21 November 2009

Fighting the Wrong Courtroom Battle

Ever since Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a number of high-profile al-Qaida terrorists were going to be tried in a civilian court in New York City, conservatives have screamed bloody murder--often literally. Probably with the best intentions, they have denounced the decision as a snub to logic and the Constitution, to the safety and emotions of 9/11 survivors and their families, to law and morality. Their arguments are mostly wrong.

There is definitely some truth in their objections, though. The idea that Khalid Sheikh-Mohammed (KSM) ought to be tried in a civilian court is certainly ludicrous. As a war criminal he has no place before a civilian federal judge and the implication of Holder's decision, namely that the military court system does not guarantee defendants' rights adequately, is certainly an outrageous insult to American democracy. But once you have made that step, then only New York City can be the 'logical' choice. As the primary scene of the attack, that jurisdiction naturally has dibs. And yet the objection that many New Yorkers will now have to go through an excruciating media extravaganza, dragging up September 11, 2001 all over again, is no empty claim. These war criminals have no place being in New York to stand trial.

And yet, the battle that many conservatives are waging is the wrong one. For instance, Paul Greenberg, at Townhall.com, insists that the only place for these criminals is in "a secure military court room in Guantanamo." But this is premised on the notion that Guantanamo is outside of the United States, which it is not, as the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially affirmed. The decision by the Bush administration to detain illegal combatants in Guantanamo was naturally based on this perception: that U.S. law would not apply there, since it is only leased from Cuba and therefore technically part of Cuba. Forestalling legal challenges in this manner would buy the administration time to figure out what to do with these people. But through vigorous pursuit in the justice system, opponents of this policy have won the argument and it has been made clear that U.S. law does extend to Guantanamo, and thus that detainees do have certain rights under the Constitution.

This makes the whole notion that Holder is "bringing these terrorists into the US" preposterous. They already are in the United States, even while detained in Guantanamo. They can be tried there or anywhere else--it makes no difference. As long as they are tried the right way: in a military court system, whether the special tribunals set up by the Bush administration (and sanctioned by both Congress and the Supreme Court) or the regular military courts.

Conservative opponents of the Obama administration are making the debate more complicated by focusing on the wrong battle. It is not that we need to keep these terrorists at Guantanamo, come what may, since their location is not of prime importance. By highlighting emotional arguments, such as the feelings of New Yorkers, or the complexity of security during the trial, or the proximity of the court room to Ground Zero, they are losing track of the important arguments and in the process making themselves and other critics of the Obama administration look silly and unserious.

The real problem is, and has always been, making sure the right evidence can be presented without jeopardizing national security by revealing important classified materials. By moving the trial into the civilian court--which has different rules of engagement--Obama and Holder have done exactly that: they have lessened the chances of a legal and convincing conviction of a self-confessed terrorist. Much of the evidence likely won't be admissible in New York's federal court, while some of the other evidence will not be presented because it is classified. This decision has underscored all the more that Barack Obama and Eric Holder simply cannot be taken seriously. Their incompetence has long since stopped "bordering" on being criminally negligent. By putting the United States at risk with such feel-good, ludicrous decisions, they ought to be kicked out of office at the soonest opportunity.

17 November 2009

Sarah Palin and the Future of the Republican Party

Sarah Palin has a new book out, Going Rogue, leading to much controversy in the media. I have not read the book and feel no inclination to do so. The question being asked, again, is whether Sarah Palin has any future in national politics, or more exactly, whether Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party. Many political commentators in the media dismiss Palin as a side show with no future in politics, including CBS' Bob Schieffer while appearing on CBS Early Show on November 16. But moderate conservative David Brooks also laughed Palin out of court. Appearing as a guest on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos he said, "Yeah, she's a joke...Republican primary voters just are not going to elect a talk show host."

Conservative media watchdogs like the Media Research Center have blasted Brooks as a token conservative for his betrayal of Palin, and have generally derided the anti-Palin mood in the media as another example of shrill leftwing opinionating in the liberal mass media. So, does Palin have a future in national politics?

My opinion of Palin is complicated. I endorsed McCain and Palin in the 2008 presidential election. I heartily supported Mr McCain as an honorable man, a true war hero, and among a handful of honest politicians in Washington who has tried mightily over the years to promote smart political compromises that advanced conservative principles--rather than the crazy extremist tactics employed by talking heads on the radio which went nowhere. I was initially intrigued by McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate. What little I knew of her suggested she was at least a good, conservative governor. I have still not seen evidence that she was a fraud, a hack, or an incompetent boob in that job.

I have seen other things, however, that have led me to the conclusion that she is not presidential material. Her dreadful performances during national interviews, even granting the unfair questioning she received when compared to the softballs that Joe Biden got tossed, suggest to me that she lacks the intellectual seriousness to run for office in Washington. To not know details about certain foreign policy issues would have been excusable, but her answers to questions seemed to reveal a lack of interest. These were not her personal answers; they were carefully rehearsed endorsed opinions from the McCain machine and she was unable to defend those positions.

Sarah Palin is, I am sure, a fine woman who seems to have done an above-average job as governor of Alaska. She has a certain media appeal that would make her an interesting commentator on TV. But it is this media appeal that would stand in the way of her pursuit of any serious political office. She comes across as someone who will do anything for the effect it will have on the TV screen.

