Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 27, 2007

Wen to Merkel: Mind Your Own Business

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

Read More

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

The country has polluted its land, water, and air because its political system has prevented its disgusted and frustrated citizenry from stopping the damage. The Communist Party’s bottom-up patronage system rewards economic growth at any price, providing an incentive to dump raw sewage, scatter industrial waste, and release toxic smoke. Beijing’s leaders are afraid that an economic slowdown will lead to the collapse of the one-party state.

Wen Jiabao can, of course, put off the German chancellor for the moment. but the People’s Premier one day will have to listen to his own people. According to Zhou Shengxian, Beijing’s top environmental official, Chinese people took to the streets an astonishing 51,000 times in 2005 to protest environmental degradation. In other words, during that year the Communist Party failed almost a thousand times a week to mediate conflict between ordinary citizens on the one hand and polluting factories and colluding local governments on the other.

There is, however, hope in China. Either Mr. Wen will figure out a way to clean up the nation’s environment—or the Chinese people will. I’m betting it won’t be Wen.

Read Less

An Imaginary Peace Process

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

Read More

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

The opinion polling data on the second question is dispiritingly clear. To take one example, a 2006 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center—JMCC is a Palestinian, not Israeli, outfit—asked: “How do you feel towards suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians? Do you support them, or oppose them?” 56.2 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support suicide bombings. As long as numbers like these describe the current Palestinian reality, there will be no meaningful peace process. Which also means there will be no real Palestinian state.

This remains the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, and the reason for the terminal fragility of the peace effort. The negotiations now being conducted between Olmert and Abbas are taking place in an alternate reality, in the realm of diplomatic resolutions whose purview aspires to be sweeping, but which is actually limited to the paper on which such agreements are written and the press conferences at which they are affirmed. Where the peace process does not exist is on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza, and Damascus—in the realm of facts.

When Hamas does manage to carry out a major suicide bombing, all of the hopeful diplomatic print-on-paper will be obliterated (along with Israeli lives), and Israel will be forced to respond. The IDF presence in the West Bank will be strengthened, violence will escalate, and hopes for a real peace (which requires as its first step, rather than its last, a sea change in Palestinian public opinion regarding terrorism and its use against the Jewish state) will once again be lost.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

Read More

• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

Fortunately, there are more compelling autobiographical revelations to be gleaned from The Prince of Darkness. It is hugely interesting, for instance, to read of how a youthful reading of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness turned a moderate-to-liberal Republican into the hardest of anti-Communists, or how a secular Jew should have felt moved to embrace Roman Catholicism late in life. Most interesting of all, though, is the black cynicism with which Novak writes of the politicians among whom he has moved for virtually the whole of his adult life. A few escape his contempt—he was impressed, for instance, by the depth of Ronald Reagan’s reading in the history of economics—but for the most part he views them as shallow power-seekers who use everyone around them, and are themselves used in turn.

A handful of Washington journalists have written of the inhabitants of their milieu with comparable candor, most notably Meg Greenfield in Washington, her posthumous memoir: “These are people who don’t seem to live in the world so much as to inhabit some point on graph paper, whose coordinates are (sideways) the political spectrum and (up and down) the latest overnight poll figures.” But Novak’s honesty about the mutual manipulativeness of his relationships with the politicians he has covered exceeds anything I have hitherto seen in print. Among other things, he acknowledges that he’s more likely to trash you in print if you won’t talk to him off the record:

Am I suggesting a news source could buy off Novak with a hamburger in the White House? No government official or politician can secure immunity from a reporter by helping him out. Even my most important sources—such as Mel Laird and Wilbur Mills—were not immune from an occasional dig. Still, Bob Haldeman was treated more harshly because he refused any connection with me. He made himself more of a target than he had to be by refusing to be a source.

Even more revealing is Novak’s description of his relationship with Karl Rove:

What you did not find in my columns was criticism of Karl Rove. I don’t believe I would have found much to criticize him about even if he had not been a source, but reporters—much less columnists—do not attack their sources. . . . In four decades of talking to presidential aides, I never had enjoyed such a good source inside the White House. Rove obviously thought I was useful for his purposes, too. Such symbiotic relationships, built on self-interest, are the rule in high-level Washington journalism.

Perhaps I’m not enough of a cynic to appreciate fully Novak’s point of view—I’ve spent little time in Washington and less, thank God, in the company of politicians—but even so, I find that last sentence chillingly bleak. Imagine spending a half-century working in a town where the naked pursuit of self-interest governs all your personal relationships! Seen in that lurid light, the title of The Prince of Darkness, though it is Novak’s well-known nickname, ended up putting me in mind of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’s fictional portrayal of the ceaseless backstabbing engaged in by Satan’s staff of tempters. Small wonder that Novak finally got religion. No doubt a day came when he looked around him and found himself echoing the terrible words of Christopher Marlowe’s Mephistophilis: “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.”

Read Less

Hillary and Terror

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speculated on the electoral effect of a terrorist attack on the United States. The New York Post reported her as saying,

It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, “What if? What if?” But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.

The statement is so obviously inappropriate that I will not criticize her for it, especially because her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination lost no time in doing so. Nonetheless, the fact that she would raise the subject merits discussion. This is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff blunder: Clinton, the carefully-controlled front-runner, is not known for spontaneity. It’s much more likely she thought long and hard about making such a risky comment. This means she—and her superb political team—think that another terrorist strike on the American homeland in the next several months is possible, even likely.

