Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 4, 2008

Spitzer Enters the Fourth Estate

According to the New York Post:

DISGRACED former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has a new gig: columnist for Slate.com, opining every other week about government regulation and finance – not sex. Yawn. “He’s going to be doing a regular thing,” Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg tells the Observer. “He was very receptive . . . I don’t portray this as something we had to coax him into. He’s got a lot to say and he was very receptive to writing on the subject.” It’s not as if he’s had a lot of other offers.

The former governor’s maiden column can be found here. I, for one, would much rather read an advice column from him, a man of hard-earned and hard-spent experience.  In fact, Slate’s original advice columnist, “Prudence,” was in reality Herbert Stein, the mega-brain who served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford (and who also could brag about fathering Ben Stein). If Herbert Stein could claim to offer advice on “morals, manners, and macroeconomic policy,” why can’t Spitzer?

Obviously, the former governor’s pen name would have to be something other than “Prudie.” Perhaps “Johnny C. Lately” might work.

According to the New York Post:

DISGRACED former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has a new gig: columnist for Slate.com, opining every other week about government regulation and finance – not sex. Yawn. “He’s going to be doing a regular thing,” Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg tells the Observer. “He was very receptive . . . I don’t portray this as something we had to coax him into. He’s got a lot to say and he was very receptive to writing on the subject.” It’s not as if he’s had a lot of other offers.

The former governor’s maiden column can be found here. I, for one, would much rather read an advice column from him, a man of hard-earned and hard-spent experience.  In fact, Slate’s original advice columnist, “Prudence,” was in reality Herbert Stein, the mega-brain who served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford (and who also could brag about fathering Ben Stein). If Herbert Stein could claim to offer advice on “morals, manners, and macroeconomic policy,” why can’t Spitzer?

Obviously, the former governor’s pen name would have to be something other than “Prudie.” Perhaps “Johnny C. Lately” might work.

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Obama’s Address to the Muslims

Abe has discussed the difficulties Obama must face in choosing a Muslim capital for a possible foreign policy speech, but I wonder about the general efficacy of an address delivered to an audience that does not speak the same language as the orator. No matter how good a speech Obama might deliver, real-time translators simply cannot reproduce the nuance and style of his rhetoric. This is a shame since oratorical skill is one of the most essential tools of the statesman.

In fact, while President Reagan’s “evil empire” speech was strongly criticized as needlessly inflammatory by many in the English-speaking world, the phrase itself caused little stir in the Soviet Union, since the Russian translation lacked the potent alliteration. Likewise, the most celebrated part of President Kennedy’s 1963 speech in West Berlin occurred when he switched to German: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” It’s also worth remembering that just before uttering that immortal phrase JFK also quoted Latin, which would have been widely understood by educated Westerners around the world: “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen].”

Were Obama to deliver his speech in Jakarta, might it be the perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate the language skills he allegedly picked up while living for four years as a child in Indonesia? After all, according to Time magazine, the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. had this to say about Obama: “Back home people think of [Obama] as one of us, or at least one who understands us,’ he says, adding that they are delighted to find that Obama speaks passable Bahasa, the language spoken in Indonesia and Malaysia.” In contrast, Obama himself has claimed, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” But recall that John Kerry also pretended not to be fluent in French while running for President. For American politicians, a lot of learning is a dangerous thing. As Adlai Stevenson lamented during a 1954 speech at Harvard, “Via ovicipitum dura est, or, for the benefit of the engineers among you: The way of the egghead is hard.”

Whether Obama can or wants publicly to speak Indonesian, his administration—and all future ones, for that matter—might consider having government “tribunes” (the higher ranking, the better) publicly deliver rhetorically accurate translations of the President’s most important speeches, with a focus on politically important languages, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu. At the very least, the administration should provide an eloquent pre-recorded voice-over for broadcast.

Abe has discussed the difficulties Obama must face in choosing a Muslim capital for a possible foreign policy speech, but I wonder about the general efficacy of an address delivered to an audience that does not speak the same language as the orator. No matter how good a speech Obama might deliver, real-time translators simply cannot reproduce the nuance and style of his rhetoric. This is a shame since oratorical skill is one of the most essential tools of the statesman.

In fact, while President Reagan’s “evil empire” speech was strongly criticized as needlessly inflammatory by many in the English-speaking world, the phrase itself caused little stir in the Soviet Union, since the Russian translation lacked the potent alliteration. Likewise, the most celebrated part of President Kennedy’s 1963 speech in West Berlin occurred when he switched to German: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” It’s also worth remembering that just before uttering that immortal phrase JFK also quoted Latin, which would have been widely understood by educated Westerners around the world: “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen].”

Were Obama to deliver his speech in Jakarta, might it be the perfect opportunity for him to demonstrate the language skills he allegedly picked up while living for four years as a child in Indonesia? After all, according to Time magazine, the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. had this to say about Obama: “Back home people think of [Obama] as one of us, or at least one who understands us,’ he says, adding that they are delighted to find that Obama speaks passable Bahasa, the language spoken in Indonesia and Malaysia.” In contrast, Obama himself has claimed, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” But recall that John Kerry also pretended not to be fluent in French while running for President. For American politicians, a lot of learning is a dangerous thing. As Adlai Stevenson lamented during a 1954 speech at Harvard, “Via ovicipitum dura est, or, for the benefit of the engineers among you: The way of the egghead is hard.”

Whether Obama can or wants publicly to speak Indonesian, his administration—and all future ones, for that matter—might consider having government “tribunes” (the higher ranking, the better) publicly deliver rhetorically accurate translations of the President’s most important speeches, with a focus on politically important languages, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu. At the very least, the administration should provide an eloquent pre-recorded voice-over for broadcast.

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Socialized Self-Delusion

I am far from knowledgeable about health care, but one thing I have read in many different places is that survival rates for many diseases are higher in America than in western countries with socialized health care systems. And I recall this very question being debated during the Republican primary.

This comes to mind because of a post (h/t Andrew Sullivan) from noted health care scholar Ezra Klein (that’s a joke, kids) in which Klein says something very silly:

In 2006, adjusted for purchasing power, the United Kingdom spent $2,760 per person on health care. America spent $6,714. It’s a difference of almost $4,000 per person, spread across the population. That’s $4,000 that can go into wages, or schools, or defense, or luxury, or mortgage-backed securities. And there’s no evidence that Britain’s aggregate outcomes are noticeable [sic] worse.

Bollocks, as they say in Britain. During the Republican primary, when Rudy Giuliani invoked America’s better-than-European cancer survival rates, one Ezra Klein, noted health care scholar, contested the claim (along with several others). Giuliani campaign adviser and actual health care policy scholar David Gratzer replied:

Americans do better when diagnosed with cancer than their European counterparts do. Since the publication of my City Journal essay, the prestigious journal Lancet Oncology has released a landmark study on cancer survival rates. Its findings:

* The American five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 99 percent, the European average is 78 percent, and the Scottish and Welsh rate is close to 71 percent. (English data were incomplete.)

* For the 16 different types of cancer examined in the study, American men have a five-year survival rate of 66 percent, compared with only 47 percent for European men. Among European countries, only Sweden has an overall survival rate for men of more than 60 percent.

* American women have a 63 percent chance of living at least five years after a cancer diagnosis, compared with 56 percent for European women. For women, only five European countries have an overall survival rate of more than 60 percent.

These data, recently released, are now the best available. They too confirm Giuliani’s point: he was fortunate to be treated here.

But this controversy really isn’t about health care. It’s about the need for people who support the dramatic expansion of government to minimize, obfuscate, or render illusory the trade-offs inherent in such expansion.

I am far from knowledgeable about health care, but one thing I have read in many different places is that survival rates for many diseases are higher in America than in western countries with socialized health care systems. And I recall this very question being debated during the Republican primary.

This comes to mind because of a post (h/t Andrew Sullivan) from noted health care scholar Ezra Klein (that’s a joke, kids) in which Klein says something very silly:

In 2006, adjusted for purchasing power, the United Kingdom spent $2,760 per person on health care. America spent $6,714. It’s a difference of almost $4,000 per person, spread across the population. That’s $4,000 that can go into wages, or schools, or defense, or luxury, or mortgage-backed securities. And there’s no evidence that Britain’s aggregate outcomes are noticeable [sic] worse.

Bollocks, as they say in Britain. During the Republican primary, when Rudy Giuliani invoked America’s better-than-European cancer survival rates, one Ezra Klein, noted health care scholar, contested the claim (along with several others). Giuliani campaign adviser and actual health care policy scholar David Gratzer replied:

Americans do better when diagnosed with cancer than their European counterparts do. Since the publication of my City Journal essay, the prestigious journal Lancet Oncology has released a landmark study on cancer survival rates. Its findings:

* The American five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 99 percent, the European average is 78 percent, and the Scottish and Welsh rate is close to 71 percent. (English data were incomplete.)

* For the 16 different types of cancer examined in the study, American men have a five-year survival rate of 66 percent, compared with only 47 percent for European men. Among European countries, only Sweden has an overall survival rate for men of more than 60 percent.

* American women have a 63 percent chance of living at least five years after a cancer diagnosis, compared with 56 percent for European women. For women, only five European countries have an overall survival rate of more than 60 percent.

These data, recently released, are now the best available. They too confirm Giuliani’s point: he was fortunate to be treated here.

But this controversy really isn’t about health care. It’s about the need for people who support the dramatic expansion of government to minimize, obfuscate, or render illusory the trade-offs inherent in such expansion.

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Commentary of the Day

Ahithophel, on Abe Greenwald:

Abe, you make a fine point: “the delusional expectations placed on Barack Obama by his fans are a necessary counterpart to their own delusional indictments of George W. Bush. That’s why the enthusiasm about Obama is similarly not of a fact-based nature. His acolyes seek in him fake antidotes to fake problems.”

