Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 25, 2008

Evidently, This Is Not a Joke

It appears Honduras has illegal sockpiles.

AP: “The Bush administration, responding to pleas from the U.S. textile industry, is imposing a temporary tariff on socks imported from Honduras.”

I hear it’s an open-toe-and-shut case. American manufacturers were really getting hosed.

It appears Honduras has illegal sockpiles.

AP: “The Bush administration, responding to pleas from the U.S. textile industry, is imposing a temporary tariff on socks imported from Honduras.”

I hear it’s an open-toe-and-shut case. American manufacturers were really getting hosed.

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Role Reversal

Hillary Clinton is now chiding Barack Obama for his refusal to debate. Declaring that “There’s all kinds of issues that we should be debating about right here in North Carolina,” Clinton frames Obama’s skittishness as both a lack of substance and a lack of political courage.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is getting personal, essentially calling Clinton a liar. David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, says this in an interview:

I think her electability issues are the following: she’s got a high unfavorable rating. It would be the highest unfavorable rating for any presidential nominee in recent history. Fairly or not, the majority of voters don’t trust Senator Clinton. Those two points are related, obviously: her unfavorable rating, and the sense that voters do not find her honest or trustworthy.

Well, we certainly aren’t hearing much of the old Barack Obama, the one who said in South Carolina:

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner; it’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea – even if it’s one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

Remarkable as it may seem we now have Clinton calling for debates on issues and Obama name-calling. Any wonder Paul Krugman is exasperated?

Hillary Clinton is now chiding Barack Obama for his refusal to debate. Declaring that “There’s all kinds of issues that we should be debating about right here in North Carolina,” Clinton frames Obama’s skittishness as both a lack of substance and a lack of political courage.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is getting personal, essentially calling Clinton a liar. David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, says this in an interview:

I think her electability issues are the following: she’s got a high unfavorable rating. It would be the highest unfavorable rating for any presidential nominee in recent history. Fairly or not, the majority of voters don’t trust Senator Clinton. Those two points are related, obviously: her unfavorable rating, and the sense that voters do not find her honest or trustworthy.

Well, we certainly aren’t hearing much of the old Barack Obama, the one who said in South Carolina:

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner; it’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea – even if it’s one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

Remarkable as it may seem we now have Clinton calling for debates on issues and Obama name-calling. Any wonder Paul Krugman is exasperated?

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A Moment Of Clarity

Morton Kondracke stands apart from the media hysteria to explain Barack Obama’s fall to earth from Olympian heights:

He’s also now revealed as the most liberal Member of the U.S. Senate — and one who has never, ever departed from party orthodoxy to form the kind of bipartisan coalition he says — correctly — that it will take to solve America’s problems. It’s all about “vetting.” When somebody has been in national life for only three years and is running for the highest office in the land, it’s only natural that voters — and journalists — find out what the candidate is made of, what his character is. Which is why it was perfectly appropriate for ABC News interrogators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to ask questions about Obama’s remark that small-town Pennsylvanians “cling” to their guns and religion because they are “bitter,” about his refusal to wear a flag pin and about his association with radicals such as former Weatherman Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

That seems all perfectly rational (Stuart Taylor has similar thoughts), but there is something more at work here. The promise that Obama would offer a post-racial and post-partisan vision of America has been revealed to be hokum. (Well, some of us from the start may have doubted that post-partisan anything is possible in a vigorous democracy.) It took a while, but now it is painfully obvious that Obama and his campaign don’t seem to believe their own “no division, no Red and Blue America” routine.

It’s getting harder and harder to recognize the Obama who said this after his victory in Iowa:

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that’s been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation. . . .That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Moving beyond the “bitterness” we surely have not done. Somewhere along the way we recognized the gap between a speech–a very uplifting one, but just a speech–and what Obama and his campaign operatives believe. That, I think, is why the Left blogosphere, in part, is so depressed: Obama, it turns out, is just like all the rest. (Only with less of a résumé.)

