Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 20, 2011

When Churches Play at Politics

According to this story, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently spoke to approximately 250 church leaders, outlining what they are allowed to do when it comes to political engagement. A personal endorsement of a candidate is permissible under the law, Cuccinelli said, but they cannot use their church to endorse anyone. Churches may distribute voter guides explaining the issue positions of candidates, as long as those guides do not also contain the positions of the church on those issues. Cuccinelli assured the pastors, though, that speaking out on political issues is not only legal, but appropriate.

“When you became a pastor, you didn’t leave your First Amendment rights at the door,” he said. “Continue to be good shepherds to your congregations – and don’t be afraid when your shepherding includes giving guidance on issues that fall in the political world, because those are the same issues your congregants face each day in their world. Let your voice be heard. Speak out and guide your flock toward what is right and what is true.”

Cuccinelli’s legal advice is welcome and useful. But what individual ministers have to determine is not simply what their rights are but how to wisely exercise them. It’s not as easy as it may seem.

Over the years, for example, liberal and conservative churches and their pastors have damaged their credibility by taking stands on issues to which they brought no special competence or insight. In addition, there is a strong temptation to simplistically connect the dots between moral principles and particular public policies. Most issues, however, involve prudential judgment about which honorable people can disagree. And even on matters on which pastors may believe a biblical principle is clear, it’s not self-evident what the proper course of political action might be.

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According to this story, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently spoke to approximately 250 church leaders, outlining what they are allowed to do when it comes to political engagement. A personal endorsement of a candidate is permissible under the law, Cuccinelli said, but they cannot use their church to endorse anyone. Churches may distribute voter guides explaining the issue positions of candidates, as long as those guides do not also contain the positions of the church on those issues. Cuccinelli assured the pastors, though, that speaking out on political issues is not only legal, but appropriate.

“When you became a pastor, you didn’t leave your First Amendment rights at the door,” he said. “Continue to be good shepherds to your congregations – and don’t be afraid when your shepherding includes giving guidance on issues that fall in the political world, because those are the same issues your congregants face each day in their world. Let your voice be heard. Speak out and guide your flock toward what is right and what is true.”

Cuccinelli’s legal advice is welcome and useful. But what individual ministers have to determine is not simply what their rights are but how to wisely exercise them. It’s not as easy as it may seem.

Over the years, for example, liberal and conservative churches and their pastors have damaged their credibility by taking stands on issues to which they brought no special competence or insight. In addition, there is a strong temptation to simplistically connect the dots between moral principles and particular public policies. Most issues, however, involve prudential judgment about which honorable people can disagree. And even on matters on which pastors may believe a biblical principle is clear, it’s not self-evident what the proper course of political action might be.

Beyond all this is the fact that the vast majority of people attend church in order to be enlightened on matters of faith rather than politics. They hear quite enough about the City of Man during the week; for a short period of time on the weekend they might feel the need to reflect on the City of God. And because many congregations consist of people with a wide spectrum of political beliefs, when pastors weigh in on political matters some portion of the congregation will (understandably) take offense.

The role of the church and its leaders, at least as some of us interpret it, is to provide its members with a moral framework through which they can work out their duties as citizens and engage the world in a thoughtful way. It is one thing for a minister to speak about the inherent worth of every human life, our obligations to care for the poor and persecuted, and the importance of sexual fidelity and creation care; it is quite another to offer opinions on legislation and partisan battles.

Drawing these lines is inherently subjective and people can speak in code easily enough (making their views clear without being explicit about it). But as a general proposition ministers should resist the temptation to instruct congregants on how to do their job or which specific public policies they ought to embrace. As Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church has said, “The church as the church ought to be less concerned about speaking to politics and more concerned about service.”

And for good reason. The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are not governing blueprints, ministers are not policy experts, and the church is not a place for political advocacy. It is a place to minister to souls, to heal wounds, and to dispense grace. So while ministers certainly have a First Amendment right to express their political views, they should realize that there are substantial costs when the faith to which they have declared their allegiance is seen, with some justification, as merely a tool of a specific political ideology or subordinate to a political party.

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Obama Skips Conference Where He Vowed Immigration Reform in ’08

If President Obama amassed any goodwill from his recent outreach to the Hispanic community, he may have just cancelled it all out by skipping out on a major conference of prominent Hispanic leaders for the third year in a row, Politico reports:

Leaders of a national Hispanic organization are criticizing President Barack Obama for skipping their annual conference for the third consecutive year after he promised as a candidate in 2008 that he would return as president.

Some members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials [NALEO] also are questioning Obama’s commitment to immigration reform, noting that deportations have increased under his watch — even as the administration intensifies its outreach for Hispanic votes.

Obama’s decision to avoid the conference may seem puzzling at first, but Rep. Luis Gutierrez offers a logical explanation:

“In front of a group like NALEO, blaming Republicans for their intransigence on immigration reform and not addressing what the president’s own administration is doing to immigrants would not wash,” said Gutierrez, who traveled with Obama to the 2008 NALEO conference. “So it isn’t surprising to me that the president is not showing up.”

