Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 30, 2009

The Silent Powers

Last week, John Conyers (D-MI), the powerful 23-term Congressman from Michigan, announced he would not be leading a probe into the organization formerly known as ACORN (Association Of Community Organizations for Reform Now) for their sundry thoroughly-documented illegalities and improprieties. Mr. Conyers explained that “the powers that be decided against it.”

As noted, Mr. Conyers is a remarkably powerful individual. His statement implies that the decision to lay off of ACORN — or COI (Community Organizations International), as they want to be called these days — wasn’t his.

So, whose was it? Who are these “powers that be?”

Only two plausible alternatives spring to mind: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration. As Speaker, Pelosi has the authority to strip Conyers of his position as chairman, which he holds at her sole discretion. But in practice, it would be uncomfortable for her to take such a drastic measure because Pelosi’s own post depends on the good will of her fellow Democrats in the House. If she takes on despotic tendencies, they can turn on her and get her replaced as Speaker.

And then there’s the Obama administration, whose head has worked closely both with and for ACORN throughout his career and even owes a bit to ACORN for their efforts in helping him win the presidential election. Obama’s Justice Department would have been tasked with assisting Conyers in his probe of ACORN’s illegal practices. But the Justice Department just wrung a guilty plea from Conyers’ wife, Monica Conyers, on federal corruption charges, and will also make a sentencing recommendation in her case, which could net her up to five years in prison.

Of course, this is all just speculation. Representative Conyers could clear up all suspicions by elaborating on his remarks and explaining why ACORN should not be exempted from scrutiny. But he seems to have learned a lesson from Speaker Pelosi when she accused the CIA of routinely lying to Congress: when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Last week, John Conyers (D-MI), the powerful 23-term Congressman from Michigan, announced he would not be leading a probe into the organization formerly known as ACORN (Association Of Community Organizations for Reform Now) for their sundry thoroughly-documented illegalities and improprieties. Mr. Conyers explained that “the powers that be decided against it.”

As noted, Mr. Conyers is a remarkably powerful individual. His statement implies that the decision to lay off of ACORN — or COI (Community Organizations International), as they want to be called these days — wasn’t his.

So, whose was it? Who are these “powers that be?”

Only two plausible alternatives spring to mind: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration. As Speaker, Pelosi has the authority to strip Conyers of his position as chairman, which he holds at her sole discretion. But in practice, it would be uncomfortable for her to take such a drastic measure because Pelosi’s own post depends on the good will of her fellow Democrats in the House. If she takes on despotic tendencies, they can turn on her and get her replaced as Speaker.

And then there’s the Obama administration, whose head has worked closely both with and for ACORN throughout his career and even owes a bit to ACORN for their efforts in helping him win the presidential election. Obama’s Justice Department would have been tasked with assisting Conyers in his probe of ACORN’s illegal practices. But the Justice Department just wrung a guilty plea from Conyers’ wife, Monica Conyers, on federal corruption charges, and will also make a sentencing recommendation in her case, which could net her up to five years in prison.

Of course, this is all just speculation. Representative Conyers could clear up all suspicions by elaborating on his remarks and explaining why ACORN should not be exempted from scrutiny. But he seems to have learned a lesson from Speaker Pelosi when she accused the CIA of routinely lying to Congress: when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

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Yeah, Just Like the Emancipation Proclamation

This nugget from the Washington Post’s account of the lobbying effort on cap-and-trade is revealing:

When Obama entered the fray on May 5, summoning all 36 committee Democrats to the White House, he didn’t make a single demand. Rather, participants say, he pointed to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and said, “He had a chance to affect history. You, too, have a chance to affect history.”

The moral preening and self-regard is stunning. Yeah, just as Lincoln freed the slaves, they too can leave their mark by tens of billions in taxes for no measurable change in the world’s output of carbon emissions. Same deal. One wonders if they buy this hooey. I suppose some do.

Equally noteworthy is the lack of content in the argument. Does the president know what’s in the bill and ever argue on its merits, or is the schlocky salesmanship all we can expect from the White House? One wonders whether anyone in that room remotely understood the brew of anti-free trade, regulatory sleight of hand, and lobbying give-away’s that rendered the bill’s “carbon limits” nearly meaningless. No wonder Obama considers anyone who opposes the bill to be “fear mongering.” You’d think so too if what you were selling was political immortality.

This nugget from the Washington Post’s account of the lobbying effort on cap-and-trade is revealing:

When Obama entered the fray on May 5, summoning all 36 committee Democrats to the White House, he didn’t make a single demand. Rather, participants say, he pointed to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and said, “He had a chance to affect history. You, too, have a chance to affect history.”

The moral preening and self-regard is stunning. Yeah, just as Lincoln freed the slaves, they too can leave their mark by tens of billions in taxes for no measurable change in the world’s output of carbon emissions. Same deal. One wonders if they buy this hooey. I suppose some do.

Equally noteworthy is the lack of content in the argument. Does the president know what’s in the bill and ever argue on its merits, or is the schlocky salesmanship all we can expect from the White House? One wonders whether anyone in that room remotely understood the brew of anti-free trade, regulatory sleight of hand, and lobbying give-away’s that rendered the bill’s “carbon limits” nearly meaningless. No wonder Obama considers anyone who opposes the bill to be “fear mongering.” You’d think so too if what you were selling was political immortality.

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Big Leagues

For once, the Obama administration is taking the right tack regarding to North Korea.

Recently, the belligerent communist dictatorship announced plans for testing its latest long-range nuclear-capable missile through a launch in Hawaii’s direction this Saturday — a lovely little 4th of July tribute. Apparently, our deployment of anti-missile systems to our 50th state is tantamount to an act of war.

This is the same North Korea that keeps testing nuclear weapons and shouts its belligerence and defiance to the world ad nauseam.

So, how did the Obama administration choose to answer the latest escalating confrontation? By “testing” one of our own ICBMs. That’s right. On virtually zero notice, we dusted off one of our Minuteman III missiles (a weapon celebrating its 40th birthday this year) and shot it off in the general direction of North Korea.

This response should drive home more effectively than any diplomatic wording could, the message that whatever military ambitions North Korea may be fevering with, we have realized them and surpassed them decades ago. Our warheads, unlike theirs, actually work. So Kim, are you sure you want in on this game?

This is perhaps the only language North Korea can understand. The question remains whether it will smarten up in the wake of this display of force, or attempt to call Obama’s bluff.

For once, the Obama administration is taking the right tack regarding to North Korea.

Recently, the belligerent communist dictatorship announced plans for testing its latest long-range nuclear-capable missile through a launch in Hawaii’s direction this Saturday — a lovely little 4th of July tribute. Apparently, our deployment of anti-missile systems to our 50th state is tantamount to an act of war.

This is the same North Korea that keeps testing nuclear weapons and shouts its belligerence and defiance to the world ad nauseam.

So, how did the Obama administration choose to answer the latest escalating confrontation? By “testing” one of our own ICBMs. That’s right. On virtually zero notice, we dusted off one of our Minuteman III missiles (a weapon celebrating its 40th birthday this year) and shot it off in the general direction of North Korea.

This response should drive home more effectively than any diplomatic wording could, the message that whatever military ambitions North Korea may be fevering with, we have realized them and surpassed them decades ago. Our warheads, unlike theirs, actually work. So Kim, are you sure you want in on this game?

This is perhaps the only language North Korea can understand. The question remains whether it will smarten up in the wake of this display of force, or attempt to call Obama’s bluff.

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Labour’s Hidden Debt — And How not to Fix It

If the government wants to spend money on a program — presuming it’s unwilling to simply roll the printing presses — it must choose between two ways of acquiring the needed funds. It can borrow the money, or it can raise it through taxation. Neither source is ideal. The disadvantage of raising taxes is obvious. The disadvantage of borrowing stems from markets taking notice, and — if you do it often and irresponsibly enough — punishing you for it.

In Britain, Labour found a third way: i.e., writing very long-term contracts to private firms responsible for building and maintaining capital assets, in return for annual payments. Practically speaking, this mounts up to the same as borrowing — a contact, like debt, represents an obligation to make a stream of future payments. But legally speaking, it’s not the same, because in the U.K. contractual obligations are not accounted for in the same way as traditional debt.