Morton Kondracke stands apart from the media hysteria to explain Barack Obama’s fall to earth from Olympian heights:

He’s also now revealed as the most liberal Member of the U.S. Senate — and one who has never, ever departed from party orthodoxy to form the kind of bipartisan coalition he says — correctly — that it will take to solve America’s problems. It’s all about “vetting.” When somebody has been in national life for only three years and is running for the highest office in the land, it’s only natural that voters — and journalists — find out what the candidate is made of, what his character is. Which is why it was perfectly appropriate for ABC News interrogators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to ask questions about Obama’s remark that small-town Pennsylvanians “cling” to their guns and religion because they are “bitter,” about his refusal to wear a flag pin and about his association with radicals such as former Weatherman Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

That seems all perfectly rational (Stuart Taylor has similar thoughts), but there is something more at work here. The promise that Obama would offer a post-racial and post-partisan vision of America has been revealed to be hokum. (Well, some of us from the start may have doubted that post-partisan anything is possible in a vigorous democracy.) It took a while, but now it is painfully obvious that Obama and his campaign don’t seem to believe their own “no division, no Red and Blue America” routine.

It’s getting harder and harder to recognize the Obama who said this after his victory in Iowa:

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that’s been all about division and instead make it about addition – to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that’s how we’ll win in November, and that’s how we’ll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation. . . .That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can change this country brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand – that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things; because we are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America; and at this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.

Moving beyond the “bitterness” we surely have not done. Somewhere along the way we recognized the gap between a speech–a very uplifting one, but just a speech–and what Obama and his campaign operatives believe. That, I think, is why the Left blogosphere, in part, is so depressed: Obama, it turns out, is just like all the rest. (Only with less of a résumé.)

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Another “Global Crisis”

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

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What’s Really Wrong With the Dems

In today’s Times of London, Gerard Baker takes the direct approach to election analysis:

There’s a popular view among Democrats and the media establishment that the reason for the party’s current disarray is that it just happens to have two most extraordinary candidates: talented, attractive, and in their gender and race, excitingly new. But there’s an alternative explanation, which I suspect the voters have grasped rather better than their necromancers in the media. Both are losers.

It’s hard to call either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton losers, frankly. But whether or not they’re closers remains to be seen. Baker points, I think rightly, to character as a potential Achilles’ heel for both Democrats.

On Obama:

He tells the mavens of San Francisco one thing and the great unwashed of Pennsylvania another. In defending his long relationship with the Rev Jeremiah Wright, he shopped his own grandmother, comparing the reverend’s views . . .to his grandmother’s occasionally expressed fears about the potential of being the victim of crime at the hands of an African-American.

On Hillary:

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has been busy shedding the final vestiges of shame and honesty in her desperate attempt to save her candidacy. She has abandoned any pretence of a message, and simply seized on every opening presented to her by her opponent. . . . It’s hard to know what’s worse – expressing condescending views about the working class or pretending to be one of them.

Baker pronounces: “The Democratic campaign is simply disappearing in the enveloping vapidity of the candidates’ making.” Vapid–yes. But disappearing? Not hardly. This fight isn’t ending anytime soon.

In today’s Times of London, Gerard Baker takes the direct approach to election analysis:

There’s a popular view among Democrats and the media establishment that the reason for the party’s current disarray is that it just happens to have two most extraordinary candidates: talented, attractive, and in their gender and race, excitingly new. But there’s an alternative explanation, which I suspect the voters have grasped rather better than their necromancers in the media. Both are losers.

It’s hard to call either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton losers, frankly. But whether or not they’re closers remains to be seen. Baker points, I think rightly, to character as a potential Achilles’ heel for both Democrats.

On Obama:

He tells the mavens of San Francisco one thing and the great unwashed of Pennsylvania another. In defending his long relationship with the Rev Jeremiah Wright, he shopped his own grandmother, comparing the reverend’s views . . .to his grandmother’s occasionally expressed fears about the potential of being the victim of crime at the hands of an African-American.

On Hillary:

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has been busy shedding the final vestiges of shame and honesty in her desperate attempt to save her candidacy. She has abandoned any pretence of a message, and simply seized on every opening presented to her by her opponent. . . . It’s hard to know what’s worse – expressing condescending views about the working class or pretending to be one of them.

Baker pronounces: “The Democratic campaign is simply disappearing in the enveloping vapidity of the candidates’ making.” Vapid–yes. But disappearing? Not hardly. This fight isn’t ending anytime soon.

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No More Jihadists

The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. government is moving to kill off jihadists, Islamo-fascists, and mujahedeen. Not the people: the words. Reports from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center recommend discontinuing the use of such terms, because, as the AP report says, “Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.”

