Commentary Magazine


Topic: assistant

Just Hold Them

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

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Washington Post Confirms More Than a Year of Conservative Reporting

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure – and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure – and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

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The Wrongdoing, the Cover-Up, and Executive Privilege

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

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New Black Panthers — GOP Turns Up the Heat

Republicans on the Hill are turning their sights to the mushrooming New Black Panther Party scandal. Two of the latest developments signal the more aggressive stance from Republicans.

First, Rep. Lamar Smith (one of the few congressmen who has diligently hounded the administration for answers about the dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and for its position on enforcement of the civil rights laws) wrote to the president. As Ranking Chair on the House Judiciary Committee, he is asking for a special prosecutor to be appointed not only to investigate the dismissal of a single case but also to determine whether the Obama Justice Department is operating under a “no lawsuits against minorities” rule.

Then on Friday, in the Senate, the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee — all seven, including Lindsey Graham — sent a letter to Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. They list the relevant facts of the case, and they also make clear there is more at issue than a single case. The senators recap testimony that the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, may have provided untruthful testimony and that the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, Julie Fernandes, said that the Department wouldn’t pursue cases with minority defendants and white victims. They conclude that if the allegations are true, the Obama Justice Department is guilty of “politicization and possible corruption.” They demand a hearing. The kicker is subtle and in the final line: “Given the importance of this oversight matter, we believe that holding a hearing on this issue should take priority over other Committee business.”

Are the Republicans threatening to hold up confirmation hearings? Could filibusters be in the future? There is the Elena Kagan vote and also the hearing to fill the No. 2 slot in Justice. (The controversial James Cole awaits his confirmation hearing.) If the Obama administration wants to move forward on its issues and appointments, the Republicans seem to be implying that the stonewall act of Eric Holder, aided and abetted by the slothful Democratic chairmen, must end. Seems fair, right?

Maybe now the mainstream media will recognize that this story is hardly about a single case, as noxious as it was to forfeit a default judgment against blatant violators of the Voting Rights Act. Face the Nation is scheduled to take a look at the matter today. (I wonder if the guests have been warned not to bring up the network’s yearlong refusal to cover the story.) We will see whether the mainstream media perk up and admit there is, in fact, a scandal of significant proportions that needs to be fully investigated.

The Democrats may be more motivated now than they were a month or a year ago to look into the allegations for two reasons. First, if one or both of the houses flip to Republican control, Rep. Lamar Smith will be Chairman Smith, and Republicans will have subpoena power. Perhaps now is the time for the Obami and House Democrats to make amends with Smith, whose requests and inquiries have been repeatedly ignored. There is nothing quite like a new chairman with an axe to grind. Similarly in the Senate, wouldn’t it be better for the Democrats to have a hearing under the protective eye of Sen. Leahy? It’s a big risk to let things build and to hope that all the polls showing an impending landslide are wrong. They could be facing Chairman Kyl, you know.

Second, Congress is soon to recess. What if — like Rep. Brad Sherman — more Democrats are “ambushed” by constituents demanding answers about the case? (Note to Democratic friends: read up about the case; the voters don’t like it when you say you’ve never heard about something because the New York Times didn’t report on it.) Certainly, if confronted by irate voters, Democrats would prefer to say: “Yes, I’m concerned too about equal enforcement of civil rights laws. We sure are going to have a hearing on that. Now, let’s get back to the real issue in the campaign: George W. Bush.” Well, you get the idea.

Even if the media is in damage-control mode — playing dumb about the wider implications of the case — Republicans have no intention of going along with the charade. As a result, an unseemly scandal is about to get a whole lot more attention. Like it or not, the media may be obliged to follow the story — the whole story.

Republicans on the Hill are turning their sights to the mushrooming New Black Panther Party scandal. Two of the latest developments signal the more aggressive stance from Republicans.

First, Rep. Lamar Smith (one of the few congressmen who has diligently hounded the administration for answers about the dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and for its position on enforcement of the civil rights laws) wrote to the president. As Ranking Chair on the House Judiciary Committee, he is asking for a special prosecutor to be appointed not only to investigate the dismissal of a single case but also to determine whether the Obama Justice Department is operating under a “no lawsuits against minorities” rule.

Then on Friday, in the Senate, the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee — all seven, including Lindsey Graham — sent a letter to Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. They list the relevant facts of the case, and they also make clear there is more at issue than a single case. The senators recap testimony that the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, may have provided untruthful testimony and that the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, Julie Fernandes, said that the Department wouldn’t pursue cases with minority defendants and white victims. They conclude that if the allegations are true, the Obama Justice Department is guilty of “politicization and possible corruption.” They demand a hearing. The kicker is subtle and in the final line: “Given the importance of this oversight matter, we believe that holding a hearing on this issue should take priority over other Committee business.”

