View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, December 05, 2003

The Bloggies

Just Do it. Just go to The WebLog Awards and vote for Power Line for the best group blog. Go Now.

Belly of the Beast

Sometimes, you just have to go visit evil so you can look it in the eye. So, it was off to the Tattered Cover Tuesday night for a seven-course meal of Israel-bashing topped off by a dessert of anti-Semitism. Nancy Stohlman, a deceptively pretty gal who used to be a chief organizer for the Colorado Campaign for Israeli Surrender, has edited a book. It’s a book of journals written by people born too late to be Sandalistas, so they’ve transferred their activities and affections to the Palestinians. The audience consisted of the actual Sandalistas, come to revisit the misguided idealism of their youth. These are people who think Suckerpunch, er, Counterpunch and Indymedia have the real scoop that the networks are afraid to report.

Of course, Ms. Stohlman first got involved in all this right after September 11th. Her first reaction to the murder of 3000 fellow citizens, for the crime of having shown up to work, was to fly to Afghanistan to see how she could deter the US from defending itself. Sadly, that was probably her best opportunity to get caught in the crossfire.

The festivities consisted of four readings of these journals, “without which we’d never know about the shooting or the APCs or the tanks in Bethlehem.” Obviously, they’d long since given up actually watching network news, or they might have spotted themselves on TV.

Ms. Stohlman started with a reminisce by a Palestinian woman in her 30s, about her crossing from Jordan into the West Bank when she was 5. She noticed that the “Israeli soldiers were different, they wore sunglasses.” So, um were these Ray-Bans, or the really cool Neo-type sunglasses that said, “I can stop your bullets just by thinking about them? ‘Cause if they can do that, they ought to be catching all the bombers.”

Apparently, she was traumatized to this very day by the Border Control, when, having finished going through their luggage, they tried to pry, then to saw, the head off her doll to see what might be in it. Now, this was about 25 years ago. Get over it! It was a doll! I don’t care that your 5-year-old mind momentarily transformed it into a living, breathing being; it wasn’t then and it’s not suffering under whatever landfill it’s in now. When she got to the part about the doll, I saw how ridiculous it was, and couldn’t suppress a laugh. This brought disbelieving looks. How could I? Because the one thing you can’t do is laugh. John Fazenda: First, they came for the plastic dolls, but I was not a plastic doll…

The next reading was about their adventure in Bethlehem, without which we’d never have heard of the place. “Young Arab boys flashing us two-fingered peace signs.” They keep on using that hand gesture. I do not think it means what they think it means… The funniest part was when they called the embassy on their cell phone, and the woman at the other end asked if they wanted to be evacuated. “No, we just want you to know we’re here.” “OK. Well, call back when you want to get out.” As you can see, their situation was dire.

Of course, no gathering of the faithful would be complete without the ritual invocation of St. Rachel of Corrie. Turns out that someone who would actually lie down in front of a bulldozer (not stand in front of it, as Ms. Stohlman would have it), can write. Not well, but she can write.

What she can’t do is translate Hebrew into Arabic. Otherwise that man wouldn’t be leading his children out of his house, thinking it was about to be demolished, when all the Israelis really wanted to do was detonate a roadside bomb they had discovered. Pity about the windows. But really, neither the Israeli sharpshooter, nor the tanks, nor the soldiers, were the least bit interested in the man or his two little girls.

They weren’t really interested in her, either, although apparently the fact that she ended up under an Israeli bulldozer by mistake doesn’t make the Israelis any less racist. While the anti-Israeli Left takes great umbrage at being called anti-Semitic, they throw the word “racist” like they picked it up on sale at Wal-Mart. The Israelis are racist. The US Media are racist. The Israeli media & govrenment are racist. The only people who aren’t racist are the anti-Semites.

But they’re not anti-Semites. It wasn’t until the next-to-last question that someone asked her about the “mentality of the Israeli Jew” that they could do such things. You must remember, Judaism is just a religion, and we believe in freedom of religion. It’s not Judaism’s fault that the Jews can’t get over the Holocaust.

