Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NY State Senate Follies Continue

The standoff in Albany j4b7dq8wmp between State Senate Republicans and Democrats continues, as Democrats refuse to acknowledge the new reality that they are no longer in control of the chamber after two of their members voted with Republicans to oust Malcolm Smith as majority leader. The latest act to appear in the center ring of this circus is New York Governor David Paterson. After alternately vowing to not let the Senate takeover stand and admitting that there is really nothing he can do about it, Paterson said Sunday that he will call the Senate into special session.

At his press conference, Paterson chided the Senate, saying that the impasse has "inconvenienced the lives of every New Yorker."

"Over the last couple of weeks, the senators' conduct has been laughable, but what's going on around here these days is no joke and I don't find it funny. There will be no excuses and there will be no tolerance for noncompliance with this order. And as they have inconvenienced all New Yorkers for the past few weeks, maybe we'll see how they like feeling the same way."

For all his bluster, however, Paterson has no authority to force the Senate to debate bills or take votes. He can only make them sit in the chamber. And as for his assertion that the standoff has "inconvenienced" New Yorkers, there is no evidence of this. Despite the great tragedy of the New York State Senate holding no official sessions for a couple of weeks, all the traffic lights still work, and all the government offices are still open. How exactly has even one New Yorker been directly affected by the Senate standoff?

Quite the contrary, New York has been better off without a legislature to meddle in their daily lives. Consider the agenda that the governor is so eager to have the Senate consider.

The governor's 55-bill agenda includes legislation to extend the law granting the mayor control over the school system and a bill authorizing the city to hike its 4% local sales tax by another 0.5%.

[Paterson] said once those issues are dealt with, he will call another special session to deal with more controversial matters, like the legalization of same-sex marriage.

And those are just the highlights. Higher taxes and redefining marriage. Goodness knows what else the governor has in store for the state if he only had a Senate to act. Surely the good people of New York City can go another summer without an extra half a percent on top of the already sky high 8.75% sales tax. Recognizing same-sex marriages is not a high-priority concern for the vast majority of New Yorkers, one suspects. With the exception of mayoral control of the schools, this is not the "people's business," as the governor so high-and-mightily put it. It is the politicians' business, the special interests' business.

The New York State GOP, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos in particular, should be commended for giving the nation a glimpse of the consequences when a state legislature fails to act: nothing. There's a lesson in this for state parties and the national Republican Party. If government would stop doing the "people's business," and just let the people go about their business, everything will be just fine. More state legislatures should try it. Maybe even Congress. So for now, let the circus continue in Albany. It will be resolved in its own good time, the governor's frustrations notwithstanding. The people can wait.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Not So Wise

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has come under fire for the following controversial comment that she made in prepared remarks at the University of California-Berkeley.
“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Both the Obama Administration and the nominee herself have said that the comments would have been better “restated.” If by “restated” the Administration meant “repeated,” then the revelation that Sotomayor made nearly the exact same remark twice before and twice after the 2001 Berkeley speech would not be a surprise. As it is, however, Sotomayor’s views on the role of gender and ethnicity in her judicial decision making process has never been in more doubt.

More trouble for Sotomayor has come to light recently as a result of her filing an incomplete Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. The White House boasted that Sotomayor turned in her questionnaire, “faster than any nominee in modern history,” just nine days since her nomination. She may have wanted to hold onto it a bit longer.

Sotomayor did not mention a memorandum she signed as a member of a Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund task force on the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1981. In the memo, the group argues that the death penalty, “…is associated with evident racism in our society.” Sotomayor, signature on the document is another indication of her apparently incessant and ingrained tendency to see race and ethnicity first, and facts second.

Both the additional speeches and the omission of the memo underscore the decidedly unwise manner in which the Obama Administration, and Sotomayor herself, have handled the nomination, the nominee’s characterization of herself notwithstanding. Whether the Administration did not anticipate the level of scrutiny that would be visited on its first Supreme Court nomination, or whether it is simply trying to rush the nomination through before all the facts can be ascertained is not known. But questions about what the Administration knew and when about the speeches and the memo are now bound to be a feature of her confirmation hearing. As are other as yet undiscovered controversies in Sotomayor’s professional career.