Are the Republicans threatening to hold up confirmation hearings? Could filibusters be in the future? There is the Elena Kagan vote and also the hearing to fill the No. 2 slot in Justice. (The controversial James Cole awaits his confirmation hearing.) If the Obama administration wants to move forward on its issues and appointments, the Republicans seem to be implying that the stonewall act of Eric Holder, aided and abetted by the slothful Democratic chairmen, must end. Seems fair, right?

Maybe now the mainstream media will recognize that this story is hardly about a single case, as noxious as it was to forfeit a default judgment against blatant violators of the Voting Rights Act. Face the Nation is scheduled to take a look at the matter today. (I wonder if the guests have been warned not to bring up the network’s yearlong refusal to cover the story.) We will see whether the mainstream media perk up and admit there is, in fact, a scandal of significant proportions that needs to be fully investigated.

The Democrats may be more motivated now than they were a month or a year ago to look into the allegations for two reasons. First, if one or both of the houses flip to Republican control, Rep. Lamar Smith will be Chairman Smith, and Republicans will have subpoena power. Perhaps now is the time for the Obami and House Democrats to make amends with Smith, whose requests and inquiries have been repeatedly ignored. There is nothing quite like a new chairman with an axe to grind. Similarly in the Senate, wouldn’t it be better for the Democrats to have a hearing under the protective eye of Sen. Leahy? It’s a big risk to let things build and to hope that all the polls showing an impending landslide are wrong. They could be facing Chairman Kyl, you know.

Second, Congress is soon to recess. What if — like Rep. Brad Sherman — more Democrats are “ambushed” by constituents demanding answers about the case? (Note to Democratic friends: read up about the case; the voters don’t like it when you say you’ve never heard about something because the New York Times didn’t report on it.) Certainly, if confronted by irate voters, Democrats would prefer to say: “Yes, I’m concerned too about equal enforcement of civil rights laws. We sure are going to have a hearing on that. Now, let’s get back to the real issue in the campaign: George W. Bush.” Well, you get the idea.

Even if the media is in damage-control mode — playing dumb about the wider implications of the case — Republicans have no intention of going along with the charade. As a result, an unseemly scandal is about to get a whole lot more attention. Like it or not, the media may be obliged to follow the story — the whole story.

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Conservatives Should Stay Smart

Some conservatives have latched onto the news that Tony West, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, is the lead lawyer on the Justice Department’s case regarding Arizona’s immigration law. West previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists and, as I have written about at length, thereby raised a thicket of ethical issues insofar as he now is in charge of Gitmo litigation. But the criticism of his role in the Arizona litigation is misplaced.

No conservative administration would have hired West, but the reason why Obama was wrong to do so is that it introduced a potentially crippling ethical issue with regard to terror cases and raised real concerns about how vigorously the administration would litigate on key national-security issues in which West’s sympathies clearly were with the detainees.

None of this has anything to do with the Arizona case. And as I previously argued, conservatives who are delighted by a 50-state onslaught against illegal aliens should rejoice that they can now test their position. So what  is their beef?

On this issue, some conservatives risk appearing unhinged as they rail against the latest scrap of news. When I explained to an otherwise sensible conservative that the Obama administration had a plausible and indeed potentially winning argument on preemption grounds, he snapped back, “The Constitution is not an suicide pact among the states.” This is simply nonsense. It’s bad for a system of immigration enforcement to be this wildly flouted, and we certainly need to secure the borders. But there is no national suicide remotely at issue, and opposing the Arizona law doesn’t mean you want America to drop dead.

It is this sort of hysteria and overheated blather that conservatives should be wary of. Political winds are blowing at the right’s back, but the quickest way to be knocked off course is to propound ill-conceived arguments and give voters the idea that conservatives are unsober and unserious. Let’s get focused, guys.

Some conservatives have latched onto the news that Tony West, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, is the lead lawyer on the Justice Department’s case regarding Arizona’s immigration law. West previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists and, as I have written about at length, thereby raised a thicket of ethical issues insofar as he now is in charge of Gitmo litigation. But the criticism of his role in the Arizona litigation is misplaced.

No conservative administration would have hired West, but the reason why Obama was wrong to do so is that it introduced a potentially crippling ethical issue with regard to terror cases and raised real concerns about how vigorously the administration would litigate on key national-security issues in which West’s sympathies clearly were with the detainees.

None of this has anything to do with the Arizona case. And as I previously argued, conservatives who are delighted by a 50-state onslaught against illegal aliens should rejoice that they can now test their position. So what  is their beef?

