Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Coming soon in the Spy

Another Spy book exclusive:  My Struggle by Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak “the Yitzmeister” Yosef.

Bonus sneak preview:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

From the Archives, 1831: Birth of a "Nation"

[Editors' Note:  One of the benefits of a 246-year publication history is the ability to look back at how great historical events were portrayed in the columns of the Spy.  Or in the case of this 1831 item, not so great.]

His Majesty's Government Resolves to Recognize Belgian Independence
“What Harm Could It Do?” Grey Asks Fellow Aristocrats
Effect on Continent to be Offset by Reinforcements of Condescension

By Fast Clipper to The Massachusetts Spy

The arrival of the noted clipper ship Squalid in Boston Harbor was eagerly anticipated by all as it was expected to contain dispatches with the latest British and European news, as so happened.  Our London Correspondent sent a variety of items [Including an expense claim of $200 for “club dues, tailoring, and other miscellaneous” – Pub.], of which by far the most interesting was the following.
The debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday last appeared to demonstrate the acquiescence of that chamber in the decision of His Majesty's Government to recognize the recent declaration of the independence of the Spanish Netherlands, which will henceforth be yclept “Belgium.”

In leading the debate for the Government,  Lord Lushwell, Deputy Undersecretary for Continental Matters in the Foreign Office, stated that “the recognition of the state of affairs in Brussels is broadly consistent with the long-term interest of the British Empire in a weak and unstable country pointing like a dagger at the heart of Kent.”

“The Government notes with satisfaction that the country to be henceforth known as Belgium is hopelessly split between French and Dutch speakers, neither of whom can understand or indeed stand each other,” said the seventh Marquess of Snidely-Whiplash.  “This fatal founding flaw will forever foreclose the possibility of a strong and effective government in this region.”
The Lords' debate on Belgian independence as it happened

Speaking for the Tory Opposition, an apparently tired Lord Tanqueray said that while he in principle accepted the Government's position, he was left to wonder whether it was wise to create such a powerless entity “wedged as it was twixt the Frogs and Krauts.”

In response, the 14th Earl of Consumption stated: “I would be more worried about interruptions of the Genever supply from The Netherlands than the possibility that the Germans would ever unite to seriously threaten the peace and stability of Europe.”  This riposte generated not inconsiderable merriment in the House.

Pleased by the reception his witticism elicited, the peer continued: “One might as well express concern that Belgium is so weak and divided it could be conquered by six followers of Mahomet.”  Whereupon the House exploded with merriment and adjourned to the Peers' Bar for what was unanimously regarded by the Members as unreasonably delayed refreshment.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Hot Air Force: still grounded

Will the Hot Air Force fight again?
Long-time Spy readers have thrilled to the adventures of the 101.1st Hot Air Force, that stalwart band of Washington gasbags, talk-show hosts and bloviators who bravely fought from their K Street offices and country clubs to send other people's children to fight and die in Iraq, among other unpromising venues.

And no one fought longer or more fatuously for the Hot Air Force than its Generalissimo, Brandeis grad Tom Friedman.  Thus, it was with more than a tingle of anticipation that we saw this headline on today's communiqué from Generalissimo Friedman:

Obama, that Kenyan wimp, who is only running military operations in five countries?  Would this be the opportunity for Generalissimo Friedman to remind us of his principle that every so often we should throw a random Middle East dictator against a wall just to show who's boss?  Where would he direct your children: Yemen? Libya? Syria?  Or would he reprise his brilliant Iraq strategy and send them to a Muslim country that had nothing to do with anything, like Morocco or Bangladesh?   Would he claim that the next six months would tell the tale?  And for how many years would he maintain his six-month rule?

It was so exciting, the providers of aluminum caskets and artificial limbs were already calling in overtime shifts.

Sadly, the communiqué was a damp squib.  It contained no calls to the colors, no coalition of the willing or unwilling, no slashing attacks on comic-book Middle Eastern villains with a seven-iron.  Imagine our shock (but not awe) when we read: “Visiting here in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, and talking to a lot of Iraqis leaves one thinking Obama is not entirely wrong.”  Hello, did he even go to the AIPAC Convention?

Well. what should the mighty United States do, according to the one of the leading brains of the Hot Air Force?  Um, it should send guns to Tunisia: “The West should be all over Tunisia with economic, technical and military assistance,” he said, citing a Tunisian who would like some swag.

What else?  How about sending a few more bucks to a place that isn't even a country: Kurdistan?   “More U.S. aid conditioned on Kurdistan’s getting back on the democracy track would go a long way.”  It could, although it might also go a long way toward alienating Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, if anybody cares.  Or it could just end up in the local chieftain's Swiss bank account.

Come on, Tom.  How about some airstrikes at least?  Special ops?  (The Hot Air Force loves to use that term.  It makes them sound bad-ass, or like a 14-year-old boy with a PlayStation.)

