Sunday, October 5, 2008

best i've found on the vp debate

Cif America

Flirting her way to victory

Sarah Palin's farcical debate performance lowered the standards for both female candidates and US political discourse

Sarah Palin, winking

Sarah Palin winks during the vice-presidential debate on Thursday in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

At least three times last night, Sarah Palin, the adorable, preposterous vice-presidential candidate, winked at the audience. Had a male candidate with a similar reputation for attractive vapidity made such a brazen attempt to flirt his way into the good graces of the voting public, it would have universally noted, discussed and mocked. Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

In pronouncing upon a debate, they don't try and determine whether a candidate's responses correspond to existing reality, or whether he or she is capable of talking about subjects such as the deregulation of the financial markets or the devolution of the war in Afghanistan. The criteria are far more vaporous. In this case, it was whether Palin could avoid utterly humiliating herself for 90 minutes, and whether urbane commentators would believe that she had connected to a public that they see as ignorant and sentimental. For the Alaska governor, mission accomplished.

There is indeed something mesmerising about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm. The force of her personality managed to slightly obscure the insulting emptiness of her answers last night. It's worth reading the transcript of the encounter, where it becomes clearer how bizarre much of what she said was. Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden's comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush's policies:

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain on taxes, the economy, and patriotism?

"The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State, because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government. Not only should he recognize this obligation in the way he leads his daily life and in the way he earns and spends his money, but it should also be recognized by the way in which he pays for the protection the States gives him."

"As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government."

"The inheritance tax . . . is both a far better method of taxation, and far more important for the purpose of having the fortunes of the country bear in proportion to their increase in size a corresponding increase and burden of taxation. The Government has the absolute right to decide as to the terms upon which a man shall receive a bequest or devise from another, and this point in the devolution of property is especially appropriate for the imposition of a tax. . . . No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood."

Perhaps Senator McCain could speak to these remarks by his professed hero, Teddy Roosevelt?

Friday, August 1, 2008

A question for Service Nation

How might we best instill the value of citizen service early in life, develop commitment and helping skills in the course of development, and reinforce and enable all of these over the course of a lifetime? What should we expect from our public schools, colleges and professional schools, workplaces, unions and professional associations? What can local, state, and federal government do to enable and encourage greater and more effective participation?

My father, a much decorated veteran of WWII, died and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery last year. In the aftermath of his death (during the Jewish shiva period), the family located and watched an aging video of him, in which he spoke about the need for (preferably universal) national and community service to bring our nation together. He was inspired by JFK's inaugural call to service, and passed that on to the next generation. It is one of the things I will most remember about him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Long Run - As a Professor, Obama Enthralled Students and Puzzled Faculty - Series -
"“On the national level, bipartisanship usually means Democrats ignore the needs of the poor and abandon the idea that government can play a role in issues of poverty, race discrimination, sex discrimination or environmental protection,” Mr. Obama said."...

Nor could his views be gleaned from law review articles or other scholarship; Mr. Obama has never published any. He was too busy, but also, Mr. Epstein believes, he was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically, as Ms. Guinier’s writings had hurt her.

“He figured out, you lay low,” Mr. Epstein said.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Love or Tough Love, Both Worthless Without Understanding; Nicholas Kristof Actually Understands Nothing About Israel ... or the Palestinians - The Spine

From my posting on the New Republic blog, in response to Marty Peretz:

I think Kristof's two recent columns on Israel/Palestine were among his worst ever. While my preference is for more judicious and less incendiary rhetoric than typical in this space, I would term them obtuse.

That said, the repeated invocations of Palestinian and Arab attitudes toward the 1949 cease fire lines seems to me tedious and, at this point, unpersuasive. Attitudes change over time, and the experience of the past 40 years, not to speak of changing geopolitical realities, allow for realism to sink in, despite the residual presence of more grandiose expectations. This has happened on the Israeli side: relatively few Israelis outside the minority of messianic types realistically aspire to a restoration of the Davidic boundaries, and most accept the presence of a Palestinian people (now, despite continuing arguments about the past), and the ultimate likelihood of some kind of Palestinian state. I have little doubt that many Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims wish that Israel never existed, or would go away; still, there is substantial evidence that many (including the leadership elites) have concluded, however reluctantly, that Israel is a fixture in the contemporary Middle East, and that some form of acceptance of that reality is a practical necessity for the foreseeable future.

If Israel is to flourish as more than a fortress state, and to pursue aspirations beyond survival (and that survival is, for me, of ultimate importance as a committed Jew and lover of both Israel and Judaism), it must accept that the pursuit of a practicable peace will entail certain risks (as does continuing the status quo). Certain risks, while unpleasant and sometimes tragic, are not incompatible with the secure existance and survival of the Israeli State as a Jewish and democratic state. Projections based on a tendentious reading of pre-Six Days War realities ("After all, the Six Days War was initiated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan..." ) into the 21st century seem more about polemics than problem solving in our current, importantly changed reality.

It is perhaps worth adding that genuine moves toward a tolerable peace are the best, and perhaps the sole, method of changing attitudes of the coming generation in a more positive direction. There are, of course, no guarantees in this world, but continuing the current course bears risks of its own.

It is time to move past the willful stupidities of the Kristof column and the associated polemics, and toward a more constructive dialogue.

Alan J. Weisbard (blogging as The Wise Bard)

Iowa Rally Protests Raid and Conditions at Plant -

The Rubashkin family is, sadly, a disgrace to Jews everywhere. That such people are the source of much of our ("kosher" ) food is unacceptable in multiple respects. That generally accepted standards for kashrut tolerate unfair and unsafe working conditions, environmental degradation, respect for animals and all God's creatures, and the other sins against abiding Jewish ethical values is intolerable. Kudos to all those working to upgrade standards for kashrut and to hold those entrusted with responsibility for producing and certifying our food to standards worthy of trust and respect from all corners of the Jewish world.
"“The high number of illegal people who were working here is more a testimony to the quality of their deceit, of their papers,” Getzel Rubashkin said. He said the company did not criticize immigration authorities for the raid.

“Obviously some of the people here were presenting false documents,” Getzel Rubashkin said. “Immigration authorities somehow picked it up and they did what they are supposed to do, they came and picked them up. God bless them for it.”"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How much does John McCain really know about foreign policy? - By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine

By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine:

"That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to 'the Iraq-Pakistan border,' or call the Czech Republic 'Czechoslovakia' (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

But, of course, it was Obama's opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chimp’s Sex Calls May Reflect Calculation -

Though human vocalizations during intercourse have not been much studied, they do have “a quite elaborate acoustical structure, which suggests some kind of communicative function,” said Dr. Townsend, who is at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Copulation calls are not a feature of public life in Western societies,...

New MoveOn ad

Monday, June 16, 2008

Big City - A Young Man From Omaha, Who May Perfectly Represent Brooklyn
...Thanks to his Egyptian father, who left the family when Yosef was young, and his maternal grandfather, who was of African descent by way of Panama, Yosef looks African-American (though his family prefers to describe themselves as Jews of color, believing their culture to be exclusively Jewish). Yosef moved to Crown Heights only a year ago, until then having lived in Omaha, where his mother’s maternal family, German Jewish merchants, had settled several generations earlier. ...

