Last month, London’s Labour Party mayoral-candidate Ken Livingstone, speaking before (irony alert) an audience of Labour-supporting Jews, proclaimed that Jews won’t vote for him because they’re rich. The Anglo-Jewish community leadership was finally able to relay its disgust in an anticipated meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband last night.
Previously, Miliband had defended Ken, maintaining that there was not a prejudiced bone in the former mayor’s body – which may be true, given the tongue, brain, and heart aren’t technically ‘‘bones.’’ In any case, Miliband, recognizing his party’s reclamation of the London mayoralty to be a critical boon to his leadership, pushed the usually recalcitrant ‘‘Red Ken’’ to apologize. The candidate agreed, though it seems not so readily: Haaretz reports the precise wording of the apology was the ‘‘subject of lengthy negotiations.’’ Read More
Another (not totally unexpected) defeat for one of President Obama’s legislative proposals today. This time, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal oil company tax breaks, which the president urged them to pass in a stern speech this morning. The vote wasn’t completely split along party lines, with two Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.
Obama will continue to frame this as the GOP protecting the interests of Big Oil, but the fact that it failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate takes the edge off that slightly:
Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.
“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”
This week in The Forward, the usually superb Philologos sadly decided to give a bit of his intellectual heft to a topic that is becoming a bit of a meme for leftist Jewish writers of late: the supposedly discriminatory nature of Israel’s national anthem,”Hatikvah.” But these attacks on “Hatikvah” are themselves assaults on the liberal democratic values these writers claim to be upholding.
Philologos isn’t as sloppy as others and knows instinctively it would be unjust to throw out or rearrange “Hatikvah” so thoroughly that it would mean “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Showing his poetic chops, he claims to have discovered a solution by substituting a few choice words that allegedly don’t change the song’s fundamental meaning for Jews but would nevertheless placate the Arab minority allegedly harmed by the song’s Jewish character.
The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.
The L.A. Times reports:
Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.
Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.
Columnists often fall into familiar patterns. For E.J. Dionne Jr., one of those patterns goes like this: if conservatives don’t act like liberals they’re not really conservatives. The latest example of this writing tic can be found in E.J.’s column today, in which he argues that the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court should – if they’re really and truly conservative – find an unconstitutional law to be constitutional.
There are some amusing elements to Dionne’s column, including his new-found concern about “a judicial dictatorship.” I’m delighted the scales have fallen from Dionne’s eyes, that he has embraced with passionate intensity the belief that “legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches” and not with the judiciary. But I’m tempted to point out that a columnist who heretofore has been enchanted with the idea of a “living Constitution” – rootless, ever-evolving, with no fixed meaning, that is busy inventing new rights and jettisoning old ones – has lost the philosophical ground on which to make this objection (particularly when his objections are in fact baseless). Dionne also says that “conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals” – yet he fails to realize those “weird hypotheticals” served their purpose perfectly. They illustrated that there is no limiting principle for liberals when it comes to the power and reach of the federal government. (For more, see here.)
Billionaire casino-mogul Sheldon Adelson is still defending Newt Gingrich as the best candidate in the field, but it sounds like he may be getting ready to move on now that Gingrich’s chances at the nomination have evaporated.
“I mean, it appears as if he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said at a Jewish Federation event, according to video posted by the Jewish Journal. “Because mathematically he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”
But Adelson also didn’t sound impressed by either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. He compared Romney to President Obama when he was in the Senate, saying he simply isn’t decisive enough.
“I’ve talked to Romney many, many times,” said Adelson. “Everything I’ve said to Mitt, he’s said, ‘Let me look into.’ So he’s like Obama. When Obama was in the Illinois senate, 186 times he voted present. Because he didn’t want to damage his record.”
The billionaire had even harsher words for Santorum.
The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.
Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?
Last year, I suggested there was no need for President Obama to make a federal case out of Menachem Zivotofsky’s request to have “Israel” designated on his passport as his place of birth, pursuant to a law giving Americans born in Jerusalem the right to that designation if they requested. My idea — which I thought might resonate with Obama — was to blame Bush!
Congress enacted the law in 2002; President Bush signed it, but said he would not enforce it; Obama had campaigned against Bush’s many signing statements, saying a president generally had only two choices – sign a bill or veto it; and Obama could have said he was simply faithfully executing a law his predecessor had signed. If he wanted, Obama could have done what President Clinton did regarding Taiwan: comply with the passport law while declaring American foreign policy remained unchanged. Case closed! But Obama proceeded to the Supreme Court, which ruled the issue can be adjudicated; and because the controversy continues, we may continue to be treated to colloquies like the one at the State Department yesterday.
