Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2009

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Washington Post, on page 1, no less, fesses up: “Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding.” It seems there was a “transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” It seems the MSM has thrown in the towel: enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s must-read piece highlights the implications of the Obama administration’s CIA investigation. For starters, it will fuel European inquests: “If the Justice Department starts prosecuting CIA officers, some hard-left European magistrates, who are still furious that their governments abetted the Bush administration’s counterterrorism in clandestine ways, won’t be far behind in bringing lawsuits against U.S. officials.” And then there is the damage here at home: “It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible.”

Cliff May on the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation memos: “By the way, it is inaccurate to refer to those memos — as they have been in most press reports — as ‘torture memos.’ They are anti-torture memos: They draw a line between torture, which is prohibited, and harsh but legal techniques designed to prod uncooperative terrorists to reveal information about ongoing operations. One can argue over where to draw the line — precisely how many hours of sleep deprivation constitute torture? — but one cannot seriously argue that no attempt was made to draw it. Nor can one argue, based on the evidence, that these methods did not prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.” Well, not even the Washington Post does anymore.

And we are going to “engage” these people: “Tehran continues to defy an international community deeply skeptical about the ultimate intent of its controversial nuclear program, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog said Friday. The latest quarterly report of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency sets the table for a month of intense diplomacy during which the U.S. will seek to rally international support for new economic sanctions on Tehran. . . . It also came as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his rhetoric about domestic opponents, calling for the prosecution of the leaders of protests against his recent re-election.”

Fred Barnes explains that the missing cost cutter in health-care reform is tort reform: “Tort reform works. Texas is a good example. In 2003, the state enacted caps on noneconomic damages (so-called pain and suffering) and added a requirement that lawsuits be approved by a panel of medical experts. Over the next four years, premiums fell 21 percent, the drift of doctors out of the state was halted, and 7,000 new doctors set up practices.” Almost like bending the cost curve while improving access to health care.

Perhaps Holder should have gotten some advice on how hard it is to convict under the torture statute before ginning up a special prosecutor: “Legal experts say special prosecutor John Durham, named by Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation, will face high hurdles to sending anyone to jail. ‘I think it’s going to be pretty challenging because if you look at the torture statute it is very narrowly drafted,’ said Thomas McDonnell, a law professor at Pace University in New York. ‘Even using the drill as a threat, according to the torture statute, there was no physical harm so there has to be severe mental harm. But the statute then defines as it having to be prolonged mental harm,’ he said. ‘So unless you can show that it produced severe and long mental harm, it may not even fit.’ ” Maybe that was why career prosecutors previously decided not to press ahead.

The Washington Post, on page 1, no less, fesses up: “Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding.” It seems there was a “transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” It seems the MSM has thrown in the towel: enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s must-read piece highlights the implications of the Obama administration’s CIA investigation. For starters, it will fuel European inquests: “If the Justice Department starts prosecuting CIA officers, some hard-left European magistrates, who are still furious that their governments abetted the Bush administration’s counterterrorism in clandestine ways, won’t be far behind in bringing lawsuits against U.S. officials.” And then there is the damage here at home: “It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible.”

Cliff May on the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation memos: “By the way, it is inaccurate to refer to those memos — as they have been in most press reports — as ‘torture memos.’ They are anti-torture memos: They draw a line between torture, which is prohibited, and harsh but legal techniques designed to prod uncooperative terrorists to reveal information about ongoing operations. One can argue over where to draw the line — precisely how many hours of sleep deprivation constitute torture? — but one cannot seriously argue that no attempt was made to draw it. Nor can one argue, based on the evidence, that these methods did not prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.” Well, not even the Washington Post does anymore.

And we are going to “engage” these people: “Tehran continues to defy an international community deeply skeptical about the ultimate intent of its controversial nuclear program, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog said Friday. The latest quarterly report of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency sets the table for a month of intense diplomacy during which the U.S. will seek to rally international support for new economic sanctions on Tehran. . . . It also came as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his rhetoric about domestic opponents, calling for the prosecution of the leaders of protests against his recent re-election.”

Fred Barnes explains that the missing cost cutter in health-care reform is tort reform: “Tort reform works. Texas is a good example. In 2003, the state enacted caps on noneconomic damages (so-called pain and suffering) and added a requirement that lawsuits be approved by a panel of medical experts. Over the next four years, premiums fell 21 percent, the drift of doctors out of the state was halted, and 7,000 new doctors set up practices.” Almost like bending the cost curve while improving access to health care.

Perhaps Holder should have gotten some advice on how hard it is to convict under the torture statute before ginning up a special prosecutor: “Legal experts say special prosecutor John Durham, named by Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation, will face high hurdles to sending anyone to jail. ‘I think it’s going to be pretty challenging because if you look at the torture statute it is very narrowly drafted,’ said Thomas McDonnell, a law professor at Pace University in New York. ‘Even using the drill as a threat, according to the torture statute, there was no physical harm so there has to be severe mental harm. But the statute then defines as it having to be prolonged mental harm,’ he said. ‘So unless you can show that it produced severe and long mental harm, it may not even fit.’ ” Maybe that was why career prosecutors previously decided not to press ahead.

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Not a Penny to Spare

The voters and Congress are fixated on health-care reform, which may or may not get passed. But the inescapable issue looming on the horizon is the debt and what Obama plans to do about it. The Washington Post reports:

During last year’s campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president’s top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

You know where this is heading. Yup: “Obama could try to cut spending, but his budget is probably already more frugal than politics will bear, budget analysts say.” Not a penny to spare in the non-stimulus plan or the $3.5 trillion budget, is there? Nope, we’ve cut to the bone. And not a word in the Post‘s story that now it might be best  to put off health-care “reform,” which will add to our fiscal woes. Instead, raise taxes—it’s easy! The Post helpfully suggests:

By contrast, Obama could raise taxes without taking any legislative action. If he let all the Bush tax cuts expire next year and refused to enact legislation to restrain the alternative minimum tax, deficits would be about $200 billion a year lower and the debt would stop growing as a percentage of the economy, according to Gale’s analysis of new data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Well, the Post does concede “that would mean big tax increases for most American families, violating Obama’s pledge.” But what’s the alternative given our budget frugality?

If you have a sense that both the mainstream media and the Obama team are operating in a parallel universe you are right. The White House and Democratic Congress would rather risk the wrath of the voters and send the economy diving back for a double-dip recession with the imposition of tax hikes than set about seriously curtailing spending, including entitlements. Well, they won, we’ve been told. Let’s see if they have the nerve to use their power to pass the largest tax hike in history—before we’ve climbed out of the recession. You think voters are angry now—wait until the tax-hike town halls get going.

The voters and Congress are fixated on health-care reform, which may or may not get passed. But the inescapable issue looming on the horizon is the debt and what Obama plans to do about it. The Washington Post reports:

During last year’s campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president’s top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

You know where this is heading. Yup: “Obama could try to cut spending, but his budget is probably already more frugal than politics will bear, budget analysts say.” Not a penny to spare in the non-stimulus plan or the $3.5 trillion budget, is there? Nope, we’ve cut to the bone. And not a word in the Post‘s story that now it might be best  to put off health-care “reform,” which will add to our fiscal woes. Instead, raise taxes—it’s easy! The Post helpfully suggests:

By contrast, Obama could raise taxes without taking any legislative action. If he let all the Bush tax cuts expire next year and refused to enact legislation to restrain the alternative minimum tax, deficits would be about $200 billion a year lower and the debt would stop growing as a percentage of the economy, according to Gale’s analysis of new data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Well, the Post does concede “that would mean big tax increases for most American families, violating Obama’s pledge.” But what’s the alternative given our budget frugality?

If you have a sense that both the mainstream media and the Obama team are operating in a parallel universe you are right. The White House and Democratic Congress would rather risk the wrath of the voters and send the economy diving back for a double-dip recession with the imposition of tax hikes than set about seriously curtailing spending, including entitlements. Well, they won, we’ve been told. Let’s see if they have the nerve to use their power to pass the largest tax hike in history—before we’ve climbed out of the recession. You think voters are angry now—wait until the tax-hike town halls get going.

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The Commander in Chief Hides

The president has been playing the “Look, Ma—no hands!” game for the better part of a week, denying responsibility for the decision to name a special prosecutor to go after CIA operatives interrogating terrorists overseas. Democrats are ignoring the whole thing, now dimly aware that this is not the sort of thing the public likes. Conservatives are furious and taking the president to task for his refusal to take responsibility for the decision—or fire Attorney General Eric Holder if this isn’t what the president wanted.