She will be able to amass a certain following among conservatives in the country. The "hockey mom/soccer mom" crowd that attends evangelical churches will genuinely be attracted to her. But even among these people there will be enough doubters to prevent this following to rise above the "Huckabee Level." In a Republican primary she might hang on a little longer than completely new contenders, thanks to her loyal followers. But in the end, I do not believe that she will be able to convince a large enough portion of the Republican primary voters that she is a serious politician. I do not expect to hear from her again after the next presidential election except perhaps as a political commentator in some media format.

The Republican Party is already going another direction. Despite the recent complaints from Democratic politicians and liberal activists that the GOP has become the party of No in its persistent rejection of President Obama's social-democrat agenda, real policy alternatives are being developed by serious politicians. Currently, this rebranding and renewal of the party is still in an embryonic stage, as the party lacks a real leader, but it is at least clear that David Brooks is correct that this development is not going in the direction where media mouths rule the party.

09 October 2009

Why Obama Nobel Prize Is the Outrage of the Year

On one level, the fact that President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is of no importance whatsoever. Many undeserving human beings, including murderers, terrorists, and dilettante climate alarmists, have been awarded what Andy McCarthy of National Review aptly describes as the Yasser Arafat Prize. Ever since the time when the likes of Mr Arafat were eligible for anything but arrest and trial by supposedly civilized countries, the Nobel Peace Prize has ceased to have any meaning as a measure of civilization.

My first reaction--and that of my wife--on hearing of the Obama Nobel Prize was, "Why?" And we did not scream this in an angry wail of terror, but in genuine bafflement. We were, to use a term my teacher warned me never to use, flabbergasted. What earthly reasons could there be to award Mr Obama this prize? He has accomplished nothing so far in his young presidency. He has been long on promises and grand schemes but up till now he has little show for it.

Our second reaction, after it sunk in with us and Anderson Cooper of CNN that, no, this was not some weird delayed April Fools', was, "Oh, I get it. They're giving it to him simply because he is not George W. Bush." I still believe it is the most important reason the squishy Norwegian progressives in charge of this prize picked on Mr Obama as the ideal candidate for 2009. Never mind any of his actual policies, about which Europeans in general know nothing and care nothing anyway. His most important achievement has been simply being in office instead of the hated Bush. The prize is meant to convey the enlightened message that America is not to repeat outrages like electing backward mental looneys like that Texan cowboy George. To progressives in Europe (and the US, for that matter), the mere act of Bush's replacement by Obama is a tangible and actual benefit to the world and of such great importance as to warrant awarding the Nobel Peace Prize. George W. Bush in the White House was such a threat to the planet that peace has been promoted by his departure.

The truly discouraging part of this state of affairs is the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize does still have a reputation, even though it should not. And Barack Obama clearly cannot live up to that imaginary reputation. He has been an absent president in his own country's politics, prefering to speechify rather than to do any actual constructive work, and a non-entity in both policy realms for which the Norwegian Nobel committee is now awarding him this honor (nuclear non-proliferation and Mideast peace). This fig leaf couldn't conceal an amoebe's wedding tackle. The president actually had the temerity to accept this prize with the words:
Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments.
You're darn tootin'!

06 October 2009

The Biggest Straw Man in the Health Care Reform Debate

If you were to listen to Democrats, the only reason we do not have a sensible reform package on the table to deal with the problems in America's health care is Republican nay sayers. President Obama campaigned explicitly on a promise of bipartisanship, already tied to an implied message of Republican obstructionism. America's deliverance from eight years of Republican tyranny at the hands of the Obamassiah has so far, however, produced nothing of substance and it is clear that Democratic party leaders are getting frustrated. Who better to blame than the Republican minority for continuing a nefarious campaign to stop the One from implementing his promises of bipartisan reform of Washington?

And so the White House rolls out Gov. Arnie 'the RINO' Schwarzenegger and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in support of health care reform. Here are the real Republicans, is the underlying message of this media stunt. If only the Republican Party could be like them, we would not have had this frustrating summer without the passage of a sound public option.

That Arnie the RINO should have come out in favor of health care reform is not surprising, for several reasons. The most important is the lack of real philosophical differences. But even granted that factor, notice the words Gov. Schwarzenegger used:
Our principal goals, slowing the growth in costs, enhancing the quality of care delivered, improving the lives of individuals, and helping to ensure a strong economic recovery, are the same goals that the president is trying to achieve. I appreciate his partnership with the states and encourage our colleagues on both sides of the political aisle at the national level to move forward and accomplish these vital goals for the American people.

These words help show up the big straw man in the whole debate, at least as Democrats are trying to frame it: that Republicans are against health care reform. News flash to Democrats: Republicans are against the Democratic plans for health care reform because they involve setting up a huge new federal bureaucracy, with new federal oversight, enormous new tax burdens, ill-construed insurance policies and regulation, etc. In general, their plans try to treat symptoms, some of which many Republicans do not even believe are caused by the same disease, and the cures are, in their view, worse than the disease.

22 September 2009

The Evil of Conservatives

Conservatives are evil. Of course, they don't actually exist any more according to Sam Tannenhaus's book The Death of Conservatism, but they are still evil. That must be the only possible explanation for the blatantly disparate treatment of conservatives and liberals in the media. Jay Nordlinger has an interesting piece on the topic.

