Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 14, 2008

McCain Interview

In an effective interview with CNN John McCain yesterday indicated he “gets it” on the importance of fixing the Guantanamo habeas corpus problem ( and that he understands what the Supreme Court should be doing):

Do you think this is big picture a backlash against what many people thought was their heavy-handed approach from the beginning?
MCCAIN: Well, I don’t know because I think the United States Supreme Court is supposed to act not on their views of the performance of an administration. But on the most important issues affecting, or how to implement best, the Constitution of the United States. I just am convinced that to treat enemy combatants, who are not citizens, and give them the same rights as an American citizen. Remember 30 of these people have already been released, have tried to attack America again and engaged in activities. That this is a decision that will harm our ability to detain and prosecute individuals who are enemy combatants who was to destroy America. And I agree with Chief Justice Roberts by saying that there is no precedent for this kind of action. . .

I think maybe legislation working with the Congress which would define more narrowly the Habeas Corpus rights of people who we have detained. It’s very broad right now. At least try to provide some definition of that so we’re not ending up in endless law suits. Already the detainees have brought suit on diet, on reading material, on all kinds of other things that are certainly not central to what we have detained them for. So I would hope that we could at least do that.

McCain clearly recognizes the saliency of the issue, while Democrats are trying to duck, denying there is any need to take action (which would create an obvious conflict with their left-wing supporters and general election voters concerned about their security). As for Obama: “John McCain thinks the Supreme Court was wrong; I think the Supreme Court was right.” So Obama believes, not in just giving some reasonable right of review to detainees, but allowing terrorists to stroll into federal court where they can bluff their way out of incarceration by threatening to demand, among other things, access to classified materials. Good to know where he stands.

And on Iraq:

Well, we are succeeding. We are winning. The three major cities are now under Iraqi military government control, with our support. Senator Obama incredibly refuses to acknowledge the success. It’s remarkable. Maybe he should sit down with General Petraeus which he has not sought the opportunity to do so far, or maybe even go back to Iraq, which he has not since the surge began. We are succeeding. And that success means we will be able to withdraw over time, gaged by conditions on the ground. . . And we will come home in victory and honor and not in defeat. That is what this choice is going to be about in this election. I said a year ago, over a year ago, I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war. I was right about the surge. Senator Obama was wrong about the surge. [The] American people [can] make an appropriate judgment.

I would have thought it possible a year ago, but I (like Charles Krauthammer) am coming around to the view that McCain should focus to a great degree, albeit not exclusively, on these issues as not only substantive policy issues, but as means by which voters can assess character and judgment of the two candidates. There could not be a more stark contrast.

In an effective interview with CNN John McCain yesterday indicated he “gets it” on the importance of fixing the Guantanamo habeas corpus problem ( and that he understands what the Supreme Court should be doing):

Do you think this is big picture a backlash against what many people thought was their heavy-handed approach from the beginning?
MCCAIN: Well, I don’t know because I think the United States Supreme Court is supposed to act not on their views of the performance of an administration. But on the most important issues affecting, or how to implement best, the Constitution of the United States. I just am convinced that to treat enemy combatants, who are not citizens, and give them the same rights as an American citizen. Remember 30 of these people have already been released, have tried to attack America again and engaged in activities. That this is a decision that will harm our ability to detain and prosecute individuals who are enemy combatants who was to destroy America. And I agree with Chief Justice Roberts by saying that there is no precedent for this kind of action. . .

I think maybe legislation working with the Congress which would define more narrowly the Habeas Corpus rights of people who we have detained. It’s very broad right now. At least try to provide some definition of that so we’re not ending up in endless law suits. Already the detainees have brought suit on diet, on reading material, on all kinds of other things that are certainly not central to what we have detained them for. So I would hope that we could at least do that.

McCain clearly recognizes the saliency of the issue, while Democrats are trying to duck, denying there is any need to take action (which would create an obvious conflict with their left-wing supporters and general election voters concerned about their security). As for Obama: “John McCain thinks the Supreme Court was wrong; I think the Supreme Court was right.” So Obama believes, not in just giving some reasonable right of review to detainees, but allowing terrorists to stroll into federal court where they can bluff their way out of incarceration by threatening to demand, among other things, access to classified materials. Good to know where he stands.

And on Iraq:

Well, we are succeeding. We are winning. The three major cities are now under Iraqi military government control, with our support. Senator Obama incredibly refuses to acknowledge the success. It’s remarkable. Maybe he should sit down with General Petraeus which he has not sought the opportunity to do so far, or maybe even go back to Iraq, which he has not since the surge began. We are succeeding. And that success means we will be able to withdraw over time, gaged by conditions on the ground. . . And we will come home in victory and honor and not in defeat. That is what this choice is going to be about in this election. I said a year ago, over a year ago, I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war. I was right about the surge. Senator Obama was wrong about the surge. [The] American people [can] make an appropriate judgment.

