Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 14, 2007

The Best Interests of the Game?

It’s official: With yesterday’s steroid report making front page news, George Mitchell has become a brand name, the investigatory equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal. A story in today’s New York Times encapsulates the credulous, even ceremonial treatment the press has, for the most part, afforded Mitchell’s findings. Which would be fine, if only Mitchell wasn’t up to his ears in conflicts of interest, and hadn’t produced a document that reported almost nothing new, save for empty rhetoric (“hundreds of thousands of our children are using [steroids]”) and the often uncorroborated claims of two sources ensnared in the legal system and looking to cut a deal, spiced up with a good dose of hearsay.

Conducting some 700 interviews and going over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mitchell turns up considerably less than can be found in the book that exposes Barry Bonds’s steroid use, Game of Shadows, or in Howard Bryant’s excellent Juicing The Game. We could have found out more, and at least as credibly, simply by compiling a list of the players whose statistics improved by an order of magnitude after the age of 32, something nearly unheard of prior to the steroid era.

Clearly aware of how little he’d turned up, Mitchell released his 409-page document just an hour before holding a press conference, ensuring that reporters had no time to read, let alone absorb, the document before asking him questions. When tough questions did come up, he stonewalled with endless variations of “it’s in the report.” It was a smart way to control the story, given that few new names were unearthed—much of the report reads like a detailed summary of the better news reporting of the last decade—and the big ones that were, most notably Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, were, to anyone who’d been paying attention, among the most obvious abusers.

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It’s official: With yesterday’s steroid report making front page news, George Mitchell has become a brand name, the investigatory equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal. A story in today’s New York Times encapsulates the credulous, even ceremonial treatment the press has, for the most part, afforded Mitchell’s findings. Which would be fine, if only Mitchell wasn’t up to his ears in conflicts of interest, and hadn’t produced a document that reported almost nothing new, save for empty rhetoric (“hundreds of thousands of our children are using [steroids]”) and the often uncorroborated claims of two sources ensnared in the legal system and looking to cut a deal, spiced up with a good dose of hearsay.

Conducting some 700 interviews and going over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mitchell turns up considerably less than can be found in the book that exposes Barry Bonds’s steroid use, Game of Shadows, or in Howard Bryant’s excellent Juicing The Game. We could have found out more, and at least as credibly, simply by compiling a list of the players whose statistics improved by an order of magnitude after the age of 32, something nearly unheard of prior to the steroid era.

Clearly aware of how little he’d turned up, Mitchell released his 409-page document just an hour before holding a press conference, ensuring that reporters had no time to read, let alone absorb, the document before asking him questions. When tough questions did come up, he stonewalled with endless variations of “it’s in the report.” It was a smart way to control the story, given that few new names were unearthed—much of the report reads like a detailed summary of the better news reporting of the last decade—and the big ones that were, most notably Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, were, to anyone who’d been paying attention, among the most obvious abusers.

In place of significant new revelations, Mitchell continuously blamed the players for their lack of cooperation with his investigation. Why the players should have cooperated with what was effectively an attack on labor by management remains unclear. After all, it was no secret on whose behalf Mitchell was working.

New York writers have concentrated on Mitchell’s ties to the Red Sox. Conspiracy theories about this focus on the New York-centric quality of the report; the outing of Indians pitcher Paul Byrd, in the middle of a postseason series between the Sox and the Indians, as a human growth hormone user; and the decision not to tender a contract to reliever Brendan Donnelly, just a few hours before the report, with Donnelly’s name in it, was released. However, the bigger, more open, conspiracy is that of the former Senator’s relationship to management.

Tim Marchman of the New York Sun, evidently one of the few writers who bothered to read the report before reporting on it, lists these conflicts in what should be considered the definitive dispatch thus far on the report. Suffice it to say that Mitchell, who presently serves as a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, is, in Marchman’s words, “a member of baseball management as surely as anyone now living.”

This is the only light in which to understand a report that breaks just enough ground to fool lazy reporters, while allowing Commissioner Bud Selig to declare an end to the steroid era, by pushing through the new rules and regulations Mitchell proposes, and using these changes to keep Congress at bay. As Marchman puts it, Selig’s appointing Mitchell is akin to “President Bush’s charging Karl Rove with a blue ribbon inquiry into the war in Iraq, and Rove’s brushing away the appearance of impropriety by assuring the world that the White House political operation would get no special favor.”

All of this befits a league that expects us to believe that a commissioner who’s a former owner, and who serves at the mercy of ownership, is acting “in the best interests of the game.”

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Pelosi, Flailing

Yesterday the AP reported

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Republicans on Thursday, saying they want the Iraq war to drag on and are ignoring the public’s priorities. “They like this war. They want this war to continue,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She expressed frustration over Republicans’ ability to force majority Democrats to yield ground on taxes, spending, energy, war spending, and other matters. “We thought that they shared the view of so many people in our country that we needed a new direction in Iraq,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference in the Capitol. “But the Republicans have made it very clear that this is not just George Bush’s war. This is the war of the Republicans in Congress.” [When asked to clarify her remarks, Pelosi said, “I shouldn’t say they like the war,” she said. “They support the war, the course of action that the President is on.”]

