31 December 2008

No Sympathy for Hamas

For all the wailing and hand-wringing among the instinctively anti-Israel left elite in the world, I fully support Israel’s attack on the Hamas terrorists in Gaza. While all the big names in America’s mainstream media keep shouting, as John Noonan at The Weekly Standard’s “The Blog” reminds us, all castigate Israel for “disproportionate force,” this term is a red herring. Ezra Klein of The American Prospect complains that Israel’s is responding with deadly force to Hamas’s “potshots.” Hamas is not killing anyone, though there are some injuries. Thus, the close to 400 dead Palestinians in Gaza cannot be justified by anyone. Besides, Klein adds, almost as an afterthought, Israel is a terrorist and anti-Palestinian racist state anyway, so why have sympathy for them?

Well, I have no sympathy for Hamas. The nonsensical argument that there is no justification for responding to what Klein calls “potshots” is despicable. You try living within range of those potshots and have them rain down on your backyard day after day for years on end. Even if we grant the—untrue—argument there have been no casualties as a results of Hamas’s continual bombardments, is Israel just supposed to shrug its collective shoulders and ignore Hamas as if it were merely an annoying bug?

For years, Israel has bent over backwards to turn the other cheek. Yes, sometimes it has responded inappropriately, but that is hardly surprising given the fact that Hamas has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. You run out of cheeks at some point. Nor does Israel believe that all Palestinians are evil. But these reprisals are not disproportionate. Hamas is a huge terrorist network sitting on a strip of land about twice as large as the District of Columbia and spends almost all its energy on lobbing missiles into Israel. The relatively low casualty rate is no reason for Israel not to avoid future mishaps.

05 November 2008

The Morning After

WHAT MANY HAD FEARED HAS NOW HAPPENED: A SCARILY inexperienced senator with a wafer-thin resume has been elected president of the United States. That says something. It says something about the mood of the country. It certainly says something about the still simmering racial tensions in this country. It probably says something about the ignorance of the American voter. And it says something about the way the 21st-century media work in our society.

This is a historic moment. America has elected her first black president. That alone is something to be relieved about. The previous failed attempts of black candidates to gain any traction among average voters, though due almost entirely to their extremist positions and their paramount unfitness for office, nevertheless left a foul taste in the mouths of many Americans. This is a huge moment: about as big as the civil rights laws of the 1960s. For that aspect I am grateful. And I am not just saying this because at 1:45am the city of Washington DC, where I was privileged to experience the evening as a guest of Dutch public radio and TV, has exploded in a massive outdoor party.

Yes, Washington DC, which is overwhelmingly Democrat (nearly 100%) and which has slightly more than half African-Americans, is celebrating the election of Barack Obama. As a conservative I did think it wiser to travel by taxi from the studio back to my hotel rather than saunter back past the White House (directly on the route).

Republicans Lost?
Are Republicans now lost forever? Certainly not. The world did not end because the wrong black candidate got to be the first black president. First of all, Sen. Obama has shown himself to be intelligent and who knows how to play the political game. That means there is, to use the man’s own words, hope. Confronted with the realities of office he may yet reign in the most radical parts of his agenda.

But I am also not convinced by arguments that Republicans brought this on themselves by “overreaching,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Surrounded by liberal talking heads at the studio, I kept hearing this theory that Karl Rove’s evil strategy to cement a permanent Republican majority was the main culprit of this kick up the party’s backside. In the words of another famous American: It’s the economy stupid. Well, and that other albatross around every Republican’s neck, the Current Occupant, as liberal looney author and commentator Garrison Keilor likes to call him.

McCain ran an abominable campaign in the homestretch, though this was partly due to the vastly smaller war chest available to him. Sen. Obama’s campaign alone raised over 600 million dollars, while McCain’s net income was under 300 million, a decided disadvantage. But McCain did not have the clear message and he did not have the presentation. McCain killed his own campaign by using his gut instead of his brain. He selected an outside candidate for running mate and he went berserk when Wall Street crashed. One may forgive him for the former mistake because he had no viable alternatives. And do not forget that Palin did rally the base in a way Republicans have not seen in a long time. That was and will remain a valuable asset to this campaign.