I would have thought it possible a year ago, but I (like Charles Krauthammer) am coming around to the view that McCain should focus to a great degree, albeit not exclusively, on these issues as not only substantive policy issues, but as means by which voters can assess character and judgment of the two candidates. There could not be a more stark contrast.

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Young Recants (Sort Of)

There’s no arrogance like academic arrogance. The latest issue of the Royal Society of the Art’s Journal features an interview with Michael Young, whose 1971 book Knowledge and Control: New Directions in the Sociology of Education set forth a thesis that come to dominate education schools: that, as the RSA puts it, the traditional emphasis on skills and knowledge served “the needs of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor” and that those from disadvantaged backgrounds needed instead a curriculum that heightened “engagement.”
The fact that, in both the U.S. and the UK, emphasizing knowledge and skills had by the early 1970’s created historically unimaginable levels of both wealth and social mobility regrettably did not occur to Young. Nor did he stop to think that emphasizing content-free fluff was the worst possible service the schools could do for the poor, in that it both condescended to them and deprived them of the tools to improve their own lives. The result has been, as Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone of Oxford Brookes University argue in their forthcoming book on The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, has been to create a system that “promotes the idea that we are emotional, vulnerable and hapless individuals. It is an attack on human potential.”

Young’s interview is a mea culpa of sorts, albeit one of the “stop him before he kills again’ variety. He now realizes that “you’ve got to start from the subjects, the disciplines, and then see how they can become more connective. . . . What I forgot in my early work was we saw boundaries only as constraints, we wanted to do away with all constraints?do away with the boundaries between the school and everyday life, between disciplines, and between the sexes and so on. . . . But what that apparently radical idea misses is the absolute core element to boundaries”.

His early failure does not stop him from making the same mistake all over again: he ends the interview with a call for education to take up a new stance to boundaries, which is that they must be considered as “real but bridgeable.” Young fails to learn the lesson of his failure, which is that neither he nor anyone else is smart enough to describe all reality in a pat, reductionist phrase that can become the basis for an educational system. That is why the traditional focus on knowledge and skills was so valuable: contrary to the charge of the faux radicals, it was liberating precisely because it emphasized both what was known and how even more could be known in the future. It created not a closed system but an open one, based on stable foundations.

Young’s belief that the purpose of sociology, his discipline, is to focus on unintended consequences illustrates the problem beautifully: the job of the sociologist, he claims, is to think about these “before an event, rather than after.” If sociologists are really capable of this, those consequences are no longer genuinely unintended. But of course sociologists are not capable of this. The assertion that they are amounts to exactly the same arrogant claim of elite omniscience that undergirded his 1971 book.

This is not just an academic problem, one without consequences in the real world. On Thursday, Imperial College London–the fifth ranked university in the world–announced that it was adding an extra year to its degree program so students can catch up on what they have failed to learn earlier. As the director of admissions put it, exams that “were originally designed as an entrance to university . . . has now been distorted to a general education qualification.”

Even more stunning was Wednesday’s announcement by the British Minister of Education that if £400 million in additional funding did not solve the problem, 638 underperforming schools would be closed and re-opened as academy schools, which are run by parents, businesses, or volunteer groups–a plan that makes school vouchers appear positively staid. But they are both based on the same idea: rejecting the one size fits all model that is now inseparable from the orthodox educational establishment, ossified in Young’s radicalism.

There’s no arrogance like academic arrogance. The latest issue of the Royal Society of the Art’s Journal features an interview with Michael Young, whose 1971 book Knowledge and Control: New Directions in the Sociology of Education set forth a thesis that come to dominate education schools: that, as the RSA puts it, the traditional emphasis on skills and knowledge served “the needs of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor” and that those from disadvantaged backgrounds needed instead a curriculum that heightened “engagement.”
The fact that, in both the U.S. and the UK, emphasizing knowledge and skills had by the early 1970’s created historically unimaginable levels of both wealth and social mobility regrettably did not occur to Young. Nor did he stop to think that emphasizing content-free fluff was the worst possible service the schools could do for the poor, in that it both condescended to them and deprived them of the tools to improve their own lives. The result has been, as Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone of Oxford Brookes University argue in their forthcoming book on The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, has been to create a system that “promotes the idea that we are emotional, vulnerable and hapless individuals. It is an attack on human potential.”