21 September 2009

Keep Dictators out of Office in Honduras!

Why the West keeps insisting that Honduras is currently being ruled by a ultra-rightwing dictatorship is beyond me. And yet the entire supposedly civilized world (the Obama administration, the UN, the EU) is united behind impeached former president Manuel Zelaya and is now crying hurrah as Zelaya has sneaked back into the country. Germany's liberal newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung coos about Zelaya's feat ("Heimkehr nach Honduras") and is tantalized by the expectation of a response by the "Putsch-Regime" (rebel regime). The French newspaper Le Monde ("Le président Zelaya de retour au Honduras") similarly describes Zelaya as the rightful president of the country who had been "ousted since late June by a coup d'état". Roberto Micheletti is described decidedly depracatingly as the man "who rules the country" since the coup.

The situation is certainly not neat and clean. Experts on the Honduran Constitution differ about the question whether the impeachment of Zelaya was legal. The Constitution is frustratingly vague on some key matters. The country continues in an uncertain state of semi-unrest. That Zelaya is a thug seems clear to me, however. Taking his cue from his crony Hugo Chavez, Zelaya was in the process of maneuvring himself into the role of president for life. His duplicitous proposal to organize a referendum on holding a referendum (sic) to change the Constitution was a blatant attempt to have his cake and eat it too. Since the Constitution explicitly forbids proposals to meddle with a number of core articles and rules any such attempt an automatically impeachable offense, Zelaya organized the referendum on a referendum approach so as to insulate himself from prosecution.

The so-called coup was the culmination of several legal steps during which Zelaya was repeatedly informed that his referendum was illegal. Zelaya went on, got arrested and kicked out of his country. The latter step was probably not wise but certainly does not invalidate his legitimate impeachment.

That the Obama administration keeps calling for Zelaya's return is disheartening. As Mary O'Grady describes in the Wall Street Journal ("Hillary's Honduras Obsession"), the President and his Secretary of State are ignoring the facts. Dictators like Zelaya should be kept out of office. The world should stop calling for his return to power and wait, like everyone else, for the results of the elections to be held in November.

The German magazine Der Spiegel ("Gestürzter Präsident Zelaya kehrt zurück") is refreshingly objective, referring to Zelaya as "former president" and to Michelletti as "interim president".

17 July 2009

New Justice A-Coming

Okay, so maybe I overreacted in my previous post.

Don't get me wrong. I still think she is deplorably affected by this postmodern, wishy-washy, multiculti nonsense about race relations and minority rights. I am not at all convinced she understands how evil affirmative action is.

But she is clearly not a nutcase. She gave impressive and intelligent answers to all questions asked of her, even the ones from the committee's new joker (Al Franken) who asked her about Perry mason. I hope Mr Franken has since been informed that the legendary lawyer is a fictional character.

Sotomayor will be confirmed some time before the August recess, with a comfortable margin. Democrats are united behind her and many Republicans are likely to support her too. The Republican defection is not surprising. For political reasons, the GOP cannot afford to waste ammunition on Sotomayor. She is a low-value target because she is simply replacing the ultraliberal and eccentric David Souter. Her appointment to the court will not change the political ideology of the court too much. If anything, she is likely to bring about a more balanced chemistry in the whole court. More importantly, Republicans just do not want to shoot down a Hispanic female judge in an era when they are working hard to make inroads in the Hispanic community.

Here's a balanced assessment of the situation by Marcia Coyle (National Law Journal) and Tom Goldstein (Scotusblog.com) on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.

26 May 2009

Filibuster Her!

I thoroughly disapprove of the filibuster. It is an undemocratic sabotage tactic that circumvents the will of the people as expressed in the orderly elections of this country. So I am somewhat disgusted that I see no other solution than the filibuster to stop the elevation of the despicable Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Judge Sotomayor embodies all that is wrong with the hard-left elite that currently has the shrillest voice in the postrational West. She believes in abusing her office to advance social policy but, as is now the norm among liberal intellectuals, shrouds it in lofty and polysyllabic pseudo-legal logorrhea and thus escapes being caught out on it. Except that sometimes the cameras are rolling when she has forgotten to put on the mask:

This woman does not believe in logic or rationality. Her approach to life and the law is all feelings--her feelings, to be sure. She is a slave of the false religion of Diversity Politics and worships at the shrine of Postmodernist Waffle. There is no reason to believe she will interpret the law as it is written--despite what Pres. Obama said in the piece of bromide he served up to the press as an introduction of Sotomayor. She will rule in favor of the Hard Left's favorite causes at every turn: unlimited, tax-funded abortion, federal recognition of gay marriage, more rights for labor unions, greater equality for minorities and lesser equality for white males. On that last point (who remembers George Orwell?), note this statement by Sotomayor:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life. (New York TimesMay 14, 2009

This woman is a disgrace to the bench and her nomination is intellectually dishonest. Considering that she has been reversed numerous times by the Supreme Court, Republicans must do all they can to prevent her confirmation. She is so dangerous to the foundation of this country that even a filibuster is justified.

27 April 2009

Coleman or Franken?

In the Minnesota recount battle, Al Franken has repeatedly gotten the upper hand. According to a Star Tribune poll published today, Minnesotans are fed up with Norm Coleman's quest to overturn Franken's lead. The Minneapolis paper headlines that "Most Want Coleman to Quit" and cite results from their recent telephone poll which shows 64% of all respondents want Coleman to throw in the towel. Only 28% believe Coleman's appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court is justified.

