Sunday, February 20, 2011
Liz Cheney parallels (but doesn't quite match) Beldar's prescription for what Obama should say about U.S. aid to Egypt
On this morning's "Fox News Sunday," Liz Cheney made a point very similar to the one I made in my post from last Friday (my transcription from DVR; boldface mine):
[Chris Wallace:] Would you like to see him [i.e., President Obama] openly support the freedom fighters, the protesters, in Iran?
[Liz Cheney:] Absolutely! He should have done it last June. Had he done it, frankly, in June of 2009, we might have a very different Iran today. I think that — you know, you have a situation where the [Obama] Administration is constantly playing catch-up. And one of the things that they clearly are going to be doing now is adding more money to the democracy programs. As they do that, they need to be held to account: Not a single taxpayer penny should go to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Administration so far has refused to declare their opposition to that. The Muslim Brotherhood is not democratic. They clearly support the imposition of Sharia law —
[Wallace:] — You're talking of course in Egypt —
[Cheney:] — and the return of the Caliphate in Egypt. But I think they'll face this issue across the region with Islamic organizations.
Of course no U.S. taxpayer money should ever go directly, or be permitted to be funneled indirectly, to the Muslim Brotherhood. And of course Obama should make that point clearly and publicly and now.
But it's not just the cash now that's important. It's the Egyptian people's understanding of the likelihood of a continuing sustained cash-flow in the future, the cash-flow they've been enjoying since, basically, the Camp David accords in 1978. With or without U.S. assistance, and indeed despite any efforts we might make to undercut their fund-raising elsewhere, the Muslim Brotherhood will find plenty of sources of cash that can be used to sway a "one man, one vote, one time" election.
But that's still chump change compared to the billions of U.S. aid dollars we've been sending to Egypt year in and year out. And the Egyptians who might be tempted by the Muslim Brotherhood's pitch, or intimidated by their threats and violence, need to understand that Uncle Sam's teat is going to be permanently withdrawn if the Muslim Brotherhood even shares power in a new Egyptian government.
(Postscript: While looking for a suitable photo to pirate "fair-use republish" for this post, I was amused to see that among the companies buying advertising bandwidth from Foxnews.com is ... the New York Times. Oh, how the mighty are falling!)
UPDATE (Sun Feb 20 @ 4:15pm): This post from Andy McCarthy illustrates exactly why I think this message so badly needs to be sent, and without further delay (link his):
In another worrying sign, there are indications coming out of Egypt and Israel that the Egyptian military provided security for Qaradawi’s appearance before the throng. This, you might say, is to be expected in a potentially unstable situation with the government in flux and a throng of hundreds of thousands (at least) gathered in Tahrir Square. But the reports further suggest that the military let the Muslim Brotherhood take the lead in orchestrating Friday’s events and that opposition leaders who are not Islamists were not permitted to speak. I am not in a position to verify or disprove these reports, but if they are true that would be very ominous indeed.
It's the colonels and the generals who've been spending a whole bunch of that American foreign aid, and who need to be stripped of any illusions that it would continue if the Muslim Brotherhood were part of Egypt's new government.
Is Barack Obama one of America's 50 most influential lawyers?
InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds has a polite and useful practice of acknowledging some of the "review copies" of books that have been sent to him, even if he hasn't yet read them, with his short "In the Mail" posts. These usually consist of no more than the author's name and the book's name, typically with an Amazon link (which, altogether appropriately, rebates a small percentage of all purchases back to him through the Amazon Associates program). I think it's fair to infer from such posts that Prof. Reynolds' interest has been piqued by each of the books he so lists, whether or not he ends up reading them. But I certainly don't interpret him to be endorsing all these books, or even necessarily recommending them; when he does want to recommend or endorse something, he's pretty clear about that.
Today he has such a link for a paperback by Ross Guberman called Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates. Like any adversary-practice lawyer with the requisite healthy ego for that job, my first reaction upon reading that title was, of course: "It's not the 'Nation's Top Advocates' unless it includes me."