These are the words of a desperate woman who is the leader of an increasingly desperate party, one that is beginning to turn on itself. Even Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who is as reliable a voice as Democrats have, is worried. This morning he writes, “Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.” The problem, Dionne writes, is that Democrats just aren’t adept enough at the “blame game.”

Not quite. In fact, several things are converging to work against Democrats. The first is that early this year they placed a huge wager that the war to liberate Iraq was lost. It turns out that bet was misplaced. When Pelosi says she thought Republicans shared the view of so many people that we needed a “new direction” in Iraq, she (willfully) ignores the blazingly obvious: this year the President put in place a new military strategy in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, and that new strategy is showing results faster than anyone could have anticipated.

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Yesterday the AP reported

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Republicans on Thursday, saying they want the Iraq war to drag on and are ignoring the public’s priorities. “They like this war. They want this war to continue,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She expressed frustration over Republicans’ ability to force majority Democrats to yield ground on taxes, spending, energy, war spending, and other matters. “We thought that they shared the view of so many people in our country that we needed a new direction in Iraq,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference in the Capitol. “But the Republicans have made it very clear that this is not just George Bush’s war. This is the war of the Republicans in Congress.” [When asked to clarify her remarks, Pelosi said, “I shouldn’t say they like the war,” she said. “They support the war, the course of action that the President is on.”]

These are the words of a desperate woman who is the leader of an increasingly desperate party, one that is beginning to turn on itself. Even Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who is as reliable a voice as Democrats have, is worried. This morning he writes, “Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.” The problem, Dionne writes, is that Democrats just aren’t adept enough at the “blame game.”

Not quite. In fact, several things are converging to work against Democrats. The first is that early this year they placed a huge wager that the war to liberate Iraq was lost. It turns out that bet was misplaced. When Pelosi says she thought Republicans shared the view of so many people that we needed a “new direction” in Iraq, she (willfully) ignores the blazingly obvious: this year the President put in place a new military strategy in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus, and that new strategy is showing results faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Having seen things get better in Iraq, Democrats compounded their problems immeasurably by ignoring the progress and having their leadership, on an almost daily basis, act as if they want to expedite an American loss. That’s a very bad place for a major American political party to be.

Second, Democrats have been extraordinarily ineffective at passing legislation. They were handed the reigns of legislative power—and they have produced almost nothing of consequence.

Third, the Democratic base, because of the war, is more radical, vocal, and freakish than usual, which is putting enormous pressure on Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Every time they attempt to appease the left fringe of their party, they turn off most of the rest of America. A steady diet of the rhetoric of Moveon.org and The Daily Kos will do that to people.

Fourth, the President, whose approval rating is now edging up toward 40 percent, is showing himself to be a pretty good political counter-puncher. Democrats are discovering that governing is more difficult than simply criticizing from the sidelines. The Democratic Congress is a target-rich environment—and President Bush is zeroing in on those targets.

The Democratic-led Congress has set record lows in approval ratings this year. As we approach its end, Democrats look increasingly powerless, angry, and irresponsible. The 2006 election was a repudiation of the GOP, after two very bad years. The Republican Party has to take steps to regain the trust and confidence of the polity. But it may be that the best tonic for Republicans is for the public to be reminded, all over again, about the modern-day Democratic Party’s core beliefs. Politics, after all, is about choices—and increasingly, Democrats look to be the less appealing choice.

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Bookshelf

• The perfect non-fiction book is one that tells you everything you really need to know about a given subject, be it large or small, in 250 pages or less, and does the job with style. That was the yardstick I used when writing my brief life of George Balanchine, which is 185 pages long. I leave it to you to judge whether I succeeded, but even if I didn’t, I know such books when I see them, and Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today (University of Chicago, 248 pp., $18 paper) fills the bill—perfectly.

One of the many disheartening things I’ve learned after four years as a drama critic is that most contemporary productions of Greek tragedy are exercises in theatrical futility. Why do they go wrong, and what makes the good ones good? Until I read How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, I was unable to answer those questions save by way of guesswork and instinct, not having had the benefits of a classical education or seen very many stagings of the Greek classics in my wasted youth. Henceforth, though, I’ll know what I failed to learn in school, thanks entirely to this priceless little book.

Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge, is realistic about the vast cultural distance that separates us from the plays of which he writes:

Greek drama is a wordy genre. Whenever any character says, “I have told the whole story,” that is always the beginning of more stories and a lot more laments. There is little action, at least for those brought up on action movies. There are few people who run in Greek tragedy, fewer explosions, and rarely even any physical contact onstage—though when people do touch, it is explosive.

