Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 8, 2011

Re: Barack Obama, Political Hack

As Pete points out, Obama’s Osawatomie speech was flagrantly dishonest as to what Republicans stand for. In the president’s view, one is either a big-government liberal or Ebenezer Scrooge.

But presenting a pathetic caricature of his political opponents was not the president’s only venture into the murkier depths of mendacity in that speech. He lied about economic history with abandon, too.

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As Pete points out, Obama’s Osawatomie speech was flagrantly dishonest as to what Republicans stand for. In the president’s view, one is either a big-government liberal or Ebenezer Scrooge.

But presenting a pathetic caricature of his political opponents was not the president’s only venture into the murkier depths of mendacity in that speech. He lied about economic history with abandon, too.

As Investor’s Business Daily writes, “One thing is certainly true about President Obama. No matter how many times people point out the falsehoods in his speeches, he just keeps making them. Case in point: his latest ‘economic fairness’ address.”

Among the shameless whoppers he peddled (IBD points out no fewer than five) was the idea that tax cuts and deregulation have “never worked” to grow the economy. Ummm, exactly what planet was Barack Obama resident on during the Reagan presidency? It saw 1) tax cuts, 2) deregulation (started under that notorious let-’em-eat-cake right-winger Jimmy Carter), and 3) the greatest boom in American history, which would carry the Dow Jones Industrial Average from under 1,000 to over 14,000 in 25 years. There was a net of 21 million jobs created in the 1980s, the greatest time of job creation in American history. We added an economy the size of Germany’s to the one we already had in those years.

He also said there was weak regulation under George W. Bush, with little oversight. Then what, exactly, did the people who made up the 42 percent increase in federal regulatory personnel during the Bush years do, cut out paper dolls, solve crossword puzzles?

I agree with Pete that this is a sign of desperation. All politicians are “parsimonious with the truth” now and then and engage, in Winston Churchill’s wonderful phrase, in “terminological inexactitude.” They don’t say black is white if they have something better to say.

Of course Obama knows the mainstream media will not report the fact that he is lying to the American people. But that doesn’t matter so much with the Internet and YouTube. As Dan Rather discovered to his career-ending chagrin in 2004, lies get exposed pretty quickly and widely these days.

 

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Kristof’s Dinner With Islamists

The New York Times has a long history of publishing disingenuous articles and columns that whitewashed totalitarians and tyrants. It’s not easy to top Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning lies about Stalin and the terror famine in the Ukraine which took the lives of millions; Herbert Matthews’s portrayal of Fidel Castro as a democrat freedom-fighter; or, more recently, Roger Cohen’s attempt to depict the Islamist regime in Iran as unthreatening philo-Semites who were not oppressing that country’s tiny Jewish remnant. And it must be said that as bad as it was, Nicholas Kristof’s column today depicting members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as just an updated Middle Eastern version of “Ozzie and Harriet,” falls short of those epic frauds.

But we can’t say that Kristof isn’t trying hard to equal their feats of dishonesty. His column, an unabashed effort to depict the Islamist group that gave birth to Hamas as liberal, open-minded peace-loving people who just want democracy and prosperity for Egypt is very much in the Times tradition of trying to convince Americans there was no need to worry about totalitarian movements. Its lack of context and truth about the openly-stated intentions of a movement that has been the inspiration for a generation of Islamic terror is disturbing.

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The New York Times has a long history of publishing disingenuous articles and columns that whitewashed totalitarians and tyrants. It’s not easy to top Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning lies about Stalin and the terror famine in the Ukraine which took the lives of millions; Herbert Matthews’s portrayal of Fidel Castro as a democrat freedom-fighter; or, more recently, Roger Cohen’s attempt to depict the Islamist regime in Iran as unthreatening philo-Semites who were not oppressing that country’s tiny Jewish remnant. And it must be said that as bad as it was, Nicholas Kristof’s column today depicting members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as just an updated Middle Eastern version of “Ozzie and Harriet,” falls short of those epic frauds.