Michael Barone, recalling that Harry Truman sacked an attorney general, writes:

Obama administration spokesmen are portraying the president as unable to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have a special prosecutor determine whether to prosecute CIA interrogators who were cleared by Department of Justice career attorneys back in 2004. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” a White House spokesman said. Utter nonsense. The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and the president can determine that a prosecution would undermine the national security—a subject on which he has a wider perspective and a greater responsibility than the attorney general—and order that it not go forward.

[. . .]

If Barack Obama really meant it when he said that he didn’t want to see prosecutions of CIA interrogators for acts committed long ago, for which they were cleared long ago, he has a ready alternative: he can give Eric Holder the same treatment Harry Truman gave [his attorney general] J. Howard McGrath.

Newt Gingrich makes a similar suggestion. And Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, is outraged that Holder is conducting his own war on CIA personnel—over the strenuous and entirely ignored objections of Leon Panetta. We are left wondering why the president prefers to hide, copping to managerial ineptness and timidity. This is no way to score points with the netroots and liberals on the Hill. They are expecting a robust series of investigations and prosecutions and can’t be impressed with the president’s timidity. (And he will come off the Martha Vineyard’s golf course eventually and face some questions about all this.)

One thing the Right and Left can agree upon: this is a shameful performance. If Obama is fine with Holder’s witch hunt, he should say so. And if not, he should act like the president and put an end to it, or Holder’s tenure. By trying to have it both ways—allowing a war on the CIA and positioning himself as defender of our intelligence community—Obama is convincing both sides he lacks credibility and, yes, courage.

The president has been playing the “Look, Ma—no hands!” game for the better part of a week, denying responsibility for the decision to name a special prosecutor to go after CIA operatives interrogating terrorists overseas. Democrats are ignoring the whole thing, now dimly aware that this is not the sort of thing the public likes. Conservatives are furious and taking the president to task for his refusal to take responsibility for the decision—or fire Attorney General Eric Holder if this isn’t what the president wanted.

Michael Barone, recalling that Harry Truman sacked an attorney general, writes:

Obama administration spokesmen are portraying the president as unable to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have a special prosecutor determine whether to prosecute CIA interrogators who were cleared by Department of Justice career attorneys back in 2004. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” a White House spokesman said. Utter nonsense. The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and the president can determine that a prosecution would undermine the national security—a subject on which he has a wider perspective and a greater responsibility than the attorney general—and order that it not go forward.

[. . .]

If Barack Obama really meant it when he said that he didn’t want to see prosecutions of CIA interrogators for acts committed long ago, for which they were cleared long ago, he has a ready alternative: he can give Eric Holder the same treatment Harry Truman gave [his attorney general] J. Howard McGrath.

Newt Gingrich makes a similar suggestion. And Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, is outraged that Holder is conducting his own war on CIA personnel—over the strenuous and entirely ignored objections of Leon Panetta. We are left wondering why the president prefers to hide, copping to managerial ineptness and timidity. This is no way to score points with the netroots and liberals on the Hill. They are expecting a robust series of investigations and prosecutions and can’t be impressed with the president’s timidity. (And he will come off the Martha Vineyard’s golf course eventually and face some questions about all this.)

One thing the Right and Left can agree upon: this is a shameful performance. If Obama is fine with Holder’s witch hunt, he should say so. And if not, he should act like the president and put an end to it, or Holder’s tenure. By trying to have it both ways—allowing a war on the CIA and positioning himself as defender of our intelligence community—Obama is convincing both sides he lacks credibility and, yes, courage.

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Outgunned

The August 27 report of Somali pirates firing at a U.S. Navy helicopter highlights the frustrations of defensive tactical deterrence as a national policy. The Navy’s reason for not firing back was iron-clad, but the overall piracy situation remains dangerous, irritating, and unresolved, in spite of the converging armed forces of more than two dozen nations and many earnestly expressed commitments from political leaders.

There was no decision point for returning fire from the Navy helicopter, because the crewmen were not certain they had been fired on until they evaluated the recording from their infrared camera after the mission. The pirates used small arms (rifles), which give off little muzzle flash and do not have the range to hit the helicopter at the altitude it would maintain for a surveillance mission. A shoulder-fired missile would be immediately detectable and draw an immediate response from the Navy. But small-arms fire, in these circumstances, is not a valid pretext for any specific critique of either our operational policies or our military rules of engagement.

Citizens, however, can be excused for finding this explanation technically and politically unsatisfying. While our Navy and others labor in obscurity, making the headlines only when something less than heroic occurs, Somali piracy is on the rise and adapting to naval deterrence tactics, and European lawyers are representing pirates and arguing for their rights.

The pirates who fired at the U.S. helicopter did so from M/V Win Far 161, a Taiwanese fishing ship hijacked on April 6, 2009, and used ever since as a “mother ship” from which the pirates launch long-range attacks like the one on M/V Maersk Alabama on April 8. The ship’s crew of 30 remain on board as hostages. The International Maritime Bureau reports that in spite of the growing antipiracy effort in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirate attacks in the first six months of 2009 totaled 130, compared with 111 in all of 2008. Much of the increase has been off the east coast of Somalia, with the pattern of attacks being gradually displaced from the Gulf of Aden, where the world’s navies are operating. The summer monsoons have reportedly slowed pirate activity east of Somalia. But open-ocean piracy is far more difficult to interdict than piracy in restricted waters, like those of the Gulf of Aden, and weather is likely to be the main factor inhibiting pirate operations farther out to sea.

The Paris-based legal-aid group Lawyers of the World, meanwhile, is representing more than 40 piracy detainees handed over to Kenya for prosecution, insisting that their rights are being violated by deficiencies in Kenyan law. Fighting piracy is turning into a series of bureaucratic opportunities for attorneys and alliance staffs. It is also providing the pretext for Russia and Iran to establish a maritime presence in this crucial region. Yet piracy continues to flourish undaunted. Something is wrong with this picture. The exasperating features of the latest helicopter incident are emblematic of what is wrong with the whole enterprise, in spirit if not in literal explanatory value. At the strategic level, we are fighting piracy on the pirates’ terms and giving them a head start for good measure.

The August 27 report of Somali pirates firing at a U.S. Navy helicopter highlights the frustrations of defensive tactical deterrence as a national policy. The Navy’s reason for not firing back was iron-clad, but the overall piracy situation remains dangerous, irritating, and unresolved, in spite of the converging armed forces of more than two dozen nations and many earnestly expressed commitments from political leaders.

There was no decision point for returning fire from the Navy helicopter, because the crewmen were not certain they had been fired on until they evaluated the recording from their infrared camera after the mission. The pirates used small arms (rifles), which give off little muzzle flash and do not have the range to hit the helicopter at the altitude it would maintain for a surveillance mission. A shoulder-fired missile would be immediately detectable and draw an immediate response from the Navy. But small-arms fire, in these circumstances, is not a valid pretext for any specific critique of either our operational policies or our military rules of engagement.

Citizens, however, can be excused for finding this explanation technically and politically unsatisfying. While our Navy and others labor in obscurity, making the headlines only when something less than heroic occurs, Somali piracy is on the rise and adapting to naval deterrence tactics, and European lawyers are representing pirates and arguing for their rights.

The pirates who fired at the U.S. helicopter did so from M/V Win Far 161, a Taiwanese fishing ship hijacked on April 6, 2009, and used ever since as a “mother ship” from which the pirates launch long-range attacks like the one on M/V Maersk Alabama on April 8. The ship’s crew of 30 remain on board as hostages. The International Maritime Bureau reports that in spite of the growing antipiracy effort in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirate attacks in the first six months of 2009 totaled 130, compared with 111 in all of 2008. Much of the increase has been off the east coast of Somalia, with the pattern of attacks being gradually displaced from the Gulf of Aden, where the world’s navies are operating. The summer monsoons have reportedly slowed pirate activity east of Somalia. But open-ocean piracy is far more difficult to interdict than piracy in restricted waters, like those of the Gulf of Aden, and weather is likely to be the main factor inhibiting pirate operations farther out to sea.

The Paris-based legal-aid group Lawyers of the World, meanwhile, is representing more than 40 piracy detainees handed over to Kenya for prosecution, insisting that their rights are being violated by deficiencies in Kenyan law. Fighting piracy is turning into a series of bureaucratic opportunities for attorneys and alliance staffs. It is also providing the pretext for Russia and Iran to establish a maritime presence in this crucial region. Yet piracy continues to flourish undaunted. Something is wrong with this picture. The exasperating features of the latest helicopter incident are emblematic of what is wrong with the whole enterprise, in spirit if not in literal explanatory value. At the strategic level, we are fighting piracy on the pirates’ terms and giving them a head start for good measure.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The National Jewish Democratic Council can’t understand all the fuss about Mary Robinson. I’m sure they can’t. Neither could Obama, which is the nub of the problem.

