copy of the proposal I had made to Meshaal in Damascus and we discussed its wording.” Three days after that, he went to Gaza and “had extensive meetings with Prime Minister [Ismail] Haniya” that the New York Times reported lasted three hours.

Questions about Carter’s trip arose at the State Department press briefing the next day, with Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley responding that Carter “is a private citizen, and the meetings were private.” Asked if the State Department had provided security for Carter, Crowley promised to obtain an answer. There followed a colloquy on whether the administration had any prior contact with Carter (since the Bush administration was “quite outspoken about its opposition to President Carter meeting Hamas”):

MR. CROWLEY: No, I don’t know if there were any contacts with him.

QUESTION: Then is it possible to find out? And then if there was contact, which I suspect there probably was, if the Administration took a position on whether he should meet these -

MR. CROWLEY: Without commenting on the specific issue, it’s not unusual when presidents travel around the world. They can check in. I don’t know if he did in this particular case. I’ll – we’ll ask the question.

The next day, the State Department disclosed that there had indeed been prior contacts: Carter had met with Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary David Hale and with National Security staff, and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security had assisted the Secret Service with security for Carter’s trip to Gaza. The Department did not answer the query about whether the administration had supported or opposed Carter’s prospective meeting with Hamas.

The following day a “senior Hamas movement’s leader” in Gaza said Carter had “presented a printed text of a proposal that overcomes the international Quartet’s requirements and leads to direct dialogue with the United States”:

Hamas sources in Gaza revealed that Carter presented a one-page proposal that calls on Hamas to accept the Arab peace initiative of 2002 and accept that final goal of the Roadmap plan, which is the two-state solution.

Carter told Hamas leaders that if they accept the two suggestions, this will lead to a direct contact with the U.S. administration and will lead to lift the political and financial embargo on Hamas, said the sources.

Blogger Elder of Zion linked to a Google translation of an Al Quds report quoting Hamas leader Yehia Moussa saying “Carter told us that the American President (Barack Obama) wants to go beyond the conditions of the Quartet, and has the desire to do so, but on [sic] Hamas to provide an acceptable scenario.”

Carter told the President [sic] of the Palestinian government (article) in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, during a meeting a few days ago that he had talked with a number of senior officials in the administration of President Obama in this regard, and that he told them that he intended to make contact with the group in this regard, the sources said.

John Hinderaker at Power Line posted an Israeli report quoting Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri as saying that “We know Carter is not acting alone. He is acting as part of the large American system” and that Hamas has “excellent relations with elements in the circle of the decision making in the U.S. administration.”

In his trip report, Carter asserted his “primary goals” were to “induce [Hamas] to comply with the Quartet’s ’3 conditions’ (recognize Israel’s right to exist; forgo violence; and accept previous peace agreements), help form a unity government with elections next January, and exchange the release of Corporal Shalit for a reasonable number of prisoners held by Israel,” and his public position in Gaza was that he was there as a private citizen.

But we now know Carter met not only with the State Department before his trip, but with the administration’s national security staff; the State Department helped facilitate his visit to Gaza; he carried with him a written proposal, whose contents have not been disclosed, which the administration undoubtedly saw before it was presented; he discussed the proposal with multiple Hamas leaders in three cities; and he apparently told them he had been in contact with senior Obama officials regarding his efforts.

There is a certain imbalance in an administration that asserts the strictest possible interpretation of Israel’s Phase I Roadmap obligations, while simultaneously facilitating meetings for a former president with the terrorist group the Palestinians — as part of their own Phase I obligations — are required to dismantle. And the proposal presented at the meetings does not appear to have been merely one by a private citizen: the proposal ought to be disclosed, together with a better explanation of the administration’s role in it.

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Re: Much Better

Indeed it is, Abe. It is vaguely what conservatives — for more than a week — have been pleading with the president to say. What did the trick? Well, the last paragraph of the president’s statement gives a clue:

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

You see, you can’t claim to be omnipotent when it comes to moving world events — and at the same time plead impotence when it comes to making a difference on Iran. You can’t be for hope and change, but for the status quo in a theocratic and brutal Iran. Eventually the contradictions become too much to bear.

And as conservatives have been saying for some time, America simply can’t be on the wrong side of history. If the revolution fails, then Obama doesn’t want to be asked why he didn’t do more. And if it succeeds, we see from his closing lines, he wants to grab some of the credit.

Now if he could drop the “Islamic Republic of Iran” from his vocabulary (which suggests the monstrous regime is in some sense representative of the Iranian people) and cancel the July 4th BBQ with the mullahs (or better yet — serve Israel couscous from Trader Joe’s) then we’d be making progress. And maybe even a UN resolution and some gasoline sanctions to top it off?

Indeed it is, Abe. It is vaguely what conservatives — for more than a week — have been pleading with the president to say. What did the trick? Well, the last paragraph of the president’s statement gives a clue:

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

You see, you can’t claim to be omnipotent when it comes to moving world events — and at the same time plead impotence when it comes to making a difference on Iran. You can’t be for hope and change, but for the status quo in a theocratic and brutal Iran. Eventually the contradictions become too much to bear.

And as conservatives have been saying for some time, America simply can’t be on the wrong side of history. If the revolution fails, then Obama doesn’t want to be asked why he didn’t do more. And if it succeeds, we see from his closing lines, he wants to grab some of the credit.

Now if he could drop the “Islamic Republic of Iran” from his vocabulary (which suggests the monstrous regime is in some sense representative of the Iranian people) and cancel the July 4th BBQ with the mullahs (or better yet — serve Israel couscous from Trader Joe’s) then we’d be making progress. And maybe even a UN resolution and some gasoline sanctions to top it off?