But we can’t say that Kristof isn’t trying hard to equal their feats of dishonesty. His column, an unabashed effort to depict the Islamist group that gave birth to Hamas as liberal, open-minded peace-loving people who just want democracy and prosperity for Egypt is very much in the Times tradition of trying to convince Americans there was no need to worry about totalitarian movements. Its lack of context and truth about the openly-stated intentions of a movement that has been the inspiration for a generation of Islamic terror is disturbing.

According to Kristof’s hosts, the Brotherhood is a feminist, democratic and non-violent movement that wouldn’t think of imposing its views on its fellow citizens or breaking the peace treaty with Israel. Like the Russian communists depicted by Duranty and the Cubans Mathews wrote about, they see themselves as revolutionaries in the tradition of George Washington, not the Ayatollah Khomeini. The entire history of the Muslim Brotherhood is steeped in rejection of Western-style democracy, yet a commitment to an ideological and religious war on the West goes unmentioned in Kristof’s column. So, too, does its equally strong tradition in promoting the vilest anti-Semitism and exporting it to the rest of the globe.

Kristof listens and transcribes meekly when his Brotherhood hosts tell him with a straight face all they care about is jobs. He takes their vague promises of good behavior at face value and concludes by actually comparing their Islamist resurgence in Egypt and their struggle to power to the travails of the early American republic after the Battle of Yorktown. But in order to believe that you have to discard every available piece of evidence about Brotherhood beliefs and actions in the last 30 years, because they helped inspire the assassination of Anwar Sadat for the sin of making peace with Israel.

But to Kristof, as with other Western pilgrims who sit at the feet or at the dinner table with such people, the goal is not to enlighten his readers about the true nature of his hosts. One senses that even in this absurd column Kristof knows he’s being played for a sucker. But he doesn’t care, because his objective isn’t so much to make us like the Brotherhood as it is to cause us to ignore it. As he writes, “A bit of nervousness is fine, but let’s not overdo the hand-wringing — or lose perspective.”

In fact, perspective is the one thing he wishes Americans to avoid when thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Duranty, Matthews and Cohen, Kristof wants us to pretend that its rise is not a clear and present threat to the stability and peace of the Middle East, because to do so is to recognize the inevitability of conflict. In fact, it is no more democratic than the Islamists thugs who now rule in Iran, something that is motivating the Egyptian Army to stay involved in the country’s government lest they find themselves living in a new Islamic republic.

Americans should be good and scared about the most populous Arab country falling under the sway of a violent and extreme movement that is ideologically committed to struggle against the West. They should also worry about the willingness of what remains one of our leading newspapers to print the sort of dishonest journalism Kristof has produced from Egypt.

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Promising Bolton and the Embassy

For those of us who have been following the interaction between presidential candidates and the pro-Israel candidates for longer than the last couple of election cycles, yesterday’s pledge by Newt Gingrich to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a blast from the past. Such promises were a time-honored ritual for decades until the blatant insincerity of these statements caused both the Jews and the candidates to halt the charade.

But Gingrich’s other big promise to the RJC was far more intriguing. By saying that he would appoint John Bolton as secretary of state, Gingrich was laying down a firm claim on the affections of Republicans who care about national security and the need to assert a strong foreign policy. It’s not clear that he can make good on this pledge any more than he can actually move the embassy, but by anointing Bolton as his chosen foreign affairs expert, Gingrich has at the very least ended any uncertainty about the direction he’d like his presidency to take.

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For those of us who have been following the interaction between presidential candidates and the pro-Israel candidates for longer than the last couple of election cycles, yesterday’s pledge by Newt Gingrich to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a blast from the past. Such promises were a time-honored ritual for decades until the blatant insincerity of these statements caused both the Jews and the candidates to halt the charade.

But Gingrich’s other big promise to the RJC was far more intriguing. By saying that he would appoint John Bolton as secretary of state, Gingrich was laying down a firm claim on the affections of Republicans who care about national security and the need to assert a strong foreign policy. It’s not clear that he can make good on this pledge any more than he can actually move the embassy, but by anointing Bolton as his chosen foreign affairs expert, Gingrich has at the very least ended any uncertainty about the direction he’d like his presidency to take.