Then there’s the Security Fence, or, Apartheid Wall. “It’s twice as high as the Berlin Wall,” she says, with feeling. But you kind of doubt she’s offended by the Chinese trying to keep out the Mongols. Now that certainly was a great wall.

This is a woman who has stopped thinking. But only about the facts, not about the rhetoric. No, she’s very clever about the rhetoric. At it’s amazing what you can get away with when nobody challenges you. She chose the readings carefully to move the Israelis from a distant threat to a more immediate one, until the callous youth you meet at the end comes to embody all Israelis and the entire country is filled with people capable of the worst monstrosities. There’s no way for one person to ask a meaningful question. She couldn’t stand up under cross-ex for 30 seconds, but when you write a book, you get a platform.

Underlying the whole enterprise is the notion that propinquity bestows wisdom. I was there. What’s lacking is context, historical, moral, or ethical. Sure, Rafah’s airport, border houses, and ocean access have been blocked off. Two words: Karine. A. This may cost jobs, but I don’t think we want to be encouraging either service or manufacturing jobs like those. She’s collected a great many data points, but like the woman who’s still pissed off about her doll, she has no wisdom, no understanding, no perspective. Take her to the Netanya hotel, or the Sbarro’s, or the Moment Café, and it would have no effect. Such a pity. Tsk. Tsk. You should really end the occupation.

When she was asked to do the hard work, to come up with a policy, the best she could do was sputter something about doing “whatever the Palestinians would want done.” One-state, Two-state, Right of Return. “Whatever.” And she thinks the Israelis commit genocide.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Business School is Not Business

It never fails. Buy a car, and suddenly you notice that the highways are clogged with your new car. Read a book, and if it's a good one, you should notice some real-world application almost immediately.

Michael Novak wrote a small book about 8 years ago named Business as a Calling, about the moral and ethical requirements for success in business, and for the success of a democratic capitalist system. I'm in business school, and I'm enjoying it immensely. And business school has more adjunct faculty - people with real jobs who teach - than most courses of study. Still, the academic calendar has its own rhythm. I've got seminars I'm trying to organize, a course I'd like to help design, a final exam I need to review, and one grade that hasn't even been posted yet. And it's all on hold for another month.

This sort of unresponsiveness would never be tolerated in business; it would be ruthlessly punished until the offenders were working for someone else. But, indeed, as Mr. Novak notes, the academic temperment differs from the business temperment, doesn't it?

Coming Soon - Colorado's Answer to Minnesota

Soon, we'll be launching the Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs. Arising organically and spontaneously, rather than through an infusion of Organizational Money and Centralized Planning, we'll have a good time representin' the Right-thinking bloggers of Colorado. Thus far, we are:

  • Exultate Justi
  • The Mangled Cat
  • Yr. Most Humble & Ob. Servant, View From a Height

  • Republican for Democrats Named Miller

    What is it with Democrats named Miller? There's every Republican's favorite Democrat, Zell Miller. I know, there's George Miller from CA, and I'm pretty sure Barney Miller was a Democrat. But now, Carl Miller of Leadville has joined three Republicans in filing a Federal suit trying to get the SCOCO's redistricting ruling overturned. Apparently, Miller votes with the Republicans a fair amount, and Leadville was the first legislative body to be overrun by Libertarians a couple of years back. But still. Filing a partisan lawsuit against the interests of your own party takes guts.

    And Jared, you thought deciding not to join the reserves was hard.

    Democratic Rep. Andrew Romanoff, the House minority leader, criticized the latest lawsuit, saying too much time and money are being spent in court. "The Supreme Court has ruled, and I think its ruling provides us with a way to move on. That's what I'd like to do," he said.

    Right, Andrew. Too much time in court once you've won. I'm all in favor of an independent commission, if it can be done fairly. But you don't get to hold onto ill-gotten gains for another 8 years.

