Just when you thought the standoff in Wisconsin couldn’t get any worse: a group of rabbis in the state are now attempting to turn the nasty dispute over the budget into a religious holy war. A statement organized by the Religious Action Center of the Union of Reform Judaism that was signed by the rabbis of every Reform temple in the state, as well as some from other denominations, has declared that Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to end the entitlement nightmare that has brought Wisconsin close to bankruptcy is contrary to the Torah. Their rationale for this stand is this verse:
“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is needy and urgently depends on it…” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).
While we can all dispute the meaning of any section of Scripture and the Oral Law that Rabbinic Judaism has used to guide that interpretation, the problem here is that the state employees whose generous salaries, benefits, and pensions are at stake in this debate are far from being either “needy” or “destitute.” In fact, they are better off than many ordinary citizens of Wisconsin that the unions and their Democratic Party allies would prefer to see pay higher taxes in order to continue the privileges of state workers. While some state workers with college degrees are not as well off as doctors and lawyers and other professionals, those without such degrees (who make up a large part of the state workforce) do far better than their counterparts in the private sector. But no matter how you slice it, the Torah’s mandate for treating the working poor fairly has nothing to do with Wisconsin’s greedy public-sector unions and their thuggish supporters, who have been besieging the state capitol in Madison in order to thwart the will of the democratically elected majority of the legislature. Read More
This morning, we learned from a Politico article that the mainstream media have declined to cover the incivility, violence, and Nazi comparisons at the Wisconsin union rallies because “the extreme rhetoric of some union supporters isn’t being echoed by high-profile liberals.”
Well, during a speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. Sherrod Brown railed against the Republicans for going after unions, and added that Hitler, Stalin, and Hosni Mubarak opposed unions as well. So we can probably expect the New York Times’s coverage of the “extreme rhetoric” at union protests to begin any minute now, right?
“As a nation, I look back in history and some of the worst governments we’ve ever had, you know one of the first thing they did? They went after the trade unions,” he said. “Hitler didn’t want unions, Stalin didn’t want unions. [Former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak didn’t want independent unions.”
Brown was quick to add that he was “not comparing what’s happening to the workers in Wisconsin to Hitler and Stalin.” Then why bother making the reference at all?
The real reason that the media haven’t been giving the “extreme rhetoric” at the rallies coverage has nothing to do with whether high-profile liberals are endorsing this rhetoric. It has to do with the fact that many people in the news industry are Democrats and sympathize with the concerns of the protesters. They realize that the offensive protest signs are being carried by outliers at the rallies and that most of the protesters involved find those views reprehensible.
Along the same line, most people in the media simply can’t relate to anybody in the Tea Party. So when they see a few hateful signs being carried at Tea Party rallies, it’s easier for them to believe that most of the movement shares those sentiments.
One topic that’s hot on sports radio today has to do with Brigham Young University’s honor code and its basketball program.
The story goes like this. Yesterday sophomore center Brandon Davies was dismissed from BYU’s basketball team for the rest of the season for violating the university’s honor code — specifically, for violating the prohibition against premarital sex. Davies is not the best player on BYU; guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer, is. But Davies is a starter, a strong inside presence for BYU, and is considered to have been crucial to the Cougars’ championship hopes.
Without Davies, BYU was defeated by 18 points at home yesterday in its game against New Mexico.
The reason the story is being talked about isn’t so much the impact the suspension will have on BYU’s chances to win the national title; it has more to do with the nature of BYU’s honor code. As the New York Times points out, “Many colleges have honor codes, but they typically focus on protecting academic integrity and discouraging behavior that harms others. … At B.Y.U., owned and operated privately by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the honor code is separate from the academic honesty policy, and is more closely linked to the personal-behavior tenets of the Mormon church.”
Davies, who is Mormon (98 percent of those who attend BYU are), admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend. He apologized to his teammates and by all accounts feels remorseful. No matter; Coach Dave Rose decided his transgression merited dismissal. Read More
There’s a lot left to do in Egypt, with the interim prime minister having abruptly stepped down Thursday — just ahead of a Friday rally to demand his ouster — and internal disorder on the rise. Armed gangs have reportedly seized control of many urban areas; theft, extortion, and vandalism are rampant; the national stock exchange has yet to reopen, and foreign investors are cutting their losses, as their former partners in Egyptian enterprises face criminal charges and political inquests. The border with Libya is the scene of chaos, while thousands of Egyptians remain stranded on the other side of it. Leadership and a blueprint for Egypt’s political future are badly needed.
