Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why It's So Hard to Close Gitmo

Why It's So Hard to Close Gitmo. By David B Rivkin Jr and Lee A Casey
Holding jihadists in existing U.S. facilities probably violates international law.
WSJ, May 30, 2009

President Barack Obama is retaining many important Bush administration antiterror policies, including the detention without trial of jihadist captives as well as military commissions. He is determined, however, to close the Guantanamo detention facility because he believes doing so will not cause many problems in the U.S., and will improve our image abroad and bolster international support for U.S. antiterror policies. He will be disappointed on all counts.

Guantanamo has always been a symbol, rather than the substance, of complaints against America's "war on terror." It's the military character of the U.S. response to 9/11 that foreign and domestic critics won't accept.

There are also longstanding ideological currents at work here. At least since the 1970s, "progressive" international activists have sought to level the playing field between nation states (especially the U.S. and Israel) and nonstate actors such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas. Although international humanitarian law is supposed to apply neutrally to all belligerents, international opinion now gives nonstate actors far more leeway to ignore fundamental norms such as the rule against deliberately targeting civilians. The underlying implication is that terrorist tactics, however regrettable, are justified as the only means of achieving laudable goals like national liberation.

This mindset will not change if Guantanamo closes. At the same time, closing the detention facilities will create numerous headaches quite beyond the security issues raised by dangerous detainees who might escape or serve as a magnet for terrorist attacks in U.S.-based facilities.

One immediate problem, identified by FBI Director Robert Mueller, is the very real possibility that the Guantanamo detainees will recruit more terrorists from among the federal inmate population and continue al Qaeda operations from the inside. Radical Islamists already preach jihad in prisons -- this was how the just-arrested New York synagogue bombers were recruited -- and criminal gangs have proved that a half-in/half-out management model works.

A longer-term problem is that once Guantanamo is closed the option of holding captured enemy combatants any place overseas will be undermined. Over time, more and more such individuals, including the ones convicted by military commissions, would have to be brought to the U.S., especially as Europe backs away from taking such individuals. Aggregating the world's worst jihadists on American soil, from which they can never be repatriated, is not a smart way to fight a war.

Meanwhile, the legality of incarcerating captured terrorists in U.S. domestic prisons is far from clear. Today the Guantanamo detainees are held under well-established laws of war permitting belligerents to confine captured enemies until hostilities are over. This detention, without the due process accorded criminal defendants, has always been legally justified because it emphatically is not penal in nature but a simple expedient necessary to keep captives from returning to the fight. It was on this basis that the Supreme Court approved the detention of war-on-terror captives, without trial, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004).

The Guantanamo detainees are "unlawful" enemy combatants and not "prisoners of war" under the Geneva Conventions. Yet they are still combatants, not convicts. By contrast, the individuals held in the federal prison system, and especially those in the maximum security facilities suggested for the Guantanamo detainees, are convicted criminals.

It is very doubtful that under the customary laws and customs of war, the Hamdi decision, or Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (which the Supreme Court also has applied to the war on terror) the Guantanamo detainees can be treated like convicted criminals and consigned without trial to the genuinely fearsome world of a super-max prison.

Segregating the detainees from the overall prison population -- to maintain the "non-penal" character of their confinement as well as to frustrate any recruiting activities or continuing al Qaeda operations -- is also legally dubious. Unless a new Guantanamo is to be constructed, this segregation will have to take place in existing isolation wards used to discipline (and sometimes protect) federal inmates.

This could mean solitary confinement, perhaps for 23 hours a day, without regard to a detainee's conduct or disciplinary status. The chances that courts would consider this to be the "humane" treatment required by the Geneva conventions are not overwhelming.

The Obama administration can be certain these conditions will be challenged in the courts, and it is difficult to see how, in light of current judicial attitudes, the detainees will be denied the entire panoply of constitutional rights claimed by ordinary inmates -- including lawsuits challenging their conditions of confinement. If courts conclude that these conditions are unconstitutional, or that they cannot be held indefinitely as enemy combatants, judges could mandate the release of these jihadists into the U.S.

Mr. Obama can still reverse his decision to close Guantanamo. This would cost him significant political support among his base. But making unpopular decisions to serve the national interest is a president's duty and obligation. In this regard, Mr. Obama should follow his predecessor's example and put American national security before the vagaries of popular approval.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey worked in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and have served as expert members of the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Money and the Schools

Money and the Schools. WSJ Editorial
More isn't better.
WSJ, May 30, 2009

Brace yourself, because there's good news on education -- and in New Jersey of all places. On Thursday, the New Jersey Supreme Court let stand a 2008 law replacing a judge-made funding formula that had been in place since the 1980s. Under the old formula, created by the 1981 Abbott decision, 31 of the state's poor school districts received the lion's share of state education funding. Funding in these so-called "Abbott districts" has been exceeding $17,000 per student, well above the state average of $13,500.

Test scores have improved among younger students, but University of Arkansas professor Gary Ritter says education reformers had hoped for better results in earlier years of the program given that urban districts like Camden are now spending more than rich suburbs. Derrell Bradford of Excellence in Education for Everyone says scores at the lower grades look better because testing has been dumbed down, and he attributes any improvement to the fact that Abbott students can use vouchers for preschool. By any measurement, Abbott students still lag behind those in districts spending far less per student.

New Jersey taxpayers pay the highest property taxes in the country -- $7,000 on average -- to fund their own schools, and then they pay state income taxes to further fund Abbott districts. Under the new law, state funds will be sent automatically to wherever the needy kids are, even if they attend suburban schools. The real reform would be to let parents decide which schools deserve their kids and allow the funding to follow. But at least we've had one more object lesson that more money doesn't mean better schools.

Did Larry Summers really sign off on these policies?

Say It Ain't So, Larry. By Irwin M. Stelzer
Did the president's top economic adviser really sign off on these policies?
The Weekly Standard, June 08, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 36

Ninety years ago the Chicago White Sox intentionally lost--dumped, to you sports fans--the World Series. Legend has it that a young fan implored the team's star, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, as he emerged from the court house, "Say it ain't so, Joe." The Shoeless one allegedly responded, "Yes, I'm afraid it is, kid."

Let's hope that chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers wouldn't respond similarly if someone were to charge that he sat silently when the administration's political types decided it would be just fine to submit a budget that will take the ratio of debt-to-GDP from around 40 percent to 80 percent--most critics say 100 percent is where the debt-to-GDP ratio will in fact end up in ten years. Surely Summers knows that many economists use a rule-of-thumb that suggests that such an increase will force interest rates up between 1.25 and 1.5 percentage points, with unpleasant consequences for our economic growth rate. Or that, according to the highly regarded Stanford professor John Taylor, we could only inflate our way out of the problem by allowing a 100 percent rise in the price level over a ten-year period.

More important, it was only a few weeks ago that Summers told an audience at the Brookings Institution that it is "a criterion of fiscal sustainability that ensures that once the economy has recovered, the ratio of the nation's debt to its income stabilizes rather than continuing to grow. . . . Once your income has returned to normal . . . your debts can't be rising relative to your income." But just such an increase is built into the president's ten-year budget.

Summers is famous for his intellect and ability to shoot down nonsensical ideas, so if he was not asleep or absent, he must have gone along. Say it ain't so, Larry.

The administration, led by GM and Chrysler CEO Barack Obama, also decided to lay hands on the auto industry. First it shortchanged the companies' creditors--pension funds and investors who had lent the -companies money on terms that gave them preferential access to the companies' assets should there be a bankruptcy. What matter contractual obligations when the United Auto Workers is awaiting payback for its support of Obama in the primary and general election campaigns? Surely Summers knows that such a move will make investors more reluctant to lend in the future and inclined to charge higher interest rates to any companies they do finance. Some say Summers sat in on these meetings and either lost the argument--implausible, in the view of those who have jousted with him in the past--or remained silent. Say it ain't so, Larry.

The administration has also promised to lower health care costs by introducing new IT systems and expanding insurance coverage. Virtually every expert says that information technology might be a nice thing--automated records, easily accessible--but at best will have only a trivial effect on costs. And just how expanding coverage can lower costs remains a mystery to most economists. Unless, of course, the administration is planning to ration health care, a nightmarish system that until recently led the National Health Service in Britain to deny treatment to patients suffering from macular degeneration until they were blind in one eye. Summers knows all about these cost figures and the inefficiencies of rationing. Did he decide to go along to get along? Say it ain't so, Larry.

Then there is energy policy. The president says he can make us independent of foreign oil. Summers knows he can't. He knows too that many economists contend fuel efficiency standards are more likely to deny consumers the cars they want than to have any effect on global climate, given the developing countries' plans to build thousands of new coal-fired generating stations. Summers had the opportunity while at Harvard to sit at the feet of the wonderful energy economist Professor William Hogan (as did I, although the thought of Summers meekly sitting at the feet of a colleague does strain credulity). So he must have decided either to nod off during the energy policy meetings at the White House or to defer to climate and energy policy czar Carol Browner. Say it ain't so, Larry.

