On the April issue:

Israeli Judicial Reform

To the Editor:
John Podhoretz’s explication of the turmoil in Israel was cogent, insightful, and balanced (“The Mess in Israel,” April). Along with the typical hypocrisy and posturing, the left’s penchant for casting every contentious issue as a right-wing threat to democracy—thus justifying ever-more extreme expressions of protest and dissent—is itself inexcusably destructive.

Like the woman falsely claiming a baby as her own in the famous King Solomon parable, these ideologues would rather see the country violently split in two than not have their way. In Israel as in America, in politics as in motherhood, that is neither love nor high principle. 

The proposed reforms should be argued, debated, negotiated, and hammered out. That’s how things get done in a democracy. But people need to be clear about who does, and who does not, have Israel’s—not just their own crowd’s—best interests in mind.
Josh Stern
Springfield, New Jersey

To the Editor:
I agree with John Podhoretz’s astute analysis of the “Mess in Israel,” but have a different idea about a possible compromise regarding the government’s proposal to allow the Knesset to override a Supreme Court decision.

In Canada, the national parliament, as well as provincial and local legislatures, can specify that an enacted law will temporarily apply notwithstanding certain core liberties set forth in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That gives the relevant legislature the effective power to override Canada’s courts, including its Supreme Court. But this override applies only for a five-year period unless it is renewed by the legislature for an additional renewable period of five years. Since the maximum time between Canadian national elections is also five years, voters are given periodic and repeated opportunities to decide, through their votes for parliament, whether to continue the override, thus leaving the issue to the country’s voters.

A similar provision might be a viable compromise in Israel. There, the maximum term between elections for the Knesset is four years, and a compromise provision might say that an override vote would apply for only a specified period after the next national election, unless the override were renewed by the new Knesset. To give additional protection to basic rights, it could also be provided that an immediate election could be called by a designated minority of Knesset members if an override were adopted. That would have the benefit of requiring the governing coalition to risk new elections in order to override the Supreme Court, which might introduce some caution before the government decided to challenge the Court.

Leaving it to the electorate to decide after each national election whether to renew an override vote would hopefully still fears that modifying the presently unlimited power of the Supreme Court would spell the “end of democracy” in Israel.
Howard F. Jaeckel
New York City

John Podhoretz writes:
Howard F. Jaeckel’s proposal is an interesting one, and it dovetails with similar procedures in the United States—for example, the New York State constitution can be amended only when two successive state legislatures pass the same amendment, which is then put up for a referendum vote. The more general point is that Israel does need to create some kind of checks-and-balances process, one that has been chosen through the proper electoral system and not imposed through the fiat of entirely unelected officials. That is the challenge before the politicians now negotiating an end to the political crisis. Of course, as Josh Stern indicates, many of those who have gone into the streets do not want an end to the political crisis; they are using it for their own purposes and using the confrontation to try to bring about a political change they were unable to secure at the ballot box.

Controlling Free Markets

To the Editor:
James B. Meigs’s column on Joe Biden and chips manufacturing reminded me of something I read in F.A. Hayek (“The Biden Progressive Bait-and-Switch,” April). Hayek’s article “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” required reading for Milton Friedman’s graduate course in price theory, proved that price systems are communication devices for coordinating the actions of consumers and producers. Price  control is impossible, as it assumes knowledge of consumers’ preferences and producers’ capacity to produce.

Medicare, for example, is broken because it has never been accurately priced with regard to these considerations.
Charles R. Courtney
Riverside, Illinois

James B. Meigs writes:
Charles R. Courtney is quite correct. Political leaders and regulatory bureaucrats often stumble when they think they can outsmart markets composed of rational, self-interested people. That goes for industrial policy, price controls, and most other attempts to control the delicate workings of the economy from on high. We would all be a lot better off if our leaders were better versed in Hayek and Friedman. 