When we are locked in a struggle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, there is legitimate cause to be concerned about terminology that may backfire. Some of the verboten terms (e.g., mujahedeen) are surely too laudatory; others (such as “Islamo-fascists”) too offensive to ordinary Muslims who are otherwise unsympathetic to Al Qaeda. But the question is: If we eschew these words, what how are we supposed to refer to our enemies?

The British government, which led the move in this direction, has adopted the phrase “anti-Islamic activity” to refer to what Al Qaeda and its ilk are up to. That doesn’t seem much of an improvement to me: Isn’t it a little presumptuous of non-Muslim governments to decide what activities are “anti-Islamic”?

The U.S. government reports, which are being adopted by the State Department and other agencies, counsel using more anodyne phrases such as “violent extremist” or “terrorist.” But while less likely to give offense, those terms are also so vague as not to be helpful in many contexts. As many critics of the phrase “global war on terror” have pointed out, we are not fighting all terrorists–i.e., we are not mobilizing the resources of the U.S. government to destroy the ETA or the Tamil Tigers. Another possible suggestion is to use “religious extremists” or something similar. But that doesn’t help much either, because it suggests that bin Laden et al. are genuinely religious, and it also doesn’t distinguish them from, say, abortion-clinic bombers.

The term takfiri is both more accurate and less likely to give offense to normal Muslims, insofar as it refers to the practice of bin Laden & Co. of declaring Muslims who disagree with their extreme teachings as apostates. Unfortunately, almost no one in the Western world knows what takfiri means, so it’s not a word likely to come tripping off the tongues of our leaders.

A related quandary is what to call the offensive against these whatchamacallits. The use of “war” may well go the way of “jihadist” on the grounds that it inflames Muslims into thinking we are waging a war against all of them and that it actually elevates people who are simply criminals into semi-legitimate combatants. In 2005, the Rumsfeld Pentagon tried to move away from “war” by coming up with GSAVE–the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism–as its preferred term. That was roundly hooted down and mercifully disappeared when President Bush got wind of it.

I am quite ready to concede that existing terminology–the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Terrorism, Islamic (or Islamist) terrorists, jihadists, and the like–is inadequate. But it’s hard to beat something with nothing. And so far I have not heard any terribly compelling alternatives to replace the terms that, for better or worse, have gained widespread currency since 2001.

The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. government is moving to kill off jihadists, Islamo-fascists, and mujahedeen. Not the people: the words. Reports from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center recommend discontinuing the use of such terms, because, as the AP report says, “Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.”

When we are locked in a struggle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, there is legitimate cause to be concerned about terminology that may backfire. Some of the verboten terms (e.g., mujahedeen) are surely too laudatory; others (such as “Islamo-fascists”) too offensive to ordinary Muslims who are otherwise unsympathetic to Al Qaeda. But the question is: If we eschew these words, what how are we supposed to refer to our enemies?

The British government, which led the move in this direction, has adopted the phrase “anti-Islamic activity” to refer to what Al Qaeda and its ilk are up to. That doesn’t seem much of an improvement to me: Isn’t it a little presumptuous of non-Muslim governments to decide what activities are “anti-Islamic”?

The U.S. government reports, which are being adopted by the State Department and other agencies, counsel using more anodyne phrases such as “violent extremist” or “terrorist.” But while less likely to give offense, those terms are also so vague as not to be helpful in many contexts. As many critics of the phrase “global war on terror” have pointed out, we are not fighting all terrorists–i.e., we are not mobilizing the resources of the U.S. government to destroy the ETA or the Tamil Tigers. Another possible suggestion is to use “religious extremists” or something similar. But that doesn’t help much either, because it suggests that bin Laden et al. are genuinely religious, and it also doesn’t distinguish them from, say, abortion-clinic bombers.

The term takfiri is both more accurate and less likely to give offense to normal Muslims, insofar as it refers to the practice of bin Laden & Co. of declaring Muslims who disagree with their extreme teachings as apostates. Unfortunately, almost no one in the Western world knows what takfiri means, so it’s not a word likely to come tripping off the tongues of our leaders.

A related quandary is what to call the offensive against these whatchamacallits. The use of “war” may well go the way of “jihadist” on the grounds that it inflames Muslims into thinking we are waging a war against all of them and that it actually elevates people who are simply criminals into semi-legitimate combatants. In 2005, the Rumsfeld Pentagon tried to move away from “war” by coming up with GSAVE–the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism–as its preferred term. That was roundly hooted down and mercifully disappeared when President Bush got wind of it.