According to Reuters and other news sources, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have carried a message from President Obama to Iran’s leaders during his two-day visit to Iran. Erdogan discussed Iran with Obama at the Seoul nuclear summit, so it is plausible he was asked to deliver a message to Iran.
What that message could be is, of course, entirely a matter of speculation. But like what Obama said to Russian outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev about giving him space until after the election, one could imagine a similar message to Tehran: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
In the New York Post today, I diagnose the shock at the powerful Constitutional arguments advanced against Obama’s health-care plan as another example of the self-defeating parochialism of American liberals, who are continually surprised that conservative ideas and conservative arguments are formidable and can only be bested if they are taken seriously: “the strength of the conservative arguments only came as a surprise to [Jeffrey] Toobin, [Linda] Greenhouse and others because they evidently spent two years putting their fingers in their ears and singing, ‘La la la, I’m not listening’ whenever the conservative argument was being advanced.” (There is nothing new under the son, as the “fingers in their ears” analogy was, it turns out, rather more wittily deployed by James Taranto in February 2011 in a column called “Law Law Law.”)
Indeed, yesterday, as I was writing my column, liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins literally wrote these words: “How can this law not be constitutional?…Really, I have my hands over my ears. Not listening.”
This morning, the State Department will begin to walk back the spectacular meltdown that was yesterday’s press briefing, wherein State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave the Palestinians a de facto retroactive veto over Israel’s 1949 decision to make Jerusalem its capital.
The talking point will be that the Obama administration, by insisting that the status of West Jerusalem is subject to final-status negotiations, was only reiterating the explicit policies of past administrations. If that were true, then Obama critics would be making the same points they’ve made throughout this White House’s diplomatic campaign against Israel: that Obama, by making controversies out of issues everyone had been content to leave quietly buried, was unnecessarily damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the prospects for long-term Middle East peace. Read More
The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.
Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.
Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.
Listening to the oral arguments on the Supreme Court during the last three days is a reminder of why it is, in many respects, the intellectual crown jewel for conservatives, and why it’s vital that those appointed to the high court aren’t simply reliable votes but are capable of making compelling arguments.
To hear Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and even Kennedy slice and dice Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was sheer delight, as they exposed one bad argument and one flawed premise after another. Among other things, they pressed Verrilli on what the limiting principle was under the Commerce Clause. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked. Justice Alito brought up the market for burial services and asked if the government could mandate funeral insurance (the argument being that because we all die eventually, why shouldn’t we transfer the costs of our deaths to the rest of society). When Justice Scalia asked Verrilli to defend the individual mandate provision of ObamaCare, he wondered why the federal government couldn’t also make citizens buy vegetables. “Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia asked. Justice Roberts asked if the federal government can make you buy a cell phone.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba presented a unique challenge to the Communist dictatorship that continues to oppress the island. Though Raul Castro met with the Pope and did his best to associate the regime with the religious spectacle of the public Mass, there was no mistaking the Pontiff’s message. Calling for “authentic freedom,” he said spiritual freedom isn’t possible without political liberty.
Yet while Pope Benedict’s words will inspire the Cuban people to hope for something better in the future, Cuba remains one of the least free nations on the planet. Reportedly, the Communist authorities took no chances about the papal visit encouraging agitation for freedom by arresting known dissidents and blocking their cell phone transmissions. The question now is whether Western intellectuals and others who have been campaigning for more trade with Cuba and efforts to normalize relations with the Castro government will draw the right conclusions from these events.
A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”
Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.
The Department of Education, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders, is getting serious about collecting on $67 billion in defaulted loans. Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported the mob-like lengths the government agency is going to in order to cash in:
The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:
Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.
“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”
Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama – requiring him to lay out about $50 a month. To satisfy Pioneer, Campos borrowed from friends, cut meat from his diet and stopped buying gas to drive his 82-year-old mother to doctor’s visits for her Parkinson’s Disease.
For most of the last century, liberals have preached that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the needs of the times. In the name of this legal faith they have championed a vast expansion of government power as well as the enumeration of various rights that are nowhere to be found in the actual text of the document. Generations of liberal activist judges have consistently thwarted the will of both the legislative and executive branches of government without a blush as they imposed their own ideas about every conceivable issue on the country. In doing so they changed the way we think about government and established its presence in our lives in ways that the founders would have thought unthinkable.
But now that there is a possibility that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court might rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberal thinkers are doing a 180-degree turn. In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the case in which it was apparent that several justices were skeptical about the government’s argument that it could force citizens to engage in commerce which it could then regulate, the editorial writers at the New York Times were up in arms at the mere notion that the court would have the temerity to overturn a bill passed by Congress. As the Times put it, “the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are shocked at the notion of judges stepping in to teach the legislature a lesson.
These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.
“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”
“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”
“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”
These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.