So it is informative about the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi that at this delicate juncture, he’s heading to Khartoum for a conference. The conference in question is the annual gathering sponsored by al-Qaradawi’s al-Quds International Institute (“AQII,” also called the International Jerusalem Foundation in Western translations). AQII, launched in 2000, is dedicated to “preserving the character of Jerusalem,” which last year’s conference affirmed as the “permanent capital of Arab culture.” The annual conclave, featuring impassioned perorations against the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, has been hosted in capitals from Algiers to Sana’a, Yemen, to Istanbul. The 2010 conference in Beirut was attended by delegates from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, along with the national representatives of Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated organizations. Read More
House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen handed a letter to Hillary Clinton at a hearing yesterday, asking the secretary of state to address the U.S. relationship with Israel. The letter requested a written response to questions about how the administration handled the recent veto of an anti-Israel UN resolution:
Madame Secretary, why did the Administration refuse to pledge in advance to veto this resolution? Why did your Department tell our Committee that you thought the Security Council wasn’t the right place to discuss these issues, but then reverse course and try to do a Security Council statement? When the rest of the Security Council was trying to harshly criticize Israel, why couldn’t the Administration simply do the right thing and stand up for Israel unequivocally? Why did the U.S. join in on that counterproductive criticism at the UN?
But while Ros-Lehtinen has made Israel and the Iranian nuclear threat top priorities, those concerns apparently didn’t extend to another House committee hearing on national-security issues yesterday. At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on the military budget with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the topics of Israel and Iran were barely even addressed.
Out of 15 members, only two — Rep. Steve Rothman and Rep. Norm Dicks — expressed concern about how the new budget would impact the military’s ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. And this issue wasn’t even brought up in detail until the end of the hearing.
A pro-Israel operative contacted me about his surprise at this near-admission, noting that Gates and Mullen address the committee only once a year.
“These are the people that hold the purse strings for Gates and Mullen, and clearly Israel and Iran just aren’t most of their top priorities. That’s just a fact,” he said. “If [Gates and Mullen] come to the Hill and they stop hearing about these issues … then it becomes a lower priority for them.”
While there’s not much of a reason for Israel to be the focus of this sort of hearing, it’s definitely noteworthy that Iran didn’t get much mention. There’s no denying that Congress needs to concentrate on spending cuts right now (as the Appropriations hearing did), but lawmakers still need to be vigilant that reductions won’t undermine our national-security interests. And as far as these interests go, Iran is certainly up there on the list.
I agree with Pete in preferring Abraham Lincoln to Michael Moore. Of course, I prefer the crew that picks up my garbage on Tuesday mornings to Michael Moore as well. They take away garbage; they don’t inject it into public discourse.
Moore’s clip contains more economic ignorance compressed into a little more than a minute than I thought such a short period of time could possibly contain. He says, for instance, “There’s a ton of cash in this country, trillions of dollars of it. But it’s a finite amount. There is only so much cash. We’ve allowed the vast majority of that cash to be concentrated.”
If Moore thinks that the amount of cash is finite, he should meet Ben Bernanke, who has been printing the stuff by the trillions in recent years. Of course, Moore is confusing money and wealth, two very different things economically. But wealth is no more finite in quantity than money is. We create new wealth every time we do a job and get paid for it (such as writing a blog post, which will result in COMMENTARY magazine sending me a check for a munificent sum). That should be obvious, even to the Michael Moores of the world. If wealth were finite, after all, we would be diminishing the world’s wealth every time we ate, every time we walked down a street and our shoes came that much closer to being worn out. How could the world be vastly richer today — and nearly everyone’s standard of living is vastly higher than it was a century ago — if wealth can only be redistributed not created? Read More
Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army private accused of leaking thousands of sensitive classified documents to WikiLeaks, has been charged with 22 new offenses by the Army, CBS is reporting. And one of these charges – “aiding the enemy” – is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice:
Army private Bradley E. Manning, who is suspected of leaking thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, was charged Wednesday with aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty.
The Army filed 22 new charges against 23-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Manning, including causing intelligence information to be published on the Internet. The charges involve the suspected distribution by the military analyst of more than 250,000 confidential State department cables, as well as a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands of these documents have been posted on Wikileaks.