I am quite ready to concede that existing terminology–the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Terrorism, Islamic (or Islamist) terrorists, jihadists, and the like–is inadequate. But it’s hard to beat something with nothing. And so far I have not heard any terribly compelling alternatives to replace the terms that, for better or worse, have gained widespread currency since 2001.

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Highlights From McCain Blogger Call

John McCain held another blogger call, beginning by highlighting his differences with the Democrats on the economy. (“If people want their taxes raised,” he said, “I’m not their guy.”) But the most noteworthy comments came on the subject of Hamas and Bill Ayers.

I asked about Hamas’s endorsement of Barack Obama. McCain bluntly responded, ” It’s clear who Hamas wants to be the next President of the United States.” He continued “I will be Hamas’ worst nightmare” and said that he “never expects” to hear a Hamas official say they want him as President. On the subject of Bill Ayers, McCain displayed none of the hesitancy he has shown about discussing Reverend Wright. He said he was “a bit surprised” the media had not made more of Obama’s association with “an unrepentant terrorist” and Obama’s equation of his relationship with Ayers to his friendship with Senator Tom Coburn. McCain said he was “offended” by the latter and that a “repudiation and apology” are due from Obama to the American people.

Bottom line? McCain is not above going after his likely opponent on his association with radicals (and his apparent popularity with extremists worldwide)–so long as the subject is not Reverend Wright.

John McCain held another blogger call, beginning by highlighting his differences with the Democrats on the economy. (“If people want their taxes raised,” he said, “I’m not their guy.”) But the most noteworthy comments came on the subject of Hamas and Bill Ayers.

I asked about Hamas’s endorsement of Barack Obama. McCain bluntly responded, ” It’s clear who Hamas wants to be the next President of the United States.” He continued “I will be Hamas’ worst nightmare” and said that he “never expects” to hear a Hamas official say they want him as President. On the subject of Bill Ayers, McCain displayed none of the hesitancy he has shown about discussing Reverend Wright. He said he was “a bit surprised” the media had not made more of Obama’s association with “an unrepentant terrorist” and Obama’s equation of his relationship with Ayers to his friendship with Senator Tom Coburn. McCain said he was “offended” by the latter and that a “repudiation and apology” are due from Obama to the American people.

Bottom line? McCain is not above going after his likely opponent on his association with radicals (and his apparent popularity with extremists worldwide)–so long as the subject is not Reverend Wright.

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Acquitting Cops

Once again, in New York City, cops charged with serious felony offenses after the shooting death of a black man who later proved to be unarmed have been acquitted.

If you have heard about the case, you probably know only that Sean Bell, the man who was killed, was due to be married the next day and that the three police officers discharged 50 bullets from their guns. What you may not know is that the bullets were fired outside a club known to be a drug den in the midst of a complicated melee late at night involving a violent confrontation on the sidewalk between civilians, a call for police backup, a cop knocked down by a fleeing car, a lot of screaming, and total confusion.

The number of bullets fired has been the mantra in this case — 50 shots, 50 shots. (A rapper named Papoose wrote a ditty with this as the subtitle, which is primarily notable for being the only work of hip-hop in which my name is mentioned.) But as the judge who decided the case indicated, the number of bullets fired is immaterial. The question is, did the police act so recklessly as to rise to a criminal standard? The answer, after two months of testimony, was that the witnesses on the scene were eminently untrustworthy in the claims they made about the misbehavior of the police officers.

It is true that police officers have a special responsibility because they are the only authorities inside the United States legally authorized to use deadly force. At the same time, they must be permitted to defend themselves against violent assault. It was clear, the day after the event, that everything went haywire on that Queens street — that there were scared and violent and drunken people acting up, that a cop was hit by a car, and that chaos ensued. What happened was a tragedy, but it was not a crime.

But there were crimes that followed it — political crimes of a sort, as a preening Mayor Mike Bloomberg all but declared the police officers in the case guilty before there had even been an investigation. So concerned was Bloomberg with the state of his own reputation as a racial healer that he allowed himself to be used as a prop by the most noxious person in New York, Al Sharpton, whose blood-stained hand a far better mayor than Bloomberg refused even to shake.

This is another detail to add to the proper accounting of Bloomberg’s problematic mayoralty.