    Rebuild Ghetto Walls?

    This article about the Aurora City Council came out last Friday, and I'm still trying to decide if it's good news or not. Aurora doesn't seem to be electing minorities to City Council. But one of the reasons cited is that there aren't ethnic enclaves developing, which seems to me to be a good thing. After all, if we wanted people to live in ghettos we'd put gates at the end of the street and lock them at night. There are at-large seats, and I always thought that a neighborhood was a far more important community of interest that skin color. One of the hispanic men cited in the article all but says that if minorities want to get elected, they'll just have to master the issues, also what I thought we were aiming for. So that's the good news.

    The bad news is that, typically, there are minority leaders who are calling for the Aurora government to "do more" to "reach out" to blacks and hispanics. (There are no other minorities. None.) The article cites with hope and optimism the coalescing of a hispanic area in north Aurora. So, soon enough, these folks will be getting flyers telling them that they're "not represented," and that it's more important to vote for the Spanish-speaking candidate than for the smart one.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2003

    Saudi Foxes and US Henhouses

    The Wall Street Journal has a slightly alarming front-page story (registration required) about a Saudi-funded school, used by the Pentagon, to train Islamic religious advisers for our Muslim soldiers. Among the more incriminating facts:

    The institute's published curriculum calls for studying "the ruinous effect" of Christian beliefs. Lecturers at the institute have included a cleric who congressional investigators say was a spiritual adviser to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. And the Muslim-American activist who helped arrange for the institute to train Muslim lay leaders, Abdur Rahman Alamoudi, was indicted in October for taking from Libya money that prosecutors suspect was intended to finance terrorism.


    What has gone unnoticed during this controversy is the role of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America in training the far-bigger network of Muslim lay leaders, who are in a position to influence the religious views of large numbers of U.S. soldiers. The institute, part of Saudi Arabia's state-run university system, is funded and controlled by the kingdom's Ministry of Higher Education.

    Half a million lampposts...

    Tuesday, December 02, 2003

    Welcome to Colorful Colorado

    The Global Warming Alarmists are at it again, warning that the ski industry, and maybe the entire Winter Olympics are IN DANGER! Never mind that the glaciers and Glacier National Park have been shrinking since well before the American industrial revolution. Now, global warming is pushing the reliable snow line further and further up the mountains, and away from the resorts. Using the wildly pessimistic predictions of 3-10 degrees of warming in the next century,

    The magic number for ski resorts right now is an altitude of 4,265 feet, according to Rolf Buerk, an economic geographer at the University of Zurich who led the research behind the report.

    At that level and above, there is reliable snowfall. In the future, however, global warming is going to push the regular snowfall altitude to between 4,900 feet and 6,000 feet, Buerk said.

    They mention the Austrian resort of Kitzbuhel (Alt. 2493 ft.) and the Swiss village of Gstaad (Alt. 3465 ft.) as being at risk. (Funny how they never point out the benefits to the water-sports industry, though.)

    Given that, I don't want to gloat, but:

    • Vail, CO: Alt. 8150 ft.
    • Breckenridge, CO: Alt. 9603 ft.
    • Telluride, CO: Alt. 8745 ft.
    • Copper Mountain, CO: Alt. 9680 ft.
    • Aspen, CO: Alt. 7908 ft.

    The story points out that a number of American ski resorts are turning to environmentally "friendly" power sources, which, given their impending competitive advantage, I think is darn generous of them.

    Monday, December 01, 2003

    Redistricting Overturned

    Surprise, surprise, the Colorado Supreme Court declared the Republican redistricting plan against the state's constitution. This was one of the two major redistricting cases on the country's docket, the other being in Texas. There are at least three angles to this case, as usual, and I would argue that it is neither good law nor good policy, either in principle or in practice. Nor is it over.

    Colorado is lucky enough to have this.