Yosef was obviously sheltered from too much scrutiny from the outside world, but the surprising combination of his race and his particular form of religious observance fazed no one in Omaha — for all the average person knew in Omaha, all Hasidic Jews were of African descent, his mother said. When friends from Nebraska first visited New York, they were fascinated to meet some white Hasids for the first time.

Bahrain names Jewish ambassador

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Bahrain names Jewish ambassador:
Bahrain's king has appointed a Jewish woman as the country's envoy to the United States.

Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country 'first of all as a Bahraini' and that she was not chosen for the post because of her religion.

She is believed to be the Arab world's first Jewish ambassador.

Ms Nonoo, 43, has served as a legislator in Bahrain's 40-member Shura Council for three years and is head of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch.

'It is a great honour to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge,' Ms Nonoo told the Associated Press news agency.

Her family is originally from Iraq, having moved to Bahrain over a century ago.

Bahrain has one of the world's oldest and smallest Jewish communities. It was, at one time, home to as many as 1,500 Jews. Today the community has a synagogue and numbers around 50 people....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Kosher??? From Arthur Waskow:

Unkosher meat, unkosher politics

The Rubashkin meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which has been the biggest supplier of allegedly kosher meat in America, has violated many moral, ethical, and legal codes of conduct -- American and Jewish. It has tortured the animals it is supposed to kill painlessly and has exploited its workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants who were fearful of complaining. It has even had the chutzpah to collect union dues from some workers and then pocket the money instead of passing it on to the unions.

Rubashkin is under serious criticism from major parts of the Jewish community. Yet even some who have called for a boycott of this unkosher meat have praised the Rubashkin family's "charitable" donations. Leave aside the fact that any such donations come from the super-profits made possible by oppressing humans and animals alike; when I asked for evidence of those charities, I was told only they were claimed by those within the family's (Lubavitch) community , and that some signers of the boycott call would not sign without it.

Finally the Federal government has stepped in.

To do what? To imprison hundreds of allegedly undocumented workers and - with rare precedent - to charge hundreds with criminal offenses rather than, as usual in such situations, simply deporting them. As for the owners - so far, no action at all.

Perhaps this failure of Federal authorities to act against the wealthy violators while destroying the lives of the powerless workers is rooted in the conventional deference to the rich. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Rubashkin family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one political party - the one that happens to be running the Federal government at the moment. (Maybe these are the undocumented charitable contributions?)

In any case, this needs to change. I hope that many many of you our readers, of ALL religious and ethical traditions and beliefs, will write your local newspapers not only to support a boycott of this meat - unkosher in every sense - but also to press that Federal authorities take vigorous action against the owners to the full extent of the law, while dropping criminal charges against workers caught in this oppressive bind.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Welcome to Lebanon--Paris of the Middle East

Hezbollah’s Actions Ignite Sectarian Fuse in Lebanon - New York Times:

“He who pushes our faces in the dirt must be confronted, even if that means sacrificing our lives and shedding blood.” ...

On the way to a funeral on May 10 for one of the young Sunni men killed during the battles, mourners walked in a procession while chanting, “Shiites are the enemies of God.”

As the pallbearers approached a store owned by a Shiite man, some mourners rushed in and urged the man to close it out of respect. He refused, and the mourners began smashing his windows with rocks and chairs. Enraged, the man got his AK-47 assault rifle and began firing into the crowd, killing two mourners and wounding others.

As terrified mourners ran from the scene, the funeral procession turned into a sectarian riot, with Sunnis angrily destroying every store owned by Shiites in the neighborhood.

Get your programs here --you can't tell the players without a scorecard.

Einstein: Take Two

New York Times:

"Trying to distinguish between a personal God and a more cosmic force, Einstein described himself as an “agnostic” and “not an atheist,” which he associated with the same intolerance as religious fanatics. “They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium for the people’ — cannot bear the music of the spheres.”

The problem of God, he said, “is too vast for our limited minds.”"

Einstein Letter on God Sells for $404,000

New York Times:

[Einstein] wrote that “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

As for his fellow Jews, he said that Judaism, like all other religions, was “an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

He claimed a deep affinity with the Jewish people, he said, but “as far as my experience goes they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Shabbat shalom, Albert.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How Obama and McCain define each other.

By John Dickerson - Slate Magazine:

"When asked to respond to McCain's charge about Ahmadinejad, one of Obama's senior advisers simply forwarded a comment by Defense Secretary Robert Gates from today's Washington Post. 'We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage,' said Gates, 'and then sit down and talk with them. If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us.'"

Trailhead: President's Questions

Trailhead: "McCain’s Best Idea Yet
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:52 PM by Christopher Beam

John McCain’s speech on his vision for America [has] one nugget of genuine inspiration:

'My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.'"

Responding to James Kirchick on AIPAC and J Street

Street Cred? by James Kirchick
| Posted by Alan J. Weisbard
37 of 38 | warn tnr | respond
The overwhelmingly ad hominem quality of both the principal argument and many of the comments suggests the weakness of much of the associated thinking/analysis, if one can call it that. I have spent considerable time in Israel, love and cherish it, and strongly support its security and flourishing. I believe many in the Palestinian and larger Arab worlds would, if they had their druthers (and were not otherwise constrained), do away with the State of Israel. That goes triple for Hamas. The serious question is, what follows from all of the above? Certainly, those who care urgently about the security of Israel and Israelis must think hard (and do more than thinking) about how that objective is best pursued in a very dangerous neighborhood. But the notion that Likud, or AIPAC, has a direct and excusive line to divine revelation on that question is far from self-evident to me. It is not evident to me that the building and thickening of hard to defend settlements in the midst of Arab populations in the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) contributes to Israeli security and flourishing. It is not evident to me that the caging of Palestinians within ugly walls, and the squeezing of their economy and ability to travel within the West Bank, exacerbating long-standing hatreds and passing them on through successive generations, contributes to the long-term prospect of Israeli flourishing. It is not evident to me that recalcitrant policies and actions that alienate Israel from much of the world, including nations with which Israel seeks to identify and engage with, contributes to the long-term prospect of Israeli flourishing. AIPAC's approach has varied over the decades. There were certainly moments, when Israeli policy inclined toward participation in the peace process, that AIPAC was supportive of Israeli peace policy. But in recent years, AIPAC has increasingly developed its own foreign policy, identifying with the most right wing tendencies in Israeli debate. AIPAC no longer supports policies consistent with the center of gravity in Israeli thought, and has long since departed from the views of many American Jews on the best paths to peace and security for Israel. It is still early to know precisely what paths J Street will take as it develops. For the moment, it seems to me more likely to represent a promising path toward the long-term security and flourishing of the Israel that I love than does AIPAC, which has become a n unrepresentative tool of a narrow faction of American Jewish thinking (and money). It is time for a broad based alternative more acceptable to (and more representative of) much of Israeli and American Jewish thinking on how best to secure the future of Israel. I have joined J Street and hope for its success. This is not the time to be writing its obituary.
Alan J. Weisbard