But I would put it slightly differently. The measure of liberal hatred for Bush is the exact measure of their love for Obama, because they required a candidate not only to overturn 8 years of Republican leadership-they needed a defeater of the evil one. The depth of their hatred for Bush made them so desperate, that once the person who could replace Bush emerged he was greeted with messianic fervor. He *is* a savior to liberals, and he is a savior precisely because Bush is evil and the United States has been under the power of his evil. If the hatred for Bush were not so extreme and exaggerated, the enthusiasm and love for Obama would have been more rationally proportioned.

A mythical figure is created in the popular imagination in order to match the evil that must be defeated.

Ahithophel, on Abe Greenwald:

Abe, you make a fine point: “the delusional expectations placed on Barack Obama by his fans are a necessary counterpart to their own delusional indictments of George W. Bush. That’s why the enthusiasm about Obama is similarly not of a fact-based nature. His acolyes seek in him fake antidotes to fake problems.”

But I would put it slightly differently. The measure of liberal hatred for Bush is the exact measure of their love for Obama, because they required a candidate not only to overturn 8 years of Republican leadership-they needed a defeater of the evil one. The depth of their hatred for Bush made them so desperate, that once the person who could replace Bush emerged he was greeted with messianic fervor. He *is* a savior to liberals, and he is a savior precisely because Bush is evil and the United States has been under the power of his evil. If the hatred for Bush were not so extreme and exaggerated, the enthusiasm and love for Obama would have been more rationally proportioned.

A mythical figure is created in the popular imagination in order to match the evil that must be defeated.

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Obama’s Muslim Speech

Barack Obama is toying with the idea of making a speech from an Islamic capital within his first 100 days in office. The scuttlebutt is all about finding the right one. (The consensus is Cairo–which is a terrible idea. An Obama speech there would be read as a shameful acceptance of Mubarak’s oppressive rule.) But my question is: what would he say?

The global problems generating from within the Muslim world today are so odious and so obviously self-inflicted that any honest speech on the matter would offend and enrage Muslims the world over. At the same time, because of these very problems, a softball speech about Islam’s current role in global affairs would look like cowardly capitulation. If Obama splits the difference and mixes lukewarm praise with lukewarm condemnation, the stunt will be seen rightly as meaningless.

Obama gives great speeches, and this has encouraged an unwarranted faith in the utility of the medium. No matter how dazzling, oratory is the least effective weapon in the counterterrorism arsenal. If anything, a foreign policy speech aimed at resolving the conflict between the West and radical Islam would give enemies hope that the U.S. is shifting to a less proactive stance, and returning to the more symbolic approach of the pre-Bush days.

One of the more absurd charges leveled at George W. Bush is that he’s led the U.S. on a war against all Islam. In fact, he’s gone out of his way to repeatedly emphasize the idea that the U.S. is at war with a small percentage of antagonists within the Muslim world. Moreover, the U.S. has treated regional manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism on a case-by-case basis — taking out the Taliban with jet fighters, but pressuring Tehran with sanctions, etc. Obama’s search for this generic thing called “an Islamic capital” in which to make a speech would be the first official indication that the U.S. considers Islam itself to be the problem. He should scrap the idea, and put his energy into dealing with the unique problems of Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Whether or not Barack Obama knows it yet, his ability to move mountains by speechifying hit its career high exactly one month ago, when it got him elected President of the United States of America. The election is over.

Barack Obama is toying with the idea of making a speech from an Islamic capital within his first 100 days in office. The scuttlebutt is all about finding the right one. (The consensus is Cairo–which is a terrible idea. An Obama speech there would be read as a shameful acceptance of Mubarak’s oppressive rule.) But my question is: what would he say?

The global problems generating from within the Muslim world today are so odious and so obviously self-inflicted that any honest speech on the matter would offend and enrage Muslims the world over. At the same time, because of these very problems, a softball speech about Islam’s current role in global affairs would look like cowardly capitulation. If Obama splits the difference and mixes lukewarm praise with lukewarm condemnation, the stunt will be seen rightly as meaningless.

Obama gives great speeches, and this has encouraged an unwarranted faith in the utility of the medium. No matter how dazzling, oratory is the least effective weapon in the counterterrorism arsenal. If anything, a foreign policy speech aimed at resolving the conflict between the West and radical Islam would give enemies hope that the U.S. is shifting to a less proactive stance, and returning to the more symbolic approach of the pre-Bush days.

One of the more absurd charges leveled at George W. Bush is that he’s led the U.S. on a war against all Islam. In fact, he’s gone out of his way to repeatedly emphasize the idea that the U.S. is at war with a small percentage of antagonists within the Muslim world. Moreover, the U.S. has treated regional manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism on a case-by-case basis — taking out the Taliban with jet fighters, but pressuring Tehran with sanctions, etc. Obama’s search for this generic thing called “an Islamic capital” in which to make a speech would be the first official indication that the U.S. considers Islam itself to be the problem. He should scrap the idea, and put his energy into dealing with the unique problems of Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Whether or not Barack Obama knows it yet, his ability to move mountains by speechifying hit its career high exactly one month ago, when it got him elected President of the United States of America. The election is over.

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What Are They Driving At?

What’s really going on with the auto bailout? The Big Three are making their case, and Sen. Chris Dodd seems to have the task of rounding up votes. But votes for what? And are the votes even there?

An GOP Senate aide told me that things don’t seem any more clear than they did the first time the Big Three came to town, with Reps. Pelosi and Hoyer issuing conflicting statements earlier this week. The aide noted: “Hoyer said the House won’t bother even scheduling votes unless some deal is reached but Pelosi said she’s certain something will happen.” And in the Senate, the aide observes, Harry Reid is telling the press “he doesn’t think the votes are there to carve a bailout from the Treasury rescue funds, even though he still seems like he’s planning to have the Senate in session Monday.”

So the bottom line, he explains:

The reality is, though, no legislation exists, so it’s hard to know what is going to happen. Sen. [Mitch] McConnell noted last month that the only thing that has a chance of being signed into law is something like the Bond-Levin proposal that would use the existing $25 billion the auto companies have for conversion to renewable energy sources for a rescue plan. Democrat leaders don’t seem to be interested in that at the moment.

And why isn’t the President-elect pressing harder for a deal, if he thinks it’s so vital to save the auto industry from its own malfeasance? Aside from the fact that it’s a vote he might lose, it’s not clear whether the environmentalists or the labor lobby have the upper hand. The AP reports:

The United Auto Workers, along with Detroit’s Big Three, are pushing for an infusion of emergency loans for the carmakers’ immediate needs — even if that means diverting $25 billion that had been set aside for creating cleaner vehicles. Environmentalists balk at that notion, saying the money is sacrosanct and insisting that any new help be tied to strict requirements for greener cars.

The intramural fight helps explain why President-elect Barack Obama has stayed vague on his views on the details of the bailout and Democratic leaders have seemed uncertain about whether to push one through. It’s also at the heart of the disagreement between Democrats and the Bush administration over how to structure any carmaker rescue.

. . .

Environmental groups have long criticized the auto makers for focusing on gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, which yield higher profit margins, at the expense of a shift to smaller, greener vehicles. Now they say proponents of a bailout are asking Congress and taxpayers to put aside the very environmental advances that could make the U.S. auto industry competitive in order to put a financial Band-Aid on three badly injured businesses.

So for now there are a lot of speeches and there may even be a vote–if they can craft legislation that the Democratic interest groups can all live with. But for now the Democrats and the President-elect haven’t figured out what, if anything, they can do–especially in the face of public opinion strongly opposing a bailout. And the Republicans are watching with a certain amount of glee. It’s a scene you can expect to be played out again and again in the next few years.

What’s really going on with the auto bailout? The Big Three are making their case, and Sen. Chris Dodd seems to have the task of rounding up votes. But votes for what? And are the votes even there?

An GOP Senate aide told me that things don’t seem any more clear than they did the first time the Big Three came to town, with Reps. Pelosi and Hoyer issuing conflicting statements earlier this week. The aide noted: “Hoyer said the House won’t bother even scheduling votes unless some deal is reached but Pelosi said she’s certain something will happen.” And in the Senate, the aide observes, Harry Reid is telling the press “he doesn’t think the votes are there to carve a bailout from the Treasury rescue funds, even though he still seems like he’s planning to have the Senate in session Monday.”

So the bottom line, he explains:

The reality is, though, no legislation exists, so it’s hard to know what is going to happen. Sen. [Mitch] McConnell noted last month that the only thing that has a chance of being signed into law is something like the Bond-Levin proposal that would use the existing $25 billion the auto companies have for conversion to renewable energy sources for a rescue plan. Democrat leaders don’t seem to be interested in that at the moment.

And why isn’t the President-elect pressing harder for a deal, if he thinks it’s so vital to save the auto industry from its own malfeasance? Aside from the fact that it’s a vote he might lose, it’s not clear whether the environmentalists or the labor lobby have the upper hand. The AP reports:

The United Auto Workers, along with Detroit’s Big Three, are pushing for an infusion of emergency loans for the carmakers’ immediate needs — even if that means diverting $25 billion that had been set aside for creating cleaner vehicles. Environmentalists balk at that notion, saying the money is sacrosanct and insisting that any new help be tied to strict requirements for greener cars.

The intramural fight helps explain why President-elect Barack Obama has stayed vague on his views on the details of the bailout and Democratic leaders have seemed uncertain about whether to push one through. It’s also at the heart of the disagreement between Democrats and the Bush administration over how to structure any carmaker rescue.

. . .

