Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 19, 2009

Commentary of the Day

SukieTawdry, on Pete Wehner:

This sounds like a typical rant from a typical race baiting hustler until you remember who Holder is and the power inherent in his position. The money paragraph:

“But we must do more, and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must — and will — lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest president. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.”

Makes you wonder just what he has in mind for the DOJ as regards this “new birth of freedom.”

SukieTawdry, on Pete Wehner:

This sounds like a typical rant from a typical race baiting hustler until you remember who Holder is and the power inherent in his position. The money paragraph:

“But we must do more, and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must — and will — lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest president. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.”

Makes you wonder just what he has in mind for the DOJ as regards this “new birth of freedom.”

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Re: The Real Bill Moyers

As Peter Wehner noted earlier, a story in today’s Washington Post on the FBI’s interest in the sexuality of LBJ aide Jack Valenti contained an illuminating tidbit about Bill Moyers, the LBJ special assistant who went on to a brief career as publisher of Newsday before inflicting himself on the nation for decades as a Pecksniffian media liberal.

Moyers, according to previously confidential FBI files, trolled for information about the private lives of his colleagues in the Johnson administration. And while this news will no doubt disillusion those who have bought into Moyers’s carefully constructed image as a paragon of politically correct virtue, it comes as something considerably less than a bolt out of the blue.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal in July 2005, Laurence Silberman recalled testifying some thirty years earlier, as U.S. deputy attorney general, to the House Judiciary Committee about recently discovered confidential files of J. Edgar Hoover that contained salacious stories about a large number of public figures.

Silberman, who described himself as deeply offended by Hoover’s dirt-collecting activities, tried to avoid offering up specifics in his testimony, but, as he put it, eventually “reporters dug out more facts” concerning some skulduggery emanating from the LBJ White House during the Johnson-Goldwater presidential campaign:

Only a few weeks before the 1964 election, a powerful presidential assistant, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a men’s room in Washington. Evidently, the president was concerned that Barry Goldwater would use that against him in the election. Another assistant, Bill Moyers, was tasked to direct Hoover to do an investigation of Goldwater’s staff to find similar evidence of homosexual activity. Mr. Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files.

When the press reported this, I received a call in my office from Mr. Moyers. Several of my assistants were with me. He was outraged; he claimed that this was another example of the Bureau salting its files with phony CIA memos. I was taken aback. I offered to conduct an investigation, which if his contention was correct, would lead me to publicly exonerate him. There was a pause on the line and then he said, “I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?”

How indeed. As Peter noted, Moyers approved the notorious nuclear countdown ad which implied that Barry Goldwater was just itching to annihilate cute little girls as they busied themselves picking petals off flowers. No wonder Goldwater remarked years later, after Moyers had become a ubiquitous presence on the nation’s television screens, “Every time I see him, I get sick to my stomach and want to throw up.”

As Peter Wehner noted earlier, a story in today’s Washington Post on the FBI’s interest in the sexuality of LBJ aide Jack Valenti contained an illuminating tidbit about Bill Moyers, the LBJ special assistant who went on to a brief career as publisher of Newsday before inflicting himself on the nation for decades as a Pecksniffian media liberal.

Moyers, according to previously confidential FBI files, trolled for information about the private lives of his colleagues in the Johnson administration. And while this news will no doubt disillusion those who have bought into Moyers’s carefully constructed image as a paragon of politically correct virtue, it comes as something considerably less than a bolt out of the blue.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal in July 2005, Laurence Silberman recalled testifying some thirty years earlier, as U.S. deputy attorney general, to the House Judiciary Committee about recently discovered confidential files of J. Edgar Hoover that contained salacious stories about a large number of public figures.

Silberman, who described himself as deeply offended by Hoover’s dirt-collecting activities, tried to avoid offering up specifics in his testimony, but, as he put it, eventually “reporters dug out more facts” concerning some skulduggery emanating from the LBJ White House during the Johnson-Goldwater presidential campaign:

Only a few weeks before the 1964 election, a powerful presidential assistant, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a men’s room in Washington. Evidently, the president was concerned that Barry Goldwater would use that against him in the election. Another assistant, Bill Moyers, was tasked to direct Hoover to do an investigation of Goldwater’s staff to find similar evidence of homosexual activity. Mr. Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files.

When the press reported this, I received a call in my office from Mr. Moyers. Several of my assistants were with me. He was outraged; he claimed that this was another example of the Bureau salting its files with phony CIA memos. I was taken aback. I offered to conduct an investigation, which if his contention was correct, would lead me to publicly exonerate him. There was a pause on the line and then he said, “I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?”

How indeed. As Peter noted, Moyers approved the notorious nuclear countdown ad which implied that Barry Goldwater was just itching to annihilate cute little girls as they busied themselves picking petals off flowers. No wonder Goldwater remarked years later, after Moyers had become a ubiquitous presence on the nation’s television screens, “Every time I see him, I get sick to my stomach and want to throw up.”

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Tapping into Politics as Usual

On Obama’s flip-flop on renegotiating NAFTA, Jake Tapper wants to know:

Are we supposed to act as if things politicians say during primaries are irrelevant and meaningless? Are we supposed to just accept as fact that politicians say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean and thus we should should just collectively self-induce amnesia?

Well, we could at least give up the pretense of there even being any New Politics. It is not the hypocrisy that is so grating, so much as the sanctimoniousness. Had Obama not styled himself as the savior of American politics it might not be so noteworthy when he does as badly as, or worse even, than other politicians when it comes to ethical slip-ups, the lobbyists’ revolving door, and bald-faced policy reversals.

That said, the broken campaign promises (e.g. NAFTA renegotiation, immediate Iraq withdrawal, end all Bush anti-terrorism policies) are the best part of this administration. So maybe we shouldn’t knock hypocrisy. It’s better than the destructive policies articulated for the sake of getting elected. And that explains, I suppose, why politicians get away with this sort of thing: their opponents are happy with the policy flip-flops and their supporters (in general) aren’t intellectually honest enough to object.

On Obama’s flip-flop on renegotiating NAFTA, Jake Tapper wants to know:

Are we supposed to act as if things politicians say during primaries are irrelevant and meaningless? Are we supposed to just accept as fact that politicians say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t mean and thus we should should just collectively self-induce amnesia?

Well, we could at least give up the pretense of there even being any New Politics. It is not the hypocrisy that is so grating, so much as the sanctimoniousness. Had Obama not styled himself as the savior of American politics it might not be so noteworthy when he does as badly as, or worse even, than other politicians when it comes to ethical slip-ups, the lobbyists’ revolving door, and bald-faced policy reversals.

That said, the broken campaign promises (e.g. NAFTA renegotiation, immediate Iraq withdrawal, end all Bush anti-terrorism policies) are the best part of this administration. So maybe we shouldn’t knock hypocrisy. It’s better than the destructive policies articulated for the sake of getting elected. And that explains, I suppose, why politicians get away with this sort of thing: their opponents are happy with the policy flip-flops and their supporters (in general) aren’t intellectually honest enough to object.

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Re: Holder’s Shame

By all means we need a little moral courage when it comes to discussing race — and Eric Holder was in a perfect position to begin that discussion.  But instead, he simply trotted out the well-worn shibboleths about intolerance and racial division.  He might have taken another course.

The elephant in the room in discussions of race isn’t white prejudice; it’s the breakdown of the black family and all the attendant social pathologies that emanate from it.  When 7-out-of-10 black babies are born to single women and more than half of black children spend most of their childhood without a father at home, there are consequences: lower academic performance, more juvenile delinquency and adult crime, more dependence on government assistance, and a greater likelihood to repeat the cycle again by having more children born out of wedlock to the next generation. Yet virtually no one in the black community in any position of authority and responsibility is willing to talk about this issue.

President Obama, whose own African father abandoned him, has talked about it fleetingly, choosing instead to focus mostly on the virtues of the single mom and grandparents who raised him.  In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he has a few lines about “the casualness toward sex and child rearing that renders black children more vulnerable — and for which there is simply no excuse.” But he has never made ending black illegitimacy or restoring the importance of marriage in the black community part of his policy agenda. So it’s no surprise his appointees avoid the subject as well.