How to reduce that distance? Though Goldhill is no literal-minded antiquarian, he understands that part of the paradoxical answer to this difficult question lies in paying close attention to the circumstances under which Greek tragedies were originally produced. As he explains in his introduction:

The book highlights what I regard as the six most pressing problems that face any company that chooses to produce a Greek tragedy. Each of the six chapters . . . looks first at whether we can learn anything from the ancient world, and then discusses how modern companies have tried to solve these difficulties in the theater, and analyzes their successes and failures.

Some of Goldhill’s problems will make immediate sense to most readers: what do you do with the chorus? Others are subtler: in what ways did the architectural design of Greek amphitheaters influence the way in which Greek tragedies were written? And how do you play those long, long speeches?

Finding the right level of expression is always an actor’s problem: but Greek tragedy poses this problem in the most acute form, because there is no small talk. It is because of this that so many actors fall back on “grandeur” or “magnificence,” although grandiloquence so rarely leads into the heart of any role.

Without minimizing the formidable difficulties posed by the genre, Goldhill shows how a modern production that pays no heed whatsoever to ancient precedents is likely to run into trouble, whereas a director who keeps those precedents firmly in mind will often find that his six problems have a way of solving themselves. Though he is not a “theater person,” he has looked closely at countless contemporary productions—some of which, like The Gospel at Colonus and Deborah Warner’s 2001 staging of Euripides’ Medea, will be familiar to American playgoers—and analyzes them with a shrewdness that no critic will fail to envy. His approach is at once deeply informed by the best academic scholarship and no less deeply rooted in a commonsense understanding of what works on stage. The result is one of the most instructive and lucidly written books about theater to have been published in recent years. No one whose interest in drama is more than merely casual should pass it by.


• The perfect non-fiction book is one that tells you everything you really need to know about a given subject, be it large or small, in 250 pages or less, and does the job with style. That was the yardstick I used when writing my brief life of George Balanchine, which is 185 pages long. I leave it to you to judge whether I succeeded, but even if I didn’t, I know such books when I see them, and Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today (University of Chicago, 248 pp., $18 paper) fills the bill—perfectly.

One of the many disheartening things I’ve learned after four years as a drama critic is that most contemporary productions of Greek tragedy are exercises in theatrical futility. Why do they go wrong, and what makes the good ones good? Until I read How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, I was unable to answer those questions save by way of guesswork and instinct, not having had the benefits of a classical education or seen very many stagings of the Greek classics in my wasted youth. Henceforth, though, I’ll know what I failed to learn in school, thanks entirely to this priceless little book.

Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge, is realistic about the vast cultural distance that separates us from the plays of which he writes:

Greek drama is a wordy genre. Whenever any character says, “I have told the whole story,” that is always the beginning of more stories and a lot more laments. There is little action, at least for those brought up on action movies. There are few people who run in Greek tragedy, fewer explosions, and rarely even any physical contact onstage—though when people do touch, it is explosive.

How to reduce that distance? Though Goldhill is no literal-minded antiquarian, he understands that part of the paradoxical answer to this difficult question lies in paying close attention to the circumstances under which Greek tragedies were originally produced. As he explains in his introduction:

The book highlights what I regard as the six most pressing problems that face any company that chooses to produce a Greek tragedy. Each of the six chapters . . . looks first at whether we can learn anything from the ancient world, and then discusses how modern companies have tried to solve these difficulties in the theater, and analyzes their successes and failures.

Some of Goldhill’s problems will make immediate sense to most readers: what do you do with the chorus? Others are subtler: in what ways did the architectural design of Greek amphitheaters influence the way in which Greek tragedies were written? And how do you play those long, long speeches?

Finding the right level of expression is always an actor’s problem: but Greek tragedy poses this problem in the most acute form, because there is no small talk. It is because of this that so many actors fall back on “grandeur” or “magnificence,” although grandiloquence so rarely leads into the heart of any role.

Without minimizing the formidable difficulties posed by the genre, Goldhill shows how a modern production that pays no heed whatsoever to ancient precedents is likely to run into trouble, whereas a director who keeps those precedents firmly in mind will often find that his six problems have a way of solving themselves. Though he is not a “theater person,” he has looked closely at countless contemporary productions—some of which, like The Gospel at Colonus and Deborah Warner’s 2001 staging of Euripides’ Medea, will be familiar to American playgoers—and analyzes them with a shrewdness that no critic will fail to envy. His approach is at once deeply informed by the best academic scholarship and no less deeply rooted in a commonsense understanding of what works on stage. The result is one of the most instructive and lucidly written books about theater to have been published in recent years. No one whose interest in drama is more than merely casual should pass it by.


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Faith-Based Diplomacy on North Korea

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

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Desperate for Leaders

Larbi Charef killed dozens of people in Algiers on Tuesday when he detonated his explosives-packed car. His suicide bombing was the culmination of a year that Charef had spent training with terrorists in the mountains in Eastern Algeria.