But despite being charged with aiding the enemy, it doesn’t sound like Manning will be facing capital punishment. “Army prosecutors have told the Manning defense team that they will not recommend the death penalty,” CBS reports.
So if the death penalty is out of play, what would a conviction on the charge of aiding the enemy mean? At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw makes some predictions:
If convicted on the Big Count, Manning will never, ever be able to be transferred into the general military prison population and will, in all likelihood, spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. Of all the scoundrels in legal history, traitors are probably the most unpopular with the enlisted rank and file.
Shaw notes that this will “leave the President with a ‘folk hero’ of the Left locked up under the same — or worse — conditions than he’s in now for the rest of his time in office.” That seems like a fair assessment. Manning has already been canonized by certain segments of the left, especially the antiwar crowd (for more evidence, just check out some of the fawning articles at CounterPunch). Expect the “Free Bradley Manning” movement to heat up shortly.
Yesterday, I discussed Israel’s reasons for fearing that the current Arab revolutions could produce even worse regimes. But what if, against all odds, genuine Arab democracies do emerge? In the long run, that’s clearly good for Israel. But in the short run, all signs indicate that the first casualty of Arab democracy may well be Egypt’s peace with Israel — because so far, Egypt’s opposition has been unanimous in demanding that the treaty be either scrapped entirely or “renegotiated” out of existence.
As Jonathan noted, even Ayman Nour, who heads a liberal, secular, democratic party, is demanding the treaty’s renegotiation; that demand has been widely echoed. The veteran secular opposition group Kifaya has long demanded its abrogation, as has the Muslim Brotherhood, which reiterated this just last month. Presidential contender Mohammed ElBaradei effectively conditioned the treaty’s continuance on establishment of a Palestinian state — an impossible demand given that the Palestinians still refuse even to sit in the same room with Israeli negotiators. And so forth.
And while “renegotiating” the treaty may sound less threatening than scrapping it altogether, it isn’t. For the two items most Egyptians want to renegotiate are precisely those that made the treaty viable for Israel: one essential to its economic security, and one to its physical security.
Let’s start with the less important one: Egypt supplies almost all of Israel’s oil and natural gas, and this is highly unpopular. Israel’s own recently discovered reserves can eventually replace Egyptian natural gas. But for oil, Israel has no obvious alternative supplier: No other regional producer will sell to it, while buying through middlemen or distant suppliers like Russia is both more expensive and less reliable, with potentially severe economic consequences. Hence Israel never would have ceded Sinai’s oilfields without promise of a steady Egyptian supply. Read More
How did Helen Thomas react after the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) voted to retire her award in January? By demanding to know whether one of its members worked for the Israeli government and accusing the SPJ’s Israeli-born president of having ulterior motives for eliminating the award, according to a report by the Chicago Reader.
The former White House reporter apparently also decried the alleged “jubilance” of the Jewish media and continued to rail against the “Zionists” who supposedly controlled the communications industry:
After the board decided, [SPJ’s Sigma Delta Chi Foundation president Steve] Geimann called Thomas, and a day later she called him back. The conversation didn’t go well. “She said she already knew,” Geimann reported. “She asked if I worked for the Israeli government and said SPJ was taking away her honor. I tried to explain that the then-recommendation preserved the honor for her, and the other recipients would forever be HT lifetime achievement honorees. She complained about the recommendation, suggested her First amendment rights were being denied then hung up on me.”
[In a letter to SPJ’s Israeli-born president, Hagit Limor, Thomas wrote:] “Obviously your Board has bowed to outside pressure, but SPJ did not have the courtesy, nor the courage, to inform me personally of the decision. Instead, I had to read a jubilant press release from the Jewish & Israel News (JTA). Also, you have not stated your honest reasons for your actions. An infamous chapter in SPJ’s long and proud history.”
In a memo to Limor, the society’s director-at-large, Bill McCloskey, described running into Thomas at a party shortly before the organization was set to vote on whether to retire the award.
“Her view [is] that as a columnist and a retiree she has the right to speak her mind,” he wrote. “She also carefully noted that she was talking about Zionists in the political sense, as opposed to the religious sense and said Americans should not allow any group to hold such sway over the communications and other businesses.” Read More
As Disraeli famously observed, statistics are a source of untruth so rich that they deserve to be a special category of mendacity all by themselves.