On this issue, some conservatives risk appearing unhinged as they rail against the latest scrap of news. When I explained to an otherwise sensible conservative that the Obama administration had a plausible and indeed potentially winning argument on preemption grounds, he snapped back, “The Constitution is not an suicide pact among the states.” This is simply nonsense. It’s bad for a system of immigration enforcement to be this wildly flouted, and we certainly need to secure the borders. But there is no national suicide remotely at issue, and opposing the Arizona law doesn’t mean you want America to drop dead.

It is this sort of hysteria and overheated blather that conservatives should be wary of. Political winds are blowing at the right’s back, but the quickest way to be knocked off course is to propound ill-conceived arguments and give voters the idea that conservatives are unsober and unserious. Let’s get focused, guys.

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“I Am Ashamed of You for Writing Such a Letter”

Time for a bit of encouraging news. Christie’s has just finished the first part of a sale of Churchill memorabilia collected by Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. Among the items sold was an exchange between Churchill and Eliot Crawshay-Williams, who, in the early 20th century, had been one of Churchill’s assistant private secretaries.

Crawshay-Williams wrote Churchill a meandering letter on June 27, 1940. He served in World War I, so he wasn’t a coward. But in 1940, he lacked the moral courage either to fight on or to argue straight-out that Britain had already lost the war. So he resorted to an argument that sounds familiar in the context of American declinism today: defeatism wasn’t defeatism; it was realism, and “if and when” an “informed view” demonstrated that there was no chance of victory, Britain should quit while the quitting was good. As is so often the case, the “informed view,” of course, was the pessimistic one.

In June 1940, Churchill was a very busy man, but he took the time to reply the next day. He didn’t, though, take too much time. His response, in its entirety, was as follows: “I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you — to burn & forget.” Of course, the one sure way to ensure the survival of a letter is to ask for it to be burnt. Hence its appearance in the Forbes collection. Thank goodness for that.

Time for a bit of encouraging news. Christie’s has just finished the first part of a sale of Churchill memorabilia collected by Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. Among the items sold was an exchange between Churchill and Eliot Crawshay-Williams, who, in the early 20th century, had been one of Churchill’s assistant private secretaries.

Crawshay-Williams wrote Churchill a meandering letter on June 27, 1940. He served in World War I, so he wasn’t a coward. But in 1940, he lacked the moral courage either to fight on or to argue straight-out that Britain had already lost the war. So he resorted to an argument that sounds familiar in the context of American declinism today: defeatism wasn’t defeatism; it was realism, and “if and when” an “informed view” demonstrated that there was no chance of victory, Britain should quit while the quitting was good. As is so often the case, the “informed view,” of course, was the pessimistic one.

In June 1940, Churchill was a very busy man, but he took the time to reply the next day. He didn’t, though, take too much time. His response, in its entirety, was as follows: “I am ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you — to burn & forget.” Of course, the one sure way to ensure the survival of a letter is to ask for it to be burnt. Hence its appearance in the Forbes collection. Thank goodness for that.

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Pity the Constitution

To the century-old debate about whether the Constitution is “living” or static, we may now add yet another argument, an even more woeful assault on the founding document of our country. David Strauss — who claims to be an eminent constitutional-law scholar — views the Constitution as a mere Rorschach test for the collective psyche of the polis.

Writing in an unlikely forum, Florida International University law professor Stanley Fish subjects Strauss’s new book to a much-needed vivisection. He first boils down Strauss’s thesis:

The question is not, as Strauss would have it, is this proffered meaning in the Constitution? The question is, can a chain of inference be formed that links this meaning to something the framers can be said to have intended? …

[Strauss states that the] “written Constitution is valuable because it provides a common ground among the American people.” But as it turns out, common ground is provided not by the Constitution itself but by a survey of “widely acceptable” meanings, which are then attributed to the Constitution as if it were their source. The text, Strauss advises, “should be interpreted in the way best calculated to provide a point on which people can agree.” The way to do this, he adds, is to give the words of the Constitution “their ordinary current meaning — even in preference to the meaning the framers understood.” After all, “the original meaning might be obscure and controversial.”

Believe it or not, even the New York Times can’t stomach Strauss’s assertion:

This is an amazing statement. The Constitution becomes common ground when it becomes a vessel for meanings it does not contain. It acts as a binding agent as long as you don’t take it seriously but take care to pretend that you do. As long as an interpretation of the Constitution “can plausibly say that it honors the text, the text can continue to serve the common ground function.” … The incoherence of what Strauss is urging is spectacularly displayed in a single sentence. Given the importance of common ground, “it makes sense,” he says, “to adhere to the text even while disregarding the framers’ intentions.”

Fish concludes that “if this is what the ‘living Constitution’ is — a Constitution produced and reproduced by serial acts of infidelity — I hereby cast a vote for the real one.”