Once again, in New York City, cops charged with serious felony offenses after the shooting death of a black man who later proved to be unarmed have been acquitted.

If you have heard about the case, you probably know only that Sean Bell, the man who was killed, was due to be married the next day and that the three police officers discharged 50 bullets from their guns. What you may not know is that the bullets were fired outside a club known to be a drug den in the midst of a complicated melee late at night involving a violent confrontation on the sidewalk between civilians, a call for police backup, a cop knocked down by a fleeing car, a lot of screaming, and total confusion.

The number of bullets fired has been the mantra in this case — 50 shots, 50 shots. (A rapper named Papoose wrote a ditty with this as the subtitle, which is primarily notable for being the only work of hip-hop in which my name is mentioned.) But as the judge who decided the case indicated, the number of bullets fired is immaterial. The question is, did the police act so recklessly as to rise to a criminal standard? The answer, after two months of testimony, was that the witnesses on the scene were eminently untrustworthy in the claims they made about the misbehavior of the police officers.

It is true that police officers have a special responsibility because they are the only authorities inside the United States legally authorized to use deadly force. At the same time, they must be permitted to defend themselves against violent assault. It was clear, the day after the event, that everything went haywire on that Queens street — that there were scared and violent and drunken people acting up, that a cop was hit by a car, and that chaos ensued. What happened was a tragedy, but it was not a crime.

But there were crimes that followed it — political crimes of a sort, as a preening Mayor Mike Bloomberg all but declared the police officers in the case guilty before there had even been an investigation. So concerned was Bloomberg with the state of his own reputation as a racial healer that he allowed himself to be used as a prop by the most noxious person in New York, Al Sharpton, whose blood-stained hand a far better mayor than Bloomberg refused even to shake.

This is another detail to add to the proper accounting of Bloomberg’s problematic mayoralty.

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McCain on Basra and Maliki

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

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Bookshelf

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I spent most of the past two weeks working on an opera libretto (about which more later) and writing the concluing chapters of my latest book, Rhythm Man: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which is now finished (you can read all about it here).

My world has thus been far more narrowly circumscribed than usual, and so it was a relief to read about something completely different the other day, the something in question being the life and music of Sir Edward Elgar, one of my favorite composers.

When I last wrote about Elgar for COMMENTARY four years ago, I speculated that a revival of his music might be in the offing:

My own guess is that Elgar awaits a generation of charismatic young performers who will do for him what Leonard Bernstein did for Mahler in the 60’s. It has long seemed to me that his best music is ripe for revival, not least because of its individuality. “I hold nothing back,” he said, and it was the truth. All that he thought and felt went into his compositions, which are so unguarded at times as to make the reticent listener squirm.

Alas, it hasn’t happened yet, though Hilary Hahn, the most gifted and satisfying young violinist to come along in years, did release a remarkable recording of Elgar’s B Minor Violin Concerto later that year (DGG B0003026-02GM) and play the piece in concert with the New York Philharmonic. I heard her performance and wrote that it was “so beautiful that I expect to remember it as long as I live.” One recording does not a revival make, but it doesn’t hurt, either, and neither did the publication that same year of The Life of Elgar (Cambridge, $26 paper), a penetrating brief life by Michael Kennedy that is the best short discussion of Elgar that has been published to date.

While I don’t expect to see Kennedy’s book bettered any time soon, Elgar was big enough, both as an artist and as a man, to profit from being viewed from multiple perspectives. Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait (Continuum, $33), a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, offers several different and provocative points of view from which to consider Elgar’s achievement. I was especially pleased that Kenyon invited a number of performers to contribute to the book. It is always valuable to hear from working musicians about the works they perform, and Tasmin Little’s essay about the Elgar Violin Concerto, in which she talks about what it feels like to play that exceedingly English piece with a foreign orchestra and conductor, is highly instructive. So, too, is Stephen Hough’s thoughtful essay on the composer’s Catholicism, in which he discusses how The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar’s dramatic oratorio after the poem by Cardinal Newman, alienated those who heard its first performance at the Birmingham Festival in 1900: “England was a deeply Protestant country, and such a subject choice would be a little like selecting a Talmudic text for an Islamic festival commission.”