Sen. Jim Webb is the latest moderate to plead to “slow down” health-care reform.

Charles Krauthammer on the Obama administration’s interrogation polices: “The idiocy of imagining that if you capture Aymen al-Zahiri, one of the cruelest terrorists in world history, you would actually think of saying to him you do—you know, that he doesn’t have to actually tell you anything, is insane. Of course he doesn’t have a right to remain silent. This man barely has a right to live. You capture him, you make him talk. . . . If you stick him in a situation in which he is Mirandized, you are guaranteed you will learn nothing. This isn’t a game, and we are actually involved in two wars. It’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Did Eric Holder’s Justice Department follow its own guidelines in declining to press forward with the public corruption case against Bill Richardson? The former DOJ attorney who drafted the guidelines writes: “The DOJ manual sets out the consultation rules for U.S. attorneys, who are required to ‘consult’ with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division in Washington. But only consultation is required; the Public Integrity Section does not make the final decision on whether an investigation should go forward. . . . So if the AP is correct in reporting that ‘top’ officials in Washington killed the investigation, then political appointees within the department did not follow normal DOJ procedures.” I’m sure Sen. Pat Leahy will demand an oversight hearing immediately.

And to top it off, the New Mexico prosecutor sounds awfully peeved: “U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the decision not to bring charges ‘is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.’ In a letter sent to defense attorneys, Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation ‘revealed that pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process’ so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.” And so why no charges filed?

This is not a report from the Onion: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping that the ‘Great California Garage Sale’ will turn government clutter like surplus prison uniforms and office furniture into cash to bulk up the state’s depleted finances.”

Ramadan in Israel—90,000 Muslims celebrate and Desmond Tutu lectures: “The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns.” (Yes, he got the Medal of Freedom, too.) And if not for those East Jerusalem apartments, we’d have peace in our time, don’t you see?

We saw this one coming: “Democrats plan to invoke Sen. Edward Kennedy’s name repeatedly in their push for a massive overhaul of the healthcare system, but political insiders in both parties say his name alone will fall far short of the contribution he could have made personally. . . . But Republicans are not about to be shamed into blindly backing a one-sided bill, and some conservatives have already criticized Democrats for trying to politicize the issue through the use of Kennedy’s name.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council can’t understand all the fuss about Mary Robinson. I’m sure they can’t. Neither could Obama, which is the nub of the problem.

Sen. Jim Webb is the latest moderate to plead to “slow down” health-care reform.

Charles Krauthammer on the Obama administration’s interrogation polices: “The idiocy of imagining that if you capture Aymen al-Zahiri, one of the cruelest terrorists in world history, you would actually think of saying to him you do—you know, that he doesn’t have to actually tell you anything, is insane. Of course he doesn’t have a right to remain silent. This man barely has a right to live. You capture him, you make him talk. . . . If you stick him in a situation in which he is Mirandized, you are guaranteed you will learn nothing. This isn’t a game, and we are actually involved in two wars. It’s incredibly irresponsible.”

Did Eric Holder’s Justice Department follow its own guidelines in declining to press forward with the public corruption case against Bill Richardson? The former DOJ attorney who drafted the guidelines writes: “The DOJ manual sets out the consultation rules for U.S. attorneys, who are required to ‘consult’ with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division in Washington. But only consultation is required; the Public Integrity Section does not make the final decision on whether an investigation should go forward. . . . So if the AP is correct in reporting that ‘top’ officials in Washington killed the investigation, then political appointees within the department did not follow normal DOJ procedures.” I’m sure Sen. Pat Leahy will demand an oversight hearing immediately.

And to top it off, the New Mexico prosecutor sounds awfully peeved: “U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the decision not to bring charges ‘is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.’ In a letter sent to defense attorneys, Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation ‘revealed that pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process’ so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.” And so why no charges filed?

This is not a report from the Onion: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping that the ‘Great California Garage Sale’ will turn government clutter like surplus prison uniforms and office furniture into cash to bulk up the state’s depleted finances.”

Ramadan in Israel—90,000 Muslims celebrate and Desmond Tutu lectures: “The lesson that Israel must learn from the Holocaust is that it can never get security through fences, walls and guns.” (Yes, he got the Medal of Freedom, too.) And if not for those East Jerusalem apartments, we’d have peace in our time, don’t you see?

We saw this one coming: “Democrats plan to invoke Sen. Edward Kennedy’s name repeatedly in their push for a massive overhaul of the healthcare system, but political insiders in both parties say his name alone will fall far short of the contribution he could have made personally. . . . But Republicans are not about to be shamed into blindly backing a one-sided bill, and some conservatives have already criticized Democrats for trying to politicize the issue through the use of Kennedy’s name.”

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It Never Works Out

Florida Governor Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff George LeMieux, dubbed his “political shadow,” to fill the Senate vacancy left by the resignation of Mel Martinez. Marco Rubio, Crist’s primary opponent in his Senate bid, doesn’t like it, arguing that there was a “wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates” that could have filled the slot.

This continues the problematic string of Senate vacancies that have bedeviled the governors charged with filling them. New York’s David Paterson got himself ensnared in the Caroline Kennedy disastrous non-run for the Senate. Blago is facing a criminal trial over his scheme to “get something” for Obama’s open seat. Joe Biden’s seat went to his political ally in an effort to keep the seat warm for Biden’s son. And on it goes. Inevitably, it seems, things don’t turn out as planned, and at least some faction is disappointed as governors try to balance multiple concerns—in Crist’s case, not upstaging his own Senate race and emphasizing his weakness in the primary: insufficient conservative bona fides to satisfy the Republican base.

Perhaps states would do better to have elections (and not, as in Massachusetts, change the rules depending on the party in power). That would save the nation’s governors a lot of headaches.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff George LeMieux, dubbed his “political shadow,” to fill the Senate vacancy left by the resignation of Mel Martinez. Marco Rubio, Crist’s primary opponent in his Senate bid, doesn’t like it, arguing that there was a “wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates” that could have filled the slot.

This continues the problematic string of Senate vacancies that have bedeviled the governors charged with filling them. New York’s David Paterson got himself ensnared in the Caroline Kennedy disastrous non-run for the Senate. Blago is facing a criminal trial over his scheme to “get something” for Obama’s open seat. Joe Biden’s seat went to his political ally in an effort to keep the seat warm for Biden’s son. And on it goes. Inevitably, it seems, things don’t turn out as planned, and at least some faction is disappointed as governors try to balance multiple concerns—in Crist’s case, not upstaging his own Senate race and emphasizing his weakness in the primary: insufficient conservative bona fides to satisfy the Republican base.

Perhaps states would do better to have elections (and not, as in Massachusetts, change the rules depending on the party in power). That would save the nation’s governors a lot of headaches.

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Try That in Georgia

It seems that the Democrats in Massachusetts are about to amend the Senate succession law—revised at Democrats’ behest just five years ago—to allow the governor to appoint a seat warmer for Ted Kennedy until the special election can be held in January 2010. A voting-rights guru sends me this interesting observation:

Of course, Massachusetts governors used to appoint replacements until the Democratic majority in the state assembly changed the law in 2004 to require an election for purely political reasons—they wanted to avoid having Republican Governor Mitt Romney fill John Kerry’s seat if Kerry managed to get elected president. The irony is that while Ted Kennedy is being heralded today as a champion of the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, he was proposing something that would be impossible for state legislatures to do in Southern states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. If Alabama or Georgia tried to change from an elected to an appointed process, the Justice Department would be up in arms and strenuously objecting under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require those states to get all of their voting changes preapproved by Justice. The Justice Department would consider such a change discriminatory and intended to negatively impact the rights of voters, particularly minority voters. But then Massachusetts is not covered by those special provisions that Kennedy championed, so acting in such an undemocratic and discriminatory manner in his home state to preserve the feudal holdings of his party’s leadership was perfectly acceptable.

One of the many instances of Kennedy-inspired rules—for the other guys.