Since Obama’s entire immigration argument rests on demonizing Republicans while refusing to acknowledge the lack of Democratic progress on the issue, it makes sense that he’d skip out on the meeting.

Another reason may be because of the unfulfilled promises that Obama made during his last address to the conference, when he was still a presidential candidate:

“We need immigration reform that will secure our borders, and punish employers who exploit immigrant labor reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens,” Obama told NALEO in 2008. “That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day.”

Obama never followed through on this pledge after taking office. But you can be sure that the roomful of Hispanic leaders at the NALEO conference haven’t forgotten – and probably wouldn’t be shy about giving the president a reminder.

If President Obama amassed any goodwill from his recent outreach to the Hispanic community, he may have just cancelled it all out by skipping out on a major conference of prominent Hispanic leaders for the third year in a row, Politico reports:

Leaders of a national Hispanic organization are criticizing President Barack Obama for skipping their annual conference for the third consecutive year after he promised as a candidate in 2008 that he would return as president.

Some members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials [NALEO] also are questioning Obama’s commitment to immigration reform, noting that deportations have increased under his watch — even as the administration intensifies its outreach for Hispanic votes.

Obama’s decision to avoid the conference may seem puzzling at first, but Rep. Luis Gutierrez offers a logical explanation:

“In front of a group like NALEO, blaming Republicans for their intransigence on immigration reform and not addressing what the president’s own administration is doing to immigrants would not wash,” said Gutierrez, who traveled with Obama to the 2008 NALEO conference. “So it isn’t surprising to me that the president is not showing up.”

Since Obama’s entire immigration argument rests on demonizing Republicans while refusing to acknowledge the lack of Democratic progress on the issue, it makes sense that he’d skip out on the meeting.

Another reason may be because of the unfulfilled promises that Obama made during his last address to the conference, when he was still a presidential candidate:

“We need immigration reform that will secure our borders, and punish employers who exploit immigrant labor reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows by requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens,” Obama told NALEO in 2008. “That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day.”

Obama never followed through on this pledge after taking office. But you can be sure that the roomful of Hispanic leaders at the NALEO conference haven’t forgotten – and probably wouldn’t be shy about giving the president a reminder.

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The Clarence Thomas Rules

When it comes to media coverage of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the rules have always been very different from that of other judicial figures. Yesterday’s front page feature in the Sunday New York Times about Thomas and his various associations with rich people is the sort of thing that one simply cannot imagine being written or published about anyone else on the high court.

The piece is a 2,800-word insinuation about ethical violations that are never spelled out. Reporter Mike McIntire was sent out on a fishing expedition looking for juicy material about this liberal bête noire and clearly came up empty. But instead of spiking the story, the Times (whose new editor Jill Abramson’s career was made via slanders of Thomas) printed it anyway.

The worst allegation in the piece is that Thomas may have helped persuade a wealthy donor to contribute to the building of a museum about the culture of poor Gullah-speaking African-Americans along the Georgia coast where the jurist grew up. Federal judges aren’t supposed to do fundraising even for charity but the code has never applied to the Supreme Court and even if it did, McIntire has no real proof of Thomas specifically conducting an “ask” for the Pin Point museum.

And that’s the most substantive allegation in the article. Everything else is mere conjecture and insinuation intended to give readers the idea that Thomas is unethical and conflicted. Except there are no instances of conflicts of interest and no ethical violations reported in the story. Liberal justices like Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg associate with rich people, travel to give speeches and attend liberal think tank events the same way Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia go to ones run by conservatives. The idea that the votes of either faction on the court are up for sale is absurd.

But you don’t have to be an investigative reporter to understand the motivation behind this article. Liberals have always treated Thomas as traitor to his race because he is a black conservative Republican. That has meant that Thomas is the sort of person about whom anything can be said. It is true that he may not have been the most qualified person in the land at the time of his appointment but the same can be said of a number of his liberal colleagues on the court. But, unlike other judges, his personal destruction has always been the goal of the political left. Switch the name and the political affiliation of the subject of this hit piece and you have a story that would never have been assigned, let alone published by the Times.

When it comes to media coverage of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the rules have always been very different from that of other judicial figures. Yesterday’s front page feature in the Sunday New York Times about Thomas and his various associations with rich people is the sort of thing that one simply cannot imagine being written or published about anyone else on the high court.

The piece is a 2,800-word insinuation about ethical violations that are never spelled out. Reporter Mike McIntire was sent out on a fishing expedition looking for juicy material about this liberal bête noire and clearly came up empty. But instead of spiking the story, the Times (whose new editor Jill Abramson’s career was made via slanders of Thomas) printed it anyway.

