Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 7, 2008

On a Republican Comeback

In Britain’s Times Online, Tim Hames takes a narrative approach in analyzing the probability of a Republican comeback, and determines that the GOP can, in fact, win in November.

Although Republicans have been given a 38 percent chance of victory, Hames cites three factors upon which they can capitalize their way into the White House. One is the prevailing non-Bush qualities of the Republican candidates; another is the Democratic Congress’ abysmal approval ratings; and last are the beatable natures of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—Clinton because she’s so disliked, and Obama because he’s too far left.

So, the general election should go to “a moderate Republican with an established reputation who commands respect beyond the party faithful.” In short, Giuliani or McCain. Hames has counted Giuliani out and, therefore, sees a distinctly possible McCain presidency.

The big problem with this analysis lies in McCain’s relationship to that first factor. On the most problematic issue—Iraq—McCain is extremely Bush-like. And on the safest issue—tax cuts—he’s been trying to downplay his opposition to the President. However, the tortoise-and-hare reality of a McCain-Obama showdown would certainly lend the Republicans more than a 38 percent chance. The air of inevitability that first adorned Hillary and now sweeps up Obama is both too early and too fantastic to last.

In Britain’s Times Online, Tim Hames takes a narrative approach in analyzing the probability of a Republican comeback, and determines that the GOP can, in fact, win in November.

Although Republicans have been given a 38 percent chance of victory, Hames cites three factors upon which they can capitalize their way into the White House. One is the prevailing non-Bush qualities of the Republican candidates; another is the Democratic Congress’ abysmal approval ratings; and last are the beatable natures of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—Clinton because she’s so disliked, and Obama because he’s too far left.

So, the general election should go to “a moderate Republican with an established reputation who commands respect beyond the party faithful.” In short, Giuliani or McCain. Hames has counted Giuliani out and, therefore, sees a distinctly possible McCain presidency.

The big problem with this analysis lies in McCain’s relationship to that first factor. On the most problematic issue—Iraq—McCain is extremely Bush-like. And on the safest issue—tax cuts—he’s been trying to downplay his opposition to the President. However, the tortoise-and-hare reality of a McCain-Obama showdown would certainly lend the Republicans more than a 38 percent chance. The air of inevitability that first adorned Hillary and now sweeps up Obama is both too early and too fantastic to last.

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Covertly Raiding Pakistan

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

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Hillary: Not Dead Yet

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

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Giuliani –A Brilliant Bit From Sunday Night

Hard to say where he’s been the past month, but watch this clip from last night’s Republican forum on Fox News and you’ll see why Giuliani was leading the GOP field for a year. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGizvhd8Ydk[/youtube]

Hard to say where he’s been the past month, but watch this clip from last night’s Republican forum on Fox News and you’ll see why Giuliani was leading the GOP field for a year. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGizvhd8Ydk[/youtube]

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O’Hanlon’s Courage

Everyone in Washington praises courage in the abstract, but real courage in practice is rare and seldom rewarded. John McCain has repeatedly exhibited admirable bravery not only physically but politically, and the result is that he was all but written off (prematurely, it now appears) as a serious contender by pundits who declared that his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues would deny him the nomination.

For a lesser but still significant exhibition of political courage I call attention to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon. In it, O’Hanlon blasts Barack Obama for casting aspersions on the motives of those who backed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and for failing to acknowledge that the surge has been successful.

Neither viewpoint would be particularly novel or noteworthy if coming from a confirmed conservative like me. But Mike is a Democrat who works at a liberal think tank—the Brookings Institution. He and his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack, went out on a limb back on July 20, 2007, when, after returning from Iraq, they published an article in the New York Times proclaiming Iraq “A War We Just Might Win.” That message, coming at a time when Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic establishment had already proclaimed the surge a failure, earned them opprobrium on the left.

As the ending of his new Wall Street Journal article reveals, it even lead to a severing of relations between O’Hanlon and the Clinton campaign: Hillary, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, had come out against the surge. But O’Hanlon evidently remains undaunted, and now he is shooting a few well-aimed darts at the new Democratic front-runner.

Most people in Mike’s position, no doubt hoping for a job in the next administration, would keep quiet. But he is putting principle over party, and for that he deserves kudos. I realize it’s not the same kind of courage that so many of our troops exhibit every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is more courage than the average denizen of the Beltway shows.

Everyone in Washington praises courage in the abstract, but real courage in practice is rare and seldom rewarded. John McCain has repeatedly exhibited admirable bravery not only physically but politically, and the result is that he was all but written off (prematurely, it now appears) as a serious contender by pundits who declared that his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues would deny him the nomination.