But McCain’s second mistake—raving and ranting against this and that person he deemed responsible for the financial crisis—revealed something eerie about his judgment. It is, in my view, what clinched this race. I have spoken to a few of the liberals who attended the election broadcast and more than one said something along the lines of, “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.” They are not sure about Obama. All they know is that McCain was not an option. He was ruled out.

So, whither now the conservative movement? I do not think much will need to change in politics, but a lot will need to change in tactics. Democrats benefited from a much better grassroots organization. Republicans will need to develop a parallel structure.

As for Sarah Palin? I doubt we will hear much from her again on the national stage. Applying the Peter Principle, she seems to have risen above the level where she can perform adequately. She seems to be functioning fairly well as governor of Alaska and has a serious argument on her side now that a counter-report has cleared her of wrongdoing in Troopergate.

But that leaves the conservative movement in the Republican party without a real leader. Leadership is not going to come from the Palins and Huckabees who have been weighed and found wanting. But the likes of McCain and Thompson, while honorable men (said the former Fredhead in me), clearly belong to a previous generation. In four years, we will not see them. Romney will not win anything national until he gets a real human soul transplanted into his android body. Who will lead the way?

01 September 2008

Sarah Palin for Vice-President

I think Governor Palin (Alaska) is an exciting choice as John McCain’s running mate. Her record in Alaska shows her to be a sound conservative, an effective governor and politician, and a moral family woman. She is known as a reformer. As governor she cleaned house in her state’s corruption-ridden Republican Party, not afraid to throw fellow party members involved in scandal to the dogs, thus showing her moral integrity. She also single-handedly killed the symbol of pork barrel spending: the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which (Republican) Alaska Sen. Stevens wanted built at tax-payer expense. Also, her personal background shows she learns quickly and can do many things at the same time, balancing work and family in an admirable way.

Yet this was no easy choice. There was no easy choice. All contenders (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Tom Ridge, Joseph Lieberman) had major problems attached to them that would have hampered John McCain’s effectiveness in the campaign. To suggest that any of these other candidates would have been better is naïve.

Mitt Romney has two problems. As a Mormon he would scare away a good deal of the so-called Christian Right who will baulk at giving the Mormon cult political legitimacy. The lack of personal affection between Romney and McCain also doesn’t help. Similarly, the liberal pro-choice senator Joseph Lieberman, though sound on foreign policy, especially Iraq, would undo all the healing between McCain and the conservative base in the Republican Party who—unfairly in my view—consider McCain a dangerous left-leaning moderate. Tim Pawlenty’s drawback, even though he is a fine conservative and effective two-term governor, is summed up in Jay Leno’s joke: “Tim Who?” Outside of his state of Minnesota, nobody knows him. Why Tom Ridge’s name has even come up still confuses me. There can be no room for pro-choice politicians on a Republican presidential ticket. Assuming you’re campaigning to win, that is.

It has to be admitted that Palin is not the dream candidate. Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience as well as limited executive experience is a problem. By choosing Palin, McCain has dulled one of his mightiest weapons against Obama: the charge of his inexperience. What is more, within days, the media have dug up two blemishes on her image, if not actually blemishes on her career (note the difference, if you are able).

Her involvement in what some detractors call “Troopergate” (her alleged unethical interference in having her ex-brother-in-law fired from the State Police) is certainly the more serious problem. Palin has sought legal representation to defend herself against the charges. While it may be true to state that Palin remains innocent until proven guilty, even of relatively minor charges, the story does not look well in the media. In our media culture which revolves around subjective images and feelings, the allegations pack a much bigger punch than ought objectively to be the case.

At the same time, her squeaky clean family image has been dented by the revelation of her 17-year old daughter’s pregnancy. Barack Obama may say that “families are off-limits,” the media are drooling over the story. It blunts Gov. Palin’s effectiveness somewhat. Even the reiterations that, naturally, the girl is keeping the baby detract ultimately from Palin’s staunch pro-life image, because the repeated statement actually reinforces the pro-choice norm of America’s left-wing politicians and media that such young girls ought not to continue unwanted pregnancies. Pro-life sensibilities are subtly ridiculed.