The worst allegation in the piece is that Thomas may have helped persuade a wealthy donor to contribute to the building of a museum about the culture of poor Gullah-speaking African-Americans along the Georgia coast where the jurist grew up. Federal judges aren’t supposed to do fundraising even for charity but the code has never applied to the Supreme Court and even if it did, McIntire has no real proof of Thomas specifically conducting an “ask” for the Pin Point museum.

And that’s the most substantive allegation in the article. Everything else is mere conjecture and insinuation intended to give readers the idea that Thomas is unethical and conflicted. Except there are no instances of conflicts of interest and no ethical violations reported in the story. Liberal justices like Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg associate with rich people, travel to give speeches and attend liberal think tank events the same way Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia go to ones run by conservatives. The idea that the votes of either faction on the court are up for sale is absurd.

But you don’t have to be an investigative reporter to understand the motivation behind this article. Liberals have always treated Thomas as traitor to his race because he is a black conservative Republican. That has meant that Thomas is the sort of person about whom anything can be said. It is true that he may not have been the most qualified person in the land at the time of his appointment but the same can be said of a number of his liberal colleagues on the court. But, unlike other judges, his personal destruction has always been the goal of the political left. Switch the name and the political affiliation of the subject of this hit piece and you have a story that would never have been assigned, let alone published by the Times.

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Romney Scrubs Health Care from ‘08 Campaign Website

Mitt Romney may not be able to turn back time in order to tone down his 2007 enthusiasm for RomneyCare, but he’s done the next best thing for the Internet age – namely, scrubbing his health care policies off his old campaign website. The Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports:

Log onto one of Romney’s archived websites from his 2008 campaign for president, AmericansforMitt.com, and you can read about his views on education, immigration, taxes and a half-dozen other issues. The topic of health care is listed, but the text below it has been deleted and a link promising Romney’s “in depth” views on the issue has been disabled.

That’s because candidate Romney has been working to rewrite his past assertions about his state’s troubled health care overhaul to win over Republican primary voters.

And if destroying the evidence of his previous positions online wasn’t enough, the Examiner’s Hayley Peterson reminds us Romney did something similar with his book “No Apologies”:

Recall a couple months ago, when Romney edited and reprinted his book, “No Apologies,” to offer a more scathing review of federal health care reform.

He inserted new paragraphs, deleted others and even changed some sentences to say something else completely.

While this news might not mean much in practical terms, it does help feed the narrative that Romney is an empty suit who bases his political views on the latest polls. And this particular story also adds another dimension. Romney’s flip-flopping has been mainly viewed as a problem for the primary election, with pundits wondering whether staunch conservatives will accept a candidate who isn’t a “true believer” on all of the issues. But it could also be incredibly damaging during a general election, especially because these types of actions – i.e., scrubbing his website in order to obscure previous positions from the public – may speak to questions of character.

Mitt Romney may not be able to turn back time in order to tone down his 2007 enthusiasm for RomneyCare, but he’s done the next best thing for the Internet age – namely, scrubbing his health care policies off his old campaign website. The Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports:

Log onto one of Romney’s archived websites from his 2008 campaign for president, AmericansforMitt.com, and you can read about his views on education, immigration, taxes and a half-dozen other issues. The topic of health care is listed, but the text below it has been deleted and a link promising Romney’s “in depth” views on the issue has been disabled.

That’s because candidate Romney has been working to rewrite his past assertions about his state’s troubled health care overhaul to win over Republican primary voters.

And if destroying the evidence of his previous positions online wasn’t enough, the Examiner’s Hayley Peterson reminds us Romney did something similar with his book “No Apologies”:

Recall a couple months ago, when Romney edited and reprinted his book, “No Apologies,” to offer a more scathing review of federal health care reform.

He inserted new paragraphs, deleted others and even changed some sentences to say something else completely.

While this news might not mean much in practical terms, it does help feed the narrative that Romney is an empty suit who bases his political views on the latest polls. And this particular story also adds another dimension. Romney’s flip-flopping has been mainly viewed as a problem for the primary election, with pundits wondering whether staunch conservatives will accept a candidate who isn’t a “true believer” on all of the issues. But it could also be incredibly damaging during a general election, especially because these types of actions – i.e., scrubbing his website in order to obscure previous positions from the public – may speak to questions of character.

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The Land Swap Myth and Defensible Borders

At the Weekly Standard, Dore Gold does an excellent job exploring the origins of the concept of  “land swaps” as  the solution to the question of the borders between Israel and a theoretical Palestinian state.

The first mention came from Israeli academics working on back-channel negotiations with the Palestinians that were disavowed by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. It was resurrected by the Clinton administration in the Camp David talks but never fully embraced until Ehud Olmert proposed it to Mahmoud Abbas as part of his offer for a Palestinian state that would encompass almost all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. The Palestinians turned that down, but somehow the Obama administration has become convinced this idea is still the magic formula to bring about peace. But just because it was discussed before doesn’t mean (as Obama suggested during his speech to AIPAC) it is legally binding on the present Israeli government.

As Gold points out, there are two big problems associated with this idea.