For a lesser but still significant exhibition of political courage I call attention to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon. In it, O’Hanlon blasts Barack Obama for casting aspersions on the motives of those who backed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and for failing to acknowledge that the surge has been successful.

Neither viewpoint would be particularly novel or noteworthy if coming from a confirmed conservative like me. But Mike is a Democrat who works at a liberal think tank—the Brookings Institution. He and his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack, went out on a limb back on July 20, 2007, when, after returning from Iraq, they published an article in the New York Times proclaiming Iraq “A War We Just Might Win.” That message, coming at a time when Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic establishment had already proclaimed the surge a failure, earned them opprobrium on the left.

As the ending of his new Wall Street Journal article reveals, it even lead to a severing of relations between O’Hanlon and the Clinton campaign: Hillary, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, had come out against the surge. But O’Hanlon evidently remains undaunted, and now he is shooting a few well-aimed darts at the new Democratic front-runner.

Most people in Mike’s position, no doubt hoping for a job in the next administration, would keep quiet. But he is putting principle over party, and for that he deserves kudos. I realize it’s not the same kind of courage that so many of our troops exhibit every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is more courage than the average denizen of the Beltway shows.

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The Norman Finkelstein Roadshow

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

Norman Finkelstein, freshly liberated from the humdrum of academic life by way of being denied tenure at De Paul University, has taken his hate-Israel routine on the road. He has gone to Lebanon to give lectures and to “hold two workshops in Palestinian refugee camps.”

At a press conference on Friday — Finkelstein must surely savor having the kind of attention lavished on him in Lebanon that few can be bothered to provide in America — he channeled Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, in describing the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war:

However, it is also true to say that the Lebanese resistance inflicted a historic and well-deserved military defeat on the invading foreign army and its chief supporter.

He continued:

It should also be mentioned that after the war the US-based organization Human Rights Watch whitewashed Israeli war crimes and made false accusations against Hizballah. This cowardly and mercenary act deserves contempt.

Ah yes, Human Rights Watch, that steely defender of the Jewish state.

It’s probably impossible to put Finkelstein’s swindles and perversions (to borrow an Orwell phrase) into a ratings system, and I am by no means a person who wastes much time following the man’s deluded utterances. But here he has clearly sunk to a new low: He openly sympathizes with Hizballah, a group which seeks the genocide of the Jewish people; he openly wishes for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of an enemy whose primary ambition is the state’s annihilation; and he does all of this while hiding behind the fig leaf of his own Jewishness so as to deflect the charge that he is an anti-Semite.

It is normal to say that Finkelstein’s are the views of a self-hating Jew. But by all appearances, the man does not hate himself, and in fact views his role as that of a hero — a brave truth-teller fighting against the imperial forces of Zionism and Americanism. Finkelstein is a hustler and a coward because he trades off his Jewishness to lend credibility to starkly anti-Jewish rhetoric. It’s time we stopped calling Finkelstein a self-hating Jew and started calling him what he actually is: an anti-Semite.

UPDATE: Tony Badran emailed me a link to a Haaretz article with fresh details. Touring southern Lebanon and meeting with Hezbollah’s regional commander, Finkelstein said: “I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope.” No word yet on whether Finkelstein is going to pose for photos manning a Katyusha rocket launcher…

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More on the Decline of Terrorism

I was cheered to read David Hazony’s report that terrorism against Israel hit a new low in 2007, with both Israeli and Palestinian deaths down. That would seem to vindicate one of the most controversial Israeli decisions in recent years: to evacuate the Gaza Strip. That was something that the Israeli right-wing fought against, arguing that such a unilateral concession would encourage more terrorism.

I wrote in this Los Angeles Times op-ed in August 2005 that the withdrawal was the right move even though it would undoubtedly turn Gaza into a “Hamastan.” I argued that the evacuation would regain the initiative, strategically and morally, for the Jewish state, and that Israel would actually be more free to respond to terrorism from Gaza if it were no longer under “occupation” but the territory of a sovereign state.

The growing number of rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel has led me recently to start wondering whether I was wrong. But the figures Hazony cites suggest that the rockets are much less deadly than the suicide bombers of old. Moreover, Israel is starting to respond more effectively to those provocations, with, for instance, targeted strikes on terrorist masterminds.

In retrospect, the removal of Israeli settlers does not seem to have done any real damage to Israeli security interests. That doesn’t mean, however, that Israel can entirely separate itself from developments in Gaza. It appears likely that the Israeli Defense Forces will continue to have to make incursions to root out terrorist networks. But while such missions continue, the IDF no longer has to worry about protecting isolated Jewish settlements. That, I think, is all to the good.