It’s too bad.  Instead of lecturing us on cowardice, Eric Holder could have talked about the relationship between family breakdown and crime.  He could have talked about why it is that young black men aged 14-24 represent only 1 percent of the U.S. population but committed almost 28 percent of the nation’s homicides in 2005, according to his own department’s statistics.  He could have talked about what it means to have fatherless teenage boys grow up in neighborhoods where your chances of being killed are greater than they were on the streets of Baghdad at the height of the insurgency.  He could have talked about why it is that schools systems presided over by black superintendents in cities governed by black elected officials produce black high-school graduates who read at the eighth-grade level.  He could have talked about why it is that illegal Mexican immigrants with a sixth grade education are more likely to be employed in a steady job than young black men with a high-school education.

Now that would have taken some courage.

By all means we need a little moral courage when it comes to discussing race — and Eric Holder was in a perfect position to begin that discussion.  But instead, he simply trotted out the well-worn shibboleths about intolerance and racial division.  He might have taken another course.

The elephant in the room in discussions of race isn’t white prejudice; it’s the breakdown of the black family and all the attendant social pathologies that emanate from it.  When 7-out-of-10 black babies are born to single women and more than half of black children spend most of their childhood without a father at home, there are consequences: lower academic performance, more juvenile delinquency and adult crime, more dependence on government assistance, and a greater likelihood to repeat the cycle again by having more children born out of wedlock to the next generation. Yet virtually no one in the black community in any position of authority and responsibility is willing to talk about this issue.

President Obama, whose own African father abandoned him, has talked about it fleetingly, choosing instead to focus mostly on the virtues of the single mom and grandparents who raised him.  In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he has a few lines about “the casualness toward sex and child rearing that renders black children more vulnerable — and for which there is simply no excuse.” But he has never made ending black illegitimacy or restoring the importance of marriage in the black community part of his policy agenda. So it’s no surprise his appointees avoid the subject as well.

It’s too bad.  Instead of lecturing us on cowardice, Eric Holder could have talked about the relationship between family breakdown and crime.  He could have talked about why it is that young black men aged 14-24 represent only 1 percent of the U.S. population but committed almost 28 percent of the nation’s homicides in 2005, according to his own department’s statistics.  He could have talked about what it means to have fatherless teenage boys grow up in neighborhoods where your chances of being killed are greater than they were on the streets of Baghdad at the height of the insurgency.  He could have talked about why it is that schools systems presided over by black superintendents in cities governed by black elected officials produce black high-school graduates who read at the eighth-grade level.  He could have talked about why it is that illegal Mexican immigrants with a sixth grade education are more likely to be employed in a steady job than young black men with a high-school education.

Now that would have taken some courage.

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The Political Power of Sports

Had an Israeli businessman or tourist been turned away upon arrival at Dubai International Airport, it is unlikely that anyone beyond the Israeli Foreign Ministry would have heard about it.  After all, most Arab countries have prohibited Israelis – or even non-Israelis with an Israeli stamp on their passports – from entering for so long that we have become desensitized to it.

Yet when Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer – currently ranked 45th in the world – was denied a U.A.E. visa and thereby excluded from the women’s bracket of the Dubai Tennis Championships this past weekend, it became a source of virtually unanimous international outrage.

For once, Jewish leaders weren’t the only voices speaking out against anti-Israeli exclusion.  Indeed, the Wall Street Journal withdrew its sponsorship; the Women’s Tennis Association, which initially considered canceling the event until Peer rejected the idea, announced that it might eliminate the event from next year’s schedule; and the Tennis Channel refused to broadcast the week-long tournament in protest.  The response was so overwhelming that the U.A.E. was immediately on the defensive: the tournament’s organizers first claimed – very dubiously – that they were merely trying to protect Peer from anti-Israel protesters, but later vowed that Andy Ram, another Israeli player, would be granted a visa for next week’s men’s bracket. That has since happened.

Such is the power of sports.  Whereas blatant prejudice consistently erects barriers in the way of human interaction, sport remains the one venue in which the right of objectively qualified individuals to participate is upheld as a matter of principle.  Historically, sports’ non-discriminatory disposition has been trailblazing: as ESPN’s Peter Gammons noted in his brilliant 2005 Baseball Hall-of-Fame speech, it is no coincidence that baseball’s color barrier was broken seven years before Brown v. the Board of Education.

In turn, if Shahar Peer’s exclusion from the Dubai Tennis Championships has served any greater purpose, it is to call attention to decades of Arab discrimination against Israelis and – within one fateful week – reverse it on a most public stage.  When an Israeli man takes the court in Dubai next week, it will represent a major event in the social history of the Middle East.  Indeed, it will mark the climax of a story that only sports – given its commitment to unbiased standards for participation – could have made possible.

For true sports fans, it will be a proud moment.

Had an Israeli businessman or tourist been turned away upon arrival at Dubai International Airport, it is unlikely that anyone beyond the Israeli Foreign Ministry would have heard about it.  After all, most Arab countries have prohibited Israelis – or even non-Israelis with an Israeli stamp on their passports – from entering for so long that we have become desensitized to it.

Yet when Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer – currently ranked 45th in the world – was denied a U.A.E. visa and thereby excluded from the women’s bracket of the Dubai Tennis Championships this past weekend, it became a source of virtually unanimous international outrage.

For once, Jewish leaders weren’t the only voices speaking out against anti-Israeli exclusion.  Indeed, the Wall Street Journal withdrew its sponsorship; the Women’s Tennis Association, which initially considered canceling the event until Peer rejected the idea, announced that it might eliminate the event from next year’s schedule; and the Tennis Channel refused to broadcast the week-long tournament in protest.  The response was so overwhelming that the U.A.E. was immediately on the defensive: the tournament’s organizers first claimed – very dubiously – that they were merely trying to protect Peer from anti-Israel protesters, but later vowed that Andy Ram, another Israeli player, would be granted a visa for next week’s men’s bracket. That has since happened.

Such is the power of sports.  Whereas blatant prejudice consistently erects barriers in the way of human interaction, sport remains the one venue in which the right of objectively qualified individuals to participate is upheld as a matter of principle.  Historically, sports’ non-discriminatory disposition has been trailblazing: as ESPN’s Peter Gammons noted in his brilliant 2005 Baseball Hall-of-Fame speech, it is no coincidence that baseball’s color barrier was broken seven years before Brown v. the Board of Education.

In turn, if Shahar Peer’s exclusion from the Dubai Tennis Championships has served any greater purpose, it is to call attention to decades of Arab discrimination against Israelis and – within one fateful week – reverse it on a most public stage.  When an Israeli man takes the court in Dubai next week, it will represent a major event in the social history of the Middle East.  Indeed, it will mark the climax of a story that only sports – given its commitment to unbiased standards for participation – could have made possible.

For true sports fans, it will be a proud moment.

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This Seal is Real

No one reaches for the snooze button more frequently than Barack Obama. He has a genius for delaying confrontations with reality. Earlier this week, the president approved 17,000 additional U.S. troops for Afghanistan, but today he’s found a way to blur the significance of the decision and keep alive the suspense about a proper troop “surge”:

President Barack Obama says the additional troops he’s ordering to Afghanistan are necessary to stabilize that country in advance of upcoming elections. And he says just how many U.S. troops will be needed, and for how long, will become clearer after a review of the Afghan mission is completed.

The list of things that will become clear after a review is growing: the future of America’s commitment in Iraq; the fate of Guantanamo detainees; a system for trying non-state terror suspects; and the future of tough interrogations all come to mind. Maybe after having invested so much in the festoonery of “The Office of the President-Elect,” Obama is not yet willing to relinquish his delicious on-deck status.

No one reaches for the snooze button more frequently than Barack Obama. He has a genius for delaying confrontations with reality. Earlier this week, the president approved 17,000 additional U.S. troops for Afghanistan, but today he’s found a way to blur the significance of the decision and keep alive the suspense about a proper troop “surge”:

President Barack Obama says the additional troops he’s ordering to Afghanistan are necessary to stabilize that country in advance of upcoming elections. And he says just how many U.S. troops will be needed, and for how long, will become clearer after a review of the Afghan mission is completed.

The list of things that will become clear after a review is growing: the future of America’s commitment in Iraq; the fate of Guantanamo detainees; a system for trying non-state terror suspects; and the future of tough interrogations all come to mind. Maybe after having invested so much in the festoonery of “The Office of the President-Elect,” Obama is not yet willing to relinquish his delicious on-deck status.