First, it isn’t clear there is enough empty Israeli territory along the border with the West Bank that can be safely exchanged for the parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank with large Jewish populations. And even if there were, the Palestinians don’t seem interested in those lands. They want parts of the country of “equal value,” whatever that might mean.

Just as dangerous is that the American idea of land swaps doesn’t accommodate the concept of defensible borders even Obama said Israel needs. That would necessitate Israel hold onto parts of the Jordan Valley and other strategic points in the West Bank. There isn’t enough vacant Israeli land to swap for those points on the map as well as the settlement blocs. And even if there were, the Palestinians aren’t likely to trade the Jordan Valley.

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At the Weekly Standard, Dore Gold does an excellent job exploring the origins of the concept of  “land swaps” as  the solution to the question of the borders between Israel and a theoretical Palestinian state.

The first mention came from Israeli academics working on back-channel negotiations with the Palestinians that were disavowed by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. It was resurrected by the Clinton administration in the Camp David talks but never fully embraced until Ehud Olmert proposed it to Mahmoud Abbas as part of his offer for a Palestinian state that would encompass almost all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. The Palestinians turned that down, but somehow the Obama administration has become convinced this idea is still the magic formula to bring about peace. But just because it was discussed before doesn’t mean (as Obama suggested during his speech to AIPAC) it is legally binding on the present Israeli government.

As Gold points out, there are two big problems associated with this idea.

First, it isn’t clear there is enough empty Israeli territory along the border with the West Bank that can be safely exchanged for the parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank with large Jewish populations. And even if there were, the Palestinians don’t seem interested in those lands. They want parts of the country of “equal value,” whatever that might mean.

Just as dangerous is that the American idea of land swaps doesn’t accommodate the concept of defensible borders even Obama said Israel needs. That would necessitate Israel hold onto parts of the Jordan Valley and other strategic points in the West Bank. There isn’t enough vacant Israeli land to swap for those points on the map as well as the settlement blocs. And even if there were, the Palestinians aren’t likely to trade the Jordan Valley.

Some dismiss the concept of defensible borders by pointing out Israel survived very nicely from 1949 to 1967. In fact, that was a time of great instability and constant cross border terror attacks against Israel. But more important, the only way Israel survived during that period was by adopting an offensive military strategy in which it was constantly launching pre-emptive attacks against terror bases in Egyptian-ruled Gaza and the Jordanian-ruled West Bank. The Six-Day War itself is the best example of that strategy. Had Israel sat back and waited for the Arab armies massing on its borders to attack in 1967 (as it would six years later at the start of the Yom Kippur War when it had some strategic depth), it might not have survived. Would the world accept a similar stance on Israel’s part if that meant crossing into the newly sovereign Palestinian state? I don’t think so.

Those who throw around the term “land swaps” as if it is a long accepted, quick and easy answer to the borders question are ignoring both history and the strategic realities of the Middle East. Far from a magic formula, it is yet another diplomatic trap Israel must avoid.

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Waiting for Rick Perry

The 2012 Republican presidential race may be a marathon whose first stages are just being traversed. But each stage seems to be defined as much by the potential candidates who keep us waiting for their decisions as those who are running. After flirting with Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and being teased by Sarah Palin, now we’re waiting on Texas Governor Rick Perry whom insiders have said is a 50-50 shot to throw his Stetson into the ring.

As the sitting governor of a large Republican-leaning state with a strong record, rock solid conservative principles and fundraising ability, Perry is natural presidential fodder. The Texan has Tea Party sensibilities about the size of government and appeals to religious conservatives, too. His stock was boosted by his appearance this past week at the Republican Leadership Conference in which he tore into the Obama administration. Perry’s stump speech was a hit with activists and has fueled more speculation about his willingness to run. If he does, many in the party think he will be frontrunner Mitt Romney’s leading competitor.

As for those who talk about the problems of coming into the race late, that is no reason to discount Perry’s chances. We are still seven months away from the Iowa caucuses, leaving any newcomer plenty of time to organize and fundraise, assuming they have the ability to do either.

In my view, the problem with the Perry boomlet is not money, name recognition, a ticking clock or even the idea it is still too soon after George W. Bush’s presidency for another Texas governor to run. It is whether the candidate is himself really committed to the idea. Like Daniels, who kept his party on the edge of their collective seats for months until finally deciding against running, so far Perry doesn’t seem to really want to be president. That may be, as many rightly noted after Daniels pulled out, a sign of sanity, but it is also one that demonstrates a lack of the kind of relentless determination to prevail a presidential candidate must have. The point is, if this late in the game you are still doing soul-searching about whether you want to run and whether your supporters have the ability to pull off such a massive task, then maybe you really don’t want to do it.

While Perry’s ratiocinating about running, other conservatives are busy gaining ground and organizing on the ground in key states. A sinking economy has made President Obama seem more vulnerable, and thus made the GOP nomination even more attractive. But Perry’s inability to make up his mind about a challenge isn’t the sort of thing that ought to inspire much fear for the existing field.