I was cheered to read David Hazony’s report that terrorism against Israel hit a new low in 2007, with both Israeli and Palestinian deaths down. That would seem to vindicate one of the most controversial Israeli decisions in recent years: to evacuate the Gaza Strip. That was something that the Israeli right-wing fought against, arguing that such a unilateral concession would encourage more terrorism.

I wrote in this Los Angeles Times op-ed in August 2005 that the withdrawal was the right move even though it would undoubtedly turn Gaza into a “Hamastan.” I argued that the evacuation would regain the initiative, strategically and morally, for the Jewish state, and that Israel would actually be more free to respond to terrorism from Gaza if it were no longer under “occupation” but the territory of a sovereign state.

The growing number of rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel has led me recently to start wondering whether I was wrong. But the figures Hazony cites suggest that the rockets are much less deadly than the suicide bombers of old. Moreover, Israel is starting to respond more effectively to those provocations, with, for instance, targeted strikes on terrorist masterminds.

In retrospect, the removal of Israeli settlers does not seem to have done any real damage to Israeli security interests. That doesn’t mean, however, that Israel can entirely separate itself from developments in Gaza. It appears likely that the Israeli Defense Forces will continue to have to make incursions to root out terrorist networks. But while such missions continue, the IDF no longer has to worry about protecting isolated Jewish settlements. That, I think, is all to the good.

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Lessons Unlearned on North Korea

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

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End of an Era

The Obama wave, which has been building for months, reached the proportions of a tidal wave after Iowa. It is now about to submerge, sink, and drown the Clinton campaign, and with it, the Clinton era will come, finally, to a close.

The Clinton years lasted from 1992 to 2007. In the early days of January 2008, a young, graceful senator from Illinois, liberal and likeable, with only a few years of experience in the U.S. Senate, stood up to Hillary and Bill Clinton and the vaunted Clinton machine and ran rings around all of them. Every effort to try to derail Obama came back to hurt them. Just this morning Senator Clinton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Obama “is a very talented politician” but “if he’s going to be competing for president – and especially to get the Democratic nomination and go up against whomever the Republican put up – I think it is really time to start comparing and contrasting him as I have been scrutinized for all of this year.” Obama’s response on the same program? “I find the manner in which they’ve been running their campaign sort of depressing lately.” That is quite a clever response: short and true and devastating. Senator Clinton came across as peevish and angry during Saturday’s night debate.

I have said before that to watch Obama v. Clinton is to be reminded of watching Ali v. Foreman. The de facto knockout blow is about to be delivered tomorrow in the snowy streets of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t drop out after her loss; she will stagger on but prove unable to stop Obama. And to watch the Clintons’ rage and desperation grow in the last days of this campaign will not be pretty. They will lash out at everyone, including Obama, the media, her own campaign, and maybe, eventually, each other.

This is a couple not known for their grace or for holding lightly to their grip on power.

There are many things to say about the deeper meaning of this moment and what its passing will signify. Suffice it to say that it will be good, very good, for us to say farewell to the couple that brought you Carville, Begala, Blumenthal, and Ickes; the “war room,” the use of private investigators, and attacks on women like Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey; impeachment for perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a grand jury; contempt of court findings; the promiscuous smearing of those whom they viewed as threat to their power; the charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and assurances that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; and so much more.

On the eve of the New Hampshire vote and all it will mean, it’s worth recalling the words of the late, great Michael Kelly:

The lie at the heart of the vast and varied lie that is Bill Clinton’s defense is that lying is a victimless crime – and something that properly exists as a moral concern only between the liar and his maker and a few people immediately affected. But this is not so. Lying corrupts, and an absolute liar corrupts absolutely, and the corruption spread by the lies of the absolutely mendacious Clinton is becoming frightening to behold.

After she loses, Hillary Clinton will remain in the Senate, of course, and Bill Clinton will continue to make millions through his public speeches. They will not completely disappear from the national scene. But their days as a Democratic dynasty, and their center-stage role in American politics, are about to end.

The Obama wave, which has been building for months, reached the proportions of a tidal wave after Iowa. It is now about to submerge, sink, and drown the Clinton campaign, and with it, the Clinton era will come, finally, to a close.