Some of those Charef murdered this week were receiving another form of training; they were university students. Although Charef received a high school diploma while spending two years in prison, he decided to become a terrorist when he was unable to find work upon his release.

Charef’s release from prison was the result of a government program “that gives amnesty to people convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” In comforting the bomber’s mother, a family friend said, referring to the national program, “when you put young men for two years into prison, you need to follow up. They need guidance.” By suggesting the government should take responsibility for this young man, the family friend was exculpating the very people who should have had the strongest role in shaping his character: his parents.

And yet, today Charef’s parents are shaking their heads as to what could have motivated their son. Meanwhile, other parents are quite clear about what they teach their children. To wit: Charef’s accomplice in a second Tuesday bombing was a 64-year-old father. What had he imparted to his offspring? The value of joining the Islamist militant movement. A lesson well-learned: when their father, Rabah Bechla, took his life and those of many innocents this week, he was just following in the footsteps of his sons, who had died already “for the cause.”

It is painful to witness this cycle of nihilism and destruction. But it is not poverty alone that forms a terrorist. The photo in today’s New York Times that accompanies the story of the Algerian bombers shows the miserable shanty town in which one of them lived. Yet, the story’s text depicts a poverty of thinking, in which parents reject responsibility for their children. Where terrorists are bred, it seems the real vacuum is one of leadership.

Larbi Charef killed dozens of people in Algiers on Tuesday when he detonated his explosives-packed car. His suicide bombing was the culmination of a year that Charef had spent training with terrorists in the mountains in Eastern Algeria.

Some of those Charef murdered this week were receiving another form of training; they were university students. Although Charef received a high school diploma while spending two years in prison, he decided to become a terrorist when he was unable to find work upon his release.

Charef’s release from prison was the result of a government program “that gives amnesty to people convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” In comforting the bomber’s mother, a family friend said, referring to the national program, “when you put young men for two years into prison, you need to follow up. They need guidance.” By suggesting the government should take responsibility for this young man, the family friend was exculpating the very people who should have had the strongest role in shaping his character: his parents.

And yet, today Charef’s parents are shaking their heads as to what could have motivated their son. Meanwhile, other parents are quite clear about what they teach their children. To wit: Charef’s accomplice in a second Tuesday bombing was a 64-year-old father. What had he imparted to his offspring? The value of joining the Islamist militant movement. A lesson well-learned: when their father, Rabah Bechla, took his life and those of many innocents this week, he was just following in the footsteps of his sons, who had died already “for the cause.”

It is painful to witness this cycle of nihilism and destruction. But it is not poverty alone that forms a terrorist. The photo in today’s New York Times that accompanies the story of the Algerian bombers shows the miserable shanty town in which one of them lived. Yet, the story’s text depicts a poverty of thinking, in which parents reject responsibility for their children. Where terrorists are bred, it seems the real vacuum is one of leadership.

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Jihad Comes to Facebook

An intrepid operative over at The Jawa Report has posted a revelatory survey of jihadists and jihad sympathizers who’ve established “groups” on the social networking site Facebook.com.

Groups like 14 Shabat, Muslim Brotherhood, and even some al Qaeda wannabes are featured. . .

Other groups are more general, such as “Resistance Movement Supporters,” where group members are greeted with pictures [sic] Hamas leaders.

A group of Islamist hackers calling themselves “Islamic Force” has only a few members, but many other less specialized groups have memberships numbering in the hundreds.

Group pages offer a selection of boilerplate anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda, complete with videos depicting alleged “atrocities” enacted upon Lebanese, Palestinians, and so on.

The preponderance of Western supporters is arresting. At one pro-Hizballah group page, a commentator left this heart-warming observation (both tellingly un-capitalized and capitalized):

im christian english but all I can say is, my heart my soul and my love are behind you. fight for your freedom because no one else will. I pray God and Allah will destroy your enemies.

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An intrepid operative over at The Jawa Report has posted a revelatory survey of jihadists and jihad sympathizers who’ve established “groups” on the social networking site Facebook.com.

Groups like 14 Shabat, Muslim Brotherhood, and even some al Qaeda wannabes are featured. . .

Other groups are more general, such as “Resistance Movement Supporters,” where group members are greeted with pictures [sic] Hamas leaders.

A group of Islamist hackers calling themselves “Islamic Force” has only a few members, but many other less specialized groups have memberships numbering in the hundreds.

Group pages offer a selection of boilerplate anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda, complete with videos depicting alleged “atrocities” enacted upon Lebanese, Palestinians, and so on.

The preponderance of Western supporters is arresting. At one pro-Hizballah group page, a commentator left this heart-warming observation (both tellingly un-capitalized and capitalized):

im christian english but all I can say is, my heart my soul and my love are behind you. fight for your freedom because no one else will. I pray God and Allah will destroy your enemies.