Young’s interview is a mea culpa of sorts, albeit one of the “stop him before he kills again’ variety. He now realizes that “you’ve got to start from the subjects, the disciplines, and then see how they can become more connective. . . . What I forgot in my early work was we saw boundaries only as constraints, we wanted to do away with all constraints?do away with the boundaries between the school and everyday life, between disciplines, and between the sexes and so on. . . . But what that apparently radical idea misses is the absolute core element to boundaries”.

His early failure does not stop him from making the same mistake all over again: he ends the interview with a call for education to take up a new stance to boundaries, which is that they must be considered as “real but bridgeable.” Young fails to learn the lesson of his failure, which is that neither he nor anyone else is smart enough to describe all reality in a pat, reductionist phrase that can become the basis for an educational system. That is why the traditional focus on knowledge and skills was so valuable: contrary to the charge of the faux radicals, it was liberating precisely because it emphasized both what was known and how even more could be known in the future. It created not a closed system but an open one, based on stable foundations.

Young’s belief that the purpose of sociology, his discipline, is to focus on unintended consequences illustrates the problem beautifully: the job of the sociologist, he claims, is to think about these “before an event, rather than after.” If sociologists are really capable of this, those consequences are no longer genuinely unintended. But of course sociologists are not capable of this. The assertion that they are amounts to exactly the same arrogant claim of elite omniscience that undergirded his 1971 book.

This is not just an academic problem, one without consequences in the real world. On Thursday, Imperial College London–the fifth ranked university in the world–announced that it was adding an extra year to its degree program so students can catch up on what they have failed to learn earlier. As the director of admissions put it, exams that “were originally designed as an entrance to university . . . has now been distorted to a general education qualification.”

Even more stunning was Wednesday’s announcement by the British Minister of Education that if £400 million in additional funding did not solve the problem, 638 underperforming schools would be closed and re-opened as academy schools, which are run by parents, businesses, or volunteer groups–a plan that makes school vouchers appear positively staid. But they are both based on the same idea: rejecting the one size fits all model that is now inseparable from the orthodox educational establishment, ossified in Young’s radicalism.

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100 Years?

In an interview with Spain’s El Mundo, Gore Vidal called the Bush Administration a “dictatorship” and said that it will take America “100 years” to recover from the damage done by President Bush. Let’s only hope it takes less for the world to recover from the damage caused by Gore Vidal.

In an interview with Spain’s El Mundo, Gore Vidal called the Bush Administration a “dictatorship” and said that it will take America “100 years” to recover from the damage done by President Bush. Let’s only hope it takes less for the world to recover from the damage caused by Gore Vidal.

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Stay Classy, Team Obama

The McCain camp is zinging Barack Obama for his not very presidential tough-guy remark, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” One can imagine the howls if McCain ever said something like that. “Angry!” “Bully!” That’s what they would say, no doubt. And they’d be right. That’s, to borrow a phrase, a schoolyard taunt, not the language of a presidential nominee.

But it shouldn’t come as a total shock. From time to time, from the lips of either Obama (“You’re likable enough, Hillary”) or his advisers (“monster Hillary“) you see glimpse of nasty condescension toward Obama’s opponents. I suspect, because you see it in these unguarded moments and everywhere in the left blogosphere, that this is how they speak in private about (and what they actually think of) their political rivals. It is the chip-on-the-shoulder, “we’re not going to be bullied” attitude which justifies their own obnoxious verbiage. Somewhere in the Obama rules of political etiquette there is no doubt an asterisk for “but not us.”

The McCain camp is zinging Barack Obama for his not very presidential tough-guy remark, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” One can imagine the howls if McCain ever said something like that. “Angry!” “Bully!” That’s what they would say, no doubt. And they’d be right. That’s, to borrow a phrase, a schoolyard taunt, not the language of a presidential nominee.

But it shouldn’t come as a total shock. From time to time, from the lips of either Obama (“You’re likable enough, Hillary”) or his advisers (“monster Hillary“) you see glimpse of nasty condescension toward Obama’s opponents. I suspect, because you see it in these unguarded moments and everywhere in the left blogosphere, that this is how they speak in private about (and what they actually think of) their political rivals. It is the chip-on-the-shoulder, “we’re not going to be bullied” attitude which justifies their own obnoxious verbiage. Somewhere in the Obama rules of political etiquette there is no doubt an asterisk for “but not us.”

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Iran’s “No”

Predictably, Iran rejected the incentives package  that Javier Solana brought to Tehran on behalf of the P5+1–the UN five permanent members plus Germany. Now, it is up to the international community to decide whether the time has finally come to stand up to Iran and put real pressure on Tehran. The first thing it could do is publish the incentives package that Tehran has just rejected, making sure it is available in Farsi as well. Iran’s people should know the folly of their leaders. And letting them know what an attractive offer they just turned down in order to stubbornly pursue their nuclear ambition is an important step to take.