The result? Since 1997, Britain’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has piled up billions of pounds of obligations that do not figure on the balance sheet. Simply adding up the future payments is naïve, because it ignores the time value of money, but the figure is illustrative nonetheless: it’s now 217 billion pounds over the next twenty five years. A better estimate is that, in today’s money, Britain’s PFI obligations amount to 124 billion pounds through 2041 — not an unsustainable sum on its own, but also not the kind of debt that’s wise to ignore.

Britain’s unions, suffice it to say, have never been fans of PFI, and now that the buzzards are circling over Labour and Gordon Brown’s spendthrift ways, they’re out for blood. In theory, this is because, as one union officer put it:

PFI is a flawed and expensive exercise that continues to consume billions of pounds in costly contracts for the enormous profit of private companies. This is money that could be better spent on frontline services for patients and clients.

Of course, it is union members who are responsible for providing those “frontline services,” so, in practice, the union is actually exercised about competition for the funds going toward these costly contracts. The unions are right to criticize the government’s failure to put PFI on the books, but wrong about most everything else. The next government in Britain will have a tough time retaining the good in PFI and discarding the bad.

But fixing PFI isn’t an isolated internal problem for Britain. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s got serious implications for Britain’s defenses. And, more broadly, it’s also an issue worth keeping an eye on in the context of U.S. fiscal policy. As the Obama administration’s budget bloats, the temptation to try a PFI-style trick in America will grow. Right now, the U.S.’s system of budgetary scoring makes it difficult to keep expenses off the books. But as the history of British Labour shows, a desire to spend combined with an unwillingness to pay can lead to all sorts of creative accounting concoctions, even in a country like Britain, formerly renowned for fiscal honesty.

If the government wants to spend money on a program — presuming it’s unwilling to simply roll the printing presses — it must choose between two ways of acquiring the needed funds. It can borrow the money, or it can raise it through taxation. Neither source is ideal. The disadvantage of raising taxes is obvious. The disadvantage of borrowing stems from markets taking notice, and — if you do it often and irresponsibly enough — punishing you for it.

In Britain, Labour found a third way: i.e., writing very long-term contracts to private firms responsible for building and maintaining capital assets, in return for annual payments. Practically speaking, this mounts up to the same as borrowing — a contact, like debt, represents an obligation to make a stream of future payments. But legally speaking, it’s not the same, because in the U.K. contractual obligations are not accounted for in the same way as traditional debt.

The result? Since 1997, Britain’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has piled up billions of pounds of obligations that do not figure on the balance sheet. Simply adding up the future payments is naïve, because it ignores the time value of money, but the figure is illustrative nonetheless: it’s now 217 billion pounds over the next twenty five years. A better estimate is that, in today’s money, Britain’s PFI obligations amount to 124 billion pounds through 2041 — not an unsustainable sum on its own, but also not the kind of debt that’s wise to ignore.

Britain’s unions, suffice it to say, have never been fans of PFI, and now that the buzzards are circling over Labour and Gordon Brown’s spendthrift ways, they’re out for blood. In theory, this is because, as one union officer put it:

PFI is a flawed and expensive exercise that continues to consume billions of pounds in costly contracts for the enormous profit of private companies. This is money that could be better spent on frontline services for patients and clients.

Of course, it is union members who are responsible for providing those “frontline services,” so, in practice, the union is actually exercised about competition for the funds going toward these costly contracts. The unions are right to criticize the government’s failure to put PFI on the books, but wrong about most everything else. The next government in Britain will have a tough time retaining the good in PFI and discarding the bad.

But fixing PFI isn’t an isolated internal problem for Britain. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it’s got serious implications for Britain’s defenses. And, more broadly, it’s also an issue worth keeping an eye on in the context of U.S. fiscal policy. As the Obama administration’s budget bloats, the temptation to try a PFI-style trick in America will grow. Right now, the U.S.’s system of budgetary scoring makes it difficult to keep expenses off the books. But as the history of British Labour shows, a desire to spend combined with an unwillingness to pay can lead to all sorts of creative accounting concoctions, even in a country like Britain, formerly renowned for fiscal honesty.

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Senator Franken?

In a unanimous five-to-zero decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner of the U.S. Senate race. While there was no explicit order directing Governor Pawlenty to sign the certification sending Franken to the U.S. Senate, pressure will soon mount to do just that. Norm Coleman may choose to mount an equal-protection argument under Bush v. Gore in federal court, alleging that unequal treatment of ballots rendered the count invalid. It has always been a long shot and it would now, I think, appear as nothing more than a stalling tactic.

While conservatives might dread Senator Franken, that’s how the votes — or their recount, at any rate — went. If they want to preserve some intellectual credibility in deploring post-election stalling and litigation, they might consider accepting the inevitable. After all, there are only five and a half years to go on his term.

UPDATE: Coleman graciously conceded.

In a unanimous five-to-zero decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner of the U.S. Senate race. While there was no explicit order directing Governor Pawlenty to sign the certification sending Franken to the U.S. Senate, pressure will soon mount to do just that. Norm Coleman may choose to mount an equal-protection argument under Bush v. Gore in federal court, alleging that unequal treatment of ballots rendered the count invalid. It has always been a long shot and it would now, I think, appear as nothing more than a stalling tactic.

While conservatives might dread Senator Franken, that’s how the votes — or their recount, at any rate — went. If they want to preserve some intellectual credibility in deploring post-election stalling and litigation, they might consider accepting the inevitable. After all, there are only five and a half years to go on his term.

UPDATE: Coleman graciously conceded.

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Brimming with Legislative Disasters

It wasn’t too long ago that David Brooks told us Obama was “brimming” with new ideas. He had great ideas, smart notions for fixing what ails us, and they wouldn’t resemble the same old tired answers we’ve been given before. So much for that…. Now Brooks says that Obama is almost entirely deferring to Congress, a result of some sort of “post-traumatic distress syndrome” that has gripped Democrats since HillaryCare went belly up and convinced them to let Congress do everything. The result is a mix of unworkable and extreme legislation — the stimulus plan and cap-and-trade being the worst. Brooks concedes:

On the stimulus bill, the Democratic committee chairmen wrote a sprawling bill that incorporated the diverse wishes of hundreds of members and interest groups. But as they did so, the bill had less and less to do with stimulus. Only about 40 percent of the money in the bill was truly stimulative, and that money was not designed to be spent quickly. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 11 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus will be disbursed by the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed, but it is not doing much to create jobs this year and it will not do nearly as much as it could to create jobs in 2010.

On cap and trade, the House chairmen took a relatively clean though politically difficult idea — auctioning off pollution permits — and they transformed it into a morass of corporate giveaways that make the stimulus bill look parsimonious. Permits would now be given to well-connected companies. Utilities and agribusiness would be rolling in government-generated profits. Thousands of goodies were thrown into the 1,201-page bill to win votes.

The bill passed the House, but would it actually reduce emissions? It’s impossible to know.

Health care promises to be just as convoluted and expensive.

None of this represents a change from the way business is conducted in Washington. Perhaps it is only worse by degree given the unchecked power of one party rule. But none of this activity produces moderate, smart legislation — nothing resembling what Brooks and a legion of snookered pundits told us we could expect from Obama.

But let’s not blame this on Hillary. Goodness knows she’s responsible for a lot, but Obama’s governing style isn’t one that can be fairly laid at her door. Obama has never taken an interest in policy or legislative draftsmanship during his brief time in the Senate. On complicated, high stakes bills like the one addressing immigration, he simply played the dutiful part of Big Labor spoiler. So I think the lack of roll-up-the-sleeves leadership is more likely attributable to a lack of interest, skill, or ability rather than a general consensus that the president should stand by passively and watch Congress make legislative hash. (Sounds like the excuse for passivity in Iran, no? There is a method to paralysis, really!)

Brooks ignores the real drawback in all this: churning out a hodge-podge of hair-brained legislative schemes and spending us into oblivion is bad for the country. And the voters won’t like it. How “pragmatic” is that?