The administration is determined to encourage trade union membership and the growth of union power. Rules for reviewing the expenditures of union officers are being relaxed. "Card check" is to replace the secret ballot in union recognition elections. Compulsory arbitration is to be accorded a large role in the future, putting government arbitrators in a position to respond favorably to union demands. Summers once believed that unionization contributes to long-term unemployment. That was 20 years ago, and he now says circumstances might have changed. But it is worth reading what he wrote in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Another cause of long-term unemployment is unionization. High union wages that exceed the competitive market rate are likely to cause job losses in the unionized sector of the economy. Also, those who lose high-wage union jobs are often reluctant to accept alternative low-wage employment. Between 1970 and 1985, for example, a state with a 20 percent unionization rate, approximately the average for the fifty states and the District of Columbia, experienced an unemployment rate that was 1.2 percentage points higher than that of a hypothetical state that had no unions. To put this in perspective, 1.2 percentage points is about 60 percent of the increase in normal unemployment between 1970 and 1985.

So is he in favor of card check, compulsory arbitration, and the rest of the Obama trade union agenda? Say it ain't so, Larry.

There's more, but you get the idea. When Barack Obama won the election and began to staff up, those of us who worried that the administration's policies would lean so far in the direction of political pandering as to create serious economic problems took heart when we learned that Larry Summers was to be at the center of policy-making. His fearless intelligence and debating skills would certainly prevent the administration from making terrible, irrevocable policy errors. Christina Romer, chosen by Obama to chair his Council of Economic Advisers, might prefer that appointment to fidelity to her academic research findings--tax cuts are more effective in stimulating an economy than is spending--but surely Larry Summers would not. So great is his reputation that Obama's chief political adviser, David Axelrod, told the press, "I'm not sure we would have gotten him but for the fact that we have a crisis that is equal to his talents."

Many of us joined Axelrod in praising Obama for landing Summers. And those who know him even slightly had no doubt that he has the good sense to treat fools slightly more kindly than his reputation would lead one to expect. So he could be heard. But we wonder if his voice of sanity has gone the way of Paul Volcker's, stifled and ignored. Say it ain't so, Larry.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, director of -economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).

A New York putsch could one day hurt D.C. schoolchildren

Textbook for Failure. WaPo Editorial
A New York putsch could one day hurt D.C. schoolchildren.
WaPo, Sunday, May 31, 2009

WHETHER NEW York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will retain control of the city's public schools will soon be decided by state lawmakers in Albany. This is an issue about which there should be no debate. By any measure, the city's schools are better off today than under the byzantine system that preceded mayoral control. Too much is at stake -- for New York's 1.1 million students as well as for education reform efforts nationwide -- for the legislature to turn back the clock. If the vested interests of the education establishment succeed in their bid to kill off mayoral control in the nation's largest school system, it will make it harder for other cities to sustain the oversight of schools by mayors. Places such as Washington, D.C., are likely to become the next targets.

The 2002 law that gave Mr. Bloomberg direct authority over the schools, replacing a system of local control overseen by a central Board of Education, expires at the end of June. Lawmakers must decide if mayoral control should be maintained, abolished or modified; the lobbying is ferocious. Critics -- including the United Federation of Teachers -- want to curb the mayor's influence, saying that he and Chancellor Joel Klein have ruled like dictators. Among the suggested changes, presented under the specious guise of "checks and balances," are proposals for reconfiguring the education panel that replaced the old school board so that it would be able to overrule the mayor and giving broad new powers to local community councils. So much for accountability and responsibility; apparently the fact that Mr. Bloomberg was overwhelmingly returned to office in 2005 after staking his political future on running the schools isn't enough.

It's important to recall the grim reality prior to mayoral control: struggling and unsafe schools, failing students, inequities in funding, corrupt politics and patronage. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein instituted such reforms as ending social promotion and standardizing curriculum. They closed chronically low-performing schools and innovated with new and charter schools. No less an authority than U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed the undisputed progress of these seven years. "I'm looking at the data here in front of me," Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. "Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up . . . ." Indeed, test scores announced this month showed 68.9 percent of students in fourth grade and 57 percent of students in eighth grade met or exceeded grade-level readings standards, up from 46.5 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively, in 2002.

Why sacrifice progress and momentum when there are so many students yet to be helped? One answer is in the clear dislike by teachers union officials of the hard-charging Mr. Klein, who, much like his D.C. counterpart, Michelle A. Rhee, is absolutely fearless in putting the interests of children ahead of job protection, seniority or being liked by city pols. Unions talk a good game about wanting to be change agents, but here, when real reform is on the table, they opt for sabotage. Easier to criticize a style of governing than the benefits of real leadership. Easier to look out for your own institutional interests than what's good for pupils.

A lot is riding on the outcome in New York; Washington, where the same union leaders have inserted themselves into the fight over education, should pay particular attention.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Tests: Together We Learn to Read and Write

A Tale of Two Tests: Together We Learn to Read and Write. By Francis Beckwith
What's Wrong with the World, May 29, 2009

On Sotomayor's Bartlett v. the New York State Board of Law Examiners case, 1997.

Solar Dreaming: Power at 7x the Cost

Obama's Solar Dreaming: Power at 7x the Cost. By Ronald Bailey
Reason Hit & Run, May 28, 2009, 10:15am

During a Democratic Party fundraising swing out West, President Barack Obama dropped by Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for a photo op with a 140 acre array of 72,000 solar photovoltaic panels. The president praised the installation, declaring it

"a shining example of what's possible when we harness the power of clean, renewable energy to build a new firmer foundation for economic growth."

The Nellis solar facility cost $100 million and can produce 15 megawatts of electricity when the sun shines. So how does this compare with conventional sources of power? The Electric Power Research Institute recently released a report which found that a 1,000 megawatt conventional coal-fired plant would cost about $2.8 billion to build.

A rough scaling up the Nellis solar facility to a 1,000 megawatts at $100 million per 15 megwatts would mean that a comparable solar plant would cost $6.6 billion to build. But wait, there's more. Coal-fired plants operate at about 90 percent capacity, so a truly fair comparison would take into account that a solar plant generally operates at 30 percent of its rated capacity. That would mean that a solar photovoltaic plant using the technologies available at Nellis would actually cost nearly $20 billion to build in order to produce the same amount of power that a conventional coal-fired plant would.

Of course, new breakthroughs in renewable energy technologies may make those costs go way down in the future, but using the current Nellis-type technologies (even with production economies of scale) do not seem to be a way "to build a firmer foundation for economic growth."

But doesn't this fulfill President Obama's much touted promise of creating "five million new green jobs that pay well, can't be outsourced, and help end our dependence on foreign oil"? Well, the solar panels at Nellis were manufactured in the Philippines and assembled in China. Don't get me wrong, if American taxpayers and ratepayers are going to be forced to use solar power, by all means, let's buy the panels from the cheapest sources possible. Even if it increases our dependence on foreign solar.

See also President Obama's praise for a similarly costly facility in Denver here. That array of panels reportedly has a pay back time of 110 years.

Paul Krugman: If Only California Could Just Raise Taxes

Paul Krugman: If Only California Could Just Raise Taxes. By Matt Welch
Reason Hit & Run, May 26, 2009, 9:31am

I wholeheartedly agree with New York Times econ columnist Paul Krugman here:

Despite the economic slump, despite irresponsible policies that have doubled the state's debt burden since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, California has immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying health coverage to almost a million children. But it is — and you have to wonder if California's political paralysis foreshadows the future of the nation as a whole.

But we part paths at Krugman's next sentence:

The seeds of California's current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed the state's budget in a straitjacket.

This notion, as mentioned here previously, is as taken for granted among the state's political/journalistic class as water is by fish. Yes, Prop. 13 (which capped property-tax increases) created some legitimately challenging process issues, in terms of funds being transferred from the local level to the state level and back again. But the real complaint is that the famous tax revolt made it difficult to, well, hike up taxes. Krugman again:

Even more important, however, Proposition 13 made it extremely hard to raise taxes, even in emergencies: no state tax rate may be increased without a two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature.

Here is where the traditional liberal argument loses me. The California budget "emergency" isn't a tax problem, it's a spending problem. State spending in the past two decades, as this Reason Foundation report [PDF] spells out, has increased 5.37 percent a year (and nearly 7 percent for the past decade), compared to a population-plus-inflation growth rate of 4.38 percent. If the budget growth rate had been limited to the population-inflation growth rate, the state would be sitting on a $15 billion surplus right now. Surely enough to dip into during a real emergency. What's more, despite this alleged tax straightjacket, Californians manage to still pay 21.9 percent in state and local taxes, compared to 14.5 percent for Texas.

