Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 15, 2009

Ron Silver, 1946-2009

Ron Silver, a character actor of such power that he rose to the standing of a movie star for a few years in the late ’80s-early ’90s,  died today at the age of 62. His career was a fascinating one, encompassing brilliant performances on Broadway (Speed-the-Plow), on television (Wiseguy), and the cinema (Enemies: A Love Story, Reversal of Fortune). He was also unique among American performers in that the intensity of his interest in politics and political affairs was matched by his knowledge. A founder of the Creative Coalition, which all but inaugurated the age of the lobbying star, Silver was never an orthodox Hollywood liberal, in part because he was always keenly aware of the fragility and danger of Israel’s position and because he did not assume that his absolutist commitment to free speech required him to share every view with the American Civil Liberties Union.

September 11 merely hastened an ideological journey he was already making, and he was without illusion that his plain-spoken support for George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani was going to make his career a more difficult one. It is difficult to say how much injury it did him, since he got sick not long after the 2004 election and was battling cancer for years.

What was most striking about Ron was that he was a pleasure to talk to — and I don’t mean because he was a famous showbiz person who could reasonably simulate an intelligent conversation, a kind of grading on the curve that most of us lowly writers do when we come face to face with a glamorous celebrity who deigns to converse with us. Ron knew what he was talking about, he was a terrific ranconteur, and it was obvious that had he chosen a public-policy career, he would have done just fine. (He was also a dedicated COMMENTARY reader.) But he found himself as an actor, and he gave us immense pleasure in the doing of it, and it is as an actor that Ron Silver will be remembered as one of the finest of his time.

Ron Silver, a character actor of such power that he rose to the standing of a movie star for a few years in the late ’80s-early ’90s,  died today at the age of 62. His career was a fascinating one, encompassing brilliant performances on Broadway (Speed-the-Plow), on television (Wiseguy), and the cinema (Enemies: A Love Story, Reversal of Fortune). He was also unique among American performers in that the intensity of his interest in politics and political affairs was matched by his knowledge. A founder of the Creative Coalition, which all but inaugurated the age of the lobbying star, Silver was never an orthodox Hollywood liberal, in part because he was always keenly aware of the fragility and danger of Israel’s position and because he did not assume that his absolutist commitment to free speech required him to share every view with the American Civil Liberties Union.

September 11 merely hastened an ideological journey he was already making, and he was without illusion that his plain-spoken support for George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani was going to make his career a more difficult one. It is difficult to say how much injury it did him, since he got sick not long after the 2004 election and was battling cancer for years.

What was most striking about Ron was that he was a pleasure to talk to — and I don’t mean because he was a famous showbiz person who could reasonably simulate an intelligent conversation, a kind of grading on the curve that most of us lowly writers do when we come face to face with a glamorous celebrity who deigns to converse with us. Ron knew what he was talking about, he was a terrific ranconteur, and it was obvious that had he chosen a public-policy career, he would have done just fine. (He was also a dedicated COMMENTARY reader.) But he found himself as an actor, and he gave us immense pleasure in the doing of it, and it is as an actor that Ron Silver will be remembered as one of the finest of his time.

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Olmert Embraces the “Main Issue”

Ehud Olmert’s attempt at reaching a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority was questionable to begin with. Olmert, Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister, added to the anxiety of opposition observers by making outrageous statements, such as, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses… the State of Israel is finished.”

But today, in what might be his last cabinet meeting, Olmert ended up exactly like his predecessor’s predecessor, Ehud Barak. Barak aimed as high as Olmert at the 2000 Camp David summit, and departed rightly blaming the Palestinian leadership, headed by Yassir Arafat, for failure. Olmert doesn’t have Arafat to blame, but he still manages to lay fault squarly where it belongs:

“I said it in the past and I do not hesitate to repeat it: The State of Israel will have to make dramatic and very painful concessions in order to achieve peace, but the fact that we have not yet achieved it is first and foremost a result of the weakness, lack of will and lack of courage of Palestinian leaders to reach an agreement,” Olmert said. “Everything else is just an attempt to deflect attention from the main issue.”

While this statement does not fully compensate for Olmert’s political sins, it deserves some praise. If PA leaders – or other world leaders – were expecting the outgoing PM to join the chorus crying over Netanyahu’s prospective policies, they were mistaken. Whatever Netanyahu does in the future, at least he will have his predecessor’s words to back him on the centrality of Palestinian stubborness.

Ehud Olmert’s attempt at reaching a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority was questionable to begin with. Olmert, Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister, added to the anxiety of opposition observers by making outrageous statements, such as, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses… the State of Israel is finished.”

But today, in what might be his last cabinet meeting, Olmert ended up exactly like his predecessor’s predecessor, Ehud Barak. Barak aimed as high as Olmert at the 2000 Camp David summit, and departed rightly blaming the Palestinian leadership, headed by Yassir Arafat, for failure. Olmert doesn’t have Arafat to blame, but he still manages to lay fault squarly where it belongs:

“I said it in the past and I do not hesitate to repeat it: The State of Israel will have to make dramatic and very painful concessions in order to achieve peace, but the fact that we have not yet achieved it is first and foremost a result of the weakness, lack of will and lack of courage of Palestinian leaders to reach an agreement,” Olmert said. “Everything else is just an attempt to deflect attention from the main issue.”

