The colloquy last Sunday on ABC, in which neither Time’s editor-in-chief (who authored its cover story on the Constitution) nor professors from Harvard and Georgetown could answer George Will’s question — Can Congress require obese people to join Weight Watchers? — was not the first time the question had been asked and non-answered.
During Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing, Senator Coburn asked if Congress could require Americans to eat fruit and vegetables every day. Kagan said courts cannot strike down laws just because they’re dumb, producing this exchange:
A new survey released on Friday by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm in the key swing state of Pennsylvania brought encouraging news for Mitt Romney. The poll showed Romney tied with President Obama in a head-to-head general election matchup while every other Republican contender trails the incumbent.
This bolsters the former Massachusetts governor’s status as the GOP frontrunner but the PPP’s latest numbers from the Keystone state also brought a mixed bag of news for both Romney and Obama. The president’s approval ratings in a state that he won by a large margin in 2008 continue to be terrible. And though Romney is clearly the Republican with the most support in the state, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s polling numbers show her to have moved up to the second place position in the GOP race even though blue-leaning Pennsylvania was not thought to be hospitable to the darling of the Tea Party.
For years, soldiers and scholars have been talking about a phenomenon known as “lawfare”: the attempt by adversaries to use the legal system to tie up Western militaries, in particular those of the U.S. and Israel, into knots. The classic example is NGO’s trying to bring war crimes charges in European courts against Henry Kissinger, Ariel Sharon, and other notables. To make sure they comply with the letter of international law, the U.S., Israeli, and European armed forces have adopted restrictive rules of engagement that sometimes limit their freedom of action, while of course doing nothing to stop international condemnation.
But the saga of the second Gaza Flotilla shows two can play at that game. As David Frum notes in this column “How Israeli Lawyers Stopped the Second Flotilla,” legal action by Israelis has prevented the flotilla from leaving Greece. This was combined with effective diplomacy by Israel. As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, the lawsuits filed by the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center gave Israel a big, bloodless win.
While everyone in Washington was concentrating on the debt crisis this week, the Obama administration attempted to slip through a questionable arms deal that requires serious scrutiny. Though it got little attention, the Defense Department officially notified Congress on Friday that it was authorizing the sale of 125 M1A1 tanks to Egypt as well as other weapons, equipment, parts, training and logistical support. While most of the military sales to Egypt have sailed through without objection in the more than 30 years since it signed a peace deal with Israel, this is the first such sale since the fall of the Mubarak regime earlier this year. Which is exactly why the sale ought to be held up until the unsettled situation in the most populous country in the Arab world is better understood.
Congress has 30 days to register its formal objections to the proposed sale. That it should do so is imperative. The reasons for a delay are not complicated.
By my count during his Twitter Town Hall, President Obama mentioned defense spending 12 times during the course of an hour and eight minutes of conversation–each time the context being how much he would like to cut defense. One of those mentions was a particularly revealing slip. He said:
The nice thing about the defense budget is it’s so big, it’s so huge, that a 1 percent reduction is the equivalent of the education budget. Not — I’m exaggerating, but it’s so big that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of head room to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.
The idea of using the debt ceiling crisis as the lever to enact both long-term entitlement reform as well as a simplification of the tax code was a good one. But the details of the deal House Speaker John Boehner tried to work out with President Obama along these lines turned out to be a bridge too far. While the failure of the talks to achieve a far reaching accord rather than a short-term solution to the debt ceiling is being blamed solely on GOP hardliners, the real problem may have been more a matter of President Obama’s unreliability than Boehner being sandbagged by political purists in his own party.
Boehner’s basic vision for a grand rather than a limited deal on the debt was sound. If the Democrats would agree to drastic cuts in spending on entitlements as well as tax reform, then the result would have been a serious plan to reduce the deficit without growth-killing tax increases. But, as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page stated succinctly on Saturday, the negotiations fueled suspicions among the Republican leadership, and not just the Tea Party caucus, that the Democrats could not be trusted to enact bold tax reform once they had already pocketed tax increases. Unless both parts of the deal were enacted simultaneously, there was no reason either President Obama or recalcitrant congressional Democrats would fulfill their part of the bargain. So rather than rabid right-wingers being to blame for the situation, it may have been liberal Democrats, who had no interest in a deal that would force them to give up their demagogic attacks on the GOP on entitlements, who were at fault.
It’s mindblowing that Democrats simultaneously push for $700 billion in defense cuts while demanding government retain its expansionary spending programs. Those Republicans willing to trade robust national security to avert tax hikes have deeply flawed priorities, but at least these are identifiable priorities that can be debated.
But Democrats are pushing for cuts in military spending while insisting we need more overall spending. They support increased spending because they believe large government outlays – in the Keynesian sense, where we should pay people to dig holes rather than let scared money remain on the sidelines — are good. That belief borders on sheer incoherence. And they’re doing it just as a Democratic President has embraced a doctrine that advocates the use of force, permitting open-ended unilateral warfare, based solely on humanitarian grounds. The president now decides on Tuesdays to go to war on Fridays. So we may actually need some weapons sooner or later.