Read More

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speculated on the electoral effect of a terrorist attack on the United States. The New York Post reported her as saying,

It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, “What if? What if?” But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.

The statement is so obviously inappropriate that I will not criticize her for it, especially because her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination lost no time in doing so. Nonetheless, the fact that she would raise the subject merits discussion. This is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff blunder: Clinton, the carefully-controlled front-runner, is not known for spontaneity. It’s much more likely she thought long and hard about making such a risky comment. This means she—and her superb political team—think that another terrorist strike on the American homeland in the next several months is possible, even likely.

An imminent attack would justify many of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism measures that Clinton and her party normally oppose. Yet, it would also make some of the White House’s recent efforts to protect the nation seem, well, inadequate. For instance, President Bush opposed the overseas screening for nuclear materials of all 10 million cargo containers entering America by ship each year. This screening, we are told, “is neither executable nor feasible.” Although cargo-screening issues are complex, the administration’s notions of feasibility betray a troubling laxity. In reality, the administration simply does not want to hinder commerce and ruffle foreign governments, as its recent statement on the matter shows. The cost for needed scanning equipment? The Congressional Budget Office estimates a grand total of about $1.5 billion.

The President this month signed a bill requiring complete screening, but he’s unlikely to implement the law, especially in light of what his administration has said on the matter. Then again, he should think about the consequences of a nuclear detonation in, say, Manhattan. On Friday, China announced that four men trying to sell uranium illegally had lost eight kilograms of it. The missing material, unfortunately, appears already to be in the hands of potential buyers. I may never vote for Mrs. Clinton, but she now has my attention. The big question is: does she have President Bush’s?

Read Less

Bloomberg’s “Leadership”

Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday about the strengths of an independent ticket for 2008 with Michael Bloomberg as the presidential and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the vice-presidential candidate. Broder cites Hagel on Bloomberg: “A guy like Bloomberg could have deep credibility as a candidate because” he’s a “proven leader.” Leadership, Broder himself goes on to say, “is precisely what Bloomberg demonstrates every day as mayor.” Broder and Hagel have it exactly wrong. As the recent and easily-preventable deaths of two fireman in the Deutsche Bank building fire of August 18th made clear, Bloomberg is a hands-off mayor who—in everything from Ground Zero to subway breakdowns to ferry crashes to repeated Con Ed blackouts to school bus snafus—has been anything but a leader.

Standing on the edge of Ground Zero, the Deutsche Bank building survived 9/11. But it was so badly damaged that the asbestos and other chemical compounds used in its construction spread throughout the building, turning the structure into a toxic pile of rubbish, “a vertical Love Canal.” Though scheduled for demolition, under Bloomberg’s “leadership” all but the top floors of the building are still standing, six years after 9/11.

Read More

Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday about the strengths of an independent ticket for 2008 with Michael Bloomberg as the presidential and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the vice-presidential candidate. Broder cites Hagel on Bloomberg: “A guy like Bloomberg could have deep credibility as a candidate because” he’s a “proven leader.” Leadership, Broder himself goes on to say, “is precisely what Bloomberg demonstrates every day as mayor.” Broder and Hagel have it exactly wrong. As the recent and easily-preventable deaths of two fireman in the Deutsche Bank building fire of August 18th made clear, Bloomberg is a hands-off mayor who—in everything from Ground Zero to subway breakdowns to ferry crashes to repeated Con Ed blackouts to school bus snafus—has been anything but a leader.

Standing on the edge of Ground Zero, the Deutsche Bank building survived 9/11. But it was so badly damaged that the asbestos and other chemical compounds used in its construction spread throughout the building, turning the structure into a toxic pile of rubbish, “a vertical Love Canal.” Though scheduled for demolition, under Bloomberg’s “leadership” all but the top floors of the building are still standing, six years after 9/11.

The building’s owner is the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), a hapless organization jointly run by the governor and the mayor, created to help guide the rebuilding of Ground Zero. LMDC purchased the Deutsche Bank building after 9/11 to take responsibility for its safe and timely demolition. But Bloomberg has additional responsibilities: the city’s Building and Fire Departments (of which he is ultimately in charge) are responsible for making sure that safety standards are met during the stunningly slow process of demolition. Each of these agencies failed in its mission. Had the Fire or Buildings Departments done their job, they would have found that not only was there no plan for how to deal with a fire as is required by law, but that the water system needed to fight a fire had been disabled. But it gets worse. Bovis, the giant construction company given the contract for the demolition, subcontracted it to a mob-run front company (named, weirdly, John Galt, after the name of the architect engineer in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

But John Galt had no experience in the difficult task of asbestos removal, and violated safety standards with impunity. Somehow all this escaped the city’s notice until after it sent firefighters into a building veiled in sheathing to keep contaminants (and smoke and fire, as it turned out) from escaping.

But what’s really striking is that, with the exception of one column by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, no one has pointed a finger at Bloomberg. Editorials have called for the head of the Fire Commissioner and denounced the LMDC, but Bloomberg has been held blameless. Imagine, for a moment, that the administrations of mayors Koch or Dinkins (or Giuliani), men without $20 billion fortunes and lacking personal friendships with the city’s media elite, had hired an incompetent construction company whose shoddy work led to the deaths of two of New York’s bravest. The press would be in a frenzy, furiously demanding answers from the mayor. But a week after the tragedy, the press has had virtually nothing to say about Bloomberg’s role in the tragedy. Now that’s leadership.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.