It seems that the Democrats in Massachusetts are about to amend the Senate succession law—revised at Democrats’ behest just five years ago—to allow the governor to appoint a seat warmer for Ted Kennedy until the special election can be held in January 2010. A voting-rights guru sends me this interesting observation:

Of course, Massachusetts governors used to appoint replacements until the Democratic majority in the state assembly changed the law in 2004 to require an election for purely political reasons—they wanted to avoid having Republican Governor Mitt Romney fill John Kerry’s seat if Kerry managed to get elected president. The irony is that while Ted Kennedy is being heralded today as a champion of the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, he was proposing something that would be impossible for state legislatures to do in Southern states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. If Alabama or Georgia tried to change from an elected to an appointed process, the Justice Department would be up in arms and strenuously objecting under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require those states to get all of their voting changes preapproved by Justice. The Justice Department would consider such a change discriminatory and intended to negatively impact the rights of voters, particularly minority voters. But then Massachusetts is not covered by those special provisions that Kennedy championed, so acting in such an undemocratic and discriminatory manner in his home state to preserve the feudal holdings of his party’s leadership was perfectly acceptable.

One of the many instances of Kennedy-inspired rules—for the other guys.

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NYT Calls on Terror Regime to Stop Accidentally Terrorizing People

The Times editorializes today on abuses in the Iranian prison system, and it is one of those pieces in which you can’t tell whether the writer is dense or stupid:

Iran’s Constitution and law prohibit torture; however, the 2008 State Department human rights report cites numerous credible reports over the years in which security forces and prison personnel tortured prisoners.

The government should be ferreting out and putting an end to these abuses.

One could attempt to take this seriously and ask, Why would the government “ferret out” and “put an end” to the very brutality by which it keeps itself in power? This is like saying to a mafia boss, “You should ferret out the people in your organization who are involved in stealing, bribery, and extortion, and put an end to these abuses.” Seriously?

But this is a long tradition on the Left. It works like this: if you want to call attention to the atrocious behavior of a group of thugs or terrorists, you have to be respectful and pretend that the thuggery and terrorism were accidents of bureaucratic oversight or inattention.

When Hezbollah was shooting up Beirut last summer, Barack Obama put out a memorable statement on the crisis that fit this model perfectly:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Just as the Times seems to think that the systematic rape and torture of prisoners in Iran is being conducted in the absence of regime approval, Obama portrayed Hezbollah as somehow engaged in major hostilities in Lebanon without the approval of Iran and Syria. Another fine example is Human Rights Watch, which in 2008 sent a letter to the Hamas leadership saying:

We ask that you publicly and unequivocally call on the military wing of your organization, the Qassam Brigades, and any other groups or individuals acting on behalf of Hamas . . . to desist from any attacks or acts of reprisal that deliberately target civilians, or cause them disproportionate harm.

Foreign policy is so much easier when everyone involved has good intentions.

The Times editorializes today on abuses in the Iranian prison system, and it is one of those pieces in which you can’t tell whether the writer is dense or stupid:

Iran’s Constitution and law prohibit torture; however, the 2008 State Department human rights report cites numerous credible reports over the years in which security forces and prison personnel tortured prisoners.

The government should be ferreting out and putting an end to these abuses.

One could attempt to take this seriously and ask, Why would the government “ferret out” and “put an end” to the very brutality by which it keeps itself in power? This is like saying to a mafia boss, “You should ferret out the people in your organization who are involved in stealing, bribery, and extortion, and put an end to these abuses.” Seriously?

But this is a long tradition on the Left. It works like this: if you want to call attention to the atrocious behavior of a group of thugs or terrorists, you have to be respectful and pretend that the thuggery and terrorism were accidents of bureaucratic oversight or inattention.

When Hezbollah was shooting up Beirut last summer, Barack Obama put out a memorable statement on the crisis that fit this model perfectly:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Just as the Times seems to think that the systematic rape and torture of prisoners in Iran is being conducted in the absence of regime approval, Obama portrayed Hezbollah as somehow engaged in major hostilities in Lebanon without the approval of Iran and Syria. Another fine example is Human Rights Watch, which in 2008 sent a letter to the Hamas leadership saying:

We ask that you publicly and unequivocally call on the military wing of your organization, the Qassam Brigades, and any other groups or individuals acting on behalf of Hamas . . . to desist from any attacks or acts of reprisal that deliberately target civilians, or cause them disproportionate harm.

Foreign policy is so much easier when everyone involved has good intentions.

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A White Cadillac, Manuel Zelaya, the State Department, and Iran

Garry Marshall tells a funny anecdote in his autobiography, “Wake Me When It’s Funny,” about the time, after he had become a television success, that he asked his parents what their dreams were, so he could make one come true. He went first to his father, who said he had always dreamed of having a white Cadillac. Marshall told him, “Okay, you’ve got it.”

Then I went to my mother and said, “Mom, I’m doing well, and I want to give you one of your dreams. Pop said his dream is to own a white Cadillac. What’s yours?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “My dream is that your father doesn’t get the white Cadillac.”

I thought of this anecdote when reading the transcript of the State Department background conference call earlier this week by “Senior State Department Official One” about the efforts, backed by the Obama administration, to have the successor Honduran government accept the “San Jose Accord” to bring Hugo Chavez pal Manuel Zelaya back as president:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our understanding is — the main point that is facing all the resistance from the de facto government is a sentence that says: The return of President Zelaya to finish out his term.

QUESTION: Okay. And do — and did they propose anything? I mean, did the de facto government say, okay —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They proposed that he not return.

I am predicting that Zelaya will not get the white Cadillac.

A reporter asked Senior State Department Official One (SSDOO) if the U.S. might consider not recognizing the winner of the Honduran presidential election in November as a mechanism to pressure the Honduran government to accept the San Jose Accord. SSDOO said that, indeed, the State Department was reviewing that option, among others, although no determination had been made.

For the Obama administration to consider not recognizing the results of the Honduran election, simply to force Honduras to allow Zelaya to return to office for a few months, gainsaying the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision last week, must mean that the administration takes the situation quite seriously. It did not consider this option even in connection with the somewhat more suspect presidential election in Iran.

Garry Marshall tells a funny anecdote in his autobiography, “Wake Me When It’s Funny,” about the time, after he had become a television success, that he asked his parents what their dreams were, so he could make one come true. He went first to his father, who said he had always dreamed of having a white Cadillac. Marshall told him, “Okay, you’ve got it.”

Then I went to my mother and said, “Mom, I’m doing well, and I want to give you one of your dreams. Pop said his dream is to own a white Cadillac. What’s yours?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “My dream is that your father doesn’t get the white Cadillac.”

I thought of this anecdote when reading the transcript of the State Department background conference call earlier this week by “Senior State Department Official One” about the efforts, backed by the Obama administration, to have the successor Honduran government accept the “San Jose Accord” to bring Hugo Chavez pal Manuel Zelaya back as president:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our understanding is — the main point that is facing all the resistance from the de facto government is a sentence that says: The return of President Zelaya to finish out his term.

QUESTION: Okay. And do — and did they propose anything? I mean, did the de facto government say, okay —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They proposed that he not return.

I am predicting that Zelaya will not get the white Cadillac.

A reporter asked Senior State Department Official One (SSDOO) if the U.S. might consider not recognizing the winner of the Honduran presidential election in November as a mechanism to pressure the Honduran government to accept the San Jose Accord. SSDOO said that, indeed, the State Department was reviewing that option, among others, although no determination had been made.

For the Obama administration to consider not recognizing the results of the Honduran election, simply to force Honduras to allow Zelaya to return to office for a few months, gainsaying the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision last week, must mean that the administration takes the situation quite seriously. It did not consider this option even in connection with the somewhat more suspect presidential election in Iran.

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Who’s Able to Change?

Michael Kinsley is full of invective for the citizens, pundits, and politicians who oppose ObamaCare. We are, he tells us, like “spoiled children.” We are filled with misinformation. We don’t know what’s good for us or what we want. (It’s getting to the point where being on the enemies list for ObamaCare is becoming cool—the Right’s badge of honor, as Nixon’s enemies list was for the Left.) But he does get one thing right: Americans aren’t up for a huge change in the way they get health care. The vast majority of voters, remember, have health care they like. It was Obama and the congressional Democrats who came up with the idea that we had to destroy the existing system and start all over.

A few points are in order. First, Americans are opposed to ObamaCare not because of irrational fears cooked up by talk-show hosts but because they have figured out what’s in it. Seniors figured out that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts might impact their care. The notion of “comparative effectiveness” research and government interference with treatment decisions have rightly alarmed voters. (Remember when liberals used to be concerned about personal autonomy and medical privacy?) And the looming costs and gargantuan deficit figures have freaked out Republicans, independents, and a good number of Democrats.

Second, the Obama administration, by Kinsley’s reckoning, is guilty of political malpractice if they can’t, with all their communication and political advantages, get us to understand what a great deal this is. It’s almost as if the bigger the project, the more incompetently politicians handle it. Yes, if they can’t handle the sales job on nationalized health care, maybe they aren’t up for the health-care part either.