Environmental groups have long criticized the auto makers for focusing on gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, which yield higher profit margins, at the expense of a shift to smaller, greener vehicles. Now they say proponents of a bailout are asking Congress and taxpayers to put aside the very environmental advances that could make the U.S. auto industry competitive in order to put a financial Band-Aid on three badly injured businesses.

So for now there are a lot of speeches and there may even be a vote–if they can craft legislation that the Democratic interest groups can all live with. But for now the Democrats and the President-elect haven’t figured out what, if anything, they can do–especially in the face of public opinion strongly opposing a bailout. And the Republicans are watching with a certain amount of glee. It’s a scene you can expect to be played out again and again in the next few years.

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How to Improve Ties with Russia

How do we improve our relationship with Moscow? Today, Prime Minster Vladimir Putin, during a televised question-and-answer session with the Russian people, helpfully gave us the answer. “We hear that one should build relations with Russia, taking into account its interests,” he said, referring to comments from aides to President-elect Obama. “If these are not just words, if they get transformed into a practical policy, then of course our reaction will be adequate and our American partners will feel this at once.”

Of course? Of course not. The assumption behind the strongman’s views is that Russia reciprocates friendship. American policymakers certainly believe this is the way the world operates. And, yes, that is the way geopolitics should work. Unfortunately, the historical record does not support this hopeful proposition.

Take the last eight years, for instance. President Bush’s policies were generally premised on the notion that America had to have good relations with the other great powers. So he adopted approaches–some farsighted and others uninspiring–that supported Russian ambitions most of the time.

Yet the Kremlin, taking full advantage of Bush policies, chose to exercise new-found strength by undermining the international system instead of reinforcing it. Moscow provoked Georgia and then invaded it, supported the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and tried to prevent necessary change in the Balkans, just to name recent examples of uncooperative–and grossly irresponsible-conduct. And we should not be surprised: the Russians maintain centuries-old goals and try to advance them whenever they see the opportunity. It is not as if we had no inkling as to what the Kremlin’s leaders would try to do next.

So, as Putin tells us, we can have good ties with Moscow if we continually accede to its wishes. But if we think our vision of the future is better-and there is no question that it is-we should do better than merely accepting the Kremlin’s ever-increasing ambitions. After all, the ultimate goal of our policies should not be achieving friendly relations with other nations. Our goal should be getting what we want.

How do we improve our relationship with Moscow? Today, Prime Minster Vladimir Putin, during a televised question-and-answer session with the Russian people, helpfully gave us the answer. “We hear that one should build relations with Russia, taking into account its interests,” he said, referring to comments from aides to President-elect Obama. “If these are not just words, if they get transformed into a practical policy, then of course our reaction will be adequate and our American partners will feel this at once.”

Of course? Of course not. The assumption behind the strongman’s views is that Russia reciprocates friendship. American policymakers certainly believe this is the way the world operates. And, yes, that is the way geopolitics should work. Unfortunately, the historical record does not support this hopeful proposition.

Take the last eight years, for instance. President Bush’s policies were generally premised on the notion that America had to have good relations with the other great powers. So he adopted approaches–some farsighted and others uninspiring–that supported Russian ambitions most of the time.

Yet the Kremlin, taking full advantage of Bush policies, chose to exercise new-found strength by undermining the international system instead of reinforcing it. Moscow provoked Georgia and then invaded it, supported the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and tried to prevent necessary change in the Balkans, just to name recent examples of uncooperative–and grossly irresponsible-conduct. And we should not be surprised: the Russians maintain centuries-old goals and try to advance them whenever they see the opportunity. It is not as if we had no inkling as to what the Kremlin’s leaders would try to do next.

So, as Putin tells us, we can have good ties with Moscow if we continually accede to its wishes. But if we think our vision of the future is better-and there is no question that it is-we should do better than merely accepting the Kremlin’s ever-increasing ambitions. After all, the ultimate goal of our policies should not be achieving friendly relations with other nations. Our goal should be getting what we want.

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Stopping Stateless Pirates

The plague of piracy menacing shipping off the coast of Africa has set off a search for creative solutions. Various navies have mobilized warships to ward off the pirates. Blackwater has offered its services, which is an offer, as I have previously argued, that shipping lines should take up. Seth Cropsey, a former Defense Department official, suggests in this Weekly Standard article that all those responses are inadequate. He argues we need to hit the pirates where they live:

The Russians have suggested attacking such pirate bases as Eyl in the northern Puntland region of Somalia. The idea deserves serious consideration. Naval patrols can reduce piracy, but they cannot stop it. So long as the risk of serious punishment is low and the ransoms that shipping companies pay are high, piracy will thrive and multiply.

In support of this idea he draws a parallel to the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, when the nascent U.S. Navy helped to stamp out piracy emanating from North Africa. This involved landing marines on “the shores of Tripoli” and sailing American warships into the harbors of the Barbary states.

Cropsey’s idea is certainly worth trying. But I have doubts about how effective it would be. The problem is that there is a crucial difference between the Barbary pirates and the modern-day pirates operating off the Somali coast. The former were not really pirates; they were actually privateers. This is not just a semantic difference. The Barbary corsairs were under the effective command of their host states, Morocco, Algeria, Tripoli, and Tunis. They would not sail without the sanction of local officials. Thus cowing those local officials by invading and bombarding their cities and threatening to overthrow them proved to be an effective way of reining in the pirates.

That strategy is not likely to work as well today because Somalia has no functioning government at all. Sure, you can destroy pirate havens but what is to stop the malefactors from moving a few miles away and resuming their activities? Their style of piracy-employing a few speedboats and fishing vessels–does not require a large operating base, in contrast to the Barbary corsairs whose multi-masted sailing ships necessitated a substantial support infrastructure.

What is ultimately needed is a government in Somalia capable of controlling its own coastline. Indeed, it is salutary to remember that, while Americans rightly cherish their own operations against the Barbary states, they did not completely end their piratical forays until they were occupied by European colonialists. Cropsey recognize the problem. He writes:

Trying to restore order to Somalia in the hope that a stronger government could control piracy is a worthy effort which Washington should continue and redouble. Successful diplomacy and effective local reconstruction efforts could indeed reduce the real possibility of a local Islamist takeover and offer relief for the country’s unfortunate people.

But, as Cropsey also recognizes, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim. So we are left with second-best solutions.

The plague of piracy menacing shipping off the coast of Africa has set off a search for creative solutions. Various navies have mobilized warships to ward off the pirates. Blackwater has offered its services, which is an offer, as I have previously argued, that shipping lines should take up. Seth Cropsey, a former Defense Department official, suggests in this Weekly Standard article that all those responses are inadequate. He argues we need to hit the pirates where they live:

The Russians have suggested attacking such pirate bases as Eyl in the northern Puntland region of Somalia. The idea deserves serious consideration. Naval patrols can reduce piracy, but they cannot stop it. So long as the risk of serious punishment is low and the ransoms that shipping companies pay are high, piracy will thrive and multiply.

In support of this idea he draws a parallel to the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, when the nascent U.S. Navy helped to stamp out piracy emanating from North Africa. This involved landing marines on “the shores of Tripoli” and sailing American warships into the harbors of the Barbary states.

Cropsey’s idea is certainly worth trying. But I have doubts about how effective it would be. The problem is that there is a crucial difference between the Barbary pirates and the modern-day pirates operating off the Somali coast. The former were not really pirates; they were actually privateers. This is not just a semantic difference. The Barbary corsairs were under the effective command of their host states, Morocco, Algeria, Tripoli, and Tunis. They would not sail without the sanction of local officials. Thus cowing those local officials by invading and bombarding their cities and threatening to overthrow them proved to be an effective way of reining in the pirates.

That strategy is not likely to work as well today because Somalia has no functioning government at all. Sure, you can destroy pirate havens but what is to stop the malefactors from moving a few miles away and resuming their activities? Their style of piracy-employing a few speedboats and fishing vessels–does not require a large operating base, in contrast to the Barbary corsairs whose multi-masted sailing ships necessitated a substantial support infrastructure.

What is ultimately needed is a government in Somalia capable of controlling its own coastline. Indeed, it is salutary to remember that, while Americans rightly cherish their own operations against the Barbary states, they did not completely end their piratical forays until they were occupied by European colonialists. Cropsey recognize the problem. He writes:

Trying to restore order to Somalia in the hope that a stronger government could control piracy is a worthy effort which Washington should continue and redouble. Successful diplomacy and effective local reconstruction efforts could indeed reduce the real possibility of a local Islamist takeover and offer relief for the country’s unfortunate people.

But, as Cropsey also recognizes, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim. So we are left with second-best solutions.

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Judging Presidential Greatness

In the December 18 issue of The New York Review of Books, Darryl Pinckney has a piece adapted from comments he made at a November 10 symposium on “What Happens Now: The 2008 Election.” This portion was particularly striking:

We have accustomed ourselves to such a diminished public life that we are scared that we are asking too much of Obama, making too much of him. We need to be reassured and so President Obama must keep talking. It is thrilling to think that his calm voice and graceful manner were not just for the campaign, that as president he will go on talking to us like this. Overnight, public discourse has been elevated. How small and passé Obama makes Sarkozy and Berlusconi seem, for instance. We are enthralled by his voice and his intelligence, his literary gifts, his awareness of history, and a mystery about him that he is not likely to explore with us.

The Bush-Cheney administration was at war with reality. But the crowds at the inauguration will reiterate what Obama’s decisive victory announced: that the American mainstream has been reconfigured, that we are a diversified nation, however mocked diversity is by the tough guys and the neocons. [Emphasis added]

Having never mocked diversity, nor supported a war with reality, nor been a tough guy, I may someday qualify for membership in the reconfigured American mainstream — but maybe not, since I am impressed but not enthralled by Obama’s voice, intelligence, literary gifts and awareness of history, and a bit concerned about the mystery-he-is-not-likely-to-explore-with-us.