So to demonstrate that insufficent taxability is the root of California's problems, a persuasive anti-Prop. 13 commentator would need to at least address the fact that state residents still manage to pay a high rate of taxes, and that the government keeps on growing voraciously in both good times and bad. If you're going to tax residents still more (as Krugman desires), don't they deserve to know why the cost of government services keeps going up up up up UP!?

Instead of any of that, Krugman goes on a name-calling binge against minority Republicans. ("Driven mad by lack of power," "the party of Rush Limbaugh," "the party's growing extremism," and so on.)

I am entirely confident in claiming that I know California better than Krugman does (evidenced if by nothing else than by his lazy, college-newspaper usage of the phrase "banana Republic" to describe my native state), and I know intimately from that experience just how many fruits and nuts are sprinkled generously within the state's GOP. And yet surveying a California political and fiscal landscape that has been utterly dominated the past decade by the Democratic Party, and concluding that the problem is the vanishing tribe of Republicans, is at best puzzling. At worst, it's something quite a bit darker than that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Smile to Set the GOP on Edge

A Smile to Set the GOP on Edge. By Eugene Robinson
WaPo, Friday, May 29, 2009

President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, is a proud and accomplished Latina. This fact apparently drives some prominent Republicans to a state resembling incoherent, sputtering rage.

"White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw," former House speaker Newt Gingrich ranted Wednesday on Twitter. My first reaction was that politicians above a certain age should never be left alone in the danger-strewn landscape of social networking. My second thought was: Whoa, Newt, what's that about?

Rush Limbaugh also -- predictably -- bellowed endlessly about how Sotomayor was a "reverse racist," and how Obama was one, too. But unlike Gingrich, Limbaugh doesn't ask to be taken seriously. He just asks to be paid.

Gingrich's outburst was in reaction to a widely publicized, out-of-context quote from a 2001 speech in which Sotomayor mused about how her identity might or might not affect her decisions as a federal judge. Far from being some kind of "racist" screed, the speech was actually a meditation on Sotomayor's personal experience of a universal truth: Who we are inevitably influences what we do.

Each of us carries through life a unique set of experiences. Sotomayor's happen to be the experiences of a brilliant, high-powered Latina -- a Nuyorican who was raised in the projects of the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, edited the Yale Law Journal, worked as a Manhattan prosecutor and a corporate lawyer, and served for 17 years as a federal trial and appellate judge.

Given that kind of sterling résumé -- and given that she has, according to presidential adviser David Axelrod, more experience on the federal bench than any Supreme Court nominee in at least 100 years -- it's understandable that Republican critics would have to grasp at straws.

The charge that she's a "judicial activist" finds no basis in her voluminous record. Critics have seized on a ruling she joined in a case called Ricci v. DeStefano, involving a reverse-discrimination claim by a group of white firefighters in New Haven, Conn. But Sotomayor's action in that case is more properly seen as an example of judicial restraint.

What happened was that the city gave an advancement exam to firefighters, and no African Americans were deemed eligible for promotion. Fearing that it would lose ground in its effort to diversify the leadership of the fire department, and fearing a civil rights lawsuit, the city canceled the exam. The firefighters who passed did not get the promotions they had expected. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the city government had acted within the law, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit -- including Sotomayor -- agreed.

What Sotomayor's attackers either don't understand or won't acknowledge is that the issue before the court wasn't whether the city of New Haven had acted fairly in canceling the exam but whether it had acted legally. There was ample precedent indicating that the action was, in fact, legal. I thought the whole theory of judicial restraint was that we didn't want unelected judges telling our elected officials what to do. I thought the conservative idea was that judges were just supposed to "call balls and strikes" -- which is just what Sotomayor and her colleagues did.

Ah, but there's always a subtext. Like Sotomayor's 2001 speech, the New Haven case was really about identity -- and about power. In both instances, as Sotomayor's critics saw it, minorities were either claiming or obtaining some kind of advantage over white males. Never mind whether this perception has any basis in fact. The very concept seemed to be enough to light a thermonuclear fuse.

Despite the best efforts of Gingrich, Limbaugh and others, Sotomayor's confirmation process probably won't be about race. Her qualifications are impeccable, her record is moderate and her personality, according to colleagues, is winning. At her confirmation hearings, she'll have the opportunity to supply the missing context for any quote they throw at her. Absent some 11th-hour surprise, I can't imagine that her opponents in the Senate will be able to lay a glove on her.

I also can't imagine that she'll pretend to be anyone other than who she is. Sonia Sotomayor has made clear that she is proud of her identity, and she offers that pride not as an affront but as an example -- not white, not male, not Anglo, not inclined to apologize. She is the new face of America, and she has a dazzling smile.

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A. Paul Mirengoff
May 28, 2009 at 11:50 AM

The Obama administration has been relunctant to speak harshly about foreign relations. Such talk, it believes, would manifest American arrogance and be inconsistent with its twin goals of overcoming that arrogance and activating the "restart" button with the rest of the world.

But now the administration is talking tough. Unfortunately, its tough talk is directed not at Iran (which it wants to persuade), Venezuela (which it wants to engage), or North Korea (which it has wanted mainly to ignore) but at Israel.

Here's the background. The White House has made it clear that it wants Israel to halt new construction in areas outside the boundaries of its original state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to do this except with respect to construction that is part of the natural of existing settlements, e.g. the construction of new homes to accommodate population growth in a settlement.

The Israeli government asked the U.S. government to approve this exception and apparently leaked word of this request. Here is Secretary of State Clinton's response:

[President Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.

Gone at last is the administration's reluctance to boss other nations through "pre-conditions." When it comes to Israel, Obama is willing to dictate whether parents can build a nearby house for their grown children.

Why is Obama more willing to talk this way to our friends than to our enemies? There are two logical explanations. First, our enemies will throw these kinds of statements back in Obama's face, whereas our friends will listen politely, at a minimum. Second, for Obama Israel is an adversary, whereas Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. are mere annoyances.

I favor both explanations.

A third factor is also at work here, I think (whether or to what extent it is independent of the second can be debated). The U.S. wants to topple the Israeli government. Thus, it sees value in picking a fight with it.

Netanyahu, I assume, understands this. That may be why Israel leaked word of its request for permission to build in its settlements. Either the U.S. would agree to the request (most unlikely) or it would take what most Israelis probably see as an unreasonable position, thereby enabling Netanyahu to "make his record" that his problems in getting along with the U.S. are the result of Obama's inflexibility.

Through her bossy, non-empathetic public response, Hillary Clinton has, I think, created Exhibit A for Netanyahu's record, regardless of how he responds on this particular issue.

Via Jonathan Tobin.

US foots the bill for terrorists - Poor oversight of US aid programs at fault

U.S. foots the bill for terrorists. By Joel Mowbray
Poor oversight of U.S. aid programs at fault
Washington Times, Friday, May 29, 2009

If President Obama is serious about tackling the ever-elusive goal of achieving peace in the Middle East, he should start his efforts not with prodding Israel or the Palestinians, but rather a little closer to home -- Foggy Bottom.

Through either deliberate neglect or simple ineptitude, the State Department has made U.S. taxpayers complicit in perpetuating the single greatest impediment to Middle East peace: an increasingly radical Palestinian society that despises Israel and embraces terrorism.

Despite multiple government audits and several changes enacted in the law over the past few years, the department still cannot ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not enriching terrorists or underwriting terrorist propaganda in schools across the West Bank and Gaza. According to a critical report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, the State Department has fallen short overseeing aid to Palestinians through both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which administers Palestinian refugee camps.

This means in practical terms that many of the Palestinians who are consuming a steady diet of Islamist indoctrination and glorification of violence receive this brainwashing courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. It doesn't require high-level deductions to predict how badly this wounds - if not kills - any hope for Palestinian society to embrace peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state of Israel.

Given the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers have steered to the Palestinians - almost $600 million just last year - the United States has as much leverage as anyone to put a stop to this nonsense. Unfortunately, though the State Department has done a bit to improve matters, it has not done nearly enough.

The GAO report, requested in part because of congressional concerns over reporting by this journalist in The Washington Times, indicates that the State Department has dropped the ball on overseeing UNRWA. For example, existing U.S. law requires that UNRWA take "all possible measures" to prevent assistance from going to anyone who has engaged in any terrorist activity. The department, however, "has not defined the key term 'all possible measures' or defined nonconformance."

Some of GAO's recommendations are comically simple, such as "establishing criteria to evaluate UNRWA's efforts." Others are so obviously necessary that it's shocking they haven't been required all along, such as "screening the names of UNRWA contractors against lists of individuals and entities of concern to the United States."