And finally, Kinsley’s right: Obama ran as a moderate in a center-right country and has embarked on a radical agenda to reinvent everything about everything. The recession was going to lower our resistance to change. It didn’t. Americans are not politically radical; the president’s agenda is. Hence, the problem.

One would think that the solution would be some modest health-care reforms focusing on portability and insurance pools for small business, for example. Wouldn’t modest change be less scary and more acceptable to those easily frightened voters? But then Obama would have to change. He’d have to rethink his government-centric vision of health care and just about every other aspect of his domestic agenda. That may be a problem. He wanted Americans to change. Now that they won’t—at least not in the sweeping fashion he had hoped—we’ll see how flexible he is.

Michael Kinsley is full of invective for the citizens, pundits, and politicians who oppose ObamaCare. We are, he tells us, like “spoiled children.” We are filled with misinformation. We don’t know what’s good for us or what we want. (It’s getting to the point where being on the enemies list for ObamaCare is becoming cool—the Right’s badge of honor, as Nixon’s enemies list was for the Left.) But he does get one thing right: Americans aren’t up for a huge change in the way they get health care. The vast majority of voters, remember, have health care they like. It was Obama and the congressional Democrats who came up with the idea that we had to destroy the existing system and start all over.

A few points are in order. First, Americans are opposed to ObamaCare not because of irrational fears cooked up by talk-show hosts but because they have figured out what’s in it. Seniors figured out that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts might impact their care. The notion of “comparative effectiveness” research and government interference with treatment decisions have rightly alarmed voters. (Remember when liberals used to be concerned about personal autonomy and medical privacy?) And the looming costs and gargantuan deficit figures have freaked out Republicans, independents, and a good number of Democrats.

Second, the Obama administration, by Kinsley’s reckoning, is guilty of political malpractice if they can’t, with all their communication and political advantages, get us to understand what a great deal this is. It’s almost as if the bigger the project, the more incompetently politicians handle it. Yes, if they can’t handle the sales job on nationalized health care, maybe they aren’t up for the health-care part either.

And finally, Kinsley’s right: Obama ran as a moderate in a center-right country and has embarked on a radical agenda to reinvent everything about everything. The recession was going to lower our resistance to change. It didn’t. Americans are not politically radical; the president’s agenda is. Hence, the problem.

One would think that the solution would be some modest health-care reforms focusing on portability and insurance pools for small business, for example. Wouldn’t modest change be less scary and more acceptable to those easily frightened voters? But then Obama would have to change. He’d have to rethink his government-centric vision of health care and just about every other aspect of his domestic agenda. That may be a problem. He wanted Americans to change. Now that they won’t—at least not in the sweeping fashion he had hoped—we’ll see how flexible he is.

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Déjà Vu Diplomacy

The day before George Mitchell met with Benjamin Netanyahu in London this week, in the continuing effort to meet Palestinian preconditions for new final-status negotiations, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a plan to create a Palestinian state within two years—“regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.”

For those familiar with the history of the peace process, the Palestinian announcement and its timing provided a sense of déjà vu.

In the spring of 1998, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was stalled. Prime Minister Netanyahu was seeking “reciprocity” from the Palestinians before further Israeli withdrawals from West Bank territory. Arafat was offering the umpteenth Palestinian promise to “crack down” on terrorism and agreed—“in principle”—to produce a detailed security plan in exchange for a further Israeli withdrawal that met his demands and a move to final-status negotiations.

That was good enough for the State Department, which turned to Netanyahu and told him it needed a “second yes.” Netanyahu raised concerns about the scope of the withdrawal—and Arafat threatened a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. On April 28, 1998, Hanan Ashrawi, then the Palestinian minister of higher education, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and said Palestinians would declare statehood in one year regardless of where the peace process then stood.

At the time, no American administration had ever endorsed a Palestinian state. A week later, as Dennis Ross was traveling to Israel to meet with Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton spoke (via satellite hookup arranged by the State Department) to Arab and Israeli teenagers attending a “peace summit” in Switzerland. In response to a student who asked about her use of the word Palestine, Hillary used the word state nine times, saying it would be “very important” for “Palestine to be a state.” In case Israel missed the significance of her words, the American embassy in Tel Aviv immediately released a report entitled “Hillary Clinton: Eventual Palestinian State Important for Mideast Peace.”

The White House said she was “not reflecting any administration policy”—only a “personal view.” But William Safire wrote in the New York Times that the explanation was “laughably implausible” and was “a calculated move by both Clintons to ratchet up the pressure on Israel” by warning that American policy might change if Netanyahu did not promptly move the process forward.

Now flash forward 11 years. A U.S. peace negotiator travels to meet with the Israeli prime minister to seek his concurrence in the latest Palestinian demands regarding final-status negotiations. The Palestinian “peace partner” announces a plan for a Palestinian state within two years without a peace agreement. The American consul general in Jerusalem, alerted ahead of time, tells the New York Times it is the first time he has seen such a “concrete plan” and that the Palestinians are working in a practical way toward their goal.

Undoubtedly, his apparent comfort with a unilateral Palestinian plan is simply his personal view.

The day before George Mitchell met with Benjamin Netanyahu in London this week, in the continuing effort to meet Palestinian preconditions for new final-status negotiations, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a plan to create a Palestinian state within two years—“regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.”

For those familiar with the history of the peace process, the Palestinian announcement and its timing provided a sense of déjà vu.

In the spring of 1998, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was stalled. Prime Minister Netanyahu was seeking “reciprocity” from the Palestinians before further Israeli withdrawals from West Bank territory. Arafat was offering the umpteenth Palestinian promise to “crack down” on terrorism and agreed—“in principle”—to produce a detailed security plan in exchange for a further Israeli withdrawal that met his demands and a move to final-status negotiations.

That was good enough for the State Department, which turned to Netanyahu and told him it needed a “second yes.” Netanyahu raised concerns about the scope of the withdrawal—and Arafat threatened a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. On April 28, 1998, Hanan Ashrawi, then the Palestinian minister of higher education, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and said Palestinians would declare statehood in one year regardless of where the peace process then stood.

At the time, no American administration had ever endorsed a Palestinian state. A week later, as Dennis Ross was traveling to Israel to meet with Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton spoke (via satellite hookup arranged by the State Department) to Arab and Israeli teenagers attending a “peace summit” in Switzerland. In response to a student who asked about her use of the word Palestine, Hillary used the word state nine times, saying it would be “very important” for “Palestine to be a state.” In case Israel missed the significance of her words, the American embassy in Tel Aviv immediately released a report entitled “Hillary Clinton: Eventual Palestinian State Important for Mideast Peace.”

The White House said she was “not reflecting any administration policy”—only a “personal view.” But William Safire wrote in the New York Times that the explanation was “laughably implausible” and was “a calculated move by both Clintons to ratchet up the pressure on Israel” by warning that American policy might change if Netanyahu did not promptly move the process forward.

Now flash forward 11 years. A U.S. peace negotiator travels to meet with the Israeli prime minister to seek his concurrence in the latest Palestinian demands regarding final-status negotiations. The Palestinian “peace partner” announces a plan for a Palestinian state within two years without a peace agreement. The American consul general in Jerusalem, alerted ahead of time, tells the New York Times it is the first time he has seen such a “concrete plan” and that the Palestinians are working in a practical way toward their goal.

Undoubtedly, his apparent comfort with a unilateral Palestinian plan is simply his personal view.

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Not Exactly the Lion of the White House

After waxing lyrical about Ted Kennedy’s incrementalist approach to building the liberal welfare state, David Brooks takes an apparent detour to tell us:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

He can’t quite bring himself to spell it out, but he’s saying that Obama is no Ted Kennedy and that he’s out of touch with the essential character of America. (Brooks no doubt gets visited by a horde of White House spinners if he’s that explicit, but that’s the gist.)

Well, to be clear, much of what Kennedy advocated—including nationalized health care—hasn’t come about because Americans are resistant to much of modern liberalism’s agenda items, whether enacted bit by bit or in huge gulps. Nevertheless, Brooks’s take, however oblique, on Obama’s radicalism is on the mark. Centralizing power and reducing individual choice in a truth-serum-required campaign would sum up Obama’s goals. Cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, consumer regulation, financial bailouts, executive-compensation regimens, and car-company nationalization all demand the centralization of power and reduction of individual (or private sector) choice. Conversely, there isn’t a single initiative that pops to mind that features “mobility” or “individual responsibility.”

If this is really what Obama is all about, Brooks hawked the wrong candidate, and we’re in for a battle royale for the remainder of his presidency. It turns out Obama doesn’t appear to understand what America is all about.