It wasn’t too long ago that David Brooks told us Obama was “brimming” with new ideas. He had great ideas, smart notions for fixing what ails us, and they wouldn’t resemble the same old tired answers we’ve been given before. So much for that…. Now Brooks says that Obama is almost entirely deferring to Congress, a result of some sort of “post-traumatic distress syndrome” that has gripped Democrats since HillaryCare went belly up and convinced them to let Congress do everything. The result is a mix of unworkable and extreme legislation — the stimulus plan and cap-and-trade being the worst. Brooks concedes:

On the stimulus bill, the Democratic committee chairmen wrote a sprawling bill that incorporated the diverse wishes of hundreds of members and interest groups. But as they did so, the bill had less and less to do with stimulus. Only about 40 percent of the money in the bill was truly stimulative, and that money was not designed to be spent quickly. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 11 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus will be disbursed by the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed, but it is not doing much to create jobs this year and it will not do nearly as much as it could to create jobs in 2010.

On cap and trade, the House chairmen took a relatively clean though politically difficult idea — auctioning off pollution permits — and they transformed it into a morass of corporate giveaways that make the stimulus bill look parsimonious. Permits would now be given to well-connected companies. Utilities and agribusiness would be rolling in government-generated profits. Thousands of goodies were thrown into the 1,201-page bill to win votes.

The bill passed the House, but would it actually reduce emissions? It’s impossible to know.

Health care promises to be just as convoluted and expensive.

None of this represents a change from the way business is conducted in Washington. Perhaps it is only worse by degree given the unchecked power of one party rule. But none of this activity produces moderate, smart legislation — nothing resembling what Brooks and a legion of snookered pundits told us we could expect from Obama.

But let’s not blame this on Hillary. Goodness knows she’s responsible for a lot, but Obama’s governing style isn’t one that can be fairly laid at her door. Obama has never taken an interest in policy or legislative draftsmanship during his brief time in the Senate. On complicated, high stakes bills like the one addressing immigration, he simply played the dutiful part of Big Labor spoiler. So I think the lack of roll-up-the-sleeves leadership is more likely attributable to a lack of interest, skill, or ability rather than a general consensus that the president should stand by passively and watch Congress make legislative hash. (Sounds like the excuse for passivity in Iran, no? There is a method to paralysis, really!)

Brooks ignores the real drawback in all this: churning out a hodge-podge of hair-brained legislative schemes and spending us into oblivion is bad for the country. And the voters won’t like it. How “pragmatic” is that?

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An Important Milestone in the Iraq War

Today marks the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi urban areas, the result of a deadline contained in the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) that the Bush administration negotiated and the Obama administration embraced. It is a milestone on the road to Iraqi sovereignty and a useful moment, I think, to consider three widespread — and to some extent inter-related — arguments that were made about Iraq in recent years.

The first is that the difficulties in Iraq proved that the underlying theory behind President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” was wrong. It was said that the effort to promote liberty in the Arab world was a fool’s errand; the cultural soil was too hard and forbidding. There is no existing undemocratic culture that will allow liberty to succeed. Some peoples and cultures are destined for despotism and unsuited for self-government. Tribal and sectarian allegiances are much stronger than national identity, especially in an artificial state like Iraq. Elections merely deepened sectarian ties and brought radicals to power. They are worse than useless. The 2005 “Arab Spring” was a mirage. Et cetera. But then the wheel of time turned again. As Michael Gerson has written:

Now spring is returning. January’s local elections in Iraq favored secular nationalists instead of clerical parties. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was defeated in an open and vigorous vote. Kuwaiti women have been elected to parliament for the first time. And in Iran, brave women and men have demonstrated that democracy, not just nihilism, counts martyrs in the Muslim world… Taken together — a constitutional Iraqi democracy, a powerful reform movement in Iran , democratic achievements from the Gulf sheikdoms to Lebanon — this is the greatest period of democratic progress in the history of the region. Given consistent outbreaks, it seems clear that the broader Middle East is not immune to the democratic infection.

The democratic uprising in Iran touched people in a particularly deep way. Protest signs written in English, asking “Where Is My Vote?” started springing up. Supporting democratic aspirations in oppressed lands, which was passé during the last few years, is once again fashionable. Joan Baez posted a message on her Web site, with a video of her “We Shall Overcome” dedicated to the people of Iran. Jon Bon Jovi also did a duet in Farsi with exiled Iranian singer Andy Madadian; they are singing a new version of “Stand By Me,” the purpose of which is to send “a musical message of worldwide solidarity” to the Iranian people. People are rediscovering the virtues of liberty.

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

Today marks the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi urban areas, the result of a deadline contained in the Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) that the Bush administration negotiated and the Obama administration embraced. It is a milestone on the road to Iraqi sovereignty and a useful moment, I think, to consider three widespread — and to some extent inter-related — arguments that were made about Iraq in recent years.

The first is that the difficulties in Iraq proved that the underlying theory behind President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” was wrong. It was said that the effort to promote liberty in the Arab world was a fool’s errand; the cultural soil was too hard and forbidding. There is no existing undemocratic culture that will allow liberty to succeed. Some peoples and cultures are destined for despotism and unsuited for self-government. Tribal and sectarian allegiances are much stronger than national identity, especially in an artificial state like Iraq. Elections merely deepened sectarian ties and brought radicals to power. They are worse than useless. The 2005 “Arab Spring” was a mirage. Et cetera. But then the wheel of time turned again. As Michael Gerson has written:

Now spring is returning. January’s local elections in Iraq favored secular nationalists instead of clerical parties. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was defeated in an open and vigorous vote. Kuwaiti women have been elected to parliament for the first time. And in Iran, brave women and men have demonstrated that democracy, not just nihilism, counts martyrs in the Muslim world… Taken together — a constitutional Iraqi democracy, a powerful reform movement in Iran , democratic achievements from the Gulf sheikdoms to Lebanon — this is the greatest period of democratic progress in the history of the region. Given consistent outbreaks, it seems clear that the broader Middle East is not immune to the democratic infection.

The democratic uprising in Iran touched people in a particularly deep way. Protest signs written in English, asking “Where Is My Vote?” started springing up. Supporting democratic aspirations in oppressed lands, which was passé during the last few years, is once again fashionable. Joan Baez posted a message on her Web site, with a video of her “We Shall Overcome” dedicated to the people of Iran. Jon Bon Jovi also did a duet in Farsi with exiled Iranian singer Andy Madadian; they are singing a new version of “Stand By Me,” the purpose of which is to send “a musical message of worldwide solidarity” to the Iranian people. People are rediscovering the virtues of liberty.

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

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The Coming U.S. Peace Plan

Earlier this month, George Mitchell held a press briefing about his efforts to achieve a “comprehensive peace” in the Middle East, noting he had made four trips to meet with Israel and over a dozen Arab countries, and saying he intended “to bring these discussions to a very early conclusion.”

Asked if EU diplomat Javier Solana was correct about the U.S. “announc[ing] its vision for peace in the Middle East before the end of July,” Mitchell responded as follows:

As I said earlier, we’re going to move as promptly as possible. And in my opening remarks, I said that we hope to conclude the discussions in which we’re now engaged very soon. To me, it’s a matter of weeks, not many months, so he may well be right. But we’re going to see how well we can proceed. . . . [S]o I’ll call him when we’re ready and he can announce that, and then you can have the results then. (Laughter.)

The noteworthy part of the response is Mitchell did not deny that an American peace plan is coming — soon.

Obama appears to be following the five-year old advice of Rob Malley (his erstwhile foreign policy adviser), who in 2004 dismissed reliance on a step-by-step process and argued for a plan defining upfront “the shape of a permanent peace” to be pushed on the parties. Malley proposed that:

[T]he process ought to be turned on its head, with the U.S. seeking to describe the endgame at the outset and with the parties agreeing on the means of getting there afterward. . . .

[The U.S. should] spell out the components of an acceptable deal, rather than press for incremental steps.

A lot has happened in the last five years, and Malley himself no longer thinks this is the right way to proceed. In the June 11, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books, Malley and co-author Hussein Agha concluded it is not time for the U.S. to “unfurl a grand diplomatic initiative,” and they proposed instead “another way”:

[It] would not be to polish up answers to questions of borders, security, Jerusalem, or how to compensate refugees. That approach increasingly is becoming a sideshow, chiefly of interest to official negotiators. . . . When Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, calls for dropping timeworn slogans — land for peace, two-state solution — he has a political purpose. He also has a point.

. . . The US should reach out to skeptical constituencies that would make a difference but are left indifferent by current talk of a two-state agreement. One example is the settlers, an active and dynamic Israeli group yet one that the outside world typically treats as modern-day lepers. A more inclusive political process could recognize their views and concerns, consider their interests, and invite them to take part in discussions.