Theoretically, Strauss is one step further from what a “living Constitution” is. The concept’s original adherents, if they may be taken at their word, saw the “living Constitution” as a way to pull the text into the modern age, amplifying its meaning, not undermining it. Among angels, this may have worked. But Strauss shows what implementing a “living Constitution” looks like in the real world.

His conclusion is fiddlesticks but not for lack of logic. There’s a perfectly reasonable devolution from an established Constitution to a living Constitution to a populist legal system. The question becomes, if the Constitution is “living,” who’s breathing life into it? And with what intentions?

Strauss’s book reminds us that the debate about the Constitution is far from theoretical, and the stakes are high. In fact, Strauss has already held positions high enough to promote his thesis. He was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the assistant solicitor general. He has argued many times before the Supreme Court, and he edits the Supreme Court Review.

Furthermore, one might find it disconcerting to know that Strauss has been singing former colleague Elena Kagan’s praises across the media. He has said: “Elena is a resolutely non-ideological person. She is great at asking hard questions. She does not approach issues with preconceived views; she tries to figure things out. She is practical and tough-minded.”

Much has yet to be determined about what Elena Kagan thinks. But if she, like her colleague, believes in a living Constitution, are we prepared to accept the interpretation with which she animates it on our behalf?

To the century-old debate about whether the Constitution is “living” or static, we may now add yet another argument, an even more woeful assault on the founding document of our country. David Strauss — who claims to be an eminent constitutional-law scholar — views the Constitution as a mere Rorschach test for the collective psyche of the polis.

Writing in an unlikely forum, Florida International University law professor Stanley Fish subjects Strauss’s new book to a much-needed vivisection. He first boils down Strauss’s thesis:

The question is not, as Strauss would have it, is this proffered meaning in the Constitution? The question is, can a chain of inference be formed that links this meaning to something the framers can be said to have intended? …

[Strauss states that the] “written Constitution is valuable because it provides a common ground among the American people.” But as it turns out, common ground is provided not by the Constitution itself but by a survey of “widely acceptable” meanings, which are then attributed to the Constitution as if it were their source. The text, Strauss advises, “should be interpreted in the way best calculated to provide a point on which people can agree.” The way to do this, he adds, is to give the words of the Constitution “their ordinary current meaning — even in preference to the meaning the framers understood.” After all, “the original meaning might be obscure and controversial.”

Believe it or not, even the New York Times can’t stomach Strauss’s assertion:

This is an amazing statement. The Constitution becomes common ground when it becomes a vessel for meanings it does not contain. It acts as a binding agent as long as you don’t take it seriously but take care to pretend that you do. As long as an interpretation of the Constitution “can plausibly say that it honors the text, the text can continue to serve the common ground function.” … The incoherence of what Strauss is urging is spectacularly displayed in a single sentence. Given the importance of common ground, “it makes sense,” he says, “to adhere to the text even while disregarding the framers’ intentions.”

Fish concludes that “if this is what the ‘living Constitution’ is — a Constitution produced and reproduced by serial acts of infidelity — I hereby cast a vote for the real one.”

Theoretically, Strauss is one step further from what a “living Constitution” is. The concept’s original adherents, if they may be taken at their word, saw the “living Constitution” as a way to pull the text into the modern age, amplifying its meaning, not undermining it. Among angels, this may have worked. But Strauss shows what implementing a “living Constitution” looks like in the real world.

His conclusion is fiddlesticks but not for lack of logic. There’s a perfectly reasonable devolution from an established Constitution to a living Constitution to a populist legal system. The question becomes, if the Constitution is “living,” who’s breathing life into it? And with what intentions?

Strauss’s book reminds us that the debate about the Constitution is far from theoretical, and the stakes are high. In fact, Strauss has already held positions high enough to promote his thesis. He was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the assistant solicitor general. He has argued many times before the Supreme Court, and he edits the Supreme Court Review.

Furthermore, one might find it disconcerting to know that Strauss has been singing former colleague Elena Kagan’s praises across the media. He has said: “Elena is a resolutely non-ideological person. She is great at asking hard questions. She does not approach issues with preconceived views; she tries to figure things out. She is practical and tough-minded.”

Much has yet to be determined about what Elena Kagan thinks. But if she, like her colleague, believes in a living Constitution, are we prepared to accept the interpretation with which she animates it on our behalf?

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Why Don’t Liberals Care About Voter Intimidation?

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists – simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists – simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

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Privileged, Indeed

The Obami are pulling out all the stops to protect their social secretary and Chicago pal from further scrutiny about the lapse in security over what is now the most infamous state dinner in recent memory. Didn’t you hear, sniffs, Valerie Jarrett, who doesn’t want her confidante and Chicago pal going anywhere near a congressional hearing: Case closed! Move along. Desiree is not going to testify, the Obami say. What!? Something about the Constitution, you say? Hmm.