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Re: Increasing Uncertainty

This segment on CNBC was linked to by the Drudge Report today, but it represents nothing new. Watch some business news and watch the markets. It isn’t like the economic indicators have been greeting the Obama administration’s moves warmly. To the contrary, stocks have fallen more than 2000 points (now below 7500) since the election, consumer confidence is tanking, inflation is now up and gold has soared. Combining the weak performance of the Treasury Secretary and Obama’s “we’re falling over a cliff” rhetoric, the Obama administration has been freaking us out for quite some time now.

As Abe points out, the Obama-administration geniuses are nowhere to be found. Yesterday was telling: While Obama was back in campaign mode whipping a crowd in Arizona into a frenzy over the prospect that millions of them can get relief from not just default but underwater home mortgages, bank stocks dropped like a stone. Perhaps the prospect of bankruptcy judges writing “cram down” mortgages, and forcing TARP recipients (many of whom took the money under duress from Hank Paulson) to rescue more defaulting borrowers isn’t what the economy needs after all. The current administration is using fear tactics to promote an agenda that itself is scaring the major players of our economy (including consumers).

The result of a never-ending stream of bailouts and an ever-growing federal government (and accompanying deficit) is a reeling private sector. That is not the way to get out of a recession.

This segment on CNBC was linked to by the Drudge Report today, but it represents nothing new. Watch some business news and watch the markets. It isn’t like the economic indicators have been greeting the Obama administration’s moves warmly. To the contrary, stocks have fallen more than 2000 points (now below 7500) since the election, consumer confidence is tanking, inflation is now up and gold has soared. Combining the weak performance of the Treasury Secretary and Obama’s “we’re falling over a cliff” rhetoric, the Obama administration has been freaking us out for quite some time now.

As Abe points out, the Obama-administration geniuses are nowhere to be found. Yesterday was telling: While Obama was back in campaign mode whipping a crowd in Arizona into a frenzy over the prospect that millions of them can get relief from not just default but underwater home mortgages, bank stocks dropped like a stone. Perhaps the prospect of bankruptcy judges writing “cram down” mortgages, and forcing TARP recipients (many of whom took the money under duress from Hank Paulson) to rescue more defaulting borrowers isn’t what the economy needs after all. The current administration is using fear tactics to promote an agenda that itself is scaring the major players of our economy (including consumers).

The result of a never-ending stream of bailouts and an ever-growing federal government (and accompanying deficit) is a reeling private sector. That is not the way to get out of a recession.

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Helping China Sink Our Ships

China and the United States will resume military-to-military ties, reported People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, on Tuesday.  A two-day meeting will start on the 27th of this month in Beijing between a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and a deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army.  China broke off military ties last October to express displeasure over Washington’s sale of $6.5 billion of arms to Taiwan, which the Chinese government considers to be one of its provinces.

“It’s our desire to have more exchanges with the Chinese,” said Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week.  “We want to do more with them.”  That’s an extraordinarily bad idea, especially because the exchanges have essentially been one-way giveaways of information and know-how to the Chinese.  Yet Keating keeps on trying.  In 2007, he said the United States would be willing to help the People’s Liberation Army Navy — yes, that’s what they call it — build aircraft carriers. Now, he says the U.S. Navy would be willing to “work with” Beijing’s carriers when they are built.  In other words, he is willing to help the Chinese learn things that would take them years to figure out on their own.

Unfortunately, our admirals think they are so far ahead of the Chinese navy that they can afford to be generous with information.  Moreover, they have a seemingly unshakable belief that they can establish stable relations with the Chinese even though Beijing’s goal is to remove American forces from Asia and surrounding waters.  Our admirals apparently trust their goodwill gestures will be reciprocated when past years’ events show the opposite.

So here’s a newsflash for you, Admiral Keating: The Chinese are configuring their navy to sink your ships.  You can help them do that, but I suspect most Americans would not think this is a good idea.

China and the United States will resume military-to-military ties, reported People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, on Tuesday.  A two-day meeting will start on the 27th of this month in Beijing between a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and a deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army.  China broke off military ties last October to express displeasure over Washington’s sale of $6.5 billion of arms to Taiwan, which the Chinese government considers to be one of its provinces.

“It’s our desire to have more exchanges with the Chinese,” said Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week.  “We want to do more with them.”  That’s an extraordinarily bad idea, especially because the exchanges have essentially been one-way giveaways of information and know-how to the Chinese.  Yet Keating keeps on trying.  In 2007, he said the United States would be willing to help the People’s Liberation Army Navy — yes, that’s what they call it — build aircraft carriers. Now, he says the U.S. Navy would be willing to “work with” Beijing’s carriers when they are built.  In other words, he is willing to help the Chinese learn things that would take them years to figure out on their own.

Unfortunately, our admirals think they are so far ahead of the Chinese navy that they can afford to be generous with information.  Moreover, they have a seemingly unshakable belief that they can establish stable relations with the Chinese even though Beijing’s goal is to remove American forces from Asia and surrounding waters.  Our admirals apparently trust their goodwill gestures will be reciprocated when past years’ events show the opposite.

So here’s a newsflash for you, Admiral Keating: The Chinese are configuring their navy to sink your ships.  You can help them do that, but I suspect most Americans would not think this is a good idea.

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Stoking Fear of the “Extreme Right”

Critics are already accusing the yet-to-be-formed Israeli government of “right wing extremism.” These charges range from the preposterous – such as the pronouncement by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, that a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu that also included Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman would be a “bad combination for American interests” — to the predictable – like Tzipi Livni’s disappointed utterance today over the fact that she will not be the next prime minister: “They didn’t vote for us in order to provide authorization for a right-wing government and we need to provide an alternative of hope from the opposition.”

But here’s the problem: no one is arguing with Livni that an “extreme right government” would not be a recipe for success. By the way, Netanyahu would be the first one to second her, and Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman announced today that he prefers a unity government headed by Netanyahu. Most Israelis – according to polls – want a unity government. The rest of the world seems to want a unity government. A narrow right-wing coalition would be bad for morale, bad for stability, bad for Netanyahu’s chances of success, and bad for Israel’s image.

In fact, there’s only one thing worse than this scary “extreme right wing government” scenario, and that would be not having a government at all. If Livni chooses not to join the coalition and Labor remains in the opposition (left-wing Meretz, with its meager three mandates, has little bearing on the viability of a coalition) – who else would there be for Netanyahu to work with? Do these doomsday-prophets want Israel to vote again because they didn’t like the initial outcome? Do they want the interim government to stay in power indefinitely?

Of course, Netanyahu could always give Livni what she really wants: the prime ministership. She is hankering after the position, varnishing her ambition with the neutral pretense of “rotation.” But there’s a more proper term for what she is trying to do: not rotation – rather, extortion.

Critics are already accusing the yet-to-be-formed Israeli government of “right wing extremism.” These charges range from the preposterous – such as the pronouncement by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, that a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu that also included Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman would be a “bad combination for American interests” — to the predictable – like Tzipi Livni’s disappointed utterance today over the fact that she will not be the next prime minister: “They didn’t vote for us in order to provide authorization for a right-wing government and we need to provide an alternative of hope from the opposition.”

But here’s the problem: no one is arguing with Livni that an “extreme right government” would not be a recipe for success. By the way, Netanyahu would be the first one to second her, and Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman announced today that he prefers a unity government headed by Netanyahu. Most Israelis – according to polls – want a unity government. The rest of the world seems to want a unity government. A narrow right-wing coalition would be bad for morale, bad for stability, bad for Netanyahu’s chances of success, and bad for Israel’s image.

In fact, there’s only one thing worse than this scary “extreme right wing government” scenario, and that would be not having a government at all. If Livni chooses not to join the coalition and Labor remains in the opposition (left-wing Meretz, with its meager three mandates, has little bearing on the viability of a coalition) – who else would there be for Netanyahu to work with? Do these doomsday-prophets want Israel to vote again because they didn’t like the initial outcome? Do they want the interim government to stay in power indefinitely?

Of course, Netanyahu could always give Livni what she really wants: the prime ministership. She is hankering after the position, varnishing her ambition with the neutral pretense of “rotation.” But there’s a more proper term for what she is trying to do: not rotation – rather, extortion.

