American Elephants

President Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. by The Elephant's Child

President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court today.  The nomination is the major news on the internet today. There is much to be troubled by, but it will take time for exploration of  her background and qualifications to take place.

Attorney Paul Mirengoff of Power Line wasted no words:

She has no judging experience.

She has little experience as a practicing lawyer.

She has approximately one year of experience as Solicitor General of the United States.

She has lots of experience in academia, but has published only a small amount of scholarly work, none of which seems particularly noteworthy.

As the dean of Harvard Law School, she was tolerant of conservative law professors, but not of the United States military.

This briefly sums up what everyone else has said in a brief space.  We will have ample time to fill in the blanks.

A Supreme Court nomination is a very big deal.  It is a lifetime appointment, and decisions will influence the country for generations.  At present there is a great divide between those who revere the Constitution that has served us so well for 223 years, and those who feel that the Constitution must change and develop in concert with the ideas of the political party in power.

Berlin After the War, A Newly Unearthed Archive of Photos. by The Elephant's Child
May 10, 2010, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Europe, History, Military | Tags: , ,

Der Spiegel is featuring today a gallery of 19 photos from a recently unearthed archive, showing the devastation and the small signs of resilience of Berlin in the weeks after the surrender of the city at the end of World War II.  There are hundreds of newly discovered photographs in the archive of a Berlin publishing house that will become a book titled Berlin After the War to be published to mark the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany, on May 9, 1945.

Forgotten for decades, a trove of post-war photographs from 1945 has recently been unearthed. The snapshots illustrate the devastation of the German capital and capture the desperation of the city in the weeks after the end of World War II. They also show glimpses of Berlin’s resilience.

The soldier with the Iron Cross on his chest lies in the middle of the street.  His steel helmet has rolled away.  The Red Army Soldiers are turning him onto his back and cleaning their weapons.  They take no notice of the photographer kneeling to take the picture. He’s already taken dozens of shots today — this time he’s just chosen a corpse for the foreground.

It’s a scene from the final days of the World War II, taken somewhere in the center of Berlin.  For decades this picture , along with thousands of others lay in the archives of a Berlin publishing house.  Unnoticed.  It is only now that the collection has come to light.

The pictures capture a moment in the city that had reached the end of 12 years of dictatorship and a devastating war: Signs of those final battles, of death, destruction and hopelessness — but also of  life growing once again among the ruins.  They are photos that portray a grotesque normalcy, in contrast to the better-known images of heroic liberation and optimistic reconstruction.  They provide documentation of the city”s downfall in the blink of an eye between an end and a beginning.  A Berlin that was just beginning to free itself from its lethargy.

The sampling of the photos is fascinating.  And the book will fill a gap in the history of the War.   For history buffs, I highly recommend Antony Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin 1945.  And from John Keegan’s The Second World War:

On the 26th of April, 464,000 Soviet troops, supported by 12,700 guns, 21,000 rocket-launchers and 1500 tanks, ringed the inner city ready to launch the final assault of the siege. The circumstances of the inhabitants were now frightful.  …Food was running short, so too was water, while the relentless bombardment had interrupted electrical and gas supplies and sewerage; behind the fighting troops, moreover, ranged those of the second echelon, many released prisoners of war with a  bitter personal grievance against Germans of any age or sex, who vented their hatred by rape, loot and murder. …

The cost to the Red Army of its victory in the siege of Berlin had also been terrible.  Between 16 April and 8 May, Zhukov, Konev and Rokossovsky’s fronts had lost 304,887 men killed, wounded and missing, 10 per cent of their strength and the heaviest casualty list suffered by the Red Army in any battle of the war.  …

Peace brought  no rest to the human flotsam of the war, which swirled in hordes between and behind the victorious armies.  Ten million Wehrmacht prisoners, 8 million German refugees, 3 million Balkan fugitives, 2 million Russian prisoners of war, slave and forced labourers by the million — and also the raw material of the ‘displaced person’ tragedy which was to haunt Europe for a decade after the war — washed about the battlefield. … in the Europe to which their soldiers had brought victory, the vanquished and their victims scratched for food and shelter in the ruins the war had wrought.

Will it be Basic Civility or Slash and Burn, Mr. President? by The Elephant's Child
May 10, 2010, 12:03 am
Filed under: Capitalism, Domestic Policy, Economy, Politics

Last Saturday, speaking to the graduating class at the University of Michigan, President Obama put great emphasis on the importance of maintaining “a basic level of civility in our public debate. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment,” he added, “without questioning their motives or their patriotism.”

This does not mesh well with, as economist Alan Reynolds points out,  Obama’s regular practice of selecting some prominent business in an industry that he proposes to reform, and demonizing it thoroughly, then  pass a law that has nothing to do with the reason the company was demonized. With Health Care, it was Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of California, for supposedly raising premiums from somewhere between 35 to 39 percent.  But insurance premiums are regulated by the states,  and it didn’t happen. Now Goldman Sachs is being demonized in order to get the financial reform bill passed, but the reforms were designed with the help of Goldman Sachs, and the SEC’s civil suit against Goldman seems oddly timed.

Morton Kondracke writes that:

From BP to banks, health insurance companies to special interest lobbyists, Obama & Co. pass up no opportunity to slash and bash — except when they are asking for industry cooperation or appealing for national unity.

The dichotomy between one rhetorical mood and the other is so pronounced, you almost suspect that the administration and its leader are bipolar.

Or, that they are juggling the need to govern cooperatively with the need to pander to the president’s sometimes-restive left-wing and the populist mood du jour.

The Wall Street Journal says that “the unhappy warrior was at it again yesterday with a misleading attack on the motives of an opponent:”

Responding to an amendment offered by Senator Richard Shelby to limit the scope of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama said, “I will not allow amendments like this one written by Wall Street’s lobbyists to pass for reform.”Mr. Civility was insulting the gentleman from Alabama, but even if delivered in dignified language, the attack was false. The proposed bureau would not regulate Wall Street. Under the Democratic plan, securities firms will continue to be overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Goldman Sachs couldn’t care less whether Congress creates such a bureaucracy, and Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein has praised the idea. The guts of the Shelby amendment was to prevent the bureau from regulating non financial companies like retailers that extend credit, unless there’s a record of violating consumer laws.

Mr. Obama seems to think he can’t persuade on the merits, so he has to impugn motives and pretend that every criticism comes from a tool of Wall Street. Democrats beat back the Shelby amendment last night. But as Mr. Obama likes to say, there’s a basic level of decency we should expect from everyone in our public discourse, especially Presidents.

Treating people with “courtesy and respect” has not been a hallmark of this administration. They are frequently referred to as Chicago bullies.  Certainly relations with Britain, France, Germany, Israel and Japan have soured by the lack of courtesy and respect.  Obama is attempting to mend fences with Hamid Karzai at present. Presidents have to lead by example, and require civility from their staffs.  And the inspiring words of speeches should have life beyond the day they were spoken.

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