While this statement does not fully compensate for Olmert’s political sins, it deserves some praise. If PA leaders – or other world leaders – were expecting the outgoing PM to join the chorus crying over Netanyahu’s prospective policies, they were mistaken. Whatever Netanyahu does in the future, at least he will have his predecessor’s words to back him on the centrality of Palestinian stubborness.

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Exporting Democracy (One Carbon Credit at a Time)

The island nation of the Maldives is an extraordinary little place. It is a newly (and organically) evolved democratic Sunni Muslim republic. It also boasts a recent political narrative of Dickensian improbability. Its president, Mohamed Nasheed, is a former political prisoner, having been an outspoken critic of Maumoon Gayoom, his dictatorial predecessor (and the longest ruling Asian leader at the time). Nasheed beat Gayoom in the country’s first fair elections last October.

The country’s human rights record has already improved dramatically. And earlier this month President Nasheed announced his intention to make the Maldives a safe haven for dissident writers.

Because the Maldives is the world’s smallest Asian country, and smallest Muslim country, this heartening drama has been completely overlooked. Moreover, because the Maldives is farther below sea level than any other country, all discussion of the Maldives’ future is dominated by fears of rising sea levels and the effect of global warming.

The Maldives has just added yet another superlative to its description:

The Maldives will shift entirely to renewable energy over the next decade to become the first carbon-neutral nation and fight climate change that threatens the low-lying archipelago’s existence, the president said on Sunday.

President Mohamed Nasheed said the Indian Ocean islands would swap fossil fuels for wind and solar power, and buy and destroy EU carbon credits to offset emissions from tourists flying to visit its luxury vacation resorts.

Talk about “cultural imperialism.” This tiny laboratory for Muslim democracy will take on global warming as its premier challenge (while America itself grows ever more doubtful that the phenomenon even exists.)  I suppose, in a twisted way, this bodes well for the future of the Maldives. Spending uselessly on liberal causes has become the way of the West. If President Nasheed’s plan doesn’t work out it won’t have anything to do with the supposed incompatibility between Islam and democracy. It will be because of the incompatibility between P.C. spending and democracy survival. And if that proves insurmountable, we’ll all be under water.

The island nation of the Maldives is an extraordinary little place. It is a newly (and organically) evolved democratic Sunni Muslim republic. It also boasts a recent political narrative of Dickensian improbability. Its president, Mohamed Nasheed, is a former political prisoner, having been an outspoken critic of Maumoon Gayoom, his dictatorial predecessor (and the longest ruling Asian leader at the time). Nasheed beat Gayoom in the country’s first fair elections last October.

The country’s human rights record has already improved dramatically. And earlier this month President Nasheed announced his intention to make the Maldives a safe haven for dissident writers.

Because the Maldives is the world’s smallest Asian country, and smallest Muslim country, this heartening drama has been completely overlooked. Moreover, because the Maldives is farther below sea level than any other country, all discussion of the Maldives’ future is dominated by fears of rising sea levels and the effect of global warming.

The Maldives has just added yet another superlative to its description:

The Maldives will shift entirely to renewable energy over the next decade to become the first carbon-neutral nation and fight climate change that threatens the low-lying archipelago’s existence, the president said on Sunday.

President Mohamed Nasheed said the Indian Ocean islands would swap fossil fuels for wind and solar power, and buy and destroy EU carbon credits to offset emissions from tourists flying to visit its luxury vacation resorts.

Talk about “cultural imperialism.” This tiny laboratory for Muslim democracy will take on global warming as its premier challenge (while America itself grows ever more doubtful that the phenomenon even exists.)  I suppose, in a twisted way, this bodes well for the future of the Maldives. Spending uselessly on liberal causes has become the way of the West. If President Nasheed’s plan doesn’t work out it won’t have anything to do with the supposed incompatibility between Islam and democracy. It will be because of the incompatibility between P.C. spending and democracy survival. And if that proves insurmountable, we’ll all be under water.

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The Buck Doesn’t Stop at the NIH

The Washington Post editors join a number of conservative critics in chiding the president for ducking the hard calls on stem cell research:

He decreed that federal funding of such research could go forward on a much broader scale than President George W. Bush had permitted. But he didn’t say whether it could proceed on stem cells derived from embryos created specifically for the purpose of research. This is in large part an ethical question. Mr. Obama is right to turn to scientists for advice on the matter, but he should not hide behind them in making the ultimate decision.

The editors are right to dispel the president’s presumption that this is now all a scientific question which can be palmed off to underlings at the National Institutes of Health. And then they twist the rhetorical knife, urging him to live up to the standard of seriousness set by his predecessor:

But it’s not the job of the scientist to decide whether those reasons outweigh concerns about such a practice. That’s the president’s job. He should listen to the scientists’ arguments, make his decision and — as Mr. Bush did in 2001 — explain it to the American people.

This is part of a pattern, of course, with Obama and his team. They sneer at their predecessor for either making the wrong choices or avoiding hard choices. But when it comes to those same tough decisions, they avert their eyes. They close Guantanamo and redefine the inhabitants but fail to come up with a reasonable alternative. They condemn enhanced interrogation techniques, but quietly leave the door open to utilize whatever means needed in a ticking-time-bomb situation. And on stem cells, the president has neither the intellectual heft nor the courage to set the policy for his own administration.

This is what comes from living in an intellectual cocoon where neither media or academia challenge your reasoning or doubt your moral superiority, where you can — with a roll of the eye and a catch phrase — dismiss your opposition.