Responding to Michelle Cottle on Hillary's Campaign

THE NEW REPUBLIC | Article: The New Republic
What Went Wrong?
by Michelle Cottle

| Posted by Alan J. Weisbard
103 of 116 | warn tnr | respond
This article provides compelling evidence of why HRC did not deserve to win, and pretty strong evidence that she would make a poor president (albeit a better one than most of her Republican competitors). First, while there is lots of regret that Hillary's campaign did not attack Obama earlier and stronger, there appears to be zero recognition of Obama's strengths as a leader, and of the brilliance of his campaign. It's all about Hillary and her people, and the failure to achieve that which she was entitled to. The circular firing squad is indeed the lasting metaphor for her campaign. Very little sign of that in Obama's campaign. That tells you something, and something important. Second, there is virtually no reflection to be found on the substance of Hillary's positions as a Senator, and during her campaign. It is all political positioning, lacking in authenticity and conviction. Sadly, that goes to much of the substance of her failures as a Senator and party leader (on the war in Iraq, on Iran, and on too much else), as well as to failures of her campaign. Count me as one great supporter (even more of HRC than of Bill) from 1992 who has become utterly disillusioned over the ensuing years. Third, the Clinton campaign offered no serious explanation of how her Presidency would get us past the political deadlock of the past 16 years. Too much about herself, too little about what she has learned, if anything, from the enormous hatred she and her husband have evoked from much of the country (beyond the vast right wing conspiracy alone), far too little on building a progressive movement for change and figuring out how to move beyond her base to win the confidence and trust of a broader swath of the American people. Obama did that brilliantly (despite an all out effort by the HRC campaign to subvert it); the Clinton campaign provided no positive vision. To an alarming extent, the HRC campaign evoked some of the worst qualities of Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush. That is not the way to win a change election, or to elicit support from those of us hoping, and willing to work, for a better future. It is a sad truth of American politics that by and large, American voters get what they deserve. In this case, the HRC campaign reaps what it has sown. It is a sad end to an American story of once blinding promise--and, I hope, the beginning of an even more promising American story. Alan J. Weisbard (blogging at

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Letters: Finding Obama guilty of insufficient devotion to Israel - Salon

Salon: Nonsensical stereotypes

I have a mixed, and not particularly admiring, opinion of Glenn Greenwald on Salon. I often find him guilty of simplistic, stereotypic characterizations of more complex realities; rarely do I learn much new (or hear much surprising) from his column, even when we share adversaries.

Here is a response to his recent piece on Israel and the American Jewish community, as well as to some of the commentators on his column:

Nonsensical stereotypes

I am a strong "friend of Israel" who also strongly supports Obama for the Presidency.

The long-term safety and flourishing of Israel is, for me, a significant issue, but one among others. Most American Jews have long favored a progressive domestic agenda, including civil liberties and civil rights, religious freedom and separation of church and state, a strong social safety net--policies compatible with Jewish tradition (and, perhaps not incidentally, compatible with the success Jews have achieved in American life), and strongly reflected in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Senator Obama is excellent on these issues, and offers the best prospect of advancing them in American life after years of political division.

Anyone knowledgable about Israeli life understands the vigorous, lively debate about politics and policy that is a constant feature of Israeli discourse. There is an Israeli right wing, to be sure, but its views capture the support of only a minority of Israelis (or of Israeli Jews). The tendency of some American supporters of Israel (often self-appointed, or appointed by virtue of their financial status rrather than any representational legitimacy) to insist on American support of Likud/right-wing (or American neoconservative) opinions misrepresents the center of gravity in both Israel and the American Jewish community. Many of us believe in the necessity of a strong American role in encouraging steps toward a peaceful two state solution, not least to cut through the clog of domestic Israeli (and Palestinian) political cultures.

In precisely that sense, a President Obama is likely to prove a far better, and more far-sighted "friend of Israel" than has been President Bush, or would likely be a President McCain.

Jews with knowledge, or personal memories, of the world's willingness to tolerate Hitler's "final solution" are rightly apprehensive of potential threats, such as that now posed by Iran, to the security of Israel and of Jews everywhere. It does not follow that an unremittingly bellicose and aggressive response from an American leader is necessarily the wisest policy. Once again, a President Obama may prove more adroit in meeting this challenge to both American and Israeli interests, and in recreating international respect for America's good offices on the international scene.

We would all be better off with less stereotyping and a broader, as well as better informed, discussion of these issues.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fierce Fighting Breaks Out East of Beirut - New York Times

New York Times:

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Fierce clashes broke out on Sunday in the mountains east of Beirut between supporters of the Western-backed government and followers of Hezbollah, the militant group backed by Iran. ...

Ah, the pleasures of a Middle-Eastern multinational state. Surely an excellent model for a unitary Israel/Palestine.

Especially since the virtually all-Muslim Sunni/Shi'a/Kurdish communities are doing so well in democratic Iraq.

Edwards Raises Doubts About Clinton’s Chances - New York Times

New York Times:

"...Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said on CNN that this was “one more clear example of a person that’s out of his depth when it comes to being the leader of the free world.”"
He should certainly know about being out of one's depth...

Edwards Raises Doubts About Clinton’s Chances - New York Times

New York Times:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who has endorsed Mr. McCain, assailed Mr. Obama for reacting in what he called an “undeserved and somewhat intemperate” way after Mr. McCain pointed out repeatedly that a Hamas spokesman had said he would welcome Obama’s election.

“The fact that a spokesman for Hamas has said he would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question of why,” Mr. Lieberman said on CNN. Hamas, he contended, is a proxy of Iran.

Mr. McCain had said that “I think it’s very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States,” referring to Mr. Obama, and added, “I think that people should understand that I would be Hamas’s worst nightmare.”

Whatever else one might say about Hamas, or Al Qaida, or Osama, they do not appear to be stupid. One can fairly presume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the policies pursued by GWB since 9/11, with more of the same promised by McCain, have contributed more to recruiting terrorists for them than recruits (or friends) for the US military. It would seem likely to me that they would be capable of calculating the impact of their "endorsement" of a US political figure in an American election. The only folks incapable of seeing through that are, as P.T. Barnum might have suggested, a segment of the American voting public. To which one might add, right wing talk show hosts and such far-seeing politicians as suck-up Joe Lieberman.

Edwards Raises Doubts About Clinton’s Chances - New York Times

New York Times:
"With Mr. Obama appearing ever more likely to face off against Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. McCain’s surrogates took to the Sunday morning news programs to level some of their toughest attacks. Mitt Romney, who lost his fight with Mr. McCain for the Republican nomination but now strongly backs him, said Mr. Obama was “clearly out of his depth.”"

So would Mitt Romney recognize depth if he sank in it?
There us one guy who could be mortally wounded by a paper cut.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tell Congress to get serious about fair elections

National Campaign For Fair Elections :

On Tuesday, a group of retired nuns in South Bend, Indiana were turned away from a polling place by sisters from their own convent because, at 80 and 90 years of age, they no longer have the photo ID’s required by an Indiana law recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The story has received a lot of attention but the truth is, the problem with our elections isn’t voter fraud. It’s the barriers that have been erected to the ballot box, both intentionally and unintentionally, like deception and intimidation, under-trained poll workers, defective voter registration systems, and breakdowns in election machinery. It’s time for Congress to get serious about fair elections – and get to work.