The administrator of the group “Support Our Troops!” hails from the University of Arizona; its 128 members come from Texas, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York. The troops in this case, however, are not American—they are the terrorists and insurgents of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s an additional noteworthy point about these Facebook pages: no faces. The groups’ organizers tend to hide behind Palestinian flags or portraits of terrorists like Hassan Nasrallah. There’s something particularly noxious about the marriage of extremism and the Internet. The absence of regulation, the medium’s ubiquity, and the impressionable nature of the Internet’s demography make for a perfect storm. On the bright side, such flagrant PR and recruitment methods make these groups easy to track.

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Andrew Young’s Mouth

Last week, Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say about why he was endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama:

“To put a brother in there by himself is to set him up for crucifixion,” he said. But he could not resist adding a kicker. “Bill [Clinton] is every bit as black as Barack—he’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”

Irrespective of the latter part of this statement’s validity, the contention that Bill Clinton is “every bit as black as Barack” has a long genealogy, dating back to Toni Morrison, who stated that Clinton was indeed the country’s “first black president.” How could this white man from Arkansas be African-American? Simple. Clinton “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Clinton’s metaphorical hue was, of course, “white skin notwithstanding.”

This is not the first time Young’s mouth has gotten him in trouble. He was fired from his perch at the United Nations after he broke State Department protocol by meeting with representatives of the PLO. This was too much even for Jimmy Carter. And last year Young was forced to resign from an organization created by Wal-Mart to drum up support for it in minority communities after he defended the corporation from claims that it forced “mom and pop” stores to close because such establishments were owned by:

people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Ultimately, however, Obama need not worry about losing Young’s endorsement; having won Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, he’s doing quite well in the race for washed-up Carter administration officials.

Last week, Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say about why he was endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama:

“To put a brother in there by himself is to set him up for crucifixion,” he said. But he could not resist adding a kicker. “Bill [Clinton] is every bit as black as Barack—he’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”

Irrespective of the latter part of this statement’s validity, the contention that Bill Clinton is “every bit as black as Barack” has a long genealogy, dating back to Toni Morrison, who stated that Clinton was indeed the country’s “first black president.” How could this white man from Arkansas be African-American? Simple. Clinton “displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Clinton’s metaphorical hue was, of course, “white skin notwithstanding.”

This is not the first time Young’s mouth has gotten him in trouble. He was fired from his perch at the United Nations after he broke State Department protocol by meeting with representatives of the PLO. This was too much even for Jimmy Carter. And last year Young was forced to resign from an organization created by Wal-Mart to drum up support for it in minority communities after he defended the corporation from claims that it forced “mom and pop” stores to close because such establishments were owned by:

people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Ultimately, however, Obama need not worry about losing Young’s endorsement; having won Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, he’s doing quite well in the race for washed-up Carter administration officials.

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Has the U.S. Intelligence Community Been Penetrated Yet Again?

Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s UN ambassador and a straight-shooter if there ever was one, spoke the truth yesterday when he called the new National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s suddenly non-existent nuclear-weapons program “a goal against ourselves.”

Why, after countless reforms, and so much handwringing, is U.S. intelligence in such sad shape? More importantly, what should be done about it?

On December 6, Donald Kerr, the PDDNI, that is, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, laid out his agency’s 500-day plan to set things right. “What is required, first and foremost,” he said in congressional testimony, “is integrating the foundational elements and removing the barriers — in the areas of policy, management/budgeting, technology and acquisition, information, collection and analysis, and culture.” To this end, we need “to promote and build an intelligence community (IC) identity or sense of ‘jointness’ by creating programs that provide for cross-agency work assignments and training.”

The 500-day plan enters almost immediately into a discussion of the vital importance of “Equal Opportunity and Diversity.” It offers high praise for the intelligence community’s Diversity Strategy Implementation Workshop, an event held this past October that was an “an important step in the accomplishment of the IC-wide EEO and Diversity Cross-Cutting Emphasis Area Plan (CCEAP) by providing each of the IC Agencies with the mechanisms and direction. . . .”

I won’t bore you with the rest, but it is an astonishing compendium of bureaucratic gibberish guaranteed either to put you to sleep if you simply read it, or to give you nightmares if you pause to think about its implications.

What do we really need to do about the CIA? The memoirs of Secretary of Defense (and former CIA director) Robert Gates, From the Shadows, a significant book for understanding our present dilemmas, has some passages about Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s first CIA director, that should hit a nerve in anyone thinking about what do about U.S. intelligence today:

What truly set Bill Casey apart from his predecessors and successors as DCI . . . was that he had not come to CIA with the purpose of making it better, managing it more effectively, reforming or improving the quality of intelligence. What I realized only years later was that Bill Casey came to CIA primarily to wage war against the Soviet Union.