After waxing lyrical about Ted Kennedy’s incrementalist approach to building the liberal welfare state, David Brooks takes an apparent detour to tell us:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

He can’t quite bring himself to spell it out, but he’s saying that Obama is no Ted Kennedy and that he’s out of touch with the essential character of America. (Brooks no doubt gets visited by a horde of White House spinners if he’s that explicit, but that’s the gist.)

Well, to be clear, much of what Kennedy advocated—including nationalized health care—hasn’t come about because Americans are resistant to much of modern liberalism’s agenda items, whether enacted bit by bit or in huge gulps. Nevertheless, Brooks’s take, however oblique, on Obama’s radicalism is on the mark. Centralizing power and reducing individual choice in a truth-serum-required campaign would sum up Obama’s goals. Cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, consumer regulation, financial bailouts, executive-compensation regimens, and car-company nationalization all demand the centralization of power and reduction of individual (or private sector) choice. Conversely, there isn’t a single initiative that pops to mind that features “mobility” or “individual responsibility.”

If this is really what Obama is all about, Brooks hawked the wrong candidate, and we’re in for a battle royale for the remainder of his presidency. It turns out Obama doesn’t appear to understand what America is all about.

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Mary Robinson Is Back

Mary Robinson, with her Medal of Freedom no doubt tucked in her suitcase, traveled with her fellow “Elders,” including Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to the Middle East to pronounce on peace. She, of course, called for a settlement freeze because a two-state solution hangs in the balance, she declares. (She must not have gotten the memo that the Arab states aren’t interested in intermediary steps.) The two-state solution apparently isn’t endangered by Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. (They must have heard that Zionism = Racism. There was a UN conference that said so.)

And while she says she understands Israel’s “security concerns,” she’s very troubled by the blockade of Gaza. After all, she says: “But the real security is the lasting peace, and that we know from Ireland. I can go to Belfast now. It’s a thriving cultural city, and now when I travel from Dublin to Belfast, I don’t even feel anything when I cross the border.”

Any recognition that Hamas hasn’t yet gone out of the terrorism business like the IRA? No. You see, Israel blew it by not consolidating gains from peace moves in Gaza. Or something. But she’s concerned about the treatment of women in Gaza. No word about how she feels about the executions.

These are the sorts of insights that won her America’s highest civilian prize. A role model and agent of change, Obama told us. Well, it’s good to know to whom the president looks for inspiration.

Mary Robinson, with her Medal of Freedom no doubt tucked in her suitcase, traveled with her fellow “Elders,” including Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to the Middle East to pronounce on peace. She, of course, called for a settlement freeze because a two-state solution hangs in the balance, she declares. (She must not have gotten the memo that the Arab states aren’t interested in intermediary steps.) The two-state solution apparently isn’t endangered by Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. (They must have heard that Zionism = Racism. There was a UN conference that said so.)

And while she says she understands Israel’s “security concerns,” she’s very troubled by the blockade of Gaza. After all, she says: “But the real security is the lasting peace, and that we know from Ireland. I can go to Belfast now. It’s a thriving cultural city, and now when I travel from Dublin to Belfast, I don’t even feel anything when I cross the border.”

Any recognition that Hamas hasn’t yet gone out of the terrorism business like the IRA? No. You see, Israel blew it by not consolidating gains from peace moves in Gaza. Or something. But she’s concerned about the treatment of women in Gaza. No word about how she feels about the executions.

These are the sorts of insights that won her America’s highest civilian prize. A role model and agent of change, Obama told us. Well, it’s good to know to whom the president looks for inspiration.

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An Open Letter to President Obama

In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Harry V. Jaffa has “An Open Letter” addressed to President Obama:

In your Cairo speech [June 4, 2009] you referred to the West Bank as “occupied” by Israel. You implied that the Palestinian Arabs were being denied the sovereign rights to their homeland. But the West Bank was never a sovereign state to Palestinian Arabs. In the ancient world, Judea and Samaria belonged to what was then a sovereign Jewish state, a state from which the Jews were repeatedly driven by foreign conquerors: among them Babylonians, Romans, and Christian crusaders. However often they were driven from their ancient homeland, Jews always returned.

The millennial claims of the Jews contrast with the fact that the Palestinian people of today have no such historic claims. In fact, the Palestinians whose national identity you recognize did not exist before 1967. The West Bank was conquered in 1948 by Jordan, which subsequently annexed it and then later de-annexed it. It was de-annexed when the King of Jordan discovered he had added to his kingdom Palestinians who wanted to overthrow his monarchy. For the same reason, Israel does not want to add enemies to its body politic. . . .

Because even Palestinian “peace partners” refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and because that refusal is at the heart of the repeated failures of prior “peace processes,” some basic historical facts need to be reiterated. The Jaffa letter does a good job and is worth reading in its entirety.

The Review has just made the issue’s Correspondence section available to nonsubscribers, so the remainder of the Jaffa letter can be read here.

In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Harry V. Jaffa has “An Open Letter” addressed to President Obama:

In your Cairo speech [June 4, 2009] you referred to the West Bank as “occupied” by Israel. You implied that the Palestinian Arabs were being denied the sovereign rights to their homeland. But the West Bank was never a sovereign state to Palestinian Arabs. In the ancient world, Judea and Samaria belonged to what was then a sovereign Jewish state, a state from which the Jews were repeatedly driven by foreign conquerors: among them Babylonians, Romans, and Christian crusaders. However often they were driven from their ancient homeland, Jews always returned.

The millennial claims of the Jews contrast with the fact that the Palestinian people of today have no such historic claims. In fact, the Palestinians whose national identity you recognize did not exist before 1967. The West Bank was conquered in 1948 by Jordan, which subsequently annexed it and then later de-annexed it. It was de-annexed when the King of Jordan discovered he had added to his kingdom Palestinians who wanted to overthrow his monarchy. For the same reason, Israel does not want to add enemies to its body politic. . . .

Because even Palestinian “peace partners” refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and because that refusal is at the heart of the repeated failures of prior “peace processes,” some basic historical facts need to be reiterated. The Jaffa letter does a good job and is worth reading in its entirety.

The Review has just made the issue’s Correspondence section available to nonsubscribers, so the remainder of the Jaffa letter can be read here.

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It Might Be His Finest Moment

Kimberley Strassel observes that Leon Panetta has become the administration’s “fall guy” for the CIA. She recounts the damage done to his agency, which started with the release of the enhanced interrogation memos:

Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of Moveon.org. The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta’s pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta’s demoralized troops. Don’t “be discouraged” that you’ve “made mistakes,” the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. “That’s how we learn.” Mr. Obama vowed to be “vigorous in protecting” the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding.

And then this week’s outrage:

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who “acted in good faith,” Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta’s hands, relocating it with the FBI.

Well it’s not quite right to say Panetta is the “fall guy”—he’s the guy being run over by the Holder/Obama/netroot truck. He’s not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he’s being ignored.

Those in key Washington jobs hate to walk away. The proximity to power, even if they don’t wield it, can be intoxicating. And there are always supporters whispering in your ear: “Stay! It’d be worse if you weren’t there.” In Panetta’s case, it’s hard to see how. And it’s even harder to see why Panetta, if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security, would remain. He’s had a long run in Washington and gained a fair measure of bipartisan support. Sometimes the most memorable and impressive thing a Washington insider can do is quit. At least it would force the Obama team, for a fleeting moment, to listen to what he has to say.

Kimberley Strassel observes that Leon Panetta has become the administration’s “fall guy” for the CIA. She recounts the damage done to his agency, which started with the release of the enhanced interrogation memos:

Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of Moveon.org. The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta’s pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta’s demoralized troops. Don’t “be discouraged” that you’ve “made mistakes,” the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. “That’s how we learn.” Mr. Obama vowed to be “vigorous in protecting” the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding.

And then this week’s outrage:

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who “acted in good faith,” Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta’s hands, relocating it with the FBI.

Well it’s not quite right to say Panetta is the “fall guy”—he’s the guy being run over by the Holder/Obama/netroot truck. He’s not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he’s being ignored.

Those in key Washington jobs hate to walk away. The proximity to power, even if they don’t wield it, can be intoxicating. And there are always supporters whispering in your ear: “Stay! It’d be worse if you weren’t there.” In Panetta’s case, it’s hard to see how. And it’s even harder to see why Panetta, if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security, would remain. He’s had a long run in Washington and gained a fair measure of bipartisan support. Sometimes the most memorable and impressive thing a Washington insider can do is quit. At least it would force the Obama team, for a fleeting moment, to listen to what he has to say.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From Pollster.com on independent voters’ view of Obama’s performance: disapproval 46.6 percent, approval 45.5 percent.