Tell your members of congress to address the real problems with our democracy by supporting The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, and the Caging Prohibition Act.

McCain’s Vote in 2000 Is Revived in a Ruckus

New York Times:
"Ms. Huffington, the liberal blogger, said she had heard Mr. McCain say at a Los Angeles dinner party shortly after the 2000 election that he had not voted for the president he has now publicly embraced in his own quest for the White House. The McCain campaign swiftly quashed the account and said Ms. Huffington had a book to promote and would make anything up.

“She’s a flake and a poser and an attention-seeking diva,” Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest aides, told The Washington Post."

All of that is likely true, but it does not itself constitute much of a denial.
Of course, McCain could have been lying to the Hollywood folks at the party.
So like much in politics, the question resolves to, "Was he lying then, or is he lying now?"
One wouldn't want to exclude prematurely the possibility of both.

Michael Walzer on Israel at 60

APN :: Recommended Readings:

"Over many years, Western Liberals and Leftists have not had great success at foreign policy. Their strength lies at home, and many of them probably believe that the best foreign policy is a democratic and egalitarian domestic policy. I wish that my friends in Israel could be good liberals and leftists in this old fashioned way. I wish that they could focus their energies over the next decades on reducing the inequalities of Israeli society, improving the quality of state education, separating religion and politics, addressing the rift between Israeli Jews and Arabs, facing up to environmental problems. Surely some of them will work on these and other internal issues some of the time, and so they should. But the hard truth is that the major challenge facing Israel at 60 won't be solved even by the best imaginable domestic policy.

The major challenge, as everyone knows, has to do with war and peace—but also, more specifically, given Hezbollah rocketry in the summer of 2006 and the daily rocketing of Sderot, it has to do with physical security. Israel is immensely strong and immensely vulnerable, and that combination is very hard to think about." ...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

As Executions Resume, So Do Questions of Fairness

New York Times:

"John Holdridge, director of the A.C.L.U. Capital Punishment Project, which provided representation for Mr. Jones, said the successful appeals showed that the problem with the death penalty was not the method of execution — the issue ruled on by the Supreme Court last month — but instead “poor people getting lousy lawyers.”

“All these states are gearing up to start executing people again, and nobody seems to be concerned about these systemic problems,” Mr. Holdridge said."

After 60 Years, Arabs in Israel Are Outsiders - New York Times

New York Times:

"For most Israelis, Jewish identity is central to the nation, the reason they are proud to live here, the link they feel with history. But Israeli Arabs, including the most successfully integrated ones, say a new identity must be found for the country’s long-term survival."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Panel Subpoenas Close Cheney Aide - New York Times

Panel Subpoenas Close Cheney Aide - New York Times:

...The panel, the House Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, took the action at a hearing on Tuesday. During the session, law professors called for a full investigation by Congress or by an independent commission of the adoption of the harsh techniques.

Philippe Sands, a British law professor and author of a new book on the approval of coercive interrogation by high-level American military officials, “Torture Team,” said that if no such inquiry took place in the United States, foreign prosecutors might seek to charge American officials with authorizing torture. He said two foreign prosecutors, whom he did not name, had asked him for the materials on which his book is based.

“If the U.S. doesn’t address this, other countries will,” Mr. Sands said....

Marty Peretz on Hillary's common touch


...The leader also inspires followers. How's this for civilized political discourse? 'She makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy,' said one of her endorsers, Governor Michael F. Easley. I thought we Democrats don't talk like that any more. Or another revealing citation, this one from a labor leader also endorsing Hillary, praising her 'testicular fortitude.' My God, and I had just about stopped using the word 'seminal.'

This degradation of discourse and behavior is part and parcel of her attempt at appearing like what she thinks of as common. Is this the learning she envisions in 'It Takes a Village'? It certainly isn't what she called eons ago 'the politics of meaning.'...

Using race to divide us :

Does Clinton really think that Obama is unpatriotic or racist or divisive? If so, she should say that directly and let him defend himself against the charge. But we all know that is not her personal belief; Wright is just another loaded code word or phrase, like 'welfare queen.' Clinton is using him to divide; to gain political advantage among white Democrats, even at the expense of offending or turning off many African-Americans, one of the Democratic Party's most loyal blocs of voters.

Clinton's husband did the same thing in 1993, when he unceremoniously dumped Lani Guinier after nominating her to be assistant attorney general for civil rights. Guinier was attacked by right-wing Republicans as a 'quota queen' because of some things she had written about voting rights that were intended to move us beyond racial politics and force coalition-building among voters based on shared interests, not race....

More important, however, nothing that Wright has said has anything to do with whether Obama should be president. The fact that Clinton has so aggressively exploited Wright in her campaign is only a reflection of her unfitness to be a president who unites us.

Even if she were nominated by the Democrats and elected president, her personal triumph would have been at the cost of four more years of political and likely racial divisiveness. That seems too high a price to pay, for the Democrats or the country.

(James E. Coleman Jr. is a professor at Duke University's law school.)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Gidi Grinstein on Zionism

...The secret of Zionism—the resilience of Zionism—is its ideological agility. Zionism has been driven by… ideas that are inconsistent with each other. So Zionism has been and remains a balancing act.

First I'd like to give you the concept. If there was rigidity in Zionism, there would be no way Zionism could survive the tremendous turmoil of the last sixty or seventy years. But these ideas are not in a hierarchy with each other--they are on a platform, they have equal footing and in every window of time there is a realignment of these ideas to meet the challenges of the day with new priorities.

What are these ideas? First there is the commitment to a special place on the face of this Earth—the land of Israel, the cradle of our civilization. The second big idea was about security for Jews. The third was about the well being of Jews. Not necessarily about wealth but more about economic independence, economic self determination. Then it was a whole nexus of ideas about humanism, liberalism, democracy. The Zionist movement since its inception has been democratic to a fault. That is still reflected and projected into the Knesset, which is a highly ineffective body.

It was about leadership among the family of nations—tikkun olam—repairing the world. It was about being light unto the nations, and the quest to create a model society. It has been about the Jewish character of the state of Israel—which means its language, its national day of rest, the Shabbat, its national holidays. This is the only place on the face of this earth where Jews experience being a majority. We assume full responsibility. This is a radically different existence than being a minority—as economically and politically powerful as a minority can be. Here we take care of sewage, we're responsible for security.


From The Atlantic, by Jeffrey Goldberg:

"David Grossman, like most of Israel’s leftists, sees binationalism as simultaneously utopian and dismissive of Jewish feelings. “You know, binationalism doesn’t work in so many places in the world,” he said. “You see it in Belgium now. And they expect, with this really hateful combination of Jews and Arabs, that it will succeed here? It’s so wrong. Part of the cure for the historical distortions of both peoples is that they need a place of their own with defined borders. We have to heal separately. I’m a little suspicious of these people who would experiment on us with binationalism.”

Reality, he said, has made a Jewish state necessary. “Since the world has failed to defend Jewish existence, there is a need for a place for the Jews to implement their culture and their values and their language and their history, a place in which to recover.”"