So, should Coleman give up?

No. And there are better reasons apart from the fact that Al Franken is a disgrace to Minnesota (consider the fact that he once threw a chair at talkshow host Michael Medved in a fit of rage). The Star Tribune has painted itself into a corner as well, having endorsed Coleman over Franken. Now the newspaper finds itself with an apparent majority of Minnesotans rooting for Al Franken.

But there are two arguments that lead me to opine that Coleman ought to continue his appeal. First, the so-called opinion poll seems a little heavily tilted toward Democrats. If you read the fine print in the article, you'll see that of the 1,042 respondents 20 percent were Republicans and 36 percent Democrats. Or almost double the number of registered Democrats over Republicans in a poll on an election issue in which the Democrat and the Republican candidate received virtually even results. Once you control for this curious flaw in the poll, the 28-64% division shrinks closer to a 40-50% distribution. Such a result would have represented more fairly the mood in Minnesota: We're sick and tired of this recount, but we'll live with it a little longer, even if we have to grind our teeth. After this long of a process some discontent with the situation is normal, but I do not believe that 64% of Minnesotans want Coleman to quit. The Star Tribune can argue that one cannot control exactly for party affiliation, but on such a topic that argument sounds very weak. A perfect parallel to Minnesota's party affiliation is probably not possible but a 20-36% spread is a little extreme.

Secondly, the legal arguments that Coleman has raised are not trivial. Just to be clear, Mr Coleman is not alleging that Al Franken or the Democratic Party cheated during this election. Rather, his objections are to the vote counting process which he claims was not fair and equal. Different standards for approving absentee ballots were applied in different counties and it so happens that heavily Democratic-leaning counties were a lot less strict in applying these standards than Republican-leaning counties. As a result, the Republican counties rejected a lot more absentee ballots (and thus, by implication, a lot more Republican votes) than the Democratic counties, which were generally lenient in allowing absentee ballots (and thus, again by the logic of statistics, increased the overall Democratic count in proportion to their representation in that county).

The upshot is that Republican votes were more usually rejected than Democratic votes. Coleman wants the courts to consider his argument that this is a violation of federal equal protection principles. So far, no court has done so; all previous rulings were very limited in scope and specifically excluded any consideration based on this argument. The courts have yet to rule on this basic question. Coleman has every right to appeal. Not only that, if he can provide overwhelming evidence of this situation, then the state of Minnesota needs to rethink its election laws because it implies a systemic unintentional bias in favor of Democratic candidates. Coleman's appeal might well be the catalyst to make elections in Minnesota fairer.

Does that mean the appeals should go on forever? Surely, at some point Coleman ought to give up? True. And the same goes for Al Franken, if at some point the odds get reversed. But let us not be hasty. Appeals are unlikely to drag on for years. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments early June and by mid-summer there will likely be a verdict. This court will not be able to skirt Coleman's constitutional objections as the district court did and so it is highly likely that there will be a different outcome. There are good chances that by the summer there will be an end to this situation. Such a timeline seems a reasonable situation to accept in face of the importance to American democracy.

But even if there is no substantial change at the state level, I would like to judge any hypothetical further appeals to the federal courts on their own merits. I am not of the opinion that Al Franken should be kept out of the Senat at all costs. He can only do so much harm among so many other hard-left senators. Still, I don't mind admitting that I am not against a little more patience before we certify Mr. Franken.

13 March 2009

Krauthammer on hESC

Charles Krauthammer, not a religious man by his own admission, but at least a thoughtful conservative wrote an article in the Washington Post today explaining why he declined Pres. Obama’s invitation to attend the signing ceremony overturning Pres. Bush’s limitations on federal funding for hESC. The article is not just thoughtful, it drives a truck through the phony rhetorics of Mr. Obama’s lecturing on science and ethics. Not only is it disingenuous to claim that until the Divine Revelation of Obama to the world, American scientific policy was shaped by politics and religious dogma. It is also logically inconsistent to claim that in forbidding human cloning one is not putting ethics—i.e. moral dogma, one might say, religion—over pure science.

But Mr Krauthammer’s column makes another thing clear when he says:

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix.

This thing is: without religion you have no moral anchor. While I agree with most of Mr Krauthammer’s practical decisions, he becomes completely inconsistent when he concludes, on the basis of the principles in the quote above, that it is morally justified to use “left-over embryos” from IVF treatments. Exactly equivalent to what a human embryo is, Mr Krauthammer is unable to explain and he adds nothing more enlightening to these comments. I suggest that he is wrong in his basic principle and that personhood is conferred upon conception. This is a conclusion not so much based on religious revelation even; rather, it is the safe logical conclusion drawn from the reliable observation that the vast majority of embryos, once implanted in a woman’s uterus, actually develop into persons. So even if one avoids the dilemma at the crossroads of science and faith—the question when personhood is conferred—it seems safer, and in line with actual reality, to simply declare as a matter of categorization that embryos are persons.

It is not up to the pro-life person to prove this statement true beyond reasonable doubt, but rather it is the responsibility of those demanding certain rights that these claims have a basis in reality and do not conflict with the rights of others. It is the scientists who would have to prove that their experiments are safe, not the public at large to prove the scientists’ experiments dangerous.