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Much Better

At today’s press conference Barack Obama said he’s “appalled” and “outraged” by the violence in Iran. He added, “The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech,” and even ended with a “must” for the Iranian leadership:  The regime “must govern through consent, and not coercion.”

In typical Obama fashion, he still calls this “bearing witness,” but it is actually an encouraging turnaround.

At today’s press conference Barack Obama said he’s “appalled” and “outraged” by the violence in Iran. He added, “The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech,” and even ended with a “must” for the Iranian leadership:  The regime “must govern through consent, and not coercion.”

In typical Obama fashion, he still calls this “bearing witness,” but it is actually an encouraging turnaround.

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Not So Fast

Last week David Brooks told us ObamaCare was in the bag. Today he pronounces:

Health care reform is important, but it is not worth bankrupting the country over. If this process goes as it has been going — with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment — then we will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few years.

Wow — that was fast! What happened in the interim was a dose of reality and a whole lot of infighting among Democrats. All the talk that Obama had built a coalition — everyone was “in the tent” — and that the hapless Republicans were miles behind in the PR war, has proven illusory. Like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with water, healthcare reform — or at least the liberal version of it — has melted with the introduction of a few key facts: the CBO cost estimate, the aversion to a public option plan, the need for massive taxes to pay for it, and a queasy sense that the president’s popularity is fleeting and hasn’t convinced the public that bigger government is the way to go.

As Brooks’s colleague Ross Douthat points out, it was so much easier simply to throw spitballs at the Republicans:

Liberals torpedoed the Bush administration’s attempt to trim Social Security benefits. They demagogued John McCain in 2008, when he proposed a market-based health care plan and hinted at means-testing Medicare.

But now it’s their turn to actually run the country. And just as Bush-era conservatives couldn’t really make tax cuts pay for themselves, Obama-era Democrats aren’t really going to be able to finance universal health care without substantial middle-class tax increases, or substantial spending cuts.

And the president still seems fixated on meaningless feel-good announcements, the latest being an $80B commitment from drug companies to help defray costs for seniors. But it’s not really relevant to the the ongoing debate. Roll Call points out that “while the spending by the drugmakers will certainly assist some seniors, it is unclear how it would directly benefit the health reform effort by defraying the cost of providing a new government insurance option. The new spending will aid those who already have insurance — namely, Medicare.” And then today the two largest healthcare insurance groups say “no” to the public option.

It’s really not clear what happens next. The grandiose scheme to achieve universal coverage without taxes and without making clear Americans were to be herded out of private insurance is seemingly kaput. What will replace it has yet to be determined.

Last week David Brooks told us ObamaCare was in the bag. Today he pronounces:

Health care reform is important, but it is not worth bankrupting the country over. If this process goes as it has been going — with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment — then we will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few years.

Wow — that was fast! What happened in the interim was a dose of reality and a whole lot of infighting among Democrats. All the talk that Obama had built a coalition — everyone was “in the tent” — and that the hapless Republicans were miles behind in the PR war, has proven illusory. Like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with water, healthcare reform — or at least the liberal version of it — has melted with the introduction of a few key facts: the CBO cost estimate, the aversion to a public option plan, the need for massive taxes to pay for it, and a queasy sense that the president’s popularity is fleeting and hasn’t convinced the public that bigger government is the way to go.

As Brooks’s colleague Ross Douthat points out, it was so much easier simply to throw spitballs at the Republicans:

Liberals torpedoed the Bush administration’s attempt to trim Social Security benefits. They demagogued John McCain in 2008, when he proposed a market-based health care plan and hinted at means-testing Medicare.

But now it’s their turn to actually run the country. And just as Bush-era conservatives couldn’t really make tax cuts pay for themselves, Obama-era Democrats aren’t really going to be able to finance universal health care without substantial middle-class tax increases, or substantial spending cuts.

And the president still seems fixated on meaningless feel-good announcements, the latest being an $80B commitment from drug companies to help defray costs for seniors. But it’s not really relevant to the the ongoing debate. Roll Call points out that “while the spending by the drugmakers will certainly assist some seniors, it is unclear how it would directly benefit the health reform effort by defraying the cost of providing a new government insurance option. The new spending will aid those who already have insurance — namely, Medicare.” And then today the two largest healthcare insurance groups say “no” to the public option.

It’s really not clear what happens next. The grandiose scheme to achieve universal coverage without taxes and without making clear Americans were to be herded out of private insurance is seemingly kaput. What will replace it has yet to be determined.

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Bringing People Together

It seems that the Obama hostility campaign against Israel has created consensus. Unfortunately for the president the consensus from the Left and Right is “This is a bad idea.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports on a forum at a Maryland synagogue with Aaron David Miller (of James Baker fame) and Elliott Abrams (of the George W. Bush administration). Neither thought much of the Obama gambit:

Miller’s criticism of the White House was particularly notable, because he is not opposed to getting tough with Israel – he pointed out that every time the United States has succeeded in achieving a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict, there has been “some measure of unhappiness” and tension. He also believes that settlements are a big problem (although he said even his old boss Baker knew he couldn’t get Israel to freeze “natural growth” of settlements).

But “as legitimate a problem as settlements are with respect to undermining the environment toward a negotiation,” said Miller, they are a “distraction” given all the problems that need to be addressed.

And Abrams, who was instrumental in maintaining one of the warmest periods in U.S.-Israel relations, was equally critical:

“You catch more honey with flies than vinegar,” he said.

But Abrams added that he didn’t understand “how we got to where we are today,” considering that media reports have revealed that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had offered Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas 96 percent of the West Bank along with land swaps that added up to virtually 100 percent and “the answer he got back is nothing.”