It’s not certain whether a President Gingrich could make good on his embassy pledge even if he intends to. The move would kick up a rumpus and, no doubt, lead to bloody riots throughout a Muslim world that is still not reconciled to Israel’s existence, let alone the Jewish state’s possession of its ancient capital. But it must be said that even if the promise was the result of pure political opportunism on Gingrich’s part, it does lay down a marker that is of some value. No matter what he actually does as president, assuming, that is, he can actually be elected, Gingrich would assume office sending a clear signal he wished to rekindle the closeness between the U.S. and Israel that has become a casualty of the Obama presidency.

As for Bolton, considering that the former ambassador to the United Nations (who pondered but ultimately rejected his own presidential bid) hasn’t endorsed Gingrich and has said he’s staying neutral, Gingrich’s promise was certainly unusual. For a candidate who has flipped and flopped on the conflicts in Iran, Iraq and Libya more than Mitt Romney has done on abortion, to undertake to appoint the most stalwart advocate of an assertive U.S. foreign policy on the current scene is an interesting turn of events. At the very least, it is an attempt to make sure Republicans understand that Gingrich is abandoning his flirtation with the neo-isolationist wing of the party that the former Speaker has at times seemed to embrace in the last decade. Bolton is a voice of reason and a truth-teller, which would make him an excellent secretary of state as well as a wise counselor to any president.

Of course, there is no guarantee even if Gingrich wins in November that he can have his choice, because it must be remembered that Bolton did not even win confirmation from the Senate for the UN post and had to be satisfied with a relatively brief recess appointment.

Nevertheless, Gingrich’s Bolton promise is one that conservatives should file away and hold him to in the event that his current surge lasts all the way to victory next November. While he may not redeem it as easily as Romney’s pledge to make his foreign trip after the election to Israel (a barb aimed at Obama who has pointedly left it off his travel itineraries to the Middle East during his three years in office), it is one that, if kept, would help transform American foreign policy for the better.

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Perry Declines Trump Debate

Rick Perry is now the fourth candidate to turn down the invitation to Newsmax’s Donald Trump-moderated debate. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have also opted out, which leaves just Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to duke it out for Trump’s endorsement:

In a statement, Perry’s campaign says the Texas governor told Trump he’ll be busy meeting Iowa voters before the caucuses Jan. 3.

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Rick Perry is now the fourth candidate to turn down the invitation to Newsmax’s Donald Trump-moderated debate. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have also opted out, which leaves just Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to duke it out for Trump’s endorsement:

In a statement, Perry’s campaign says the Texas governor told Trump he’ll be busy meeting Iowa voters before the caucuses Jan. 3.

“Traditional retail campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus is the Perry campaign’s top priority,” the statement says.

The statement says Perry, one of several candidates to visit Trump at his New York City office, “respects” Trump “and the folks at Newsmax,” the conservative publication hosting the Dec. 27 debate.

While Gingrich and Santorum have already committed themselves to participating, Bachmann still hasn’t made up her mind. And based on her comments earlier today (she told “Fox and Friends” that she’s worried about Trump being a “biased” moderator), it sounds like she’s leaning against it. Perry’s decision might prompt her to reject the invite. But the prospect of having all that additional airtime to attack Gingrich might be too attractive for her to turn down.

Then there’s this strong criticism of the debate from Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus today:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus spoke out Thursday against an upcoming GOP presidential debate to be moderated by Donald Trump, saying it would be “malpractice” for him as the leader of the party not to think the debate was problematic.

“We appreciate what Mr. Trump has done, but if you’re still talking about potentially running as an independent candidate, I think that’s a problem,” Priebus said on Fox News. “I think that would be malpractice for me as an RNC chairman to not believe that that is an issue.”

Priebus was careful to say the candidates should make up their own minds, but the message from the RNC is clear: the Trump debate is bad for the Republican Party. And it’s hard to fathom why a candidate for the GOP nomination would want to do something that’s viewed as damaging to the Republican Party. If Bachmann does end up turning down the invitation, will it definitively sink the debate? Newsmax wouldn’t seriously go ahead with just a Gingrich-Santorum showdown, would it? The irony of the situation is that Trump was ostensibly brought on to help attract viewers and media attention, but by driving away most of the candidates, he may actually end up doing the exact opposite.