The Economist poll is the latest showing Obama below 50 percent—48 percent to be exact. And this might have something to do with the decision to investigate CIA operatives: “In this week’s poll, only 39% approve of the president’s handling of terrorism—down from 43% last week, and a new low.”

You think his American poll numbers are bad: “The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama’s policies as pro-Israel has fallen to 4 percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post. Fifty-one percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, according to the survey, while 35% consider it neutral and 10% declined to express an opinion.”

New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes interacts with a voter at a health-care town hall: “When Hodes explained that the House version of the bill was deficit-neutral but included a ‘surcharge’ on the wealthiest Americans, [local headmaster Jim] Clements quickly interjected. ‘That’s another name for higher taxes?’ he asked, and Hodes clarified that was indeed what he meant.”

John McCain says there’s been no real negotiation on health care. He must not have heard: Obama won.

Another lukewarm Democrat on ObamaCare: “U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said that a so-called ‘public option’ in the health care bill is optional for him—and said he is not yet committed to backing the plan being put together by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Tester said Wednesday he could envision voting for a health care reform bill with or without the option that would let the uninsured buy into a Medicare type government program. ‘I don’t need it either way,’ Tester told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents. ‘I could either support it or not support it. It’s all in the design.’ ”

Stephen Hayes eviscerates Greg Sargent on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Given their effectiveness, Hayes observes regarding the CIA’ s Inspector General report: “It is no wonder the left is compelled to distort its contents.” One almost senses that the Left can’t even bring themselves to read the contents. Or have they lost the ability to engage real opposition on the facts?

News flash for New Republic readers: there is a “highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods.” No! Next thing you know, we’ll find out they want to kill Jews and Americans.

An apt summary of Ted Kennedy by Bill Kristol: “He continued to advocate policies that had long-ago been proven — in my view — not to work, and the one thing, again, beside his personal life, the one thing I really would not forgive him for was the speech denouncing Robert Bork totally unfairly. He was entitled to oppose Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, but this famous speech in which he made it seem as if Bob Bork was in favor of segregating blacks and discriminating against people was really not — a low-point in popular American politics.” Another low point was his personal attacks on now Justice Sam Alito. Kennedy was in a class by himself when it came to judicial nominees.

No, Mitt Romney is not silly enough to run for Senate in Massachusetts. I think he’s had quite enough trouble with the divergence between Bay State and national Republican politics. And what does he want to do in the Senate anyway?

Marc Ambinder on the Virginia gubernatorial race: “In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell has run a pitch-perfect gubernatorial campaign, focusing almost entirely on the economy, eschewing cultural issue propaganda, touting his ties to Northern Virginia, not being scary, portraying his opponent, Creigh Deeds, as a tax-and-spend Democrat. . . . Deeds is more conservative on cultural issues than his reputation would suggest, and that could help him in some areas. He will need Barack Obama to be more popular than he currently is, and Deeds will need to replicate his 2005 success among black voters. (It did not help matters when Doug Wilder, the former Democratic governor, refused to endorse him.)” Deeds’s social-conservative record does, however, make his effort to scare voters on abortion a bit more problematic.

From Pollster.com on independent voters’ view of Obama’s performance: disapproval 46.6 percent, approval 45.5 percent.

The Economist poll is the latest showing Obama below 50 percent—48 percent to be exact. And this might have something to do with the decision to investigate CIA operatives: “In this week’s poll, only 39% approve of the president’s handling of terrorism—down from 43% last week, and a new low.”

You think his American poll numbers are bad: “The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama’s policies as pro-Israel has fallen to 4 percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post. Fifty-one percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, according to the survey, while 35% consider it neutral and 10% declined to express an opinion.”

New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes interacts with a voter at a health-care town hall: “When Hodes explained that the House version of the bill was deficit-neutral but included a ‘surcharge’ on the wealthiest Americans, [local headmaster Jim] Clements quickly interjected. ‘That’s another name for higher taxes?’ he asked, and Hodes clarified that was indeed what he meant.”

John McCain says there’s been no real negotiation on health care. He must not have heard: Obama won.

Another lukewarm Democrat on ObamaCare: “U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said that a so-called ‘public option’ in the health care bill is optional for him—and said he is not yet committed to backing the plan being put together by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Tester said Wednesday he could envision voting for a health care reform bill with or without the option that would let the uninsured buy into a Medicare type government program. ‘I don’t need it either way,’ Tester told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents. ‘I could either support it or not support it. It’s all in the design.’ ”

Stephen Hayes eviscerates Greg Sargent on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Given their effectiveness, Hayes observes regarding the CIA’ s Inspector General report: “It is no wonder the left is compelled to distort its contents.” One almost senses that the Left can’t even bring themselves to read the contents. Or have they lost the ability to engage real opposition on the facts?

News flash for New Republic readers: there is a “highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods.” No! Next thing you know, we’ll find out they want to kill Jews and Americans.

An apt summary of Ted Kennedy by Bill Kristol: “He continued to advocate policies that had long-ago been proven — in my view — not to work, and the one thing, again, beside his personal life, the one thing I really would not forgive him for was the speech denouncing Robert Bork totally unfairly. He was entitled to oppose Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, but this famous speech in which he made it seem as if Bob Bork was in favor of segregating blacks and discriminating against people was really not — a low-point in popular American politics.” Another low point was his personal attacks on now Justice Sam Alito. Kennedy was in a class by himself when it came to judicial nominees.

No, Mitt Romney is not silly enough to run for Senate in Massachusetts. I think he’s had quite enough trouble with the divergence between Bay State and national Republican politics. And what does he want to do in the Senate anyway?

Marc Ambinder on the Virginia gubernatorial race: “In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell has run a pitch-perfect gubernatorial campaign, focusing almost entirely on the economy, eschewing cultural issue propaganda, touting his ties to Northern Virginia, not being scary, portraying his opponent, Creigh Deeds, as a tax-and-spend Democrat. . . . Deeds is more conservative on cultural issues than his reputation would suggest, and that could help him in some areas. He will need Barack Obama to be more popular than he currently is, and Deeds will need to replicate his 2005 success among black voters. (It did not help matters when Doug Wilder, the former Democratic governor, refused to endorse him.)” Deeds’s social-conservative record does, however, make his effort to scare voters on abortion a bit more problematic.

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Fighting to Defeat a Losing Bill?

The Hill reports:

Advocates for manufacturers and small businesses are launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against climate change legislation in states represented by senators likely to determine the bill’s fate.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), groups that have historically leaned Republican, are targeting the House Waxman-Markey bill as a threat to the economy because it would raise energy costs.

“Our message to senators is that the Waxman-Markey bill is an ‘anti-jobs, anti-energy’ piece of legislation,” said Jay Timmons, NAM executive vice president.

Perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t or they suspect that as health-care reform has ground to a halt lawmakers may show renewed interest in cap-and-trade. But really, does anyone think Congress is going to pass, let alone vote on, this anytime soon? Blue Dogs in the House were left whimpering after being forced to cast a tough vote with no appeal in their home districts. Senators from energy-producing and/or Red States show no interest in the bill. Sen. Robert Byrd from coal-producing West Virginia has denounced it.

Interest groups often need to prove their relevance and show their members all the ads and mailings they are putting out to advance their cause. But on this one, business groups might save their money for the fight whose conclusion is not yet certain–healthcare reform. On cap-and-trade, I think it’s safe to say there aren’t 60 senators, and maybe not 50, to vote for it.

The Hill reports:

Advocates for manufacturers and small businesses are launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against climate change legislation in states represented by senators likely to determine the bill’s fate.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), groups that have historically leaned Republican, are targeting the House Waxman-Markey bill as a threat to the economy because it would raise energy costs.

“Our message to senators is that the Waxman-Markey bill is an ‘anti-jobs, anti-energy’ piece of legislation,” said Jay Timmons, NAM executive vice president.

Perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t or they suspect that as health-care reform has ground to a halt lawmakers may show renewed interest in cap-and-trade. But really, does anyone think Congress is going to pass, let alone vote on, this anytime soon? Blue Dogs in the House were left whimpering after being forced to cast a tough vote with no appeal in their home districts. Senators from energy-producing and/or Red States show no interest in the bill. Sen. Robert Byrd from coal-producing West Virginia has denounced it.

Interest groups often need to prove their relevance and show their members all the ads and mailings they are putting out to advance their cause. But on this one, business groups might save their money for the fight whose conclusion is not yet certain–healthcare reform. On cap-and-trade, I think it’s safe to say there aren’t 60 senators, and maybe not 50, to vote for it.