    I've read the Attorney General's brief. Ken Salazar(D), employed by the state he sued, argued essentially from silence. That for much of the state's history, the issue never came up at the Congressional level, since the state only had one congressman. He also argued that when the Constitution was re-worded, that rewording was done specifically assuming that only one redistricting per decade would be allowed. Naturally, he cited no legislative history. He also argued that court-ordered districts superseded the legislature's right to redistrict.

    The general assembly shall divide the state into as many congressional districts as there are representatives in congress apportioned to this state by the congress of the United States for the election of one representative to congress from each district. When a new apportionment shall be made by congress, the general assembly shall divide the state into congressional districts accordingly. Colorado Constitution, Article V, Section 44.

    Here's the original language, before Colorado got a second representative, from the original state constitution:

    One Representative in the Congress of the United States shall be elected from the State at large at the first election under this Constitution, and thereafter at such times and places and in such manner as may be prescribed by law. When a new apportionment shall be made by congress, the general assembly shall divide the state into congressional districts accordingly. Colorado Constitution, Article V, Section 44.

    Salazar interprets "When...shall" to imply "only," a word that appears nowhere in the section. He also argues that getting rid of the archaic language was a deliberate attempt to prevent redistricting at any other time. As though elections would take place at a time not prescribed by law?

    Moreover, the original state court was choosing between two rival redistricting plans it ignored the standards set out in Carstens v. Lamm, 1982. Here is what that case specifically set forth as the parameters for redistricting:

  • The primary goal of an acceptable congressional redistricting plan should be fair and effective representation of all citizens.
  • Population equality standard is the pre-eminent, if not the sole, criterion on which to adjudge the constitutionality of congressional redistricting plans.
  • The second constitutional criterion used in analyzing redistricting plans is the absence of racial discrimination.
  • Additional nonconstitutional criteria may be used in evaluating congressional redistricting plans. These criteria can be grouped into three categories: (1) Compactness and contiguity; (2) preservation of county and municipal boundaries; and (3) preservation of communities of interest.
  • Compactness and contiguity, as criteria for redistricting, were originally designed to represent a restraint on partisan gerrymandering.
  • County and municipal boundaries should remain undivided whenever possible, because the sense of community derived from established governmental units tends to foster effective representation
  • Concept of "community of interest" applies to congressional redistricting, since formulating a plan without any such consideration would constitute a wholly arbitrary and capricious exercise
  • "Communities of interest" represent distinctive units which share common concerns with respect to one or more identifiable features such as geography, demography, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, or trade.

  • The court's plan, also known as the Democrats' plan preserves population equality, but that's about it. The Democrats' plan sends the 7th District curving around the city of Denver, specifically as a partisan gerrymander. There was never any serious claim of racial discrimination. The Democrats' plan violently attacks existing municipal boundaries than does the Republican plan. None of the standards of a "community of interest" is a partisan one.

    So, having won that case, it fell to Salazar to argue that the court's plan pre-empted a new legislative plan. As you can see from above, there is nothing, nothing in that language which pre-supposes that if a legislature fails to act, that it automatically cedes that right to the courts. Partisan composition of the court aside, this is as much a case of another judicial power grab. If this were a case of the legislature seeking rights for itself over the citizens of the state, or regulatory authority not granted to it, I would agree that some restraint is in order, but the Court simply asserts language that does not exist, in order to maintain its newfound authority.

    The Court also wants to have it both ways with regards to Federal law. It claims that even if the state constitution didn't prevent this, federal law would. And then it argues that its ruling applies to the state constitution, so whatever the pending federal case decides doesn't matter, anyway. This is the language of a litigator, not a responsible court.

    The ruling is also bad policy in the specific case. There's a reasonable chance that Republicans could win a substantial majority of votes statewide next year, and win only 3 of the state's 7 Congressional districts. Naturally, the Democrats interpret this as a victory for popular democracy.