If you would like a classic example of this, I recommend Iowahawk’s utter evisceration of Paul Krugman’s February 27 column in the New York Times. Krugman had argued that low-tax, anti-union Texas was condemning its children to a life of hamburger-flipping because its low-spending ways were failing to educate them. To add artistic verisimilitude to this narrative, Krugman cites the fact that Texas ranks 43rd in state rankings of educational achievement.
As Iowahawk points out, those rankings are completely meaningless unless you correct for each state’s ethnic makeup. Wisconsin is 4 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic. Texas is 12 percent black and 30 percent Hispanic. If you look how each state does within each ethnic group, guess what: Texas beats Wisconsin like a rented mule. The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests kids around the country in the fourth and eighth grades for progress in reading, math, and science. Of the 18 ethnically controlled comparisons, Texas beats Wisconsin on 17 of them and is above the national average on all 18 (Wisconsin is 8-8, with two tying the average).
Iowahawk’s critique is not only dead-on but also laugh-out-loud funny, as he usually is. Read More
Both Michael Moore and former labor secretary Robert Reich have done us the favor of speaking candidly about their economic views. If you listen to both men, you’ll gain a fairly good insight into the modern liberal worldview.
It consists of several elements. The first, as articulated by Moore, is that money you earn is not really yours; it’s a “natural resource” that belongs to others. That is the basic starting point for those like Moore. Second, the collectivist impulse among the left is extremely powerful. Third, higher taxes have almost talisman-like powers. Regardless of our economic circumstances — whether we’re experiencing strong growth or a nasty recession — higher taxes are always called for. Fourth, liberals view higher taxes first and foremost as a matter of “fairness” rather than growth. One cannot help but conclude that many liberals would accept lower growth rates and fewer jobs in favor of more redistribution of income. And fifth, America is a nation seething with class resentments. “An angry population and an angry populace could just as easily turn their anger toward the very rich,” according to Reich. “Again, it is in the interest of the people at the top to actually call for a more equitable distribution of the gains of economic growth and a better tax system: a tax system that is fair.”
As against the views of Moore and Reich are the views of Lincoln. “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed,” he said. He went on to say:
I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. …. I want every man to have the chance — and I believe a black man is entitled to it — in which he can better his condition — when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.
Allowing individuals the chance to better their condition is a legitimate moral claim that citizens demand of government. Government’s goal should be to ensure equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome; to work toward a society where everyone has a fair shot rather than one where government enforces equality.
This issue — equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome — is one of the great dividing lines between modern conservatism and liberalism. If given the choice between the philosophy of Michael Moore and the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln, my hunch is that the public will side with Lincoln.
The New York Times editorial page thinks it is being very clever today when it unveils the startling news that the complaints of Republican governors and other fiscal conservatives that their states are going broke are not literally true. According to the Times, this is “all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more ‘broke’ than a family with a mortgage or a college loan. And states have to balance their budgets. Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.”
The editorial then goes on to denounce Republicans for supporting tax cuts while also calling for “ruinous” spending cuts.
Though the newspaper isn’t entirely frank about its goal in this argument, the point here is crystal clear. It is true that neither individual states nor the federal government will ever literally go bankrupt. That is because governments have a backup plan that is not available to any family with a mortgage or college loan: it can confiscate as much of the income of its citizens as it needs to keep itself going. With this mindset, a state need never face up to the reality of budgets that are out of control due to generous benefits packages given to already well-paid government employees, as well as pork-barrel spending aimed at boosting the popularity of politicians. It can just go on merrily spending the people’s money, since the taxpayers can simply be taxed more heavily to make up the deficits.
While today’s deficits fueled by government pensions and free health-care plans have created unprecedented crises in statehouses across the country, advocates of unbridled spending and higher taxes are, as the Times editorial illustrates, undaunted. For them, there is no crisis that can’t be solved by higher taxes, since they are ideologically committed to ignoring the connection between confiscatory taxes and lower economic growth and productivity. This is buttressed by the liberal mindset that holds that any money that the government doesn’t take away from taxpayers is a gift to them. Read More
Those racist protest signs at the Wisconsin rally? No big deal. But the fact that conservatives are filming them in order to expose the racism of union workers? Major scandal.
