The Middle East; The teachers unions; A delicious read

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The Middle East

Here is my Creators Syndicate column for this week, via realclearpolitics.com. The Hezbollah attack on Israel was launched when I was on vacation, so I probably have some catching up to do. But it strikes me that this is a Middle East crisis very different from those of the past. We see the governments of Arab states blaming not Israel but Hezbollah and inferentially Iran for the attacks. For years we have been told that in order to please the Arabs, we need to settle the Israel/Palestine issue, by forcing Israel to make concession after concession.

Who can argue that now? The governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and the new government in Iraq have made it plain that such demands were only rhetoric. They have other priorities now. They would rather see Hezbollah routed from Lebanon than call for a cease-fire and another round of endless negotiations leaving Hezbollah in place.

Some, notably Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, have called on George W. Bush to negotiate directly with Syria's Bashir Assad, to persuade him to abandon his alliance with Iran and his support of Hezbollah. I think events Israel's crushing of Hezbollah can do more to achieve that goal than direct negotiations. Previous U.S. administrations conducted lengthy negotiations with Assad's father, with no positive results. It was not negotiations but events the Cedar Revolution that persuaded the younger Assad to withdraw his forces from Lebanon. Perhaps events can persuade him again.

The teachers unions

For at least two decades one of the strongest institutional forces in the Democratic Party has been the teachers unions. Something like 20 percent of the delegates to Democratic national conventions have been members of the National Education Association, and in state politics the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have been exceedingly powerful forces. Yet now there are signs that important leaders of the Democratic Party are souring on the teachers unions. Mickey Kaus has a good roundup on this.

I have long thought it anomalous that smart and elite-university-educated Democrats have supported the teachers unions, which have done so much to provide mediocre or worse education, especially for the poor children whom the Democrats claim to care about. The unions want high pay, minimal accountability, and light workloads; they insist on assigning teachers by seniority (rather than letting principals hire and fire teachers); they fight charter schools and school choice, even within the public school systems; they have tended to oppose mandatory testing. But they shovel lots of money to the Democratic Party money that comes from their public salaries via teachers' dues payments. It's a great system for the union leaders, for the Democratic Party for everybody except the kids.

To their credit, Democrats like New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer and New York City school chief Joel Klein seem to have figured this out. And credit should go to Democrats like Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. George Miller for supporting and playing key roles in the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, despite the fact that it includes accountability measures previously anathema to the teachers unions. Kennedy, Miller, Spitzer, and Klein seem to understand that we have public schools for purposes other than funding the Democratic Party and that the kids they have long said they care about are not well served by slavish adherence to the demands of the teachers unions. Good for them.

A delicious read

Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the most prolific writers of judicial opinions, books, articles, and blogs who has ever served on the federal bench. In the New Republic he reviews the recent biography of one of the most prolific writers in Supreme Court history, Justice William O. Douglas. Douglas was in many ways a despicable man, as Posner makes clear. But he also argues that Douglas might have been a good Cold War president had he, rather than Harry Truman, been selected as Franklin Roosevelt's running mate in 1944 as Douglas very much wanted.

I'm not sure I agree, and I tend to resist Posner's coruscating realism. "One can be a bad person and a good judge, just as one can be a good person and a bad judge," Posner writes. The second part of that is obviously true, but I bridle at the first part. But perhaps Posner, who's been a good judge for more than 20 years, knows more about this than I do.