In any event, those qualities are not the ones that determine presidential greatness. More important are character, conviction and the courage to make unpopular decisions that may be judged right only in retrospect. Think Truman and Reagan. And think about this exchange between George W. Bush and Charles Gibson in their December 1 interview:

BUSH: I’ll be frank with you. I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it — (laughter) — but, look, in this job you just do what you can. The thing that’s important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn’t. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make –

GIBSON: Was there a time when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles –

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: — some decision where you really thought that that was at issue?

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: What?

BUSH: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or — and rather than listen to — I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.

It is a little early, more than a month before Obama is even inaugurated, to be drawing conclusions about his presidency or his place in history. It is too early even for the Bush presidency, and Bill Clinton is evidence that intelligence and a voice are not by themselves sufficient. I do think Obama has made some sensible selections for his cabinet, and thus is off to a good start, but I wonder if Darryl Pinckney agrees.

In the December 18 issue of The New York Review of Books, Darryl Pinckney has a piece adapted from comments he made at a November 10 symposium on “What Happens Now: The 2008 Election.” This portion was particularly striking:

We have accustomed ourselves to such a diminished public life that we are scared that we are asking too much of Obama, making too much of him. We need to be reassured and so President Obama must keep talking. It is thrilling to think that his calm voice and graceful manner were not just for the campaign, that as president he will go on talking to us like this. Overnight, public discourse has been elevated. How small and passé Obama makes Sarkozy and Berlusconi seem, for instance. We are enthralled by his voice and his intelligence, his literary gifts, his awareness of history, and a mystery about him that he is not likely to explore with us.

The Bush-Cheney administration was at war with reality. But the crowds at the inauguration will reiterate what Obama’s decisive victory announced: that the American mainstream has been reconfigured, that we are a diversified nation, however mocked diversity is by the tough guys and the neocons. [Emphasis added]

Having never mocked diversity, nor supported a war with reality, nor been a tough guy, I may someday qualify for membership in the reconfigured American mainstream — but maybe not, since I am impressed but not enthralled by Obama’s voice, intelligence, literary gifts and awareness of history, and a bit concerned about the mystery-he-is-not-likely-to-explore-with-us.

In any event, those qualities are not the ones that determine presidential greatness. More important are character, conviction and the courage to make unpopular decisions that may be judged right only in retrospect. Think Truman and Reagan. And think about this exchange between George W. Bush and Charles Gibson in their December 1 interview:

BUSH: I’ll be frank with you. I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it — (laughter) — but, look, in this job you just do what you can. The thing that’s important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn’t. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make –

GIBSON: Was there a time when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles –

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: — some decision where you really thought that that was at issue?

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: What?

BUSH: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or — and rather than listen to — I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.

It is a little early, more than a month before Obama is even inaugurated, to be drawing conclusions about his presidency or his place in history. It is too early even for the Bush presidency, and Bill Clinton is evidence that intelligence and a voice are not by themselves sufficient. I do think Obama has made some sensible selections for his cabinet, and thus is off to a good start, but I wonder if Darryl Pinckney agrees.

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Not The Dawning Of A New Age?

Michael Barone looks at the Georgia Senate runoff and finds:

The Obama campaign did a magnificent job of turning out black voters in rural and small-town counties in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for the November 4 election. But it was not able to replicate those results in the Georgia runoff. Black turnout pretty much matched white turnout in the inner Atlanta area, where black political organizations have been active for many years, but it failed to do so in the outer suburbs with increasing black majorities and in North Georgia counties with few blacks. Black turnout did match statewide levels in black-majority cities in southern Georgia, but not enough to outweigh similar white turnout in adjacent suburban counties.

What does this mean for the future? Barone writes:

That suggests another hypothesis: that the Obama turnout effort among blacks may not be replicable. You can only vote to elect the first black president once. . . But the results here do suggest that other Democrats will have a hard time duplicating Obama’s percentages in affluent suburban counties. Note that this runoff took place when opinion is very favorable to Obama and when he has been getting credit for bipartisan or at least nonpartisan appointments (Robert Gates, Timothy Geithner).

Some will say, “But this was Georgia!” Yes, if it had been Florida, Ohio, or Colorado the story could well have been different. But, by the same token, query how Libby Dole in North Carolina would have fared had she been running, as Chambliss did, without Barack Obama at the top of the opposing ticket. So it is not just geography which counts. It’s context, which was amplified in the general election by the GOP’s George W. Bush drag and the Democrats’ Barack Obama lift.

In 2010 there won’t be George W. Bush to kick around anymore. And the most important factor–the economy–may not play in the Democrats’ favor as it did in 2008. The economy (it will be by then the Obama economy) will either be improved, about the same or worse. Unless it is the first, Democrats will have little cover. And turnout is likely to be a far cry from 2008. All of that may serve to re-level the playing field, provided the Republicans recruit viable candidates and have an attractive message (two very big question marks).

So, once again we are reminded: nothing is permanent in American politics. And the party in power better perform.

Michael Barone looks at the Georgia Senate runoff and finds:

The Obama campaign did a magnificent job of turning out black voters in rural and small-town counties in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for the November 4 election. But it was not able to replicate those results in the Georgia runoff. Black turnout pretty much matched white turnout in the inner Atlanta area, where black political organizations have been active for many years, but it failed to do so in the outer suburbs with increasing black majorities and in North Georgia counties with few blacks. Black turnout did match statewide levels in black-majority cities in southern Georgia, but not enough to outweigh similar white turnout in adjacent suburban counties.

What does this mean for the future? Barone writes:

That suggests another hypothesis: that the Obama turnout effort among blacks may not be replicable. You can only vote to elect the first black president once. . . But the results here do suggest that other Democrats will have a hard time duplicating Obama’s percentages in affluent suburban counties. Note that this runoff took place when opinion is very favorable to Obama and when he has been getting credit for bipartisan or at least nonpartisan appointments (Robert Gates, Timothy Geithner).

Some will say, “But this was Georgia!” Yes, if it had been Florida, Ohio, or Colorado the story could well have been different. But, by the same token, query how Libby Dole in North Carolina would have fared had she been running, as Chambliss did, without Barack Obama at the top of the opposing ticket. So it is not just geography which counts. It’s context, which was amplified in the general election by the GOP’s George W. Bush drag and the Democrats’ Barack Obama lift.

In 2010 there won’t be George W. Bush to kick around anymore. And the most important factor–the economy–may not play in the Democrats’ favor as it did in 2008. The economy (it will be by then the Obama economy) will either be improved, about the same or worse. Unless it is the first, Democrats will have little cover. And turnout is likely to be a far cry from 2008. All of that may serve to re-level the playing field, provided the Republicans recruit viable candidates and have an attractive message (two very big question marks).

So, once again we are reminded: nothing is permanent in American politics. And the party in power better perform.

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Re: Rice-a-Phony?

Apropos my posting yesterday on the newly named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice–who told Stanford University‘s alumni magazine that during her visit to Rwanda she saw “hundreds if not thousands of decomposing corpses outside and inside a church. Corpses that had been hacked up. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. It makes you mad. It makes you determined”– a friend alerted me to this passage from the book by Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell (found on page 359 in the paperback edition):

At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

Ms. Rice is correct; this comment was “totally inappropriate,” to say nothing of somewhat sickening. Ms. Rice may now view herself as a champion against genocide because of her role in allowing genocide to unfold in Rwanda without raising a finger. Still, this incident is worth bearing in mind when considering her appointment. We will see if she’s any more effective in the U.N. then she was in the N.S.C.

My friend also reminded me that not only did Rice oppose the overthrow of the sadistic ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, but also that people like George Soros and Zbigniew Brzezinski favored U.S. bombing in Kosovo in order to halt the genocide there–yet both were fierce critics of the Iraq war. “We have to sustain the bombing campaign but make it more effective, more painful to Milosevic’s forces,” Brzezinski told Jim Lehrer in 1999. “I realize the difficulties of conducting that campaign, given the terrain and the weather. But I think we have to become more assertive, take more risks. I think we have held back too much . . . I think we have to make it very clear: Milosevic has forfeited the right to sovereignty over Kosovo by the genocidal policies that he has pursued.” (emphasis added)

Even if they opposed the war for geopolitical reasons, they rarely if ever, to my knowledge, publicly spoke out about the liberation aspect of the war and why even war critics should take joy in the fact that one of the most vicious dictators in our lifetime was defeated and brought to justice. The moral and humanitarian impulse that applies in some places didn’t seem to apply to Iraq. It should have.

Apropos my posting yesterday on the newly named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice–who told Stanford University‘s alumni magazine that during her visit to Rwanda she saw “hundreds if not thousands of decomposing corpses outside and inside a church. Corpses that had been hacked up. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen. It makes you mad. It makes you determined”– a friend alerted me to this passage from the book by Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell (found on page 359 in the paperback edition):

At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

Ms. Rice is correct; this comment was “totally inappropriate,” to say nothing of somewhat sickening. Ms. Rice may now view herself as a champion against genocide because of her role in allowing genocide to unfold in Rwanda without raising a finger. Still, this incident is worth bearing in mind when considering her appointment. We will see if she’s any more effective in the U.N. then she was in the N.S.C.