Above all, Casey wanted information and analysis that informed or provoked action. Nor for him assessments that simply were “interesting” or educational. He wanted information that would help target clandestine operations better, or be useful for U.S. propaganda, or assist military operations, or put ammunition in the hands of negotiators. For Casey, the United States and CIA were at war . . . and speed and relevance were his benchmarks for effective analysis.

Casey had his undeniable and glaring faults as a CIA director. But how does he stack up against the current crew, who may more accurately be called moles from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission disguised as spies?

Gates has another passage in his memoir describing what he found in the CIA when he became chief of staff to Casey in 1981. This is what he wrote in a memo to his boss:

As a result of the lack of innovative and creative personnel management, I believe this agency is chock full of people simply awaiting retirement: some are only a year or two away and some are twenty-five years away, but there are far too many playing it safe, proceeding cautiously, not antagonizing management, and certainly not broadening their horizons, especially as long as their own senior management makes it clear that [risk-taking] is not career enhancing. How is the health of CIA? I would say that at the present time it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis: the arteries are clogging up with careerist bureaucrats who have lost the spark. It is my opinion that it is this steadily increasing proportion of intelligence bureaucrats that has led to the decline in the quality of intelligence collection and analysis over the past fifteen years — more so than our declining resources . . . or congressional investigations or legal restrictions. CIA is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture.

That was twenty-six years ago, and to judge by the intelligence-community’s 500-day plan to fix itself, things have only gotten worse in the interim.

If the United States gets clobbered again as we were on September 11, we are not going to even see it coming unless we toss out, or “re-educate,” Chinese style, our current PDDNI, Donald Kerr, and all the other bureau-technocrats who signed on to the preposterous “500 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration,” which more appropriately might be called a “500-Day Plan to Turn the Entire Intelligence Community Into the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and Possibly Get A Lot of Americans Killed Along the Way.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s UN ambassador and a straight-shooter if there ever was one, spoke the truth yesterday when he called the new National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s suddenly non-existent nuclear-weapons program “a goal against ourselves.”

Why, after countless reforms, and so much handwringing, is U.S. intelligence in such sad shape? More importantly, what should be done about it?

On December 6, Donald Kerr, the PDDNI, that is, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, laid out his agency’s 500-day plan to set things right. “What is required, first and foremost,” he said in congressional testimony, “is integrating the foundational elements and removing the barriers — in the areas of policy, management/budgeting, technology and acquisition, information, collection and analysis, and culture.” To this end, we need “to promote and build an intelligence community (IC) identity or sense of ‘jointness’ by creating programs that provide for cross-agency work assignments and training.”

The 500-day plan enters almost immediately into a discussion of the vital importance of “Equal Opportunity and Diversity.” It offers high praise for the intelligence community’s Diversity Strategy Implementation Workshop, an event held this past October that was an “an important step in the accomplishment of the IC-wide EEO and Diversity Cross-Cutting Emphasis Area Plan (CCEAP) by providing each of the IC Agencies with the mechanisms and direction. . . .”

I won’t bore you with the rest, but it is an astonishing compendium of bureaucratic gibberish guaranteed either to put you to sleep if you simply read it, or to give you nightmares if you pause to think about its implications.

What do we really need to do about the CIA? The memoirs of Secretary of Defense (and former CIA director) Robert Gates, From the Shadows, a significant book for understanding our present dilemmas, has some passages about Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s first CIA director, that should hit a nerve in anyone thinking about what do about U.S. intelligence today:

What truly set Bill Casey apart from his predecessors and successors as DCI . . . was that he had not come to CIA with the purpose of making it better, managing it more effectively, reforming or improving the quality of intelligence. What I realized only years later was that Bill Casey came to CIA primarily to wage war against the Soviet Union.

Above all, Casey wanted information and analysis that informed or provoked action. Nor for him assessments that simply were “interesting” or educational. He wanted information that would help target clandestine operations better, or be useful for U.S. propaganda, or assist military operations, or put ammunition in the hands of negotiators. For Casey, the United States and CIA were at war . . . and speed and relevance were his benchmarks for effective analysis.

Casey had his undeniable and glaring faults as a CIA director. But how does he stack up against the current crew, who may more accurately be called moles from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission disguised as spies?

Gates has another passage in his memoir describing what he found in the CIA when he became chief of staff to Casey in 1981. This is what he wrote in a memo to his boss:

As a result of the lack of innovative and creative personnel management, I believe this agency is chock full of people simply awaiting retirement: some are only a year or two away and some are twenty-five years away, but there are far too many playing it safe, proceeding cautiously, not antagonizing management, and certainly not broadening their horizons, especially as long as their own senior management makes it clear that [risk-taking] is not career enhancing. How is the health of CIA? I would say that at the present time it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis: the arteries are clogging up with careerist bureaucrats who have lost the spark. It is my opinion that it is this steadily increasing proportion of intelligence bureaucrats that has led to the decline in the quality of intelligence collection and analysis over the past fifteen years — more so than our declining resources . . . or congressional investigations or legal restrictions. CIA is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture.