Predictably, Iran rejected the incentives package  that Javier Solana brought to Tehran on behalf of the P5+1–the UN five permanent members plus Germany. Now, it is up to the international community to decide whether the time has finally come to stand up to Iran and put real pressure on Tehran. The first thing it could do is publish the incentives package that Tehran has just rejected, making sure it is available in Farsi as well. Iran’s people should know the folly of their leaders. And letting them know what an attractive offer they just turned down in order to stubbornly pursue their nuclear ambition is an important step to take.

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If You Want To Know What’s Happening in Iraq

. . . don’t go to the New York Times. I love the second to last paragraph of their latest editorial:

What makes this all the more confusing is that in recent months there has been some tentative progress in Iraq. American and Iraqi casualties have declined, and there are signs that the central government is beginning to assert its authority against Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City and against allies of Al Qaeda in Mosul. Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain cannot have it both ways: insisting that American troops must stay if things go badly, and that they must stay if they go well.

Casualties have “declined”? They’ve plummeted.

The central government is “beginning to assert its authority” in Basra and Sadr City? Two long and hard-fought victories over Sadrist militias is quite a beginning. Also, notice there is no specific mention of Maliki. The Times, long ago having written off Iraq’s prime minister, can’t figure out how to cover his recent successes.

Bush and McCain don’t want it “both ways.” They want one way: victory. It’s the Times that wants it both ways: If things are bad we need to withdraw troops. When things improve, we need to withdraw troops. This is the Times at its most befuddled. With the gains of the surge, the anti-Bush, anti-McCain rhetoricians can find no purchase in reality. Which isn’t to say they’ll stop trying.

. . . don’t go to the New York Times. I love the second to last paragraph of their latest editorial:

What makes this all the more confusing is that in recent months there has been some tentative progress in Iraq. American and Iraqi casualties have declined, and there are signs that the central government is beginning to assert its authority against Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City and against allies of Al Qaeda in Mosul. Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain cannot have it both ways: insisting that American troops must stay if things go badly, and that they must stay if they go well.

Casualties have “declined”? They’ve plummeted.

The central government is “beginning to assert its authority” in Basra and Sadr City? Two long and hard-fought victories over Sadrist militias is quite a beginning. Also, notice there is no specific mention of Maliki. The Times, long ago having written off Iraq’s prime minister, can’t figure out how to cover his recent successes.

Bush and McCain don’t want it “both ways.” They want one way: victory. It’s the Times that wants it both ways: If things are bad we need to withdraw troops. When things improve, we need to withdraw troops. This is the Times at its most befuddled. With the gains of the surge, the anti-Bush, anti-McCain rhetoricians can find no purchase in reality. Which isn’t to say they’ll stop trying.

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Ireland’s “No”

Ireland has rejected the Lisbon Treaty (as Emanuele thought it might), by a decisive margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. The Treaty has had a long and entirely disreputable history. It was drawn up to replace the draft European Constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The European mandarins were wiser the second time round: they claimed the Treaty was only a modestly significant revision of existing practices made necessary by the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe, instead of a radical power-grab by Brussels.

This claim fooled only those who wanted to believe it, but it offered some very necessary anti-democratic cover. Instead of exposing this monstrosity to the scrutiny of the voters, 26 of the 27 EU member states sought to hustle it through their parliaments. That includes Britain, where Labour, having campaigned in the 2005 general election on the promise of a referendum on the Constitutions, used its replacement by the Treaty as an excuse for dumping their promise. The reason Labour did this was obvious: there was no chance the British public would have approved the Treaty.

Only Ireland’s constitution made this impossible: the Irish, therefore, were voting not for themselves, but in the referendum denied to the rest of Europe. In voting against the Treaty, they rejected the advice of almost every major political party in Ireland. Theirs is truly the voice of the people, and it is amplified by the arrogance of the ‘yes’ campaign: Ireland’s EU commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, admitted that not only had he not even read the Treaty but that no sane person would want to do so. The favorite argument of pro-European newspapers in Britain was that the Irish had a duty to vote ‘yes’ because they owed their status as a Celtic Tiger to EU subsidies, a claim that is as condescending as it is ignorant of the centrality of Ireland’s economic liberalization to its prosperity.