Slick Willy Doesn’t Know What an Embryo Is

POTUS 42 as always had problems with basic school subjects. While in office, he had trouble with the English language such as when he could not define the word “is.” But biology also has not been his strong suit, as evidenced again this week by his moronic statement in an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta as they talked about stem cells. Clearly, Clinton has not a clue what an “embryo” is, when he says that Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (hESC) is fine as long as we’re not talking about “a process that would allow them to be fertilized and become …ehm, little babies.”

The statement is emblematic of the public debate about hESC and illustrates why Pres. Obama’s decision to throw federal money at this research is so evil. On July 18, 2006, CNN’s correspondent Carol Costello made this blooper on live TV when she was talking to CNN’s medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen about this same topic:

Cohen: “These are four-day old embryos. We’re talking about very tiny, tiny embryos.”
Costello: “And they’re not fertilized either, right?”
Cohen: “Well no, an embryo is fertilized.”
Costello: “Just to make it clear–”
Cohen: “Its sperm and egg have met each other–”
Costello: “So, it is?”
Cohen: “–and they, they’ve grown for about four days. So, they’ve formed a very, very small embryo.”
Costello: “Ok, so I feel silly now.”

The American media, all having been educated in the Liberal School of Journalism, and Democratic politicians, who are too busy grabbing power, clearly all flunked biology. But these same morons are driving the debate about hESC.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell research is murder, plain and simple. You have to terminate the life of a fertilized human egg which thereby has become an embryo, which is a synonym for “baby.” So, yes, hESC is the killing of a human baby. That is why we pro-lifers oppose hESC. That has nothing to do with being unable to separate faith and science. I have no religious ‘beliefs’ about the fact that hESC kills babies. This is not preached in my church nor do I read it anywhere. I know this because I paid attention in biology class and know what an embryo is. Anyone who supports hESC does not know what an embryo is. That Bill Clinton does not know this either is shocking. NewsbustersMatthew Balan sighs, understandably, that Sanjay Gupta has ties to Clinton so we should not be surprised that he did not feel it necessary to correct Number 42 on his biology.

27 February 2009

Change I Cannot Believe In

This past TUESDAY President Obama gave an outrageously good non-State of the Union speech (it’s not called that when a new president has just taken office, but it’s essentially the same). I actually watched all of it again on Wednesday online and had to admit that the presentation was practically flawless. Others have since pointed out that it was very hard to watch because Nancy Pelosi kept jumping up like a jack-in-the-box at every applause line. As for content, well. Obama presented a program that is truly astounding—and he has no money to pay for it. On top of the recession, Obama plans to reform education, institute universal health care, create world peace… It was really sickening to listen to the smug nonsense of the speech and much of it was specifically designed to lay blame at George W. Bush’s feet. “We have inherited a deficit,” etc. Well, never mind that it was the Congressional Democrats who created those deficits, even if Mr. Bush can be blamed for not vetoing more spending bills.

What was quite painful to watch was the Republican response to the speech, given by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. It was a terrible speech, regardless of what Michael Medved says. I was and am in complete agreement with David Brooks’ assessment which he gave immediately afterward on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS (that it was “not a good speech”). And I am not just talking about the delivery which was astonishingly bad. He seemed like an eight-year old reading a book report his mother had proofread and corrected. But the contents were stupefyingly bad too. Not that I did not agree with most of the things he said, but he was hammering on the wrong topics as if he were tone deaf to the public conversation that has been going on about the current crisis. It is fine to believe in a pro-business, lower corporate taxes and incentives approach to the economy but it simply is not sufficient, in an address like this to the entire nation, to lambast the Current Occupant—to borrow a phrase from Anoka’s favorite left-wing loony—for being a closet socialist. Jindal’s speech was in essence nothing but a childish McCarthy-esque Red Scare speech. It really made me doubt whether Jindal has any future in politics, much in the same way as I believe Sarah Palin ought to be firmly tethered to the Alaska governor’s mansion for fear she tries to step on the national stage again. Palin presents a scary anti-intellectual approach to conservatism that I believe will do more harm than good. Folksy? Fine. Straightforward? Fine. Anti-intellectual? No way, Jose.

On THURSDAY came Obama’s budget. In addition to the $700 billion Spending Bill (wrongly named the Stimulus Package) Obama is now proposing another $500 billion in “regular” spending. My friend David Brooks again explains what’s wrong with this budget in his New York Times column today:

On Thursday, he [Pres. Obama] offered a budget of his own, and the question arises: Will he really change all that?
The answer is somewhat, but not enough. Obama’s budget is far more honest than the ones that preceded it. It imposes real pay-as-you-go rules on future outlays. Intellectually serious efforts are made to pay for at least half of the cost of health care reform.
But the ingrained habits are still there, and the rot is not expunged.

There is a certain virtue in honesty. George W. Bush’s insistence that the expenditures of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be hidden by accounting tricks and kept off the regular budget has not convinced me, so the fact that the true cost, at least in dollars, is now visible in the budget is not bad. But this honesty does not go very far, nor is it even complete. As Mr. Brooks explains, Nancy Pelosi is running the show and that is truly a scary thought. It’s bad enough to think she is third in line under the Constitution.