“I would have thought this puts the onus on the Palestinians to do something, I would have thought that offer by Olmert shows the settlement expansion issue is phony” because Olmert’s offer was better than the one made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack at Camp David 10 years ago, said Abrams.

Both seemed to agree that there is no there, there — no viable Palestinian entity with which Israel can engage. As Miller said, “America cannot afford to have a policy based in illusion.” But that is what, for now, we have.

It seems that the Obama hostility campaign against Israel has created consensus. Unfortunately for the president the consensus from the Left and Right is “This is a bad idea.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports on a forum at a Maryland synagogue with Aaron David Miller (of James Baker fame) and Elliott Abrams (of the George W. Bush administration). Neither thought much of the Obama gambit:

Miller’s criticism of the White House was particularly notable, because he is not opposed to getting tough with Israel – he pointed out that every time the United States has succeeded in achieving a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict, there has been “some measure of unhappiness” and tension. He also believes that settlements are a big problem (although he said even his old boss Baker knew he couldn’t get Israel to freeze “natural growth” of settlements).

But “as legitimate a problem as settlements are with respect to undermining the environment toward a negotiation,” said Miller, they are a “distraction” given all the problems that need to be addressed.

And Abrams, who was instrumental in maintaining one of the warmest periods in U.S.-Israel relations, was equally critical:

“You catch more honey with flies than vinegar,” he said.

But Abrams added that he didn’t understand “how we got to where we are today,” considering that media reports have revealed that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had offered Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas 96 percent of the West Bank along with land swaps that added up to virtually 100 percent and “the answer he got back is nothing.”

“I would have thought this puts the onus on the Palestinians to do something, I would have thought that offer by Olmert shows the settlement expansion issue is phony” because Olmert’s offer was better than the one made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack at Camp David 10 years ago, said Abrams.

Both seemed to agree that there is no there, there — no viable Palestinian entity with which Israel can engage. As Miller said, “America cannot afford to have a policy based in illusion.” But that is what, for now, we have.

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Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That…

Quite often, when a person or group is accused of something improper or illegal, they’ll pretend to admit some guilt, while insisting on their innocence. For example, a corporation accused of dumping pollutants will pay a hefty settlement, but insist that the money is not an admission of their crime. It’s often accepted with a wink and a nod — “Sure, you’re innocent, you’re just doing this out of the goodness of your hearts and to make the whole mess go away.”

Well, there have been two such examples involving those closest and dearest to President Obama’s heart — and, as usual, it’s quite entertaining.

First up, Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor had been a member of the for-women-only elite group the Belizean Grove. Judge Sotomayor, a sitting federal judge, joined last year. Unfortunately, the American Bar Association’s judicial code states that it is inappropriate for a judge to belong to any group that discriminates on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin — and “No Boys Allowed” doesn’t exactly conform.

Sotomayor resigned from the club, but insisted that there was nothing inappropriate about the membership. No men had ever been admitted, but Sotomayor said that was because none had ever asked.

Meanwhile, ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now! — has announced that it has changed its name to “Community Organizations International.” The leaders of the Group Formerly Known as ACORN say that they had to jettison the name because it had drawn so much fire over the years. Apparently most of the criticism of ACORN has been provoked by the name itself. The conduct of the group, its leadership, and its members — which will likely continue unchanged under the new letterhead and banner — were not much of a factor at all.

From a branding perspective, it’s a bit of a shame. ACORN’s name was a call to action that lent itself to an easy-to-remember name and a snazzy logo. True, it also let people refer to them as “nuts,” but that’s a small price to pay for such an identifiable name.

Unless, of course, the conduct of those responsible for guarding ACORN’s reputation turn out to be completely inept, corrupt, or both. Incidents such as concealing a near-seven-figure embezzlement by the founder’s brother, keeping it away from public scrutiny and law enforcement until it can be quietly repaid. Incidents such as investigations of voter registration fraud in 14 states — with numerous convictions. Incidents as illegally seizing and occupying foreclosed homes.

So, how good is the new name? According to the Free Dictionary list of acronyms, the first meaning of “COI” is “Conflict Of Interest” — hardly a term this group would want to play around with.

Of course, it must be stated (and re-stated and re-stated) that in both cases, the changes are in no way an admission of wrongdoing. Nope. Not at all. Just done out of the same sense of the new apology — “I’m sorry that my remarks were misconstrued, and I apologize to anyone who might have been offended.”

Quite often, when a person or group is accused of something improper or illegal, they’ll pretend to admit some guilt, while insisting on their innocence. For example, a corporation accused of dumping pollutants will pay a hefty settlement, but insist that the money is not an admission of their crime. It’s often accepted with a wink and a nod — “Sure, you’re innocent, you’re just doing this out of the goodness of your hearts and to make the whole mess go away.”

Well, there have been two such examples involving those closest and dearest to President Obama’s heart — and, as usual, it’s quite entertaining.

First up, Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor had been a member of the for-women-only elite group the Belizean Grove. Judge Sotomayor, a sitting federal judge, joined last year. Unfortunately, the American Bar Association’s judicial code states that it is inappropriate for a judge to belong to any group that discriminates on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin — and “No Boys Allowed” doesn’t exactly conform.

Sotomayor resigned from the club, but insisted that there was nothing inappropriate about the membership. No men had ever been admitted, but Sotomayor said that was because none had ever asked.

Meanwhile, ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now! — has announced that it has changed its name to “Community Organizations International.” The leaders of the Group Formerly Known as ACORN say that they had to jettison the name because it had drawn so much fire over the years. Apparently most of the criticism of ACORN has been provoked by the name itself. The conduct of the group, its leadership, and its members — which will likely continue unchanged under the new letterhead and banner — were not much of a factor at all.

