31 May 2010

Happy Memorial Day: Israel kills 19

A few observations:

First: The ship was delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza and carried not a single firearm. It did not fire on the Israeli forces and the civilians onboard only fought back with hand-crafted weapons after the Israelis boarded and attempted to commandeer the ship.

Second: The ship was in international waters. Israel has no more claim of right to international waters than I do.

Third: Can you imagine the outrage if the Iranians had boarded a ship in international waters and killed 19 civilians?

Fourth: What did we write several weeks ago? If Israel's most critical objective was beating back the Iranian threat, this takes them in the complete opposite direction with their would-be allies in the Middle East. Turkey, Egypt and Jordan have all pulled their ambassadors from Israel. Their objective is hegemony. Period.

Fifth: How would we react if there was an American among the dead? Just wondering.

Sixth: President Obama is, coincidentally, scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow. This will be a test for Obama's presidency -- will he capitulate to the Kristol/Lieberman/AIPAC forces, or will he make it clear to Netanyahu that such conduct is inhumane, unacceptable and a violation of international law? I hate to take a cheap shot at the president on Memorial Day, but after 16 months of observing Obama, I can't imagine he has the stomach for doing anything outside the box.

Finally: I made my way over to Right Wing News to check out "conservative" reaction to the flotilla attack. (I use parentheses because I'm not sure how reflexive support for anything and everything Israel does makes you Burkean.) They cited reaction from Firedoglike, Daily Kos and others, which was unsurprisingly critical of Israel's attack, and drew the conclusion that such liberals were merely "Jew haters." Seriously. To the folks at RWN, that is precisely why liberals have the gall to criticize Israel -- not because of what Israel actually does, but because they are anti-Zionists in the mold of Iran's Ahmadenijad. For the longest time, that was a classic left-wing trick -- call your opponent names and impugn his motives, so you don't have to argue facts. Now the shoe is on the other foot. I criticize Israel today for the same reason I'd criticize Yemen or Turkey or France or Indonesia. Israel is a strong ally and I hope it stays that way. But that doesn't mean the Israeli government gets to do anything they want -- just like Britain, Germany and every other ally we have, they are subject to international law, and when our interests and theirs diverge, or when their actions don't comport with international law, they deserve rebuke. Period. I take this view because I'm an American whose only loyalties lie with the United States. It's not because I'm a "Jew hater." I mean, this stuff is just absurd.

But the most critical point: The ship was in international waters! In. International. Waters. I'd ask my conservative friends: What are the limits of Israel's sovereignty, if any, if it is allowed to do whatever it wants in international waters?

28 May 2010

Obama's Katrina

Next to Ross Douthat, Peggy Noonan is the best columnist in America. She takes the Obama administration's detachment to task, making the obvious comparison to Katrina, and views the administration's tepid response to the crisis in the Gulf in the larger context of the conservative belief system: When you ask the government to do too many things, it will do none of them well.

What I appreciate about Noonan is that she is authentically, quintessentially American -- she criticizes Obama while not rooting against him. She has no trouble pointing out, as many conservatives seemingly forget, that it is a disaster, in and of itself, to have an American president so publicly weakened by a crisis.

Remember how Bush infamously was heard saying, "Heckuva job, Brownie" to his FEMA chief? It's difficult to see Obama's attendance at a fundraiser for California Sen. Barbara Boxer a week ago, as anything but a reprise of that laughably contemptible detachment. Additionally, Obama's EPA chief somehow found time to attend a fundraiser of his own in New York. The president has made exactly one trip down to the Gulf.

As Noonan points out, Katrina crystallized everything that was wrong with the Bush administration in the public's eyes -- the budget surplus blown to hell, the mismanagement of two wars, the missing WMDs, the perceived incompetence in governing, the skyrocketing debt. The oil spill aggregates the same about Obama's team -- the detachment, the secrecy, the health care debacle, the spending, the blatant, utter hypocrisy in too many areas to count. I don't doubt the president is deeply concerned about the oil spill. But his nonchalant, aloof response is inviting an enormous backlash. He must convince Americans he is passionate about something other than spending their money or lecturing them.

As if the biggest 15-month slide in the 70-year history of public opinion polling wasn't bad enough, the oil spill casts even more of a pall on his increasingly unlikely prospects for re-election.