The current dispute over settlements is a prime example of a “sideshow.” It is a manufactured crisis, designed to impress the Arab world with Obama’s toughness on Israel, or force upfront Israeli concessions on a previously agreed issue. The Gaza experience demonstrated that dismantlement of entire settlements had no positive effect on the peace process — quite the contrary.

In his brief period in office, Obama has refused to answer whether the U.S. is bound by the April 14, 2004 letter given to induce Israel to turn over Gaza to the Palestinians, and has reneged on five years of understandings about “natural growth” of existing settlements. His response to Israeli objections has effectively been “sue me” — the understandings are not “enforceable.” It is not an approach inspiring confidence in him as a reliable or principled ally.

Netanyahu has announced five fundamental principles for any plan: (1) explicit Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish national state; (2) demilitarization of any Palestinian state to reflect Israel’s security needs; (3) explicit international guarantees of those security arrangements; (4) resettling refugees outside Israel; and (5) no further Palestinian claims after a peace agreement. These principles reflect not simply Netanyahu’s position but an Israeli national consensus; they would seem the minimum conditions of peace.

A serious U.S. plan would adopt those principles and — to use a State Department peace process standard — recognize prior U.S. agreements with Israel, particularly the one in the 2004 letter. Permitting a militarized Judenrein state unwilling to recognize a Jewish one, and insisting on indefensible borders for the latter, is a prescription for war, not peace. The U.S. should have no interest in such a state, much less proposing a plan to affect the creation of one.

Earlier this month, George Mitchell held a press briefing about his efforts to achieve a “comprehensive peace” in the Middle East, noting he had made four trips to meet with Israel and over a dozen Arab countries, and saying he intended “to bring these discussions to a very early conclusion.”

Asked if EU diplomat Javier Solana was correct about the U.S. “announc[ing] its vision for peace in the Middle East before the end of July,” Mitchell responded as follows:

As I said earlier, we’re going to move as promptly as possible. And in my opening remarks, I said that we hope to conclude the discussions in which we’re now engaged very soon. To me, it’s a matter of weeks, not many months, so he may well be right. But we’re going to see how well we can proceed. . . . [S]o I’ll call him when we’re ready and he can announce that, and then you can have the results then. (Laughter.)

The noteworthy part of the response is Mitchell did not deny that an American peace plan is coming — soon.

Obama appears to be following the five-year old advice of Rob Malley (his erstwhile foreign policy adviser), who in 2004 dismissed reliance on a step-by-step process and argued for a plan defining upfront “the shape of a permanent peace” to be pushed on the parties. Malley proposed that:

[T]he process ought to be turned on its head, with the U.S. seeking to describe the endgame at the outset and with the parties agreeing on the means of getting there afterward. . . .

[The U.S. should] spell out the components of an acceptable deal, rather than press for incremental steps.

A lot has happened in the last five years, and Malley himself no longer thinks this is the right way to proceed. In the June 11, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books, Malley and co-author Hussein Agha concluded it is not time for the U.S. to “unfurl a grand diplomatic initiative,” and they proposed instead “another way”:

[It] would not be to polish up answers to questions of borders, security, Jerusalem, or how to compensate refugees. That approach increasingly is becoming a sideshow, chiefly of interest to official negotiators. . . . When Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, calls for dropping timeworn slogans — land for peace, two-state solution — he has a political purpose. He also has a point.

. . . The US should reach out to skeptical constituencies that would make a difference but are left indifferent by current talk of a two-state agreement. One example is the settlers, an active and dynamic Israeli group yet one that the outside world typically treats as modern-day lepers. A more inclusive political process could recognize their views and concerns, consider their interests, and invite them to take part in discussions.

The current dispute over settlements is a prime example of a “sideshow.” It is a manufactured crisis, designed to impress the Arab world with Obama’s toughness on Israel, or force upfront Israeli concessions on a previously agreed issue. The Gaza experience demonstrated that dismantlement of entire settlements had no positive effect on the peace process — quite the contrary.

In his brief period in office, Obama has refused to answer whether the U.S. is bound by the April 14, 2004 letter given to induce Israel to turn over Gaza to the Palestinians, and has reneged on five years of understandings about “natural growth” of existing settlements. His response to Israeli objections has effectively been “sue me” — the understandings are not “enforceable.” It is not an approach inspiring confidence in him as a reliable or principled ally.

Netanyahu has announced five fundamental principles for any plan: (1) explicit Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish national state; (2) demilitarization of any Palestinian state to reflect Israel’s security needs; (3) explicit international guarantees of those security arrangements; (4) resettling refugees outside Israel; and (5) no further Palestinian claims after a peace agreement. These principles reflect not simply Netanyahu’s position but an Israeli national consensus; they would seem the minimum conditions of peace.

A serious U.S. plan would adopt those principles and — to use a State Department peace process standard — recognize prior U.S. agreements with Israel, particularly the one in the 2004 letter. Permitting a militarized Judenrein state unwilling to recognize a Jewish one, and insisting on indefensible borders for the latter, is a prescription for war, not peace. The U.S. should have no interest in such a state, much less proposing a plan to affect the creation of one.

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Harvard Cuts Back

Last year at about this time, Harvard’s endowment was $35 billion. In the first four months of the fiscal year, through October 2008, it lost $8 billion. Observers believe the losses may actually total $18 billion. Harvard relies on income from its endowment to cover about 35% of its budget.

Late last week, a memo from Harvard President Drew G. Faust put two and two together. The result: 275 layoffs. Harvard had already skipped raises for 9,000 faculty and non-union staff and shed 500 employees through a voluntary early retirement program. It wasn’t enough.

The reaction from union organizers at Harvard was predictable. Quoth one:

The fact that this is happening at Harvard, who is still sitting on a chest of billions and remains the richest university in the world, shows it is pursuing this incredibly narrow path of naked self interest. . . . They’re using this drop in the endowment as an excuse to justify really terrible cuts that will have a disastrous impact on the surrounding communities.

Ah yes, the narrow path of naked self interest, where the amount of money you have to spend affects the number of people you can afford to employ. That narrow, naked path. It’s the beaten path, which universities around the country, and, indeed, around the world have already traversed — Harvard having no good reason to avoid it.

I have a lot of friends in higher education, so, personally, this is a painful story. But it recalls my experience as a graduate student at Yale in the 1990s, when the farcical “Graduate Employees and Students Organization” made life thoroughly unpleasant for anyone who was not an academic Trotskyite.

GESO’s constantly reiterated line was that a) the capitalist system is unjust and built on sand foundations; b) the stock market and the endowment are going relentlessly upwards, so Yale should give us lots more money. The possibility that these two obsessions were mutually contradictory never appeared to occur to them. As with the union organizers at Harvard now, the university, GESO argued, had only one appropriate response to any situation: spend more money.

And that is precisely why Harvard is in this mess now. In 2000, Harvard’s budget was $1.9 billion. Last year, it was $3.5 billion. That’s an 80% increase in eight years. Instead of fixing the roof when the sun was shining, it spent and spent. And with personnel costs accounting for half the university’s budget, a good deal of the money went to swelling the ranks of staff. Naturally, those are the people who are taking it in the neck today.

In universities, as everywhere else, there are always more things worthwhile spending money on than there is money available. What I fear isn’t that higher education as such will suffer terribly as a result of this downturn — though a lot of individuals are going to pay a steep price for the popping bubble. What I fear is that universities will try to get by simply through scrimping, instead of by dropping nonessential programs and focusing on core competencies. That will only set them up to limp along for a while until the balloon begins another unsustainable inflation.

In universities as in government, efficiency-drives yield minimal gains. What’s needed here are not job cuts but rather amputations. Unfortunately, those usually involve firing faculty members, and if there’s one thing universities like Harvard hate more than losing $8 billion and firing staff, it’s caning faculty members. As soon as the faculty realizes that the dynamic has devolved into “them or us,” they will decide that the missing 275 were not so important after all.

Last year at about this time, Harvard’s endowment was $35 billion. In the first four months of the fiscal year, through October 2008, it lost $8 billion. Observers believe the losses may actually total $18 billion. Harvard relies on income from its endowment to cover about 35% of its budget.

Late last week, a memo from Harvard President Drew G. Faust put two and two together. The result: 275 layoffs. Harvard had already skipped raises for 9,000 faculty and non-union staff and shed 500 employees through a voluntary early retirement program. It wasn’t enough.