My friend also reminded me that not only did Rice oppose the overthrow of the sadistic ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, but also that people like George Soros and Zbigniew Brzezinski favored U.S. bombing in Kosovo in order to halt the genocide there–yet both were fierce critics of the Iraq war. “We have to sustain the bombing campaign but make it more effective, more painful to Milosevic’s forces,” Brzezinski told Jim Lehrer in 1999. “I realize the difficulties of conducting that campaign, given the terrain and the weather. But I think we have to become more assertive, take more risks. I think we have held back too much . . . I think we have to make it very clear: Milosevic has forfeited the right to sovereignty over Kosovo by the genocidal policies that he has pursued.” (emphasis added)

Even if they opposed the war for geopolitical reasons, they rarely if ever, to my knowledge, publicly spoke out about the liberation aspect of the war and why even war critics should take joy in the fact that one of the most vicious dictators in our lifetime was defeated and brought to justice. The moral and humanitarian impulse that applies in some places didn’t seem to apply to Iraq. It should have.

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NATO in Israel?

In recent days and weeks, some people were entertaining the idea of having NATO patrol the Palestinian territories as part of a comprehensive peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The reemergence of this idea was partially based on the assumption that General Jim Jones, Obama’s new National Security Advisor, favors it. Another Obama advisor, Samantha Power, has hinted in the past that such force might be the way to go.

Of course, Israel was never enthusiastic about the possibility of having an international force in charge of its defense–and the inability of such force to control Hezbollah in Lebanon did not make it more appealing. So for Israel it was always a resounding no:

NATO is a very bad idea,” the officer said. “No other country in the world has successfully dealt with terror like Israel has. There is a need for continuous combat; NATO will not want to endanger its soldiers on behalf of Israeli citizens.

Nevertheless, this bad idea refuses to die. Israel’s reluctance was often interpreted by proponents as the instinctive negativity of a country that isn’t yet ready for the real compromises needed for real peace.

But hopefully, the last word on this matter, at least for a while, was heard today. Another resounding no–but this time people might actually listen, because it comes from NATO:

“NATO is not a player in this matter. I believe NATO has no mandate to operate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue unless an agreement is reached, unless there is a United Nations Security Council resolution, and unless the region’s countries, headed by Israel of course, ask for NATO presence in order to secure peace.

“If these conditions are met, I believe NATO will hold serious discussion,” said [NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop] Scheffer, addressing the idea to station a NATO force in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

So, it is a no for now, and “discussion” later. Fortunately (but only in this case), NATO discussions tend to be a very long process.

In recent days and weeks, some people were entertaining the idea of having NATO patrol the Palestinian territories as part of a comprehensive peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The reemergence of this idea was partially based on the assumption that General Jim Jones, Obama’s new National Security Advisor, favors it. Another Obama advisor, Samantha Power, has hinted in the past that such force might be the way to go.

Of course, Israel was never enthusiastic about the possibility of having an international force in charge of its defense–and the inability of such force to control Hezbollah in Lebanon did not make it more appealing. So for Israel it was always a resounding no:

NATO is a very bad idea,” the officer said. “No other country in the world has successfully dealt with terror like Israel has. There is a need for continuous combat; NATO will not want to endanger its soldiers on behalf of Israeli citizens.

Nevertheless, this bad idea refuses to die. Israel’s reluctance was often interpreted by proponents as the instinctive negativity of a country that isn’t yet ready for the real compromises needed for real peace.

But hopefully, the last word on this matter, at least for a while, was heard today. Another resounding no–but this time people might actually listen, because it comes from NATO:

“NATO is not a player in this matter. I believe NATO has no mandate to operate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue unless an agreement is reached, unless there is a United Nations Security Council resolution, and unless the region’s countries, headed by Israel of course, ask for NATO presence in order to secure peace.

“If these conditions are met, I believe NATO will hold serious discussion,” said [NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop] Scheffer, addressing the idea to station a NATO force in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

So, it is a no for now, and “discussion” later. Fortunately (but only in this case), NATO discussions tend to be a very long process.

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Are You Joking, Jenkins?

As promised, here is a partial transcript of British journalist, Simon Jenkins making his anti-Bush case to Bill Kristol at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on Tuesday night. If you have a beverage, put it down:

SIMON JENKINS

What I think is extraordinary to people abroad, is that those of us who are enthusiasts for America and American liberties cannot see why you needed to do these things. You will never persuade the outside world that you have not restricted liberty in America. You will never persuade them that you have not taken out Muslims as a particular group, and you will never, and you never persuade them that you really needed to do these things.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

What things?

SIMON JENKINS

Because-

WILLIAM KRISTOL

What have we done to Muslims in America? What has happened?

SIMON JENKINS

Arrested them.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

We’ve arrested Muslims in America? [LAUGHTER]

SIMON JENKINS

Incarcerated them without trial.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

We’ve incarcerated-

KARL ROVE

Rounded them up?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

…Muslims in America without trial?

KARL ROVE

Rounded, rounded them up? Name one?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Nonsense.

KARL ROVE

Name one instance.

SIMON JENKINS

The, [UNCLEAR] belabor me all day with lists of people who have vanished. Vanished.

KARL ROVE

You know-

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, that-

KARL ROVE

This is on the border of lunacy, with all due respect.

SIMON JENKINS

But you didn’t need to do it, you didn’t need to do it-

KARL ROVE

We didn’t do it!

Bush-vilification, like all therapeutic mythologies, depends on fantasy for survival. With their vanishing Muslims, torture chambers, and evil corporate overlords, Bush haters are better suited to the Dungeons and Dragons, sci-fi convention circuit than to the political sphere. It’s clear that the delusional expectations placed on Barack Obama by his fans are a necessary counterpart to their own delusional indictments of George W. Bush. That’s why the enthusiasm about Obama is similarly not of a fact-based nature. His acolytes seek in him fake antidotes to fake problems.

There are respectable liberal arguments to make against Bush. But liberals never make them – conservatives do, in the form of thought experiments. On Tuesday, Bill Kristol mentioned reality-based misgivings about Alberto Gonzales and the coddling of Middle East autocracies. But when the Simon Jenkinses of the world open their mouths, it’s never to challenge the efficacy of monitoring America-bound phonecalls, but to rail against the illegality of tapping outgoing phonecalls without a warrant (which simply doesn’t happen.) It’s never to question the usefulness of waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but to scream at the top of their lungs about the crime of torturing thousands of innocent Muslims (also a myth.) It’s to decry the rounding up and disappearing of American Muslims.

There’s one more myth that needs to be exposed. On Tuesday, Simon Jenkins described himself as an “enthusiast for America and American liberties.” Earlier this year, he wrote that Americans have an “atavistic love affair with war,” and wrote of America, “Above all it is full of soldiers.” He went on:

Americans still do not travel abroad, and rely on television news for their knowledge of foreign places, which they continue to regard with bizarre suspicion. Hence a world view is lumped in with defence and security in a collective paranoia.

[…]

To visit America at present is to be reminded of the continuing trauma of post-9/11, of a nation that craves a cohering substitute psychosis for the lifting of the Soviet menace. It is seen in ubiquitous threat alerts, hysterical airport security, the continued acceptance of Guantánamo Bay and even jibes about public figures not wearing the American flag in their buttonhole.

Strange brand of enthusiasm for our country, don’t you think?

As promised, here is a partial transcript of British journalist, Simon Jenkins making his anti-Bush case to Bill Kristol at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on Tuesday night. If you have a beverage, put it down:

SIMON JENKINS

What I think is extraordinary to people abroad, is that those of us who are enthusiasts for America and American liberties cannot see why you needed to do these things. You will never persuade the outside world that you have not restricted liberty in America. You will never persuade them that you have not taken out Muslims as a particular group, and you will never, and you never persuade them that you really needed to do these things.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

What things?

SIMON JENKINS

Because-

WILLIAM KRISTOL

What have we done to Muslims in America? What has happened?

SIMON JENKINS

Arrested them.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

We’ve arrested Muslims in America? [LAUGHTER]

SIMON JENKINS

Incarcerated them without trial.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

We’ve incarcerated-

KARL ROVE

Rounded them up?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

…Muslims in America without trial?

KARL ROVE

Rounded, rounded them up? Name one?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Nonsense.

KARL ROVE

Name one instance.

SIMON JENKINS

The, [UNCLEAR] belabor me all day with lists of people who have vanished. Vanished.

KARL ROVE

You know-

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, that-

KARL ROVE

This is on the border of lunacy, with all due respect.

SIMON JENKINS

But you didn’t need to do it, you didn’t need to do it-

KARL ROVE

We didn’t do it!

Bush-vilification, like all therapeutic mythologies, depends on fantasy for survival. With their vanishing Muslims, torture chambers, and evil corporate overlords, Bush haters are better suited to the Dungeons and Dragons, sci-fi convention circuit than to the political sphere. It’s clear that the delusional expectations placed on Barack Obama by his fans are a necessary counterpart to their own delusional indictments of George W. Bush. That’s why the enthusiasm about Obama is similarly not of a fact-based nature. His acolytes seek in him fake antidotes to fake problems.

There are respectable liberal arguments to make against Bush. But liberals never make them – conservatives do, in the form of thought experiments. On Tuesday, Bill Kristol mentioned reality-based misgivings about Alberto Gonzales and the coddling of Middle East autocracies. But when the Simon Jenkinses of the world open their mouths, it’s never to challenge the efficacy of monitoring America-bound phonecalls, but to rail against the illegality of tapping outgoing phonecalls without a warrant (which simply doesn’t happen.) It’s never to question the usefulness of waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but to scream at the top of their lungs about the crime of torturing thousands of innocent Muslims (also a myth.) It’s to decry the rounding up and disappearing of American Muslims.

There’s one more myth that needs to be exposed. On Tuesday, Simon Jenkins described himself as an “enthusiast for America and American liberties.” Earlier this year, he wrote that Americans have an “atavistic love affair with war,” and wrote of America, “Above all it is full of soldiers.” He went on:

Americans still do not travel abroad, and rely on television news for their knowledge of foreign places, which they continue to regard with bizarre suspicion. Hence a world view is lumped in with defence and security in a collective paranoia.