My own hypertrophied ego aside, however, I was nevertheless highly amused to read this sentence in Amazon's "Product Description" for this book:
The author takes an empirical approach, drawing heavily on the writings of the nation's 50 most influential lawyers, including Barack Obama, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Ted Olson, and David Boies.
One of these things is not like the other things. One of these things just doesn't belong.
Even Elena Kagan — who I thought was a disastrously poor oral advocate during her short tenure as Solicitor General — has at least made an undeniably successful career as a lawyer. David Boies, Ted Olson, and John Roberts are all "lawyer's lawyers," meaning that anyone who knows a damn thing about the practice of law, and in particular the practice of appellate advocacy (a fairly narrow sub-discipline), will indeed recognize them as fine examples from whom much about the art of advocacy can be learned.
And there's no doubt that Barack Obama — merely by virtue of the office he holds — is one of the 50, or five, most influential people in the world. But he certainly didn't get that job because of his excellence and abilities as a lawyer practicing law.
Indeed, the very best that could ever be claimed for Barack Obama's legal practice is that it was short, sporadic, undistinguished, and unmarred by the drive for either billable hours or courtroom success that most new "litigators" are expected to demonstrate. From his spot as "president" (effectively editor-in-chief) of the Harvard Law Review, he could certainly have found prestigious judicial clerkships and a prime job with almost any law firm in the country. He chose instead to blow off judicial clerkships, to spend the year after graduation writing his book and working on a voter registration project, and then finally to join a small Chicago firm of some local political influence but no national prominence. There, by all reports he alternated between "civil rights" legal work (broadly defined, e.g., protecting apartment dwellers' "civil rights" not to live amongst asbestos contamination) and much better-paying work representing slumlords like Tony Rezko. Indeed, Obama's current Wikipedia entry sums up his career as a practicing lawyer in a single sentence that's quite comprehensive and, if anything, a bit generous: "In 1993 he joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004, with his law license becoming inactive in 2002."
Based on my Westlaw search of federal libraries, Barack Obama was listed as appellate counsel of record in precisely one federal appellate decision, in which he represented ACORN (yes, that ACORN) in supporting Ohio's "motor voter" law — a matter that's almost as much political as legal — and while he might well have written part or all of that brief, he wasn't even the first-chair lawyer on the case. That hardly puts him in the company of John Roberts, Ted Olson, or David Boies as an appellate advocate. Rather, it puts him in the company of about 10,000 other schlubs who've dipped a toe in appellate waters and found them too cold, the competition too intense, and the judges too demanding of excellence.
I will grant that Obama was apparently quite popular as a part-time lecturer in constitutional law seminars at Chicago Law School. But that, even added to his law practice, wouldn't make him one of the 50 most influential lawyers in the city of Chicago — much less in the whole country.
I haven't bought, and obviously haven't read, Mr. Guberman's book. I wonder, though, if it doesn't rely on Barack Obama's political speeches, rather than anything he's ever written or said specifically as a practicing lawyer. [This bit of speculation was in error; please read the "Update" below. — Beldar] Because I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors: When I die, if I ever make it to heaven and the Good Lord gives me some choice over leisure activities, among my top five would be trying any sort of lawsuit, representing any sort of client, in a jury trial on neutral territory against Barack Obama. Somewhere in my top ten would be arguing any appeal against Barack Obama.
I would be less keen to face him in a duel of teleprompters, especially if he still gets to have the flags and the "Hail to the Chief" and Nancy Pelosi's Botoxed grin in the background. But if Barack Obama is one of the nation's top 50 most influential lawyers based on his lawyering, his advocacy for a client in any sort of court setting, I will eat my much dog-eared copy of the Bluebook.
So let it be understood: Barack Obama is one of the nation's fifty most influential lawyers in exactly the same sense as he's one of the nation's fifty most influential basketball players: He's a President of the United States who happened to dabble in basketball and lawyering.