That was twenty-six years ago, and to judge by the intelligence-community’s 500-day plan to fix itself, things have only gotten worse in the interim.

If the United States gets clobbered again as we were on September 11, we are not going to even see it coming unless we toss out, or “re-educate,” Chinese style, our current PDDNI, Donald Kerr, and all the other bureau-technocrats who signed on to the preposterous “500 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration,” which more appropriately might be called a “500-Day Plan to Turn the Entire Intelligence Community Into the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and Possibly Get A Lot of Americans Killed Along the Way.”

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Right Back Atcha, James

I got a good chuckle this morning from this post on something called the Sovereignty Caucus blog attacking me as an out-of-touch Manhattanite because of my pro-immigration posting on contentions:

Get used to it America: your new servants—and your new masters—will be immigrants. So says Max Boot, who is a Fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. To such Manhattanites, zooming over the rest of us, lofted ever upward by a jet stream of tax-deductible foundation money, such humdrum issues as legality, and opportunity for home-grown Americans—well, such issues are too small to worry about, or even take seriously. Legal, schmegal—what’s the big whoop-dee-doo diff?

Who is the author of this populist outrage? In what farmhouse in which Midwestern state does he sit shuddering with rage at the bicoastal elites who are “zooming over” his head?

This item was penned by none other than James Pinkerton, a former aide in the White House of George Bush Sr., who was briefly famous for formulating something called the “New Paradigm,” the content of which has long been forgotten by all but the author.

And where does Pinkerton live? I believe in New York, where he is a columnist for Newsday and a contributor to the Fox News Channel. At least I’ve certainly run into him at parties over the years in fancy New York settings. (Perhaps he commutes to these gatherings from Dubuque?) He is also affiliated with think tanks such as the New America Foundation, which are presumably funded with “tax-deductible foundation money.”

Read More

I got a good chuckle this morning from this post on something called the Sovereignty Caucus blog attacking me as an out-of-touch Manhattanite because of my pro-immigration posting on contentions:

Get used to it America: your new servants—and your new masters—will be immigrants. So says Max Boot, who is a Fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. To such Manhattanites, zooming over the rest of us, lofted ever upward by a jet stream of tax-deductible foundation money, such humdrum issues as legality, and opportunity for home-grown Americans—well, such issues are too small to worry about, or even take seriously. Legal, schmegal—what’s the big whoop-dee-doo diff?

Who is the author of this populist outrage? In what farmhouse in which Midwestern state does he sit shuddering with rage at the bicoastal elites who are “zooming over” his head?

This item was penned by none other than James Pinkerton, a former aide in the White House of George Bush Sr., who was briefly famous for formulating something called the “New Paradigm,” the content of which has long been forgotten by all but the author.

And where does Pinkerton live? I believe in New York, where he is a columnist for Newsday and a contributor to the Fox News Channel. At least I’ve certainly run into him at parties over the years in fancy New York settings. (Perhaps he commutes to these gatherings from Dubuque?) He is also affiliated with think tanks such as the New America Foundation, which are presumably funded with “tax-deductible foundation money.”

But, like Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, and other talking heads, his own membership in the New York-based media elite doesn’t prevent Pinkerton from posturing as the tribune of the common man and castigating those with whom he disagrees as out-of-touch elitists.

More than that, he claims that those of us who oppose immigration-bashing are not true conservatives. He concludes:

Some might wonder: Isn’t Commentary supposed to be a conservative magazine? Maybe, but it’s got it share of globalist neoconservatives, who are anything but conservative.

Gasp! Who knew I wasn’t just a neocon but, even worse, a globalist neocon. (Whatever that is.) I find such arguments—you’re not a true conservative! You’re not a true liberal! You’re not a true whatever!—to be just as risible and tedious as his earlier claim that because I work in New York City I am somehow out of touch.

While being pro-immigration myself, and a conservative, I readily admit that this is one of many issues on which conservatives of good faith can disagree. It would be nice if those with differing views could stick to debating the merits of the case rather than trying to demean the other side with juvenile insults.

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The Abandoned Revolution

The news from Lebanon is getting worse and worse. On Wednesday, François Hajj, a prominent general in the Lebanese Army, was killed in a massive car bombing near Beirut. He is the ninth Lebanese political figure to be murdered since the car-bombing of Rafik Hariri in 2005 kicked off Syria’s killing spree.

The rationale behind Hajj’s murder is the same rationale that has been behind every such assassination, save for a few small strategic details. As Walid Phares notes,

the slain commander had in past months and years refused to accept Hezbollah’s exclusive areas of control in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa valley. Moreover he was credited for coordinating the Lebanese Army offensive against the Fatah [al-] Islam Terror group in Nahr al Bared camp in north Lebanon over the summer. The strike can be understood as a message to the Lebanese Army not to attempt to confront terror groups in the future, including Hezbollah.