Gov. Palin will have to work hard to become a household name across the country. The vice-presidential debate in Missouri will be a real challenge. Joe Biden is a seasoned politician who knows how to work the camera and whose foreign policy expertise could easily dazzle in comparison to Palin’s neophyte stature in that area. Yet it is not entirely fair to suggest, as the New York Times seems to insinuate, that national security and foreign policy experience are of overriding importance in deciding whether a candidate is fit to be vice-president. John McCain, although 72, is not about to drop down dead. The Constitution gives the VP only two duties: inquiring after the health of the president and preside over the Senate. I’m sure Gov. Palin can handle that. And more. To suggest that she is clueless about politics just because she hasn’t served 38 years on the foreign relations committee is nonsense.

Last but not least, it cannot be ignored that McCain has picked a credible woman candidate. Palin was not picked just because she is a woman. But hey, it does help to make McCain’s image more hip. So we have a ticket with a black man running against a ticket including a woman. Sounds exciting.

Thoughts about the Democratic Convention 2008

The Democratic National Convention was a tantalizing political festival. It was well-directed and the number one impression that will probably linger longest in people’s minds is the atmosphere of unity among the delegates and attendees. The party made a real attempt to present a united front. There was no sudden coup d’etat by the Clintonistas, as some deluded Hillary backers had feared (read: hoped). Both Bill and Hillary nicely towed the party line.

And yet, for those who are willing to look below the surface, what was most important about the convention was how partisan its organization was. While Democrats united, the message of unity among all Americans, stressed by Obama in his acceptance speech among others, was nothing but a façade. Party politics prevailed even in decisions to reshuffle speeches. Gov. Ted Strickland (Ohio) suddenly spoke at prime time, pushing out Mark Warner (former governor of Virginia). Guess what? Strickland’s fervent anti-Republican speech played much better with the party brass than Warner’s concilliatory speech calling for bipartisanship.

Obama’s speech was good, as always. Tone and delivery never failed. It was not a brilliant speech, however. While some glimpses of content were revealed, the speech remained chockful of meaningless clichés. And again, Obama tried to coast on his abstract message of hope and the glowing image of his own bipartisan resumé—which does not exist. All the fancy words about reasonable common ground on abortion, for instance, are nothing but fancy words, coming from the most fervently pro-abortion senator currently serving in Congress. He is ready to debate John McCain on any of these issues, the senator claims. So why has he turned down 10 invitations to debate him so far?

Adding Joe Biden to the ticket was an interesting move. For one it really bolstered the left-wing message of his campaign, considering that Senator Biden is the third-most liberal serving senator (Mr. Obama is number 1 on that list). Senator Biden is primarily a foreign-policy expert, suggesting that Obama wants to make foreign policy his number one campaign theme. No worries for McCain there, as he is much Mr. Obama’s superior on that front. Obama still denies the surge made any difference.

After the convention, Obama received his expected bounce in the polls. But the 15-point lead that was circulated by among others the McCain campaign has so far not materialized. RealClearPolitics reports an average of only 4.5 percentage points advantage for Obama. That seems to suggest that people are really getting tired of Obama and weren't swayed by the propaganda campaign in Denver.

12 August 2008

Obama Overexposed

Could it be true? Is America really getting sick and tired of Barack Obama? According to a study published by the Pew Research Center (available here), 48% of Americans say they have heard too much of Obama. That includes 34% of Democrats and 51% of independents. At the same time, many people (38%) are complaining that not enough has been seen in the media of John McCain. In fact, fewer people say they have seen the Republican candidate in the the right amount (35%) than they have Mr Obama (41%). Even in their own parties, Obama is considered to have the right amount of exposure by 57% by fellow Democrats, against a score of only 37% for John McCain among fellow Republicans.

One reason? Could it be the ridiculous overexposure of Obama in the mass media, at least up until very recently? The same report includes results of candidate exposure research, showing that in the first half of 2008, the media had an outright love affair with Obama (see graph).

The data show that currently, coverage of Obama is about 81%, of McCain about 78%, but between February and this past week, the average difference was roughly 22% in Obama's favor. In early May, Obama-favor in the media was even over 50%!

But it gets worse, at least from McCain's perspective. The report also includes data on how visible the candidate is to voters. McCain's visibility has not improved, hovering constantly between 8 and 11%. And Obama? His visibility has steadily climbed over the spring and summer, currently reaching 76%.