From a branding perspective, it’s a bit of a shame. ACORN’s name was a call to action that lent itself to an easy-to-remember name and a snazzy logo. True, it also let people refer to them as “nuts,” but that’s a small price to pay for such an identifiable name.

Unless, of course, the conduct of those responsible for guarding ACORN’s reputation turn out to be completely inept, corrupt, or both. Incidents such as concealing a near-seven-figure embezzlement by the founder’s brother, keeping it away from public scrutiny and law enforcement until it can be quietly repaid. Incidents such as investigations of voter registration fraud in 14 states — with numerous convictions. Incidents as illegally seizing and occupying foreclosed homes.

So, how good is the new name? According to the Free Dictionary list of acronyms, the first meaning of “COI” is “Conflict Of Interest” — hardly a term this group would want to play around with.

Of course, it must be stated (and re-stated and re-stated) that in both cases, the changes are in no way an admission of wrongdoing. Nope. Not at all. Just done out of the same sense of the new apology — “I’m sorry that my remarks were misconstrued, and I apologize to anyone who might have been offended.”

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Did Bernanke Cause the Financial Crisis?

Fed Chairman Bernanke is up for reappointment next year, and the questions are beginning in earnest about how he’s handled monetary policy. Some of the best-informed people out there insist that the cause of the housing bubble and the subsequent crash was an episode of low interest rates during 2003 and 2004, as the U.S. economy was recovering from the post-9/11 recession. Alan Greenspan was the Fed Chairman at that time, but Bernanke was prominent among the Fed’s governors, and fully supported the loose policy.

It’s always fun to look into the past for someone to blame, but the more important question is what this means for monetary policy going forward. To a careful observer, there can be no question that the crisis had many causes, and was greatly exacerbated by complex interactions that no one could have predicted.

For their part (and I agree with them), Bernanke and Greenspan have both pointed many times to the “savings glut,” a vast accumulation of dollar reserves by the governments of emerging nations. Its effects have been apparent since the mid-Nineties, as the excess capital reduced interest rates and excess production reduced inflationary expectations. Did the savings glut make possible the burst of financial technology that greased the skids of the financial system? No, it didn’t. But without the glut, there would have been far less incentive to find clever (and ultimately unsustainable) ways to increase investment yields.

We haven’t had such a strong deflationary episode since the early Thirties. Bernanke was absolutely right in seeing that coming. (We had more than enough clues from the various financial crises of the Nineties.) I simply have a hard time believing that twelve months of expansive monetary policy in 2003-04 triggered a housing bubble that arguably started up almost ten years ago and peaked in 2006.

Bubbles are blindingly obvious in retrospect, but very difficult to see when you’re in them, as counterintuitive as that may sound. When markets are rising, everyone who doesn’t pile on gets left behind, and that matters, because they lose their clients and go out of business. Greenspan and Bernanke would have been crucified for raising rates in ’03 and ’04 and prolonging the recession we were just recovering from. It’s always easier for a policymaker to let the party run on too long. Their indecision during the critical 2005-06 period shows in contemporary remarks by Greenspan that housing looked a little “frothy,” but probably not enough to be of concern.

But the question now is whether loose monetary policy is again setting us up for a crash. To compare quantitative easing to the low-interest rate policy of late 2003, is a lot like saying that the ocean is like a mud puddle because both are wet. We’re witnessing an extraordinary pulse of money creation, specifically intended to avoid repeating the grave policy errors of 1928-1932, a much bigger undertaking than counteracting a cyclical recession.

Market participants are now nearly unanimous in fearing powerful inflation ahead, as a result of the Fed’s current policy, and also because they see trillion-dollar budget deficits for years to come. Markets are violently uncertain on exactly how much and when, as can be seen in the daily see-saw of medium-term interest rates, commodity prices, and the dollar exchange-rate. But still: when everyone agrees on something, you  always have to ask what they’re missing.

The huge amount of money the Fed has created since last fall isn’t finding its way into the economy, and it isn’t fueling real inflation. (Things like crude oil and gold respond at least as much to market expectations as they do to reality.) The principal effect of all that excess money has been to repair the interbank lending markets, which are now looking quite close to normal. And this is a reminder that the Fed’s chief priority last fall was not the economy, but rather to prevent a financial meltdown. In this, they’ve succeeded commendably.

But what about the economy? What if final demand ticks up, and banks start putting money to work again? First off, it’s not a foregone conclusion that this is even possible. There’s no much wreckage in the financial system that no one really knows if the patient will start breathing on his own again, after the life support comes off.

But even if that does happen, the Fed has the tools to quickly wipe out huge amounts of excess liquidity. There are two questions: first, will they do it if/when the time comes? And second, will it matter?

The first, candidly, is a political question as much as an economic one. The government will doubtlessly apply pressure on the Fed to keep the party rolling, especially at a time when Bernanke is up for reappointment, and the historic independence of the Fed itself is being called into question.

But what if inflation appears, the Fed acts to quell it, and it doesn’t matter? This is a haunting and unanswerable question. The value of money is all about confidence. In history, hyperinflation has proved stubbornly unresponsive to actions by policymakers, especially in cases where  those same policymakers were seen as the cause of the problem.

We’re in uncharted territory, and it’s quite impossible to confidently predict how things will go from here, either in regard to the course of policy or to the course of events.

Fed Chairman Bernanke is up for reappointment next year, and the questions are beginning in earnest about how he’s handled monetary policy. Some of the best-informed people out there insist that the cause of the housing bubble and the subsequent crash was an episode of low interest rates during 2003 and 2004, as the U.S. economy was recovering from the post-9/11 recession. Alan Greenspan was the Fed Chairman at that time, but Bernanke was prominent among the Fed’s governors, and fully supported the loose policy.