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The Democracy-Peace Nexus

CONTENTIONS contributor Daniel Halper argues in the Jerusalem Post that Palestinian democracy is a necessary ingredient in any Middle East peace formulation:

Israel remains the lone liberal democracy in the Middle East (though Iraq is making progress). Its minorities, including its 1,100,000 Arab citizens, enjoy the same protection under the law as the Jewish majority; its irrepressibly noisy citizens are free to say whatever they wish in politics and in the press; the government is not just elected, but political candidates are selected through elaborate primary systems – not through violence, foreign influence or coercion. Because Israelis have accepted liberal democratic principles both in the way they govern and in their cultural mores, they respect the lives of fellow citizens in a way that increases their readiness for peace.

THE NEXT STEP, then, is for the Palestinian people to accept these same general principles. From there, a framework for peace could emerge. At present, Palestinian society is anything but democratic. Though elected, officials rule arbitrarily, without laws and by enforcing order through the power of the gun. They rise to power not through primaries, but through violence. Until this changes, peace will be difficult if not impossible.

Read the whole thing to find out Halper’s proposed starting point.

CONTENTIONS contributor Daniel Halper argues in the Jerusalem Post that Palestinian democracy is a necessary ingredient in any Middle East peace formulation:

Israel remains the lone liberal democracy in the Middle East (though Iraq is making progress). Its minorities, including its 1,100,000 Arab citizens, enjoy the same protection under the law as the Jewish majority; its irrepressibly noisy citizens are free to say whatever they wish in politics and in the press; the government is not just elected, but political candidates are selected through elaborate primary systems – not through violence, foreign influence or coercion. Because Israelis have accepted liberal democratic principles both in the way they govern and in their cultural mores, they respect the lives of fellow citizens in a way that increases their readiness for peace.

THE NEXT STEP, then, is for the Palestinian people to accept these same general principles. From there, a framework for peace could emerge. At present, Palestinian society is anything but democratic. Though elected, officials rule arbitrarily, without laws and by enforcing order through the power of the gun. They rise to power not through primaries, but through violence. Until this changes, peace will be difficult if not impossible.

Read the whole thing to find out Halper’s proposed starting point.

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Holder’s Shame

In his first major speech since being confirmed, Attorney General Eric Holder created quite a stir. According to news reports,

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared.

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country “have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace,” but he noted that “certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

“On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad,” Holder said.

… “It’s a question of being honest with ourselves and racial issues that divide us,” Holder told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference. “It’s not easy to talk about it. We have to have the guts to be honest with each other, accept criticism, accept new proposals.”

This is surreal. Here we have the first black attorney general, serving under the first black president, arguing that this country, in important respects, doesn’t differ significantly from the country that existed a half-century ago, when segregation was the law of the land in many states. In fact, the United States has traveled an enormous and admirable distance on the subject of race, which had been America’s besetting sin.

In addition, the notion that we are reluctant to talk about race is ludicrous. It is talked about almost all the time, virtually everywhere, even when it has almost nothing to do with the issue at hand. There are still, alas, pockets of racism in America. But those pockets are much smaller and rarer than ever before. And it should be said that there are also people (like the noxious figures Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) who play the race card to advance their own political agenda, in a way that ends up causing division rather than reconciliation.

Given his history in the pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, Holder should be careful about lecturing anyone (let alone a nation) on courage. In any event, his comments about race and America are outrageous and acidic. If this is the kind of “new” and “post-racial” politics Barack Obama promised, it makes one long for the days before he made his entrance on the national stage.

In his first major speech since being confirmed, Attorney General Eric Holder created quite a stir. According to news reports,

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared.

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country “have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace,” but he noted that “certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

“On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad,” Holder said.

… “It’s a question of being honest with ourselves and racial issues that divide us,” Holder told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference. “It’s not easy to talk about it. We have to have the guts to be honest with each other, accept criticism, accept new proposals.”

This is surreal. Here we have the first black attorney general, serving under the first black president, arguing that this country, in important respects, doesn’t differ significantly from the country that existed a half-century ago, when segregation was the law of the land in many states. In fact, the United States has traveled an enormous and admirable distance on the subject of race, which had been America’s besetting sin.

In addition, the notion that we are reluctant to talk about race is ludicrous. It is talked about almost all the time, virtually everywhere, even when it has almost nothing to do with the issue at hand. There are still, alas, pockets of racism in America. But those pockets are much smaller and rarer than ever before. And it should be said that there are also people (like the noxious figures Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) who play the race card to advance their own political agenda, in a way that ends up causing division rather than reconciliation.

Given his history in the pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, Holder should be careful about lecturing anyone (let alone a nation) on courage. In any event, his comments about race and America are outrageous and acidic. If this is the kind of “new” and “post-racial” politics Barack Obama promised, it makes one long for the days before he made his entrance on the national stage.

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The Culture of Cluelessness

Now it’s the New York Times’ turn to call for Roland Burris to resign. (Still, you have to hand it to the Gray Lady’s editors for ignoring the cause of the mess — the Democrats’ refusal to hold a special election.)

It is getting harder and harder, even for those cheerleading the new administration and the new epoch of Democratic rule, to ignore the obvious: this is one corrupt party. The problem  is not isolated or casual, but pervasive at its highest levels.

The AP has a devastating critique today, declaring the Democrats to be “self-destructing over ethics” and proceeding to list the usual ethically-challenged suspects: Blago, Burris, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, Nancy Killefer, Bill Richardson, Jack Murtha, Charlie Rangel, and William Lynn. (It omits Chris Dodd and James Moran.) The AP reminds the Democrats of the Republicans’ travails in 2006:

Republicans were further harmed when it was disclosed that several of their members were aware of the problem and failed to take action.Democrats, who’ve been in control of both Congress and the White House less than two months now, are lucky on one point. The next congressional election is nearly two years away.

Well, time could be on their side, provided they do something about these miscreants. But if they don’t, and if other scandals arise, or the existing scandals get worse, the problem will worsen and the distraction will intensify. That brings us to their next big problem: the stimulus itself is a scandal in the making.

Republicans have figured out that it will likely be a never-ending tale of waste, fraud, and abuse and are setting up a “stimulus-watch program” to track the money. You have to love the closing lines of this report, describing the difficulties Obama will face in making sure the money is spent in a “timely, targeted and transparent manner”:

His oversight efforts are off to a slow start elsewhere, however. The stimulus spending is to be monitored by an oversight board of high-ranking officials and chaired by the newly created post of chief performance officer. Obama is trying to fill the job after his first choice, Nancy Killefer, withdrew because of tax problems.

Call it corruption, or call it arrogance. But the Democrats are apparently banking on the fact that the public won’t see or won’t care about the ethical free-for-all and the fraud and abuse (which are sure to follow a exponential increase in the size of government). Perhaps they are right, but in a 24/7 news world with hundreds of watchdogs and bloggers I think they are deluding themselves if they think no one will notice.

Now it’s the New York Times’ turn to call for Roland Burris to resign. (Still, you have to hand it to the Gray Lady’s editors for ignoring the cause of the mess — the Democrats’ refusal to hold a special election.)

It is getting harder and harder, even for those cheerleading the new administration and the new epoch of Democratic rule, to ignore the obvious: this is one corrupt party. The problem  is not isolated or casual, but pervasive at its highest levels.

The AP has a devastating critique today, declaring the Democrats to be “self-destructing over ethics” and proceeding to list the usual ethically-challenged suspects: Blago, Burris, Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner, Nancy Killefer, Bill Richardson, Jack Murtha, Charlie Rangel, and William Lynn. (It omits Chris Dodd and James Moran.) The AP reminds the Democrats of the Republicans’ travails in 2006:

Republicans were further harmed when it was disclosed that several of their members were aware of the problem and failed to take action.Democrats, who’ve been in control of both Congress and the White House less than two months now, are lucky on one point. The next congressional election is nearly two years away.

Well, time could be on their side, provided they do something about these miscreants. But if they don’t, and if other scandals arise, or the existing scandals get worse, the problem will worsen and the distraction will intensify. That brings us to their next big problem: the stimulus itself is a scandal in the making.