What does this mean? I don't rightly know, but it may mean that voters are realizing that Obama is overexposed. This may lead to a backlash among voters who are getting tired of seeing his face on tv (and repeatedly on the cover of Newsweek) all the time. What's more, Pew mentions that 22% of respondents in their survey reported they have an unfavorable view of Obama, up from only 16%. That may indeed mean the post-Berlin bounce for Obama. Let's hope.

16 June 2008

Bush Never Lied about Iraq

Please all read this important article in the Los Angeles Times, written by James Kirchick, assistant editor of The New Republic. This is hardly a conservative publication and cannot be accused of having succumbed to White House propaganda. It's an enlightening review of public reports by US Congress about the intelligence on Iraq.

12 June 2008

On Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195; 553 US 2008) Guantanamo Detainees Case

This was a close case, decided 5-4 by a liberal v. conservative split. The liberal majority (opinion by Justice Kennedy) decided that the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) did not adequately protect the right to habeas corpus of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The majority concluded that the limitation of habeas rights in that law was unconstitutional because, in the views of the Court, habeas protections can only be suspended by invoking the Constitution’s suspension provision, i.e. when the Commander in Chief declares a rebellion or invasion. The conservative dissenters, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, rejected this argument in two separate dissenting opinions, one by the Chief Justice and one by Justice Scalia, in both of which the other conservative justices joined.

The Roberts dissent argued primarily that the DTA adequately protected whatever rights aliens detained as enemy combatants have. The right of habeas corpus is not an independent civil right in US law, according to the Chief Justice, but is first and foremost a “procedural right, a mechanism for contesting the legality of executive detention.” In other words, Roberts implies that it is not the exact formula of the writ of habeas corpus that is the protected civil right, but the intent or content of this writ, i.e. the test whether executive detention is legal. Thus, Roberts concludes that the DTA more than adequately provides for a protection of that essential right and that the discussion of habeas corpus should never even have been considered in this case.

Justice Scalia’s scathing and sarcastic dissent went into the specific question whether the Guantanamo detainees had the right of habeas corpus. He emphatically concludes that they do not because the detainees are held in Guantanamo Bay which is part of Cuba and not the United States. As alien detainees being held outside the sovereign territory of the United States they have no constitutional right to sue in civilian US court. Scalia also argued that the very reason President Bush decided to detain enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay facility was that he was advised by legal counsel that US civilian law does not extend to that facility.

As with any legal case, the question is an intricate one. Seen from a political point of view, I am not unsympathetic to the Court’s decision. The reason for this is that I do not agree with the ethical argument that enemy combatants “ought not to be be allowed to sue in civil court.” This seems to be at the bottom of Bush administration arguments, and Justice Scalia’s opinion strongly supports this notion. Hiding behind certain blank spots in the law because it is convenient to do so does not address the ethical question whether even enemy combatants ought not to have a certain minimum guarantee of due process. Scalia’s intricate argument regarding the sovereignty status of Guantanamo Bay is not only unconvincing, it is short-sighted and goal-oriented. He argues in effect that Guantanamo Bay is in no way part of US sovereign territory and that, ergo, the right to a writ of habeas corpus does not extend there, at least not to alien detainees. But his reasoning is somewhat tortured (pun intended) because he has to engage the majority’s argument that US sovereignty extends there at least de jure if not de facto. While this distinction, invented by the majority for this case, certainly is not extremely elegant, it does essentially describe the status of Guantanamo: US duties are imposed there by US agents (the US military and other federal agents) on the detainees and these US agents have to abide by executive directives. The majority’s conclusion that this implies US legal control of the area is not less than reasonable. Scalia’s dissent that there is no such term as de jure sovereignty and that its distinction from de facto sovereignty is contrived is unfair and wrong. His particular example that, in common law history, the English writ of habeas corpus was not issued in Scotland when the power of the English crown extended de facto to Scotland, is a legal non sequitur. After all, Scotland had and has its own law in a way not dissimilar to the way different US states have different and separate legal codes.