The Clinton years lasted from 1992 to 2007. In the early days of January 2008, a young, graceful senator from Illinois, liberal and likeable, with only a few years of experience in the U.S. Senate, stood up to Hillary and Bill Clinton and the vaunted Clinton machine and ran rings around all of them. Every effort to try to derail Obama came back to hurt them. Just this morning Senator Clinton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Obama “is a very talented politician” but “if he’s going to be competing for president – and especially to get the Democratic nomination and go up against whomever the Republican put up – I think it is really time to start comparing and contrasting him as I have been scrutinized for all of this year.” Obama’s response on the same program? “I find the manner in which they’ve been running their campaign sort of depressing lately.” That is quite a clever response: short and true and devastating. Senator Clinton came across as peevish and angry during Saturday’s night debate.

I have said before that to watch Obama v. Clinton is to be reminded of watching Ali v. Foreman. The de facto knockout blow is about to be delivered tomorrow in the snowy streets of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t drop out after her loss; she will stagger on but prove unable to stop Obama. And to watch the Clintons’ rage and desperation grow in the last days of this campaign will not be pretty. They will lash out at everyone, including Obama, the media, her own campaign, and maybe, eventually, each other.

This is a couple not known for their grace or for holding lightly to their grip on power.

There are many things to say about the deeper meaning of this moment and what its passing will signify. Suffice it to say that it will be good, very good, for us to say farewell to the couple that brought you Carville, Begala, Blumenthal, and Ickes; the “war room,” the use of private investigators, and attacks on women like Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey; impeachment for perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a grand jury; contempt of court findings; the promiscuous smearing of those whom they viewed as threat to their power; the charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and assurances that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; and so much more.

On the eve of the New Hampshire vote and all it will mean, it’s worth recalling the words of the late, great Michael Kelly:

The lie at the heart of the vast and varied lie that is Bill Clinton’s defense is that lying is a victimless crime – and something that properly exists as a moral concern only between the liar and his maker and a few people immediately affected. But this is not so. Lying corrupts, and an absolute liar corrupts absolutely, and the corruption spread by the lies of the absolutely mendacious Clinton is becoming frightening to behold.

After she loses, Hillary Clinton will remain in the Senate, of course, and Bill Clinton will continue to make millions through his public speeches. They will not completely disappear from the national scene. But their days as a Democratic dynasty, and their center-stage role in American politics, are about to end.

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Another Washington Toilet Scandal

Are we facing another scandal akin to Abu Ghraib or, at the very least, Guantanamo? The front page of the New York Times carries a story depicting a “secretive American detention center” at Bagram in Afghanistan that has been plagued by “political, legal, and security problems.” The Red Cross has complained to the Pentagon about dozens of prisoners “held incommunicado for weeks or even months in a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells.” American “human-rights” lawyers have already filed federal suits on behalf of these men.

Who are these detainees? The same story tells us that of the 630 or so in captivity at Bagram most are Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield. Thirty are non-Afghan, i.e., foreign fighters, in other words, members of al Qaeda. The facility is described by the Times as “primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan.”

These prisoners were supposed to be transferred to a refurbished prison facility, Pul-i-Charkhi, under Afghan control. But according to Red Cross officials this prison has “a significant flaw.” It seems that initially men were held in cells of eight and the only toilets available were in a public place at the end of a corridor.

This arrangement proved inadequate: “To improve security and hygiene, the Americans equipped each two-man cell in the new block with its own toilet.”

But this arrangement also proved inadequate: “because the cultural modesty of Afghan men would make them uncomfortable sharing an open toilet, it was subsequently decided that the prisoners should be held individually.” This had the effect reducing the prison’s projected capacity from 670 to 330.

These details about the toilets raise several questions:

Is the absence of private toilets at Bagram one of the features that has led to the Red Cross complaints and the lawsuits in federal court?

Are Americans less culturally modest than Afghans? Do American prisons provide the same of level privacy that “dangerous prisoners” in Afghanistan are given to enjoy?

These are some little dots that, in light of this latest prison scandal, remain to be connected.

Are we facing another scandal akin to Abu Ghraib or, at the very least, Guantanamo? The front page of the New York Times carries a story depicting a “secretive American detention center” at Bagram in Afghanistan that has been plagued by “political, legal, and security problems.” The Red Cross has complained to the Pentagon about dozens of prisoners “held incommunicado for weeks or even months in a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells.” American “human-rights” lawyers have already filed federal suits on behalf of these men.

Who are these detainees? The same story tells us that of the 630 or so in captivity at Bagram most are Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield. Thirty are non-Afghan, i.e., foreign fighters, in other words, members of al Qaeda. The facility is described by the Times as “primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan.”

These prisoners were supposed to be transferred to a refurbished prison facility, Pul-i-Charkhi, under Afghan control. But according to Red Cross officials this prison has “a significant flaw.” It seems that initially men were held in cells of eight and the only toilets available were in a public place at the end of a corridor.