The Post editors are right to press the president. To govern is to choose, and he should start choosing — honestly and openly.

The Washington Post editors join a number of conservative critics in chiding the president for ducking the hard calls on stem cell research:

He decreed that federal funding of such research could go forward on a much broader scale than President George W. Bush had permitted. But he didn’t say whether it could proceed on stem cells derived from embryos created specifically for the purpose of research. This is in large part an ethical question. Mr. Obama is right to turn to scientists for advice on the matter, but he should not hide behind them in making the ultimate decision.

The editors are right to dispel the president’s presumption that this is now all a scientific question which can be palmed off to underlings at the National Institutes of Health. And then they twist the rhetorical knife, urging him to live up to the standard of seriousness set by his predecessor:

But it’s not the job of the scientist to decide whether those reasons outweigh concerns about such a practice. That’s the president’s job. He should listen to the scientists’ arguments, make his decision and — as Mr. Bush did in 2001 — explain it to the American people.

This is part of a pattern, of course, with Obama and his team. They sneer at their predecessor for either making the wrong choices or avoiding hard choices. But when it comes to those same tough decisions, they avert their eyes. They close Guantanamo and redefine the inhabitants but fail to come up with a reasonable alternative. They condemn enhanced interrogation techniques, but quietly leave the door open to utilize whatever means needed in a ticking-time-bomb situation. And on stem cells, the president has neither the intellectual heft nor the courage to set the policy for his own administration.

This is what comes from living in an intellectual cocoon where neither media or academia challenge your reasoning or doubt your moral superiority, where you can — with a roll of the eye and a catch phrase — dismiss your opposition.

The Post editors are right to press the president. To govern is to choose, and he should start choosing — honestly and openly.

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ICC as Imperialist Tool?

Here’s a good one. A Saudi columnist, Hamad al-Majid, has blasted the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan as “Western imperialism.” Al-Majid writes:

Western imperialism left the Islamic countries in the last century after it destroyed them and exploited their wealth through direct conquest, and came back to them via the window of conquest and destruction for its own ends, by means of the legal frameworks it set for itself such as the International Criminal Court, with the excuse of defending human rights and disseminating justice via Western, rather than international, criteria.

Fans of Western Imperialism might wish he were right. In fact, the ICC is anything but. The United States is not even a member of the Court, flatly (and bipartisanly) rejecting the Rome Statute which created it, and even passing a law banning cooperation with it. Israel, too, has rejected anypparticipation in it. There are many bad things to say about the ICC, but invoking the imperialist bugaboo is not one of them.

Here’s a good one. A Saudi columnist, Hamad al-Majid, has blasted the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan as “Western imperialism.” Al-Majid writes:

Western imperialism left the Islamic countries in the last century after it destroyed them and exploited their wealth through direct conquest, and came back to them via the window of conquest and destruction for its own ends, by means of the legal frameworks it set for itself such as the International Criminal Court, with the excuse of defending human rights and disseminating justice via Western, rather than international, criteria.

Fans of Western Imperialism might wish he were right. In fact, the ICC is anything but. The United States is not even a member of the Court, flatly (and bipartisanly) rejecting the Rome Statute which created it, and even passing a law banning cooperation with it. Israel, too, has rejected anypparticipation in it. There are many bad things to say about the ICC, but invoking the imperialist bugaboo is not one of them.

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Getting to the Truth of Al Dura

One of the the most chilling images of the Second Intifadah came from the video showing the death of Mohammad Al-Durrah. The 12-year-old boy and his father were caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip in September, 2000. The two are seen on video, cringing for cover  behind a concrete cylinder, until both are wounded — the boy fatally.

At least, that’s the story that’s been told ever since. It’s taken years for the truth to dribble out.

documentary aired on German public television has scrutinized all the available evidence on the death of the boy, and their findings are disturbing:

•  Biometric analysis suggest that the boy who was filmed by France 2 is not the boy presented at the Gaza morgue and buried later.

• Lip-reading analysis suggests that the boy’s father Jamal al Dura gave direction to the people who were behind France 2′s cameraman during the filming of the scene.

• In France 2′s news report, there is no blood – neither on Mohammed nor on Jamal al Dura’s body, yet the two were supposed to have received 15 bullets all together.

• The boy shown at the funeral as Mohammed al Dura arrived at the hospital before 10am, whereas France 2′s news report was filmed after 2:30pm.

    For eight and a half years, Israel has been cudgeled with the al Dura story — and it may have very well have been Pallywood’s finest accomplishment.

    The world may never know fully what happened on that street in Gaza back in 2000. But it’s becoming clearer what didn’t happen.

    (Hat tip to Meryl Yourish.)

    One of the the most chilling images of the Second Intifadah came from the video showing the death of Mohammad Al-Durrah. The 12-year-old boy and his father were caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip in September, 2000. The two are seen on video, cringing for cover  behind a concrete cylinder, until both are wounded — the boy fatally.

    At least, that’s the story that’s been told ever since. It’s taken years for the truth to dribble out.

    documentary aired on German public television has scrutinized all the available evidence on the death of the boy, and their findings are disturbing:

    •  Biometric analysis suggest that the boy who was filmed by France 2 is not the boy presented at the Gaza morgue and buried later.

    • Lip-reading analysis suggests that the boy’s father Jamal al Dura gave direction to the people who were behind France 2′s cameraman during the filming of the scene.