But this is mostly politics and not necessarily constitutionally sound reasoning. The Chief Justice’s dissent makes clear that even the alien detainees at Guantanamo Bay have a right to challenge their detention, but he deferred to the decision reached by both the executive and legislative branches in passing the DTA in 2005. This law, he argued not unpersuasively, protects the effective content of the detainees’ rights. Just because these rights are not exactly equal with civil habeas corpus rights that obtain for US citizens anywhere, and for legal resident aliens within the sovereign territory of the United States, this is no reason to declare the relevant provision in the DTA unconstitutional.

We must not fall into the trap of fixing this the quick way because the question is politically controversial. I have always disagreed with the Bush administration’s handling of the legal rights of Guantanamo detainees. I believe the limitations imposed on them are unethical because they contradict the very principles undergirding American law and democracy. Even enemy combatants should have some rights. The administration has claimed to agree with this position but the limitations they have imposed on these rights, as gleaned from the legal arguments employed in the various challenges in federal court to the detainees’ treatment, appear to exceed the standards of reasonableness.

On the other hand, the public at large has no right whatsoever to know anything about the way these enemy combatants are processed as this would clearly violate the national security interests of the United States. And unfortunately, the public, in the guise of journalists, pressure groups, and politicians, have muddied the debate by offering conclusions on the matter when they have no understanding of the facts. This decision by the Court’s liberal majority is clearly driven to appease these ill-informed public opinions. Chief Justice Roberts’ warning that the majority’s decision will create a legal confusion that is in no-one’s interest, neither that of the government nor that of the detainees, is quite correct. As members of the judicial branch of government, the justices have no calling except to look at what the pertinent laws say and then declare that. If this analysis of the law finds that the Bush administration has not violated any law then, no matter the political or ethical quibbles one may have with administration policy, too bad. It is simply not up to the judiciary to correct this situation. Judges are nothing but glorified legal consultants, trained in giving expert opinions on the cumulative effect of legislative and executive action.

Thus, even though I am not unsympathetic to the position or even the arguments taken by the Kennedy majority, the conclusion of that majority cannot be construed as anything but liberal judicial activism. I do not agree with all the arguments propounded by the two dissents, but their overriding redeeming quality is that both the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia understand much better than the liberal majority the position Supreme Court justices as well as other federal judges have in a constitutional democracy.

15 March 2008

Barack's "Pastoral" Problem

ABC News and other news outlets have recently highlighted Barack Obama's relationship to the pastor of his home church Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Rev. Jeremiah Wright's role in the Obama campaign has come under scrutiny and CNN reports that the pastor has now resigned from the campaign.

If you listen to the man's "sermons" (the quotation marks are used advisedly), you cannot but conclude that here is a violation of the tax code. The United Church of Christ (UCC), probably the most liberal denomination in the United States, has long left biblical Christianity. Rather than preach the gospel, this denomination prefers to revel in social activism and self-actualization messages. Ever since the forerunners of the UCC set biblical teaching aside in the 1930s, God has gotten little attention there.

Rev. Wright can be seen in Youtube videos (o.a. this one) fulminating against rich white people. In the video I linked to, Rev. Wright is displaying a ridiculous ignorance of the Bible and a scary disinterest in the Bible. Pointing at a Bible on the lectern, and which seems to be nothing but an ornament because he never apparently reads from the Holy Book, Rev. Wright concludes that "Jesus was black" and the "Romans were Italian, which means they were European, which means white." So, first-century Palestine turns into an allegory for Rev. Wright's view of Black America.

Jesus was not black. He was born to a Jewish woman by a mystical conception through the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus apparently did not stand out in society by an unusually dark skin, or the Gospels would surely have mentioned it, He was undoubtedly similar in appearance to modern Jews: i.e. white.

Rev. Wright can preach whatever he wants in his church, but let's not pretend that the speech on Youtube is either Christian or a sermon. Let's be clear about it: Rev. Wright's Christmas 'sermon' is a campaign speech. For it, the IRS ought to cancel the church's tax-exempt status.

And one can't help but wonder how Barack Obama benefited from the teaching at Trinity United Church of Christ. Christ certainly is preached there but rarely, if the reports are anything to go by. That is legitimate reason, at least, to doubt the depth of Mr. Obama's faith.