With 59 Senators and a high personal approval rating, President Obama should have been able to drive Sotomayor’s nomination through the Senate with little or no question. However, the Administration’s ham-handed attempts at crisis management, and it’s juvenile pursuit of some superfluous record has brought greater scrutiny on Sotomayor than otherwise may have been expected. This has provided Republicans with an opportunity to define Sotomayor and President Obama at the confirmation hearings. They should take full advantage of the Obama Administration’s missteps, and Sotomayor’s omission, to give her a thorough examination.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Question of National Character

This piece originally appeared in the American Spectator. Thanks to Jim Antle and Caleb Howe.

Speaking to a French reporter while on his Middle East trip, President Obama said that the United States would be “one of the largest Muslim countries,” if its Muslim population was the measure. Jake Tapper fact checked that claim and reports that the White House used the CIA World Fact Book as a source for Obama’s erroneous statistic that there are seven million Muslims in the U.S. The actual size of the Muslim population in America, according to the CIA, is 0.6% of the total, or just under 2 million.

Tapper points out that the president did not say, and does not believe, that the United States is a Muslim nation, as some have lamented. As evidence for this, he recalls Obama’s speech of April 6, in Turkey, in which the president said that America, “does not consider itself a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation.” While Tapper may be correct on the literal meaning of the president’s words, the rationale behind them is utter nonsense.
The idea that America would be one of the largest Muslim nations is silly not just because the president’s figures were grossly over-inflated. It is silly because population size is not what makes a nation inherently Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Culture does.

Take India as an example. India has the second largest population in the world at just under 1.2 billion people. Of them, the CIA says that 13.5% are Muslim. That gives India a Muslim population of over 162 million. Compare that to the largest Muslim nation of Indonesia, which has 200 million. Yet no one would think to claim that India is a Muslim nation, or that it is even, “one of the largest Muslim countries,” based on that number alone. India’s culture is as unique as it is ancient. In modern times, India’s culture and society may have been shaped by Muslims, but they are undoubtedly rooted in a history that long predates the introduction of Islam.

Similarly, America has a history rooted in Western European civilization, which is undeniably Christian. The Founders were Christian men who, guided by their Christian faith, stitched together a nation. Although they had the restraint to forbid the government from sponsoring a particular religion, to say that the United States is not a Christian nation is to deny both its history and the present reality. Indeed, with roughly one tenth of the worldwide Christian population, by the president’s own logic the United States would be one of the world’s biggest Christian nations, if not the biggest.

One aspect of the United States’ Christian culture is its acceptance of other religions. This is simply not the case in many Muslim nations, where Christians and Jews are shunned, discriminated against, and even driven out. A powerful example is the systematic marginalization of the minority Coptic Christian community in the president’s host nation, Egypt.
It is understandable that President Obama wants better relations with the Muslim world. It has been, after all, the source of many of America’s problems for the past 30 years. But to deny the very nature of the county in that effort is not outreach, it is obsequiousness. America’s relationship to Muslims should be predicated on mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance of one another. That means Muslims must understand and accept that America is at its root a Christian nation, just as they must realize that America’s actions in the world are not guided by that fact. The president does his cause no favors by pretending otherwise.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama Met Secretly with Jeremiah Wright During Campaign

Last May, in the heat of the Democratic primary and coming off of a disastrous showing in the Pennsylvania primary, Barack Obama reversed course and publicly denounced his controversial pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after refusing to do so the month before. In his now famous Philadelphia speech on race relations, Obama said he could no more disown Wright than he could disown the black community. Wright then made an appearance at the National Press Club on April 28th, one week after the Pennsylvania primary, in which he refused to recant his controversial sermons, the revelation of which had brought pressure on the Obama campaign. Soon after, Obama would disown him, using the pretext of Wright's affirmation of his sermons as the reason for his change of mind.

Wright disappeared from the campaign after that, disproving speculation that he was out to destroy Obama's campaign out of anger at his former charge's repudiation. At the time, I questioned whether it was all a set up. Did Obama and Wright conspire together to get Wright and the controversy surrounding Obama's 20-year attendance at his Trinity United Church out of the news in advance of the crucial North Carolina and Indiana primaries? Now, there may be proof.

This is what I speculated on May 2nd, three days after Obama denounced his former pastor:

Here’s how the theory goes. When Wright’s controversial sermons...were made public, the Obama campaign took the occasion to have the candidate make a big speech on race relations. The speech was delivered in Philadelphia, the better to help Obama calm the fears of rural, white, working-class Democrats, to whom he now looked a little more like a sixties radical than an agent of a new kind of politics. It was expected that Obama would distance himself from his firebrand pastor. But he didn’t...Far from distancing himself, Obama drew closer to Wright. [...]