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bill Moyers on Wright and Obama

...Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions, or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy; this is wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it? Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this ? this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said "beware the terrible simplifiers".

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Jeff Greenfield on Obama and Orwell

From Slate:

..."Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, is a way out [of the worldwide depression,]" Orwell writes. "It would at least ensure our getting enough to eat, even if it deprived us of everything else. Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already." And yet, he adds, "the average thinking person nowadays is merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to Socialism. … Socialism … has about it something inherently distasteful—something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking it its support."

One key to the movement's lack of popularity, Orwell argues, is its supporters. "As with the Christian religion," he writes, "the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents." Then he wheels out the heavy rhetorical artillery. The typical socialist, according to Orwell, "is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism, or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler, and often with vegetarian leanings … with a social position he has no intention of forfeiting. … One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'Socialism' and 'Communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England." (Think "organic food lover," "militant nonsmoker," and "environmentalist with a private jet" for a more contemporary list.)...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Iran Protests to U.N. About Clinton Comments

New York Times:

"On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran told reporters during a trip to New Delhi, the Indian capital, that he believed that neither Mrs. Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama, the other Democratic presidential candidate, had a chance of winning the election.

“Do you think a black candidate would be allowed to be president in the U.S.?” he asked, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. “We don’t think Mr. Obama will be allowed to become the U.S. president.”"

Cubans Buy First Computers In Latest Change

New York Times:

"They saved for four years in hopes of one day getting a computer and, at the end, needed a loan from his sister to make it possible.

Amanda...will not be using the computer to surf the Internet, which is still not available for most Cubans.

'We don't have Internet. We don't have a telephone,' Fresnedo said."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

For Exxon Mobil, $10.9 Billion Profit Disappoints -

From The New York Times:
Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that its first-quarter net income rose 17 percent, boosted by surging oil prices.

But even as it posted the second-most profitable quarter in its history, Exxon’s earnings managed to disappoint investors... Shares closed down $3.37, to $89.70, on a day the Dow industrial average rose 189.87 points. ...

UF to scan student, faculty e-mail in admissions leak

From The Gainesville Sun :

The University of Florida has launched a privacy investigation, looking for students and faculty members who may have leaked confidential information about a controversial admissions decision.

UF's Privacy Office is questioning members of UF's Medical Selection Committee and also searching through student and faculty e-mail for evidence of illegal disclosures of private student information, according to officials. ...

The investigation launched by UF is in part the result of stories that ran in The Sun in April, discussing the admission of a student who did not have the support of the committee that traditionally handles admissions decisions.

The student, Benjamin Mendelsohn, did not have basic qualifications, having never taken the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, according to three members of the selection committee and two other sources close to the situation.

Mendelsohn is the son of a major Republican fundraiser, and a prior application he sent to UF's medical school contained letters of recommendation from Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

Dr. Bruce Kone, dean of UF's College of Medicine, says he overruled the committee because the student was 'exceptional.'

[AJW: That the student, and the circumstances, are "exceptional" goes without saying in circumstances like these. The more interesting question is the respect in which they are exceptional. And launching a blunderbuss investigation of everyone's email is a sure recipe for notoriety and humiliation of the institution and its "quite exceptional" dean. Or maybe everyone in Florida is utterly without shame on such matters?]

And from an April 10 story, same journalist and newspaper:

Dr. Lewis Baxter, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience in the college, has called on Machen to allow for the Faculty Senate to conduct an independent review of Mendelsohn's credentials to determine how he stacked up against other applicants.

In response to an e-mail from Baxter requesting an independent Faculty Senate inquiry, [UF President] Machen said he was satisfied with the student's credentials and hoped his own assessment would "suffice."

Absent an independent vetting, however, Baxter says he's not satisfied that UF can assure the public that Kone didn't play favorites with a student whose family is politically connected.

"Like Sen. Joe McCarthy, Dean Kone won't show the evidence; he just asserts he has it, and demands others accept his assertion," Baxter wrote in an e-mail.

"This whole thing stinks like a rotten fish, and the university just can't afford this," added Baxter, who completed his undergraduate degree at Yale University and his medical degree at UF. "We just can't appear this way."

Baxter added that he was disappointed his colleagues haven't spoken out publicly about the issue.

"The faculty here, some of them could care less, and a lot of them are just scared," he said.

Several faculty members who contacted The Sun said they feared what might happen to their careers if they were publicly critical of the dean's actions. As evidenced by his Friday e-mail, Kone has openly criticized those with whom he disagrees - even [President] Machen's own staff.

And yet another:

"Two plus two equals five for
sufficiently large values of two."

From another friend:

"You Can Never Be Lost If You Don't Care Where You Are"

From a friend:

"There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who
understand binary and those who don't."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gay Men Breaking Ground at a Jewish Seminary

New York Times:

"While the centrist Conservative denomination in its middle-of-the-road way operates with three different policies on ordaining gay men and lesbians — two opposed and one in favor — the facts have been established, probably irreversibly. Even before J.T.S. made its decision, the Conservative movement’s other major seminary, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, had done so.

Conservative Judaism reached a similar juncture a generation ago when it first admitted women as candidates for the rabbinate. Mr. Weininger was born in the same year, 1985, when J.T.S. ordained its first female rabbi, Amy Eilberg. In the months just before he won admission to the seminary, he happened to bump into Rabbi Eilberg at a synagogue in Jerusalem and solicited her advice.

“I encouraged him to remember that since he is a pioneer, some people will project onto him feelings and assumptions that they have about ‘the cause,’ ” Rabbi Eilberg recalled of their conversation in an e-mail message. “As hard as it is not to take others’ criticisms and attacks personally — since they are personal — it is essential to work at remembering that this is about the larger issue.”"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Borowitz on "The Great Debate"

Gibson Trounces Stephanopolous in Crucial Debate

Asks Twice as Many ‘Gotcha’ Questions as TV Rival

In what many considered a must-win contest for the two ABC News personalities, Charles Gibson handed rival George Stephanopolous a resounding defeat in last night’s televised debate.

With over ten million viewers watching, the stakes were high for the two ABC rivals to see who could pepper the candidates with the most so-called “gotcha” questions.

Gibson drew blood first, smothering the presidential candidates with so many trick questions that he immediately seemed to put Stephanopolous on the defensive.

An aide to Gibson later summed up the secret to the ABC anchor’s decisive victory: “He didn’t let the candidates talk too much, and he made sure that this debate would be about Charles Gibson and nothing but Charles Gibson.”

The clear losers: ABC News and the American public.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary, quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel

Unintelligible sentence of the week

Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell: Sheila Weller’s ‘Girls Like Us’ Weaves a Tapestry of Rock Queens - New York Times: By Janet Maslin
"At long last it’s time to acknowledge that even if women who enjoyed “that glamorous little wedge” of early 1970s feminism — “between the fiercely anti-‘sex object’ early feminism and the so-called padded-shoulder ‘power suit’ feminism of later years” — would have cited Billie Holiday as a great female artist, it was Ms. Simon “whose life and issues more closely matched most of their own.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Michelle Obama on Elitism

New York Times Blog:
"HAVERFORD, Pa. — Michelle Obama, appearing at Haverford College, gave a strong response to criticism that her husband’s remarks at a San Francisco fund-raising event were elitist.