27 May 2010

The line-item veto, resurrected?

I'm still not sure whether to take Obama's 2008 campaign pledge that he wants to cut the deficit in half seriously. But he deserves a great deal of credit for trying this.

The Supreme Court declared the Line Item Veto Act -- a joint effort by Senate Republicans, led by John McCain, and the Clinton White House -- unconstitutional in 1998. Obama is now seeking "expanded rescission authority,"which wouild allow the president to propose a package of cuts to recently signed spending measures, and force Congress to make an up-or-down vote on those measures. If those cuts are approved by both chambers, they become law. This circumvents the inherent constitutional problem with the line-item veto -- that the president, under the old law, would have essentially been writing spending laws himself.

Yes, the stimulus was an enormous waste of money, and yes, Obama has been just as bad, if not worse, than Bush when it comes to fiscal discipline. Additionally, this proposal doesn't go far enough, as it leaves entitlement spending untouched. But this is an encouraging step in the right direction, and something that no one in the last (allegedly) conservative administration thought of.

This is something Republicans should -- no, have to -- get behind. There is no compelling reason whatsoever to vote against this.

19 May 2010

The end of the line for Snarlin' Arlen

Entering his fourth decade in the Senate, Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat-again Arlen Specter was finally ousted last night by liberal primary challenger Joe Sestak.

At one time -- in the not-so-distant past -- Specter was an increasingly rare breed of politician: A legitimate centrist and principled, independent thinker who gave leadership fits and drew the wrath of the bases of both parties. He was one of the first Republicans to publicly criticize President Bush, drawing the ire of conservatives everywhere. His pseudo-small government mindset and support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars made him deeply unpopular with the Democratic base, who turned out in droves to support Sestak last night.

Specter switched parties last year because of a primary challenger from the right, former Club for Growth President Pat Toomey -- a true-blue conservative. As Toomey's stock rose, GOP leadership avoided giving Specter much support due to his questionable conservative credentials. This obviously was the sole factor informing Specter's decision to become a Democrat in April 2009. Our thoughts at the time can be found here.

After the dust settles, Arlen Specter will undoubtedly be remembered as a tremendous public servant with a distinguished record of independence. However, in the late stages of his career, he became a lap dog for the Obama administration, folding like a tent and voting with the Democrats on virtually every major item of import in an effort to curry favor with party leadership and generate support from the party's liberal base. In an effort to save his career, he compromised his once-legendary independent principles and became a caricature of what's gone so terribly wrong in Washington.

Chris Matthews said it best last night: A politician who changes parties to get re-elected is like the guy who put on a dress to get a seat in a lifeboat.

The Arlen Specter of 1995 was a true original, and an invaluable part of a Senate that requires compromise and civility.

But Americans have no use for the Arlen Specter of 2010.

13 May 2010

More on Kagan

Republicans have a chance to do serious damage to the Obama administration in the upcoming confirmation hearings. Elana Kagan, while I'm sure a nice lady, should be viewed through the same crony-colored glasses as Harriet Miers.

What is Kagan if not an Obama crony? At least Miers was an experienced litigator. I'd venture a guess that I've seen the inside of a courtroom more than Kagan, and I've been practicing law for about 7 months.

We pointed out Tuesday that Kagan hasn't ever -- from the bench, in courtrooms, in the classroom, in scholarly journals, in public speeches or even private conversations -- given anyone an idea of her opinions on any meaningful constitutional issue. What's equally troubling is that we don't know how Kagan thinks of these things. As David Brooks astutely noted, her almost nonexistent scholarly record, plus the paucity of any public statements about anything meaningful, viewed in the context of her lifelong goal to be a Supreme Court justice, indicates a woman who has purposefully and meticulously avoided being tied to any sort of position. She's a blank slate, and that's by design.

And that makes these confirmation hearings all the more important. For the first time in my adult life, we have a nominee who we actually need to learn something from in order to determine whether she is qualified.

The nomination can be skewed another way: Remember when Obama said his next appointee's chief qualification should be "life experience"? By this standard alone, Kagan utterly fails. This is a woman who hails from a well-to-do family in New York's Upper West Side. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Princeton, her law degree from Harvard, taught at the University of Chicago with Obama, and then found a spot in the Clinton White House. After Clinton left office, she returned to Harvard Law, where she became dean. Life experience, Mr. President? In what? Elite liberal institutions?