    • In France 2′s news report, there is no blood – neither on Mohammed nor on Jamal al Dura’s body, yet the two were supposed to have received 15 bullets all together.

    • The boy shown at the funeral as Mohammed al Dura arrived at the hospital before 10am, whereas France 2′s news report was filmed after 2:30pm.

      For eight and a half years, Israel has been cudgeled with the al Dura story — and it may have very well have been Pallywood’s finest accomplishment.

      The world may never know fully what happened on that street in Gaza back in 2000. But it’s becoming clearer what didn’t happen.

      (Hat tip to Meryl Yourish.)

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      Little Old Us?

      Kathleen Parker must be nervous about losing her position as the conservative pundit most able to serve up what liberal media outlets like to hear. So she cooks up the perfect potion to suit liberal tastes, arguing that the decline of the mainstream media is caused by scruffy media critics. Wow.

      Had we only known the power and influence of those who dared to point out the biases, negligence, omissions and banality of the mainstream news. It wasn’t those underlying factors or the rise of Craigslist that undermined their ad revenue. It wasn’t even the emergence of point-of-view online journalism which did the trick. No, the conservative media critics accomplished all that. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.

      Then Parker offers up the hackneyed argument that Rush Limbaugh is the real elitist because he’s rich. Sigh. She apparently missed the “cling to guns” discussion during the campaign and  a dozen more incidents making it clear that elitism is a function of viewpoint and attitude — not back account.

      But the real problem with Parker’s analysis is that it imagines a media that doesn’t exist.  She waxes lyrical about:

      the daily-grind reporters who turn out for city council and school board meetings. Or the investigative teams who chase leads for months to expose abuse or corruption. These are the champions of the industry, not the food-fighters on TV or the grenade throwers on radio. Or the bloggers (with a few exceptions), who may be excellent critics and fact-checkers, but who rely on newspapers to provide their material.

      Well, that bears little resemblance to the reality of journalism today. Many of the most hobbled media dinosaurs ignore local news altogether. Ever try looking for coverage of the Los Angeles City Council in the Los Angeles Times? And while some reporters “chase leads for months” ( the Washington Post’s investigation of Walter Reed comes to mind) they often seem to be in the news-hiding business. Which is why, for example, the real progress in the Iraq War was first told by bloggers like Michael Yon and only revealed months and months later by the New York Times. And that’s why stories like Chas Freeman were reported almost exclusively in the blogosphere.

      Whatever the facts, Parker’s tale of woe is plainly what the mainstream media barons want to hear. But really what help is it? If you decry the critics and keep on doing what you’ve been doing chances are the trends will continue. More and more news outlets will close. And that seems to be exactly where we are heading.

      Kathleen Parker must be nervous about losing her position as the conservative pundit most able to serve up what liberal media outlets like to hear. So she cooks up the perfect potion to suit liberal tastes, arguing that the decline of the mainstream media is caused by scruffy media critics. Wow.

      Had we only known the power and influence of those who dared to point out the biases, negligence, omissions and banality of the mainstream news. It wasn’t those underlying factors or the rise of Craigslist that undermined their ad revenue. It wasn’t even the emergence of point-of-view online journalism which did the trick. No, the conservative media critics accomplished all that. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.

      Then Parker offers up the hackneyed argument that Rush Limbaugh is the real elitist because he’s rich. Sigh. She apparently missed the “cling to guns” discussion during the campaign and  a dozen more incidents making it clear that elitism is a function of viewpoint and attitude — not back account.

      But the real problem with Parker’s analysis is that it imagines a media that doesn’t exist.  She waxes lyrical about:

      the daily-grind reporters who turn out for city council and school board meetings. Or the investigative teams who chase leads for months to expose abuse or corruption. These are the champions of the industry, not the food-fighters on TV or the grenade throwers on radio. Or the bloggers (with a few exceptions), who may be excellent critics and fact-checkers, but who rely on newspapers to provide their material.

      Well, that bears little resemblance to the reality of journalism today. Many of the most hobbled media dinosaurs ignore local news altogether. Ever try looking for coverage of the Los Angeles City Council in the Los Angeles Times? And while some reporters “chase leads for months” ( the Washington Post’s investigation of Walter Reed comes to mind) they often seem to be in the news-hiding business. Which is why, for example, the real progress in the Iraq War was first told by bloggers like Michael Yon and only revealed months and months later by the New York Times. And that’s why stories like Chas Freeman were reported almost exclusively in the blogosphere.

      Whatever the facts, Parker’s tale of woe is plainly what the mainstream media barons want to hear. But really what help is it? If you decry the critics and keep on doing what you’ve been doing chances are the trends will continue. More and more news outlets will close. And that seems to be exactly where we are heading.

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      Must I Root for Derek Jeter?

      In tonight’s second-round World Baseball Classic match-up, the United States and the Netherlands face off in Miami.  Team USA was humiliated 11-1 by Puerto Rico last night, and another loss would force its elimination from the tournament.