Republicans have figured out that it will likely be a never-ending tale of waste, fraud, and abuse and are setting up a “stimulus-watch program” to track the money. You have to love the closing lines of this report, describing the difficulties Obama will face in making sure the money is spent in a “timely, targeted and transparent manner”:

His oversight efforts are off to a slow start elsewhere, however. The stimulus spending is to be monitored by an oversight board of high-ranking officials and chaired by the newly created post of chief performance officer. Obama is trying to fill the job after his first choice, Nancy Killefer, withdrew because of tax problems.

Call it corruption, or call it arrogance. But the Democrats are apparently banking on the fact that the public won’t see or won’t care about the ethical free-for-all and the fraud and abuse (which are sure to follow a exponential increase in the size of government). Perhaps they are right, but in a 24/7 news world with hundreds of watchdogs and bloggers I think they are deluding themselves if they think no one will notice.

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Fake Stolen Weapons Are News, Real Ones Aren’t

Two recent news stories show an interesting contrast in the world of journalism.

First up, CBS News aired a report on stolen U.S. weapons being sold openly in bazaars in Pakistan. The report gave the impressions that the latest arms from the Arsenal of Democracy, were either stolen, looted, or sold by traitorous U.S. troops.

But  some with weapons experience are now questioning the veracity of the report, claiming the network tried to pass off non-U.S. military equipment as the real (stolen) thing.

A while ago, someone floated the idea that, in the interests of diversity, every news organization should reach out to certain groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the media. Veterans were near the top of the list. It seems self-evident that if CBS had ran these clips past someone with even a passing familiarity with the armed services, they would have saved themselves plenty of embarrassment. But enough of the fake story that getting play. Let’s look at a real story that is getting woefully under-reported.

Ever since the fighting in Gaza ended, the UN has been collecting unexploded munitions. They put them in a warehouse pending their safe disposal, and there are few safe ways of dismantling unexploded ordnance. Then the UN got the bright idea of asking Hamas to guard the warehouse. This was an absolute stroke of genius. What could go wrong with having terrorists protect a building filled with high explosives?

Really, who could have predicted that, under Hamas’s watchful eye, seven tons of bombs would get stolen?

Hamas’ motive to appropriate the ordnance is unclear, although most estimate that the group believes the unexploded shells can be reused. Hamas has yet to officially comment on the allegations, though sources within the organization said it was highly likely that members of the military wing sought to reuse the weaponry.

Hamas has plenty of people extremely practiced in working with explosives. They will, no doubt, attempt to return each and every bit of it to Israel — wrapped in rockets, mortars, and suicide vests.

The UN will make noises about being victims here, but these will be pro forma protests. There will be no real consequences for Hamas’s abuse of the UN. And the story seems to remain under the radar of most of the western media.

Two recent news stories show an interesting contrast in the world of journalism.

First up, CBS News aired a report on stolen U.S. weapons being sold openly in bazaars in Pakistan. The report gave the impressions that the latest arms from the Arsenal of Democracy, were either stolen, looted, or sold by traitorous U.S. troops.

But  some with weapons experience are now questioning the veracity of the report, claiming the network tried to pass off non-U.S. military equipment as the real (stolen) thing.

A while ago, someone floated the idea that, in the interests of diversity, every news organization should reach out to certain groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the media. Veterans were near the top of the list. It seems self-evident that if CBS had ran these clips past someone with even a passing familiarity with the armed services, they would have saved themselves plenty of embarrassment. But enough of the fake story that getting play. Let’s look at a real story that is getting woefully under-reported.

Ever since the fighting in Gaza ended, the UN has been collecting unexploded munitions. They put them in a warehouse pending their safe disposal, and there are few safe ways of dismantling unexploded ordnance. Then the UN got the bright idea of asking Hamas to guard the warehouse. This was an absolute stroke of genius. What could go wrong with having terrorists protect a building filled with high explosives?

Really, who could have predicted that, under Hamas’s watchful eye, seven tons of bombs would get stolen?

Hamas’ motive to appropriate the ordnance is unclear, although most estimate that the group believes the unexploded shells can be reused. Hamas has yet to officially comment on the allegations, though sources within the organization said it was highly likely that members of the military wing sought to reuse the weaponry.

Hamas has plenty of people extremely practiced in working with explosives. They will, no doubt, attempt to return each and every bit of it to Israel — wrapped in rockets, mortars, and suicide vests.

The UN will make noises about being victims here, but these will be pro forma protests. There will be no real consequences for Hamas’s abuse of the UN. And the story seems to remain under the radar of most of the western media.

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Nour is Freed

Yesterday, prominent Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was released from jail after serving nearly thirty-seven months of a five-year sentence.  To the extent that Nour was a political prisoner — he was dubiously convicted of forging signatures on his party registration documents after finishing second to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections — Nour’s freedom is the result of the Mubarak regime’s political calculations.  While it is naturally too early to determine the implications of Nour’s liberation, here are some important issues to keep in mind:

1. Although the official reason for Nour’s release was his poor health, the consensus among Egyptian political analysts is that the regime wanted to make a goodwill gesture to the Obama administration.  Moving forward, the key question in U.S.-Egyptian relations will be how Washington can reciprocate Mubarak’s gesture while still pressing for gradual political reform.  There is no easy answer.  If the administration offers Cairo little support in the aftermath of Nour’s release, it creates a disincentive for future liberalization; if the administration goes too far in congratulating Cairo, it will weaken the confidence of Egypt’s liberal dissidents; and if the administration goes too far in demanding more prisoner releases and reforms, Cairo might respond much as it did to the Bush administration — by hardening its domestic position.  My prediction: Cairo is now the most likely venue for Obama’s anticipated public address to the Muslim world.

2. Nour is returning to a very different domestic political climate than the one he last experienced in 2005.  For starters, his Ghad party — the most prominent opposition party in the 2005 elections — is in tatters.  As I noted back in July, the regime has split this party in two factions, bestowing legal recognition on a puppet faction headed by businessman Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who has sued Nour’s faction for using the name of the Ghad party illegally.  Moreover, the headquarters of Nour’s Ghad faction were burned in November 2008 and its official newspaper was shut down.  In short, before Nour is able to contend again in national politics, he will have to sort out critical issues challenging the viability of his party.  Right now, there seems to be one thing in his favor: based on my discussions with Ghad leaders, Nour’s faction appears unified behind him.

3. The Egyptian regime will do its best to keep Nour quiet.  The way Nour was released from prison is instructive: even Nour’s wife had no idea he would be returning home — she was out buying groceries and got a call from her doorman — and many of Nour’s Ghad colleagues only learned of his release via satellite television.  This gave the party little time to prepare celebrations and press conferences, which was precisely the regime’s goal.

4. If the regime cannot keep Nour quiet, it will do its best to keep him out of politics.  The wrench that it has thrown in the way of his Ghad party is part of its strategy.  The other barrier to Nour’s political involvement is legal: convicted felons are prohibited from running in elections within six years following their release from prison.  This means that Nour is already disqualified from running in the 2011 presidential elections, and cannot run until 2017.  Naturally, the regime is confident: it has effectively destroyed its domestic liberal opposition movement over the past three years — imagine what it can do within the next eight.

Yesterday, prominent Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was released from jail after serving nearly thirty-seven months of a five-year sentence.  To the extent that Nour was a political prisoner — he was dubiously convicted of forging signatures on his party registration documents after finishing second to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections — Nour’s freedom is the result of the Mubarak regime’s political calculations.  While it is naturally too early to determine the implications of Nour’s liberation, here are some important issues to keep in mind:

1. Although the official reason for Nour’s release was his poor health, the consensus among Egyptian political analysts is that the regime wanted to make a goodwill gesture to the Obama administration.  Moving forward, the key question in U.S.-Egyptian relations will be how Washington can reciprocate Mubarak’s gesture while still pressing for gradual political reform.  There is no easy answer.  If the administration offers Cairo little support in the aftermath of Nour’s release, it creates a disincentive for future liberalization; if the administration goes too far in congratulating Cairo, it will weaken the confidence of Egypt’s liberal dissidents; and if the administration goes too far in demanding more prisoner releases and reforms, Cairo might respond much as it did to the Bush administration — by hardening its domestic position.  My prediction: Cairo is now the most likely venue for Obama’s anticipated public address to the Muslim world.