But no, that's pretty much it.  Looks like the Hot Air Force remains grounded, and America's fine young men and women in the military will be spared any more pointless wars, beyond the ones we're fighting right now. 

John Roberts, white man of principle

We always like to hear what our classmates are up to, so we were pleased to see that John Roberts '76 has opined on how to fill Supreme Court vacancies, a matter in which he has more than a sporting interest.  How should it work?  He's glad you asked:
“Last month, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered some blunt remarks about the Supreme Court confirmation process. The Senate should ensure that nominees are qualified, he said, and leave politics out of it.”  (The New York Times, March 21, 2016)
In his view, things have gone downhill in recent years:
“It was not long ago that qualified nominees coasted onto the court, Chief Justice Roberts said last month, in a speech at New England Law, a private law school in Boston. In 1986, Justice Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0.”
And that worked out great!  If you don't believe me, just ask George W. Bush, who was installed as President with the late Nino Scalia casting the deciding vote.

Let's unpack the Robster's argument, which is that the Senate should confine its inquiry to determining if the nominee is “qualified,” which in practice has meant graduation from Harvard or Yale Law Schools (the surest sign of jurisprudential ability on God's good earth), working at a semi-fancy government job, preferably in a prosecutorial role (because defenders are always disqualified due to their evil, sick penchant for defending criminals), and then hanging around a fancy law firm whilst trying to overturn the election mentioned above. 

Note that he doesn't argue that the President shouldn't take a nominee's political and juridical views into consideration, only that the Senate can't.  So if a President after nationwide search states that his man is the most qualified person in the nation to serve on the Supreme Court, as Poppy Bush said about the execrable Clarence Thomas, the Senate should inspect the nominee's diploma and vote yes.

But at this point the reader may object, isn't Roberts arguing for confirming Merrick Garland?  And aren't you (meaning me) rather obnoxiously siding with those seeking to block his nomination?  Right now the question relating to Merrick Garland (like John a graduate of the College and the Law School) is whether the Senate will grant him the hearing he and the President deserve.  Once that happens, we can discuss whether he should be confirmed (He should.).

We suspect that what is really mussing Roberts's coiffure is the attack on the image he is desperately trying to convey of the Supreme Court as a neutral and principled arbiter.  It's a pretty thought, but one that can't be maintained in the light of principle-free decisions like Bush v. Gore.  Or the wholly political decision to create a private right to wield deadly weapons by reading the first clause out of the Second Amendment, a right that two centuries of justices had unaccountably overlooked.  Or the unprecedented efforts to weaken Obamacare by claiming that health insurance is not within the Commerce Clause and that the Federal Government cannot choose freely how to spend its Medicaid money under the Taxing and Spending Clause.  We could go on, but you catch the drift.

You may argue that allowing the Senate to weigh a nominee's politics would be a recipe for the withering away of the Supreme Court, given a Democratic President and a Republican Senate.  It well might, at least until the day when the Democratic base realizes it has to vote every two years, not four.

You may also wish to consider what could go wrong with signing on to a rule that cedes to the President the sole right to weigh a nominee's political views and values.  Here's a hint:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Downer: State house hack inveighs against the devil's weed

If things weren't bad enough on a cold, gray slushy Monday morning, here's what greeted Boston Globe readers this morning on A1:

Talk about a buzz kill.  According to the Globe, a state Senator named Jason M. Lewis spent a year and talked to “50-plus” experts (although it's not clear if that means 51 experts or three old coots).   Now he's put out a report arguing that recreational use of the stuff should remain illegal in the Commonwealth.

OK, why?

Well, one reason is:
[T]he state doesn’t have a clear metric or clear protocols for when someone is too impaired by marijuana to drive safely, he said. There is no marijuana equivalent to the legal prohibition of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater. That should change before legalization, to ensure police have the tools to keep the public safe, Lewis posited.
He posited, did he?  In response, may we dare to asseverate that if this is an issue, shouldn't it be dealt with now?  Is it the case that no one is being accused of driving under the influence of muggles today?  If not, why not?  If there aren't any standards cabining the the discretion of police to bust driving dopers, on what basis are they doing it?  We have a crazy idea, cough, Ferguson, cough, LAPD, cough, but we'll leave that to another day.

But there's more.  According to Senator Lewis, you can't trust the marijuana industry to police itself because “the incentives of the US economic system don’t work when it comes to a recreational marijuana industry. . . .‘The fiduciary responsibility for a for-profit company is to generate as much profit as possible for a company’s shareholders, whether that’s a private company, for the owners, or whether it’s a public company,’ Lewis said.”

And how does he come to this revelation?  According to the Globe, Lewis is a “onetime McKinsey & Co. consultant.”  OK, he would know.