      Of course, under normal circumstances, I would be rooting for the Americans all the way.  (And, as an avid collector of sports memorabilia, I even possess the appropriate paraphernalia for doing so.)  But the World Baseball Classic doesn’t feel quite normal.  Rather, its very premise – that players’ nationalities are supposed to be the basis for my rooting interests – feels totally forced.  For example, I’m a lifelong New York Mets fan – so how hard can I root against lovable Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who played for the recently eliminated Dominican Republic team?  Similarly, I’m a lifelong hater of the New York Yankees – so does being an American patriot mean that I must suddenly root for Derek Jeter?  Moreover, to the extent that being a Mets fan has given me a reflexive sensitivity for underdogs, rooting for the Netherlands – a team with only one Major League player on its roster – over the chock-full-of-professionals USA would actually feel quite natural.  Or, to put it another way, do I really have to root for Derek Jeter?

      There are many reasons why the World Baseball Classic has failed to generate much enthusiasm in the United States, and I suspect that the very dilemma that I will face later this evening is one of them.  One of the interesting paradoxes regarding baseball in America is that despite being our national pastime, the sport generates relatively little national pride.  Indeed, baseball more frequently divides us than it unites us: we typically root for our hometown teams, while the hometown team’s regional rival (and its fans) becomes our sworn enemy.  (Perhaps things are different in East Asia and Latin America, where annual baseball tournaments pitting national teams against one another are held, thus tying baseball more closely with national pride and catalyzing more excitement for the World Baseball Classic.) 

      Moreover, baseball’s social legacy as a breaker of racial and ethnic barriers in this country makes rooting on the basis of players’ national origins feel somewhat uncomfortable – almost blasphemous.  Or, to put it another way, can I really justify rooting against Jose Reyes because he’s not American?  (Answer: only if he joins the Yankees.)

      Still, when game time arrives, I will probably root for Team USA.  After all, what’s the Netherlands to me?  And, more importantly, I’d be devastated if the Americans’ quick exit made it easier for either Cuba or Venezuela to win a “world championship.”  Patriotism may not motivate my rooting interests much, but the horrifying prospect of a smiling Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez?  Now there’s something that gives me a stake in this tournament.

      In tonight’s second-round World Baseball Classic match-up, the United States and the Netherlands face off in Miami.  Team USA was humiliated 11-1 by Puerto Rico last night, and another loss would force its elimination from the tournament.

      Of course, under normal circumstances, I would be rooting for the Americans all the way.  (And, as an avid collector of sports memorabilia, I even possess the appropriate paraphernalia for doing so.)  But the World Baseball Classic doesn’t feel quite normal.  Rather, its very premise – that players’ nationalities are supposed to be the basis for my rooting interests – feels totally forced.  For example, I’m a lifelong New York Mets fan – so how hard can I root against lovable Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who played for the recently eliminated Dominican Republic team?  Similarly, I’m a lifelong hater of the New York Yankees – so does being an American patriot mean that I must suddenly root for Derek Jeter?  Moreover, to the extent that being a Mets fan has given me a reflexive sensitivity for underdogs, rooting for the Netherlands – a team with only one Major League player on its roster – over the chock-full-of-professionals USA would actually feel quite natural.  Or, to put it another way, do I really have to root for Derek Jeter?

      There are many reasons why the World Baseball Classic has failed to generate much enthusiasm in the United States, and I suspect that the very dilemma that I will face later this evening is one of them.  One of the interesting paradoxes regarding baseball in America is that despite being our national pastime, the sport generates relatively little national pride.  Indeed, baseball more frequently divides us than it unites us: we typically root for our hometown teams, while the hometown team’s regional rival (and its fans) becomes our sworn enemy.  (Perhaps things are different in East Asia and Latin America, where annual baseball tournaments pitting national teams against one another are held, thus tying baseball more closely with national pride and catalyzing more excitement for the World Baseball Classic.) 

      Moreover, baseball’s social legacy as a breaker of racial and ethnic barriers in this country makes rooting on the basis of players’ national origins feel somewhat uncomfortable – almost blasphemous.  Or, to put it another way, can I really justify rooting against Jose Reyes because he’s not American?  (Answer: only if he joins the Yankees.)

      Still, when game time arrives, I will probably root for Team USA.  After all, what’s the Netherlands to me?  And, more importantly, I’d be devastated if the Americans’ quick exit made it easier for either Cuba or Venezuela to win a “world championship.”  Patriotism may not motivate my rooting interests much, but the horrifying prospect of a smiling Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez?  Now there’s something that gives me a stake in this tournament.

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      Re: All the News That’s Fit to Print

      Walter Pincus isn’t going to let any facts get in the way in covering the Chas Freeman story, nor bestir himself to follow the bread crumbs left by the opinion writers of his own paper. That contingent, along with The Hill and Newsweek, have investigated the motivations and reasons why Democrats and Republicans opposed Chas Freeman’s nomination by — shockingly — talking to them. Not Pincus.

      Pincus acts as the PR department for the Arab States who adopt the Left blogosphere’s version of events. (Or, is that the other way around?) The Arab world is of course upset with the nefarious Israel Lobby they see lurking behind Freeman’s ouster. Pincus introduces no facts to dispute this version of events. The only contrary voice is provided by Caroline Glick, who expresses the view — widely accepted by members of  both parties in Congress — that Freeman’s views on Israel were extreme. But in this extract she does not address the reasons why Congressmen turned on Freeman.

      This is odd in the extreme. The Post reports on the Freeman debacle in the Opinion pages. The “news” reporter accepts and promotes the unsubstantiated Arab Lobby view of Freeman and the influence of the Jews. Pincus could have followed the factual trail neatly handed him by Frank Wolf and Charles Lane’s pieces. But no, his beat is apparently the Arab Lobby and he does a fine job of presenting their views.