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Holder is the Weakest Link

After having spent decades of my life in politics, I’ve come up with a few rules of thumb. One of them is this: Any time the attorney general of the United   States needs to explain to a member of Congress the difference between lying to Congress versus misleading Congress, it’s not a good thing. When your argument is essentially, “We misled you but we didn’t lie to you” – if that’s your best interpretation of events — you’re in a bad place.

Eric Holder is in a bad place. He testified before Congress today on the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, and when asked by Representative James Sensenbrenner, “Tell me what’s the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?” Holder replied, “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie.” (The issue under discussion was the Justice Department having to withdraw a misleading letter sent to Congress by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.)

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After having spent decades of my life in politics, I’ve come up with a few rules of thumb. One of them is this: Any time the attorney general of the United   States needs to explain to a member of Congress the difference between lying to Congress versus misleading Congress, it’s not a good thing. When your argument is essentially, “We misled you but we didn’t lie to you” – if that’s your best interpretation of events — you’re in a bad place.

Eric Holder is in a bad place. He testified before Congress today on the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, and when asked by Representative James Sensenbrenner, “Tell me what’s the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?” Holder replied, “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie.” (The issue under discussion was the Justice Department having to withdraw a misleading letter sent to Congress by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.)

The weakest link in the Obama administration chain is Eric Holder. His department is badly mismanaged. The attorney general has botched efforts to
prosecute CIA agents for their role in Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and demanding a civilian trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed. GITMO remains open. And the Fast and Furious scandal, which has already cost lives, is far from over. Eric Holder has accumulated enough failures and scandals to justify three
resignations.

The danger for President Obama is that the Fast and Furious program becomes a double symbol for the administration – both in terms of incompetence and in terms of ethics. A border agent died because of the ineptness of the Department of Justice. Holder admitted today that weapons lost during the course of the failed Fast and Furious gunrunning operation will continue to show up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico “for years to come.” He’s saying he accepts responsibility without in fact wanting to be held accountable.

The attorney general should resign now — but if not now, he will later, before the 2012 election. This is not a man Obama wants to be forced to defend.

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How the Left Would Spin Newt vs. Obama

Two recent stories illustrate the fascinating and complicated relationship Newt Gingrich has with the Republican party’s conservative base, and how that will play out if he wins the nomination. The first is Nate Silver’s piece in the New York Times, which convincingly demonstrates that the Gingrich revolution of 1994 solidified a move to the right by congressional Republicans that continues to this day.

That is, the average Republican in the House is more conservative than before Gingrich’s leadership, and that trend has persisted in his absence. While Gingrich may not be considered a Tea Partier per se, Silver’s data argue that Gingrich laid the foundation for the movement’s electoral success. In one sense, this would seem to make Gingrich the easy choice over Mitt Romney for conservatives. But the other story complicates the picture a bit.

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Two recent stories illustrate the fascinating and complicated relationship Newt Gingrich has with the Republican party’s conservative base, and how that will play out if he wins the nomination. The first is Nate Silver’s piece in the New York Times, which convincingly demonstrates that the Gingrich revolution of 1994 solidified a move to the right by congressional Republicans that continues to this day.

That is, the average Republican in the House is more conservative than before Gingrich’s leadership, and that trend has persisted in his absence. While Gingrich may not be considered a Tea Partier per se, Silver’s data argue that Gingrich laid the foundation for the movement’s electoral success. In one sense, this would seem to make Gingrich the easy choice over Mitt Romney for conservatives. But the other story complicates the picture a bit.

Liberal historian Michael Kazin writes that he “sincerely hope[s] Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination for president: It could bring a healthy candor to our politics and end up boosting the fortunes of liberalism as well.” Kazin’s reasoning is simple: President Obama would have to accept Gingrich’s debate challenge, and the result would be an intelligent, honest conversation about liberalism and conservatism in this country. Kazin thinks Obama would win the election, and thereby deal a serious blow to the credibility of American conservatism, as Americans would have (in his scenario) voiced a clear preference for liberalism.