Obama's standard was unquestionably met by Sotomayor, but Kagan is a different story entirely. This is a woman who has lived a life of incomprehensible privilege, who has stealthily moved her way up the institutional ladder by -- wait for it -- obfuscating her actual views.

What concerns me is not so much that I don't know what Kagan thinks, but rather that I don't know how she thinks, why she thinks the way she does, and most importantly, why she has so carefully avoided letting the public know things for the better part of two decades as she carefully put herself in position for this moment.

Back to the GOP: We will no doubt hear a lot of white noise about Kagan's supposed devotion to the gay rights cause. Frankly, other than the military recruitment episode at Harvard -- which, right or wrong, was echoed by literally thousands of other administrators nationwide -- I can't find a single shred of evidence supporting this charge. This is simple cultural resentment at its most debase. I've read a few too many comments from leading conservatives suggesting that she is an LGBT advocate in sheep's clothing.

Furthermore, the LGBT debate is a red herring. Let's attack the president based purely on his political failure here. Obama has utterly failed by his own standards, enunciated just months ago. He has appointed a career opportunist who has gotten where she is by intentionally taking the path of least resistance and keeping her views shrounded. Conservatives need to go after Kagan for the right reasons.

There's a pattern here.

Cabinet-level appointees who don't pay taxes. Shattering supposedly ironclad ethics rules. Breaking every conceivable campaign promise about bipartisanship. Snarky swipes at the other side during the State of the Union. And now appointing someone like Elana Kagan.

Change, indeed.

11 May 2010

Kagan reaction

Like my reaction to President Obama's Sotomayor pick, I had little or no initial reaction to his pick of Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens.

I've changed my mind.

Sotomayor had a strikingly similar resume to Sam Alito -- a 15-year tenure as an appeals court judge, with really one case (Alito's was the 1992 Casey abortion decision in which he dissented at the appeals level and was struck down by a plurality of the High Court; Sotomayor's was the recent affirmative action/reverse discrimination decision on which she was reversed unanimously) sullying what was otherwise an impressive, thoughtful career on the bench. Both Sotomayor and Alito were derided as extremist shills by the other side, a charge that was true in neither case. In actuality, both were eminently qualified for the Supreme Court. To say either is outside the mainstream of American thought was absurd.

Kagan is different. She seems like a nice woman and an able administrator, but one look at her scant record brings Harriet Miers to mind immediately.

She doesn't have prior judicial experience, which isn't itself a disqualification -- Ted Olson didn't, and was eminently qualified anyway (he was passed over for first Roberts and then Alito). But unlike Olson (and former Chief Justice Rehnquist, who was the last appointee without bench experience) her courtroom resume is paper-thin. She has argued a grand total of 6 cases to the Supreme Court as the administration's solicitor general. Before that, she was dean of the Harvard Law School, served in the Clinton White House Counsel's office (coincidentally, the office Miers ran under Bush from 2005 forward) and was a colleague of Obama's at the University of Chicago. It appears she's not much of a litigator.

Additionally, it doesn't appear that she's given much if any thought to any constitutional questions of any import. She has written a total of five scholarly articles in her career, most of which dealt with technical/procedural matters. After publicly decrying judicial appointees for not making their views clear during the appointment process, this is a woman who has clearly and carefully avoided creating any sort of a paper trail. Much like David Souter in 1990, Kagan is a complete blank slate. The administration has touted her academic record as her primary credential for the Court, but she really doesn't have much of a record. She is much more an administrator than a scholar.

This isn't to say she'll be a bad justice. It seems that she possesses many admirable qualities -- intelligence, thoughtfulness, judiciousness and a friendliness toward those with whom she disagrees (she and Justice Scalia are friends). These are all necessary qualities for a judge at any level. But as many have noted, the administration is asking Americans to trust its judgment, much like President Bush did when nominating Miers in 2005. Frankly, that's insulting coming from a president whose approval ratings have plummeted at a historical rate and who has backtracked on virtually everything he originally campaigned for.

