Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama's Libya Speech--The Missing Word was "Congress"

Did you notice the glaring absence of one word in the President's address to the nation on U.S. intervention in Libya? That word is "Congress." President Obama said nothing about formally consulting with Congress, either before or after the commitment of U.S. military force to enforce a no-fly zone. (Briefings with Congressional leaders are nice, but have nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution or the War Powers Act.) Nothing, not a word, in the President's speech suggested that there was any limit on Presidential power to take the military actions he has taken regarding Libya. In sort, the President considers his actions to be inherent in his Constitutional power as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. armed forces, period.

As John Yoo correctly pointed out in a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal online on March 25, delightfully entitled "Antiwar Senator, War-Powers President, the President's unilateral action, coupled with silence from nearly all Demoratic Senators other than Dennis Kucinich, amounts to an endorsement of the scope of Presidential war powers advocated by the George W. Bush administration:

Imagine the uproar if President Bush had unilaterally launched air attacks against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. But since it's Mr. Obama's finger on the trigger, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept quiet—demonstrating that their opposition to presidential power during the Bush years was political, not principled.

Mr. Obama's exercise of war powers in Libya is firmly in the tradition of American foreign policy. Throughout our history, neither presidents nor Congress have acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can conduct military hostilities abroad. We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and World Wars I and II.

Without any approval from Congress, presidents have sent forces to battle Indians, Barbary Pirates and Russian revolutionaries, to fight North Korean and Chinese Communists in Korea, to engineer regime changes in South and Central America, and to prevent human rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, received legislative "authorization" but not declarations of war.

Since Vietnam, however, antiwar Democrats have sought to replace the Constitution's reliance on swift presidential action in war with a radically different system appropriate for peacetime: Congress makes policy, the president implements it. In 1973, they passed the War Powers Resolution to require congressional permission for any military intervention abroad, but no president has accepted the law's constitutionality.

I support the President's actions in Libya. I do not think that he has violated law or exceeded his powers in so acting. I just wish he would show a little humility by acknowledging that he was mistaken in 2007, when then-Senator Obama said, "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Muslims Have the Right Under American Contract Law to Have Disputes Decided in Arbitration According to Sharia

The conservative blogosphere is going bonkers. "Tampa Court Allows Sharia Law!" "Judge Orders Use of Islamic Law in Tampa Lawsuit!" There is less here than meets the eye.

Here is what I believe actually has occurred. Two pious Muslims entered into an arbitration agreement to have a dispute determined in a private arbitration under Sharia law. When one party reneged, either refusing to proceed with the arbitration or refusing to abide by the arbitrator's decision, Florida Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Nielsen ordered the parties to resolve the dispute in accordance with the arbitration agreement. That is not an American court applying Sharia law. That is an American court applying Florida contract law to enforce a contract.

Across our country, thousands of disputes are resolved each year before Jewish religious courts, betei dinim, applying Torah law. (Sometimes, especially in commercial disputes, Torah law dictates that secular law govern the dispute, but that is still the application of Torah law.) If the parties, in their original contract or after a dispute arises, enter into an arbitration agreement, designating a bet din (Jewish rabbinical court)as the arbitrator, the decision of the bet din is enforeceable in most American courts, including California state courts. The courts who enforce the decision of the bet din are not violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They are not applying Torah law. They are enforcing American contract law. If there is a distinction between the enforcement of an arbitration award rendered under Jewish law by a bet din and one rendered by Islamic judges under Sharia, I don't see it. Indeed, any such distinction would probably itself violate the First Amendment.

Cool it, my conservative brothers. You are only proving yourselves the successor to the 19th century "Know Nothing" Party in deed as well in name.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Disaster in Japan--Giant Lizard Attacks Tokyo!

Yet another disaster has struck Japan. A giant lizard has come ashore in Tokyo harbor and is destroying the city. Scientists suspect the creature may be a mutation caused by radiation leaking from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

What the Murders of the Fogel Family Say About Palestinian and Muslim Jew Hatred

Dennis Prager, at, writes that the terrorist murders of the Fogel family, including a 3-month old infant, at Itamar and the gang rape of CBS News correspondent Lara Logan (whose attackers shouted, "Jew, Jew") tell us a good deal about Palestinian and Muslim Jew hatred:

The two incidents tell the same tale. In much of the Arab Muslim and some of the non-Arab Muslim world today (such as Iran), "Jew" is not a person. "Jew" is not even merely the enemy. In fact, there is no parallel on Earth to what "Jew" means to a hundred million, perhaps hundreds of millions of Muslims.

Think of any conflict in the world -- Pakistan-India, China-Tibet, North Korea-South Korea, Tamil-Sinhalese. There are some deep hatreds there, and atrocities have been committed on one or both sides of those conflicts. But in none of those conflicts nor anywhere else is there something equivalent to what "Jew" means to millions of Muslims.