Leading congressional efforts to prevent U.S. taxpayer money from flowing to terrorists or their propaganda has been Rep. Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey Democrat. Earlier this year, he introduced a resolution calling for UNRWA to put its textbooks on the Internet for public inspection and for the United States to screen the agency's payroll for terrorists.
His ultimate goal, he explains, is simple: "Not one penny of U.S. taxpayer dollars should go either directly or indirectly to anyone associated with Hamas or any other terrorist organization. Nor should any go to terrorist propaganda in classrooms."

Congress moved one step further in that direction earlier this month. In the supplemental appropriations bill that included an additional $119 million for UNRWA for the current fiscal year, lawmakers made it clear they are not happy with the status quo. The spending bill requires the State Department to propose a plan to increase the transparency and accountability of UNRWA. More important, it sets aside $1 million for the department's inspector general to audit USAID.

Within the next month, the House foreign aid appropriators could go even further in the spending bill for 2010. Mr. Rothman has several proposals to increase accountability and transparency for both USAID and UNRWA.

However, changing the law alone is not enough. Judging by current procedures, the State Department seems intent on not enforcing the laws passed by Congress.

Lawmakers have dictated repeatedly and explicitly that no U.S. taxpayer funds can go to any organization that has even "advocated" terrorism - meaning no money should go to groups whose leaders have declared on Al-Jazeera or elsewhere that suicide bombers are "martyrs." This is not trivial. Figures who lionize terrorists and praise evil acts poison society and ultimately help cause more terrorism.

The State Department's bar that contractors and aid recipients must clear is much lower. Even under the most thorough vetting the department conducts, essentially only people who have actively participated in terrorism would be declared ineligible. It appears the department hasn't even bothered to think of a way to determine which people trying to receive U.S. taxpayer dollars have advocated terrorism.

Considering Europe's and the United Nations' longstanding indifference to Palestinian radicalism, the United States likely is the only party that can start to drain the cultural swamp. The stakes are high. If the United States doesn't put its full efforts toward real peace, what signal does that send to Israel and the Palestinians?

Joel Mowbray is an investigative journalist living in New York City.

US plans appeal on abuse photos

U.S. plans appeal on abuse photos, by Lyle Denniston
Thursday, May 28th, 2009 9:15 pm

The Obama Administration has decided to go to the Supreme Court — if Congress does not act first — to stop public disclosure of an array of U.S. Army photos that apparently show severe abuse of terrorist detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Justice Department on Thursday asked the Second Circuit Court to put a ruling ordering release on hold because the Solicitor General has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court “absent intervening legislation.”

A motion to recall the Circuit Court mandate, along with other court papers, can be found here. This was the latest legal maneuver by the Administration since President Obama changed his mind, from agreeing to release the photos to opposition to their disclosure.

The Second Circuit ruled last September, in American Civil Liberties Union, et al., v. Department of Defense (docket 06-3140), that the photos must be released under the Freedom of Information Act. After the Circuit Court refused in March to rehear the case en banc, the Administration decided not to take the case on to the Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court issued its mandate.

The President decided this month, however, that release of the photos “would pose an unacceptable risk of danger to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.” A federal judge in New York was then advised of the switch in position. Shortly afterward, the Senate took up legislation to block the release — the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act — by changing the language of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Senate adopted that provision May 21 as part of a new government funding bill. The House version of that bill does not include the photos provision, but the Senate has asked for a conference with the House to work out the differences between the two bills — an action expected to occur early in June.

The deadline for filing a petition for review in the Supreme Court is now June 9. Under the Court’s Rules, if the Administration wanted a postponement of the filing deadline, it would have to ask for an extension ten days before the deadline — that is, in this case, by no later than this weekend.

In the motion filed in the Circuit Court Thursday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and other Justice Department officials noted that, if both houses of Congress adopt the FOIA amendment, the Defense Secretary would be allowed “to preclude release under FOIA of the photographs at issue in this case.”

“If the aforementioned bill does not become law by the deadline for seeking Supreme Court review, the United States will file a petition for a writ of certiorari,” the motion said. “Recalling the mandate would serve the important purpose of preserving the status quo pending a determination by the Supreme Court.”

To bolster its argument that disclosure of the photos would put U.S. troops abroad at risk, the papers included sworn statements to that effect by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the overall U.S. military commander for Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq. (Those statements are included, in redacted form, in the papers linked above.)

At issue in the case are 44 photos that are covered by the ACLU request for release. The Administration said in its motion, however, that the Circuit Court ruling would also apply to “a substantial number” of additional photographs.

“The potential scope of this [Circuit] Court’s ruling makes it critically important that the Supreme Court have an opportunity to address the pressing legal questions in this case,” the new filing argued.

Although the proposed legislation has not yet been enacted, the motion noted, “the Senate’s action indicates the imminent possibility of a significant change in the law that strongly reinforces the grounds for recall of the mandate.”

US Concern About Niger's Democratic Processes

U.S. Concern About Niger's Democratic Processes. By Ian Kelly
US State Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, DC
May 29, 2009

The United States is concerned about recent announcements that President Tandja plans to hold a national referendum aimed at drafting a new constitution and permitting the extension of his time in office. We believe this risks undercutting Niger’s hard won social, political, and economic gains of the past decade, and would be a set-back for democracy, based on the regular, peaceful transition of political power and faithful adherence to constitutional due-process. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Niger’s Constitutional Court have also registered concerns about this issue.

President Tandja is about to complete two consecutive five-year terms after two successful free and fair elections under Niger’s democratic constitution. During that time, he has been a good steward of Niger’s national interests, attracting international investment and launching ambitious public works against a backdrop of social and political stability.

We have shared our views with President Tandja in the interest of continuing a strong and warm relationship with the Government of Niger and the Nigerien people as they move toward the end of his constitutional term in office.

PRN: 2009/521

Obama continues to trash Bush in words — but his actions speak louder

Bush Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. By Victor Davis Hanson
Obama continues to trash Bush in words — but his actions speak louder.
National Review On-line

Last July I wrote a column entitled “Barack W. Bush” outlining how candidate Barack Obama was strangely emulating Bush policies — even as he was trashing the president.

Nearly a year later, President Obama has continued that schizophrenia, criticizing Bush while keeping in place Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols. The result of this Bush Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is that, thanks to Obama, history will soon begin reassessing George W. Bush’s presidency in a more positive light.

Why? Because the more Obama feels compelled to trash Bush, the more he draws attention to the fact that he is copying — or in some cases falling short of — his predecessor. He seems to wish to frame his presidency in terms of the Bush years, even though such constant evocation is serving his predecessor more than it is serving Obama himself.

For eight years conservatives whined — and Democrats railed — at the Bush deficits. In the aggregate over eight years they exceeded $2 trillion. The administration’s excuses — the 2000 recession; 9/11; two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq; Katrina; and two massive new programs, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Prescription Drug — fell on deaf ears.

Between 2001 and 2008 we still spoke of annual budget shortfalls in billions of dollars. But an early effect of the Obama administration is that it has already made the Bush administration’s reckless spending seem almost incidental. In the first 100 days of this government we have learned to speak of yearly red ink in terms of Obama’s trillions, not Bush’s mere billions. Indeed, compared to Obama, Bush looks like a fiscal conservative.

Another complaint was the so-called culture of corruption in the Republican Congress — and the inability, or unwillingness, of the Bush administration to address party impropriety. Jack Abramoff, Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, and Mark Foley were each involved in some sort of fiscal or moral turpitude that — according to critics — was never convincingly condemned by the Bush administration.

But compared to some of the present Democratic headline-makers, those were relatively small potatoes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slurred the CIA and accused it of habitually lying to Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel has not paid his income taxes fully, and has improperly used his influence to lobby corporations for donations; he has also violated rent-stabilization laws in New York. Sen. Chris Dodd has received discounts and gifts from shady corporate insiders in clear quid-pro-quo influence peddling. Rep. Barney Frank got campaign money from Fannie Mae before it imploded, despite the fact he was charged with regulating the quasi-governmental agency — which at one time hired his boyfriend as a top executive. Former Rep. William Jefferson, an outright crook, is about to go on trial in federal court.

As for other prominent Democrats, the sins of Blago and Eliot Spitzer bordered on buffoonery. A series of Obama cabinet nominations — Daschle, Geithner, Richardson, Solis — were marred by admissions of tax evasion and the suspicion of scandal. In other words, should either the Democratic leadership or President Obama now rail about a “Culture of Corruption” — and neither unfortunately has — the public would naturally assume a reference to Democratic misdeeds.