Kazin needs to employ a type of bait-and-switch for this argument to have any coherence, however, because as Kazin must surely know, Gingrich is more a Rockefeller Republican than a Tea Party-style conservative, and does not instinctively shy away from an energetic federal government.

And therein lies the challenge for conservatives. Because Gingrich is tied to a certain degree to the conservative movement through his House leadership in the ’90s, a Gingrich loss to Obama would be spun by the media the way Kazin attempts to here. But to get an idea of the bad-faith spin the Democrats would employ, watch what Kazin does to bridge the ideological gap between Gingrich and the base:

When Gingrich calls for setting up a private retirement system to compete with Social Security, the president could explain why the current system is equitable as well as cheaper and more reliable. When Newt proposes that boards of citizens vote on whether undocumented immigrants in their localities should stay or be deported, Obama can respond with tales of the vigilante groups that terrorized German immigrants in World War I and Japanese-Americans in World War II. When Gingrich argues for a flat tax, the president would defend the egalitarian logic that underlies the progressive income tax. And if Newt really wants kids to spend time mopping the floors and cleaning the toilets of their schools, the president can remind him why child labor laws got passed in the first place….

It would expose the moral and logical defects of the conservative ideology that has been mostly dominant in the U.S. since 1980, even under Democratic presidents.

See what he did there? A private retirement system, immigrant deportation boards, a flat tax, and child labor–not one of these has been “conservative ideology that has been mostly dominant” in American politics. These are ideas that may or may not stick with Gingrich, not bedrock conservative policies that would have to be uprooted for Obama’s vision of America to take hold.

In one sense, this is just part of the left’s association of anything they deem good with liberalism and anything they deem bad with conservatism. But in another sense, it’s a preview of the coming intellectual attack on conservatism that helps explain why conservatives have been reluctant to throw their weight behind either of the current frontrunners.

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Holder, Perjury and Intent

Attorney General Eric Holder parsed words today while testifying before Congress, claiming that “nobody at the Department of Justice has lied” about the Fast and Furious program – at least not under the “legal” definition. According to Holder, the DOJ didn’t realize it was presenting inaccurate information to Congress last February, which means nobody in the department can be accused of perjury:

Rep. James Sensenbrenner asked Holder: “Tell me what’s the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?”

Holder’s response is a bit Clintonian. “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie,” Holder said. “The information that was provided by the February 4 letter was gleaned by the people who drafted the letter after they interacted with people who they thought were in the best position to have the information.”

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Attorney General Eric Holder parsed words today while testifying before Congress, claiming that “nobody at the Department of Justice has lied” about the Fast and Furious program – at least not under the “legal” definition. According to Holder, the DOJ didn’t realize it was presenting inaccurate information to Congress last February, which means nobody in the department can be accused of perjury:

Rep. James Sensenbrenner asked Holder: “Tell me what’s the difference between lying and misleading Congress, in this context?”

Holder’s response is a bit Clintonian. “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie,” Holder said. “The information that was provided by the February 4 letter was gleaned by the people who drafted the letter after they interacted with people who they thought were in the best position to have the information.”

The February 4 letter from Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms didn’t knowingly sanction the sale of assault weapons. It’s since been withdrawn by the DOJ because of “inaccuracies.”

But even if Weich didn’t realize the letter was inaccurate, other officials at the DOJ who were aware could have corrected the record. And yet that didn’t happen.

Holder’s argument may hold up legally. But it’s not one that will win him sympathy with the public. The evidence is mounting that Holder’s DOJ misled Congress, and Republicans are calling for his resignation. There doesn’t have to be a perjury conviction in order for Holder to lose his job.

Video of Holder’s comments below:

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Obama’s Gay Rights Pander

Predictable people are saying predictable things about the Obama administration’s new global gay-rights push. “Historic, amazing, truly heartwarming stuff,” writes Wonkette blogger Matt Langer of Hillary Clinton’s speech on the new policy. Regarding President Obama’s memo on the initiative,  ”The White House is extending a helping hand to some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals,” says Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. “[Tuesday]’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people,” according to Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Actually, Tuesday’s actions confirm the exact opposite. Because this historic, amazing, and truly heartwarming policy isn’t about human rights. It’s about the toxic but useful politics of identity. By redefining the universal struggle for liberty as separate fashionable identity crusades the administration trades unpopular and risky action for the cheap currency of hollow activism. Wars become memos and speeches and your thousand closest Facebook friends express their appreciation. Sure, without American action freedoms become crimes punishable by death, but you can’t have everything.