There really is only one historical parallel, and it, too, involved the word "Jew." The Nazis also succeeded in fully dehumanizing the word "Jew." Thus, for Nazism, it was as important (if not more so) to murder Jewish babies and children -- often through as cruel a means as possible (being burned alive, buried alive or thrown up in the air and impaled on bayonets) -- as it was to murder Jewish adults.

Bret Stephens expresses a similar view in a Wall Street Journal column, entitled "Are Settlers Even Human?" An excerpt of that column appears here at World Jewish Unfortunately the full column in the Wall Street Journal is available only to subscribers.

I would like to think that Messrs. Prager and Stephens are wrong or are exaggerating the situation. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that they are right. It is no repudiation of Dennis' argument to say that many, perhaps most Moslems do not dehumanize Jews. Most Germans did not dehumanize Jews.

(HT: National Council of Young Israel.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Iran's Fars News Agency Lauds Murder of Infants

Iran's Fars News Agency joyously reported yesterday that a newly formed Palestinian
group named after Imad Mugniyah - a Hezbollah commander killed by Israel three years ago - and affiliated with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah movement, had claimed responsibility for the "killing of five Zionists" in the Israeli settlement of Itamar. A member of the new group "managed to kill all the five Zionists who were in the house on Saturday morning, the statement from the group added, mentioning that the Palestinian combatant has returned home safely after conducting his mission successfully."

The statement from this new terrorist band left out a few critical facts concerning the bravery of the attacker or attackers. (The number of assailants is as yet unknown.) The "Zionists" that were stabbed to death included 3-month old Hadas Fogel, 3-year old Elad Fogel and 11-year old Yoav Fogel, as well as their parents Rose and Rabbi Udi Fogel. Udi Fogel appears to have been killed as he slept beside his infant daughter, whose throat was slashed. Photos of the slain "Zionists" appear above. (Rose Fogel appears in the background of the photo of Yoav.) When one views the ferocious demeanor of Hadas, Elad and Yoav, one can only marvel at the courage of their attackers.

Also, contary to the Fars news report, the terrorists in fact failed to kill two "Zionists" in the house at the time of the attack, a 6-year old boy who was asleep on the couch and a 2-year old boy asleep in his bed, both of whom the murderers may have missed in the dark. There were signs that Rose Fogel was awake and tried to defend herself against her attackers, so the murdered womans's resistance may have caused the murderers to lose courage and flee.

Hamas reacted by defending the Palestinian right of resistance to occupation by any means, including the deliberate murder of children, while also suggesting that the family had been murdered by Israelis.

Score One for the Luddites. Nuclear Power Plants are NOT Yet Adequately Earthquake Safe.

"Japan Races to Prevent Nuclear Meltdowns" reads the headline on this AP story. In the AP photo above left, a technician tests a father and infant for exposure to radiation.

The Kosher Hedgehog knows when to admit a mistake. I had thought that nuclear power plant safety technology had advanced in recent decades to the point where a nuclear power plant may be safely located in a seismically active zone. The fallout (both literal and figurative) from the Japanese earthquake last week proves unforunately that this is not yet the case. As I post this column, thank G-d, there has not yet been any large-scale release of radiation, if Japanese official reports are to be believed. However, the Japanese government has been compelled to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from the areas surrounding its threatened nuclear plants, and the Japanese are scrambling to cool down the reactors where the cooling systems have failed in a desperate effort to prevent core meltdowns.

That is not good enough. Any nuclear plant in a seismic zone must have a mechanism that reliably will cool down or shut down the core in the event of an earthquake sufficiently strong to threaten the efficacy of the nuclear core cooling system, and that mechanism must itself be earthquake proof. The Japanese plants failed that test.

I am shocked and surprised that in Japan, the only nation on earth ever to suffer nuclear attack, and therefore reputedly a country that harbors deeply ingrained anti-nuclear sentiment, and moreover a place where awareness of seismic threat is deeply imbedded in the culture and the national consciousness, the political will somehow was mustered to build nuclear plants that turned out to be entirely too vulnerable to earthquakes. Admittedly I do not know how new or old those plants are, or whether they have state-of-the-art seismic protection systems. However, any argument that these were old-design plants is hardly persuasive--if that is the case they either should have been retrofitted or closed.

Also, I am not persuaded by the argument that a .9 Richter scale earthquake is a once in a half-millenium event. A far weaker quake centered closer to the nuclear plants most likely would have done the same damage to the plant cooling systems.