And frankly, I haven't seen any accomplishments from his legal practice that can rival his occasional three-pointer on the basketball courts.
UPDATE (Sun Feb 20 @ 11:50pm): I'm pleased to report that the author of the book in question, Ross Guberman, has answered the rhetorical question I asked in this post — and my speculation that he'd relied upon one of Obama's political speeches was flat-out wrong. By his express permission, here verbatim is his considered response, which he sent me as part of a genuinely sparkling and civil email exchange (embedded link his):
Dear Mr. Dyer,Thank you for mentioning my book today and for sharing your thoughts on my inclusion of Obama as one of the 50 most influential advocates.I found your objection to be reasonable, so I thought I'd explain my thinking a bit.I agree that Obama had a short and thin legal career. But he did sign a cert petition in an important Voting Rights Act case (Tyus v. Bosely), and so I thought my readers might be interested in seeing a few excerpts from the brief as an example of the President's legal work in his academic specialty.Like any author, of course, I hope your own readers will buy my book and judge for themselves! Nearly all of the other people whose work I include have had more traditional legal careers.
Now I am indeed eager to read the book, not least because I've found so few samples of Obama's work product as a practicing lawyer online. Mr. Guberman has promised to send me a review copy — thus have I leveraged myself unabashedly into the same privileged position as Prof. Reynolds, at least in this one very small particular — and I've promised to read it with the intention of writing a review here in due course. Stay tuned!
Saturday, February 19, 2011
[Beldar] On Wisconsin!
What follows is an edited version of a spirited conversation I had on Facebook yesterday with a smart and principled liberal friend, a fellow lawyer with whom I enjoy arguing politics in absolute good humor. I'll call him "Liberal Friend #2" (to distinguish him from another liberal lawyer friend whom I've referred to as "Friend #1" in our past debates in these pages).
To help make clear who's saying what, I've put the contributions of Friend #2 in blue, I've put the contributions of another liberal friend of his in purple, and I've left my own remarks in basic black):
[Liberal Friend #2]: Join me in supporting the right for collective bargaining! The U.S. has the largest economy and the strongest middle class in the world BECAUSE of unions, NOT despite them! ...
[Snarky Beldar:] Power to the People! I stand in complete solidarity with ... the voting public of Wisconsin, who voted just a few weeks ago for a state government that would stand up to its public employee unions who've been ripping off The People for decades. Zero contribution to either their pension or their health care plans — THAT's what the union is going to the barricades to prevent. And they're doing so through thuggish tactics (e.g., mobbing the houses and implicitly, sometimes explicitly, threatening the families of GOP legislators). I'll grant you, [Friend #2], that in the private sector, unions have sometimes been a useful counterbalance to management/ownership. That's not this at all though....
The rationale for collective bargaining agreements is that they redress an imbalance of bargaining power that favors private management. There is no similar justification for public sector employees because the government (in a democracy) already, by definition, is carrying out employment policies for the benefit of everyone in the state. Public employee strikes are typically illegal, not because the gov't is anti union but because the strikes are used to coerce & intimidate the public (not just private management that's trying to look after private ownership interests).
[Friend #2:] So then you FULLY support private sector unions and would oppose any legislative schemes to dis-empower them as well?
Public employees should have the same rights as private employees, for the VERY reason we see coming to fruition in Wisconsin. When some right wing governor takes office, he should not be able to unilaterally decide "all public employees take a 5/10/20/?? percent pay cut!"
Those employees should ABSOLUTELY be part of the process and have a place at the table where those discussions take place.
There is NO reason to make them sit silently in the corner while their livelihoods are subject to the whims of political expediency. Taking away their collective bargaining rights paints a target on their backs a MILE WIDE for any other politician looking to score points in the future.
[Friend of Friend #2:] ... I don't think you can honestly state that teachers and other public servants have "ripped off" the system, they negotiated for what they could get — that American way thing conservatives always talk up. Or is that only for the rich and powerful?