The reaction from union organizers at Harvard was predictable. Quoth one:

The fact that this is happening at Harvard, who is still sitting on a chest of billions and remains the richest university in the world, shows it is pursuing this incredibly narrow path of naked self interest. . . . They’re using this drop in the endowment as an excuse to justify really terrible cuts that will have a disastrous impact on the surrounding communities.

Ah yes, the narrow path of naked self interest, where the amount of money you have to spend affects the number of people you can afford to employ. That narrow, naked path. It’s the beaten path, which universities around the country, and, indeed, around the world have already traversed — Harvard having no good reason to avoid it.

I have a lot of friends in higher education, so, personally, this is a painful story. But it recalls my experience as a graduate student at Yale in the 1990s, when the farcical “Graduate Employees and Students Organization” made life thoroughly unpleasant for anyone who was not an academic Trotskyite.

GESO’s constantly reiterated line was that a) the capitalist system is unjust and built on sand foundations; b) the stock market and the endowment are going relentlessly upwards, so Yale should give us lots more money. The possibility that these two obsessions were mutually contradictory never appeared to occur to them. As with the union organizers at Harvard now, the university, GESO argued, had only one appropriate response to any situation: spend more money.

And that is precisely why Harvard is in this mess now. In 2000, Harvard’s budget was $1.9 billion. Last year, it was $3.5 billion. That’s an 80% increase in eight years. Instead of fixing the roof when the sun was shining, it spent and spent. And with personnel costs accounting for half the university’s budget, a good deal of the money went to swelling the ranks of staff. Naturally, those are the people who are taking it in the neck today.

In universities, as everywhere else, there are always more things worthwhile spending money on than there is money available. What I fear isn’t that higher education as such will suffer terribly as a result of this downturn — though a lot of individuals are going to pay a steep price for the popping bubble. What I fear is that universities will try to get by simply through scrimping, instead of by dropping nonessential programs and focusing on core competencies. That will only set them up to limp along for a while until the balloon begins another unsustainable inflation.

In universities as in government, efficiency-drives yield minimal gains. What’s needed here are not job cuts but rather amputations. Unfortunately, those usually involve firing faculty members, and if there’s one thing universities like Harvard hate more than losing $8 billion and firing staff, it’s caning faculty members. As soon as the faculty realizes that the dynamic has devolved into “them or us,” they will decide that the missing 275 were not so important after all.

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The Spin Is Wrong: No Justice Agreed with Sotomayor

The pro-Sotomayor media spin is that although she may have gotten it wrong in the New Haven firefighter case, she was no “worse” than four other Justices. Tom Goldstein’s argument is representative of this line of thinking:

In the end, it seems to me that the Supreme Court’s decision in Ricci is an outright rejection of the lower courts’ analysis of the case, including by Judge Sotomayor. But on the other hand, the Court recognizes that the issue was unsettled. The fact that the Court’s four more liberal members would affirm the Second Circuit shows that Judge Sotomayor’s views were far from outlandish and put her in line with Judge Souter, who she will replace.

One problem: it is flat out wrong. In fact, not a single Justice would have affirmed the decision by the Second Circuit. A number of conservative commentators (e.g., here) figured this out.

Stuart Taylor summarizes:

In fact, even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 39-page dissent for the four more liberal justices quietly but unmistakably rejected the Sotomayor-endorsed position that disparate racial results alone justified New Haven’s decision to dump the promotional exam without even inquiring into whether it was fair and job-related. Justice Ginsburg also suggested clearly — as did the Obama Justice Department, in a friend-of-the-court brief — that the Sotomayor panel erred in upholding summary judgment for the city.

In short, Sotomayor got it so wrong that not a single Supreme Court Justice would have said “Affirmed.” Moreover, her shoddy effort at slipping the entire matter under the rug is not one I suspect would have been replicated by a single sitting Supreme Court Justice or most circuit court judges.

The Senate should not be taken in by the spin. The Judiciary Committee needs to ask some tough questions, starting with: How did you miss a prima face violation of Title VII?

Whatever they think of Ricci, Senators can’t say they are unclear about what Sotomayor believes. She believes in not protecting Frank Ricci’s right to prevail on merit in his chosen profession — so long as there is a single advocate of identity politics ready to threaten a government official with litigation. And in case there isn’t one, Sotomayor’s colleagues at PRLDEF will be happy to supply the threats.

The pro-Sotomayor media spin is that although she may have gotten it wrong in the New Haven firefighter case, she was no “worse” than four other Justices. Tom Goldstein’s argument is representative of this line of thinking:

In the end, it seems to me that the Supreme Court’s decision in Ricci is an outright rejection of the lower courts’ analysis of the case, including by Judge Sotomayor. But on the other hand, the Court recognizes that the issue was unsettled. The fact that the Court’s four more liberal members would affirm the Second Circuit shows that Judge Sotomayor’s views were far from outlandish and put her in line with Judge Souter, who she will replace.

One problem: it is flat out wrong. In fact, not a single Justice would have affirmed the decision by the Second Circuit. A number of conservative commentators (e.g., here) figured this out.

Stuart Taylor summarizes:

In fact, even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 39-page dissent for the four more liberal justices quietly but unmistakably rejected the Sotomayor-endorsed position that disparate racial results alone justified New Haven’s decision to dump the promotional exam without even inquiring into whether it was fair and job-related. Justice Ginsburg also suggested clearly — as did the Obama Justice Department, in a friend-of-the-court brief — that the Sotomayor panel erred in upholding summary judgment for the city.

In short, Sotomayor got it so wrong that not a single Supreme Court Justice would have said “Affirmed.” Moreover, her shoddy effort at slipping the entire matter under the rug is not one I suspect would have been replicated by a single sitting Supreme Court Justice or most circuit court judges.

The Senate should not be taken in by the spin. The Judiciary Committee needs to ask some tough questions, starting with: How did you miss a prima face violation of Title VII?

Whatever they think of Ricci, Senators can’t say they are unclear about what Sotomayor believes. She believes in not protecting Frank Ricci’s right to prevail on merit in his chosen profession — so long as there is a single advocate of identity politics ready to threaten a government official with litigation. And in case there isn’t one, Sotomayor’s colleagues at PRLDEF will be happy to supply the threats.

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Obama Is Bringing People Together in Israel

It has been suggested that Obama is angling for regime change — in Israel. He seems convinced that Netanyahu is somehow outside the mainstream Israeli political spectrum and that he will either buckle or his government will crack if enough pressure is applied in the form of ultimatums over settlements. Thus the way can be paved for an Israeli government more amenable to U.S. dictates. This approach is, of course, badly mistaken.

This report clarifies:

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) lashed out Monday against the U.S. demand for a settlement freeze, labeling it “extortion” and warning it could set back Israeli readiness for peace.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Schneller assailed Obama administration officials as holding beliefs shaped by “far-Left opinions outside of the Israeli consensus.”

[. . .]

In his letter to Barak, Schneller argued that “in no case can one agree to freezing natural growth — not even temporarily. Beyond the ideological question (the right of people to give birth, to raise children) and beyond the humanitarian questions (preschools, clinics), the believability of Israel’s government will be tested. There is no legal or public ability to carry out a complete freeze and there is no chance to prevent all building. America’s temporary freeze will cause us to pay a moral price and we will be found untrustworthy opposite the Americans.”

Schneller said there was no legal basis for the government to stop private construction that had already been contracted, or to prevent building by those who already had made down payments, unless “we enforce the government’s will in an illegal and anti-democratic manner. The American pressure endangers Israeli democracy. Human rights and the power of democracy are not dependent upon the interest of a particular nation.”

Instead, Schneller said, the American call to freeze all Jewish building in the West Bank were “unifying the Israeli public against the American demands.”

I suspect Schneller’s sentiments are widely held.

Perhaps Obama has been ill-served by his advisers or perhaps he has disregarded the counsel of those who argued that bullying Israel on settlements was a fruitless exercise. In any event, Obama should remember that when you decide to meddle in another democratic country’s affairs or try to influence public opinion to oppose elected leaders, it is best to know what you’re doing first.

In this case, Obama has done a remarkable job of solidifying Netanyahu’s position, giving false hope to the Palestinians (and therefore encouraging their intransigence), and creating the worst breach in U.S.-Israel relations in a generation. And in this case, he can’t blame his frayed relations with Israel on George W. Bush.

