Politics & Policy

“Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# Liberals this week were outraged when they heard that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had written Focus on the Family’s James Dobson a letter thanking him for his support and prayers. They will be even less happy to see the postscript to the letter, which National Review Online has obtained: “P.S. Roe? Gone. P.P.S. Awaiting further instruction. . .”

#-# The news that Alito’s colleague Justice Stephen Breyer had written a decision related to abortion would not normally have been a cause for celebration. But the Court, happily, decided to view Scheidler v. NOW not as an abortion case, but as a case about the scope of an anti-extortion law that happened to involve abortion. It therefore found, 8–0, that pro-life protest could not reasonably be considered “extortion” under federal law, and ended 20 years of litigation based on the mistaken theory that it could be. Good for the justices. We hope that in the future they will follow this precedent by looking at, say, free-speech cases that happen to involve abortion primarily as free-speech cases–instead of twisting free-speech law to accommodate the abortion industry. And perhaps someday they can even be moved to regard cases on abortion generally as separation-of-powers cases that happen to involve abortion.

#-# The authority of Pope Benedict XVI now has some competition from the House Democratic Catholic caucus, which has issued an election-season encyclical. That effort was spearheaded by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and the former executive director of the abortion-rights group EMILY’s List, who explained, “We’re rebelling against the idea of a one-issue church.” (Emily’s List is itself a single-issue group, although some of these Catholics have no problem taking dictation from it.) The statement of principles is signed by 55 Catholic Democrats–35 of whom voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion. It expresses their agreement with the Church on the “value of human life and the undesirability of abortion” while acknowledging “the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas.” Translation: The Democratic party’s support for unrestricted abortion trumps the tenets of faith for many Democrats. Given that a majority of Catholics voted for a pro-life Texas Methodist over a former altar boy from Massachusetts in the 2004 presidential election, Democrats should pray that their Catholic constituents don’t realize that the pope, speaking of the responsibilities of public officials, has explained that “not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.” Or that his predecessor, in a 1995 encyclical, declared that abortion “constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.” It is unlikely that the magisterium of the Catholic Church has met its match in Rosa DeLauro.

#-# Prior to the Golden Mosque bombing, the most depressing news from Iraq was the likelihood that incumbent prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari would likely retain his position in the new government. Jaafari is indecisive, incompetent, and not a consensus-builder. Think of him as Iraq’s Michael Dukakis. But by the slimmest of margins he won the Shiite bloc’s endorsement, virtually ensuring that he would stay prime minister. Now, Kurdish and Sunni parties are pulling together to block Jaafari, in what would be positive political fallout from the mosque bombing and its aftermath. Don’t count Jaafari out yet, though. The Shia, feeling vulnerable after losing one of their holiest sites, are in no mood to be dictated to by Iraq’s other factions. The best result would be if the United Iraq Alliance (UIA) agreed internally that extending Jaafari’s stumbling term doesn’t serve its interests. The alternative would have be another candidate from the UIA, but one who is more competent and acceptable to all parties. Politics continues apace in Iraq.

#-# Pollster John Zogby has released a survey of U.S. soldiers in Iraq claiming that 72 percent of them want the U.S. to withdraw by the end of the year. The same survey reports that 42 percent of the troops don’t understand the U.S. mission there, and 90 percent think we went to war because Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Once Zogby started disclosing details about the poll’s sponsors and methods, however, bloggers from both ends of the political spectrum started advising readers to view the results with a skeptical eye. To begin, an antiwar outfit called Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies funded the poll, which should at least make us wonder about the fact that the poll’s results serve the purposes of its sponsor. Second, the poll questions–which were obtained by conservative bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Duane Patterson–are confusing and manipulative, and seem contrived to elicit the desired answers. And finally, the liberal blogger and polling expert Mystery Pollster spoke with Zogby off the record about his methods and reported that “big ‘grains of salt’ are certainly

in order” when imbibing the poll’s claims. Given the circumstances, we would say that’s putting it mildly.