At least that’s the angle of a Politico story by Kenneth Vogel out this morning. After practically ignoring the story for weeks, the website finally gave it some coverage — though it’s definitely not the kind that conservatives expected:
Stung by allegations of incendiary, racist and homophobic rhetoric at tea party rallies last year, conservative activists with flipcams and camera phones have circulated at the union protests sprouting up across the country in hopes of catching violent or abusive behavior by their liberal adversaries. …
The aggressive attempt by conservatives to use video to support their own story line about the union protests is their latest attempt to counter what they regard as a deep-seated media bias against the right, generally, and specifically against the grassroots populist tea party movement, In their view, media coverage all too often highlighted extremist sentiments on the periphery of the movement and liberal allegations that the movement’s rhetoric was violent or racist.
In other words, the problem isn’t that the protesters held up signs comparing Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler — it’s that conservatives had the gall to film it.
Vogel writes that the “mainstream media might be reluctant to give wider coverage to the videos and photos being circulated by the right because the extreme rhetoric of some union supporters isn’t being echoed by high-profile liberals, suggested Mark Crispin Miller, a media studies professor at New York University.”
Not being echoed by high-profile liberals? Somebody might want to give that message to Democrats Rep. Gordon Hintz and Rep. Mike Capuano.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just finished explaining how the U.S. needs to suit up for future space wars, so naturally the Russians are pushing for us to forgo developing our space assets, promising they’ll follow along.
Now the problem with striking arms deals with the Russians is that they cheat. They cheat a lot. Paula DeSutter, former assistant secretary of state for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, has gone so far as to categorically state that they cheat so much that they’ve “violated every agreement we have ever had with them.”
Arms agreements are win-wins for the Russians. Either they get a treaty, locking us down while keeping themselves free to proliferate, or they get to say that the U.S. is apparently uninterested in arms control — which they then use as a pretext to proliferate. The only difference is in how our arms-control community responds. In the latter case, they pen articles agreeing with the Kremlin and explaining that, were we only to establish global norms, the Russians would inexorably join in. In the former case, having promised that the Russians would follow, they spend their time explaining why Russia’s violations don’t really prove arms-control skeptics correct (so, you see, there is a difference between bad treaties and no treaties, just like arms-control experts always say!).
Not that it matters, since the Russians aren’t the ones trying to get ahead of us in space militarization. The Chinese are, and they have no interest in even pretending to reciprocate limitations on space development. But as Eli Lake points out in a follow-up article to his initial backgrounder — which we covered here — the Obama administration is looking to impose those limitations anyway:
The administration has signaled that it is preparing to accept the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities with minimal changes to the document. An administration interagency review concluded last month that the code of conduct … would not damage U.S. national interests in space or limit research and development into classified programs. … Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the strategy fails because it does not adequately account for the Chinese threat to U.S. satellites. “One gets the impression from this document that the Obama administration simply wants to ignore the Chinese threat in hopes it will just go away.”
One does get that impression, doesn’t one?
Meeting with 50 Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, President Obama reportedly urged them to contact their Israeli colleagues to encourage “soul searching” about Israel’s commitment to peace (h/t: Ed Lasky). His message was apparently the same he delivered in 2009, when he told Jewish leaders that the Bush approach to the peace process had not accomplished anything and that Israel needed to engage in “serious self-reflection.”
In evaluating Obama’s renewed advice, it is worth comparing his two-year peace process with the one in Bush’s final two years.
Faced with (1) the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the resulting inability to implement Phase I of the Roadmap (dismantlement of terrorist groups), and (2) the Palestinian refusal to consider Phase II (a provisional state), the Bush administration “accelerated” the Roadmap and went straight to Phase III final status negotiations. It convened an international conference to kick them off and devoted the secretary of state virtually full-time to the process, with 20 trips to the region. The result was another Israeli offer of a contiguous state — on all of Gaza, all of the West Bank (after land swaps), and a capital in Jerusalem — which the administration advised the Palestinians to accept and they rejected, extending their streak of missed opportunities to seven.
In the past two years, Obama discarded the prior definition of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of borders of existing ones); refused to abide by the 2004 Bush letter on defensible borders and major settlement blocs; decided to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel; publicly humiliated the Israeli prime minister; adopted a position on settlement construction more radical than that of the Palestinians themselves; lectured Israel at the UN; lost the confidence of both sides, and … achieved nothing.
The Palestinians are still in no position to implement Phase I; yesterday they rejected Phase II again (concerned that Netanyahu may be preparing to offer it to them); and they are engaged in an end run around Phase III – preferring to work toward international imposition of a state without the need for negotiations. The process obviously requires some serious soul-searching — but by whom?