      But it is nice to know how in sync the Left blogosphere is with the House of Saud.

      Walter Pincus isn’t going to let any facts get in the way in covering the Chas Freeman story, nor bestir himself to follow the bread crumbs left by the opinion writers of his own paper. That contingent, along with The Hill and Newsweek, have investigated the motivations and reasons why Democrats and Republicans opposed Chas Freeman’s nomination by — shockingly — talking to them. Not Pincus.

      Pincus acts as the PR department for the Arab States who adopt the Left blogosphere’s version of events. (Or, is that the other way around?) The Arab world is of course upset with the nefarious Israel Lobby they see lurking behind Freeman’s ouster. Pincus introduces no facts to dispute this version of events. The only contrary voice is provided by Caroline Glick, who expresses the view — widely accepted by members of  both parties in Congress — that Freeman’s views on Israel were extreme. But in this extract she does not address the reasons why Congressmen turned on Freeman.

      This is odd in the extreme. The Post reports on the Freeman debacle in the Opinion pages. The “news” reporter accepts and promotes the unsubstantiated Arab Lobby view of Freeman and the influence of the Jews. Pincus could have followed the factual trail neatly handed him by Frank Wolf and Charles Lane’s pieces. But no, his beat is apparently the Arab Lobby and he does a fine job of presenting their views.

      But it is nice to know how in sync the Left blogosphere is with the House of Saud.

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      J Street Defends Chas Freeman. Pope Still Catholic.

      It was only a matter of time before J Street — the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that is neither — came to the defense of Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Charles “Chas” Freeman. In a statement released Friday, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami says says that “J Street stayed out of this fight. First, we – probably like many of those who did comment – did not know enough about Freeman or his positions to really take a stand.” But even though Ben-Ami admits that his organization didn’t bother to familiarize themselves with Freeman and his worldview, he then goes on record defending the man and attacking his critics. “What is important to me is that the Obama team not draw the lesson from this episode that they simply need to be more careful vetting of appointees to make sure they’ve never criticized Israel,” he writes.

      The problem with this assertion is that there are plenty of people in the Obama administration, up to and including President Obama himself, who have criticized Israel, some quite stridently. This has been the case in every presidential administration. So the claim that Freeman lost out because he failed to pass an ideological litmus test imposed by “Israel-firsters,” in the language of his intemperate son, is a straw man argument, and it’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Ben-Ami would parrot it.

      Israel was not at the heart of the controversy over Chas Freeman. And Ben-Ami never actually acknowledges just what it is that made so many people — liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans etc. — outraged about his appointment to the NIC Chair. Doing so might lend credence to those critics’ arguments, so Ben-Ami does the easier thing. He ignores these concerns and propagates the meme that it was Freeman’s statements on Israel — awful as they were — that ultimately ended his career, despite all evidence to the contrary. (Does Jeremy Ben-Ami believe that Congressmen Wolf and Hastings, as well as Senators Bond, Coburn and Chambliss were all lying when they told the media that the dread Israel Lobby had next to nothing to do with scuttling Freeman’s appointment?)

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      It was only a matter of time before J Street — the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that is neither — came to the defense of Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Charles “Chas” Freeman. In a statement released Friday, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami says says that “J Street stayed out of this fight. First, we – probably like many of those who did comment – did not know enough about Freeman or his positions to really take a stand.” But even though Ben-Ami admits that his organization didn’t bother to familiarize themselves with Freeman and his worldview, he then goes on record defending the man and attacking his critics. “What is important to me is that the Obama team not draw the lesson from this episode that they simply need to be more careful vetting of appointees to make sure they’ve never criticized Israel,” he writes.

      The problem with this assertion is that there are plenty of people in the Obama administration, up to and including President Obama himself, who have criticized Israel, some quite stridently. This has been the case in every presidential administration. So the claim that Freeman lost out because he failed to pass an ideological litmus test imposed by “Israel-firsters,” in the language of his intemperate son, is a straw man argument, and it’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Ben-Ami would parrot it.

      Israel was not at the heart of the controversy over Chas Freeman. And Ben-Ami never actually acknowledges just what it is that made so many people — liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans etc. — outraged about his appointment to the NIC Chair. Doing so might lend credence to those critics’ arguments, so Ben-Ami does the easier thing. He ignores these concerns and propagates the meme that it was Freeman’s statements on Israel — awful as they were — that ultimately ended his career, despite all evidence to the contrary. (Does Jeremy Ben-Ami believe that Congressmen Wolf and Hastings, as well as Senators Bond, Coburn and Chambliss were all lying when they told the media that the dread Israel Lobby had next to nothing to do with scuttling Freeman’s appointment?)

      The real “lesson” to be learned from all this, and one that an ostensible “progressive” like Jeremy Ben-Ami should support, is that presidents should not appoint to sensitive intelligence positions people who defend the Tiananmen Square Massacre, take money from the Saudi Royal Family and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and refer to unrest in Tibet as a “race riot.”

      And on that very point: Ben-Ami never mentions the fact that Freeman was on the payroll of two foreign governments with values deeply inimical to those of the United States. From this omission, one can only conclude that this massive conflict of interest is not something that bothers Jeremy Ben-Ami or his organization.