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Predictable people are saying predictable things about the Obama administration’s new global gay-rights push. “Historic, amazing, truly heartwarming stuff,” writes Wonkette blogger Matt Langer of Hillary Clinton’s speech on the new policy. Regarding President Obama’s memo on the initiative,  ”The White House is extending a helping hand to some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals,” says Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. “[Tuesday]’s actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people,” according to Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Actually, Tuesday’s actions confirm the exact opposite. Because this historic, amazing, and truly heartwarming policy isn’t about human rights. It’s about the toxic but useful politics of identity. By redefining the universal struggle for liberty as separate fashionable identity crusades the administration trades unpopular and risky action for the cheap currency of hollow activism. Wars become memos and speeches and your thousand closest Facebook friends express their appreciation. Sure, without American action freedoms become crimes punishable by death, but you can’t have everything.

Think about it. At the end of this year, the United States will cease to be a military presence in Iraq. Here’s whose influence will grow in Iraq once the U.S. leaves: Al-Qaeda, whose new leader once shot a male teenage rape victim in the head for the “crime” of homosexuality. You read that right. The boy was first deemed gay for having been raped and then killed for being gay. Who else stays on in Iraq after the pro-LGBT president has pulled out American forces? Iran, world leader in the public hanging of gay teens.

And, in 2012, when Obama withdraws surge troops from Afghanistan against the advice of our military commanders, what exactly does he think Afghan homosexuals will face in the resurgent Taliban (the same Taliban Hillary Clinton is trying desperately to strike deals with)? The answer is known: they will face something called “death by falling walls.” It may sound like it was cooked up by Dr. Evil, but this Taliban prescription for homosexuality isn’t very funny if you think about it.

So don’t. Don’t think about it. And don’t think about this: Although George W. Bush is vilified by many in the gay community for talking about the sanctity of marriage, the freedom agenda he instituted did more for global human rights—gay or otherwise—than any speech or memo that might warm your heart. Sorry if it addressed freedom in the broad and embarrassing language that actually inspires action and not the chic shorthand of identity advocacy.  Hillary Clinton declared gay rights to be a human right. But the point of designating something a human right is to establish its universality to the human condition and make geography and culture less relevant factors. If you think what happens in Afghanistan is none of our business, then it’s hard to buy your conviction that gay rights are human rights.

So, all the gay-rights talk rings a bit hollow, as the people talking are the very same ones who campaigned for an end to America’s post-9/11 freedom agenda. It’s a perfectly respectable position to maintain that securing human rights abroad should not be America’s primary concern at the moment. It is a nobler and wiser position to maintain that securing human rights abroad is a perpetual moral obligation and in the vital strategic interest of the United States. But there is only shame and hypocrisy in quitting winnable fights against the world’s worst human rights abusers while issuing impotent pro-human rights memos.

This is hardly the first time we’ve seen public relations supplant policy in this administration. Remember Obama’s videotaped Nowruz (Persian and Kurdish New Year) message to Iran in March 2009?  People raved that that too was historic, amazing, and heartwarming. Three months later, when the Iranian people looked to the American president to back them against theocratic thugs, they found themselves thoroughly rebuffed. The new Obama policy is just more trendy dress for the administration’s pivot away from the defense of human freedom.

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Re: Will There Be a “Slavic Spring”?