Obama lost Pennsylvania by 10 points on April 22nd...Faced with the sudden realization that his campaign was foundering among rural whites, and with four heavily rural states next to vote, Obama needed a way to reach out to that crucial Democratic demographic.

But for the post-partisan Obama to suddenly turn on his pastor, mentor, and friend of more than 20 years would have seemed too opportunistic, too old politics. He needed to find a way to denounce Wright without having it be seen as politically motivated. [...]

Less cynical observers say that the new Wright controversy is too damaging for Obama’s campaign to be a political ploy...But it has been three days since Obama’s dismissal of Wright, and there has been no word from the Reverend. If Wright remains silent through Monday, consider it a certainty that he is executing a plan designed to give Obama the political cover to opportunistically deny him. There may never be proof of coordination, but there seems to be a lot of winking and nodding going on.

In his forthcoming book on the 2008 campaign, Richard Wolfe reports that Obama and Wright met between the Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries at Wright's home in suburban Chicago. The Obama campaign set up the meeting with the express goal of getting Wright to end his public appearances. The meeting was not reported in the press.

Wolfe's account of the discussion between the besieged pastor and the beleaguered candidate leaves plenty of questions. Wolfe says Obama, "adopt[ed] the tone of a concerned friend giving advice," and tried to, "nudge [Wright] in the right direction by making him aware of what was about to happen." The account is silent about whether the two men discussed the campaign. But coming off a loss in a heavily rural state, and heading into two more contests in heavily rural battleground states, is it really much of a stretch to surmise that Obama asked Wright to get out of the way?

The proof, of course, is that Wright did exactly that. He made no more public appearances after his National Press Club speech. There was no attempt to destroy Obama's campaign. And thanks to Republican John McCain's decision not to make Wright an issue, Obama did not have to face serious questions about his former pastor again during the campaign.

Complicit in this deception is the mainstream media, which clearly was not paying close enough attention to Obama to know of the meeting. Considering the intensity of the Wright story and the Democratic primary, the meeting would have been blockbuster news. Somehow, Obama was able to meet with the most controversial figure in the campaign, at his home, on the cusp of two critically important primaries, and not one media outlet reported on it.

All of this calls into question whether Obama was telling the truth in his embrace of Wright in Philadelphia, or in his denunciation of him the following month; and whether Wright's National Press Club appearance and Obama's subsequent distancing from him was part of a quid pro quo designed to allow Obama to appear more moderate without explicitly denying his radical preacher. Had news of the meeting been reported, that question may have been explored, at least in the conservative blogosphere. Instead, the public was deprived of the context necessary to make a true judgment about Obama's relationship to Wright. But perhaps a clue to Obama's motivations in both speeches can be found in the words of Wright himself.
"Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls...He does what politicians do."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sotomayor Obfuscates on "Wise Latina" Comment

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made the rounds on Capitol Hill today, meeting with Senators of both parties. According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), Sotomayor addressed her controversial "wise Latina" remarks from 2001 during their meeting. Leahy would not say whether the nominee acknowledged that she misspoke when she made the comments, but her attempt to explain them only adds more confusion.

Here is what Sotomayor said in a prepared speech to a University of California Berkeley audience:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Last week, the White House said that Sotomayor chose her words poorly when making the speech, adding that the judge was, "making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judging." President Obama endorsed that line, saying that the controversy over the remarks was "nonsense." Still, the nominee spouted a completely different explanation in her meetings with Senators today.

"Sotomayor told Leahy that what she meant is that people have different backgrounds but 'there is only one law,' and 'ultimately and completely' she would follow the law.

Leahy didn't clarify whether Sotomayor acknowledged misspeaking, as even President Barack Obama has. Leahy said Sotomayor talked about her judicial philosophy, which can be guided by experiences but at the end of the day it comes down to rule of law."
[emphasis added]

To clarify, Sotomayor now says that when she said life experiences matter to the process of judging, she was really saying that life experiences don't matter to the process of judging.

The "ultimately and completely" formulation came up again in a meeting with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, in what is clearly a White House supplied line to try and put the "nonsense" controversy behind the nominee. But rather than clear things up, Sotomayor's and the Administration's denial of the clear meaning of her words only creates more questions about what she meant when she made the speech.