When the critics and scholars speak in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait, it is to no less valuable effect. Best of all is David Cannadine’s “Orchestrating His Own Life: Sir Edward Elgar as a Historical Personality,” which takes a hard-nosed view of Elgar’s relationship with the British ruling class, with which he claimed, not unconvincingly, to be at odds:

This was the man who married for money (one hundred pounds a year) and status at least as much as for love and reassurance; who sought and cultivated aristocratic and plutocratic friends to promote his music and his cause; who did all he could to ingratiate himself at the courts of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V; who never refused an honour and who was disappointed not to receive more of them; and who hoped “some day to do a great work-a sort of national thing that my fellow Englishmen might take to themselves and love.”

The only essay in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait that disappointed me was Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscence of the composer, which is full of his usual vaporous blather. Otherwise the book is a gem, smart and concise and entirely to the point.

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I spent most of the past two weeks working on an opera libretto (about which more later) and writing the concluing chapters of my latest book, Rhythm Man: A Life of Louis Armstrong, which is now finished (you can read all about it here).

My world has thus been far more narrowly circumscribed than usual, and so it was a relief to read about something completely different the other day, the something in question being the life and music of Sir Edward Elgar, one of my favorite composers.

When I last wrote about Elgar for COMMENTARY four years ago, I speculated that a revival of his music might be in the offing:

My own guess is that Elgar awaits a generation of charismatic young performers who will do for him what Leonard Bernstein did for Mahler in the 60’s. It has long seemed to me that his best music is ripe for revival, not least because of its individuality. “I hold nothing back,” he said, and it was the truth. All that he thought and felt went into his compositions, which are so unguarded at times as to make the reticent listener squirm.

Alas, it hasn’t happened yet, though Hilary Hahn, the most gifted and satisfying young violinist to come along in years, did release a remarkable recording of Elgar’s B Minor Violin Concerto later that year (DGG B0003026-02GM) and play the piece in concert with the New York Philharmonic. I heard her performance and wrote that it was “so beautiful that I expect to remember it as long as I live.” One recording does not a revival make, but it doesn’t hurt, either, and neither did the publication that same year of The Life of Elgar (Cambridge, $26 paper), a penetrating brief life by Michael Kennedy that is the best short discussion of Elgar that has been published to date.

While I don’t expect to see Kennedy’s book bettered any time soon, Elgar was big enough, both as an artist and as a man, to profit from being viewed from multiple perspectives. Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait (Continuum, $33), a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, offers several different and provocative points of view from which to consider Elgar’s achievement. I was especially pleased that Kenyon invited a number of performers to contribute to the book. It is always valuable to hear from working musicians about the works they perform, and Tasmin Little’s essay about the Elgar Violin Concerto, in which she talks about what it feels like to play that exceedingly English piece with a foreign orchestra and conductor, is highly instructive. So, too, is Stephen Hough’s thoughtful essay on the composer’s Catholicism, in which he discusses how The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar’s dramatic oratorio after the poem by Cardinal Newman, alienated those who heard its first performance at the Birmingham Festival in 1900: “England was a deeply Protestant country, and such a subject choice would be a little like selecting a Talmudic text for an Islamic festival commission.”

When the critics and scholars speak in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait, it is to no less valuable effect. Best of all is David Cannadine’s “Orchestrating His Own Life: Sir Edward Elgar as a Historical Personality,” which takes a hard-nosed view of Elgar’s relationship with the British ruling class, with which he claimed, not unconvincingly, to be at odds:

This was the man who married for money (one hundred pounds a year) and status at least as much as for love and reassurance; who sought and cultivated aristocratic and plutocratic friends to promote his music and his cause; who did all he could to ingratiate himself at the courts of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V; who never refused an honour and who was disappointed not to receive more of them; and who hoped “some day to do a great work-a sort of national thing that my fellow Englishmen might take to themselves and love.”

The only essay in Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait that disappointed me was Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscence of the composer, which is full of his usual vaporous blather. Otherwise the book is a gem, smart and concise and entirely to the point.

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If You Are Asking About Me, That’s Different

John McCain has been silent on the subject of Reverend Wright. But yesterday, when the media guns were turned on him over Reverend John Hagee’s endorsement, McCain made an exception. In fending off tough questions, McCain repeated again and again that Hagee’s comments on Katrina and the Catholic church were “nonsense.” Then he finally reached for the sword:

Q: You and your Democratic opponents spend a certain amount of time commenting on surrogates and endorsers, on what they said. Do you think that is in any way interfering with how you’re trying to conduct your campaign?