Seth Mandel’s analysis of the Russian protests and the consequence of leadership are important. The spark for the protests, as with Iran in 2009, may have been outrage at election fraud, but their genesis is deeper. As the Atlantic Council’s Anna Borshchevskaya wrote in October:

Russia may be closer to the civil unrest threshold than some diplomats acknowledge… The economic turmoil of the 1990s disillusioned Russians, who embraced Putin as he restored the order that they craved. But, like many Middle Eastern rulers, Putin failed to diversify the economy, delivering instead short-term growth due mainly to high oil prices… Unlike many Arab states, but like Iran, Russia faces a demographic problem. Low birth rates and an aging population will exacerbate budgetary problems. Putin will have trouble making pension payments as the work force declines in numbers. Compounding the problem, Russian productivity is at most 10 percent of that of the United States, according to Mikhail Prokhorov, the former leader of Russia’s increasingly pro-Putin Right Cause Party… Recent travelers to Moscow and many Russia watchers have compared Putin to the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose name is synonymous with zastoi, or stagnation. Brezhnev’s policies resulted in slow growth, poverty and severe shortages of food and basic goods, all of which contributed to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Just as the Arab world has faced a brain drain, young, talented and educated Russians are also considering leaving their homeland. A recent Levada Centre survey found that 22 percent of Russian adults would like to leave Russia permanently – the highest figure since the Soviet Union’s collapse and a more than threefold increase from four years ago.

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Seth Mandel’s analysis of the Russian protests and the consequence of leadership are important. The spark for the protests, as with Iran in 2009, may have been outrage at election fraud, but their genesis is deeper. As the Atlantic Council’s Anna Borshchevskaya wrote in October:

Russia may be closer to the civil unrest threshold than some diplomats acknowledge… The economic turmoil of the 1990s disillusioned Russians, who embraced Putin as he restored the order that they craved. But, like many Middle Eastern rulers, Putin failed to diversify the economy, delivering instead short-term growth due mainly to high oil prices… Unlike many Arab states, but like Iran, Russia faces a demographic problem. Low birth rates and an aging population will exacerbate budgetary problems. Putin will have trouble making pension payments as the work force declines in numbers. Compounding the problem, Russian productivity is at most 10 percent of that of the United States, according to Mikhail Prokhorov, the former leader of Russia’s increasingly pro-Putin Right Cause Party… Recent travelers to Moscow and many Russia watchers have compared Putin to the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose name is synonymous with zastoi, or stagnation. Brezhnev’s policies resulted in slow growth, poverty and severe shortages of food and basic goods, all of which contributed to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Just as the Arab world has faced a brain drain, young, talented and educated Russians are also considering leaving their homeland. A recent Levada Centre survey found that 22 percent of Russian adults would like to leave Russia permanently – the highest figure since the Soviet Union’s collapse and a more than threefold increase from four years ago.

There’s more, of course. The demographic profile between the Arab states and Russia may be opposite, but the economic similarities are intriguing. Of course, analysts and diplomats should also not discount the fundamental human desire for freedom and liberty which the long-suffering Russians share with their Arab and Iranian brethren.

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Not Another Best-of-the-Year List

The annual lists of the Year’s Best Books are a rite of literary journalism — a vacuous rite, if you ask me, by which critics make themselves the shills of the publishing trade. (Not that I don’t participate as eagerly as anyone else!)

’Tis the season, too, for shopping guides. COMMENTARY herewith offers a different kind of shopping guide. COMMENTARY writers and friends of the magazine were asked to recommend a novel for holiday buying or reading — their personal favorite, their personal secret. It’s an eclectic list (I’ve only read five of the titles myself), but every book on the list is something you will want to hunt down as quickly as possible. Supplies are going fast! Remember: there are only 17 shopping days left until Christmas! Here is a good place to start your wish list for that hard-to-please reader in your family or your bed!

The books are arranged alphabetically by author, with the recommender’s name in bold afterwards, followed by his or her comments.

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008). Matthew Ackerman, Middle East Analyst for The David Project and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Enlightening take on modern India. Great anti-hero narrator with a superb voice. Man Booker prize winner.

Isaac Asimov, Foundation (1951). Omri Ceren, author of Mere Rhetoric and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A briskly written but sweepingly comprehensive survey of the constitutive vagaries in the human condition: the ebb and flow of empire, the ever-present specter of civilizational decline, the indeterminacy of social progress, and — despite these fundamental challenges — the ability of carefully crafted institutions, designed with careful attention to human imperfection, to preserve knowledge and transcend history. Also the series has spaceships and eventually robots, and is one of the most entertaining reads in existence.