However, the best analysis of the budget I have heard has come from former McCain campaign advisor and former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. He went head to head with Robert Greenstein, Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on (yes, again) PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer on Thursday. Holtz-Eakin exposes the Obama budget (and the economic policy in general) as old-fashiond socialist tax-and-spend dogma. Interviewer Jeffrey Brown asked him whether he thought Peter Orszag (White House budget direcor) was wrong in rejecting the label “wealth distribution.” Holtz-Eakin responded, in probably the best-presented media critique of Obama fiscal politics,

Oh, it is. I mean, there’s no question. This is a trillion dollars in tax increases. They are going to be on business through deferral and other sorts of arcane things and on high-income individuals explicitly. Raise their rates, tax their dividends and capital gains, diminish their charitable and mortgage interest deductions, and use it to fund Make or Pay, Earned Income Tax Credits, on American Opportunity Credit, low-income tax credits, refundable credits for some people who don’t even pay income taxes. So, there’s no question what that is.

Liberal counterpart Robert Greenstein had no answer for this. He took the so-called high ground by reminding the PBS audience that all Obama’s policy does is go back to the tax rates that existed before George W. Bush’s irresponsible tax give-aways to the wealthy. That sounds very good on TV and I’m afraid that many people bought that excuse, but it has one major logical flaw: it assumes that the tax rates in 1999 were good then. (One may ask, in addition, whether the 1999 rates—or the 1988 rates, for that matter—will work in 2009, but we will leave that matter for now.) In other words, what Greenstein was saying is, in effect, our policy is okay because it we used to do it this way before. To take this argument ad absurdum, imagine how high eyebrows would have to be raised if, say, President Grant had decided to reinstate slavery in 1871 with the justification that “all we are doing is returning to the situation before 1860.” Just because a situation existed in the past does not make it right or applicable to the present.

02 February 2009

Review of Jeffrey Toobin's "The Nine"

Jeffrey Toobin. The Nine. Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. New York: Anchor Books, 2007 (2008 edition with a new afterword). Paperback, 451pp., index, ill. $15.95 (ISBN 978-1-4000-9679-4)

This book is, as the endorsement by Michiko Kakutani from the New York Times (printed on the cover) says, “compelling.” Indeed, Mr. Toobin, well-known legal analyst for CNN is more than just a clear head. He is also a good writer. Toobin knows what he is talking about and he delivers his message in a very readable style.

In twenty-five chapters, the book describes the important developments of the later Rehnquist court and into the new Roberts court. Toobin has one important lesson for any layman with an interest in the Supreme Court: judges are politicians. Especially gripping is his description of the very controversial Bush v. Gore case of 2000. His judgment of that case, which he already described in his previous book Too Close to Call, is devastating but Toobin is also very evenhanded. He condemns all justices equally for conduct unbecoming of a judge. Every last of the justices played politics with that case when any law student could have told you that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction under the Constitution to even hear the case. Nevertheless, the justices also did not affect politics in any way, because even if they had not illegally handed the Bush team his electoral victory on a silver platter, Bush would have won anyway, had Gore’s recount challenge been allowed to work its way through the Florida court system.

Toobin describes that case in several chapters showing enormous depth of knowledge—the most profound knowledge of all the cases he describes—and an ability to empathize with the ‘other side.’ It must come as no surprise that Mr. Toobin, working as he does for CNN, does tip his hand every now and then as a liberal, dismissing some conservative victories as unreasonable and many of their arguments as mendacious.

This becomes all the more clear in the unnecessary new afterword in the 2008 reprint. In it, Mr. Toobin shows himself to be more of a political journalist than a legal analyst. The afterword was clearly written in the thick of the 2008 presidential campaign and Toobin finds it necessary to take some cheap jabs at Republican candidate John McCain. Without the afterword, the book would have had a perfectly elegant ending. With it, the essentially fair treatment of a contested topic is defaced by an author’s ugly unmasking of himself, revealing a bitter hatred for perceived Republican hypocrisy in matters judicial.

Mr. Toobin proves himself to be an especially keen observer of mankind. We learn a lot of things about the personalities of the justices. The book is anything but flattering of the Rehnquist court and the judges who served on it. One wonders whether perhaps the author does not occasionally pass too harsh judgment on some of them. (At least in this indelicacy he pays neither the court’s liberals nor its conservatives any favors.) Justice Thomas is treated perhaps the least kindly when Toobin rakes up the Anita Hill affair again, repeating once more the long-whispered but not substantiated rumor that Ms Hill was right in her charge of sexual misconduct (and that Thomas was addicted to pornography on a profound scale). Mr. Toobin’s description of Clarence Thomas as the kind substitute father to his grandnephew, though endearing in itself, hardly makes up for the unnecessary jabs at Thomas the pervert.

Still, on the whole these are relatively minor flaws in a book that is truly interesting. Mr. Toobin’s look at the politics behind the nomination of justices, the maneuvering of the justices behind the screens, even some of the Congressional debates over the court is enlightening and well written. For those who are prepared for a left-leaning view of the Supreme Court, this book must be considered a very mildly biased book, and with the bias largely restricted to a small number of the author’s pet topics. Because it is so wonderfully crafted, so well researched no reasonable person could dismiss this book as unworthy propaganda—because it is not.

Four and half out of five stars.