It has been suggested that Obama is angling for regime change — in Israel. He seems convinced that Netanyahu is somehow outside the mainstream Israeli political spectrum and that he will either buckle or his government will crack if enough pressure is applied in the form of ultimatums over settlements. Thus the way can be paved for an Israeli government more amenable to U.S. dictates. This approach is, of course, badly mistaken.

This report clarifies:

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) lashed out Monday against the U.S. demand for a settlement freeze, labeling it “extortion” and warning it could set back Israeli readiness for peace.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Schneller assailed Obama administration officials as holding beliefs shaped by “far-Left opinions outside of the Israeli consensus.”

[. . .]

In his letter to Barak, Schneller argued that “in no case can one agree to freezing natural growth — not even temporarily. Beyond the ideological question (the right of people to give birth, to raise children) and beyond the humanitarian questions (preschools, clinics), the believability of Israel’s government will be tested. There is no legal or public ability to carry out a complete freeze and there is no chance to prevent all building. America’s temporary freeze will cause us to pay a moral price and we will be found untrustworthy opposite the Americans.”

Schneller said there was no legal basis for the government to stop private construction that had already been contracted, or to prevent building by those who already had made down payments, unless “we enforce the government’s will in an illegal and anti-democratic manner. The American pressure endangers Israeli democracy. Human rights and the power of democracy are not dependent upon the interest of a particular nation.”

Instead, Schneller said, the American call to freeze all Jewish building in the West Bank were “unifying the Israeli public against the American demands.”

I suspect Schneller’s sentiments are widely held.

Perhaps Obama has been ill-served by his advisers or perhaps he has disregarded the counsel of those who argued that bullying Israel on settlements was a fruitless exercise. In any event, Obama should remember that when you decide to meddle in another democratic country’s affairs or try to influence public opinion to oppose elected leaders, it is best to know what you’re doing first.

In this case, Obama has done a remarkable job of solidifying Netanyahu’s position, giving false hope to the Palestinians (and therefore encouraging their intransigence), and creating the worst breach in U.S.-Israel relations in a generation. And in this case, he can’t blame his frayed relations with Israel on George W. Bush.

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Any Alternatives to “Meddling” with Iran?

Fareed Zakaria enters the fray to explain why Iran’s Velvet Revolution is not about to happen. He makes some good points about why Iran 2009 is not Prague 1989 — the regime has money and guns and the religious establishment is not aligned behind the demonstrators. He also makes some less good points — that alleged U.S. support for armed groups fighting the regime, or U.S. rhetoric about a possible military strike, or U.S. support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war always rallied people around the regime.

These are more questionable points — Russian weapons did more for Saddam Hussein and against Iran during the 1980-1988 war, yet one rarely reads of anti-Russian sentiment in Iran, whether among the population or inside the regime. It is lamentable that intelligent people spend so much energy excusing away the rampant anti-Americanism so central to the regime’s ideology as if it were always the fruit of American mistakes alone. It is also lamentable that he uses this argument — and his understandable skepticism about the revolution’s likely success — to applaud the timid U.S. approach to the Green Wave.

Nevertheless, Zakaria is right to warn about facile historical comparisons. There is a riot going on, all over Iran. The regime has lost any resemblance or pretense of legitimacy. It has shown its true face for the whole world to see, and it can probably survive only through force and repression — more of the same tactics it has relied upon so far to internally repress and contain dissent. But all these conditions — including the populace’s dissatisfaction and civil unrest — are not enough to parlay the riots into regime change.

Revolutions don’t only happen because people are angry. They require a charismatic leadership that can articulate a compelling ideological alternative to the existing order; they need to recruit a critical mass among the dominant elites toward their cause; they rely on a well organized political machine that can mobilize people in a coordinated fashion and thus capitalize on the awesome power masses assembled in protest can yield. And yes, before they can evolve into revolutions, uprisings require enough momentum to paralyze the will of the repressive state apparatus to employ deadly force against opposition leaders.

Iran today has angry confrontational masses. Their courage and their disdain for the tyrannical regime could swell into a mass movement. But there is still neither a compelling ideology nor a charismatic leadership embodying its demands and willing to carry it into battle. Crucially, it is also not clear where the two most important constituencies in the country stand today on the question of revolution. Both the Bazaar and the clerics were vital elements of Iran’s past revolutions — their decision to side with or against change could carry the day. They have not fully declared where they stand — and it is not clear how influential they remain in today’s Iran, given that much power has been taken from them by the gradual takeover by the Revolutionary Guards. Their stance might ultimately matter less than it did 30 years ago, but it is still important. A general strike by the bazaar, a more strident, vocal, and open expression of dissent from clerics against the Supreme Leader may indicate that something is changing.

Regardless, it is hard to understand, faced with recent events, how one can applaud the resolve to continue engaging the existing regime. What happened is not just a stain on its hands. It is a testimony of its ugly nature. Can we trust a regime acting this way to be a reliable partner on a nuclear deal? Can we trust it to deliver on commitments? Or to be seeking reasonable goals? Or not to act in defiance of the world? Or to be concerned about and deterred by considerations of its economic well being and international image?

Iran’s behavior is not just something that makes a deal on the nuclear issue just a bit more complicated or unpalatable for photo-op seekers. It is a wake-up call about the futility of seeking a deal with the mullah’s regime. And catalyzing the nascent yet incoherent revolution remains the only alternative left for Western powers wishing to avoid military action.

The Iranian regime — Zakaria is right — will of course accuse us of meddling. But we now know it does not speak for its people.

Fareed Zakaria enters the fray to explain why Iran’s Velvet Revolution is not about to happen. He makes some good points about why Iran 2009 is not Prague 1989 — the regime has money and guns and the religious establishment is not aligned behind the demonstrators. He also makes some less good points — that alleged U.S. support for armed groups fighting the regime, or U.S. rhetoric about a possible military strike, or U.S. support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war always rallied people around the regime.

These are more questionable points — Russian weapons did more for Saddam Hussein and against Iran during the 1980-1988 war, yet one rarely reads of anti-Russian sentiment in Iran, whether among the population or inside the regime. It is lamentable that intelligent people spend so much energy excusing away the rampant anti-Americanism so central to the regime’s ideology as if it were always the fruit of American mistakes alone. It is also lamentable that he uses this argument — and his understandable skepticism about the revolution’s likely success — to applaud the timid U.S. approach to the Green Wave.

Nevertheless, Zakaria is right to warn about facile historical comparisons. There is a riot going on, all over Iran. The regime has lost any resemblance or pretense of legitimacy. It has shown its true face for the whole world to see, and it can probably survive only through force and repression — more of the same tactics it has relied upon so far to internally repress and contain dissent. But all these conditions — including the populace’s dissatisfaction and civil unrest — are not enough to parlay the riots into regime change.

Revolutions don’t only happen because people are angry. They require a charismatic leadership that can articulate a compelling ideological alternative to the existing order; they need to recruit a critical mass among the dominant elites toward their cause; they rely on a well organized political machine that can mobilize people in a coordinated fashion and thus capitalize on the awesome power masses assembled in protest can yield. And yes, before they can evolve into revolutions, uprisings require enough momentum to paralyze the will of the repressive state apparatus to employ deadly force against opposition leaders.

Iran today has angry confrontational masses. Their courage and their disdain for the tyrannical regime could swell into a mass movement. But there is still neither a compelling ideology nor a charismatic leadership embodying its demands and willing to carry it into battle. Crucially, it is also not clear where the two most important constituencies in the country stand today on the question of revolution. Both the Bazaar and the clerics were vital elements of Iran’s past revolutions — their decision to side with or against change could carry the day. They have not fully declared where they stand — and it is not clear how influential they remain in today’s Iran, given that much power has been taken from them by the gradual takeover by the Revolutionary Guards. Their stance might ultimately matter less than it did 30 years ago, but it is still important. A general strike by the bazaar, a more strident, vocal, and open expression of dissent from clerics against the Supreme Leader may indicate that something is changing.

Regardless, it is hard to understand, faced with recent events, how one can applaud the resolve to continue engaging the existing regime. What happened is not just a stain on its hands. It is a testimony of its ugly nature. Can we trust a regime acting this way to be a reliable partner on a nuclear deal? Can we trust it to deliver on commitments? Or to be seeking reasonable goals? Or not to act in defiance of the world? Or to be concerned about and deterred by considerations of its economic well being and international image?