According to its terms, the Treaty cannot come into force until it is ratified by all the EU’s member states. But nothing is as simple as this. The normal EU solution is to tell an offending state to vote until they get it right. That is not likely to work this time round: the margin of defeat is too large, and the Treaty is so complex that even a nominal re-negotiation, done solely to justify resubmitting it to the Irish voters, would be intensely painful. But neither the EU nor Europe’s leaders–eager as ever to take power out of the hands of the voters, with all their inconvenient demands for democratic accountability, and put it in the hands of the EU–are going to give up.

The likely solution is simple: the remaining 26 countries will simply go ahead, ratify the Treaty, and put it in into effect, regardless of its terms. After a decent interval, the Irish will be asked to amend their constitution to make parliamentary approval of the Treaty possible, and then after a further interval, the Treaty will be passed without reference to the will of the people. But the EU is in a bind that cannot be evaded forever: by continually pressing forward, while repressing the evident will of the European publics, it is building up pressure that will sooner or later blow the entire apparatus apart.

Ireland has rejected the Lisbon Treaty (as Emanuele thought it might), by a decisive margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. The Treaty has had a long and entirely disreputable history. It was drawn up to replace the draft European Constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The European mandarins were wiser the second time round: they claimed the Treaty was only a modestly significant revision of existing practices made necessary by the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe, instead of a radical power-grab by Brussels.

This claim fooled only those who wanted to believe it, but it offered some very necessary anti-democratic cover. Instead of exposing this monstrosity to the scrutiny of the voters, 26 of the 27 EU member states sought to hustle it through their parliaments. That includes Britain, where Labour, having campaigned in the 2005 general election on the promise of a referendum on the Constitutions, used its replacement by the Treaty as an excuse for dumping their promise. The reason Labour did this was obvious: there was no chance the British public would have approved the Treaty.

Only Ireland’s constitution made this impossible: the Irish, therefore, were voting not for themselves, but in the referendum denied to the rest of Europe. In voting against the Treaty, they rejected the advice of almost every major political party in Ireland. Theirs is truly the voice of the people, and it is amplified by the arrogance of the ‘yes’ campaign: Ireland’s EU commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, admitted that not only had he not even read the Treaty but that no sane person would want to do so. The favorite argument of pro-European newspapers in Britain was that the Irish had a duty to vote ‘yes’ because they owed their status as a Celtic Tiger to EU subsidies, a claim that is as condescending as it is ignorant of the centrality of Ireland’s economic liberalization to its prosperity.

According to its terms, the Treaty cannot come into force until it is ratified by all the EU’s member states. But nothing is as simple as this. The normal EU solution is to tell an offending state to vote until they get it right. That is not likely to work this time round: the margin of defeat is too large, and the Treaty is so complex that even a nominal re-negotiation, done solely to justify resubmitting it to the Irish voters, would be intensely painful. But neither the EU nor Europe’s leaders–eager as ever to take power out of the hands of the voters, with all their inconvenient demands for democratic accountability, and put it in the hands of the EU–are going to give up.

The likely solution is simple: the remaining 26 countries will simply go ahead, ratify the Treaty, and put it in into effect, regardless of its terms. After a decent interval, the Irish will be asked to amend their constitution to make parliamentary approval of the Treaty possible, and then after a further interval, the Treaty will be passed without reference to the will of the people. But the EU is in a bind that cannot be evaded forever: by continually pressing forward, while repressing the evident will of the European publics, it is building up pressure that will sooner or later blow the entire apparatus apart.

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RIP Tim Russert

Stunning the political and journalistic world, Tim Russertdied Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. The tributes continue to pour in from both sides of the political aisle. Aside from the shock and empathy one feels for his family, it seems especially tragic that someone so obviously enthralled with the spirit and sheer fun of politics would pass in the midst of one of the greatest political races of his lifetime.

Moreover, when so many TV personalities don’t put forth much effort to take their jobs seriously, it is sad when someone who did leaves the scene. What remains is increasingly dominated by ranting, raving, nasty people. For conservatives often searching in vain for serious, balanced journalists in the mainstream media it is a great loss. And whenever someone so obviously decent and kind dies so precipitously, it is that much harder to accept.

Stunning the political and journalistic world, Tim Russertdied Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. The tributes continue to pour in from both sides of the political aisle. Aside from the shock and empathy one feels for his family, it seems especially tragic that someone so obviously enthralled with the spirit and sheer fun of politics would pass in the midst of one of the greatest political races of his lifetime.

Moreover, when so many TV personalities don’t put forth much effort to take their jobs seriously, it is sad when someone who did leaves the scene. What remains is increasingly dominated by ranting, raving, nasty people. For conservatives often searching in vain for serious, balanced journalists in the mainstream media it is a great loss. And whenever someone so obviously decent and kind dies so precipitously, it is that much harder to accept.

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