22 January 2009

NO! It's not as bad as the Great Depression

As the new liberal Congress gets ready to throw another one trillion dollars down the sewer with the mistaken or, in some cases (read: Treasury Secretary Geithner), mendacious notion that it is going to stimulate the economy and jolt us out of the economic crisis, very few influential voices in this country are willing to call this for what it is: dangerous nonsense.

For one thing, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AR), one of the few brave voices in this rush to pull out the federal check book, reminded the audience of Hugh Hewitt’s radio talk show yesterday (Jan 21, 2009) that the proposed bill to stimulate the economy will do little or nothing in that respect. Not that all of the proposed spending is necessarily pork, but it does not belong in this bill, he explained. Some of the money for infrastructure and energy projects will not even be spent in the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, under the guise of emergency spending Obama and his liberal allies in Congress are adding enormous amounts to the national deficit. And it will do nothing to the economy in the short term.

But more importantly, this bill is only being pushed because the country is “in the worst recession since the Great Depression”—according to those pushing it. Problem is, that is not true, at least not yet. Baltimore Sun columnist Jay Hancock looked at the actual statistics recently and concluded that while it’s important not to underestimate the economic downturn, right now the recession is not even as bad as the 1982 economic crisis. While unemployment is rising rapidly, it’s still nowhere near the 10.4 % unemployment rate of 1983. It’s not even up to the 7.8% of 1992.

There are other statistics, such as gross domestic products and services produced in the US that suggest things are not as bad as the 1930s--nor even as bad as 1982. Other factors may look disastrous, including the almost total collapse of the housing market in some regions of the US or the dissolution of great bastions in the financial markets, but while these are impressive events, they are not of widespread catastrophic magnitude.

So before Pelosi, Reid & Co. drive us all like lemmings over the cliff, could we perhaps have a little perspective?

21 January 2009

One Little Sentence

Should one be glad that the New York Times is keeping Roger Cohen out of the unemployment lists? I cannot say I am overly familiar with the man's columns, but today's puke-worthy adoration of St. Barack XLIV by Cohen leads me to answer that question in the negative. The column is not just drivel, it's religious claptrap in the official Media Cult of the Obamassiah. Of course, the Times, as any other person or corporation can express itself in whatever way it likes, but I don't have to like it.

In his column, Cohen passes grave judgment on the preceding 8 years and on the president who led the country:

America is returning to its Constitution: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” With that little sentence, Obama bade farewell to renditions, torture, the trampling of habeas corpus, Guantánamo and other stains on the nation’s conscience. This work will not be complete until Guantánamo is closed and those wrongly imprisoned, some for more than five years, are compensated.

The arrogance is inconceivable. For years, the public debate as well as the professional debate between Constitutional scholars, lawyers, Congressmen etc. has raged over the legal status of many of Pres. Bush's policies in the War on Terror. But Cohen knows best: it was all unconstitutional and Guantánamo is full of innocent people. With one little sentence, the verdict is passed. Surely fodder for those who want to also impose sentence on Mr. Bush.

Give me a break.

12 January 2009

And.... He's In! -- On Roland Burris Being Seated

After well over a week of legal tug-of-war, Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich's pawn in his embarrassing game of cat and mouse with the FBI, was finally admitted to the Senate today. Of course, Harry Reid must have been fuming that Blagojevich had won this round in a game in which he, Reid, was also a mere pawn. But Burris has all the legal arguments on his side and so Reid got embarrassed, as the Washington Post put it.

Burris is another product of the Chicago political machine and though he may not be implicated in the Blagojevich scandal, America and Illinois should not expect anything even as competent as Obama's performance in the seat he is now going to be filling. Once Mr Burris takes his seat, he will be firmly shackled by Reid & Co. to make sure he does nothing that is not first approved by the Democratic Party. After all, Burris is hardly electable on his own terms and should be made to understand that he is expected to step aside for a hand-picked candidate in 2010, when Mr Obama's original term expires.

What a circus. Now only one joke remains: the Al Franken show in Minnesota.

Review of David McCullough’s John Adams

David McCullough. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. (ISBN 0-684-81363-7, 751pp., index, ill.)

After seeing the HBO miniseries John Adams on DVD (we don’t waste our hard-earned money on an HBO subscription) I was intrigued enough to find out more about America’s second president, so I bought McCullough’s book on which the tv-series was based.

Adams is a relatively little-known figure among the Founding Fathers. The extravagant and heroic Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin make for much more interesting reading in history textbooks than Adams, who was never caught out on any sexual sin, never owned any slaves, never invented anything, and never led any battles.

Seen in that light, Adams must seem a terminally boring person, a president who swam against the tide of popular opinion when the country clamored for war with France and who made himself extremely little beloved by signing into law for which any 21st century president would be run out of town for even if he just wondered out loud about the desirability of such a provision: the Alien and Sedition Act. Fair enough, this monstrous law, which elevated personal insults of the president to the level of a criminal offense, ought never even have come to his desk and he should never have signed it.

Yet the second president was no more a monster than the forty-third for all the bile that was directed at both. Though Adams’ transgression of Constitutional safeguards was much more acute than George Bush’s creation of separate judicial procedures for enemy combatants at Guantánamo, since it criminalized speech—and speech against Adams—, there was a context in which Adams agreed to sign this legislation. This context also produced probably his greatest legacy to his country and almost certainly ensured that the infant United States did not die an ignominious crib death. It was Adams’s resolve to avoid war with France, almost at all costs and certainly at great personal political cost, that prevented a disastrous military conflict at a time when the young country could not have prevailed. The Revolutionary War had crippled any military strength the United States could muster from among the untrained farm hands that formed the core of the militia.