This arrangement proved inadequate: “To improve security and hygiene, the Americans equipped each two-man cell in the new block with its own toilet.”

But this arrangement also proved inadequate: “because the cultural modesty of Afghan men would make them uncomfortable sharing an open toilet, it was subsequently decided that the prisoners should be held individually.” This had the effect reducing the prison’s projected capacity from 670 to 330.

These details about the toilets raise several questions:

Is the absence of private toilets at Bagram one of the features that has led to the Red Cross complaints and the lawsuits in federal court?

Are Americans less culturally modest than Afghans? Do American prisons provide the same of level privacy that “dangerous prisoners” in Afghanistan are given to enjoy?

These are some little dots that, in light of this latest prison scandal, remain to be connected.

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Borges 2.0

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) was original to a degree that should enchant and intimidate anyone who reads his stories and poems. Many authors have pondered the implications of infinity, time travel, parallel worlds, and the persistence or lack thereof of memory—Philip K. Dick creeps to mind—but few have done so as credibly, or as beautifully, as Borges.

New Directions has just rereleased Borges’s Labyrinths in a new paperback edition, with an introduction by William Gibson. In his story “The Library of Babel,” Borges posited a universe “(which others call the Library) . . . composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. . . . I say that the Library is unending. . . . Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact centre in any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.” Fans will recognize this definition, slightly deformed, from another Borges story, called “The Fearful Sphere of Pascal.” “In the sixteenth century,” he wrote, “the last chapter of the last book of Pantagruel referred to ‘that intellectual sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere and which we call God.'”

But . . . was Borges really describing the Internet? That’s the latest footling question mark from The New York Times:

[A] growing number of contemporary commentators—whether literature professors or cultural critics like Umberto Eco—have concluded that Borges uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web. One recent book, “Borges 2.0: From Text to Virtual Worlds” by Perla Sassón-Henry, explores the connections between the decentralized Internet of YouTube, blogs and Wikipedia—the so-called Internet 2.0—and Borges’s stories, which “make the reader an active participant.” Ms. Sassón-Henry, an associate professor in the language studies department of the United States Naval Academy, describes Borges as “from the Old World with a futuristic vision.” Another work, a collection of essays on the topic from Bucknell University Press, has the provocative title “Cy-Borges” and is expected to appear this year.

In fairness, it’s a potentially intriguing connection—but one can’t help thinking it diminishes Borges’s great achievement. He wasn’t an SF writer. It’s unlikely that he cared to see the future, even though the Aleph was supposed to let him see everything at once. Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia have turned out to be nothing but a load of faddish, privacy-invading trouble, and if you can’t see Borges sub specie aeternitatis, can you see him at all?

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) was original to a degree that should enchant and intimidate anyone who reads his stories and poems. Many authors have pondered the implications of infinity, time travel, parallel worlds, and the persistence or lack thereof of memory—Philip K. Dick creeps to mind—but few have done so as credibly, or as beautifully, as Borges.

New Directions has just rereleased Borges’s Labyrinths in a new paperback edition, with an introduction by William Gibson. In his story “The Library of Babel,” Borges posited a universe “(which others call the Library) . . . composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. . . . I say that the Library is unending. . . . Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact centre in any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.” Fans will recognize this definition, slightly deformed, from another Borges story, called “The Fearful Sphere of Pascal.” “In the sixteenth century,” he wrote, “the last chapter of the last book of Pantagruel referred to ‘that intellectual sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere and which we call God.'”

But . . . was Borges really describing the Internet? That’s the latest footling question mark from The New York Times:

[A] growing number of contemporary commentators—whether literature professors or cultural critics like Umberto Eco—have concluded that Borges uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web. One recent book, “Borges 2.0: From Text to Virtual Worlds” by Perla Sassón-Henry, explores the connections between the decentralized Internet of YouTube, blogs and Wikipedia—the so-called Internet 2.0—and Borges’s stories, which “make the reader an active participant.” Ms. Sassón-Henry, an associate professor in the language studies department of the United States Naval Academy, describes Borges as “from the Old World with a futuristic vision.” Another work, a collection of essays on the topic from Bucknell University Press, has the provocative title “Cy-Borges” and is expected to appear this year.

In fairness, it’s a potentially intriguing connection—but one can’t help thinking it diminishes Borges’s great achievement. He wasn’t an SF writer. It’s unlikely that he cared to see the future, even though the Aleph was supposed to let him see everything at once. Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia have turned out to be nothing but a load of faddish, privacy-invading trouble, and if you can’t see Borges sub specie aeternitatis, can you see him at all?

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Roger Clemens

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

Read Less




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