      “Some are strutting proudly today at the personal destruction of someone who – in their view – is a real foe of Israel,” Ben-Ami writes. “In their view, intimidating those who would otherwise speak their mind on Israel is the ultimate service to protect and defend the state of Israel.” So the answer as to why J Street would take their belated stance in defense of Freeman while simultaneously admitting its abject ignorance of his positions is pretty simple: Friends of Israel (as well as people who view Saudi Arabia with suspicion, support democracy activists in China, a free Tibet, and human liberty more generally) are glad that the menace of Charles Freeman writing the country’s National Intelligence Estimates has passed. And since J Street has positioned itself as the enemy of the established pro-Israel community, it must oppose anything that these individuals and institutions stand for. Joe Lieberman raised questions about Charles Freeman? Why, Freeman must be a good guy!

      Of course, it’s much easier for J Street to make these remarks now that Freeman has dropped out. Had J Street rallied to his defense in the midst of the controversy, it would have been conspicuous as one of the very few “pro-Israel” organizations to have done so.

      “This really isn’t about Charles Freeman or the statements he’s made,” Ben-Ami writes in bold. That’s convenient; because if it was, Ben-Ami would have to grapple with Freeman’s unhinged swan song, in which he accuses American Jews of having dual loyalties. Why on earth would an organization claiming to be “pro-Israel” come to the defense — however muddled — of a man spouting such poison?

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      The Next Political Stunt: “The Other Guys Are Too Political”

      This takes the cake:

      Beginning Sunday, the White House will harness every part of the Democratic Party’s machinery to defend President Obama’s budget and portray Republicans as reflexively political, according to party strategists.

      A participant in the planning meetings described the push as a successor to Democrats’ message that Rush Limbaugh is the Republican Party leader. “We have exhausted the use of Rush as an attention-getter,” the official said.

      The team that spent weeks cooking up a scheme to tie the opposition to a talk show host, shut Republicans out of the stimulus drafting process, tries to put Rahm Emanuel in charge of the Census, and sneers at President Bush at every turn is going to cast the other guys as hopelessly political. Step One: Try to keep it under your hat that you have a political plot to paint the opposing party as too political.

      Really, do these people not have anything to do other than cook up one political campaign-type stunt after another? Well, that is what they do best, certainly better than constructing an economic recovery plan or convincing Red state senators that they are serious about fiscal discipline. And as we — and they — have discovered, campaigning is a heck of a lot easier than governing.

      This takes the cake:

      Beginning Sunday, the White House will harness every part of the Democratic Party’s machinery to defend President Obama’s budget and portray Republicans as reflexively political, according to party strategists.

      A participant in the planning meetings described the push as a successor to Democrats’ message that Rush Limbaugh is the Republican Party leader. “We have exhausted the use of Rush as an attention-getter,” the official said.

      The team that spent weeks cooking up a scheme to tie the opposition to a talk show host, shut Republicans out of the stimulus drafting process, tries to put Rahm Emanuel in charge of the Census, and sneers at President Bush at every turn is going to cast the other guys as hopelessly political. Step One: Try to keep it under your hat that you have a political plot to paint the opposing party as too political.

      Really, do these people not have anything to do other than cook up one political campaign-type stunt after another? Well, that is what they do best, certainly better than constructing an economic recovery plan or convincing Red state senators that they are serious about fiscal discipline. And as we — and they — have discovered, campaigning is a heck of a lot easier than governing.

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      Did Obama Read This Book?

      In the New York Times Book Review, James Traub reviews Rashid Khalidi’s “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.”  The most interesting question about the book is whether Khalidi’s friend and one-time associate Barack Obama received an advance copy during the transition.

      Khalidi “sees the cold war as a very un­equal battle between a world-girdling United States and a defensive and fearful Russia.”  His argument extends all the way to the present:  ”the global war on terror is in practice an American war in the Middle East against a largely imaginary set of enemies.”

      Traub says the book “often reads like a polemic rather than a work of history.”  Khalidi’s sense seems “flattened by his own preconceptions.” “Only by checking a footnote” does one learn that a critical quote, repeated twice in the book, may not be true.  As with Khalidi’s prior book, before swallowing his text you need to check his footnotes.

      Traub challenges Khalidi’s argument that American meddling is to blame for Arab troubles.  America meddled at least as much in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but “Vietnam is a stable auto­cracy experiencing rapid growth, and Thailand is a shaky and semiprosperous democracy . . . . Latin America is a largely democratic zone with both deeply impoverished and middle-range countries.”  Traub then asks:

      Why has the Arab world remained ­largely on the sidelines of globalization? . . . One of the most striking [explanations] comes from the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report, written by a group of Arab scholars in 2002. They concluded that Arab nations suffer from a “freedom deficit,” from pervasive gender inequality, from a weak commitment to education and from the widespread denial of human rights.

      So what should President Obama do with this tendentious new book by his old friend?

      [H]e ­should read it . . . to be reminded how very hard it is to make progress in a region where memories are long, and practically everything is blamed on the United States (or Israel).

      He may already have read it, but who’s to say how critically.  If you learned our Middle East enemies are largely imaginary, and that the region’s problems were chiefly caused by American meddling, you might decide to start your presidency with an apologetic interview on Al Arabiya television.

      In the New York Times Book Review, James Traub reviews Rashid Khalidi’s “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.”  The most interesting question about the book is whether Khalidi’s friend and one-time associate Barack Obama received an advance copy during the transition.