If I had to vote today whether to approve the construction of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which is located on the Pacific Ocean coastline in northern San Diego County, I unequivocably would vote no. Until the nuclear industry can convincingly empirically demonstrate with a very high degree of reliability that it has developed a seismically safe plant design, any new nuclear plants had better be located well away from the Alaska-Washington-Oregon-California coast and fault-lines. Hawaii and the seismically active portions of Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho also must be ruled out as nuclear power plants sites for the time being. Ditto the 200-mile long New Madrid Seismic Zone which covers portions of Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. Until the seismic issue has a technological fix with demonstrated reliability, one should put nuclear plants only in relatively benign seismic zones, such as South Dakota or Kansas. And then make sure the plants are tornado-proof.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Two Videos That Tell You Everything You Need to Know about the 2008 Market Meltdown

First, a short summary of a quaint economic concept called "moral hazard:"

And then an embarrassing example of Congressional cluelessness:

This all began under Bill Clinton, was made worse when G.W. Bush did nothing about it, and was capped off with President Obama's decision to bail out the banks and financier who gleefuly made billions of dollars off the house of cards they financed.

Kosher Hedgehog Comment: Well said, Lowell. The Barney Frank video beautifully illustrates a characteristic of every economic bubble, from the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1636-37 through the mania and the recently burst housing bubble that produced our current financial recession, and that characteristic is that the bullish pundits always argue that the current boom is different from every other speculative bubble in the past because the rules have changed. One heard this during the bubble of 1999-2003, when investment funds chased start-up companies, practically throwing millions at them and imploring them to maintain a "high burn rate" of invested capital, even though the path by which many of the new online businesses would generate income, much less profits, was often unclear. Skeptics were belittled for not understanding that there was a "new paradigm" and "the rules have changed." Although Barney Frank employed different lyrics in the 2005 video, the careful listener will conclude that he was singing the same old song.

Is it only me, or does anyone else hear the same tune now playing in the gold and precious metals market?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Hard Left's Obsession with Israel Ignores True Victims of Human Rights Abuse; Roger Waters of Pink Floyd Joins the Boycott Campaign Against Israel

Alan Dershowitz is a man of the left. In an earlier time he would have been described as a liberal. Yet nowadays Professor Dershowitz, like Senator Joe Lieberman, is frequently pilloried by the hard left, because he refuses to suspend common sense and common decency when it comes to criticism of the United States of America and Israel.

Professor Dershowitz swings back at his critics and connects with this column posted at Hudson New York , entitled, "How the Hard Left, By Focusing Only on Israel, Encouraged Arab Despotism." Here is an excerpt:

Now the hard left is finally talking about torture and other undemocratic abuses in Egypt and Jordan, as well as the despotism of virtually all Arab regimes. Do you recall any campus protests against Egypt or Mubarak? Do you recall any calls for divestment and boycotts against Arab dictators? No, because there weren't any. The hard left was too busy condemning the Middle East's only democracy, Israel. Radical leftists and campus demonstrators, by giving a pass to the worst forms of tyranny, encouraged their perpetuation. Now, finally, they are jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation, though still not with the fury that they reserve for the one nation in the Middle East that has complete free speech, gender equality, gay rights, an open and critical press, an independent judiciary and fair and open elections.

The double standard is alive and well on the hard left, and its victims include the citizens of Arab regimes who suffer under the heal of authoritarian dictators. Even more important they include victims of genocides, such as those perpetrated in Rwanda, Darfur and Cambodia—victims who did not prick the consciences of the hard left because the perpetrators were Arabs or Communists, rather than Americans or Israelis

Yes, as Professor Dershowitz notes, the double standard lives on, and nowhere does it thrive more heartily than among the politically correct artists of popular music, now leading the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel ("BSD"). In today's Jerusalem Post one may read how Roger Waters, the former bassist and lead singer of Pink Floyd, has declared his support for BSD, joining folk music legend Pete Seeger. Waters is quoted as saying, "For me it means declaring my intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine, but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government's racist and colonial policies, by joining a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

Mr. Waters apparently was particularly appalled by his visit to the security barrier separating the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories from Israel. It is not reported that he ever visited the former site of Sabarro's restaurant in Jerusalem, or any of the many other sites of the Palestinian suicide bombings that murdered hundreds of Israelis. Here are the photos of two victims of one of those attacks, Dr. David Applebaum and his daughter Nava, murdered at the Cafe Hillel bombing in Jerusalem in 2003.

Dr. Appelbaum was the head of the emergency room at Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and founder of Terem, the first network of emergency medical service clinics in Israel in addition to the Red Magen David. He personally saved the lives of hundreds of Palestinian Arabs as well as Israeli Jews and Arabs, and the emergency clinics he founded continue to do so until this day. He had taken Nava to Cafe Hillel as a last special father-daughter outing before Nava's wedding, scheduled for the next night. Their murderer was a Hamas terrorist dispatched from Ramallah, now thankfully on the other side of the security barrier that Mr. Waters so despises.