2. Nour is returning to a very different domestic political climate than the one he last experienced in 2005.  For starters, his Ghad party — the most prominent opposition party in the 2005 elections — is in tatters.  As I noted back in July, the regime has split this party in two factions, bestowing legal recognition on a puppet faction headed by businessman Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who has sued Nour’s faction for using the name of the Ghad party illegally.  Moreover, the headquarters of Nour’s Ghad faction were burned in November 2008 and its official newspaper was shut down.  In short, before Nour is able to contend again in national politics, he will have to sort out critical issues challenging the viability of his party.  Right now, there seems to be one thing in his favor: based on my discussions with Ghad leaders, Nour’s faction appears unified behind him.

3. The Egyptian regime will do its best to keep Nour quiet.  The way Nour was released from prison is instructive: even Nour’s wife had no idea he would be returning home — she was out buying groceries and got a call from her doorman — and many of Nour’s Ghad colleagues only learned of his release via satellite television.  This gave the party little time to prepare celebrations and press conferences, which was precisely the regime’s goal.

4. If the regime cannot keep Nour quiet, it will do its best to keep him out of politics.  The wrench that it has thrown in the way of his Ghad party is part of its strategy.  The other barrier to Nour’s political involvement is legal: convicted felons are prohibited from running in elections within six years following their release from prison.  This means that Nour is already disqualified from running in the 2011 presidential elections, and cannot run until 2017.  Naturally, the regime is confident: it has effectively destroyed its domestic liberal opposition movement over the past three years — imagine what it can do within the next eight.

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The Real Bill Moyers

In today’s Washington Post, we learn that “J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI found itself quietly consumed with the vexing question of whether [Lyndon Johnson aide Jack] Valenti was gay.” According to the article, “the files, obtained by The Washington Post under the federal Freedom of Information Act, provide further insight into the conduct of the FBI under Hoover, for whom damaging personal information on the powerful was a useful tool in his interactions with presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Richard M. Nixon.”

What I found particularly interesting was this paragraph:

Even Bill Moyers, a White House aide now best known as a liberal television commentator, is described in the records as seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members. Moyers said by e-mail yesterday that his memory is unclear after so many years but that he may have been simply looking for details of allegations first brought to the president by Hoover.

And this:

Seven days later, DeLoach [Hoover lieutenant Cartha D. DeLoach] pressed Johnson again and he relented. In the same conversation, a memo shows, they discussed a request from Moyers, then a special assistant to Johnson, that the FBI investigate two other administration figures who were “suspected as having homosexual tendencies.”

Well, now. For the unaware, Mr. Moyers was a key figure in the creation of the notorious “Daisy” ad, dubbed by the New York Times at the time as “probably the most controversial TV commercial of all time.” The ad featured a young girl plucking daisy petals as a countdown leads to her annihilation in a nuclear blast. The message was clear: this was the fate of the earth if Barry Goldwater were elected. Beyond that is the fact that, as Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard showed in a 2003 article, Bill Moyers, during his career at PBS,

flagrantly indulges in the same conflicts of interest, Washington logrolling, and mutual back-scratching that he finds deeply objectionable in, well, everyone other than Bill Moyers. There were piles of documents–from IRS filings to internal records from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting–that supported this conclusion.

Moyers is among the most sanctimonious individuals on television (quite a feat, given the competition). He presents himself as a champion of good government, an intrepid voice for integrity and honesty, ever on the lookout for people who would degrade our public discourse or act in a dishonorable manner. That’s why this revelation — Moyers seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members — is particularly notable. And I suspect his excuse, that his “memory is unclear after so many years,” probably wouldn’t persuade Moyers himself, if the person in question were, say, a conservative.

The persona of Bill Moyers is very much at odds with his conduct over the years. This latest revelation deserves to be explored more fully.

In today’s Washington Post, we learn that “J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI found itself quietly consumed with the vexing question of whether [Lyndon Johnson aide Jack] Valenti was gay.” According to the article, “the files, obtained by The Washington Post under the federal Freedom of Information Act, provide further insight into the conduct of the FBI under Hoover, for whom damaging personal information on the powerful was a useful tool in his interactions with presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Richard M. Nixon.”

What I found particularly interesting was this paragraph:

Even Bill Moyers, a White House aide now best known as a liberal television commentator, is described in the records as seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members. Moyers said by e-mail yesterday that his memory is unclear after so many years but that he may have been simply looking for details of allegations first brought to the president by Hoover.

And this:

Seven days later, DeLoach [Hoover lieutenant Cartha D. DeLoach] pressed Johnson again and he relented. In the same conversation, a memo shows, they discussed a request from Moyers, then a special assistant to Johnson, that the FBI investigate two other administration figures who were “suspected as having homosexual tendencies.”

Well, now. For the unaware, Mr. Moyers was a key figure in the creation of the notorious “Daisy” ad, dubbed by the New York Times at the time as “probably the most controversial TV commercial of all time.” The ad featured a young girl plucking daisy petals as a countdown leads to her annihilation in a nuclear blast. The message was clear: this was the fate of the earth if Barry Goldwater were elected. Beyond that is the fact that, as Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard showed in a 2003 article, Bill Moyers, during his career at PBS,

flagrantly indulges in the same conflicts of interest, Washington logrolling, and mutual back-scratching that he finds deeply objectionable in, well, everyone other than Bill Moyers. There were piles of documents–from IRS filings to internal records from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting–that supported this conclusion.

Moyers is among the most sanctimonious individuals on television (quite a feat, given the competition). He presents himself as a champion of good government, an intrepid voice for integrity and honesty, ever on the lookout for people who would degrade our public discourse or act in a dishonorable manner. That’s why this revelation — Moyers seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members — is particularly notable. And I suspect his excuse, that his “memory is unclear after so many years,” probably wouldn’t persuade Moyers himself, if the person in question were, say, a conservative.

The persona of Bill Moyers is very much at odds with his conduct over the years. This latest revelation deserves to be explored more fully.

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CNN’s ‘Bull’ on Holder Illustrates True Cowardice

CNN glamour girl newsie Campbell Brown tossed a bouquet at the feet of Attorney General Eric Holder on her “Cutting Through the Bull” segment of her “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull” show on Wednesday night.  Holder’s speech at the Justice Department in honor of Black History Month certainly got the country’s attention but it was hardly an example of “cutting through the bull.” If anything it is the sort of statement that not only will not help to increase understanding of the issue but will, through its incoherent logic and lack of perspective, create new divisions.

First of all, the idea of our first African-American attorney general serving in the administration of our first African-American president, choosing to say that America is a “nation of cowards” on the issue of race is absurd to the point of satire. Race may well be the original sin of American history but in schools all across this country this month, white, Hispanic and Asian children are learning about Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.  Racism may still exist but it lingers on the margins of our society and anyone who expresses any remark which can even be remotely accused of such prejudice is subjected to the sort of opprobrium that means permanent exile from positions of influence in politics, the media or even the arts.

And it was, after all, a clear majority of those “cowards” who elected Barack Obama president of the United States. While the endless round of self-congratulation on the part of so many Americans for doing this may be tiresome, it is nonetheless a fact that a nation that once enshrined black slavery in its Constitution and still practiced Jim Crow segregation only a half century now is led by a black man. While one could have said in the past few decades at times that the lowering of racial barriers was more a matter of law than anything else, after last November you can’t say that anymore. And for Holder, of all people, to make that argument from his own powerful perch atop the Justice Department is particularly egregious.

Even if we look beyond his bilious rhetoric about cowardice, Holder’s thoughts about Black History Month itself are utterly incoherent. He decries the “segregation” of black history into one month and claims that it must “integrated” into the history of the nation as a whole. He’s right about that. All too much of the teaching of history in this country has become subservient to politically correct notions about race and gender and even sexual preference. However the answer to this segregation is not more “affirmative action,” but the sort of race-blind policies that Holder has done everything in his power to not merely oppose but to delegitimize.

For Campbell Brown to applaud him for saying this is the worst sort of obsequious flackery which we have come to expect from so much of the mainstream press these days. The real “affirmative action” here is the pass that Holder is getting for giving a speech that reflects so badly on the Obama administration.