Sotomayor, Obama, and the Felon Vote

Welcome American Spectator readers. Thanks to Quin Hillyer for the kind words and the link. -MI

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is an advocate of allowing felons to vote. "Advocate" is a loaded word when referring to a judge, and with good reason. Judges are not supposed to allow their personal preferences to influence their interpretation of the law and the facts at issue in a given case. But their really is no other way to describe Sotomayor's dissenting opinion in Hayden v. Pataki, a case brought by inmates in New York State under the federal Voting Rights Act.

The inmates were suing the State of New York for the right to vote, alleging New York's prohibition of felon voting was discriminatory based on race and ethnicity. Sotomayor sided with the inmates in a four-paragraph long opinion, holding that the Voting Rights Act prohibited states from disenfranchising felons because the majority are black, Hispanic, and other minorities.

The Washington Times excoriates Sotomayor for her shoddy legal reasoning pointing out that the Constitution grants states the right to deny felons the vote in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Times rightly characterizes her opinion in the case as a product of her inability to see past race and ethnicity and apply the law as written.
"Ms. Sotomayor is thus in the position of asserting that Congress can prohibit New York from doing something the Constitution itself specifically endorses. It's as if she thinks that black and Hispanic felons are convicted in order to deny them the vote, rather than being denied the vote as a result of being duly convicted. Her position ignores the fact that it is these convicts' own actions, their crimes – not any state-based racial discrimination – that make them ineligible to vote.

[Sotomayor's] dissenting opinion in Hayden v. Pataki is another example of her taking racial grievance mongering to absurd new depths. They are depths unbecoming a Supreme Court justice."

Unsurprisingly, as a Senator, President Obama was a co-sponsor of the Count Every Vote Act, a bill which would have restored the right to vote to all ex-felons nationwide, according to a description of the legislation the president provided during the campaign on an NAACP questionnaire. It's not likely that he was pandering. But what about as a Constitutional law professor? Does the president endorse the position Sotomayor expressed in her brief dissent on felon voting rights? How about Sotomayor's interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment?

This is a question on which it seems that Sotomayor is very vulnerable. First, her legal reasoning – that Congress can trump the Constitution by statute – if that's what we must call it, is highly uninformed. Second, Sotomayor only took four paragraphs to elucidate her opinion. That leaves precious little room for justifications grounded in past precedent or legal analysis. It smacks more of an, "I like it, therefore it must be," approach to judging, at least in this case. Worse, the apparent lack of effort Sotomayor put into the decision suggests a lack of respect for the process that will not serve the country well were she to be confirmed. Justices must bring more heft than a curt, "Because I said so!" when ruling on matters of national impact.

Republicans should press Sotomayor hard on this case, and others, in private and at her confirmation hearings. They should also demand that the White House answer for nominating a judge who could not be bothered to explain her extra-Constitutional reasoning in Hayden v. Pataki, and who refuses to be bound by the Constitution or the law in attempting to implement her, and the president's, favored outcomes.

Obama Silent on First Terror Attack Since 9/11

Those wondering how long it would take for the first act of terrorism to be perpetrated on American soil under President Barack Obama did not have to wait long. The murder of a U.S. military recruiter by a Muslim convert in Arkansas yesterday marks the return of the war on terror to America after just four months of the new Administration's systematic dismantling of the policies and programs that kept the nation safe for over seven years under the Bush Administration.

Some may take issue with that characterization, noting the slaying of abortionist George Tiller by an apparently militant domestic terrorist on Sunday. President Obama certainly was quick to condemn that killing; and his Administration quick to take action to protect other abortion providers. Tiller's murderer, though a cold-blooded killer, is not a terrorist of the kind that the United States has been fighting since the September 11th attacks. If every murderer were a terrorist, the United States would have to invade most liberal-run cities to put down the violence.

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, formerly Carlos Bledsoe, is, however, exactly the kind of terrorist that has been prevented from carrying out acts of violence against Americans, until now. Still, the president has not made a statement about the killing. He has not expressed "shock and outrage" as he did at Tiller's murder; has not offered condolences to Pvt. William A. Long's family or Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, the other soldier injured in the attack; and has not expressed the nation's resolve - to say nothing of his Administration's - to continue to fight radical Islamic terrorists wherever they may be found.

To Obama, the Arkansas shootings were an isolated incident carried out by a deranged individual, not part of a worldwide effort to kill Americans with the aim of bringing the country to it's knees. Indeed, it cannot allow the attack to be viewed as such – even though we know Muhammad was radicalized in prison, trained in Yemen, and was upset about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – lest Obama bear some responsibility for watering down the programs that could have prevented it.