“There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that,” she told a gathering of students and townspeople on Tuesday, alluding to controversial remarks that Senator Barack Obama made at a San Francisco fund-raiser. “Yeah, I went to Princeton and Harvard, but the lens through which I see the world is the lens that I grew up with. I am the product of a working-class upbringing. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a working-class community.”

Then, referring to her husband’s student loans, she added sarcastically: “Now when is the last time you’ve seen a president of the United States who just paid off his loan debt? But, again, maybe I’m out of touch.”"

For those who have been waiting:

Bruce Springsteen News:
"Dear Friends and Fans:

LIke most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where '...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.'

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams of My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Iran Says Blast at Mosque Could Be Accidental


Officials said that the blast, which injured more than 200 people and killed a dozen others in Shiraz could have been an accident caused by ammunition left at the site.

Interesting. Any spare ammunition hanging around your church, synagogue, mosque, or retreat center?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

The Onion
RICHMOND, VA—After decades of only offering ruled notebook paper suitable for college-level education and below, school-supply giant Mead introduced its new grad-school-ruled notebook Monday, which features lines twice as narrow as college-ruled paper...

According to Mead's website, the ruling lines in the grad-school-ruled notebooks will be placed 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks. In addition, the standard 1.5-inch top margin normally provided for dates and headers will be halved, and the left-hand margin will be eliminated entirely.

"Just think: If you are writing a dissertation on elements of thanatopsis and necromimesis as they relate to cacaesthesian themes of mid-20th-century Irish literature, do you really want your notebook lines to be more than seven millimeters apart?" Luke said. "Of course not."

"When you're in grad school, every millimeter counts," he added.

To know, and not to do, is not to know.
--Ralph Nader, quoting a Chinese proverb.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Martin Marty on Pastor Wright

Prophet and Pastor -
"In the end, however, Jeremiah was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet's letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and 'seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.' Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon.

One may properly ask whether or how Jeremiah Wright — or anyone else — experiences a prophetic call. Back when American radicals wanted to be called prophets, I heard Saul Bellow say (and, I think, later saw it in writing): 'Being a prophet is nice work if you can get it, but sooner or later you have to mention God.' Wright mentioned God sooner. My wife and I recall but a single overtly political pitch. Wright wanted 2,000 letters of protest sent to the Chicago mayor's office about a public-library policy. Of course, if we had gone more often, in times of profound tumult, we would have heard much more. The United Church of Christ is a denomination that has taken raps for being liberal — for example for its 50th anniversary 'God is still speaking' campaign and its pledge to be open and affirming to all, including gay people. In its lineage are Jonathan Edwards and Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, America's three most-noted theologians; the Rev. King was much at home there."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Shape of the Race to Come

New York Times:
"And an experienced Democratic operative e-mailed: “Finally, I think [McCain’s] going to win. Obama isn’t growing in stature. Once I thought he could be Jimmy Carter, but now he reminds me more of Michael Dukakis with the flag lapel thing and defending Wright. Plus he doesn’t have a clue how to talk to the middle class. He’s in the Stevenson reform mold out of Illinois, with a dash of Harvard disease thrown in.”

In a close race, that “dash of Harvard disease” could be the difference."

This from William Kristol, a Harvard Ph.D., in a NYT op-ed.

I consider Kristol's column utterly worthless, and the decision to hire him a low point in the history of The Times. I've written several letters to The Times making this point in relation to particular Kristol columns. Unlike William Safire, Kristol's writing is pedestrian at best, he does no real reporting (this column is a joke), and seems utterly incapable of fresh thinking or insight on any issue. I have yet to discover a single redeeming feature. (Safire, the object of a Kissingerian wiretap during his time in the Nixon White House, had the good grace to care about personal privacy of others in subsequent years).

There are, of course, numbers of conservative thinkers and writers doing interesting, well-written, and usefully provocative stuff, who would deserve a place on the rather valuable real estate on the NYT op-ed page and provide a real service to its readership. It is said that the selection of Kristol is due to The Times' publisher, who has been on a rather extended losing streak of late. The publisher can't be fired, but maybe it is time for a nice extended vacation.

And speaking of "Harvard disease", if Obama has "a dash", Kristol is a source of mortal contagion. What a pompous windbag.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Althouse: Wisconsin citizens seem to have demonstrated their liking for conservative state supreme court justices.

Althouse: Wisconsin citizens seem to have demonstrated their liking for conservative state supreme court justices.

My esteemed colleague Ann Althouse (currently in Brooklyn) is blogging up a storm on the recent (in my view, horrific) judicial election in Wisconsin. We have been trading lively postings on an internal faculty list at UW Law School, and my practice is not to quote those communications (other than my own, with quotations from others deleted) "out of school." But I have now made a couple of postings on Ann's blog, and don't see any reason not to reproduce them here [with some editing appropriate to change in context]. Many of Ann's fans are politically conservative, and my remarks are, in part, directed to their comments as well as to Ann's own.

AJW Comment 1:

Ann: "I am only saying that, given the Wisconsin voters taste for conservative judges, we deserve top-quality conservative candidates."

Actually, it would seem to me, the evidence of the past two elections, at least, is [equally consistent with the proposition] that Wisconsin voters (or the relatively few of them participating in judicial elections), and those financing the bulk of unaccountable third party ads, prefer ethically-challenged nonentities.

I see no evidence that they would respond favorably to "top quality" candidates. Which would suggest to me that the sitting Chief Justice--widely recognized as one of the most outstanding and hardest working jurists in the country--may be in real trouble. [Her re-election campaign is next year.]

Given that an important role of the judiciary is to enforce counter-majoritarian constitutional rights--which virtually by definition will be highly unpopular on many occasions--why on earth should justices be popularly elected--even more so given the increasing role of unaccountable and irresponsible money in these campaigns?

AJW Comment 2:
Pretty much all judicial candidates (short of a Robert Bork, and there haven't been many who haven't learned from his experience) read from the same script when describing their judicial philosophies and approaches to interpretation. Once secure in their lifetime tenures [not applicable to many state court judges], a few may go so far as to be slightly revealing of their relative priorities among agreed relevant considerations (one can, for example, meaningfully compare the judicial philosophies of Justices Scalia and Breyer based on their speeches and extra-judicial writings, as well as their decisions).

When it comes to appraising actual performance, much (including the attachment of such content-deprived and typically misleading labels as "activist" or "liberal" or "conservative") is in the eye of the beholder, and it is quite easy to mischaracterize particular decisions by being "highly selective" in contextualizing facts, legal questions presented, consequences, and how the decision fits in with pre-exiting precedent. Of course, the typical 30 second attack ads provide an ideal setting for fully and fairly presenting all of this in a careful and comprehensive fashion. (Yes, I am being ironic here.)