CNN glamour girl newsie Campbell Brown tossed a bouquet at the feet of Attorney General Eric Holder on her “Cutting Through the Bull” segment of her “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull” show on Wednesday night.  Holder’s speech at the Justice Department in honor of Black History Month certainly got the country’s attention but it was hardly an example of “cutting through the bull.” If anything it is the sort of statement that not only will not help to increase understanding of the issue but will, through its incoherent logic and lack of perspective, create new divisions.

First of all, the idea of our first African-American attorney general serving in the administration of our first African-American president, choosing to say that America is a “nation of cowards” on the issue of race is absurd to the point of satire. Race may well be the original sin of American history but in schools all across this country this month, white, Hispanic and Asian children are learning about Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.  Racism may still exist but it lingers on the margins of our society and anyone who expresses any remark which can even be remotely accused of such prejudice is subjected to the sort of opprobrium that means permanent exile from positions of influence in politics, the media or even the arts.

And it was, after all, a clear majority of those “cowards” who elected Barack Obama president of the United States. While the endless round of self-congratulation on the part of so many Americans for doing this may be tiresome, it is nonetheless a fact that a nation that once enshrined black slavery in its Constitution and still practiced Jim Crow segregation only a half century now is led by a black man. While one could have said in the past few decades at times that the lowering of racial barriers was more a matter of law than anything else, after last November you can’t say that anymore. And for Holder, of all people, to make that argument from his own powerful perch atop the Justice Department is particularly egregious.

Even if we look beyond his bilious rhetoric about cowardice, Holder’s thoughts about Black History Month itself are utterly incoherent. He decries the “segregation” of black history into one month and claims that it must “integrated” into the history of the nation as a whole. He’s right about that. All too much of the teaching of history in this country has become subservient to politically correct notions about race and gender and even sexual preference. However the answer to this segregation is not more “affirmative action,” but the sort of race-blind policies that Holder has done everything in his power to not merely oppose but to delegitimize.

For Campbell Brown to applaud him for saying this is the worst sort of obsequious flackery which we have come to expect from so much of the mainstream press these days. The real “affirmative action” here is the pass that Holder is getting for giving a speech that reflects so badly on the Obama administration.

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Increasing Uncertainty, Drawing out the Pain

One of the more egregious aspects of the homeowners’ bailout-plan is the provision to allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages (the bluntly named “cram down” provision). As Alan Reynolds explains:

Any plan that compels mortgage holders to reduce the amount of money they are owed must in turn reduce the value of mortgage-backed securities held by banks, insurance companies, pension funds, Fannie and Freddie, and the Fed. By injuring the balance sheets of potential lenders, a cramdown would also injure potential borrowers. The needless threat of inviting judges to rewrite mortgage contracts at whim helps explain why bank stocks generally fell on the plan’s announcement, while financial shorts rose.

It was this sort of mischief-making that candidate Barack Obama railed against Hillary Clinton for suggesting during the campaign. In a system in which lenders won’t lend, zombie banks are a major concern, and asset values are uncertain, it’s hard to imagine a worse move. (It is ironic that the U.S., which has lectured other countries about sound economies depending on the rule of law and property rights, is now flagrantly violating both willy nilly.)

Well, come to think of it, that’s really been par for the course since the waning months of the Bush administration and continuing into the present. One savvy observer writes that in addition to the mortgage rewriting rules, we have seen a dangerous pattern:

Then there’s the shapeshifting Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. It was sold to the public as a means to buy toxic assets from banks that nobody else wanted to touch. Then it morphed into the Treasury buying chunks of businesses outright and receiving preferred stock in return.

President Bush initially claimed that TARP couldn’t be used for a Detroit bailout, in part because the legislation refers to “financial institutions,” but he changed his mind in December and wrote a multi-billion dollar check. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced yet another set of TARP rules on his first day in office.

Perhaps some of these measures are necessary. Perhaps they’re not. But a collection of rules that seem to be constantly in flux is no way to reassure investors already rattled by a worldwide recession that is sharp and severe. Talk of outright bank nationalization, which the New York Times reported is taking place in the Obama administration, isn’t helping.

So when the Fed declares that the recession is going to be prolonged, one might surmise there is a reason for it. We are drawing out the pain, not allowing asset values to stabilize, increasing risks for lenders, not providing any incentives for businesses to hire and invest in the private sector, and piling up more and more public debt. How could there be any good outcome to this?

One of the more egregious aspects of the homeowners’ bailout-plan is the provision to allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages (the bluntly named “cram down” provision). As Alan Reynolds explains:

Any plan that compels mortgage holders to reduce the amount of money they are owed must in turn reduce the value of mortgage-backed securities held by banks, insurance companies, pension funds, Fannie and Freddie, and the Fed. By injuring the balance sheets of potential lenders, a cramdown would also injure potential borrowers. The needless threat of inviting judges to rewrite mortgage contracts at whim helps explain why bank stocks generally fell on the plan’s announcement, while financial shorts rose.

It was this sort of mischief-making that candidate Barack Obama railed against Hillary Clinton for suggesting during the campaign. In a system in which lenders won’t lend, zombie banks are a major concern, and asset values are uncertain, it’s hard to imagine a worse move. (It is ironic that the U.S., which has lectured other countries about sound economies depending on the rule of law and property rights, is now flagrantly violating both willy nilly.)

Well, come to think of it, that’s really been par for the course since the waning months of the Bush administration and continuing into the present. One savvy observer writes that in addition to the mortgage rewriting rules, we have seen a dangerous pattern:

Then there’s the shapeshifting Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. It was sold to the public as a means to buy toxic assets from banks that nobody else wanted to touch. Then it morphed into the Treasury buying chunks of businesses outright and receiving preferred stock in return.

President Bush initially claimed that TARP couldn’t be used for a Detroit bailout, in part because the legislation refers to “financial institutions,” but he changed his mind in December and wrote a multi-billion dollar check. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced yet another set of TARP rules on his first day in office.

Perhaps some of these measures are necessary. Perhaps they’re not. But a collection of rules that seem to be constantly in flux is no way to reassure investors already rattled by a worldwide recession that is sharp and severe. Talk of outright bank nationalization, which the New York Times reported is taking place in the Obama administration, isn’t helping.

So when the Fed declares that the recession is going to be prolonged, one might surmise there is a reason for it. We are drawing out the pain, not allowing asset values to stabilize, increasing risks for lenders, not providing any incentives for businesses to hire and invest in the private sector, and piling up more and more public debt. How could there be any good outcome to this?

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Where Are All the Geniuses?

It’s never a good sign when a leader is applauded for “surrounding himself” with smart people. Similar claims would not instill confidence under other circumstances. Medical patients don’t boast that their surgeon understands his limitations but speaks with some older men who are really good at operating. Yet, in the case of Barack Obama, a version of this sentiment has been continuously peddled as a form of reassurance. So, we might as well ask: Anyone seen these geniuses around?

Is Eric Holder one of them? The first black attorney general took the opportunity of his first speech to chastise America as “essentially a nation of cowards” who “do not talk enough with each other about race.”

Is Timothy Geithner one of them? The president’s “indispensable” Treasury secretary popped up for a much anticipated bank plan rollout, but at the last minute decided the plan was . . . dispensable.

When it came time to compose a stimulus, instead of calling on one of those university economic luminaries who flitted about the Obama campaign, the president gave the job to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid – maybe those two are the geniuses we’ve been hearing about.

In military affairs, the president is dealing with actual talent. But David Petraeus and Robert Gates are two accomplished experts from George W. Bush’s inner circle, not Barack Obama’s.

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It’s never a good sign when a leader is applauded for “surrounding himself” with smart people. Similar claims would not instill confidence under other circumstances. Medical patients don’t boast that their surgeon understands his limitations but speaks with some older men who are really good at operating. Yet, in the case of Barack Obama, a version of this sentiment has been continuously peddled as a form of reassurance. So, we might as well ask: Anyone seen these geniuses around?

Is Eric Holder one of them? The first black attorney general took the opportunity of his first speech to chastise America as “essentially a nation of cowards” who “do not talk enough with each other about race.”

Is Timothy Geithner one of them? The president’s “indispensable” Treasury secretary popped up for a much anticipated bank plan rollout, but at the last minute decided the plan was . . . dispensable.

When it came time to compose a stimulus, instead of calling on one of those university economic luminaries who flitted about the Obama campaign, the president gave the job to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid – maybe those two are the geniuses we’ve been hearing about.