[Snarky Beldar:] I'm not urging the repeal of the National Labor Relations Act, no. I do oppose efforts by the Dems (so-called "Card Check") to do away with employees' rights to vote for or against unionization via secret ballot — there's history of intimidation by both management and labor when individual employee votes can be tracked. And [Friend #2], this isn't just a "right wing governor." It's a conservative governor backed by a conservative state legislature — DEMOCRACY. Elections have consequences, and if the voters of WI don't like what their most recently elected legislators and governor do with regard to public employee contracts in a near-bankrupt state budget, then by all means they can throw the bums out and put their own bums in, who presumably can restore collective bargaining. I don't see that happening, because the fact is that the public wants accountability. They want results. They want to stop shoveling money into the black maw of public education while test scores continue to drop and even terrible teachers can't be fired. They want public employees to at least make SOME contribution to their own retirement and pension plans, just like the rest of Americans do — not get a gold-plated benefits package that's theirs in perpetuity.
Lest you think I'm anti-teacher or anti-public school: My paternal grandfather and two of my aunts taught in the public schools. My mother was a teacher and eventually became the highest-ranking woman administrator in the Austin ISD's special ed program. My sister taught blind and deaf kids at the Texas State School for the Blind, and then taught elementary school for normal kids for several more years. ... [A]ll four of [my] kids have gone exclusively to public schools[, as did both I and my ex-wife]. And my oldest daughter is an elementary education major at UH right now. I'm pro-teacher and certainly pro-student and pro-public education. None of those stances conflict with being anti-public employee union, though. Unions will start representing the interests of kids as soon as students start paying union dues.
... I concede your point[, Friend of Friend #2,] that the existing contracts were agreed to by the state. I'll concede an implicit point, too, which is that unions not just in the US but throughout the western world have been very clever in focusing on benefits rather than just wages, and in particular that they've been very shrewd negotiators on long-term benefits, taking full advantage of the natural tendency of legislators to fixate on the short term and the simple (often at the expense of the long-term and the profound). The voters of WI have now decided, however, that the legislators and governor they'd previously entrusted to negotiate on the public's behalf with their public employee unions were doing a really bad job — basically, giving away the store — and that that's a big part of why there's such a budgetary crisis facing Wisconsin. So the voters fired those guys. They brought in new guys who promised to make changes. So now, of course, the Party o' Hope-'n-Change is endorsing mob tactics to subvert the legislative process and preserve the status quo (i.e., to continue the state's slide into bankruptcy). The rank and file of PATCO paid the price when their leadership thought they could face down Ronald Reagan. I'd hate to see a similar fate befall Wisconsin's rank-and-file teachers, whose leaders are leading them off the very same cliff.
[S]ome time over a few beers, ask me about the [such-and-such] case. It's my only personal foray into labor law, but it was a really huge one, and it's definitely colored my views on labor relations — and not in a conventionally pro-management fashion, either: After that trial, the guy I ended up going out and getting drunk with was my opposing counsel, the top lawyer for [the] union. (But neither of us wanted to go drinking with the top guy from the Department of Labor — heh.)
[Friend #2:] Are you suggesting that the state employees in WI simply give up ALL rights to collective bargaining without a fight, and just HOPE that someone comes into office willing to give salary increases when times are good? I think the odds of a government official simply volunteering to do so are slim to none, regardless of party affiliation.
And hey, NO ONE likes to drink with federal lawyers, they are all WAY too serious!
[Snarky Beldar:] [Y]ou can't have it both ways. You can't insist that democratic government is good, and then turn around and immediately insist that people need special rights to level the playing field against the big bad democratic government. If government is well run, then it will pay a competitive wage and offer competitive benefits because that is in the public's best interests; and yes, what's "competitive" means it will be set by the market (including market alternatives, e.g., private schools). They have no legitimate NEED for collective bargaining. But to answer your question directly, no, I don't expect them to give up anything voluntarily, I expect them to follow their leaders off the cliff of public opinion because their leaders are greedy and selfish and, frankly, not too bright (see again the PATCO example).