Harriet Miers was both nominated by the administration and then opposed by virtually everyone in Washington because she was a Bush crony. The same ties that we saw five years ago are there now.

Obama picked Kagan because he is trying to avoid a fight -- because she was approved as solicitor general a year ago, he must be figuring that the Democrats won't break ranks now. But I'm trying to figure out what Kagan has actually done to earn the nomination.

04 May 2010

An immigration bill, by adults

Want real immigration reform? Click here.

Thanks to Lindsay Graham and Chuck Schumer, the Senate has taken the lead on what appears to be a strong, commonsense proposal to address the problems posed by our broken borders. In case conservatives are curious, the proposal is 26 pages long; roughly 17 of those pages deal with enforcement.

The highlights:

Border control agents would gain access to Department of Defense equipment.

Installation of high-tech ground sensors across the entire southern border, with ICE agents given the capability to respond to the activation of the sensors in the areas they are patrolling.

"Substantial" increases in the number of border control agents.

The creation of a border patrol auxiliary unit to aid ICE agents.

The Secretary of Homeland Security will be given power to deploy the National Guard to the border.

The creation of a comprehensive electronic entry-exit system that issues alerts when immigrants have overstayed their visas.

DHS "will promptly identify, investigate and initiate removal proceedings against every alien admitted into the United States on a temporary nonimmigrant visa who exceeds his or her period of authorized admission beyond a specified period or otherwise violates any terms of the alien's nonimmigrant status."

The issuance of new, biometric Social Security cards to allow electronic authentication of work credentials. Employers hiring workers will be required to verify an employee's legal ability to work by participating in this new federal system. The kicker: "Within five years of the date of enactment, the fraud-proof Social Security card will serve as the sole acceptable document to be produced by an employee to an employer for employment verification purposes." The bill promises the biometric cards will be used as proof of right to work and not citizenship, but we'll see ...

Penalties for hiring undocumented/unverified workers will be increased by 300 percent.

The bill has a number of provisions encouraging the influx of highly skilled workers, encouraging foreign nationals who obtain a college degree in the U.S. to stay and work in America.

Like the 2005 Senate bill, Graham/Schumer requires all illegal immigrants to come forward and register. (This will no doubt evoke cries from the right of "amnesty," but like before, that's not entirely accurate.) The ostensible idea of this provision is to encourage illegals to assimilate into American society as law-abiding, tax-paying individuals, but enforcement of this provision does not appear to be addressed very thoroughly in the proposal. Illegals who have criminal convictions or otherwise threaten national security will be denied. Illegals who are granted some sort of "lawful" temporary status must wait an additional eight years to be deemed "lawful permanent residents." In order to qualify for such status, however, these individuals must demonstrate English language skills, satisfactorily pass background checks (including ones that evaluate potential ties with terrorism), have paid all taxes and registered with Selective Service. (This is similar to the "path to citizenship" in McCain/Kennedy that conservatives claimed was tantamount to "amnesty.")

As a result of the comprehensive federal legislation, states and municipalities would be expressly preempted (read: barred) from enacting their own immigration laws.

What my fellow conservatives need to understand is that no bill that comes through Congress will be perfect. Inevitably, Mitch McConnell will find something wrong with it and try to convince you that it's deeply flawed and not worthy of passage. I personally think the new biometric Social Security card is a bit Orwellian -- I'd suggest to Sens. Schumer and Graham that they rethink this proposal. The provision dealing with the 11 million illegals currently in the U.S. admittedly needs more teeth, but laws are already on the books to deport illegals who are picked up. This is precisely what ICE agents do anyway.

Look, conservatives -- Congress will never, ever pass legislation that immediately sets ICE agents on a scavenger hunt for 11 million people. It's not politically palatable, so just drop it. ICE doesn't have the resources to do this, unless you'd prefer that all ICE agents leave the border and all local law enforcement in border states ignore their normal duties and devote their time exclusively to rounding up illegals. It is legitimate to have a quibble with Graham/Schumer's "path to citizenship" -- and truth be told, I'd rather it not be a part of the bill -- but you need to think for yourselves whether the rest of the bill is worth it. Because I think it is. Our immigration system has been far too broken for far too long. It's time to act, even with a flawed bill on the table.

You have two choices: Pass this bill, or maintain the status quo.