A: …I didn’t attend Pastor Hagee’s church for 20 years. There’s a great deal of difference in my view between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.

Ah! When his back is to the wall and his own endorsement is at issue, then the Wright issue is fair game. This seems intellectually tangled and politically unfeasible. If McCain only discusses Wright when he’s on defense, the issue (which many contend goes to Obama’s judgment and values) become little more than a cover for McCain’s acceptance of endorsements from questionable characters.

Far better to take a page from Hillary Clinton’s book, who calmly stated in the last debate:

Obviously, one’s choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you’re seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church. But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been intolerable for me. And therefore I would have not been able to stay in the church, and maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that regardless of whatever good is going on — and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church — you get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.

What’s wrong with that? It beats playing defense (which inevitably leads to a tit-for-tat squabble) and hushing (or insulting) your allies the entire campaign.

As to the North Carolina ad featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, McCain in a blogger call today repeatedly said he thought the ad was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the “tenor of the campaign we want to run.” But by indicating that he thought Americans were entitled to consider any issue they wished, he left the issue muddled: what’s wrong with him talking about Wright?  And why condemn those who do?

John McCain has been silent on the subject of Reverend Wright. But yesterday, when the media guns were turned on him over Reverend John Hagee’s endorsement, McCain made an exception. In fending off tough questions, McCain repeated again and again that Hagee’s comments on Katrina and the Catholic church were “nonsense.” Then he finally reached for the sword:

Q: You and your Democratic opponents spend a certain amount of time commenting on surrogates and endorsers, on what they said. Do you think that is in any way interfering with how you’re trying to conduct your campaign?

A: …I didn’t attend Pastor Hagee’s church for 20 years. There’s a great deal of difference in my view between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.

Ah! When his back is to the wall and his own endorsement is at issue, then the Wright issue is fair game. This seems intellectually tangled and politically unfeasible. If McCain only discusses Wright when he’s on defense, the issue (which many contend goes to Obama’s judgment and values) become little more than a cover for McCain’s acceptance of endorsements from questionable characters.

Far better to take a page from Hillary Clinton’s book, who calmly stated in the last debate:

Obviously, one’s choice of church and pastor is rooted in what one believes is what you’re seeking in church and what kind of, you know, fellowship you find in church. But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been intolerable for me. And therefore I would have not been able to stay in the church, and maybe it’s, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that regardless of whatever good is going on — and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church — you get to choose your pastor. You don’t choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.

What’s wrong with that? It beats playing defense (which inevitably leads to a tit-for-tat squabble) and hushing (or insulting) your allies the entire campaign.

As to the North Carolina ad featuring Obama and Reverend Wright, McCain in a blogger call today repeatedly said he thought the ad was “not appropriate” and did not reflect the “tenor of the campaign we want to run.” But by indicating that he thought Americans were entitled to consider any issue they wished, he left the issue muddled: what’s wrong with him talking about Wright?  And why condemn those who do?

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ElBaradei Responds

Responding to revelations about the Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear facility last September, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General, Mohammad ElBaradei, issued an angry statement. According to the Agency,

The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts. Under the NPT, the Agency has a responsibility to verify any proliferation allegations in a non-nuclear weapon State party to the NPT and to report its findings to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, as required.

In light of the above, the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime.

Having spent six years NOT stopping Iran from pursuing its nuclear goals, having been remarkably unsuccessful in his efforts to stop North Korea from proliferating, having been completely in the dark about Libya’s attempts to proliferate, and having also failed to disrupt A. Q. Khan’s black market nuclear tech network, ElBaradei has little standing to decry Israel’s action as undermining “the due process of verification.”

The only real cause of upset for ElBaradei, I’d wager, is the lack of what he calls “due process:” namely, a role in these events for himself and his agency. But given the success and freedom from interference IAEA-examined proliferators currently enjoy–consider Iran and look no further–perhaps the occasional surgical bombing should be welcomed, not chastised, by those who wish to see effective checks on proliferation.

Responding to revelations about the Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear facility last September, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General, Mohammad ElBaradei, issued an angry statement. According to the Agency,

The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts. Under the NPT, the Agency has a responsibility to verify any proliferation allegations in a non-nuclear weapon State party to the NPT and to report its findings to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, as required.

In light of the above, the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime.