For the last eight years, a sort of parlor game has been played listing the various ways the Bush anti-terror policies supposedly destroyed the Constitution. Liberal opponents — prominent among them Sen. Barack Obama — railed against elements of the Patriot Act, military tribunals, rendition, wiretaps, email intercepts, and Predator drone attacks. These supposedly unnecessary measures, plus Bush’s policies in postwar Iraq, were said to be proof, on Bush’s part, of either paranoia or blatantly partisan efforts to scare us into supporting his unconstitutional agenda.

Now, thanks to President Obama, the verdict is in: All of the Bush protocols turned out to reflect a bipartisan national consensus that has kept us safe from another 9/11-style attack.

How do we know that?

Because President Obama — despite earlier opposition and current name changes and nuancing — has kept intact the entire Bush anti-terrorism program. Apparently President Obama has kept these protocols because he suspects that they help to explain why his first few months in office have been free of successful terrorist attacks — witness the foiled plot earlier this month to murder Jews in New York City and shoot down military planes in upstate New York.

There are only two exceptions to Obama’s new Bushism. Both are revealing. The president says he wishes to shut down Guantanamo in a year, after careful study. But so far no one has come up with an alternative plan for dealing with out-of-uniform terrorists caught on the battlefield plotting harm to the United States. That’s why Obama himself did not close the facility immediately upon entering office, and why the Democratic Congress has just cut off funding to close it. So we are left with the weird paradox that Obama hit hard against his predecessor for opening Guantanamo, while members of his own party are doing their best to keep it open. Obama says he opposes waterboarding and calls it torture. Many of us tend to agree. But despite the partisan rhetoric of endemic cruelty, we now learn that the tactic was used on only three extraordinarily bad detainees.

Furthermore, the administration that disclosed the once-classified technique to the public now refuses to elaborate on whether valuable information that saved lives emerged from such coerced interrogations.

Meanwhile, liberal congressional icons like Jay Rockefeller and Nancy Pelosi are on record as being briefed about the technique — and, by their apparent silence as overseers, de facto approving it. Senator Schumer, remember, all but said that we must not rule out the resort to torture in the case of terrorist suspects.

Mini-histories have already been written blasting Bush for unprecedented deficits, for being in bed with a sometimes corrupt Republican Congress, and for weakening our civil liberties. Now the historians will have to begin over again and see Bush as a mere prelude to a far more profligate, and ethically suspect, administration.

More important, President Bush bequeathed to President Obama a successful anti-terrorism template that the latter has embraced and believes will keep the nation safe for another eight years. And, oddly, we are the more certain that is what he believes, the more a now obsessive-compulsive President Obama attacks none other than former President Bush.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal and the 2008 Bradley Prize.

LaHood, Secretary of Behavior Modification

Secretary of Behavior Modification, by Randal O'Toole
Secraty LaHood
Cato at Liberty, May 28, 2009

George Will recently accused Obama’s token Republican, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of being the “Secretary for Behavior Modification” because of his support for programs designed to coerce people into driving less. Speaking before the National Press Club on May 21, LaHood pleaded guilty as charged.

In the video of LaHood’s presentation, he was asked if the administration’s “livability initiative” is really “an effort to make driving more tortuous and to coerce people out of their cars.” His answer: “It is a way to coerce people out of their cars, yeah.”

The next question was, “Some conservative groups are wary of the livable communities program, saying it’s an example of government intrusion into people’s lives. How do you respond?” His complete answer: “About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people’s lives.”

While these are certainly quotable, defenders of “livability” (code for “transportation by any mode but automobile”) would be quick to point out that all of LaHood’s examples are aimed at giving people choices other than driving: walkways, bike paths, streetcars, light rail. LaHood never mentions any actual techniques aimed at coercing people out of their cars.

Yet those coercive techniques are a major part of the livability campaign, as shown by Portland, Oregon, which LaHood touted as “the example” of a livability program. The most important of these techniques is to divert highway user fees to expensive forms of transportation that receive little use. Portland is deliberately allowing congestion to grow while it spends money collected from highway users on streetcars and light rail.

Not that Portland’s program is very successful. Despite spending more than $2 billion on rail transit since 1980, transit’s share of Portland-area commuting declined from 9.8 percent in 1980 to 6.9 percent in 2007. (The table says 6.5 percent but that includes the people who worked at home.)

Much of the money that Portland does spend on roads goes into “traffic calming,” a euphemism for “congestion building.” This consists of putting barriers in roads, speed humps, narrowing streets, and turning auto lanes into exclusive bike lanes. Portland’s official objective (see table 1.2) is to allow rush-hour traffic to grow to near-gridlock levels (”level of service F”) on most major freeways and arterials.

“People don’t like spending an hour and a half getting to work,” said LaHood. But if more congestion is a key part of “livability,” then a lot more people are going to be doing that under the administration’s plans.

Beyond not seeing anything wrong with government coercion, LaHood can’t see the difference between transportation systems that pay for themselves (such as the interstate highways) and transportation systems that require huge subsidies (such as streetcars and light rail). “If somebody wants to ride streetcars or light rail to work,” says LaHood, then it is up to the government to provide it for them.

What if someone wants to take a helicopter to work? Or a dirigible or rocketship or a personal limousine? Does LaHood really believe that, just because someone wants something, all other taxpayers should fund it?

When in Congress, LaHood was known as a “moderate Republican.” I guess that is a euphemism for “central planner in waiting.”

Is Aid Working?

Is Aid Working?, by Marian L. Tupy
This article appeared in the Financial Times on May 28, 2009.

Dambisa Moyo's book Dead Aid has reignited the simmering war of words about the effects of foreign aid on Africa. Her contribution is welcome, for scant evidence in favour of increasing aid notwithstanding, western governments seem determined to outdo one another in the extravagance of their promises to Africa.

Moyo's growing popularity has even compelled the usually taciturn Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University to join the fray. Writing on The Huffington Post, he threw ad hominem attacks against both Moyo and his long-time critic Bill Easterly of New York University. Both responded, pointing out some of the problems associated with aid. But one argument needs further discussion: the aid debate has a racist undertone.

This year marks 20 years since the end of communism. As Oleh Havrylyshyn, a former International Monetary Fund official who teaches at the University of Toronto shows, the transition of central European and Baltic countries from communism to capitalism has been largely successful. Countries that embraced more rapid and more extensive economic reforms "tended to experience higher growth rates and lower inflation and received more foreign investment. Inequality increased less among rapid reformers than among gradual reformers. The same is true with respect to poverty rates."

Baltic countries, which were among the most enthusiastic reformers, benefited greatly from increased economic freedom. Between 1995 and 2007, real incomes in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania rose by an astonishing 167 per cent, 146 per cent and 125 per cent respectively. In the eurozone, they rose by 24 per cent over the same period. Moreover, longevity, environmental quality and school enrolment rose throughout the region, while child mortality declined. The current economic troubles in CEB take some shine off the region's accomplishments, but they don't erase them.

A political consensus in favour of economic liberalization emerged soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Common people were transfixed by western cars and fresh oranges that they saw on German television. Though they disagreed about the speed and the extent of economic reforms — western European and American economic models were both popular — there was little opposition to the general direction of policy changes. One of the most vehement promoters of rapid rather than gradual change, incidentally, was a Harvard University economist — Jeffrey Sachs.

No such consensus exists in Africa. During the 1990s, I lived in both, Czechoslovakia and South Africa. In the former, people saw socialism as a massive failure. In the latter, many saw it as respectable policy alternative. In the former, it was near impossible to find a self-declared communist. In the later, communists were in the government. In CEB, people tended to see the wealth of the western world as a result of high productivity in capitalist countries, while in Africa they tended to see it as a result of colonial exploitation.

Following the collapse of communism, virtually everyone assumed that the key to future prosperity in CEB lay in economic reforms, not in foreign aid. Implicitly, almost everyone understood that the people in the region would simply have to respond to market incentives, and produce goods and services that domestic and foreign customers would want to buy. Inability to compete with the west was inconceivable. Failure was not an option.

Such a mindset is demonstrably lacking when it comes to Africa. Globalization tends to be seen as a threat and seldom as an opportunity. Local politicians fret about competition from China and Bangladesh. Non-governmental organisations caution against liberalisation lest Africans be taken advantage of by unscrupulous westerners. Musicians and movie stars urge aid, not reform, as a solution to poverty.

The result? African incomes rose by mere 26 per cent between 1995 and 2007, less if countries rich in oil and mineral resources are taken out of the calculation. Nine out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries were poorer in 2007 than in 1960. Africa failed to grow in spite or perhaps because of all the aid that had poured to Africa over the last half-a-century. Instead of reforming their economies and growing their private sectors and domestic tax revenue, African governments relied on aid to survive.

