From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”
Laws, Kings, and Cures
Liberty and the Intellectuals
The Idea of a Common Culture
Between Nixon and the New Politics
Vietnam and Collective Guilt
The website of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm that provides advice on doing business in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other promising markets, has a tab called “in the news.” I clicked on it this morning and two items caught my eye. One was “Let’s Get to Know the Saudis,” and the other was “How Turning Capitalism Into Equality Can Mean Profit for All.” Interesting stuff–if you are a client of Stonebridge International, that is.
But even more interesting is a news story about Stonebridge that does not appear on its website, or for that matter in most of the newspapers in this country that count.
Stonebridge’s chairman is Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton. In 2005, Berger was convicted of pilfering classified documents from the National Archives as he was preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He had smuggled them out by stuffing them into his trousers and socks and then hidden some of them in a nearby construction site. He was subsequently fined $56,905 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service, which he fulfilled by picking up litter in Virginia parks.
Yesterday, to avoid the ignominy of being disbarred—or perhaps, more importantly, to avoid being asked further questions under oath about what he had done—Berger agreed to surrender his license to practice law. A two-page agreement states that Berger “acknowledges that the material facts upon which the allegations of misconduct are predicated are true” and that he “could not successfully defend against them.”
What makes two addled society ladies into legends? Being the subject of a classic film certainly doesn’t hurt. The 1976 documentary Grey Gardens, by Albert and David Maysles, took as its subjects the reclusive Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie (known as Big Edie and Little Edie), respectively an aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The Edies lived in a decaying East Hampton mansion, from which the film drew its title. Grey Gardens features the pair squabbling and good-naturedly chatting with the filmmakers, pleased to have, finally, an audience for their narcissistic monologues and atonal warbling of nightclub tunes. The opposite of intrusive paparazzi, the artful Maysles brothers actually provided the Beales an opportunity for self-validation; Grey Gardens developed a cult-like following. And now a Broadway musical—recently nominated for ten Tonys and newly available on CD from PS Classics—based on the film has become the latest radical transformation of Big Edie and Little Edie for public consumption.
The musical Grey Gardens, which opened last November after an off-Broadway run, stars Christine Ebersole (Little Edie), who possesses a brilliant voice, an astonishing gift for mimicry, and razor-sharp timing. The veteran stage actress Mary Louise Wilson, as Big Edie, expresses the hopeless fierceness and comic triviality of a Samuel Beckett character. Their extraordinary performances are bathed in subtle lighting designed by Peter Kaczorowski, a design in stark contrast to the harsh and unforgiving light in the Maysles’ film, which exposed the Beales’ every wrinkle and bodily flaw.
On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.
Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”
But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.