Iran’s behavior is not just something that makes a deal on the nuclear issue just a bit more complicated or unpalatable for photo-op seekers. It is a wake-up call about the futility of seeking a deal with the mullah’s regime. And catalyzing the nascent yet incoherent revolution remains the only alternative left for Western powers wishing to avoid military action.

The Iranian regime — Zakaria is right — will of course accuse us of meddling. But we now know it does not speak for its people.

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Cap-and-Trade Victims?

The Republican Eight who crossed the aisle to vote for the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill may face some angry conservative voters. But they aren’t the only ones for which the cap-and-trade vote may be toxic. Politico reports:

Republicans believe a handful of junior House Democrats may have taken a career-ending vote by supporting the controversial energy bill last week and are planning to launch an ad campaign in targeted districts to try to seal their fate.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is planning to air TV and radio commercials and unleash robocalls against Democrats who hail from districts that could be adversely affected by the narrowly passed legislation, are GOP-leaning or both.

Those likely to find themselves with targets on their back after the 219-212 vote: freshman Reps. Harry Teague of New Mexico, Betsy Markey of Colorado, John Boccieri of Ohio, Thomas Perriello of Virginia and Alan Grayson of Florida and second-termer Zack Space of Ohio.

The GOP’s hope is do to these vulnerable Democrats what Republicans famously did to former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, the Pennsylvania Democrat who ensured that her career was limited to one term when she cast the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget package in 1993.

It isn’t clear whether this will be a defining vote the way the 1993 energy tax vote was. What is clear is that members from states where their colleagues opposed the bill — the Midwest States in particular — will have a hard time justifying why they didn’t put the interests of their constituents first, as others from their state did. And if those “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” Nancy Pelosi talked about do not emerge, then everyone who voted for it — as well as for the stimulus and other defective elements in the liberal agenda — will be at risk.

The Republican Eight who crossed the aisle to vote for the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill may face some angry conservative voters. But they aren’t the only ones for which the cap-and-trade vote may be toxic. Politico reports:

Republicans believe a handful of junior House Democrats may have taken a career-ending vote by supporting the controversial energy bill last week and are planning to launch an ad campaign in targeted districts to try to seal their fate.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is planning to air TV and radio commercials and unleash robocalls against Democrats who hail from districts that could be adversely affected by the narrowly passed legislation, are GOP-leaning or both.

Those likely to find themselves with targets on their back after the 219-212 vote: freshman Reps. Harry Teague of New Mexico, Betsy Markey of Colorado, John Boccieri of Ohio, Thomas Perriello of Virginia and Alan Grayson of Florida and second-termer Zack Space of Ohio.

The GOP’s hope is do to these vulnerable Democrats what Republicans famously did to former Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, the Pennsylvania Democrat who ensured that her career was limited to one term when she cast the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton’s budget package in 1993.

It isn’t clear whether this will be a defining vote the way the 1993 energy tax vote was. What is clear is that members from states where their colleagues opposed the bill — the Midwest States in particular — will have a hard time justifying why they didn’t put the interests of their constituents first, as others from their state did. And if those “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” Nancy Pelosi talked about do not emerge, then everyone who voted for it — as well as for the stimulus and other defective elements in the liberal agenda — will be at risk.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bret Stephens observes: “President Obama’s Iran policy is incoherent and obsolete. . . Bottom line from Mr. [David]Axelrod, and presumably Mr. Obama, too: ‘We are going to continue to work through . . . the multilateral group of nations that are engaging Iran, and they have to make a decision, George [Stephanopoulos], whether they want to further isolate themselves in every way from the community of nations, or whether they are going to embrace that.’  Translation: People of Iran — best of luck!”

The Romney buzz continues. Some deft moves since the 2008 election (e.g., talking like a grown-up, making impressive TV outings) and the Wylie Coyote-like ability of potential rivals to blow themselves up have worked to his benefit. But it is of course only 2009.

Another example of the perils of early polling: In the Florida GOP primary race Charlie Crist leads Marco Rubio 51-23% but only 52% have heard of Rubio — and among those, it is a dead heat.

The punditocracy has just discovered Lindsay Graham is effective on TV. In fact, he was one of the best advocates for the surge and one of John McCain’s strongest surrogates during the campaign. It remains a mystery how the conventional wisdom suddenly “discovers” these things.

Claire McCaskill is not thrilled by cap-and-trade: “I hope we can fix cap and trade so it doesn’t unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states like Missouri.” Is she one of those fear-mongers the president is picking on? Oh — no, she’s Democrat.

Sen. Sherrod Brown doesn’t like it either. “They don’t have my vote yet . . In the Senate this bill will not pass unless Midwestern Democratic senators support it in large numbers.” Wonder how Ohio Democratic Reps. John Boccierri and Mary Jo Kilroy (who got roped into voting for it) feel about that.

The three New Jersey Republicans who voted for cap-and-trade face a backlash.

Here is a head-scratcher: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 50% of U.S. voters at least somewhat favor the Democrats’ health care reform plan, while 45% are at least somewhat opposed.” What healthcare plan? The public option one, which moderate and conservative Democrats oppose and the president now says is not a dealbreaker? If asked to tell us what the Democrats are actually proposing — or any of the variations on what they were proposing — I doubt 5% would come close.

The pledge about not raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000 appears to have gone the way of “read my lips…”

John McCain is still providing straight talk: “Organized labor is dictating a large portion of the Obama administration’s work, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) alleged Monday.’The unions are running a lot of this administration,’ McCain said during an appearance on the Mike Broomhead show on local radio station KFYI. ‘Look what just happened with Chrysler and General Motors,’ McCain added.”

So will the Democrats go up against Big Labor on healthcare reform – or just carve out specail tax treatment for union negotiated health benefits? “The Laborers’ International Union of North America is targeting Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) with a television ad urging the two Senators to resist taxing health insurance benefits as a means to pay for health care reform. ”

Ilya Shapiro is on the money: “Ricci is a victory for merit over racial politics—which is appropriate given that the ruling overturns a lower court panel that included Sonia Sotomayor.  .  .This ruling is the latest in a series of steps the Court has taken to strike down race-conscious actions that violate individual rights—and thus is a blow both to the Obama administration (which sided with the city in Ricci) and to the nomination of Judge Sotomayor.” Ouch.

The Ninth Circuit is reversed 94% of the time by the Supreme Court. Could they get it wrong more often if they tried?

The Senate has 45 “yes” votes for cap-and-trade. They need to get to 60. The “no” camp has 32 solid votes. Looks like the “fear mongering” crowd may carry the day.

Bret Stephens observes: “President Obama’s Iran policy is incoherent and obsolete. . . Bottom line from Mr. [David]Axelrod, and presumably Mr. Obama, too: ‘We are going to continue to work through . . . the multilateral group of nations that are engaging Iran, and they have to make a decision, George [Stephanopoulos], whether they want to further isolate themselves in every way from the community of nations, or whether they are going to embrace that.’  Translation: People of Iran — best of luck!”

The Romney buzz continues. Some deft moves since the 2008 election (e.g., talking like a grown-up, making impressive TV outings) and the Wylie Coyote-like ability of potential rivals to blow themselves up have worked to his benefit. But it is of course only 2009.

Another example of the perils of early polling: In the Florida GOP primary race Charlie Crist leads Marco Rubio 51-23% but only 52% have heard of Rubio — and among those, it is a dead heat.

The punditocracy has just discovered Lindsay Graham is effective on TV. In fact, he was one of the best advocates for the surge and one of John McCain’s strongest surrogates during the campaign. It remains a mystery how the conventional wisdom suddenly “discovers” these things.

Claire McCaskill is not thrilled by cap-and-trade: “I hope we can fix cap and trade so it doesn’t unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states like Missouri.” Is she one of those fear-mongers the president is picking on? Oh — no, she’s Democrat.

Sen. Sherrod Brown doesn’t like it either. “They don’t have my vote yet . . In the Senate this bill will not pass unless Midwestern Democratic senators support it in large numbers.” Wonder how Ohio Democratic Reps. John Boccierri and Mary Jo Kilroy (who got roped into voting for it) feel about that.

The three New Jersey Republicans who voted for cap-and-trade face a backlash.