Bill Burck and Dan Perino dissect the Obami’s claim that they needn’t provide Desiree Rogers to testify over the party-crashing incident because of the “separation of powers.” That’s “executive privilege,” by the way, but they don’t want to say that because people would laugh. Well, more people would laugh than are already. Rogers is not exactly a close adviser, of course. But no matter:

Lest there be any doubt on this front, the White House made it clear that “staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress.” There is no qualifier of any sort in that statement. At face value, this is a breathtaking assertion that all White House staff — everyone from the chief of staff to the 22-year-old assistant just out of college — are absolutely immune from appearing before Congress to give testimony. This jaw-dropper makes the prior administration, vilified by so many Democrats in Congress as imperious and dismissive of congressional prerogatives, look positively weak-kneed and lap-doggish.

This is all quite at odds with the Democrats’ past eight years of foot-stomping and insistence that the Bush White House had to provide advisers (real ones, who advised on more than menus and guest lists) for testimony. (“Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Conyers must feel particularly double-crossed because they were the principal sponsors of a lawsuit filed in an effort to compel testimony and documents from Ms. Miers, Mr. Rove, and others concerning the U.S. attorney controversy.”)

Congress may be inclined to let this slide. But they do so at their institutional peril. The Obami are apparently serious, and Congress, unless it wants to set some new precedent, should be wary about letting the White House get away with a stunt like this. “We don’t want to embarrass our Chicago friend” simply isn’t a good enough reason to stiff Congress.

The Obami are pulling out all the stops to protect their social secretary and Chicago pal from further scrutiny about the lapse in security over what is now the most infamous state dinner in recent memory. Didn’t you hear, sniffs, Valerie Jarrett, who doesn’t want her confidante and Chicago pal going anywhere near a congressional hearing: Case closed! Move along. Desiree is not going to testify, the Obami say. What!? Something about the Constitution, you say? Hmm.

Bill Burck and Dan Perino dissect the Obami’s claim that they needn’t provide Desiree Rogers to testify over the party-crashing incident because of the “separation of powers.” That’s “executive privilege,” by the way, but they don’t want to say that because people would laugh. Well, more people would laugh than are already. Rogers is not exactly a close adviser, of course. But no matter:

Lest there be any doubt on this front, the White House made it clear that “staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress.” There is no qualifier of any sort in that statement. At face value, this is a breathtaking assertion that all White House staff — everyone from the chief of staff to the 22-year-old assistant just out of college — are absolutely immune from appearing before Congress to give testimony. This jaw-dropper makes the prior administration, vilified by so many Democrats in Congress as imperious and dismissive of congressional prerogatives, look positively weak-kneed and lap-doggish.

This is all quite at odds with the Democrats’ past eight years of foot-stomping and insistence that the Bush White House had to provide advisers (real ones, who advised on more than menus and guest lists) for testimony. (“Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Conyers must feel particularly double-crossed because they were the principal sponsors of a lawsuit filed in an effort to compel testimony and documents from Ms. Miers, Mr. Rove, and others concerning the U.S. attorney controversy.”)

Congress may be inclined to let this slide. But they do so at their institutional peril. The Obami are apparently serious, and Congress, unless it wants to set some new precedent, should be wary about letting the White House get away with a stunt like this. “We don’t want to embarrass our Chicago friend” simply isn’t a good enough reason to stiff Congress.

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Sunset for Olmert

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

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Why the New Israeli Spy Case Now?

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

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What The Times Was Up To

Max Boot’s post earlier today about the preposterous New York Times story on the relationship between the Pentagon and former-military men-turned-war-pundits was spot on. I think, based on many years of experience working at various newspapers, that there is an explanation for the extreme length — 7800 words — of the story and the fact that it manages to find nothing more than an effort by the Pentagon to get good coverage. The Times thought it was on to something very big, ended up with something very small, and then took what little they had and tried to make a silk purse from the sow’s ear that was reporter David Barstow’s investigation.

I intuit  that this story, which features extensive use of Freedom of Information requests, was originally conceived as an investigation of potentially criminal activity — specifically, whether the Pentagon bribed these men to say things and write things both the Pentagon and the pundits themselves knew to be false. If there were such payments, it would be a requirement in law that the payments would be made on the basis of contracts — like the contracts that Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, two conservative pundits, received from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services respectively to promote legislation.

In the end, however, The story reads like a work of investigative journalism that came up entirely dry.  Perhaps  Barstow was tipped off to something seriously rotten and saw a Pulitzer dangling before him if he could only get chapter and verse. Perhaps someone else at the Times was, and threw the assignment to Barstow. Whatever is the case, there proved to be no there there, and Barstow was left with a huge amount of information with no clear act of wrongdoing.