Lorenzo Da Ponte, the Opera

To the Editor:
Robert Marshall wrote a wonderful article about a brilliant part of opera’s history (“Mozart’s Jewish Librettist,” April). It is curious, however, that our recent (2019) opera about Lorenzo Da Ponte, The Phoenix, which starred Luca Pisaroni and Thomas Hampson, goes unmentioned.
Patrick Summers
Artistic and Music Director of Houston Grand Opera
Houston, Texas

Robert Marshall writes:
My thanks to Patrick Summers for his kind words about my Lorenzo Da Ponte essay—and especially for bringing to my attention the existence of yet another Da Ponte opera: this time not one by the venerable librettist but rather one about him. If I had known about the existence of Tarik O’Regan’s The Phoenix, I certainly would have mentioned it. After all, it represents, even more, perhaps, than the recent spate of biographies devoted to the poet, the ultimate recognition of his extraordinary stature in a particularly and  deliciously appropriate, form. Like his two most famous composer-collaborators, Mozart and Salieri, whose intertwined destinies were made, first, into an eponymous play and then into operas by, respectively, Alexander Pushkin and Rimsky-Korsakov, Lorenzo Da Ponte has now himself become the protagonist of an opera. I look forward to the opportunity of experiencing it.

Trans Activism at the Times

To the Editor:
Christine Rosen’s column on the New York Times and trans activism was accurate and insightful (“The New York Trans,” April). I especially appreciated the part about Joe Kahn, the paper’s executive editor, being the adult in the room. That’s precisely what is needed. The “children” at the Times are just that, and they have been getting their way for a long time. Like children, they take advantage of the lenience they’re shown and keep acting up. If the executive editor doesn’t follow through and make some heads roll, nothing will change.
David Thibideau
Haines City, Florida

A Classified Mess

To the Editor:
I enjoyed Michael Rosen’s review of Matthew Connelly’s The Declassification Engine (“Not So Top Secret,” April). My experience with classified information essentially confirms what the author presents in his book. The system is far too complex and pretty hard to justify.

My first job required a security clearance. I was immediately made aware of the various levels of classified information, which at that time were For Official Use Only (unclassified but sensitive, could not be left in plain sight if someone responsible wasn’t present), Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. Documents of last three types had to be locked in a combination safe whenever not in the line of vision of an employee with the right level of clearance. You could leave your safe open while you were in your office. But if you had to go to the bathroom, you had to lock your safe. And we were prohibited from writing down our combinations. These rules led to a lot of wasted man-hours.

Today, the security levels are a little different. Confidential and For Official Use Only have been eliminated in favor of CUI (Controlled Unclassified Information), and other terms have changes, as well. Such changes have been perpetual. In doing historical research on World War II, I encountered the obsolete Restricted category. The inconsistency of evolving terms only adds to the confusion.

When I started working with classified data, I was astounded at what was classified and what wasn’t. It seemed to make no sense. I left that job after a year, and my clearance level was lowered. I avoided handling classified documents as much as possible before being invited to let my clearance expire last year, when I transitioned to part-time in preparation for retirement. Good riddance, I say.

Some things need to be held close. No question. Long after World War II and the Cold War, it was revealed that Russian, German, and Japanese agents managed to send back to their countries information that helped our enemies. I’m sure Chinese agents are now working away at stealing our secrets this very moment. But many of our current classifications are only hindering our own scientists and engineers. The system needs to be overhauled, as it’s obviously not working. Moreover, Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s possession of classified documents when not in office demonstrate the decadence of the system. It is a disgrace that high-status officials are playing by different rules than the rank-and-file.
Steven Toby
St. Michaels, Maryland

Michael Rosen writes:
Many thanks to Steven Toby for his kind words and for  sharing his personal experience, which unfortunately does not appear to be uncommon. As Connelly writes, and as countless civil servants like Mr. Toby have attested, the national-security establishment overindulges in “classification theater” designed more to create the appearance of protecting matters of critical sensitivity than actually doing so. And as Mr. Toby wisely observes, overclassification obscures and undermines our agencies’ will and capacity to maintain secrecy over genuinely sensitive information.

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