It’s always fun to look into the past for someone to blame, but the more important question is what this means for monetary policy going forward. To a careful observer, there can be no question that the crisis had many causes, and was greatly exacerbated by complex interactions that no one could have predicted.

For their part (and I agree with them), Bernanke and Greenspan have both pointed many times to the “savings glut,” a vast accumulation of dollar reserves by the governments of emerging nations. Its effects have been apparent since the mid-Nineties, as the excess capital reduced interest rates and excess production reduced inflationary expectations. Did the savings glut make possible the burst of financial technology that greased the skids of the financial system? No, it didn’t. But without the glut, there would have been far less incentive to find clever (and ultimately unsustainable) ways to increase investment yields.

We haven’t had such a strong deflationary episode since the early Thirties. Bernanke was absolutely right in seeing that coming. (We had more than enough clues from the various financial crises of the Nineties.) I simply have a hard time believing that twelve months of expansive monetary policy in 2003-04 triggered a housing bubble that arguably started up almost ten years ago and peaked in 2006.

Bubbles are blindingly obvious in retrospect, but very difficult to see when you’re in them, as counterintuitive as that may sound. When markets are rising, everyone who doesn’t pile on gets left behind, and that matters, because they lose their clients and go out of business. Greenspan and Bernanke would have been crucified for raising rates in ’03 and ’04 and prolonging the recession we were just recovering from. It’s always easier for a policymaker to let the party run on too long. Their indecision during the critical 2005-06 period shows in contemporary remarks by Greenspan that housing looked a little “frothy,” but probably not enough to be of concern.

But the question now is whether loose monetary policy is again setting us up for a crash. To compare quantitative easing to the low-interest rate policy of late 2003, is a lot like saying that the ocean is like a mud puddle because both are wet. We’re witnessing an extraordinary pulse of money creation, specifically intended to avoid repeating the grave policy errors of 1928-1932, a much bigger undertaking than counteracting a cyclical recession.

Market participants are now nearly unanimous in fearing powerful inflation ahead, as a result of the Fed’s current policy, and also because they see trillion-dollar budget deficits for years to come. Markets are violently uncertain on exactly how much and when, as can be seen in the daily see-saw of medium-term interest rates, commodity prices, and the dollar exchange-rate. But still: when everyone agrees on something, you  always have to ask what they’re missing.

The huge amount of money the Fed has created since last fall isn’t finding its way into the economy, and it isn’t fueling real inflation. (Things like crude oil and gold respond at least as much to market expectations as they do to reality.) The principal effect of all that excess money has been to repair the interbank lending markets, which are now looking quite close to normal. And this is a reminder that the Fed’s chief priority last fall was not the economy, but rather to prevent a financial meltdown. In this, they’ve succeeded commendably.

But what about the economy? What if final demand ticks up, and banks start putting money to work again? First off, it’s not a foregone conclusion that this is even possible. There’s no much wreckage in the financial system that no one really knows if the patient will start breathing on his own again, after the life support comes off.

But even if that does happen, the Fed has the tools to quickly wipe out huge amounts of excess liquidity. There are two questions: first, will they do it if/when the time comes? And second, will it matter?

The first, candidly, is a political question as much as an economic one. The government will doubtlessly apply pressure on the Fed to keep the party rolling, especially at a time when Bernanke is up for reappointment, and the historic independence of the Fed itself is being called into question.

But what if inflation appears, the Fed acts to quell it, and it doesn’t matter? This is a haunting and unanswerable question. The value of money is all about confidence. In history, hyperinflation has proved stubbornly unresponsive to actions by policymakers, especially in cases where  those same policymakers were seen as the cause of the problem.

We’re in uncharted territory, and it’s quite impossible to confidently predict how things will go from here, either in regard to the course of policy or to the course of events.

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Not Exactly Like the Campaign

Richard Cohen seems to like Obama’s equivocation on Iran because, after all, who’s to know “how Iran is actually governed.” (Hint: through terror, murder, abduction, and censorship). He concludes:

Still, if McCain, Graham and others have a valid complaint, it is not with Obama’s words but with his music. The President of Cool seems emotionally disconnected from events in Tehran — not unconcerned but not particularly upset, either. This is a quality that will cost Obama plenty in coming years. He can acknowledge your pain, but he cannot feel it.

Iran, the first foreign policy “crisis,” alerts us to what to expect in the future: a tightly controlled message from the White House (Anyone heard from Hillary Clinton lately?), a deliberate consideration of the options and no shoot-from-the-hip remarks. This is how Obama ran his campaign. This is how he’ll run his foreign policy. As McCain should know, it works.

That’s a lot to unpack. But his first point is a valid one: does Obama really empathize (that’s supposed to be big with him) with those Iranians yearning to throw off the yoke of the theocratic thugs? Does he even know about the gruesome killing of the young woman Neda in Iran? His spokesman isn’t really sure. All we know is that he remains obsessed with keeping hope alive — for a deal with the regime to give up their nukes. The rest is simply a distraction.

As to his next point, Cohen isn’t quite right: the White House message hasn’t been all that disciplined. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden felt compelled to leak their objections to the “no meddling” approach to the New York Times. The president on Saturday offered support for the demonstrators but by Monday the State Department was back to spinning for engagement once again. And then, of course, we can’t let the murder of Iranian citizens, the arrest of protesters and reporters, and the attack on independent media get in the way of July 4 picnics and outreach, right? If, as the president says, the whole world is watching, then the whole world might be a bit confused about just what America stands for and how strongly it stands for it.