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J.S. Mill and Burma

Van Jackson, founder and executive editor of Asia Chronicle, has written a column titled “Principles impede progress for Burma,” attacking those—like a colleague of mine here at the Heritage Foundation—who have the temerity to argue that U.S. policy toward Burma should be based on principles. Jackson, by contrast, prefers the meaningless criterion of effectiveness devoid of any actual objectives.

In his pursuit of steely-eyed utilitarianism, Jackson makes the amusing claim that “British philosopher John Stuart Mill would turn over in his grave at the idea of allowing such a failed policy to continue.” Jackson appears to know just enough about Mill to be dangerous, i.e., that Mill was a utilitarian. True indeed—at least until Mill suffered from a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 and turned to the poetry of the Romantics as a relief from the dust-dry pursuit of utility. Partisans of policy without principle might take a lesson from that.

But we needn’t rely on Mill’s love of Wordsworth to make the case. One of Mill’s greatest essays was “A Few Words on Non-Intervention,” originally published in 1859. What might Mill have said about the idea that the U.S. should engage its way to good relations with a lawless dictatorship?

“To suppose . . . the same rules of international morality, can obtain between one civilized nation and another, and between civilised nations and barbarians, is a grave error, and one which no statesman can fall into, however it may be with those who, from a safe and unresponsible position, criticize statesmen. . . . [T]he rules of ordinary inter-national morality imply reciprocity. But barbarians will not reciprocate.”

Reciprocity is fundamental to diplomacy, and to international affairs more broadly. But reciprocity cannot reliably exist if one side is not governed by law. And that is why engaging with dictators is a recipe for diplomatic failure, as well as a disgrace to decent principles.

Van Jackson, founder and executive editor of Asia Chronicle, has written a column titled “Principles impede progress for Burma,” attacking those—like a colleague of mine here at the Heritage Foundation—who have the temerity to argue that U.S. policy toward Burma should be based on principles. Jackson, by contrast, prefers the meaningless criterion of effectiveness devoid of any actual objectives.

In his pursuit of steely-eyed utilitarianism, Jackson makes the amusing claim that “British philosopher John Stuart Mill would turn over in his grave at the idea of allowing such a failed policy to continue.” Jackson appears to know just enough about Mill to be dangerous, i.e., that Mill was a utilitarian. True indeed—at least until Mill suffered from a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 and turned to the poetry of the Romantics as a relief from the dust-dry pursuit of utility. Partisans of policy without principle might take a lesson from that.

But we needn’t rely on Mill’s love of Wordsworth to make the case. One of Mill’s greatest essays was “A Few Words on Non-Intervention,” originally published in 1859. What might Mill have said about the idea that the U.S. should engage its way to good relations with a lawless dictatorship?

“To suppose . . . the same rules of international morality, can obtain between one civilized nation and another, and between civilised nations and barbarians, is a grave error, and one which no statesman can fall into, however it may be with those who, from a safe and unresponsible position, criticize statesmen. . . . [T]he rules of ordinary inter-national morality imply reciprocity. But barbarians will not reciprocate.”

Reciprocity is fundamental to diplomacy, and to international affairs more broadly. But reciprocity cannot reliably exist if one side is not governed by law. And that is why engaging with dictators is a recipe for diplomatic failure, as well as a disgrace to decent principles.

Read Less

Not Out of Sympathy

Gallup shows Obama’s approval reaching an all-time low of 50 percent. And support for ObamaCare has disappeared. According to Rasmussen, 53 percent oppose, 43 percent approve. Other polls show a bleaker picture. Democrats, before the Kennedy funeral has even begun, are using his death to hawk ObamaCare and guilt wavering Democrats into getting on the bandwagon.

Other than displaying the poor taste we have grown accustomed to when liberal icons pass away, this seems a sign of desperation and silliness. Will independent voters rally to the cause of government-run health care because the liberals’ leader has passed away? Is Blanche Lincoln, who is facing a tough re-election bid, going to go to the floor to announce she’s changed her mind and will take one for Teddy on the “public option”? It seems far-fetched. That is not to say the arm-twisting won’t intensify and the speechifying get progressively more cloying.

But the problem for Obama is that only the far Left backs his vision of a top-to-bottom reworking of health care. Whatever one’s views on Kennedy and his legacy, voters and lawmakers (months from now, when this comes to a vote) aren’t likely to give up their deeply held beliefs or resolve their fears about rationing, deficits, and government meddling out of sympathy. Of all people, Kennedy knew that’s not the way politics works.

Gallup shows Obama’s approval reaching an all-time low of 50 percent. And support for ObamaCare has disappeared. According to Rasmussen, 53 percent oppose, 43 percent approve. Other polls show a bleaker picture. Democrats, before the Kennedy funeral has even begun, are using his death to hawk ObamaCare and guilt wavering Democrats into getting on the bandwagon.

Other than displaying the poor taste we have grown accustomed to when liberal icons pass away, this seems a sign of desperation and silliness. Will independent voters rally to the cause of government-run health care because the liberals’ leader has passed away? Is Blanche Lincoln, who is facing a tough re-election bid, going to go to the floor to announce she’s changed her mind and will take one for Teddy on the “public option”? It seems far-fetched. That is not to say the arm-twisting won’t intensify and the speechifying get progressively more cloying.

But the problem for Obama is that only the far Left backs his vision of a top-to-bottom reworking of health care. Whatever one’s views on Kennedy and his legacy, voters and lawmakers (months from now, when this comes to a vote) aren’t likely to give up their deeply held beliefs or resolve their fears about rationing, deficits, and government meddling out of sympathy. Of all people, Kennedy knew that’s not the way politics works.

Read Less

Inglourious Basterds

This is a gratifying movie that, unlike anything a Jewish filmmaker would produce, depicts the hunting and slaughter of Nazis without the slightest bit of apprehension. An American Jew would do Nazi-hunting with scenes of angst-ridden moral introspection. Tarantino does Nazi-hunting right, with panache and confidence.

But I have one complaint, and it is not really about this particular movie but about the entire genre of films in which the Nazis are presented as purely evil and those who pursue them as purely good. These films seem to be the only way that the concepts of good and evil can find expression in our popular culture today, and they come at the expense of our ability to distinguish good and evil here in our time. When President Bush called the perpetrators of 9/11 “evildoers,” he was condemned with eye-rolling and derision by enlightened people everywhere. What a simpleton to speak in such terms!

Yet one does not hear complaints from the same people as Brad Pitt carves swastikas into the foreheads of Nazis or when any number of other films depict World War II in Manichean terms. Inglourious Basterds in isolation is a tremendous movie, morally and cinematically. But it comes, like all films of its genre, at the expense of our current struggles. What would truly be brave is a film that places al-Qaeda and the U.S. military in such stark moral categories, or, God forbid, the IDF and Hezbollah. But that would require a difficult and unpopular acknowledgment from our filmmakers, that evil exists in the present and not only in the past.

Update: A friend passes along a quote from Johannes Gross, a German writer: “The resistance to Hitler and his kind is getting stronger the more the Third Reich recedes into the past.”

This is a gratifying movie that, unlike anything a Jewish filmmaker would produce, depicts the hunting and slaughter of Nazis without the slightest bit of apprehension. An American Jew would do Nazi-hunting with scenes of angst-ridden moral introspection. Tarantino does Nazi-hunting right, with panache and confidence.

But I have one complaint, and it is not really about this particular movie but about the entire genre of films in which the Nazis are presented as purely evil and those who pursue them as purely good. These films seem to be the only way that the concepts of good and evil can find expression in our popular culture today, and they come at the expense of our ability to distinguish good and evil here in our time. When President Bush called the perpetrators of 9/11 “evildoers,” he was condemned with eye-rolling and derision by enlightened people everywhere. What a simpleton to speak in such terms!

Yet one does not hear complaints from the same people as Brad Pitt carves swastikas into the foreheads of Nazis or when any number of other films depict World War II in Manichean terms. Inglourious Basterds in isolation is a tremendous movie, morally and cinematically. But it comes, like all films of its genre, at the expense of our current struggles. What would truly be brave is a film that places al-Qaeda and the U.S. military in such stark moral categories, or, God forbid, the IDF and Hezbollah. But that would require a difficult and unpopular acknowledgment from our filmmakers, that evil exists in the present and not only in the past.

Update: A friend passes along a quote from Johannes Gross, a German writer: “The resistance to Hitler and his kind is getting stronger the more the Third Reich recedes into the past.”

Read Less




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