[…]

To visit America at present is to be reminded of the continuing trauma of post-9/11, of a nation that craves a cohering substitute psychosis for the lifting of the Soviet menace. It is seen in ubiquitous threat alerts, hysterical airport security, the continued acceptance of Guantánamo Bay and even jibes about public figures not wearing the American flag in their buttonhole.

Strange brand of enthusiasm for our country, don’t you think?

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Get a Grip

Gail Collins is one of many who will surely be lining up to take a whack at Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. What was Rendell’s offense? He praised Janet Napolitano, the current Arizona Governor, as the “perfect” nominee for head of Homeland Security because: “for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”

Collins objects that this is unfairly picks on single women, and implies that mothers and even childless married women can’t hold these jobs because they “have a life.” This is sort of the flip-side of the “What’s Sarah Palin doing running for VP with all those kids at home?” Which, come to think of it, didn’t raise Collins’ hackles.

Should people be irate with Rendell? On one level he’s just stating the obvious–that these jobs are all-consuming and that they devour people’s lives. So it might be better to have less, rather than more outside interests. Or so the Rendell explanation goes. No offense meant toward women specifically, he says.

But no such mention is ever made, we all know, about any of the male nominees’ “lives.” Who even knows if they are married? Does James L. Jones have kids? No one knows, no one asks. It seems that once again, while we’re all slapping each other on the the back for our post-racial renaissance, those stereotypes of women persist. Yes, news flash: especially among men of a certain generation women are looked upon as suspect when it comes to getting the top jobs.

Still, before Rendell (second only to Joe Biden among Pennsylvania-hailing politicians in his ability to churn out eye-popping gaffes) is flayed alive, let’s get a grip. Women are doing just fine in the Obama cabinet. A woman is a leading star in the GOP. And Rendell isn’t going anywhere other than Scranton. So everything is as it should be.

Gail Collins is one of many who will surely be lining up to take a whack at Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. What was Rendell’s offense? He praised Janet Napolitano, the current Arizona Governor, as the “perfect” nominee for head of Homeland Security because: “for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”

Collins objects that this is unfairly picks on single women, and implies that mothers and even childless married women can’t hold these jobs because they “have a life.” This is sort of the flip-side of the “What’s Sarah Palin doing running for VP with all those kids at home?” Which, come to think of it, didn’t raise Collins’ hackles.

Should people be irate with Rendell? On one level he’s just stating the obvious–that these jobs are all-consuming and that they devour people’s lives. So it might be better to have less, rather than more outside interests. Or so the Rendell explanation goes. No offense meant toward women specifically, he says.

But no such mention is ever made, we all know, about any of the male nominees’ “lives.” Who even knows if they are married? Does James L. Jones have kids? No one knows, no one asks. It seems that once again, while we’re all slapping each other on the the back for our post-racial renaissance, those stereotypes of women persist. Yes, news flash: especially among men of a certain generation women are looked upon as suspect when it comes to getting the top jobs.

Still, before Rendell (second only to Joe Biden among Pennsylvania-hailing politicians in his ability to churn out eye-popping gaffes) is flayed alive, let’s get a grip. Women are doing just fine in the Obama cabinet. A woman is a leading star in the GOP. And Rendell isn’t going anywhere other than Scranton. So everything is as it should be.

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The Great Brander

One of the most impressive aspects of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was its meticulous branding.  Beyond the stunning “O” insignia, there was the ubiquitous slogan of “change”; the splotchy Obama-looking-yonder-hopefully headshots; the prevalent use of “Gotham” font; and the navy-fading-to-sky-blue backgrounds, which were used to create a distinctly messianic effect.  Much like an advertising campaign for a brand of toothpaste or fast-food chain, it seemed as though every aspect of Obama’s presidential run was market-tested so as to be instantly recognizable to the average consumer (i.e., voters).

Naturally, the expectation was that this obsessive marketing would end following the campaign.  After all, the American presidency is one of the most recognizable brands in the world: the office comes with a full array of institutions, insignias, and a theme song already in place – all of which are far more symbolically potent than anything that a campaign could possibly produce.  Yet the typically impatient Obama team refuses to wait until January 20th, and has thus stylized every aspect of the presidential transition with its usual corporate touch.

Perhaps the most odious feature of ObamaTM is the transition team’s press conference podium, which bears a sign reading “Office of the President Elect.”  Naturally, the sign’s color matches the Obama campaign’s hope-inducing sky-blue backgrounds – consistency is, after all, critical to effective marketing.  But the sign is notable for a second reason: namely, there is no such thing as the “Office of the President-Elect” – the Obama team has totally invented this concept solely for the purpose of pushing the Obama brand!  Indeed, former presidents-elect – recognizing that they were neither on the campaign trail, nor in office just yet – generally spoke from blank podiums.

Other aspects of this seemingly endless ObamaTM-branding are, perhaps, subtler.  There’s the $30 Obama-Biden victory t-shirt, which calls to mind to the similarly overpriced apparel that championship baseball teams typically sell.  There are the virtual commercials that the Obama transition team has produced for some of its major policy areas, which set a new standard for premature overuse of the presidential seal.  And there’s this “American Moment” page, which solicits voters’ personal stories in a manner eerily similar to this page on Coca-Cola’s website.  (Meanwhile, private companies are apparently trying to latch onto the ObamaTM brand: check out STA Travel’s package deals to the presidential inauguration.)

One wonders whether the mainstream media will eventually catch on.  After all, for the past eight years they’ve complained that the Bush administration was too tight-lipped – too few press conferences with the president, too little transparency.  Now they have an incoming administration that promises an all-access backstage pass, but instead offers a masterfully crafted advertising campaign.  Indeed, the Obama team might be using new media to promote a new political brand, but a blind taste test fails to notice a difference.

One of the most impressive aspects of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was its meticulous branding.  Beyond the stunning “O” insignia, there was the ubiquitous slogan of “change”; the splotchy Obama-looking-yonder-hopefully headshots; the prevalent use of “Gotham” font; and the navy-fading-to-sky-blue backgrounds, which were used to create a distinctly messianic effect.  Much like an advertising campaign for a brand of toothpaste or fast-food chain, it seemed as though every aspect of Obama’s presidential run was market-tested so as to be instantly recognizable to the average consumer (i.e., voters).

Naturally, the expectation was that this obsessive marketing would end following the campaign.  After all, the American presidency is one of the most recognizable brands in the world: the office comes with a full array of institutions, insignias, and a theme song already in place – all of which are far more symbolically potent than anything that a campaign could possibly produce.  Yet the typically impatient Obama team refuses to wait until January 20th, and has thus stylized every aspect of the presidential transition with its usual corporate touch.

Perhaps the most odious feature of ObamaTM is the transition team’s press conference podium, which bears a sign reading “Office of the President Elect.”  Naturally, the sign’s color matches the Obama campaign’s hope-inducing sky-blue backgrounds – consistency is, after all, critical to effective marketing.  But the sign is notable for a second reason: namely, there is no such thing as the “Office of the President-Elect” – the Obama team has totally invented this concept solely for the purpose of pushing the Obama brand!  Indeed, former presidents-elect – recognizing that they were neither on the campaign trail, nor in office just yet – generally spoke from blank podiums.

Other aspects of this seemingly endless ObamaTM-branding are, perhaps, subtler.  There’s the $30 Obama-Biden victory t-shirt, which calls to mind to the similarly overpriced apparel that championship baseball teams typically sell.  There are the virtual commercials that the Obama transition team has produced for some of its major policy areas, which set a new standard for premature overuse of the presidential seal.  And there’s this “American Moment” page, which solicits voters’ personal stories in a manner eerily similar to this page on Coca-Cola’s website.  (Meanwhile, private companies are apparently trying to latch onto the ObamaTM brand: check out STA Travel’s package deals to the presidential inauguration.)

One wonders whether the mainstream media will eventually catch on.  After all, for the past eight years they’ve complained that the Bush administration was too tight-lipped – too few press conferences with the president, too little transparency.  Now they have an incoming administration that promises an all-access backstage pass, but instead offers a masterfully crafted advertising campaign.  Indeed, the Obama team might be using new media to promote a new political brand, but a blind taste test fails to notice a difference.

Read Less

No Holding Back

The Wall Street Journal opens up with both barrels on attorney general nominee Eric Holder. First, the editors recite the particulars of the Marc Rich pardon:

Less than a month after the pardon, Mr. Holder told the House that “efforts to portray me as intimately involved or overly interested in this matter are simply at odds with the facts.” But as Journal reporters Gary Fields and Phil Kuntz reported at the time, Mr. Holder had “interceded with prosecutors in New York” on the matter in November 1999, some 14 months before the pardon was issued. When then U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White refused to take a meeting with Jack Quinn, who was Mr. Rich’s attorney and a former Clinton White House counsel, Mr. Holder told Mr. Quinn “we’re all sympathetic.”

Following the pardon, Mr. Holder congratulated Mr. Quinn for doing “a very good job,” while urging that “we [should] be better about getting the legal merits of the case out publicly,” according to Mr. Quinn’s notes of their conversation. It would be interesting to know exactly what Mr. Holder thinks those merits were, especially since he told Congress that the pardon application was “not particularly meritorious.” It would also be interesting to know how it was that nobody at Justice — including Mr. Holder himself, as he claims — never actually saw Mr. Rich’s pardon application before it was approved. Mr. Holder did admit that “I wish I had ensured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed” of the matter.