Michael Young, who is always required reading on Lebanon, adds that

The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon, and the disastrous French initiative on the presidency only confirmed to them that the international community would readily engage Syria on Lebanon. As for the United States, it has been comatose. . . . The French and the Americans have been neutralized in Lebanon. . . . Creating a [political power] vacuum is not a strategy; it is a tactic designed to bring someone to power on Syria’s terms. Damascus wants exclusivity in the next Lebanese president, but without its armed forces in the country to impose this, a new officeholder might prove too independent.

Those are the specific reasons, but the larger reason is Syria’s dedication to regaining its former prominence in the eastern Mediterranean. As Tony Badran writes in an excellent post about the assassination,

Assad wants an American and regional (read Saudi) mandate for his colonization of Lebanon. This is the same reason why he wants talks with the Israelis, as he believes that would be his ticket to the U.S., and consequently, for his return to Lebanon. The Europeans and Arabs thought, and some might still think, that if you offer Syria the prospect of the Golan, then they would leave Lebanon alone.

The problem with the way America and France view Syria is in thinking that the Assad regime is possessed of a set of discrete interests, each of which can be isolated and placated on its own terms. It would make our job easier if the Syrians actually thought this way, but there is no evidence that they do. The Syrian “interests” that we fret over are only the tips of an iceberg, a grand vision in which Syria pursues what it believes is a rightful ambition to regain its former glory as a preeminent regional power. Suddenly it doesn’t look like another Nancy Pelosi listening tour of Damascus is going to make much of a difference, does it?

One of the fundamental tasks of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era should have been the establishment in the Middle East of a very simple principle: that the United States will defend its friends and punish its enemies. In Lebanon, as Syria methodically murders the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, we are again sending the wrong signals — that we will abandon our friends if loyalty to them becomes inconvenient or costly, and we will reward our enemies when we tire of their intransigence. Nothing good will come of this, either for us or for the brave and beleaguered Lebanese patriots whom we promised not to abandon.

The news from Lebanon is getting worse and worse. On Wednesday, François Hajj, a prominent general in the Lebanese Army, was killed in a massive car bombing near Beirut. He is the ninth Lebanese political figure to be murdered since the car-bombing of Rafik Hariri in 2005 kicked off Syria’s killing spree.

The rationale behind Hajj’s murder is the same rationale that has been behind every such assassination, save for a few small strategic details. As Walid Phares notes,

the slain commander had in past months and years refused to accept Hezbollah’s exclusive areas of control in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa valley. Moreover he was credited for coordinating the Lebanese Army offensive against the Fatah [al-] Islam Terror group in Nahr al Bared camp in north Lebanon over the summer. The strike can be understood as a message to the Lebanese Army not to attempt to confront terror groups in the future, including Hezbollah.

Michael Young, who is always required reading on Lebanon, adds that

The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon, and the disastrous French initiative on the presidency only confirmed to them that the international community would readily engage Syria on Lebanon. As for the United States, it has been comatose. . . . The French and the Americans have been neutralized in Lebanon. . . . Creating a [political power] vacuum is not a strategy; it is a tactic designed to bring someone to power on Syria’s terms. Damascus wants exclusivity in the next Lebanese president, but without its armed forces in the country to impose this, a new officeholder might prove too independent.

Those are the specific reasons, but the larger reason is Syria’s dedication to regaining its former prominence in the eastern Mediterranean. As Tony Badran writes in an excellent post about the assassination,

Assad wants an American and regional (read Saudi) mandate for his colonization of Lebanon. This is the same reason why he wants talks with the Israelis, as he believes that would be his ticket to the U.S., and consequently, for his return to Lebanon. The Europeans and Arabs thought, and some might still think, that if you offer Syria the prospect of the Golan, then they would leave Lebanon alone.

The problem with the way America and France view Syria is in thinking that the Assad regime is possessed of a set of discrete interests, each of which can be isolated and placated on its own terms. It would make our job easier if the Syrians actually thought this way, but there is no evidence that they do. The Syrian “interests” that we fret over are only the tips of an iceberg, a grand vision in which Syria pursues what it believes is a rightful ambition to regain its former glory as a preeminent regional power. Suddenly it doesn’t look like another Nancy Pelosi listening tour of Damascus is going to make much of a difference, does it?

One of the fundamental tasks of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era should have been the establishment in the Middle East of a very simple principle: that the United States will defend its friends and punish its enemies. In Lebanon, as Syria methodically murders the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, we are again sending the wrong signals — that we will abandon our friends if loyalty to them becomes inconvenient or costly, and we will reward our enemies when we tire of their intransigence. Nothing good will come of this, either for us or for the brave and beleaguered Lebanese patriots whom we promised not to abandon.

Read Less




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