But Cohen’s last point is simply ludicrous, although it no doubt channels the White House thinking on Iran and most everything else. In their eyes, governing is just like the campaign. You have photo ops, the media swoons, the opposition can be distorted or ignored (because they are less popular than Obama) and everything falls into place. Except it doesn’t. The world is not a campaign. The mullahs aren’t a hapless McCain team weighed down by an unpopular incumbent. This is the real deal and the president seems painfully oblivious to the monumental events unfolding.

Come to think of it, there was a campaign moment just like this — the invasion of Georgia. And there too Obama froze, hid behind the palm trees on vacation, and could not tell the aggressor from the victim. Well, maybe Cohen has a point after all.

Richard Cohen seems to like Obama’s equivocation on Iran because, after all, who’s to know “how Iran is actually governed.” (Hint: through terror, murder, abduction, and censorship). He concludes:

Still, if McCain, Graham and others have a valid complaint, it is not with Obama’s words but with his music. The President of Cool seems emotionally disconnected from events in Tehran — not unconcerned but not particularly upset, either. This is a quality that will cost Obama plenty in coming years. He can acknowledge your pain, but he cannot feel it.

Iran, the first foreign policy “crisis,” alerts us to what to expect in the future: a tightly controlled message from the White House (Anyone heard from Hillary Clinton lately?), a deliberate consideration of the options and no shoot-from-the-hip remarks. This is how Obama ran his campaign. This is how he’ll run his foreign policy. As McCain should know, it works.

That’s a lot to unpack. But his first point is a valid one: does Obama really empathize (that’s supposed to be big with him) with those Iranians yearning to throw off the yoke of the theocratic thugs? Does he even know about the gruesome killing of the young woman Neda in Iran? His spokesman isn’t really sure. All we know is that he remains obsessed with keeping hope alive — for a deal with the regime to give up their nukes. The rest is simply a distraction.

As to his next point, Cohen isn’t quite right: the White House message hasn’t been all that disciplined. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden felt compelled to leak their objections to the “no meddling” approach to the New York Times. The president on Saturday offered support for the demonstrators but by Monday the State Department was back to spinning for engagement once again. And then, of course, we can’t let the murder of Iranian citizens, the arrest of protesters and reporters, and the attack on independent media get in the way of July 4 picnics and outreach, right? If, as the president says, the whole world is watching, then the whole world might be a bit confused about just what America stands for and how strongly it stands for it.

But Cohen’s last point is simply ludicrous, although it no doubt channels the White House thinking on Iran and most everything else. In their eyes, governing is just like the campaign. You have photo ops, the media swoons, the opposition can be distorted or ignored (because they are less popular than Obama) and everything falls into place. Except it doesn’t. The world is not a campaign. The mullahs aren’t a hapless McCain team weighed down by an unpopular incumbent. This is the real deal and the president seems painfully oblivious to the monumental events unfolding.

Come to think of it, there was a campaign moment just like this — the invasion of Georgia. And there too Obama froze, hid behind the palm trees on vacation, and could not tell the aggressor from the victim. Well, maybe Cohen has a point after all.

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Help Wherever They Can Find It

How desperate are Iranian demonstrators for outside support? So desperate some are not afraid to beseech the Little Satan for aid. The Wall Street Journal reports on Israel’s Farsi-language radio broadcast:

On a recent day, as Mr. Amir sat in his tiny studio in Kol Israel’s Jerusalem offices, one caller from Iran, his voice trembling with emotion, recounted how “there’s blood on the streets and people are being killed like butterflies.” Another urged the world to help the protesters-reminding that Persian emperor Cyrus the Great protected and aided the Jews two and a half millennia ago, and asking the Jewish state to repay the favor by supporting Iranian demonstrators today.

Actually perhaps that’s not so unexpected given the long history of amity between Israel and Iran prior to Iran’s Revolution. But it is certainly at odds with the popular conception that all Iranians have been brainwashed since 1979 into becoming violently anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. That stereotype is as inaccurate as the view that all, or even most, Iranians hate the United States and would view any support for their cause from that quarter as the kiss of death. In fact, as numerous visitors have noted over the years (I heard Nick Kristof of the New York Times make this point on TV just a few days ago), ordinary Iranians hold the U.S. in very high regard. And needless to say, Barack Obama has to be as popular in Iran as he is everywhere else around the world — at least he would have been, before his failure to make his voice heard on the regime’s recent atrocities. So why is it again that President Obama thinks support from him will harm the demonstrators’ cause? Heck, if he’s not willing to step forward, perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to emerge as their champion. (I’m kidding — but only just.)

How desperate are Iranian demonstrators for outside support? So desperate some are not afraid to beseech the Little Satan for aid. The Wall Street Journal reports on Israel’s Farsi-language radio broadcast:

On a recent day, as Mr. Amir sat in his tiny studio in Kol Israel’s Jerusalem offices, one caller from Iran, his voice trembling with emotion, recounted how “there’s blood on the streets and people are being killed like butterflies.” Another urged the world to help the protesters-reminding that Persian emperor Cyrus the Great protected and aided the Jews two and a half millennia ago, and asking the Jewish state to repay the favor by supporting Iranian demonstrators today.

Actually perhaps that’s not so unexpected given the long history of amity between Israel and Iran prior to Iran’s Revolution. But it is certainly at odds with the popular conception that all Iranians have been brainwashed since 1979 into becoming violently anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. That stereotype is as inaccurate as the view that all, or even most, Iranians hate the United States and would view any support for their cause from that quarter as the kiss of death. In fact, as numerous visitors have noted over the years (I heard Nick Kristof of the New York Times make this point on TV just a few days ago), ordinary Iranians hold the U.S. in very high regard. And needless to say, Barack Obama has to be as popular in Iran as he is everywhere else around the world — at least he would have been, before his failure to make his voice heard on the regime’s recent atrocities. So why is it again that President Obama thinks support from him will harm the demonstrators’ cause? Heck, if he’s not willing to step forward, perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to emerge as their champion. (I’m kidding — but only just.)