At the same time, though, that Adams resisted the evil machinations by Alexander Hamilton—surely the vilest character ever in American politics, period.—to militarize America and prevented the costly and unnecessary build-up of a standing army in peace time, President Adams was enough of a forward-looking realist to see that America’s future safety depended on what he referred to as the “wooden wall:” a strong navy. All of America’s enemies lay across the ocean. Though military success against the Barbary pirates is credited to Adams’s successor Thomas Jefferson, it was thanks to the second president’s insistence not to be distracted with ground troops and funding of a navy that Jefferson had the disposal of a fleet strong enough to defeat a band of Islamic thugs that had so far held all of Europe hostage over right of sea passage in the Mediterranean.

David McCullough’s book is much more than a chronicle of Adams’s presidency or his underestimated involvement in the Revolution. This biography paints a great picture of the man Adams as he was from cradle to grave. A lot of contemporary records have come down to us about John Adams, not in the least because the man was more than merely a prolific correspondent and a firm believer in keeping diaries. There are few people in world history who wrote more than Adams. But in addition to this boon to historians, Adams happened to marry a woman who, if perhaps not a more prolific writer, ranks but little lower on that scale. Most of his children and grand-children also kept diaries. This biography clearly benefits from the enormous library of letters and diaries from the Adams family, his correspondents, and his contemporaries.

One cannot help but gain enormous respect for John and Abigail Adams—and even come to love them in a sense. Their marriage was certainly not idyllic. Abigail suffered from many illnesses and infirmities that sometimes confined her to her bed for weeks or months. The pressures of public life, the burdens of which Abigail often did not feel herself able to endure, led to numerous years of separation while Adams was in Europe, in Philadelphia, or in Washington DC, while his wife remained at home in Massachusetts. And yet these two people were very well matched in every way. Abigail was able to provide her husband not merely the emotional support that would have been expected of a wife in the 18th century. In possession of a keen intellect herself, she was able to provide him with a sounding board and advice on practically any issue he encountered both in his legal and his political career. Abigail is also known to have argued with her husband in favor of incorporating full equal rights for women in the nascent republic. John Adams never committed to supporting such a notion, though he hinted that his reluctance stemmed from a correct appreciation of the mood of the times, which would never have supported it.

Adams stands apart from many of the Founding Fathers by being so normal and mainstream, but also in a sense ahead of his time. Especially on the subject of slavery and racism, the Adamses (both John and Abigail) were very outspoken. While Jefferson too claimed, limply and completely incredibly, to abhor slavery while never doing anything against it, John Adams spoke openly of his belief that all men were truly created equal and that any distinctions on the basis of skin color were morally repugnant. Adams described slavery as a “foul contagion in the human character,” and “an evil of colossal magnitude” (p. 134). Abigail was perhaps even more outraged by slavery, possibly because her father had owned a slave. Yet Adams refused to bring up the topic in the Continental Congress, aware of the fact that it would have killed among the southern states the taste for resistance against the British suppression that Massachusetts was suffering under more than any of the other states. Nevertheless, in his later years, Adams correctly predicted that the issue of slavery would be the cause of civil war between the north and south.

McCullough describes all the important (and many not-so-important) events of his life in admirable detail. Yet I have a few quibbles with the book. The biggest one is that Adams’s faith is hardly ever described. To the modern reader it may seem at times as if Adams believed only in some nebulous spirit-God who smiles benevolently on everything man does as if they are His pets. Adams’s faith seems to play almost no role in his thoughts or his actions. Nowhere are we even told what theology he subscribed to or what sort of church he went to, though one may assume (I do not know this) that he was a Congregationalist like most of rural Massachusetts in the 18th century, and therefore similar to what today would be called a Reformed Baptist. But Adams’s faith, and that of his wife, played a huge role in their lives and, as even the momentary glimpses in McCullough’s book show, provided him with the moral framework that guided him in his political beliefs and his policies. Also, Abigail believed that the calamities that befell Americans may well be the result of God’s wrath on the country for the evil of slavery. Both Adamses lived out of the Bible and enjoyed all of Creation as a gift of God.

I also think that McCullough’s style is, as others have said, too much on “autopilot.” The material seems a little disorganized and often one wonders why some items are even included. At 650 pages it is also simply too long for a popular biography. Many things could have been condensed and left out. What is more, McCullough offers very little argument. The book at times seems like an arrangement of personal writings, but the author provides no framework in which to place the material. Though it is possible to gain an understanding of the historical context of the Alien and Sedition Act through this book, Adams’s biographer includes little or no discussion of this highly controversial scene in American politics. If this were sold simply as a digest of the Adams Papers that would be fine, but McCullough claims it as a biography.

In the end, this is neither the hyped super-biography that it was sold as, nor the horrible failure some reviewers believe it to be. The book avoids the label “mediocrity” fairly easily because it is too well researched and too comprehensive in its inclusion of the various aspects of Adams’s life. But it is true that many topics are treated too superficially. Because of its length, these flaws are quite grave. 3 out of 5 stars.