The 2012 Republican presidential race may be a marathon whose first stages are just being traversed. But each stage seems to be defined as much by the potential candidates who keep us waiting for their decisions as those who are running. After flirting with Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and being teased by Sarah Palin, now we’re waiting on Texas Governor Rick Perry whom insiders have said is a 50-50 shot to throw his Stetson into the ring.

As the sitting governor of a large Republican-leaning state with a strong record, rock solid conservative principles and fundraising ability, Perry is natural presidential fodder. The Texan has Tea Party sensibilities about the size of government and appeals to religious conservatives, too. His stock was boosted by his appearance this past week at the Republican Leadership Conference in which he tore into the Obama administration. Perry’s stump speech was a hit with activists and has fueled more speculation about his willingness to run. If he does, many in the party think he will be frontrunner Mitt Romney’s leading competitor.

As for those who talk about the problems of coming into the race late, that is no reason to discount Perry’s chances. We are still seven months away from the Iowa caucuses, leaving any newcomer plenty of time to organize and fundraise, assuming they have the ability to do either.

In my view, the problem with the Perry boomlet is not money, name recognition, a ticking clock or even the idea it is still too soon after George W. Bush’s presidency for another Texas governor to run. It is whether the candidate is himself really committed to the idea. Like Daniels, who kept his party on the edge of their collective seats for months until finally deciding against running, so far Perry doesn’t seem to really want to be president. That may be, as many rightly noted after Daniels pulled out, a sign of sanity, but it is also one that demonstrates a lack of the kind of relentless determination to prevail a presidential candidate must have. The point is, if this late in the game you are still doing soul-searching about whether you want to run and whether your supporters have the ability to pull off such a massive task, then maybe you really don’t want to do it.

While Perry’s ratiocinating about running, other conservatives are busy gaining ground and organizing on the ground in key states. A sinking economy has made President Obama seem more vulnerable, and thus made the GOP nomination even more attractive. But Perry’s inability to make up his mind about a challenge isn’t the sort of thing that ought to inspire much fear for the existing field.

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Wal-Mart 1, Trial Lawyers (and the 9th Circuit) 0

The Supreme Court came down unanimously this morning on the side of Wal-Mart in the case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, ruling it cannot proceed as a class-action suit. Justice Scalia’s opinion held the class was too large and too diverse to have the class members’ cases handled collectively.

Six women employees had sued on behalf of themselves and other female employees, claiming Wal-Mart discriminated against them in matters of pay and advancement.  The case began in way back in 2000 . The trial judge ruled the case could proceed as a class-action, a ruling affirmed by the 9th Circuit, both in a three-judge panel and then en banc. As a class action, the suit would have been potentially ruinous for Wal-Mart, exposing them to billions in costs for back pay and punitive damages. The pressure to settle would have been overwhelming. Now cases will have to proceed individually, each on its own merits.

This is a huge win for Wal-Mart in particular and for American business in general. It’s a huge loss for the plaintiff  bar, as it eliminates a potential bonanza in fees for the lawyers and limits the much-abused class-action mechanism in future cases.

It’s also a big loss for the 9th Circuit, which covers most of the American west, and is notoriously the most liberal circuit in the country. To be unanimously overruled is usually a bit of an embarrassment for a circuit–after all, it requires both Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to agree the circuit’s reasoning and legal interpretation are wrong. But at least the 9th Circuit was only overruled unanimously once today. The Circuit is so out-of-sync with recent Supreme Court jurisprudence it has on two occasions been overruled unanimously twice in a single day.

The Supreme Court came down unanimously this morning on the side of Wal-Mart in the case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, ruling it cannot proceed as a class-action suit. Justice Scalia’s opinion held the class was too large and too diverse to have the class members’ cases handled collectively.

Six women employees had sued on behalf of themselves and other female employees, claiming Wal-Mart discriminated against them in matters of pay and advancement.  The case began in way back in 2000 . The trial judge ruled the case could proceed as a class-action, a ruling affirmed by the 9th Circuit, both in a three-judge panel and then en banc. As a class action, the suit would have been potentially ruinous for Wal-Mart, exposing them to billions in costs for back pay and punitive damages. The pressure to settle would have been overwhelming. Now cases will have to proceed individually, each on its own merits.

This is a huge win for Wal-Mart in particular and for American business in general. It’s a huge loss for the plaintiff  bar, as it eliminates a potential bonanza in fees for the lawyers and limits the much-abused class-action mechanism in future cases.

It’s also a big loss for the 9th Circuit, which covers most of the American west, and is notoriously the most liberal circuit in the country. To be unanimously overruled is usually a bit of an embarrassment for a circuit–after all, it requires both Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to agree the circuit’s reasoning and legal interpretation are wrong. But at least the 9th Circuit was only overruled unanimously once today. The Circuit is so out-of-sync with recent Supreme Court jurisprudence it has on two occasions been overruled unanimously twice in a single day.