And, of course, we have seen how judicial election campaigns present a careful evaluation of the full range of issues likely to confront state Supreme Court Justices. You have noticed, perhaps, the amount of attention that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce ads devote to the candidates' positions on deregulation of business and protection of business interests from liability based on injuries resulting from their unsafe practices? And owned up to the degree to which these considerations (rather than the purported safety of Wisconsin families from criminal intrusions) bear on their spending commitments in taking over these judicial campaigns?

Just so we can understand the true meaning of the proclivity of well-informed Wisconsin voters to favor "conservative" judicial candidates.

More Than 1,000 in Iraq’s Forces Quit Basra Fight

New York Times:
Published: April 4, 2008

BAGHDAD — More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle."

Time to send Hillary. She, at least, is not a quitter!
Or, for that matter, McCain. He will stay and fight for another 100 years.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Note to Hillary on Jerusalem Disunited

The American Prospect: By Gershom Gorenberg

An open letter to Hillary Clinton, telling her what life is really like in Jerusalem and informing her that her stand on uniting the city isn't half the plan her husband proposed in 2001.

Dear Hillary,

A colleague alerted me to your recent position paper on Israel, with your promise of support for an 'undivided Jerusalem.' I appreciate the warm feelings, but I admit I was confused by your description of my city. Since you are a careful, wonky candidate, I figured you must have details at your disposal. So this morning I called a Palestinian cabby friend, and together we went looking for the 'undivided Jerusalem.'" ...

Let me suggest a more honest and more honorable position on Israel: The greatest contribution that America can make to Israeli security is to help it reach peace with the Palestinians, and as president you will resume that effort where it was abandoned in 2001. If asked about Jerusalem, say that the sides will have to come to an agreement, and you are committed to help them do so. The Clinton parameters are still a good basis for that. If you don't take this position, I hope that your Democratic rivals do. It would make me more hopeful about the future of my fractured city.

Pfoo on Yoo

There is a lively debate on Lithwick's column going on at Slate's The Fray. I've made my own posting, and replied to a number of others. Take a look.

Plausible deniability, and other reasons why warfare by midlevel legal memoranda is a really bad idea

By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine:

Pop quiz for the law junkies:

1) Name the lawyer in the Bush administration who was sanctioned, sacked, or prosecuted for anything related to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last spring.

2) How about the attorney fired for allowing the destruction of thousands of White House e-mails or the CIA torture tapes?

3) The guy dismissed after advocating for warrantless wiretapping in violation of the FISA law?

4) Disciplined for gross civil rights violations through the misuse of National Security Letters?

Can't think of anyone? Me neither. Someday, when we look back at the Bush administration's "war on terror," we'll be unable to point to the "bad guys" because they will turn out to be a bunch of attorneys in starched white button-downs, using plausible-sounding legal analysis to beat precedent and statute and treatise from ploughshares into swords. And not one of them will be held to account. ...

Goldsmith [Harvard Prof. Jack, who took over as heard of Justice's OLC and rescinded the torture memos of his classmate and (former) buddy, John Yoo] argues that when government actors are hemmed in on all sides by domestic and international laws, they become immobilized and fearful. As he notes, "It is unimaginable that Francis Biddle or Robert Jackson would have written Franklin Roosevelt a memorandum about how to avoid prosecution for his wartime decisions designed to maintain flexibility against a new and deadly foe."...

In short, the Bush solution to the paralysis of lawfare seems to be to hire lawyers who don't believe in the law. ...

With Yoo's legal "analysis" in hand, and the accountability for it diffused among many government officials, the system of legal memos promises to give cover to everyone at the top. As Rosa Brooks so wonderfully put it in the /Los Angeles Times/, it takes a village to adopt a torture policy. But accountability should not evaporate just because a lawyer wrote a memo at the start of the chain. ...

By most accounts, John Yoo is, in person, a really sweet, nice guy.
I hope the judges take that into account when he is finally hauled before an International Criminal Tribunal, somewhere outside US borders.
One hopes Boalt Hall will use his vacated faculty slot more wisely.

In case you were wondering...

Good sexual intercourse last minutes, not hours, therapists say

March 31, 2008 | Erie, Pa. – Satisfactory sexual intercourse for couples lasts from 3 to 13 minutes, contrary to popular fantasy about the need for hours of sexual activity, according to a survey of U.S. and Canadian sex therapists.

Full Details

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Big political news!

For those who think they can handle it:

A "Scholar for Peace" in the Middle East

In Gaza, Hamas’s Insults to Jews Complicate Peace - New York Times:

"The chairman of the Palestinian Scholars League, and a Hamas legislator, Mr. Abu Ras is popularly called “Hamas’s mufti,” because he is ready to give religious sanction to Hamas political structures.

Last month, he criticized Egypt for closing the Gaza border at Israel’s request. He complained, “We are besieged by the sons of Arabism and Islam, as well as by the brothers of apes and pigs.”

... “The Israelis can’t accept criticism. They overreact, like any guilty person.” ...

Then he spoke of his son, who tried to volunteer to fight the Israelis at 17. “I convinced him to wait, he had no weapon, until 20,” Mr. Abu Ras said. “Now he’s a member of Qassam,” the Hamas military wing, “and an example for young people.”"

Very sadly, Israel has its warmongers and its racists, as do most peoples of the earth. Some are found among the rabbinate and the extreme religious observant community. They have a greater role in Israeli political life than I would prefer. But they do not speak for the majority of Israelis, or of Jews, and their blood curdling cries for generational or genocidal warfare, to the limited degree to which that may exist, is not celebrated by the wider culture. Indeed, explicitly racist ultranationalist political parties have been disqualified from participating in Israeli elections.

I have been a supporter of the Israeli peace camp for nearly forty years. I have always believed that Palestinian Arabs, like Jews, should have the opportunity for democratic national expression on some part of their historic homeland. I see the century-long turmoil in historic Palestine/Eretz Israel as a battle between two rights, in which some form of compromise, with both sides giving up some part of their maximal aims and historic claims as the only morally acceptable and politically achievable solution.

The challenge to Israel's peace camp is that the Arab World, including but not limited to the Palestinians, will never accept a permanent non-Arab, non-Muslim society in their midst. On this view, Arab offers of compromise are purely tactical, in the service of eventual subjugation, expulsion, or worse, of virtually all Jews, and any form of Jewish sovereignty, from Eretz Israel. Not just from Jenin, but from Jerusalem. Not just Hebron, but Haifa. And Jaffa. And Acre. And Tel Aviv. Proposals for territorial compromise (various formulations of "land for peace") avoid the enduring reality of implacable hostility to a Jewish sovereign presence, and mistake a temporary ceasefire for the prospect of enduring peace, under less advantageous geo-political and military terms.

Steven Erlanger's richly reported piece in today's Times fills in some of the realities underlying these fears. Many in the West prefer to blink, to avert their eyes from this unpleasant piece of the truth. Erlanger makes that avoidance somewhat more difficult, shoving some grim realities before our face.

The problem, I think, is that an exclusive focus on this piece of the truth--a focus characteristic of both some Jewish political groups (such as ZOA and AIPAC) and some scholars (such as Daniel Pipes and Ruth Wisse, author of the recent Jews and Power)--is that they leave supporters of a secure and flourishing Jewish and democratic Israel with no place to go, with no positive vision, with no basis for hope, for change, for constructive action toward a better future for both Jews and Arabs in their shared historic homeland.