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Time Ticking

While conservatives may have had their hopes raised for a complete invalidation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is reason for advocates of a colorblind society to be cheered. It seems time is on their side.

Tom Goldstein has it right on the Supreme Court’s ruling:

Though the Supreme Court by a wide margin today formally declined to resolve a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, the reality is far different. The decision unambiguously served notice that the Justices are prepared to invalidate the statute as it stands. Congress is now effectively on the clock: it has the period between now and the date that it decides a follow-on challenge by a covered jurisdiction that is not permitted to ‘bail out’ of the statutory scheme to amend Section 5. If the statute remains the same by the time the next case arrives, the Court will invalidate the statute.

His entire post is worth reading, but the upshot is clear: the days when the liberal civil rights lobby could rely on past discrimination to justify extraordinary federal supervision of all elections are running out.

But then the public’s patience with identity politics is ebbing. We also had news that voters will have another opportunity to vote down racial preferences:

Arizonans will vote next year on a proposed state constitutional amendment to generally prohibit state and local governments from discrimination and preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity and sex. The House already approved the measure Thursday, so Senate passage on a 17-11 vote without debate Monday sends the measure championed by Republican legislators and California activist Ward Connerly to Arizona’ November 2010 ballot. If Arizona voters approve the amendment, the state would join four other states – California, Nebraska, Michigan and Washington – that have approved versions.

I wonder why the 11 state senators didn’t want to debate an important issue like this on the merits, but perhaps it has to do with public sentiment about quotas and racial preferences. It seems that neither public opinion nor time is on the side of those who would retain a system of racial spoils and perpetual victim status.

While conservatives may have had their hopes raised for a complete invalidation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is reason for advocates of a colorblind society to be cheered. It seems time is on their side.

Tom Goldstein has it right on the Supreme Court’s ruling:

Though the Supreme Court by a wide margin today formally declined to resolve a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, the reality is far different. The decision unambiguously served notice that the Justices are prepared to invalidate the statute as it stands. Congress is now effectively on the clock: it has the period between now and the date that it decides a follow-on challenge by a covered jurisdiction that is not permitted to ‘bail out’ of the statutory scheme to amend Section 5. If the statute remains the same by the time the next case arrives, the Court will invalidate the statute.

His entire post is worth reading, but the upshot is clear: the days when the liberal civil rights lobby could rely on past discrimination to justify extraordinary federal supervision of all elections are running out.

But then the public’s patience with identity politics is ebbing. We also had news that voters will have another opportunity to vote down racial preferences:

Arizonans will vote next year on a proposed state constitutional amendment to generally prohibit state and local governments from discrimination and preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity and sex. The House already approved the measure Thursday, so Senate passage on a 17-11 vote without debate Monday sends the measure championed by Republican legislators and California activist Ward Connerly to Arizona’ November 2010 ballot. If Arizona voters approve the amendment, the state would join four other states – California, Nebraska, Michigan and Washington – that have approved versions.

I wonder why the 11 state senators didn’t want to debate an important issue like this on the merits, but perhaps it has to do with public sentiment about quotas and racial preferences. It seems that neither public opinion nor time is on the side of those who would retain a system of racial spoils and perpetual victim status.

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Callous BBQ

This is truly sick:

The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.

President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”

It’s bad enough that the president is deliberately refraining from being too outspoken in favor of the freedom fighters who are being beaten, shot, and tear-gassed in the streets of Tehran. But that he’s still prepared to have America’s diplomats break bread with representatives of the very regime responsible for this terrible oppression, and to do it on the holiday that celebrates our own struggle for freedom — that’s too nauseating for words.

It essentially confirms the analysis of those who have suggested that Obama is not going to deviate one iota from his previous course of “engagement” with Iran, no matter how absurd and immoral that course now appears to be. For a candidate who mocked the previous president for his supposed adherence to ideology over reality, Obama is displaying that very tendency — only, of course, his ideology is not the advancement of freedom but the advancement of negotiations in the vain hope that somehow we can find common ground with the world’s vilest regimes.

(h/t: the Weekly Standard)

This is truly sick:

The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.

President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”

It’s bad enough that the president is deliberately refraining from being too outspoken in favor of the freedom fighters who are being beaten, shot, and tear-gassed in the streets of Tehran. But that he’s still prepared to have America’s diplomats break bread with representatives of the very regime responsible for this terrible oppression, and to do it on the holiday that celebrates our own struggle for freedom — that’s too nauseating for words.

It essentially confirms the analysis of those who have suggested that Obama is not going to deviate one iota from his previous course of “engagement” with Iran, no matter how absurd and immoral that course now appears to be. For a candidate who mocked the previous president for his supposed adherence to ideology over reality, Obama is displaying that very tendency — only, of course, his ideology is not the advancement of freedom but the advancement of negotiations in the vain hope that somehow we can find common ground with the world’s vilest regimes.

(h/t: the Weekly Standard)

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From the “George Bush isn’t president anymore” file: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 39% of voters now say the country’s economic problems are caused more by the policies Obama has put in place. That’s a 12-point jump from a month ago.”

Chris Cillizza says Obama still wants to pick a fight with Dick Cheney about national security. Ummm, I think that already happened. And Obama lost. But let’s go for two out of three!