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The Lessons of Yelena Bonner

Ours is a time when many Americans are starting to act as if what goes on in the world beyond our borders is none of our business. But the death this past weekend of Yelena Bonner at 88 is a reminder the fight against tyranny knows no borders.

As the wife of nuclear physicist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, Bonner played as large a role in the toppling of the “evil empire” as any individual. Along with her husband, she was a courageous advocate for freedom who helped him in his great work of speaking out against the Kremlin’s repression. They defended Jews who wished to leave the Soviet Union for freedom in Israel as well as those Russians who wished to stay and live in a free country. They were harassed by the KGB and sent into internal exile, but the iron-willed Bonner would not break. Indeed, after the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, she refused to see this communist “reformer” as anything but a milder version of the old bad system.

Nor did Bonner fade quietly into the night after her husband’s death and the collapse of communism. In her later years, she denounced Russia’s slide back into authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin, the war in Chechnya, the efforts of the international quartet to pressure Israel to make concessions to terrorists and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Bonner’s example is a reminder of how fragile the fight for freedom can be. It sometimes hangs on the courage of just a few individuals and their ability to inspire countless more elsewhere. In the 1970s, when Sakharov and Bonner and other dissidents were fighting their lonely battles against the KGB, there were many here who said it was none of our business and détente with the Soviets was more important than human rights. Others say the same thing now about China or act as if the need to prevent dictators from committing mass murder is something Americans should ignore. But the moral dimension of foreign policy is an issue Americans cannot escape.

Yelena Bonner’s struggles deserve to be treated as more than a distant chapter of history. Her memory is a standing rebuke to those who counsel isolationism or a “realist” indifference to human rights violations abroad. May it always be for a blessing.

Ours is a time when many Americans are starting to act as if what goes on in the world beyond our borders is none of our business. But the death this past weekend of Yelena Bonner at 88 is a reminder the fight against tyranny knows no borders.

As the wife of nuclear physicist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, Bonner played as large a role in the toppling of the “evil empire” as any individual. Along with her husband, she was a courageous advocate for freedom who helped him in his great work of speaking out against the Kremlin’s repression. They defended Jews who wished to leave the Soviet Union for freedom in Israel as well as those Russians who wished to stay and live in a free country. They were harassed by the KGB and sent into internal exile, but the iron-willed Bonner would not break. Indeed, after the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, she refused to see this communist “reformer” as anything but a milder version of the old bad system.

Nor did Bonner fade quietly into the night after her husband’s death and the collapse of communism. In her later years, she denounced Russia’s slide back into authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin, the war in Chechnya, the efforts of the international quartet to pressure Israel to make concessions to terrorists and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Bonner’s example is a reminder of how fragile the fight for freedom can be. It sometimes hangs on the courage of just a few individuals and their ability to inspire countless more elsewhere. In the 1970s, when Sakharov and Bonner and other dissidents were fighting their lonely battles against the KGB, there were many here who said it was none of our business and détente with the Soviets was more important than human rights. Others say the same thing now about China or act as if the need to prevent dictators from committing mass murder is something Americans should ignore. But the moral dimension of foreign policy is an issue Americans cannot escape.

Yelena Bonner’s struggles deserve to be treated as more than a distant chapter of history. Her memory is a standing rebuke to those who counsel isolationism or a “realist” indifference to human rights violations abroad. May it always be for a blessing.

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Defunding Libyan War Effort is Short-Sighted

Admittedly, President Obama is doing everything possible to make it hard to support his conduct of the Libya war. It’s not only that he is making a ludicrous, lawyerly argument this conflict doesn’t meet the definition of “hostilities” in the War Powers Act. It’s also that he is not conducting this war like a real war.

As the Financial Times  noted last week, when the air campaign over Libya passed its 78th day, the tempo of operations is ridiculously restrained. At a similar point in the Kosovo War in 1999–itself a study in limited war-making–the NATO alliance had employed 1,100 aircraft and flown 38,004 sorties. In Libya, by contrast, NATO has sent only 250 aircraft and flown only 11,107 sorties. No wonder Qaddafi is still clinging to power and still able to massacre his poor people.

None of that should be an excuse, however, for congressional Republicans to lapse into blinkered isolationism and obstructionism. That would be the widely held–and accurate–perception were the House to vote this week to defund the Libyan war effort as a result of an unholy alliance between ultra-conservatives and ultra-liberals. Read More

Admittedly, President Obama is doing everything possible to make it hard to support his conduct of the Libya war. It’s not only that he is making a ludicrous, lawyerly argument this conflict doesn’t meet the definition of “hostilities” in the War Powers Act. It’s also that he is not conducting this war like a real war.