His view on the marijuana industry doesn't distinguish it from the alcohol, insurance, drug, automobile, or gambling industries, none of whose products and services Senator Lewis seeks to outlaw.  Of course, it would be up to the Legislature to prescribe the fiduciary standards that any legal marijuana industry would have to meet.

So there the matter rests,  until someone reveals that Sen. Lewis is a principal in a hydroponic grow-light business or in fact the voters make up their own mind on the marijuana ballot initiative in November.

You would think that the Great and General Court would embrace legal marijuana.  It could generate lots of tax revenue to dump into underfunded public pension schemes.  It would undoubtedly produce lots of well-paid no-heavy-lifting lobbying jobs for ex-Legislators or even better no-work retainer agreements for lawyer-Solons.  Most important, we would posit, a totally-wasted electorate might be too busy staring at the Golden Dome to notice the depredations going on underneath.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

And the Kristol Ball for Peerless Prognostication goes to . . .

Harvard Professor Jill Lepore for

“More attention has been paid to the unravelling of the G.O.P.; the Democratic Party is no less frayed.”  (The New Yorker, Feb. 22, 2016 at 23.)

Hmm, let's see what The New York Times said on March 19, 2016:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

It can't happen here

Speaking out against the “Jewish threat” to France was not new, nor was it the preserve of extremists of the Far Right.  In 1939, shortly before he took over as head of the CI,the French state news and information service, Jean Giraudoux wrote: “Hundreds of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who have escaped from the ghettos of Poland and Romania have arrived here.”  He went on to accuse “those hordes” of undercutting the wages of French workers, of not integrating, of being involved in illegal and corrupt dealings and, because of their poor health, of filling up the hospitals. [footnote omitted]  This widespread perception that France had been “invaded” by poor, desperate, Yiddish-speaking immigrants who would “swamp French culture” says more about the power of the media to play on people's fears than it does about the reality.  It has been estimated that between 1933 and 1939 only about 55,000 Jews of all nationalities arrived in France; . . .

– D. Drake, Paris at War at 130.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Why We Fight, Chapter 682

KABUL, Afghanistan — One defendant was the custodian of a holy shrine who trafficked in Viagra, condoms and pagan amulets, and who, when exposed, falsely accused a young woman named Farkhunda of burning a Quran. Another was an employee from an optician’s shop who joined a growing mob at the shrine and pummeled Farkhunda with a rock the size of a watermelon.

Another was an Afghan intelligence agent who bragged on Facebook that he had the honor of striking the fatal blow against her. Another man drove his car over her, twice.

Those men were sentenced to death last year in what briefly looked like a rare moment of justice for Afghan women, and other convictions seemed imminent. But in the months afterward, as detailed last year in an investigation by The New York Times, failures at every stage of the justice process surfaced. Clear leads did not turn into arrests, and tough sentences were drastically reduced — including for those four men identified at the center of the violence, who had their death sentences turned into as little as 10 years in prison.

Now, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court has confirmed the decision to vacate those four death sentences, and nine other defendants also had their sentences reduced.  . . .

Of 49 men originally arrested in Farkhunda’s killing, only 13 have so far been given serious penalties — nearly all of them greatly reduced on appeal. All the death sentences were vacated.

In addition, many activists claim that some of those most responsible — and identified in cellphone video of the killing — have still not been arrested. “I believe the main perpetrators of this case, those who were behind it, are still not brought to justice,” said a female senator, Anarkali Honaryar. . . .

The controversy surrounding the case led Farkhunda’s family to flee to neighboring Tajikistan, where they remain. “Not only do we oppose the decision of the Supreme Court, but the entire nation is dissatisfied,” said Farkhunda’s brother, Mujibullah Malikzada, reached by telephone in Dushanbe. “I’m not saying that the perpetrators must be lynched the way they lynched my sister. But all I want is fairness and justice, which has not been done.” . . .

The New York Times, March 8, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SPONSORED CONTENT: Time to trade in that 1925 Humber!

The Massachusetts Spy is made possible by a generous grant from Talbot-Branson Auto World, now celebrating its 91st Anniversary!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

You read it first in the Spy

The Massachusetts Spy, January 9, 2016:

Vowing not to bow to political pressure, Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston City Council today announced that they would consider carefully whether to approve a 29% retroactive pay increase for detectives that would cost the city $23 million on day one and an additional $9 million a year thereafter or instead to use that money to fund universal pre-kindergarten for poor Boston children.

The arbitrators' award also threatens a cascade of expensive labor contracts for other unionized city workers that could cost tens of millions more a year.

"We're not going to cave to political pressure from highly organized pressure groups like poor three-year-olds and their parents.  Instead, we're going to do what's best for the City, regardless of the political cost," Walsh said.