#-# Rioting over the Danish cartoons has spawned two “manifestos” against Islamic extremism. The first is called “Together Facing the New Totalitarianism.” It is signed by a dozen intellectuals–including celebrated figures Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji, and Bernard-Henri Lévy–and was published in the very Danish newspaper that first printed the controversial cartoons. Notable is its comparison of the Islamist ideology to Nazism and Stalinism, and its passionate defense of Western values (particularly free expression). Separately, NRO ran the “Muslim Manifesto.” It is significant in that it comes from two self-professed moderate Muslims, Mustafa Akyol and Zeyno Baran, and offers a rejection of extremism that is authors believe to be rooted in the Koran. While their argument may be debatable (Islamic militants adduce Koranic verses to support their actions), it is a welcome condemnation from within the Islamic world.

#-# There has been a consensus for some time that the U.N. Human Rights Commission needs fixing. Sadly, the U.N. can always be counted on to take something broken and make it worse. The proposed new U.N. human-rights council–whose creation depends on a vote of the U.N. General Assembly–would increase the representation of non-democratic states and set no eligibility requirements for members. (Not even states under U.N. sanction for human-rights violations would be excluded.) Suspension of a member state from the council would require a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly–the same General Assembly that, in November 2005, couldn’t produce a simple majority to affirm that Sudan was guilty of human-rights violations. And a third of the general assembly would be able to call for a special session anytime it wanted–meaning that the council would be more likely to hear jeremiads about U.S. practices at Guantanamo Bay than to address real abuses committed by China, Cuba, or Zimbabwe. The United States is pushing for more negotiations, but American ambassador John Bolton has made it clear that, unless there are major changes, the U.S. will vote against the new body. That’s the right decision–and the U.S. and its allies should now look for ways to promote human rights outside the U.N. structure.

#-# Scientists studying Kennewick Man–a 9,000-year-old set of human remains found a decade ago near Kennewick, Wash.–have released their first analysis of the bones. A coalition of Indian tribes had tried to block the research, claiming a right under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to halt forensic investigation into one of the most important prehistoric skeletons ever unearthed. Because it is virtually impossible for any modern-day person or tribe to establish a cultural connection across so many millennia, a judge declared in 2004 that NAGPRA did not apply, and the scientists began work that should have been permitted years before. They now report that Kennewick Man probably was buried along the Columbia River rather than washed into the river banks. More provocative findings may come, as physical anthropologists try to determine where Kennewick Man fits on the human family tree–a project with the potential to turn up results that challenge the claims of today’s Indians to being descendents of North America’s first inhabitants. Mounting evidence from other locations suggests that their ancestors may have replaced an earlier group of people who settled the Americas before them. Little is known for certain–it is speculated that this earlier group physically resembled Southeast Asians, or perhaps the Japanese Ainu. But nothing ever will be known if identity politics blocks the research that could teach us about our common heritage.

#-# In March 2001, Yale University welcomed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a tunic- and turban-clad “roving ambassador” of the Taliban, to give a speech. By all accounts, the university’s diversity commissars were thrilled to receive this boon of multiculturalism. But shortly thereafter, thanks to the callous policies of the Bush administration, Hashemi lost his job. With his diplomatic career derailed and his old employers relocated to various . . . field offices, Hashemi had to find a new occupation. And so he has–as a student at Yale University. With the help of a scholarship fund set up by an American cameraman, Hashemi has been reborn as a khaki-wearing 27-year-old Ivy League freshman. In less than a decade, he has gone from meeting Osama bin Laden to meeting term-paper deadlines. It is perhaps fortunate–for reasons of civil peace–that Yale doesn’t allow military recruiters to operate on its campus. By right, if there is to be any safe harbor in which the Taliban can expect relief from the roughness of the American military, it ought to be at our nation’s universities.

#-# Michael S. Joyce, who died on February 24 at the age of 63, was one of the conservative movement’s great venture capitalists. As executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation (1979–1985) and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (1985–2001), he was responsible for funding countless ideas and causes, most notably welfare reform and school choice. His particular genius was to support demonstration projects in Milwaukee that allowed libertarian theories to become empirical realities. Just last month, in fact, Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, agreed to raise the cap on public-school students attending private schools on vouchers from 15,000 to 22,500. That would not have happened if Joyce hadn’t led the way in the 1990s. Thousands of children will now earn a better education than what they would have gotten from government-run schools, and probably no more than a handful will ever realize how much they owe to Joyce, a kid from Cleveland who may have seen a little bit of himself in each of them. R.I.P.

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