As the Financial Times  noted last week, when the air campaign over Libya passed its 78th day, the tempo of operations is ridiculously restrained. At a similar point in the Kosovo War in 1999–itself a study in limited war-making–the NATO alliance had employed 1,100 aircraft and flown 38,004 sorties. In Libya, by contrast, NATO has sent only 250 aircraft and flown only 11,107 sorties. No wonder Qaddafi is still clinging to power and still able to massacre his poor people.

None of that should be an excuse, however, for congressional Republicans to lapse into blinkered isolationism and obstructionism. That would be the widely held–and accurate–perception were the House to vote this week to defund the Libyan war effort as a result of an unholy alliance between ultra-conservatives and ultra-liberals.

From a constitutional viewpoint, voting to cut off funds for a war is better than trying to enforce the War Powers Act which, as numerous presidents have argued since its passage over President Richard Nixon’s veto in 1973, is blatantly unconstitutional. But from a strategic and a political standpoint, it is short-sighted in the extreme to attempt to hobble the president’s ability to conduct this military campaign against a vicious dictator.

Strategically, the U.S. failure to do more in Libya is already hurting the NATO alliance on whose support we depend in Afghanistan and other hot spots. If the U.S. were to pull out now, it is hard to see how the alliance would survive, at least in its current form. The damage done to our relations with our closest allies could then be laid by Obama at Republicans’ feet.

Is that really smart politics? Do Republicans really want to be known as the anti-military, weak-on-defense, pro-dictator party? Those are the labels that will be hung around their necks by Democratic opponents if they continue with this effort. The Libya campaign may not be particularly popular at the moment; neither is Afghanistan; neither was Iraq. But voters applaud politicians who stick by principle. They are unlikely to reward opportunists who back military action only when ordered by presidents of their own party.

Moreover, the timing of the House effort couldn’t be worse. It comes just as there are numerous signs that Qaddafi’s regime is teetering and may be brought down before long. In fact, the current push recalls nothing as much as the actions of a previous Republican-dominated House which in late April 1999 voted to prevent President Clinton from sending ground troops to Kosovo and refused to endorse the NATO air campaign. Little more than a month later Serbian troops pulled out of Kosovo. The following year, the architect of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign, Slobodan Milosevic, was toppled by his own people.

In retrospect, Republicans looked foolish and partisan for trying to throw Milosevic a rescue line when he was on the way out. Why repeat that mistake with Qaddafi?


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Meet With Israel? Palestinians Can’t Meet With Themselves

While President Obama is still trying to pressure Israel to bow to his dictates about borders in order to entice the Palestinians to negotiate, the beneficiaries of his bullying of the Jewish state can’t even meet with themselves. Several weeks after the Fatah and Hamas factions signed a unity agreement in Egypt, the two groups are still bickering over the composition of a Palestinian government. Palestinian Authority head and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to meet with Hamas head Khaled Meshal on Tuesday, but the meeting has been canceled.

One of the main points of contention between the two has been whether Salam Fayyad would remain as prime minister in a future government. The American-educated Fayyad is a favorite of the West and is seen as having made some progress in trying to rid the PA of the mafia-style corruption that characterized its governance. Hamas claims to hate Fayyad because of his role in arresting and torturing its members in the West Bank. But since Fayyad is not generally believed to have control of the various security services run by Fatah, this is a smoke screen for other objections. Hamas’ real problem with Fayyad is his focus on state building and the economy that puts the conflict with Israel on the back burner.

What this argument illustrates is the unity government with Hamas is more than a problem of symbolism. Inviting the Islamist terrorist group into the tent means not only that the PA will be compromised by their presence but it will also necessitate the abandonment of the men and the ideas that give any hope a Palestinian state will seek to live in peace alongside Israel.

But all this is mere detail to an Obama administration obsessed with the idea of bringing the Israeli government to its knees. To them it doesn’t matter the Palestinians not only won’t negotiate in good faith with Israel; they can’t. As Jackson Diehl writes in today’s Washington Post, Abbas appears even less interested than his predecessor Yasir Arafat in making concessions for peace. But Obama’s “superpower chutzpah” leads him to think he can make peace happen because he says so.

As Diehl writes, the administration is afflicted with a curious pattern of behavior–timorous when speaking to dictators like Bashar Assad of Syria but overbearing and arrogant with its democratic ally Israel. But this is no less odd than its unwillingness to understand the extremist dynamic of Palestinian politics that renders Obama’s peace parameters science fiction.

While President Obama is still trying to pressure Israel to bow to his dictates about borders in order to entice the Palestinians to negotiate, the beneficiaries of his bullying of the Jewish state can’t even meet with themselves. Several weeks after the Fatah and Hamas factions signed a unity agreement in Egypt, the two groups are still bickering over the composition of a Palestinian government. Palestinian Authority head and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to meet with Hamas head Khaled Meshal on Tuesday, but the meeting has been canceled.