Here is a head-scratcher: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 50% of U.S. voters at least somewhat favor the Democrats’ health care reform plan, while 45% are at least somewhat opposed.” What healthcare plan? The public option one, which moderate and conservative Democrats oppose and the president now says is not a dealbreaker? If asked to tell us what the Democrats are actually proposing — or any of the variations on what they were proposing — I doubt 5% would come close.

The pledge about not raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000 appears to have gone the way of “read my lips…”

John McCain is still providing straight talk: “Organized labor is dictating a large portion of the Obama administration’s work, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) alleged Monday.’The unions are running a lot of this administration,’ McCain said during an appearance on the Mike Broomhead show on local radio station KFYI. ‘Look what just happened with Chrysler and General Motors,’ McCain added.”

So will the Democrats go up against Big Labor on healthcare reform – or just carve out specail tax treatment for union negotiated health benefits? “The Laborers’ International Union of North America is targeting Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) with a television ad urging the two Senators to resist taxing health insurance benefits as a means to pay for health care reform. ”

Ilya Shapiro is on the money: “Ricci is a victory for merit over racial politics—which is appropriate given that the ruling overturns a lower court panel that included Sonia Sotomayor.  .  .This ruling is the latest in a series of steps the Court has taken to strike down race-conscious actions that violate individual rights—and thus is a blow both to the Obama administration (which sided with the city in Ricci) and to the nomination of Judge Sotomayor.” Ouch.

The Ninth Circuit is reversed 94% of the time by the Supreme Court. Could they get it wrong more often if they tried?

The Senate has 45 “yes” votes for cap-and-trade. They need to get to 60. The “no” camp has 32 solid votes. Looks like the “fear mongering” crowd may carry the day.

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Re: Don’t Break Out the Champagne

Linda, while Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s tone deafness never fails to amaze me, I find it nearly inconceivable that they would seek to overturn the Ricci decision. For starters, polling shows that the public overwhelmingly opposes racial preferences and the sort of naked racial power grabs that nearly took Frank Ricci as their latest victim. The latest:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey released Monday morning, as the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, indicates that 65 percent of those questioned say the firefighters were victims of discrimination and should get promotions based on the test results, with 31 percent feeling that the city should a new test to make sure minority firefighters were not victims of discrimination.

Moreover, should Congress decide to take this up the optics might be less to their liking than in the Ledbetter case. Rather than the sympathetic Lily Ledbetter, Reid and Pelosi would face Republicans battling for a working class hero, Ricci, who without court intervention would have been left to the race-victimization mongers.

To that end, I would call everyone’s attention to a fascinating concurring opinion by Justice Alito, who goes chapter and verse through the racial bullying that precipitated New Haven’s decision to throw out the test. The local bully, a powerful African-American reverend with ties to the mayor, led the charge to throw out the tests. The  public campaign went so far as to claim the white fire fighters had cheated. Alito concludes:

Taking into account all the evidence in the summary judgment record, a reasonable jury could find the following. Almost as soon as the City disclosed the racial makeup of the list of firefighters who scored the highest on the exam, the City administration was lobbied by an influential community leader to scrap the test results, and the City administration decided on that course of action before making any real assessment of the possibility of a disparate-impact violation. To achieve that end, the City administration concealed its internal decision but worked—as things turned out, successfully—to persuade the CSB [civil service board] that acceptance of the test results would be illegal and would expose the City to disparate-impact liability. But in the event that the CSB was not persuaded, the Mayor, wielding ultimate decision making authority, was prepared to overrule the CSB immediately. Taking this view of the evidence, a reasonable jury could easily find that the City’s real reason for scrapping the test results was not a concern about violating the disparate-impact provision of Title VII but a simple desire to please a politically important racial constituency.

So if Reid and Pelosi want to take the side of the identity politics mob, it would be one revealing fight. Defenders of the Ricci case would have no better argument than Alito’s masterful summation:

Petitioners are firefighters who seek only a fair chance to move up the ranks in their chosen profession. In order to qualify for promotion, they made personal sacrifices. Petitioner Frank Ricci, who is dyslexic, found it necessary to “hir[e] someone, at considerable expense, to read onto audiotape the content of the books and study materials.”. . . He “studied an average of eight to thirteen hours a day . . . , even listening to audio tapes while driving his car.”

Petitioner Benjamin Vargas, who is Hispanic, had to “give up a part-time job,” and his wife had to “take leave from her own job in order to take care of their three young children while Vargas studied”….

Petitioners were denied promotions for which they qualified because of the race and ethnicity of the firefighters who achieved the highest scores on the City’s exam. The District Court threw out their case on summary judgment, even though that court all but conceded that a jury could find that the City’s asserted justification was pretextual. The Court of Appeals then summarily affirmed that decision. The dissent grants that petitioners’ situation is “unfortunate” and that they “understandably attract this Court’s sympathy.” Post, at 1, 39.

But “sympathy” is not what petitioners have a right to demand. What they have a right to demand is evenhanded enforcement of the law—of Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on race. And that is what, until today’s decision, has been denied them.

If Pelosi and Reid really want a fight, I would suggest they consider how all that will sound to the average American.

Linda, while Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s tone deafness never fails to amaze me, I find it nearly inconceivable that they would seek to overturn the Ricci decision. For starters, polling shows that the public overwhelmingly opposes racial preferences and the sort of naked racial power grabs that nearly took Frank Ricci as their latest victim. The latest:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national survey released Monday morning, as the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, indicates that 65 percent of those questioned say the firefighters were victims of discrimination and should get promotions based on the test results, with 31 percent feeling that the city should a new test to make sure minority firefighters were not victims of discrimination.

Moreover, should Congress decide to take this up the optics might be less to their liking than in the Ledbetter case. Rather than the sympathetic Lily Ledbetter, Reid and Pelosi would face Republicans battling for a working class hero, Ricci, who without court intervention would have been left to the race-victimization mongers.

To that end, I would call everyone’s attention to a fascinating concurring opinion by Justice Alito, who goes chapter and verse through the racial bullying that precipitated New Haven’s decision to throw out the test. The local bully, a powerful African-American reverend with ties to the mayor, led the charge to throw out the tests. The  public campaign went so far as to claim the white fire fighters had cheated. Alito concludes:

Taking into account all the evidence in the summary judgment record, a reasonable jury could find the following. Almost as soon as the City disclosed the racial makeup of the list of firefighters who scored the highest on the exam, the City administration was lobbied by an influential community leader to scrap the test results, and the City administration decided on that course of action before making any real assessment of the possibility of a disparate-impact violation. To achieve that end, the City administration concealed its internal decision but worked—as things turned out, successfully—to persuade the CSB [civil service board] that acceptance of the test results would be illegal and would expose the City to disparate-impact liability. But in the event that the CSB was not persuaded, the Mayor, wielding ultimate decision making authority, was prepared to overrule the CSB immediately. Taking this view of the evidence, a reasonable jury could easily find that the City’s real reason for scrapping the test results was not a concern about violating the disparate-impact provision of Title VII but a simple desire to please a politically important racial constituency.

So if Reid and Pelosi want to take the side of the identity politics mob, it would be one revealing fight. Defenders of the Ricci case would have no better argument than Alito’s masterful summation:

Petitioners are firefighters who seek only a fair chance to move up the ranks in their chosen profession. In order to qualify for promotion, they made personal sacrifices. Petitioner Frank Ricci, who is dyslexic, found it necessary to “hir[e] someone, at considerable expense, to read onto audiotape the content of the books and study materials.”. . . He “studied an average of eight to thirteen hours a day . . . , even listening to audio tapes while driving his car.”

Petitioner Benjamin Vargas, who is Hispanic, had to “give up a part-time job,” and his wife had to “take leave from her own job in order to take care of their three young children while Vargas studied”….

Petitioners were denied promotions for which they qualified because of the race and ethnicity of the firefighters who achieved the highest scores on the City’s exam. The District Court threw out their case on summary judgment, even though that court all but conceded that a jury could find that the City’s asserted justification was pretextual. The Court of Appeals then summarily affirmed that decision. The dissent grants that petitioners’ situation is “unfortunate” and that they “understandably attract this Court’s sympathy.” Post, at 1, 39.

But “sympathy” is not what petitioners have a right to demand. What they have a right to demand is evenhanded enforcement of the law—of Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on race. And that is what, until today’s decision, has been denied them.

If Pelosi and Reid really want a fight, I would suggest they consider how all that will sound to the average American.

Read Less




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