The Boston Globe, February 24, 2016:

The Boston City Council unanimously approved an arbitration award Wednesday that will grant police detectives a retroactive raise of nearly 29 percent, covering the past six years.

According to payroll data, the average police detective was paid $156,000 in 2015. That figure includes nearly $40,000 in overtime and $10,000 for construction details, which are paid largely by private companies.

After contract negotiations failed, an arbitrator ruled in December that detectives deserved a 29 percent salary increase from July 2010 to June 2016. The union and the Walsh administration are required to support the arbitrator’s award.

State law leaves final approval to the City Council, which could have rejected the contract and sent both sides back to the bargaining table. After approving the raise, councilors unanimously endorsed a letter to the mayor and unions warning that “escalating public safety salary increases threaten the long-term financial stability of the City of Boston.”

“We are looking for a different paradigm moving forward,” City Council President Michelle Wu said.

The Boston Globe, March 4, 2016:

Who knew that the paradigm for governing cities involves choosing among competing priorities?  Too bad they didn't teach that at the Harvard Law School.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Avoiding divisiveness, the Wilfred M. Romney way

A Utah man explains the difference between Donald Trump in 2012 and Donald Trump now:
In an apologetic-sounding addendum on Thursday, conveyed over Twitter, Mr. Romney said he would never have accepted Mr. Trump’s blessing in 2012 had Mr. Trump made the same kind of divisive remarks back then.  (NYT 3/3/16)
So what kind of rhetoric does Wilfred M. Romney regard as not divisive?  Here's the New York Times report on Trump's endorsement, as published on February 3, 2012.
A day after Mitt Romney got himself in trouble by saying that he does not really worry about the very poor, he received the endorsement of the billionaire Donald Trump on Thursday, framed by gold plating in Mr. Trump’s hotel just off the Strip. As with all things Donald, the midday spectacle seemed to promise a Circus Circus of bombast, chaos and self-promotion — big surprises, towering supermodels, flying elephants and all that. . . .

Still, the proceeding did not lack for surreal element, as Mr. Romney acknowledged immediately. “There are some things that you can’t imagine happening in your life,” he said. “And this is one of them.” . . .

In the event, Mr. Trump was all-in for Mr. Romney and on his best behavior at the lectern. He hit no off-message subjects (i.e. President Obama’s country of origin) or signature notes (“you’re fired”) that could have embarrassed Mr. Romney (“I like firing people”).

He endorsed Mr. Romney with the broad-stroke simplicity of a parent describing a superhero to a scared child. “He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love,” he said. .  . .

By remarks’ end, the big question remaining was whether the Mane Men would consummate their alliance with a hug. Nope, no hug. Instead, they locked in a long and showy handshake that — by the looks of Mr. Romney’s slight cringe and pulling-away posture — seemed like it might have hurt a little.
Well, that went well.  It's not as if Trump had engaged in any divisive drivel before 2/3/12, right?  Consider his typically thoughtful and temperate response to Gail Collins as published on April 8, 2011 (all of which was a load of bollocks, BTW):
Even before Gail Collins was with The New York Times, she has written nasty and derogatory articles about me.  Actually, I have great respect for Ms. Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent. Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many best sellers), is not at a very high level. More importantly, her facts are wrong!
As far as her comments on the so-called “birther” issue, I don't need Ms. Collins's advice. There is a very large segment of our society who believe that Barack Obama, indeed, was not born in the United States. His grandmother from Kenya stated, on tape, that he was born in Kenya and she was there to watch the birth. His family in Honolulu is fighting over which hospital in Hawaii he was born in -- they just don't know.
He has not been able to produce a “birth certificate” but merely a totally unsigned “certificate of live birth” -- which is totally different and of very little significance. Unlike a birth certificate, a certificate of live birth is very easy to obtain. Equally of importance, there are no records in Hawaii that a Barack Hussein Obama was born there -- no bills, no doctors names, no nurses names, no registrations, no payments, etc. As far as the two notices placed in newspapers, many things could have happened, but some feel the grandparents put an ad in order to show that he was a citizen of the U.S. with all of the benefits thereto. Everybody, after all, and especially then, wanted to be a United States citizen.
The term used by Ms. Collins -- “birther” -- is very derogatory and is meant in a derogatory way. Had this been George Bush or almost any other President or Presidential aspirant, they would never have been allowed to attain office, or would have been thrown out of office very quickly.
For some reason, the press protects President Obama beyond anything or anyone I have ever seen. What they don't realize is that if he was not born in the United States, they would have uncovered the greatest “scam" in the history of our country.  In other words, they would become the hottest writer since Watergate, or beyond.
Open your eyes, Gail, there's at least a good chance that Barack Hussein Obama has made mincemeat out of our great and cherished Constitution!
New York, April 7, 2011

Nothing divisive here, according to Wilfred M. Romney.