[Friend #2:] I'm not really sure I see the conflict between democracy and collective bargaining.
[Snarky Beldar:] I'll hold my peace (*wild applause*) ... after sharing these words with you: "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress." The speaker? FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT.
UPDATE (Sat Feb 19 @ 1:30pm): Contrary to the impression one might get from my discussion yesterday, the Wisconsin fight is not about an absolute abolition of collective bargaining for public employee unions generally. While many states already outlaw collective bargaining by public employees either in whole or in part, Gov. Walker is mostly trying to roll back an increase in Wisconsin public employees' collective bargaining rights that was previously granted by a Democratic-controlled state legislature. And the unions have agreed in principle with the notion that their membership ought to share in the costs of pension and health-care plans. According to the Wisconsin State Journal (if you dig down into the nitty gritty details of their report):
Top leaders of two of Wisconsin's largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in Walker's plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights....
Walker's plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.
The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don't exceed the consumer price index.
The reason the unions — and the Democratic Party — are treating this like Armageddon is that it's the health-care and pension benefits where their members have made out like bandits in the past. Legislators have pretended to "hold the line" on wages while giving away the store on benefits that would be paid for by some future state legislature in some future year. That's exactly why so many states are now flat broke, or on the brink of that.
UPDATE (Sat Feb 19 @ 9:30pm): By the way, in Texas and a dozen other states, public employees have never had the right to collective bargaining, even on wages. Keep that in mind when you hear that Gov. Walker's about to make the sky fall.
I'm curious, though, what the explanation is for exempting police unions. If there is one (other than "They're too powerful already for us to mess with"), I can't immediately think of it.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Still more mush from the wimp — this time re the Muslim Brotherhood
I really, really hope that in his campaign for re-election, President Obama will make heavy use of that elder statesman of the Democratic Party, Jimmy Carter. After all, in what he has to say in general, and in what he has to say in particular about the Middle East, Mr. Carter is exactly as credible as Mrs. O'Leary's cow giving a lecture on fire prevention. Here's just the latest proof, as delivered by the old gasbag from the LBJ Library in Austin (bracketed portion mine, parenthetical by the American-Statesman; h/t InstaPundit):
[LBJ Library Director Mark] Updegrove, who characterized Carter as the president most associated with the Middle East, having helped to broker a peace accord between Egypt and Israel in 1978, asked the former president how the United States should view the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential group in Egypt that has ties to Hezbollah and may influence Egypt in the future.
"I think the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything to be afraid of in the upcoming (Egyptian) political situation and the evolution I see as most likely," Carter said. "They will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and true democracy."
Yes, absolutely! We should no more fear the Muslim Brotherhood than we should fear, say, that a bunch of "students" might "spontaneously" decide to take over an American embassy and hold everyone there hostage for 444 days. Couldn't possibly happen, huh, Mr. Carter?
I know there are a few Democrats who occasionally see my blog. Are any of you willing to "associate yourself," as they say on Capitol Hill, with Mr. Carter's latest remarks? Any of you willing instead to admit that the old goat has become an international embarrassment — not just a bad one-term president, not just the worst president of the 20th Century, but absolutely the worst ex-president ever?
Friday, February 11, 2011
What Obama ought say to Egypt
Obama should say — right away, and bluntly — “Lest there be a miscalculation from uncertainty about America’s position, Egypt should know that the day the Muslim Brotherhood becomes part of Egypt’s government is the day American foreign aid ends.”
But he won’t.
When Obama fails to do this, should then Boehner, as Speaker, say "I predict that the House won't appropriate money for foreign aid to Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the government"?
I think so. I think it would be a truthful prediction that would likely prove accurate. And it's within Boehner's institutional province so long as it's carefully phrased. But Boehner should privately twist Obama's arm first, to give him the opportunity to speak for America as its chief of state.