Perhaps that is the reality, and there is nothing to be done about it.

I prefer to believe that some change is possible--but certainly not guaranteed. Over forty years of post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, both Israel (as the occupying power) and the Palestinian leadership have done far too little to nurture the delicate seeds of growth toward a shared vision of a shared land, one in which parents do not train their children for lives as martyrs, or glory in their "heroic" deaths, on battlefields or in schools or restaurants.

A stable and enduring peace will require dramatic changes in attitudes and behaviors that will take generations to flower fully, not merely the drawing of lines on maps or the signing of formal documents. It is way past time to embark on such commitments, and for political and cultural and religious leaders to look past the tactical considerations of the moment to the transformational efforts that will be necessary. Anwar Sadat understood this, as did Yitzhak Rabin. Their assassinations cut short promising efforts in the right directions, and powerfully reminded us of the brutal obstacles posed by religious and ultranationalist zealotry, that must be overcome if either people is to live in peace.

If not now, when?

Adventures of Chelsea Clinton

Were Bill's excellent Oral Office adventures with Monica strictly a private matter for the Clinton family?

It is beyond tacky to raise the issue with Chelsea, but if she does go out on the campaign trail, is that an adequate response? I'd prefer a simple acknowledgment that it is not a subject she wishes to discuss, perhaps adding (as she did, properly) that its relevance to her mother's qualifications for the Presidency escapes her.

Unfortunately, it may not escape others, who are not eager to see the return of her father (with his various pecadilloes) to that particular stage.

BTW, does this sort of posting belong on this blog? I'm not sure myself, and may delete it.

On US News law school rankings

Professor Brian Leiter, late of Texas Law, now at University of Chicago, is circulating an open letter to US News critical of its methodology in ranking law schools. [Link above] Leiter has long been an influential critic of these ratings, and has given more thought to the subject than most. I agree with many, although not quite all, of his points, but would raise some fundamental additional points. Here is a slightly edited version of an email I just sent to my UW law colleagues on the subject:

I find much to agree with in Leiter's specific comments and criticisms, but would go beyond them (as he probably would as well--we all have our priorities and areas of focus).
Perhaps a broader discussion among legal academics would be constructive...

For example: is it realistic, or constructive, to believe that all law schools try to do (let alone succeed in doing) the same thing? In its undergraduate ratings, US News differentiates national universities from national liberal arts colleges from various regional categories. In its medical ratings, US News distinguishes research-based programs from primary care programs (many schools are rated separately on each). US News' ratings of hospitals recognize that the best place to get a liver transplant is not necessarily the best place for a cosmetic procedure, or for emergency care. Is it time to also recognize parallel differences among legal institutions?

Is it realistic to believe that faculty at leading national law schools (or perhaps anywhere else) can make meaningful distinctions among, say, the bottom 125-150 (out of 184) ranked law schools? On the basis of what? (One presumes prior US News reports--the "echo chamber" to which Leiter refers?)

Are there many judges or practitioners out there (among the relatively few who return US News surveys) who have more than slight anecdotal experience with programs or graduates of more than a few dozen schools? What is the basis for their rankings of other institutions?

The gradations in scores of schools between about 25 and 50 are very fine, and these ratings tend to bounce around a fair bit from year to year, with significant ripple effects (see public relations releases, news stories, firings of Deans, etc.). Is there any reason to believe these are more than random fluctuations--or the results of the various gaming strategies to which Leiter makes reference? Can anyone really be confident that a difference of even ten slots in this range reflects anything consequential to the educational opportunities of students, or that the consequences of such differences in where students attend, or where they are employed, correspond to anything real?

Is it clear to anyone that the criteria applicable in differentiating meaningfully between slot #83 and slot #157 are the same criteria one would want to apply to ranking the top 10, or 15, or 20 schools?

To get more fundamental still--and this is a point on which I differ from Leiter--how clear is it that reputational differences as measured by citation analysis have anything much to do with the educational experience of students at many or most particular schools (or, for that matter, differences relevant to students following different professional paths in the law and adjacent fields--not everyone wants to be a highly paid wage slave at a legal factory)? Might one perhaps think that curricular emphases, styles of teaching and evaluation, emphasis on practice skills, clinical experiences, etc. have more to do with the quality of professional training than levels of pay for support staff (although those are not irrelevant, to the extent that undervalued and demoralized staff can affect the learning environment for both students and faculty)?

Might a more fundamental debate about such questions prepare the way for something better, and potentially more meaningful to students, and less destructive of other pedagogic values in what we try to accomplish as law teachers and as a law school? ...

Comments are welcome.

Fascinating take on a difficult parasha

Two Kinds of Holy Light: Tazria

By Rabbi Phyllis Berman *

As we read from different passages of Torah -- especially from the book of Leviticus -- we confront some of the most difficult concepts in Torah: tahor and tamei.

In many English translations, those words have been translated as "pure" and "impure," or "clean" and "unclean," signifying that one is all good and one is all bad. Understood that way, the Torah has seemed to be condemning menstrual blood, semen, the birthing process - as impure. For many years I felt horrified, offended, every single time I came across the words.

The Tazria portion teaches me a new way to understand the words.

The first eight verses (Lev. 12: 1-8) deal with what happens to a woman who has given birth to a male or a female child -- how much time in each case she is to be separated from the community as tamei, before she rejoins the community as tahor.

Out of my experience as a mother, I remember very clearly that indeed there is a period of time right after you've given birth that you want and need to be separated from the community. Your community narrows down to the baby right in your arms and at your breast and there isn't, for some period of time, another world except for that child.

Then I began to think about other moments in our lives when that kind of close focused attention happens as well: when we're lucky enough to fall in love; when we're taken over by the ruah ha'kodesh (holy spirit); when we're utterly captivated by a creative process.

So I began to think that indeed there are two different kinds of holiness. There is the holiness of such complete concentration and narrow focus - like a laser beam of light - that we can't look out into the larger world, and there is the holiness where we are so at balance that we can see a much broader reality, handle multiple worlds simultaneously.

Then I began to understand a little bit more about these words, tahor and tamei. I began to think that tahor refers to those holy times in our lives when the focus is broad, when we can see the whole picture, and tamei is about that holy time when the focus is narrow and we can see only the immediate concern that's right at hand for us. ...

Barack Obama has gotten past affirmative action. Have we?

By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine:

"Students at the University of Chicago, where Obama later lectured on constitutional law, don't recall him taking a hard line there, either. Erika Walsh, who graduated in 2002 and took Obama's Equal Protection and Due Process class, says she came away with no idea about Obama's personal views on affirmative action or any other hot constitutional issue. 'The way he conducted the class, he wanted you to talk, and he would be provocative,' she says" ...

[out of sequence]:In an interview last May on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, he was asked whether his own daughters should someday receive preferences in college admissions. His response was unexpected: "I think that my daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged." He added, "I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed." His comments lit up the blogosphere with speculation that as president he might spearhead a major policy change, shifting the basis of affirmative action from race to class disparities.