So he did what is called a “notebook dump,” with the approval and even encouragement of his editors, revealing every single bit of information he uncovered. What began as a possible major scoop ended up as a “thumbsucker,” one of those “this is a cautionary tale about the way the Bush administration tried to spin the public.” Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media. The fact that they were treated no better, if I have my guess right, than Thomas Friedman is treated any time his assistant places a phone call informing the pooh-bahs of Washington that the Great Man is deigning to give them an audience goes unremarked.

The honest thing to do in these circumstances is to kill the piece because you didn’t get the goods. That’s the problem with investigative journalism — often, the scandal is too confusing to be described in an exciting way, or it isn’t a scandal at all. But newspapers never kill the piece, because they spent too much money, too much time, and had too much hope to say, “You know what? This just didn’t pan out.”

Max Boot’s post earlier today about the preposterous New York Times story on the relationship between the Pentagon and former-military men-turned-war-pundits was spot on. I think, based on many years of experience working at various newspapers, that there is an explanation for the extreme length — 7800 words — of the story and the fact that it manages to find nothing more than an effort by the Pentagon to get good coverage. The Times thought it was on to something very big, ended up with something very small, and then took what little they had and tried to make a silk purse from the sow’s ear that was reporter David Barstow’s investigation.

I intuit  that this story, which features extensive use of Freedom of Information requests, was originally conceived as an investigation of potentially criminal activity — specifically, whether the Pentagon bribed these men to say things and write things both the Pentagon and the pundits themselves knew to be false. If there were such payments, it would be a requirement in law that the payments would be made on the basis of contracts — like the contracts that Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, two conservative pundits, received from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services respectively to promote legislation.

In the end, however, The story reads like a work of investigative journalism that came up entirely dry.  Perhaps  Barstow was tipped off to something seriously rotten and saw a Pulitzer dangling before him if he could only get chapter and verse. Perhaps someone else at the Times was, and threw the assignment to Barstow. Whatever is the case, there proved to be no there there, and Barstow was left with a huge amount of information with no clear act of wrongdoing.

So he did what is called a “notebook dump,” with the approval and even encouragement of his editors, revealing every single bit of information he uncovered. What began as a possible major scoop ended up as a “thumbsucker,” one of those “this is a cautionary tale about the way the Bush administration tried to spin the public.” Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media. The fact that they were treated no better, if I have my guess right, than Thomas Friedman is treated any time his assistant places a phone call informing the pooh-bahs of Washington that the Great Man is deigning to give them an audience goes unremarked.

The honest thing to do in these circumstances is to kill the piece because you didn’t get the goods. That’s the problem with investigative journalism — often, the scandal is too confusing to be described in an exciting way, or it isn’t a scandal at all. But newspapers never kill the piece, because they spent too much money, too much time, and had too much hope to say, “You know what? This just didn’t pan out.”

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McCain Legal Update

Conservative lawyer, former Assistant to the Solicitor General and filibustered federal appellate court nominee Miguel Estrada says “McCain” as well.

Conservative lawyer, former Assistant to the Solicitor General and filibustered federal appellate court nominee Miguel Estrada says “McCain” as well.

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Charlie’s Angle

Yesterday Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign announced the selection of Charles Hill, a career Foreign Service officer who retired from government life to teach diplomacy at Yale, as the candidate’s chief foreign policy adviser. Hill is so admired by students that, as Scott Johnson notes at Power Line, one of them wrote a book about him: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost.

The Plank’s Bradford Plumer nevertheless attacks Hill, writing that he was “George Shultz’s assistant back when the Reagan administration was orchestrating arms shipments to Iran in the 1980’s.” This bit of information—or rather spin—is completely irrelevant. Iran-Contra had its roots in Reagan’s National Security Council, on which Hill never served. Hill was never charged with any crimes: the only charges the overzealous prosecutor could bring against him lay in a few dubious sentences in his equally dubious book.

I’d argue that Hill’s connection to Shultz, the Republican Party’s senior statesman, actually makes this appointment a shrewd move by Giuliani. Shultz was prescient on the subject of terrorism; he was and is a formidable policy intellect; he believed not in surrendering to our enemies, but in defeating them. Plus, the campaign’s move links the candidate with Reagan, whose reputation, on the left and the right, is at a high.

And doesn’t Hill’s resume—posts in Zurich, Saigon, and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, a prominent position at an Ivy League university—suggest that he’s exactly the kind of experienced, nuance-appreciating diplomat that the left wants running American foreign policy?

Yesterday Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign announced the selection of Charles Hill, a career Foreign Service officer who retired from government life to teach diplomacy at Yale, as the candidate’s chief foreign policy adviser. Hill is so admired by students that, as Scott Johnson notes at Power Line, one of them wrote a book about him: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost.