      Khalidi “sees the cold war as a very un­equal battle between a world-girdling United States and a defensive and fearful Russia.”  His argument extends all the way to the present:  ”the global war on terror is in practice an American war in the Middle East against a largely imaginary set of enemies.”

      Traub says the book “often reads like a polemic rather than a work of history.”  Khalidi’s sense seems “flattened by his own preconceptions.” “Only by checking a footnote” does one learn that a critical quote, repeated twice in the book, may not be true.  As with Khalidi’s prior book, before swallowing his text you need to check his footnotes.

      Traub challenges Khalidi’s argument that American meddling is to blame for Arab troubles.  America meddled at least as much in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but “Vietnam is a stable auto­cracy experiencing rapid growth, and Thailand is a shaky and semiprosperous democracy . . . . Latin America is a largely democratic zone with both deeply impoverished and middle-range countries.”  Traub then asks:

      Why has the Arab world remained ­largely on the sidelines of globalization? . . . One of the most striking [explanations] comes from the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report, written by a group of Arab scholars in 2002. They concluded that Arab nations suffer from a “freedom deficit,” from pervasive gender inequality, from a weak commitment to education and from the widespread denial of human rights.

      So what should President Obama do with this tendentious new book by his old friend?

      [H]e ­should read it . . . to be reminded how very hard it is to make progress in a region where memories are long, and practically everything is blamed on the United States (or Israel).

      He may already have read it, but who’s to say how critically.  If you learned our Middle East enemies are largely imaginary, and that the region’s problems were chiefly caused by American meddling, you might decide to start your presidency with an apologetic interview on Al Arabiya television.

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      Flotsam and Jetsam

      The Washington Post is just catching on to the president’s “blame Bush” fetish. Had the paper been listening rather than swooning they would have heard plenty of that in the Inaugural Address and noticed that dinging Bush has been a staple of these public signing ceremonies for a while.

      Republicans have some openings in 2010: “Election data recently released by Congressional Quarterly shows 49 districts voted for a Democrat in the House and GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for president, providing an early cheat sheet of potential GOP targets.”

      The effort to short circuit a potential filibuster by throwing cap-and-trade into the budget reconciliation process seems to have hit a snag. Seems like many Democrats aren’t interested in junking Senate rules to jam through a $600B-plus energy tax.

      Meanwhile, some House Democrats aren’t keen on Obama’s healthcare plan: “Blue Dog Democrats are asking President Obama to come up with a revenue-neutral healthcare plan in lieu of his initial proposal, according to a letter being drafted by the growing bloc of fiscally conservative House Democrats. Blue Dog Co-Chairman Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said the coalition is in the midst of writing the letter, in which it will be calling on the White House to put forth an alternative healthcare proposal to the one it offered up in its budget.”

      If you watch nothing else, spend six minutes viewing John Stossel, who gets bailout and stimulus mania exactly right. And, better than just about anyone else, he makes the politicians look rather ignorant or dishonest — or both. Why isn’t he the moderator for Meet the Press?

      Ben Smith bizarrely terms Chas Freeman’s interview with the former Lyndon LaRouche-ite Robert Dreyfuss “calmer,” and neatly fails to mention the “Lieberman Lobby” slur. When Politico declared itself to be on par with the New York Times’ political reporting they were apparently right — and this is not a good thing.

      At 10:36 in his interview with Jake Tapper, hear Eric Cantor discuss being an observant Jew in the Republican Party.

      Separately, Cantor leads the charge to dump the Virginia GOP Chairman.

      Card check continues to tie up the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates in knots.

      The Washington Post is just catching on to the president’s “blame Bush” fetish. Had the paper been listening rather than swooning they would have heard plenty of that in the Inaugural Address and noticed that dinging Bush has been a staple of these public signing ceremonies for a while.

      Republicans have some openings in 2010: “Election data recently released by Congressional Quarterly shows 49 districts voted for a Democrat in the House and GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for president, providing an early cheat sheet of potential GOP targets.”

      The effort to short circuit a potential filibuster by throwing cap-and-trade into the budget reconciliation process seems to have hit a snag. Seems like many Democrats aren’t interested in junking Senate rules to jam through a $600B-plus energy tax.

      Meanwhile, some House Democrats aren’t keen on Obama’s healthcare plan: “Blue Dog Democrats are asking President Obama to come up with a revenue-neutral healthcare plan in lieu of his initial proposal, according to a letter being drafted by the growing bloc of fiscally conservative House Democrats. Blue Dog Co-Chairman Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said the coalition is in the midst of writing the letter, in which it will be calling on the White House to put forth an alternative healthcare proposal to the one it offered up in its budget.”

      If you watch nothing else, spend six minutes viewing John Stossel, who gets bailout and stimulus mania exactly right. And, better than just about anyone else, he makes the politicians look rather ignorant or dishonest — or both. Why isn’t he the moderator for Meet the Press?

      Ben Smith bizarrely terms Chas Freeman’s interview with the former Lyndon LaRouche-ite Robert Dreyfuss “calmer,” and neatly fails to mention the “Lieberman Lobby” slur. When Politico declared itself to be on par with the New York Times’ political reporting they were apparently right — and this is not a good thing.

      At 10:36 in his interview with Jake Tapper, hear Eric Cantor discuss being an observant Jew in the Republican Party.

      Separately, Cantor leads the charge to dump the Virginia GOP Chairman.

      Card check continues to tie up the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates in knots.

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