And they remind us there was also the FALN terrorists’ pardon:

In 1999, President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican members of the terrorist FALN, despite a previous warning from Attorney General Janet Reno that the group posed an “ongoing threat” to U.S. security. Here again, Mr. Holder’s role seems to have been larger than he has let on. A 1999 New York Times report notes that Mr. Holder and Justice Department pardon attorney Roger Adams met in November 1997 with Democratic House Members to discuss the Puerto Rican case.”According to Mr. Adams’s notes,” reported the Times, “Mr. Holder told the members of Congress that because the prisoners had not applied themselves for clemency this could be taken that they were not repentant, and he suggested that a statement expressing some remorse might help.” Ultimately, the prisoners were freed having never offered a statement of remorse. The pardon was widely seen as an attempt to curry favor with Puerto Rican voters ahead of Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.

John Fund  also comes out firing. He wonders where in the Rich matter Holder demonstrated “independence” — that most prized of qualities in an attorney general, Democrats have told us. He writes:

Critics of the pardon spanned party lines, including not only Clinton confidant Lanny Davis but Rep. Henry Waxman, then ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, who called the pardon an end-run around the judicial process. In the press, it was widely noted that Mr. Rich’s former wife, Denise, has contributed $450,000 to Mr. Clinton’s presidential library, $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate candidacy.

All in all, Mr. Holder seems an odd choice to bring “real change” and the new ethical tone that President-elect Obama promised during the campaign. Here’s hoping Senators don’t give the charming but slippery Mr. Holder a pass during his confirmation hearings.

Some Republicans are reluctant to oppose Holder. They suggest there are more liberal candidates out there whose ideology might be more problematic for conservatives. Or they point to Hillary and Bill Clinton as the source of Holder’s missteps. (Indeed he’s in good company there.) And, after all, who wants to be the skunk at the Obama-mania garden party when everyone is having such a grand time?

But they should remember the unique role of the attorney general. As the Democrats endlessly reminded us during Alberto Gonzales’ tenure, the head of  Justice Department has special obligations beyond executing the administration’s agenda. With prosecutorial discretion comes ample latitude for political mischief in investigating and trying political opponents — and undue laxity in doing the same with regard to political allies. DOJ is the only part of the executive branch with the authority, indeed the obligation, to slow down powerful officials for whom expediency often trumps legality. Wasn’t John Ashcroft lionized for doing just that –from his hospital bed no less?

Based on what we know is there reason to conclude that Holder has the ethical wherewithal and fortitude, even in the best of health, to tell his political colleagues “no”? That “no” might be all that is stopping acts of political retribution, or a short-circuiting of administrative law and due process. And who would be on the receiving end of such treatment? Surely not allies and interests aligned with Barack Obama. In short, Republicans have the most to lose from an attorney general who is disinclined to confront his own President and administration.

In assessing how Holder would perform, all we have to go by is his record. And that is not encouraging. That’s why Republicans and Democrats (who claim to value the very quality Holder seems most to lack) should care very much about Holder’s past performance. The Senate should explore it thoroughly before deciding if he is really up for the job.

The Wall Street Journal opens up with both barrels on attorney general nominee Eric Holder. First, the editors recite the particulars of the Marc Rich pardon:

Less than a month after the pardon, Mr. Holder told the House that “efforts to portray me as intimately involved or overly interested in this matter are simply at odds with the facts.” But as Journal reporters Gary Fields and Phil Kuntz reported at the time, Mr. Holder had “interceded with prosecutors in New York” on the matter in November 1999, some 14 months before the pardon was issued. When then U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White refused to take a meeting with Jack Quinn, who was Mr. Rich’s attorney and a former Clinton White House counsel, Mr. Holder told Mr. Quinn “we’re all sympathetic.”

Following the pardon, Mr. Holder congratulated Mr. Quinn for doing “a very good job,” while urging that “we [should] be better about getting the legal merits of the case out publicly,” according to Mr. Quinn’s notes of their conversation. It would be interesting to know exactly what Mr. Holder thinks those merits were, especially since he told Congress that the pardon application was “not particularly meritorious.” It would also be interesting to know how it was that nobody at Justice — including Mr. Holder himself, as he claims — never actually saw Mr. Rich’s pardon application before it was approved. Mr. Holder did admit that “I wish I had ensured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed” of the matter.

And they remind us there was also the FALN terrorists’ pardon:

In 1999, President Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican members of the terrorist FALN, despite a previous warning from Attorney General Janet Reno that the group posed an “ongoing threat” to U.S. security. Here again, Mr. Holder’s role seems to have been larger than he has let on. A 1999 New York Times report notes that Mr. Holder and Justice Department pardon attorney Roger Adams met in November 1997 with Democratic House Members to discuss the Puerto Rican case.”According to Mr. Adams’s notes,” reported the Times, “Mr. Holder told the members of Congress that because the prisoners had not applied themselves for clemency this could be taken that they were not repentant, and he suggested that a statement expressing some remorse might help.” Ultimately, the prisoners were freed having never offered a statement of remorse. The pardon was widely seen as an attempt to curry favor with Puerto Rican voters ahead of Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.

John Fund  also comes out firing. He wonders where in the Rich matter Holder demonstrated “independence” — that most prized of qualities in an attorney general, Democrats have told us. He writes:

Critics of the pardon spanned party lines, including not only Clinton confidant Lanny Davis but Rep. Henry Waxman, then ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, who called the pardon an end-run around the judicial process. In the press, it was widely noted that Mr. Rich’s former wife, Denise, has contributed $450,000 to Mr. Clinton’s presidential library, $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate candidacy.

All in all, Mr. Holder seems an odd choice to bring “real change” and the new ethical tone that President-elect Obama promised during the campaign. Here’s hoping Senators don’t give the charming but slippery Mr. Holder a pass during his confirmation hearings.

Some Republicans are reluctant to oppose Holder. They suggest there are more liberal candidates out there whose ideology might be more problematic for conservatives. Or they point to Hillary and Bill Clinton as the source of Holder’s missteps. (Indeed he’s in good company there.) And, after all, who wants to be the skunk at the Obama-mania garden party when everyone is having such a grand time?

But they should remember the unique role of the attorney general. As the Democrats endlessly reminded us during Alberto Gonzales’ tenure, the head of  Justice Department has special obligations beyond executing the administration’s agenda. With prosecutorial discretion comes ample latitude for political mischief in investigating and trying political opponents — and undue laxity in doing the same with regard to political allies. DOJ is the only part of the executive branch with the authority, indeed the obligation, to slow down powerful officials for whom expediency often trumps legality. Wasn’t John Ashcroft lionized for doing just that –from his hospital bed no less?

Based on what we know is there reason to conclude that Holder has the ethical wherewithal and fortitude, even in the best of health, to tell his political colleagues “no”? That “no” might be all that is stopping acts of political retribution, or a short-circuiting of administrative law and due process. And who would be on the receiving end of such treatment? Surely not allies and interests aligned with Barack Obama. In short, Republicans have the most to lose from an attorney general who is disinclined to confront his own President and administration.

In assessing how Holder would perform, all we have to go by is his record. And that is not encouraging. That’s why Republicans and Democrats (who claim to value the very quality Holder seems most to lack) should care very much about Holder’s past performance. The Senate should explore it thoroughly before deciding if he is really up for the job.

Read Less

An Impossible Promise, Broken

As more and more details emerge from the massacres in Mumbai this week, one cannot help but be horrified at how events unfolded — and what did and did not happen.

In cases such as this, in most societies, one relies on the police for protection. They are the custodians of the peace, and it is their duty to confront and stop such savages as those who were responsible for the deaths of nearly 200 people (at last count).

Yet the accounts of the atrocity seem to indicate that the police were utterly ineffective. Reports of police being unarmed or very poorly armed (one account detailed a group of officers with a single World War II-vintage rifle between them for firearms) and responding very poorly when given the chance to confront the terrorists.

Indeed, the terrorists held so little fear of the police (justifiably, as it turns out), that one of their targets was a police station, and one of their victims Mumbai’s top anti-terrorist officer.

This is, in and of itself, bad enough. But in India, this was even worse.

India has very, very strict gun control laws. They don’t quite outright ban guns, but they come very, very close. So the citizenry was denied the opportunity to protect themselves.

The government of India, by denying its citizens the right to keep and bear arms, was making a tacit promise to their people: “you don’t need to worry about protecting yourselves, because we’ll protect you.”

That is a promise it had no intention to keep, no ability to keep, and no right to make in the first place.

The right to self-defense is quite possibly the most fundamental right. If one does not have the right to live, to defend one’s life to the best of one’s ability, every other right is utterly moot.

It is that right that was denied the people in India, who found themselves with nothing they could do to protect themselves.

There are a few tales out of the massacre that are worth repeating. They are stories of heroism – the nanny who saved two-year old Moshe Holtzberg after he saw his parents brutally murdered. There are stories of great peril — the couple who had escaped the initial assault then hearing their room number announced on CNN.  (“How about the couple in Room 527 — are they still OK?” or something like that.) There is the photographer who wishes he had had a gun instead of a camera when he saw the terrorists, and  fruitlessly demanded that the police shoot.

These stories have a common element: an enforced passivity and the denied opportunity to actively resist. The nanny fled with the little boy because she had no other choice. The couple hid in their room because they had no other choice. The photographer took pictures instead of action because he had no other choice.

Would any of these people — or any of the other victims of the savage attack — taken action if they would have had the opportunity? Would they, somehow, made the situation even worse by shooting back at the terrorists?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But we will never know.

Because the government of India made sure that they would not have that option. It made the promise that they did not need to protect themselves, that the government would protect them.

And the people who put their faith in that promise suffered gravely for that action.