The Plank’s Bradford Plumer nevertheless attacks Hill, writing that he was “George Shultz’s assistant back when the Reagan administration was orchestrating arms shipments to Iran in the 1980’s.” This bit of information—or rather spin—is completely irrelevant. Iran-Contra had its roots in Reagan’s National Security Council, on which Hill never served. Hill was never charged with any crimes: the only charges the overzealous prosecutor could bring against him lay in a few dubious sentences in his equally dubious book.

I’d argue that Hill’s connection to Shultz, the Republican Party’s senior statesman, actually makes this appointment a shrewd move by Giuliani. Shultz was prescient on the subject of terrorism; he was and is a formidable policy intellect; he believed not in surrendering to our enemies, but in defeating them. Plus, the campaign’s move links the candidate with Reagan, whose reputation, on the left and the right, is at a high.

And doesn’t Hill’s resume—posts in Zurich, Saigon, and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, a prominent position at an Ivy League university—suggest that he’s exactly the kind of experienced, nuance-appreciating diplomat that the left wants running American foreign policy?

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Brzezinski’s Paranoia

Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

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Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

Brzezinski’s goal, he says, is an end to “this hysteria . . . this paranoia.”

How to react to this? Would that one could say simply that it is sad to see a former high official go off the rails, and leave it at that. But the very fact that the Post chose to give the man such prime space shows that he will be taken seriously, although he no longer deserves to be. So here are a few comments.

It is rather rich to decry hysteria and paranoia in the same breath that one likens the slights to Arabs in the American news media to the depiction of Jews by the Nazis, and to imply that these slights may be the prelude to another Holocaust.

It is also rich to hear Brzezinski sneer at “security entrepreneurs.” How, exactly, would Brzezinski describe his own career? The Encyclopedia of World Biography’s entry on him reminds us that “Brzezinski was openly eager to be appointed assistant to the President for nation security affairs and delighted when President-elect Carter offered him the position in December 1976.”

It is amusing to be lectured that “America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor” by the national security adviser of the President who delivered the infamous “malaise” speech, telling Americans that our problems arose from “a crisis of the American spirit” and a “los[s of] confidence in the future.” Aside from being rich, Brzezinski’s claim is false. Fear of the enemy is not the opposite of determination and confidence in ultimate victory. There was much fear of the enemy in 1941, including some that was quite hysterical. The main difference in regard to self-confidence between World War II and the war on terror is that after Pearl Harbor, one no longer heard voices like Brzezinski’s claiming that the real enemy was ourselves.

In a further sneer, Brzezinski writes: “President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging [the war on terror] lest al Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.” Quite a fool, that Bush. Terror here in the United States? Absurd, indeed! How could al Qaeda cross the Atlantic? In airplanes? Ha, ha.

Between sneers, Brzezinski waxes professorial. “Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique,” he explains. Quite so. The enemy might more precisely be described as jihadism, a political ideology that claims that the Christian and Jewish worlds are at war with Islam and that the Islamic world must make war on them. This ideology traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920′s. But it only took wing after a jihadist government seized power in Iran in 1979, much as Communism only emerged as a major force after a Communist government was established in Russia. And where was Brzezinski when this enemy was taking shape? At the very pinnacle of the American government, flapping about pathetically, pursuing policies that enabled this strategic disaster to happen. His qualification for instructing us about how to deal with jihadism is therefore clear: there are few Americans who did us much as he to create the problem.

* Editor’s Note: You can read Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to one of Muravchik’s critics here.

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The Bible as Blank Slate

In an ongoing, multi-part series called Blogging the Bible on Slate, David Plotz offers comments on his first reading of large parts of the Hebrew Bible. At his best he is superb. He is selling innocence and a new viewpoint—two commodities you might have believed the world was fresh out of when it comes to the Bible, the mightiest text of all, most famous and most exhaustively-studied book known to man. Yet, amazingly, it is all new to Plotz, and his loss is our gain: we experience his fascination, excitement, and occasional joy alongside him as he discovers the narrative genius and moral profundity of the good book.

But to reach these peaks of fine writing Plotz’s readers must slog through the usual nonsense about the alleged contradictions and cruelties of the Hebrew Bible, written with as much vigorous outrage as if these observations had just occurred to mankind yesterday afternoon. Worse is Plotz’s passivity: repeatedly he writes (frankly and openly) that “I don’t know” or “I wonder”—but virtually never cracks a book or calls in an expert to find out. He waits for the answer to come to him, in the form of emails from readers. His commentary suggests a whole new way to do research: if you want to learn about topic X, write an essay about it and your readers will teach you.
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In an ongoing, multi-part series called Blogging the Bible on Slate, David Plotz offers comments on his first reading of large parts of the Hebrew Bible. At his best he is superb. He is selling innocence and a new viewpoint—two commodities you might have believed the world was fresh out of when it comes to the Bible, the mightiest text of all, most famous and most exhaustively-studied book known to man. Yet, amazingly, it is all new to Plotz, and his loss is our gain: we experience his fascination, excitement, and occasional joy alongside him as he discovers the narrative genius and moral profundity of the good book.