In military affairs, the president is dealing with actual talent. But David Petraeus and Robert Gates are two accomplished experts from George W. Bush’s inner circle, not Barack Obama’s.

A few months ago, Michelle Obama said of her husband:

He surrounds himself with experienced people because he knows what he doesn’t know. He can learn it fast. But, he also wants the best and the brightest, the smartest people around the table. I think he’s built a great campaign because of that.

She was wrong on more than one count. Barack Obama was able to build a great campaign because of the dazzling candidate at the center of it.  Building a great administration is another story.

The truth is we have no right to be surprised. During the campaign, the whole time we were hearing about the brain trust surrounding Obama, the only people we ever knew him to have meaningfully interacted with were a crooked businessman, a paranoid preacher, a domestic terrorist, and a gaggle of Hollywood benefactors. The names of a few scholars were tossed around, but as a wily candidate Obama spent more time strategically distancing himself from one theoretician or another, depending on his audience. The idea of Obama as the eye of an I.Q storm took hold because there was really little else to say about a candidate with so slim a record.

But the question “Where are all the experts?” is only half the problem. The other half comes in the answer: “Who cares.”

When George W. Bush made his initial run for president in 2000, his keeping company with experts was largely lambasted as evidence of his own personal ignorance. Karl Rove, so the story went, had to call in an army of famous minds just to tutor the Texas governor into being a viable candidate. Bush’s critics might have been craven, and they never much cared for confronting facts, but on this, they had a point. There’s something suspicious about a leader who has to rely on a chorus of scholarly opinion. And to Bush’s great credit, he agreed. The former president was at his best when he bucked the all-knowing tide. When this study group or that think tank would issue a new plan for defeat in Iraq, and the New York Times would praise it to the hilt, Bush stood firm because he knew he had to live up to a higher standard. “So long as I’m the president, my measure of success is victory — and success,” he said. It became another funny Bush quote, but it has a certain Yogi Berra eloquence and, more important, what American today wouldn’t be thrilled to hear something so definitive, if tautological, from President Obama? What American wouldn’t love to find out what Obama’s own measure of success is?

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Bashing Bashir

Lately we have heard a great deal about a string of published memoirs which proved to be partly or mostly fictitious. In most cases, these books are immediately pulled from the shelves as soon as the truth is discovered.

But what happens when an artist casts his memoir under a thin veil of the overtly fantastic? Why, then he may say anything he wants.

One current example is the film Waltz with Bashir, an animated feature about Israel’s first war in Lebanon. Here, the whole thing is in cartoon, which is supposed to offer an artistic way of sharing the Israeli filmmaker’s experiences in the war. This is not the first time animation has been used in film to both cover and increase the horrible sense of what is being shown: In Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino broke to anime to depict violent rape.

But that was meant to be fiction. Waltz with Bashir is not — or at least, not really.

Over at Pajamas Media, John Rosenthal has offered a brilliant two-part take-down of Waltz with Bashir. The first part addresses the problematic nature of the work: Whereas the film certainly reflects the filmmaker’s feelings about his war experience, so many of the key scenes weave fiction with fact as to undermine the whole credibility of the memoir. The second part uncovers the funding behind the film — particularly the heavy support of European public funds, which have in the past gone to support the most blatant forms of grotesque Israel-bashing.

Waltz with Bashir has been a smashing success in Europe and stands a chance at winning an Oscar. Israelis, who are rightfully proud of their open society and culture of self-criticism, are beside themselves with joy. Should they be?

Lately we have heard a great deal about a string of published memoirs which proved to be partly or mostly fictitious. In most cases, these books are immediately pulled from the shelves as soon as the truth is discovered.

But what happens when an artist casts his memoir under a thin veil of the overtly fantastic? Why, then he may say anything he wants.

One current example is the film Waltz with Bashir, an animated feature about Israel’s first war in Lebanon. Here, the whole thing is in cartoon, which is supposed to offer an artistic way of sharing the Israeli filmmaker’s experiences in the war. This is not the first time animation has been used in film to both cover and increase the horrible sense of what is being shown: In Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino broke to anime to depict violent rape.

But that was meant to be fiction. Waltz with Bashir is not — or at least, not really.

Over at Pajamas Media, John Rosenthal has offered a brilliant two-part take-down of Waltz with Bashir. The first part addresses the problematic nature of the work: Whereas the film certainly reflects the filmmaker’s feelings about his war experience, so many of the key scenes weave fiction with fact as to undermine the whole credibility of the memoir. The second part uncovers the funding behind the film — particularly the heavy support of European public funds, which have in the past gone to support the most blatant forms of grotesque Israel-bashing.

Waltz with Bashir has been a smashing success in Europe and stands a chance at winning an Oscar. Israelis, who are rightfully proud of their open society and culture of self-criticism, are beside themselves with joy. Should they be?

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Hurry or We’ll . . . We’ll. . . Just Hurry!

The car companies are pulling the now familiar hold up routine: Give us the money or else! And in fact we have to do it so fast, before their plans are fully spelled out, or something really bad will happen.

But this is sophistry, as others have figured out:

GM posits this $30 billion against what it says would be a $100 billion tab for bankruptcy financing, a figure calculated to frighten the Obama Administration into doubling down on the $13.4 billion already lent to GM in December. Predictably, however, the latest plans defer most of the hardest decisions about labor costs and retiree benefits. The United Auto Workers are right to look askance at retiree benefit contributions made in company stock at a time when it isn’t clear that the stock is worth much anyway. Likewise for bondholders, who are being asked to agree to a debt-for-equity swap to cut GM’s debt load by two-thirds.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, has junked the idea of a car czar, perhaps because there’s no one willing to live that political nightmare. That alone should tell the Administration something. As long as this remains a political workout instead of a financial one, GM, Chrysler and the UAW will continue to postpone the hard choices. Only bankruptcy, painful as it may be, offers the tools and legal authority needed to force all stakeholders to change the habits that brought the companies to this ebb.

But, no, I don’t see this happening. The Obama administration seems no more courageous than the Bush team and no more willing to defend the taxpayers. No demand on the taxpayers is deemed too outrageous, even when it comes to Chrysler (which as, Paul Ingrassia explains, requires “constant government subsidies” and is demanding money “that neither Chrysler’s private-equity owners nor Fiat, which would get 35% of Chrysler’s stock, are willing to provide”).

It doesn’t take an “inter-agency task force” to say “no.” So I suspect we are in for the long haul —  spending tens if not hundreds of billions on a failed industry which employs fewer and fewer people. If there is a worse use of taxpayers’ money than the stimulus plan this is it.

The car companies are pulling the now familiar hold up routine: Give us the money or else! And in fact we have to do it so fast, before their plans are fully spelled out, or something really bad will happen.

But this is sophistry, as others have figured out:

GM posits this $30 billion against what it says would be a $100 billion tab for bankruptcy financing, a figure calculated to frighten the Obama Administration into doubling down on the $13.4 billion already lent to GM in December. Predictably, however, the latest plans defer most of the hardest decisions about labor costs and retiree benefits. The United Auto Workers are right to look askance at retiree benefit contributions made in company stock at a time when it isn’t clear that the stock is worth much anyway. Likewise for bondholders, who are being asked to agree to a debt-for-equity swap to cut GM’s debt load by two-thirds.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, has junked the idea of a car czar, perhaps because there’s no one willing to live that political nightmare. That alone should tell the Administration something. As long as this remains a political workout instead of a financial one, GM, Chrysler and the UAW will continue to postpone the hard choices. Only bankruptcy, painful as it may be, offers the tools and legal authority needed to force all stakeholders to change the habits that brought the companies to this ebb.

But, no, I don’t see this happening. The Obama administration seems no more courageous than the Bush team and no more willing to defend the taxpayers. No demand on the taxpayers is deemed too outrageous, even when it comes to Chrysler (which as, Paul Ingrassia explains, requires “constant government subsidies” and is demanding money “that neither Chrysler’s private-equity owners nor Fiat, which would get 35% of Chrysler’s stock, are willing to provide”).

It doesn’t take an “inter-agency task force” to say “no.” So I suspect we are in for the long haul —  spending tens if not hundreds of billions on a failed industry which employs fewer and fewer people. If there is a worse use of taxpayers’ money than the stimulus plan this is it.

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