And not many people like the Obama stimulus plan: “Barely half of Americans are now confident that President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus measure will boost the economy, and the rapid rise in optimism about the state of the nation that followed the 2008 election has abated, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Overall, 52 percent now say the stimulus package has succeeded or will succeed in restoring the economy, compared with 59 percent two months ago.”

Politico figures it out: “Eroding confidence in President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and ability to control spending have caused his approval ratings to wilt to their lowest levels since taking office, according to a spate of recent polls, a sign of political weakness that comes just as he most needs leverage on Capitol Hill.”

Like a hapless witness in a protection program, Dennis Ross is shuffled hither and yon. Iraq perhaps?

Jeffrey Goldberg is at it again, this time debunking Andrew Sullivan’s excuses for the inexcusable pro-Iran rhetoric which Roger Cohen spewed pre-June 12: “In fact, he [Cohen] made a name for himself internationally as one of the leading Western apologists for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, arguing that the regime was substantially benign and that engagement with these murderers was practically a moral necessity. He saw nothing coming, nothing at all. He has even admitted as much.”

In case you had any doubt: “Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are included in the US demand that Israel halt ‘settlement’ construction, including for natural growth, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told The Jerusalem Post during a press briefing on Monday.” By the way, does anyone still think this is the central issue in the Middle East?

Even the UN has taken a break from Israel-bashing to warn the mullahs about “use of force against civilians in Iran and urged authorities to respect civil rights in dealing with protests over presidential election results.”

Uh-oh: “Stocks sank Monday, ending at three-week lows, as the World Bank’s weak outlook on global growth and a selloff in commodity prices sent investors heading for the exits. . . . The World Bank cut its 2009 forecast, predicting that global growth will shrink by 2.9% versus its earlier forecast for a 1.7% contraction. Global trade is expected to plummet 9.7% this year, it said. Developing countries have been especially hard, with the exception of booming China and India.”

Opponents of Sotomayor’s nomination gear up: “Senate Republicans are expected to begin formally making their case against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday with a series of speeches questioning her involvement in a Puerto Rican civil rights group and her positions on a number of legal issues. On tap for a series of floor speeches: gun rights, the role of ‘empathy’ in her rulings as a federal judge, and whether she has allowed foreign laws to inform her decisions in the past.” Perhaps they will spend some time on Frank Ricci as well.

Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America thinks Obama “may become the most hostile president to Israel ever.” Well, let’s say things haven’t started out well. Klein: “There are many leaders in the organized Jewish world who have privately discussed this issue with me, and say they are deeply concerned about Obama’s actions and policies toward Israel . . . He is relentlessly pressuring Israel while applying virtually almost no pressure on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its written obligations.”

From the “George Bush isn’t president anymore” file: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 39% of voters now say the country’s economic problems are caused more by the policies Obama has put in place. That’s a 12-point jump from a month ago.”

Chris Cillizza says Obama still wants to pick a fight with Dick Cheney about national security. Ummm, I think that already happened. And Obama lost. But let’s go for two out of three!

And not many people like the Obama stimulus plan: “Barely half of Americans are now confident that President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus measure will boost the economy, and the rapid rise in optimism about the state of the nation that followed the 2008 election has abated, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Overall, 52 percent now say the stimulus package has succeeded or will succeed in restoring the economy, compared with 59 percent two months ago.”

Politico figures it out: “Eroding confidence in President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and ability to control spending have caused his approval ratings to wilt to their lowest levels since taking office, according to a spate of recent polls, a sign of political weakness that comes just as he most needs leverage on Capitol Hill.”

Like a hapless witness in a protection program, Dennis Ross is shuffled hither and yon. Iraq perhaps?

Jeffrey Goldberg is at it again, this time debunking Andrew Sullivan’s excuses for the inexcusable pro-Iran rhetoric which Roger Cohen spewed pre-June 12: “In fact, he [Cohen] made a name for himself internationally as one of the leading Western apologists for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, arguing that the regime was substantially benign and that engagement with these murderers was practically a moral necessity. He saw nothing coming, nothing at all. He has even admitted as much.”

In case you had any doubt: “Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are included in the US demand that Israel halt ‘settlement’ construction, including for natural growth, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told The Jerusalem Post during a press briefing on Monday.” By the way, does anyone still think this is the central issue in the Middle East?

Even the UN has taken a break from Israel-bashing to warn the mullahs about “use of force against civilians in Iran and urged authorities to respect civil rights in dealing with protests over presidential election results.”

Uh-oh: “Stocks sank Monday, ending at three-week lows, as the World Bank’s weak outlook on global growth and a selloff in commodity prices sent investors heading for the exits. . . . The World Bank cut its 2009 forecast, predicting that global growth will shrink by 2.9% versus its earlier forecast for a 1.7% contraction. Global trade is expected to plummet 9.7% this year, it said. Developing countries have been especially hard, with the exception of booming China and India.”

Opponents of Sotomayor’s nomination gear up: “Senate Republicans are expected to begin formally making their case against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday with a series of speeches questioning her involvement in a Puerto Rican civil rights group and her positions on a number of legal issues. On tap for a series of floor speeches: gun rights, the role of ‘empathy’ in her rulings as a federal judge, and whether she has allowed foreign laws to inform her decisions in the past.” Perhaps they will spend some time on Frank Ricci as well.

Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America thinks Obama “may become the most hostile president to Israel ever.” Well, let’s say things haven’t started out well. Klein: “There are many leaders in the organized Jewish world who have privately discussed this issue with me, and say they are deeply concerned about Obama’s actions and policies toward Israel . . . He is relentlessly pressuring Israel while applying virtually almost no pressure on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its written obligations.”

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