In a nutshell, there appears to be a peculiar lack of confidence in Africans to react to market incentives like everyone else does and to benefit from globalization. Africans, the consensus of aid advocates and protectionists appears to be saying, should be shielded rather than exposed to market forces. But, what does that say about the underlying assumption with regard to the ability of Africans to succeed just as the people of CEB had succeeded?

Yet, it is the opponents of aid, not its advocates, who get the short end of the stick. When ABC's John Stossel questioned Sachs about the link between corruption and aid, for example, Sachs accused Stossel of treating poor Africans as "enemies." On the contrary, Stossel responded, it is the African elites that are the enemy of both the African people and of the western taxpayer. Or, as the British economist Peter Bauer put it half-a-century ago, foreign aid is a way of "taxing poor people in rich countries and passing it on to rich people in poor countries."

While the world debates whether Africa should adopt market reforms, other regions power ahead. The concept of "global poverty" is losing its meaning everyday. Soon, poverty will be solely an "African problem." To prevent that from happening, Africans must be treated not as hopeless recipients of charity but people equal to everyone else in ability.

Waxman-Markey: What About Innovation?

Waxman-Markey: What About Innovation? By Mark Muro
Brookings, May 26, 2009

The Sotomayor Rules

The Sotomayor Rules. By Kimberley Strassel
Some were made to be broken.
WSJ, May 29, 2009

President Barack Obama has laid down his ground rules for the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The big question now is whether Republicans agree to play by rules that neither Mr. Obama nor his party have themselves followed.

Ground Rule No. 1, as decreed by the president, is that this is to be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications. The media gurus complied, with inspiring stories of how she was born to Puerto Rican immigrants, how she was raised by a single mom in a Bronx housing project, how she went on to Princeton and then Yale. In the years that followed she presumably issued a judicial opinion here or there, but whatever.

The president, after all, had taken great pains to explain that this is more than an American success story. Rather, it is Judge Sotomayor's biography that uniquely qualifies her to sit on the nation's highest bench -- that gives her the "empathy" to rule wisely. Judge Sotomayor agrees: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said in 2001.

If so, perhaps we can expect her to join in opinions with the wise and richly experienced Clarence Thomas. That would be the same Justice Thomas who lost his father, and was raised by his mother in a rural Georgia town, in a shack without running water, until he was sent to his grandfather. The same Justice Thomas who had to work every day after school, though he was not allowed to study at the Savannah Public Library because he was black. The same Justice Thomas who became the first in his family to go to college and receive a law degree from Yale.

By the president's measure, the nation couldn't find a more empathetic referee than Justice Thomas. And yet here's what Mr. Obama had to say last year when Pastor Rick Warren asked him about the Supreme Court: "I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation."

In other words, nine months ago Mr. Obama thought that the primary qualification for the High Court was the soundness of a nominee's legal thinking, or at least that's what Democrats have always stressed when working against a conservative judge. Throughout the Bush years, it was standard Democratic senatorial practice to comb through every last opinion, memo, job application and college term paper, all with an aim of creating a nominee "too extreme" or "unqualified" to sit on the federal bench.

Mr. Obama knows this, as he took part in it, joining a Senate minority who voted against both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. Mr. Obama also understands a discussion of Judge Sotomayor's legal thinking means a discussion about "judicial activism" -- a political loser. In a day when voters routinely rise up to rebuke their activist courts on issues ranging from gay marriage to property rights, few red-state Democrats want to go there. Moreover, a number of Judge Sotomayor's specific legal opinions -- whether on racial preferences, or gun restrictions -- put her to the left of most Americans.

Which brings us to Ground Rule No. 2, which is that Republicans are not allowed to criticize Judge Sotomayor, for the reason that she is the first Hispanic nominee to the High Court. The Beltway media also dutifully latched on to this White House talking point, reporting threats from leading Democrats, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who intoned that Republicans "oppose her at their peril."

This would be the same Mr. Schumer who had this to say about Miguel Estrada, President Bush's Hispanic nominee (who, by the way, came to this country as an immigrant from Honduras) to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002: Mr. Estrada "is like a Stealth missile -- with a nose cone -- coming out of the right wing's deepest silo." That would be the same Mr. Schumer who ambushed Mr. Estrada in a Senate hearing, smearing him with allegations made by unnamed former associates. That would be the same Mr. Schumer who sat on the Judiciary Committee, where leaked memos later showed that Democrats feared Mr. Estrada would use a position on the D.C. Circuit as a launching pad to become the nation's . . . first Hispanic Supreme Court judge. Two tortured years later, Mr. Estrada withdrew, after the Democrats waged seven filibusters against a confirmation vote.

Republicans will be tempted by this history to go ugly. They might instead lay down their own rules, the first being that they will not partake in the tactics of personal destruction that were waged by the left on nominees such as Mr. Thomas or Mr. Alito or Mr. Estrada. But the party could also make a rule to not be scared away from using Judge Sotomayor's nomination, or future Obama picks, as platforms for big, civil, thorough debates about the role of the courts and the risk of activist judges to American freedoms and beliefs.

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program

USAID Partner with Iraqis to Launch Social Safety Net Program
May 28, 2009

BAGHDAD -The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Iraq's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) today launched the Social Safety Net program nationwide aimed at providing benefits to the most vulnerable citizens of Iraq and facilitating their integration into the country's economic development.

In 2005, the Government of Iraq passed legislation to establish a Social Safety Net to complement the state-subsidized food rationing system, the largest social security spending in the country. The new system is intended to help low-income families, displaced workers, and unemployed people adjust to the ongoing restructuring and reform efforts. The initiative is an essential step in ensuring food availability, supplementing buying power, encouraging students to stay in school, and preserving access to other social services.

The USAID-funded Economic Governance Program in partnership with MoLSA provided technical support in the design of the Social Safety Net program, including upgrading the information technology system, and leveraging grants from the World Bank Trust Fund to expand coverage to 21 sites. A team of USAID advisors and their Iraqi counterparts addressed key capacity building concerns by enhancing the skills of civil service personnel in technical, operational and management techniques essential to the implementation of the program. The World Bank and USAID have invested more than $13 million for the nearly four-year project.

The Social Safety Net system has robust processes to detect and prevent operational irregularities that allow for the delivery of benefits in a standardized manner to all needy recipients. The system uses internal controls that ensure accurate identification, registration, and verification of recipients, and appropriate tracking of beneficiary records and payments. Such mechanisms are aimed at running an effective, transparent and accountable program.

The success of the 2008 pilot in Baghdad paved the way for a Memorandum of Understanding between MoLSA and USAID to expand the program nationwide. Today, nearly 673,000 people, or 2.4 percent of the population of Iraq, are receiving benefits through the Social Safety Net program. The program is expected to cover an estimated one million beneficiaries.

Since 2003, USAID has invested more than $6 billion on programs designed to stabilize communities; foster economic and agricultural growth; and build the capacity of the national, local, and provincial governments to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sotomayor, a Trailblazer and a Dreamer -

Woman in the News - Sotomayor, a Trailblazer and a Dreamer, May 27, 2009

Libertarian on Sotomayor and Merit

Sotomayor Pick Not Based on Merit, by Ilya Shapiro
This article appeared on on May 27, 2009

In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic.

She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
To be sure, Sotomayor has a compelling story: a daughter of working-class Puerto Ricans raised in Bronx public housing projects, diagnosed with diabetes at 8, losing her father at 9, accolades at Princeton and Yale Law, ending up on the federal bench.

Still, in over 10 years on the Second Circuit, she has not issued any important decisions or made a name for herself as a legal scholar or particularly respected jurist. In picking a case to highlight during his introduction of the nominee, President Obama had to go back to her days as a trial judge and a technical ruling that ended the 1994-95 baseball strike.

Moreover, Sotomayor has a mixed reputation among lawyers who have practiced before her, some questioning her abilities as a judicial craftsman, others her erratic temperament, according to a piece by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic, which itself has come in for criticism.

Such anecdotal criticism is to be taken with a grain of salt — while Justice Antonin Scalia's bench-side manner is more vinegar than honey, even his detractors recognize his brilliance — but it does need to be investigated. So, too, do certain statements she made in presentations at Berkeley and Duke, respectively, the former arguing that a Latina necessarily sees the law differently than a white man, the latter suggesting that, at least to some degree, judges make rather than interpret law.

Again, this does not mean that Sotomayor is unqualified to be a judge — or less qualified to be a Supreme Court justice than, say, Harriet Miers. It also does not detract from the history she would make as the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee — if you don't count Benjamin Cardozo, a descendant of Portuguese Jews. But a Supreme Court nomination is not a lifetime achievement award, and should not be treated as an opportunity to practice affirmative action.