One of the main points of contention between the two has been whether Salam Fayyad would remain as prime minister in a future government. The American-educated Fayyad is a favorite of the West and is seen as having made some progress in trying to rid the PA of the mafia-style corruption that characterized its governance. Hamas claims to hate Fayyad because of his role in arresting and torturing its members in the West Bank. But since Fayyad is not generally believed to have control of the various security services run by Fatah, this is a smoke screen for other objections. Hamas’ real problem with Fayyad is his focus on state building and the economy that puts the conflict with Israel on the back burner.

What this argument illustrates is the unity government with Hamas is more than a problem of symbolism. Inviting the Islamist terrorist group into the tent means not only that the PA will be compromised by their presence but it will also necessitate the abandonment of the men and the ideas that give any hope a Palestinian state will seek to live in peace alongside Israel.

But all this is mere detail to an Obama administration obsessed with the idea of bringing the Israeli government to its knees. To them it doesn’t matter the Palestinians not only won’t negotiate in good faith with Israel; they can’t. As Jackson Diehl writes in today’s Washington Post, Abbas appears even less interested than his predecessor Yasir Arafat in making concessions for peace. But Obama’s “superpower chutzpah” leads him to think he can make peace happen because he says so.

As Diehl writes, the administration is afflicted with a curious pattern of behavior–timorous when speaking to dictators like Bashar Assad of Syria but overbearing and arrogant with its democratic ally Israel. But this is no less odd than its unwillingness to understand the extremist dynamic of Palestinian politics that renders Obama’s peace parameters science fiction.

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Lesson About Living

Jeffrey Goldberg has told a beautiful story about a father’s love for his children and how in that father’s death, the consequence of saving his Down syndrome child, we saw “an intimation of nobility and a lesson about living.”

But don’t take my word for it; read it for yourself.

Jeffrey Goldberg has told a beautiful story about a father’s love for his children and how in that father’s death, the consequence of saving his Down syndrome child, we saw “an intimation of nobility and a lesson about living.”

But don’t take my word for it; read it for yourself.

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Opiate of the Smart People

In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, wrote he is “pretty sure most journalists would recoil in horror from the idea” of voting for Sarah Palin; he doubts she would get 10 percent of the vote in the newsrooms of America. One might wonder why someone who has so little support among such smart people merited a column from among the highest ranks of the Times. Fortunately, Keller told us:

I was struck by the gratuitous quality of one remark she tossed off during that Rolling Thunder rally in Washington the Sunday before Memorial Day. When an NPR reporter asked what had brought her to the event, she replied, “It is our vets who we owe our freedom — not the politician, not the reporter — it is our vets, so that’s why we’re here.”

Keller thought Palin’s remark “was automatic, like acid reflux,” and reflected a disdain for the media emanating from her “intellectual insecurity, or a trace of impostor syndrome.” He felt the need to stand up for reporters. But unknown to the intellectually secure Keller, Palin’s remark was a reference to Charles M. Province’s poem, “It is the Soldier,” which Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) recited during his 2004 keynote address at the Republican Convention:

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press. …

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

Anyone who heard Miller’s 2004 speech – which was itself a newsworthy event, since he had been the 1992 keynoter at the Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton – would have recognized Palin’s allusion.

Perhaps we should be more charitable to Keller than he was to Palin. The Times covered the keynote speech in 2004 but did not mention the poem, so Keller had no way of knowing about it. He may  suffer from a disability common among journalists of the Times– what medical experts refer to as paper-of-record imposter syndrome; it is a malady particularly striking editors who replaced religion with the Times – an opiate causing automatic reactions, like acid reflux.

In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, wrote he is “pretty sure most journalists would recoil in horror from the idea” of voting for Sarah Palin; he doubts she would get 10 percent of the vote in the newsrooms of America. One might wonder why someone who has so little support among such smart people merited a column from among the highest ranks of the Times. Fortunately, Keller told us:

I was struck by the gratuitous quality of one remark she tossed off during that Rolling Thunder rally in Washington the Sunday before Memorial Day. When an NPR reporter asked what had brought her to the event, she replied, “It is our vets who we owe our freedom — not the politician, not the reporter — it is our vets, so that’s why we’re here.”

Keller thought Palin’s remark “was automatic, like acid reflux,” and reflected a disdain for the media emanating from her “intellectual insecurity, or a trace of impostor syndrome.” He felt the need to stand up for reporters. But unknown to the intellectually secure Keller, Palin’s remark was a reference to Charles M. Province’s poem, “It is the Soldier,” which Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) recited during his 2004 keynote address at the Republican Convention:

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press. …

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

Anyone who heard Miller’s 2004 speech – which was itself a newsworthy event, since he had been the 1992 keynoter at the Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton – would have recognized Palin’s allusion.

Perhaps we should be more charitable to Keller than he was to Palin. The Times covered the keynote speech in 2004 but did not mention the poem, so Keller had no way of knowing about it. He may  suffer from a disability common among journalists of the Times– what medical experts refer to as paper-of-record imposter syndrome; it is a malady particularly striking editors who replaced religion with the Times – an opiate causing automatic reactions, like acid reflux.

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