Of course, the purpose of the security barrier was to prevent such terrorist outrages, and it has been largely successful. But apparently Israeli lives are less important to Mr. Waters than offenses to his political aesthetic. Mr. Waters, please explain to the holy neshamot (souls) of David and Nava Appelbaum why you see fit to support a boycott, divestment and sanction campaign against Israel, but not against Hamas.

By the way, Mr. Waters never joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Mubarak's Egypt, pre-coup Tunisia or Libya. That is of course because, as Professor Dershowitz points out, there never were any such campaigns. Indeed, while the world watches the spectacle of Mohammar Qadafi using fighter planes, tanks and machine guns to mow down thousands of Libyan citizens, a number of music industry notables such as Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, and Mariah Carey have been embarrassed by revelations that they performed at private concerts for the Qadafi family. (Usher was paid to appear with Beyonce, although he apparently did not actually perform). Now these celebrities, who are shocked, SCHOCKED, to find out that they performed for the murderous despot's clan are scrambling to donate the huge fees they earned to human rights organizations. It is a virtual cinch that some of the NGO's receiving the Qadafi-sourced booty from the embarrassed celebrities themselves sponsor and support the BSD campaign against Israel.

As Professor Dershowitz notes, "There is only one acceptable standard of international human rights: the worst must come first." By that standard, Mr. Waters should be ashamed of himself. Take your boycott, sir, and shove it up your Dark Side of the Moon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Depleted U.S. Navy Threatens Our National Interests

What you see above is the U.S. Enterprise under way full speed ahead. The world'slargest carrier has been under way a good deal lately.

Just back on February 18 it had been transiting the strategic Strait of Bab el-Mandab, a key chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Three to four billion barrels of oil per day are shipped through the Strait, making it a vital waterway for the global economy, according to a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson.

"The Bab el-Mandeb Strait and Gulf of Aden are strategically important to the United States as an important sea lane for lawful shipping and transit," said Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, Commander of Enterprise CSG, quoted in defpro news. "Our presence in the region helps ensure this freedom of navigation and the defense of these interests."

The deployment of the Enterprise and its two support ships to the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet area of operations was intended to discourage Iranian threats to shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, and also to provide security against Somali pirates, whose attacks on shipping in the area have included the taking of oil tankers.

But as reported yesterday, including this story in the Daily Mail, the Enterprise has broken off its anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and is steaming through the Suez Canal for possible duty off the coast of Libya. The Enterprise and its Carrier Air Wing One and Carrier Strike Force would be needed if the U.S. participates in the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The Mediterranean Sea is the bailiwick of the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

This flurry of activity underscores a concern raised by a national security pundit interviewed yesterday on Fox News. She stated that the U.S. does not have a single aircraft carrier assigned to the Sixth Fleet capable of implementing a no-fly zone. Indeed, while Britain and France sent warships to remove their civilians from Tripoli, the U.S. found itself compelled to lease a passenger ferry. Heaven knows what we would have done if U.S. Marines had been needed again "on the shores of Tripoli" in the course of evacuation of U.S. citizens from Libya.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Mark Helprin bemoans the decline of U.S. Naval power generally, and calls for an immediate reversal of this trend. Mr. Helprin describes how far the decline has proceeded:
The overall effect of recent erosions is illustrated by the fact that 60 ships were commonly underway in America's seaward approaches in 1998, but today—despite opportunities for the infiltration of terrorists, the potential of weapons of mass destruction, and the ability of rogue nations to sea-launch intermediate and short-range ballistic missiles—there are only 20.

The stakes are desperate, as he points out. Not only does the U.S. face threats from piracy and Iran in the Gulf of Aden, and must be prepared to act in the unpredictable situation in North Africa, but in the Pacific and the South China Sea, China's navy rises while ours declines.

Navies are expensive. We are in a budget crisis and even the defense budget must be put under scrutiny. But the amount the U.S. spends on maintaining a naval presence across the seven seas must be increased, not cut back.

UPDATE: This AFP story states that two U.S. amphibious assault warships, carrying U.S. Marines, the USS Kearsage and the USS Ponce, passed through the Suez Canal in route toward the Libyan coast. According to this story, in contrast to the Daily Mail dispatch, the Enterprise remains on station in the northern Red Sea, and is not yet on route to the Mediterranean, although it is available for duty. So, as I surmised, not only is there no full-sized carrier assigned to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, but amphibious assault ships with U.S. Marine forces also had to be transferred from the Fifth to the Sixth Fleet, a voyage of some days during which the lives of American evacuees in Tripoli might have been endangered. Indeed, one might ask, what would happen if those assault vessels and Marines were now suddenly needed back in the Gulf region, due to an Iranian threat, and an Iranian proxy attacked and succeeded in closing the Suez Canal, blocking their rapid return. We need an aircraft carrier and amphibious assault capability in both theaters.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Space Shuttle Discovery Launch, as Seen from a Passing Airliner

Why is it that I never get to see stuff like this when I am on a plane?