Ironically, it is race-based employment practices of another kind that will likely get this nomination in hottest water. Sotomayor was on a panel that summarily affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by firefighters, including one Hispanic, whose promotions were denied because they would be based on a (race-neutral) exam whose results didn't yield the "right" racial mix. Curiously, the Ricci v. DeStefano appellate panel issued a cursory "unpublished" opinion that failed to grapple with the complex legal issues presented in the case.

Sotomayor's colleague José Cabranes, a liberal Democrat, excoriated the panel, without expressing a view on the merits of the case. Cabranes' dissent from the Second Circuit's decision not to rehear the case caught the Supreme Court's attention and, based on the oral argument, the court will probably reverse Sotomayor's panel when it rules on the case next month. Sotomayor 'the new face of America'

We are thus likely to have the unusual scenario of a Supreme Court decision having a direct personal effect on a nominee's confirmation process, which will not only force Sotomayor onto the defensive but cost the president significant political capital. It will also show that Obama's calls for "empathy," echoed by Sotomayor's citing her personal experiences as a Latina, ring hollow.

If Frank Ricci, a dyslexic fireman who sacrificed significant time and money and was denied promotion solely for his skin color, is not an empathetic figure, I'm not sure who is. And that is the larger point: A jurisprudence of empathy is the antithesis of the rule of law.

As then-Judge John Roberts said at his confirmation hearing: "If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, then the little guy's going to win in the court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well then the big guy's going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution."

In any event, Senate Republicans will now have to decide what posture to take: combative or deferential, political or analytical. With the president still at the height of his popularity and solid Democratic control of the Senate (even without Arlen Specter and Al Franken), the GOP is unlikely to sustain a filibuster or even, unless outrage over the Ricci case grows, vote Sotomayor down.

What they should do instead is force a full public debate about constitutional interpretation, probing Sotomayor's judicial philosophy and refusing to accept nonresponsive answers that mouth platitudes or avoid taking firm legal positions.

Now is the time to show the American people the stark differences between the two parties on one of the few issues on which the stated Republican view continues to command strong and steady support. If the party is serious about constitutionalism and the rule of law, it should use this opportunity for education, not grandstanding.

And if Democrats insist on playing identity politics, I suggest a two-word response: Miguel Estrada, the Honduran immigrant with his own rags-to-riches story whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit Democrats successfully filibustered, effectively preventing George W. Bush from naming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

The Transportation-Housing Trade-Offs of Suburban, Urban and Rural Living

The Tipping Point: The Transportation-Housing Trade-Offs of Suburban, Urban and Rural Living. By Alan Pisarski
Heritage White Paper, May 22, 2009

In March 2009, the Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development issued a joint press release announcing a new interagency partnership and task force to create "affordable, sustainable communities." Among the several projects this partnership and its task forces will take on is the development of a new cost index that combines housing and transportation costs by "redefining affordability and making it transparent."

Efforts to "redefine" and "make transparent" housing and transportation costs have been the subject of a growing debate over the past decade as opposing sides of the cities versus suburbs debate and the cars versus trolleys debate have offered up conflicting data on the relative costs of these choices. How the new DOT/HUD partnership will address these issues and competing contentions is unknown, but many recent state and local trends on these issues suggest a narrowing of opportunity for the average household is the chief risk.

The recent jump in gasoline prices has heightened interest in these issues as Americans have cut back on their driving, while transit has captured at most about 3 percent of this decline. Some wonder if these Hummer-loving, McMansion-living families are finally getting what's coming to them. And will they all come crawling back to the city to live in apartments and bicycle to work?
Many issues have been raised as the call increases for policy intercession, which basically take offense at the public's choices:
  • The public spends too much on transportation.
  • The low-income population is "transportation poor."
  • The transportation trade-off with housing costs has created losses for households.
  • The sprawling of jobs to the suburbs is a problem that needs to be solved.
Do these things happen because the public is coerced by circumstances, or are they just making really dumb choices? Somehow the sense is that these mistaken choices can be resolved by everyone coming back to the cities and the jobs returning with them.

This presentation works its way through the morass of conflicting claims and provides some factual outlines for a sensible policy structure. The presentation focuses in particular on two issues in this debate: 1) The transportation–housing trade-offs of suburban, urban, and rural living, and 2) the massive importance of access to skilled workers in our future economy.


WaPo: Why Chinese consumers need to be an integral part of the global recovery

In Search of Buyers. WaPo Editorial
Why Chinese consumers need to be an integral part of the global recovery
WaPo, Thursday, May 28, 2009

CHINA LENT it, the United States spent it, is a boiled-down description of the economic relationship between the two countries over the past decade. U.S. consumers gobbled up inexpensive Chinese goods (as well as those from other countries), fueling high levels of global growth. The Chinese amassed huge savings, which were in large part used to fund U.S. borrowing. That's not exactly a virtuous cycle, but it's one that became hard to break -- and for the most part, no one really wanted to.

However, it is highly unlikely that U.S. consumers will spend us out of this downturn. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggests that U.S. household leverage, which increased from 65 percent in the mid-1980s to 130 percent today, will come down significantly from such stratospheric levels, dampening U.S. consumption growth for quite some time. This deleveraging is in order -- such high debt rates are clearly unsustainable -- but it could also jeopardize what is likely to be a shaky recovery if there is no clear alternative purchaser of the world's goods. Though the United States and other governments are doing their parts through massive coordinated stimulus policies, that will not serve as a permanent solution. As last week's warning from Standard & Poor's about a possible downgrade of Great Britain's AAA bond rating made clear, countries with deficits will have to turn their attention from borrowing to closing their budget gaps once the recovery takes hold.

With its high saving rates and massive population, China has naturally attracted attention as a potential driver of consumption growth. Chinese families haven't been big spenders in the past (the country's spending has been more focused on government investment), due to cultural norms and low incomes. One of the largest factors is a lack of safety net and insurance programs, which forces families to set aside much of their incomes as precautionary savings. Measures to broaden the Chinese middle class and provide some basic economic security could free up immense amounts of cash that could be used to help get the global economy back on its feet. Indeed, the Chinese government has recently introduced new health-care and pension benefits, which should contribute a good deal to Chinese families' spending.

Pressures to speed up the process or to move it in a certain direction are unlikely to be greeted warmly by China. For years, the International Monetary Fund has been urging it to take measures to increase household incomes and the flexibility of its currency. The Chinese respond that they would like to take a bigger role in governing the IMF, not just take guidance from it. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will have to approach the topic delicately during his trip to China next week.

The match that lit Germany's radicals was a Stasi spy - Karl-Heinz Kurras

Ghosts of the '60s in Germany. WSJ Editorial
The match that lit Germany's radicals was a Stasi spy.
WSJ, May 28, 2009

The past can never be predicted, and perhaps never more so than when it comes to the German left. Two years ago, we learned that Nobel Laureate Günter Grass -- the literary scourge of all things fascist, especially America -- had himself been a member of the Waffen SS. Now comes another zinger that casts the radical political and social upheavals of the late 1960s in new and revealing light.

The historical surprise concerns a turning point whose ripple effects were felt in Europe and beyond. On June 2, 1967, a West German policeman fatally shot an unarmed, 26-year-old literature student in the back of his head during a demonstration in West Berlin against the visiting Shah of Iran. Benno Ohnesorg became "the left wing's first martyr" (per the weekly Der Spiegel). His dying moments captured in a famous news photograph, Ohnesorg galvanized a generation of left-wing students and activists who rose up in the iconic year of 1968. What was a fringe soon turned to terrorism.

To them his killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was the "fascist cop" at the service of a capitalist, pro-American "latent fascist state." "The post-fascist system has become a pre-fascist one," the German Socialist Student Union declared in their indictment hours after the killing. The ensuing movement drew its legitimacy and fervor from the Ohnesorg killing. Further enraging righteous passions, Mr. Kurras was acquitted by a court and returned to the police force.

Now all that's being turned on its head. Last week, a pair of German historians unearthed the truth about Mr. Kurras. Since 1955, he had worked for the Stasi, East Germany's dreaded secret police. According to voluminous Stasi archives, his code name was Otto Bohl. The files don't say whether the Stasi ordered him to do what he did in 1967. But that only fuels speculation about a Stasi hand behind one of postwar Germany's transformative events.

Mr. Kurras, who is 81 and lives in Berlin, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he belonged to the East German Communist Party. "Should I be ashamed of that or something?" He denied he was paid to spy for the Stasi, but asked, "What if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn't change anything." Mr. Kurras may be the monster of the leftist imagination -- albeit now it turns out he is one of their own.

To answer his last question, this revelation matters. It belies yet again the claims of the '68 hard left, passed on to our times as anti-globalization riots, that a free market and liberal democracy are somehow "fascistic." This brand of intolerance is at core prone to violence. The true, ruthless heirs to National Socialism and the Gestapo were the East German regime and the Stasi, the Soviets and the KGB. And in turn, some of the terrorist groups that emerged from the radicalization of the 1960s.