But to reach these peaks of fine writing Plotz’s readers must slog through the usual nonsense about the alleged contradictions and cruelties of the Hebrew Bible, written with as much vigorous outrage as if these observations had just occurred to mankind yesterday afternoon. Worse is Plotz’s passivity: repeatedly he writes (frankly and openly) that “I don’t know” or “I wonder”—but virtually never cracks a book or calls in an expert to find out. He waits for the answer to come to him, in the form of emails from readers. His commentary suggests a whole new way to do research: if you want to learn about topic X, write an essay about it and your readers will teach you.

This lack of curiosity may be deliberate. In his introduction to the series, Plotz tells us that his aim is to “find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based.” Undeniably this approach has its moments. When David sings his lament on the death of Saul and Jonathan, Plotz doesn’t recognize this most famous elegy in the history of the world. Yet he does recognize its greatness (all on his own, not because anyone tipped him off); and he is unfailingly honest about his ignorance. “David sings a gorgeous lament about the deaths [of Saul and son]. (Hey, language mavens! This song is the source of the phrase: `How the mighty are fallen.’)”

But innocence can be overdone—to the point where you question the author’s competence as a literate reader. In the middle of his discussion of Leviticus 19, which Plotz calls the “most glorious chapter of the Bible” (a lovely phrase), we read: “’Love your fellow as yourself’—Ever wonder where Jesus got ‘Love thy neighbor’? Not anymore.” The most famous sentence in the Hebrew Bible is news to Plotz. What does a man know if he doesn’t know this? Not that Plotz is alone in his ignorance—but ignorance this dramatic makes a peculiar basis for offering yourself as a commentator.

Of course any way you look at it, it takes plenty of swagger, arrogance, or what you will to write a commentary on a book you have only read in translation, consulting no commentaries in the process. Plotz notes that “In second Creation [the story beginning in Genesis 2:4], the woman is made to be man’s ‘helper.’ In Chapter 1 they are made equal.” But this word “helper,” which troubles Plotz, originates in one of the most celebrated untranslatables of the Bible. God actually says, in Genesis 2:18, that He will create Eve to be ezer k’negdo; the King James Bible translates, “I will make him [Adam] an help meet for him” (whence the word “helpmeet”). Actually the preposition neged (as in k’negdo) means “in sight of” or “standing opposite to” or “over and against.” The sentence ought to be translated, “I will make him a helper standing eye-to-eye with him,” or “a helper as his counterpart”—as most modern commentaries point out. Eve is Adam’s assistant, but she measures up to Adam; she is Adam’s counterpart; in no sense is she a lesser human being. Hence one of the most astounding sentences in the Bible, which Plotz passes over without a word, in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” A man will leave his parents, a man will cleave to his wife? Ancient listeners would have stopped dead in their tracks. But Plotz keeps right on going.

It is sadly typical of modern intellectual life that Plotz is willing to be honestly, innocently surprised by nearly anything in the Bible except its frequent departures from anti-feminist type-casting. But his most serious error is to misrepresent the very process of Jewish Bible reading. He calls himself a “proud Jew” (more power to him); he acknowledges the immense quantity of rabbinic Bible commentary (in the Talmud and midrash) of which he is ignorant. But he fails to grasp that normative Jewish authorities do not read the Bible alongside the Talmud but through the Talmud. Thus he includes, for example, the usual tiresome stuff about all the death sentences imposed by Biblical law. But as Judaism reads these verses, there are no death sentences in the Bible: the Talmud (for better or worse) erects such elaborate procedural protections for the accused in capital cases that it virtually rules executions out. Which has been pointed out innumerable times before.

It might be fairest to say in the end that Plotz’s sins are the sins of his era and medium, but his virtues are his own. He is sometimes rambling and shallow—but Internet prose encourages shallow rambles. He is ignorant of religion and the Bible, but so are most educated people nowadays. On political topics he speaks with the freshness and spontaneity of a wind-up doll—after the defeat of the Israelites at Ai, Plotz writes, “A devastated Joshua tears his clothes in mourning, and tries to figure out what went wrong (Don’t you wish our leaders took war as seriously?)” But that’s life in America’s intellectual elite. On the other hand he writes with honesty and integrity and—on the whole—a sharp eye for brilliant prose and deep moral philosophy. Blogging the Bible is illuminating in more ways than one. Enjoy it, but read at your own risk.

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