    But the results of the general case are far more disturbing. The Court argues that "stability" dictates preventing mid-term redistricting, as though "stability" were in and of itself a virtue. The fact is, the General Aseembly and the State Senate need to agree on a redistricting plan. From 2000-2002, the Democrats controlled the State Senate, blocked a plan, and then went to a judge. A quick look at the National Conference of State Legislature website shows that divided power is far more the norm than the exception. I think it extremely unlikely that a party, having gained control of both a legislature and a governor's mansion, would seek to overturn a bipartisan plan. In a case where one party had completely supplanted the other, taking both houses and the governorship away, it's likely that a major change in the state's congressional partisan composition would also have occurred, and that a party would be unlikely to pick a partisan fight so quickly.

    In short, the only two cases I can see where a mid-term redistricting is likely to happen are the two in Colorado and Texas. In the one, a court stepped in when the legislature couldn't agree, and in the other, the ruling party's abuse of power was so extreme that it resulted in over 10-point gap between the partisan vote and the state's representation.

    In fact, there is every reason to believe that the Court has created an incentive for the parties not to work together, and then for one party or the other to go judge-shopping for one of its own party. This tends to increase the importance of the courts, placing them much closer to the center of a process that should only involve them rarely, if at all. Which is, of course, what they really want.

    There is some sanity left on the Court. The minority opinion contains some pointed words for the majority:

    The only authority that courts have to intervene in this purely political, legislative process is to review the constitutionality of existing districts, as we would review the constitutionality of any law, in order to protect the voting rights of aggrieved claimants. Within that limited framework, courts may enter emergency or remedial orders for the purpose of allowing elections to go forward. Such court orders are interstitial, and cannot then serve to pre-empt the legislature from reclaiming its authority to redistrict.

    I would read the Colorado Constitution, as a whole, as abhorring such a transfer of legislative power to the judicial branch ... The Denver District Court acted only after the General Assembly failed to act in sufficient time to allow the November 2002 election to proceed. There is no question but that the court-ordered redistricting governed that election by virtue of the legislative abdication. In my view, that court order was a temporary, emergency order - to be honored until such time as the legislature acted to create districts that are constitutionally sufficient."

    In other situations, if a court declares a statute unconstitutional, the court would never presume to replace the statute with a constitutional version. That is not our function.

    Sunday, November 30, 2003

    Property Rights

    The Denver Post this morning carries a very disturbing story about local governments' use of eminent domain to acquire property for development by private companies. If a property is for private use, then private developers need to acquire it, or work around it. The Russian Tea Room in New York refused to budge, so the Metropolitan Tower and the Carnegie Hall Tower had to be built separately. Too. Damn. Bad. Eminent domain is supposed to be used for fire stations, highways, police stations, schools, and other public facilities.

    Denver is far from alone. National Review Online and 60 Minutes have both carried stories about this abuse, and the New York Times is trying to strongarm its neighbors in Times Square into a sweetheart deal for its own development. The Milwaukee suburb of Greendale condemned a property, where the owner claims he wasn't even approached by the developer. The worst part of that story is that the new owners are, in effect, being subsidized by a 4% increase in property taxes for residences.

    In suburban Atlanta (article not available on line), property has been condemned for a new shopping mall. "The disputed property, Morris said, is pegged for storm drainage, roads and rights of way --- all public uses under the law, he noted. There's also talk about a new city hall, police station and convention center." But these uses wouldn't be there at all unless there were a new shopping mall going up. And you can't take someone's property because you might decide to put a new police station up.

    The story is the same in St. Petersburg, Cleveland, and other cities, where sometimes, the companies in question get tax breaks in addition to government help in securing the land they want.

    I believe in private property, and I believe in property rights. Michael Novak has written eloquently about the Founders' notion that political and economic freedoms reinforce each other. To be real, to be effective, these rights have to count as much for the little guy as for the big guy. It breaks faith with the community to chase people out of their homes, rather than present them with the choice of cutting budgets or raising taxes.

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