Present in Berlin that June day in 1967 were Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, who went on to found the "Baader-Meinhof Gang," aka the Red Army Faction. From 1968 until 1991, the RAF carried out dozens of kidnappings, bombing and murders -- all to fight the "roots of capitalism" and a "resurgent Nazi state." As 1968 historian Paul Berman notes, the most famous terrorist organization born in this era was the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The analogue in the U.S. became the Weather Underground.

Some '68ers grew up and peeled away. Others took time to see its dark side. An early reveille came at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when PLO gunmen aided by a leftist German group, the Revolutionary Cells, took hostage and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The 1974 publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" was another. So was Pol Pot, the Vietnamese boat people; the list goes on.

Historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to repeating mistakes. Particularly in an America, where many quickly forgot the lessons of the Cold War and of 9/11. More than most nations, Germans are condemned to a living history. That turns up the kinds of surprises that force a hard re-examination of the past and the present.

The disciplanarians of U.S. policy makers return

The Bond Vigilantes. WSJ Editorial
The disciplanarians of U.S. policy makers return.
WSJ, May 28, 2009

They're back. We refer to the global investors once known as the bond vigilantes, who demanded higher Treasury bond yields from the late 1970s through the 1990s whenever inflation fears popped up, and as a result disciplined U.S. policy makers. The vigilantes vanished earlier this decade amid the credit mania, but they appear to be returning with a vengeance now that Congress and the Federal Reserve have flooded the world with dollars to beat the recession.
Treasury yields leapt again yesterday at the long end, with the 10-year note climbing above 3.7%, its highest close since November. Treasury yields had stayed low, and the dollar had remained strong, as long as investors were looking for the safest financial port amid the post-September panic. But as risk aversion subsides, and investors return to corporate bonds and other assets, investors are now calculating the risks of renewed dollar inflation.

They have cause to be worried, given Washington's astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration's epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder -- as do we -- whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

The surge in the 10-year note is especially notable because its rate helps to determine mortgage lending rates. The Fed is desperate to keep mortgage rates low to reflate the housing market, and last week it promised to inject hundreds of billions of dollars more in this effort. This week the bond vigilantes are showing what they think of that offer, bidding up yields even higher. It's not going too far to say we are watching a showdown between Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and bond investors, otherwise known as the financial markets. When in doubt, bet on the markets.

Autism Exploitation

Autism Exploitation. By Marvin Schissel
ACSH, May 27, 2009

The rate of diagnosed autism in the country today has increased from 1 in 10,000 in 1995 to 1 in 150 today. However, this likely reflects increased information and awareness about autism, the expansion of diagnostic criteria, more thorough and accurate diagnoses, and the classification of many cases as autism that would previously have been recorded as mental retardation. Autism is a lifelong condition that has a devastating effect on individuals and on their families. It is understandable that those involved with the autism spectrum can be desperate for help, for any hope of help. And this desperation makes them ready prey for charlatans.

There are therapies, ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and CBT (Cognitive,Behavior Therapy), that are considered helpful. But they are not widely available, can be expensive and time consuming, and may offer only limited progress. This sets the stage for sham artists who eagerly hurl themselves into the breach with information and treatment that is false, ineffective and harmful.

The false assertion that connects autism with vaccines and mercury has led to lower vaccination rates and a marked increase in those major diseases that vaccination protected against; should the trend continue we may be faced with an epidemic. But promoters of this deceit are cashing in with books, lectures, and, worst of all, scientifically unsupported treatments that are not only ineffective but can be dangerous. Such treatments include chelation, hyperbaric oxygen, lupron, and a wide variety of other questionable therapies, diets, and ineffective behavioral regimens.

The vaccine quackery started in 1998 with a published paper by Andrew Wakefield and twelve others that suggested a link with MMR vaccine and autism. This study was criticized as flawed and ten of its twelve authors have since disassociated themselves from its assertions.

Subsequently it was revealed that previous to the study Wakefield had received well over a half million dollars from lawyers hoping to sue vaccine companies. Recently it was claimed that Wakefield falsified his data. Worse yet, it has been discovered that Wakefield, prior to his publication, had applied for a patent for a new measles vaccine: if he could prove the old vaccine was dangerous a new vaccine would be very profitable. But the bottom line is that with all the studies that have been done worldwide involving over half a million children, no association between autism and vaccines has ever been demonstrated, and this counterfeit controversy has been scientifically laid to rest. Unfortunately, this phony issue still rages among the scientifically ignorant public.

In the news recently have been the activities of Dr. Mark Geier and his son David, longtime campaigners in the arena of dubious autism activity. Mark Geier has appeared as an "expert" witness in over a hundred cases, although he has been criticized by courts for being intellectually dishonest and not having appropriate training, expertise and experience. Reputable scientists have repeatedly dismissed the Geiers' autism research as seriously flawed. A front-page article in the NY Times actually made fun of the pretentions of the Geiers and their naive lab facilities. But they are not deterred by criticism, and their latest venture is opening clinics around the country offering autism treatment with the dangerous drug Lupron. Lupron alters levels of testosterone and is sometimes used to chemically castrate sex offenders; no scientific support exists for it to treat autism. To use it for autism has been called irresponsible.

Wakefield and the Geiers are by no means the only offenders in the autism world. They are just two examples of the probably thousands of impostors exploiting the desperation of the autism community. The only solution will be a better understanding on the part of the public of the principles of science, and a much clear-cut and louder noise made by the legitimate scientific community.

Dr. Marvin J. Schissel is a dentist and an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, the National Council Against Health Fraud, and the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and has a son with autism.

Pres. Clinton Concedes Spain’s Green Jobs Program “Has Cost Many Jobs”

In España, Veritas: Pres. Clinton Concedes Spain’s Green Jobs Program “Has Cost Many Jobs”
Former president channels Prof. Gabriel Calzada in delivering veiled rebuke of Obama’s Spanish-inspired green jobs plan
The Institute for Energy Research , May 27, 2009

Washington, DC – Spain’s decade-long program to subsidize the creation and continued existence of so-called green jobs through a massive infusion of taxpayer resources “has cost many jobs,” former President Bill Clinton admitted to a Spanish audience at the European University of Madrid this week, according to the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo (a translated version of the piece can be found below).

The statement mirrors closely the findings of a recent study authored by Professor Gabriel Calzada of Spain, a report that has attracted attention in the United States as the current president continues to cite Spain as a model to be followed in promoting a similar green jobs plan here at home.

In response to former President Clinton’s comments, Institute for Energy Research (IER) president Thomas J. Pyle issued the following statement:

“Though efforts continue to be made in the United States to discredit the Spanish green jobs study, and even personally attack its author, President Clinton’s affirmation of its core findings serves as just the latest reminder that the facts are what they are – and they aren’t pretty. More than 10 years and nearly $40 billion in public investment later, Spain still only acquires less than one percent of its power from solar, and the vast majority of the so-called green jobs created by the government to support that industry are no longer in existence today. If this is the model for near-term economic growth and long-term energy security that President Obama envisions for our country, we may be in for a longer, more severe recession than we know.”

Please find below the translated version of the El Mundo article:

–Clinton: Green Energy “Has Cost Many Jobs”
J. G. Gallego/C. CaballeroEl Mundo, p. 46May 23, 2009

Madrid — Former US President turned ecologist Bill Clinton is aware of the impact on employment by the development on renewable energy. Even though he is, as a former dweller of the White House, one of the most visible supporters in that industry, the US Democrat recognized yesterday that clean energies “have cost many jobs” in Spain.

Though without citing it directly, Clinton was acknowledging yesterday during his conference in Madrid that the study about the impact of public support on renewable energies, released by Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, has very valid conclusions.

That report, which has received enormous coverage in US media and been used against Barack Obama’s energy policy, argues that every job in renewable energies created in Spain in the year 2000 has cost 571138 Euros and has been the cause of the loss of 2.2 jobs elsewhere in the economy.

Bill Clinton recognized yesterday that “this commitment to clean energy has cost many jobs” while at the same time calling for Spain to intensify investment in this industry to be able to turn high costs into new jobs.–

NOTE: Former President Clinton’s comments in Madrid making the link between “green” government intervention and the hemorrhaging of jobs and opportunity follows a statement he made last year in which he suggested that “we just have to slow down our economy … because we’ve got to save the planet for our grandchildren.”

More from IER on the fallacy and unintended consequences of “green jobs”:

Spanish Report: Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources
Study: Green Jobs: Fact or Fiction?
Study: Seven Myths about Green Jobs
Blog: Green Jobs That Nobody Wants
Blog: It Takes a Lot of Government Green to Create a Green Job