Having spent six years NOT stopping Iran from pursuing its nuclear goals, having been remarkably unsuccessful in his efforts to stop North Korea from proliferating, having been completely in the dark about Libya’s attempts to proliferate, and having also failed to disrupt A. Q. Khan’s black market nuclear tech network, ElBaradei has little standing to decry Israel’s action as undermining “the due process of verification.”

The only real cause of upset for ElBaradei, I’d wager, is the lack of what he calls “due process:” namely, a role in these events for himself and his agency. But given the success and freedom from interference IAEA-examined proliferators currently enjoy–consider Iran and look no further–perhaps the occasional surgical bombing should be welcomed, not chastised, by those who wish to see effective checks on proliferation.

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Unspoken?

In what can only be a weeks-late April fool’s piece, a CNN headline today describes the demographic problem presented by Barack Obama’s ethnicity as an “unspoken” issue. Unspoken! And try to keep a straight face while reading this lede:

As both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton race to make history, some political observers believe Obama might have a unique problem because he’s African-American.

Really? Wow! That’s hard-hitting news analysis. Obama’s ethnicity reported for duty before any other issue in his campaign and has not relinquished the limelight since. As a campaign issue, it seems to grow ever larger by the day, and it has overshadowed nearly everything else in this primary.

The CNN piece, by Brian Todd, talks about the Bradley effect (whereby people over-report their commitment to voting for a black candidate) as if it’s breaking news in an attempt to explain away Obama’s Pennsylvania loss, and then lays it to rest with a quote from CNN polling director Keating Holland: “There is no indication in the polls that were taken immediately before the Pennsylvania primary that there was any sort of a ‘Bradley’ effect going on.”

So what is this piece about, again? Yesterday’s headlines said that the candidates were tired. But if today’s headlines are any indication, the media itself is suffering from fatal exhaustion.

In what can only be a weeks-late April fool’s piece, a CNN headline today describes the demographic problem presented by Barack Obama’s ethnicity as an “unspoken” issue. Unspoken! And try to keep a straight face while reading this lede:

As both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton race to make history, some political observers believe Obama might have a unique problem because he’s African-American.

Really? Wow! That’s hard-hitting news analysis. Obama’s ethnicity reported for duty before any other issue in his campaign and has not relinquished the limelight since. As a campaign issue, it seems to grow ever larger by the day, and it has overshadowed nearly everything else in this primary.

The CNN piece, by Brian Todd, talks about the Bradley effect (whereby people over-report their commitment to voting for a black candidate) as if it’s breaking news in an attempt to explain away Obama’s Pennsylvania loss, and then lays it to rest with a quote from CNN polling director Keating Holland: “There is no indication in the polls that were taken immediately before the Pennsylvania primary that there was any sort of a ‘Bradley’ effect going on.”

So what is this piece about, again? Yesterday’s headlines said that the candidates were tired. But if today’s headlines are any indication, the media itself is suffering from fatal exhaustion.

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Distancing

Operation Separate-From-Bush is fully underway in the McCain campaign. First came a foreign policy speech which sounded policy notes not normally associated with the Bush administration (e.g. multi-lateralism, global warming). Then came the populism-sprinkled economic address. Yesterday it was Hurricane Katrina. McCain bluntly said “There were unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications.”

Will all this enable McCain to escape the shadow of an unpopular president? This will be threshed out in the general election. The Democrats will paint McCain as Bush’s twin, on Iraq and taxes in particular. McCain will emphasize his many areas of disagreement with Bush ( e.g. administration of the war, torture, spending, global warming). It is an open question whether any candidate can entirely escape the drag exerted by a limping incumbent of the same party. What is certain is that this will not be the last time McCain blasts the Bush administration.

Operation Separate-From-Bush is fully underway in the McCain campaign. First came a foreign policy speech which sounded policy notes not normally associated with the Bush administration (e.g. multi-lateralism, global warming). Then came the populism-sprinkled economic address. Yesterday it was Hurricane Katrina. McCain bluntly said “There were unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications.”

Will all this enable McCain to escape the shadow of an unpopular president? This will be threshed out in the general election. The Democrats will paint McCain as Bush’s twin, on Iraq and taxes in particular. McCain will emphasize his many areas of disagreement with Bush ( e.g. administration of the war, torture, spending, global warming). It is an open question whether any candidate can entirely escape the drag exerted by a limping incumbent of the same party. What is certain is that this will not be the last time McCain blasts the Bush administration.

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Denial of A Denial

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

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