“A Calamity for Israel”

That’s how Charles Krauthammer describes Ariel Sharon’s stroke, in a column that expresses many sentiments I have had here, only more eloquently. He writes:

The stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country’s nearly 60-year history. As I write this, Sharon’s condition remains uncertain, but the severity of his stroke makes it unlikely that he will survive, let alone return to power. That could be disastrous because Sharon represented, indeed embodied, the emergence of a rational, farsighted national idea that seemed poised in the coming elections to create a stable governing political center for the first time in decades.

Read the whole thing here.

One of the greatest tragedies in American history is that the country was deprived of Abraham Lincoln’s post-Civil War leadership when he was assasinated. The timing of Sharon’s stroke may prove just as tragic for Israel.

Florida and School Vouchers

I haven’t had the time to read the entire decision yet (available here), but it’s disappointing to say the least that the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s school voucher program.

The court’s decision hinged on a part of Florida’s constitution that says, “It is… a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…” It further states that, “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.”

The court ruled that private schools which are funded through the voucher system aren’t “uniform when compared with each other or the public system.” My problem with this interpretation is that the language of the constitution only says that funding must be “adequate” and that there has to be a system of “uniform” schools. But it doesn’t say that all state funding must go exclusively to schools that are “uniform.”

Under Florida’s voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarship Program, students at schools that have failed to meet the state’s minimum standards have the option of either staying in their public school or receiving funding from the state to go to a private school. The key is that there is still a “uniform” public school system in place that all Florida children have access to if that’s what they and their parents want. All the voucher program does is give them the additional choice of attending a private school. There are currently 733 students enrolled in private schools as a result of the program.

Unfortunately, the decision cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because the case does not involve federal issues. The only hope seems to be amending Florida’s constitution, which is clearly a huge hill to climb.

Say It Ain’t So!

2nd Ave. Deli shuts down:

(New York-AP, Januaray 5, 2006) – One of the most famous delis in New York City may have served its last corned beef on rye.

The owner of the 2nd Avenue Deli said he closed the restaurant Sunday after a lease dispute with the building’s new owners.

“My current rent is $24,000 a month for 2,800 square feet,” Jack Lebewohl told The New York Times. “They want $33,000. I can’t afford that.”

Hopefully, this is just part of some bargaining tactic and the deli will reopen. The loss of this institution would be tragic.

Sharon’s Stroke

As of this writing, the latest news reports are that Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life. According to this account of Israel’s Channel 10, half of his body is paralyzed. We’ll no more as the hours progress, but right now all we can do is hope for the best.

However, even if Sharon were to make a remarkable medical recovery, there’s no way he can recover politically from having two strokes in less than three weeks. Given Sharon’s health issues, this turn of events should come as a surprise to nobody, but it could have disastrous consequences for Israel. Sharon possesses a unique blend of hawkishness and pragmatism. He was uncompromising in his fight against terrorism during the Second Intifada and his policies have helped reduce suicide bombings to a mere trickle. By building a security fence and withdrawing from Gaza, he made Israel’s security less contingent on developments in the Palestinian territories. And not only did his policies make sense, but he had the sheer force of will and the stature to see them through. If this is the end of Sharon’s political career, it is a huge loss for Israel.

Wiretapping

The debate over the Bush Administration’s authorization of the use of wiretapping is another gut check for Americans in our fight against terrorism. Throughout its history, America has always struggled to balance its commitment to liberty with the flexibility to do what’s necessary to respond to foreign threats. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, to FDR’s internment of the Japanese in WWII, there is a long history of compromising liberty in the name of national security. Now, I’m not defending any of these actions. But I bring these up to demonstrate that this issue has always been a struggle and that compared to something like internment, the Bush Administration’s use of wiretapping is quite benign.

This is not to say that in times of war, the president should run roughshod over the law and assume dictatorial powers. When evaluating a given policy, we should consider how helpful it is to the war effort and balance that against how big of a compromise is involved with civil liberties. Monitoring the phone calls of a limited number of people who are communicating with terrorists clearly is an important part of a strategy for gathering intelligence in the War on Terror. And on the other side, it’s hard to see why this represents such a major violation of civil liberties. If there were evidence that the Bush Administration used the program to gather information on political opponents, that’s one thing. But as it stands now, the program is extremely limited to people who are in contact with terrorists. This is exactly the type of thing we should be doing.

The bottom line is that as a society, we have to recognize that during wartime the executive has to take actions that we would be uncomfortable with under normal circumstances. Civil libertarians may have many legitimate concerns about the threats to liberty during wartime, but their problem is that they don’t recognize that a tradeoff exists. They create a fantasy world in which we can win a war while keeping everything the same as it was while we were at peace.