In the end, the ultimate responsibility for the deaths in Mumbai must be laid at the feet of those who plotted and sponsored and carried out the attacks. They, and they alone, have the blood of all those killed and wounded on their hands.

But the government of India must answer, too, for why it demanded that its citizens and guests forfeit their right to stay alive, to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones and their fellows.

Places with rigid gun control rules work fine — right up until someone decides to break those rules. At that point, these alleged “safe havens” become nothing more than hunting preserves for the killers.

That is precisely whatMumbai became of late. A place where the government made guarantees of safety that it would not, could not keep.

And those who put their faith and trust in that government paid dearly.

As more and more details emerge from the massacres in Mumbai this week, one cannot help but be horrified at how events unfolded — and what did and did not happen.

In cases such as this, in most societies, one relies on the police for protection. They are the custodians of the peace, and it is their duty to confront and stop such savages as those who were responsible for the deaths of nearly 200 people (at last count).

Yet the accounts of the atrocity seem to indicate that the police were utterly ineffective. Reports of police being unarmed or very poorly armed (one account detailed a group of officers with a single World War II-vintage rifle between them for firearms) and responding very poorly when given the chance to confront the terrorists.

Indeed, the terrorists held so little fear of the police (justifiably, as it turns out), that one of their targets was a police station, and one of their victims Mumbai’s top anti-terrorist officer.

This is, in and of itself, bad enough. But in India, this was even worse.

India has very, very strict gun control laws. They don’t quite outright ban guns, but they come very, very close. So the citizenry was denied the opportunity to protect themselves.

The government of India, by denying its citizens the right to keep and bear arms, was making a tacit promise to their people: “you don’t need to worry about protecting yourselves, because we’ll protect you.”

That is a promise it had no intention to keep, no ability to keep, and no right to make in the first place.

The right to self-defense is quite possibly the most fundamental right. If one does not have the right to live, to defend one’s life to the best of one’s ability, every other right is utterly moot.

It is that right that was denied the people in India, who found themselves with nothing they could do to protect themselves.

There are a few tales out of the massacre that are worth repeating. They are stories of heroism – the nanny who saved two-year old Moshe Holtzberg after he saw his parents brutally murdered. There are stories of great peril — the couple who had escaped the initial assault then hearing their room number announced on CNN.  (“How about the couple in Room 527 — are they still OK?” or something like that.) There is the photographer who wishes he had had a gun instead of a camera when he saw the terrorists, and  fruitlessly demanded that the police shoot.

These stories have a common element: an enforced passivity and the denied opportunity to actively resist. The nanny fled with the little boy because she had no other choice. The couple hid in their room because they had no other choice. The photographer took pictures instead of action because he had no other choice.

Would any of these people — or any of the other victims of the savage attack — taken action if they would have had the opportunity? Would they, somehow, made the situation even worse by shooting back at the terrorists?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But we will never know.

Because the government of India made sure that they would not have that option. It made the promise that they did not need to protect themselves, that the government would protect them.

And the people who put their faith in that promise suffered gravely for that action.

In the end, the ultimate responsibility for the deaths in Mumbai must be laid at the feet of those who plotted and sponsored and carried out the attacks. They, and they alone, have the blood of all those killed and wounded on their hands.

But the government of India must answer, too, for why it demanded that its citizens and guests forfeit their right to stay alive, to defend their lives and the lives of their loved ones and their fellows.

Places with rigid gun control rules work fine — right up until someone decides to break those rules. At that point, these alleged “safe havens” become nothing more than hunting preserves for the killers.

That is precisely whatMumbai became of late. A place where the government made guarantees of safety that it would not, could not keep.

And those who put their faith and trust in that government paid dearly.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The most interesting thing about this poll showing a large majority opposed to “card check” is that nearly a dozen political operatives and consultants sent it to me –suggesting the pro-secret ballot forces are ready for a fight.

New ballots show up in Minnesota–but these, for a change, give a boost to Norm Coleman. The Star Tribune count has Coleman up by 316 with 98% of the votes recounted, but Al Franken’s lawyer says he’s really winning. If Franken ever makes it to the Senate, his creative accounting will fit right in.

And I’d agree that Saxby Chambliss’s win takes some of the wind out of the “fight all the way to the Senate” sentiment for Franken. There were plenty of Democrats who likely weren’t that thrilled about him even when he was the 60th vote.

The UAW offers to “‘suspend’ the notorious ‘jobs bank,’ which pays laid-off workers nearly full wages and benefits” for not working. (With a photo via Glenn Reynolds). How many voters knew there was such a monstrosity before this week? Really, it’s remarkable the Big Three have survived this long.

Harry Reid yesterday said there still aren’t enough votes to pass the auto bailout. Are the Democrats in the majority? So he either means that even Democrats can’t swallow this, or that he can’t persuade enough Republicans to walk the plank this time. Either way, sanity may have beaten back bailout mania. For now.

Are Democrats taking a “second look” at coercive interrogation or talking out of both sides of their mouths? After President-elect Obama becomes President Obama we’ll see if Guantanamo remains open or is closed. Are the U.S. troops sticking to a sixteen-month withdrawal plan or or not? Is he setting a date for tea with Ahmadinejad or not? Once he is holding office, rather than merely seeking it, his deeds will define him and voters will figure out what he means by what he does.

From the “now they tell us” files at the  New York Times: “Campaign Promises on Ending the War in Iraq Now Muted by Reality.” Funny how no one at the Grey Lady during the campaign ever suggested Obama’s promises were out of touch with reality. Next we’ll be hearing that it really isn’t smart to block free trade agreements. Can’t wait for the raves from the Times when Obama declines to hand rogue state leaders a diplomatic coup by refusing to offer high level meetings.

Tip for elected officials: if someone sounding like the President-elect calls don’t hang uptwice.

A very long, pseudo-sophisticated explanation for why Eliot Spitzer isn’t coming back: “It’s hard to see how he completes the (natural, banal) cycle back into the public eye without giving soft-focus interviews about his personal transgressions until we’re thoroughly bored by them.” Let’s try this: ” You gotta be kidding!”

President-elect Obama is dropping the idea of a windfall profit tax on oil companies because . . . well, there’s not so much windfall. (It’s also an administrative nightmare and does nothing to promote energy independence, but we’ll save all that for another day.) You have to love the Left whining: “Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes – even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations — is bad for the economy.” Yeah, really who could imagine that raising taxes in a recession would be a bad idea? (Well, other than John McCain and every Republican running in 2008.)

Which prompts one Lefty to ask: “Did Barack Obama just break his first campaign promise?” Nope! There was FISA, public financing, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and throwing the lobbyists and Clintons out of government — to name just a few previous broken promises. Some didn’t even make it to election day.

The most interesting thing about this poll showing a large majority opposed to “card check” is that nearly a dozen political operatives and consultants sent it to me –suggesting the pro-secret ballot forces are ready for a fight.

New ballots show up in Minnesota–but these, for a change, give a boost to Norm Coleman. The Star Tribune count has Coleman up by 316 with 98% of the votes recounted, but Al Franken’s lawyer says he’s really winning. If Franken ever makes it to the Senate, his creative accounting will fit right in.

And I’d agree that Saxby Chambliss’s win takes some of the wind out of the “fight all the way to the Senate” sentiment for Franken. There were plenty of Democrats who likely weren’t that thrilled about him even when he was the 60th vote.

The UAW offers to “‘suspend’ the notorious ‘jobs bank,’ which pays laid-off workers nearly full wages and benefits” for not working. (With a photo via Glenn Reynolds). How many voters knew there was such a monstrosity before this week? Really, it’s remarkable the Big Three have survived this long.

Harry Reid yesterday said there still aren’t enough votes to pass the auto bailout. Are the Democrats in the majority? So he either means that even Democrats can’t swallow this, or that he can’t persuade enough Republicans to walk the plank this time. Either way, sanity may have beaten back bailout mania. For now.

Are Democrats taking a “second look” at coercive interrogation or talking out of both sides of their mouths? After President-elect Obama becomes President Obama we’ll see if Guantanamo remains open or is closed. Are the U.S. troops sticking to a sixteen-month withdrawal plan or or not? Is he setting a date for tea with Ahmadinejad or not? Once he is holding office, rather than merely seeking it, his deeds will define him and voters will figure out what he means by what he does.

From the “now they tell us” files at the  New York Times: “Campaign Promises on Ending the War in Iraq Now Muted by Reality.” Funny how no one at the Grey Lady during the campaign ever suggested Obama’s promises were out of touch with reality. Next we’ll be hearing that it really isn’t smart to block free trade agreements. Can’t wait for the raves from the Times when Obama declines to hand rogue state leaders a diplomatic coup by refusing to offer high level meetings.

Tip for elected officials: if someone sounding like the President-elect calls don’t hang uptwice.

A very long, pseudo-sophisticated explanation for why Eliot Spitzer isn’t coming back: “It’s hard to see how he completes the (natural, banal) cycle back into the public eye without giving soft-focus interviews about his personal transgressions until we’re thoroughly bored by them.” Let’s try this: ” You gotta be kidding!”

President-elect Obama is dropping the idea of a windfall profit tax on oil companies because . . . well, there’s not so much windfall. (It’s also an administrative nightmare and does nothing to promote energy independence, but we’ll save all that for another day.) You have to love the Left whining: “Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes – even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations — is bad for the economy.” Yeah, really who could imagine that raising taxes in a recession would be a bad idea? (Well, other than John McCain and every Republican running in 2008.)

Which prompts one Lefty to ask: “Did Barack Obama just break his first campaign promise?” Nope! There was FISA, public financing, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and throwing the lobbyists and Clintons out of government — to name just a few previous broken promises. Some didn’t even make it to election day.

Read Less




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