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost (1969). Michael Weingrad, director of the Jewish Studies program at Portland State University and author of “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia”:

I have a soft spot for this gothic-comic tale of two not-terribly-powerful wizards and the lurking menace they must face. It’s no Lord of the Rings, but it is a confection of horror and whimsy perfect for a fireside evening.

Romain Gary, The Life Before Us (1975), trans. Ralph Manheim (1978). Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans:

I can’t say anything about the translations into English, but this is quite likely the funniest sad novel I’ve read, in any language. At the novel’s core: the relationship between its first-person narrator — a young boy of Arab descent called Momo — and the elderly Jewish ex-prostitute (also an Auschwitz survivor) who is responsible for his care. I’d read nothing like it before it was assigned in a class 20-plus years ago, and I’ve read nothing like it since.

William Gay, Twilight (2006). William Giraldi, author of Busy Monsters:

Gay had the title before a Mormon housewife filched it for her prudish vampires. Owing much to Faulkner, O’Connor, and McCarthy at his bloodiest, Gay’s gorgeously wrought novel is a human-horror story so depraved it will remind you why you’re afraid of the dark.

Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2005). Seth Mandel, Assistant Editor of COMMENTARY:

As we mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union while Russians are protesting in the streets of Moscow by the thousands to call for free and fair elections, Grushin’s first novel has a new relevance. Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, the title character, gave up a life as a talented underground artist for the mindless comfort of an apparatchik’s career, the salary it comes with, and the stability of having a family with his beautiful wife. But the plot takes place as Gorbachev begins unintentionally deconstructing the rigid society Sukhanov gave up his dreams for, his family emotionally and physically abandons him, and he is haunted near to the point of madness by his past, as it comes rushing back in the form of vivid daydreams and the excruciating sense of nostalgia and regret that he can no longer hide from.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005). Linda Chavez, author of Unlikely Conservative and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Haunting and touching in equal measure. As in Remains of the Day, Ishiguro once again creates characters who live in a world not of their making, but who are forced by circumstance to make choices that reveal the complexity of the contemporary moral landscape. In this case, Ishiguro places his story in a not-too-distant future in which medical science has made it possible to prolong life indefinitely for some, but at the cost of devaluing it for the unfortunate others upon whom the scheme rests. The prose is sparing but packs an emotional wallop uncommon in today’s fiction.

Dave Kattenburg, Foxy Lady: Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yachtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea (2011). Bethany Mandel, Social Media Associate for COMMENTARY:

It’s a book about nine Westerners who stumbled into Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era, and who met an untimely death alongside thousands of Cambodians in the main torture prison. The story follows the author’s journey through four continents as he uncovers the story of the men who died and watches the trial of the man who ran the prison. There’s plenty of books out there that tell the story of Cambodians in the Khmer Rouge time, but this is a relatable story of people who accidentally became part of history in a tragic way.

James Kirkwood, There Must Be a Pony! (1960). John Steele Gordon, author of An Empire of Wealth and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Kirkwood was the son of silent movie stars Lila Lee and James Kirkwood, Sr., and the novel is a more or less thinly veiled memoir. It is often very funny and sometimes achingly sad. It isn’t easy growing up the son of famous people, who always tend to be self-absorbed, especially if their careers are on the wane. Kirkwood wrote several other novels worth reading including Good Times/Bad Times and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as the co-author of the book of A Chorus Line.

A. M. Klein, The Second Scroll (1951). Ruth R. Wisse, author of The Modern Jewish Canon and Jews and Power:

In 1949 the Canadian poet A.M. Klein went on a fact-finding mission to see what was left of the Jews in Europe, Morocco, and Palestine. The Second Scroll, his only published novel, is a fictional account of such a journey, cast as a modernist epic in a high literary style to transmit the magnitude of the Jewish renewal. We were not present when Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, but Klein feels he was there during an exodus and ingathering of no less consequence. This book is spiritual-intellectual red meat for readers who may have tired of their diets of minimalism, irony, and polymorphous perversity.

György Konrád, The Case Worker (1969), trans. Paul Aston (1974). Patrick Kurp, author of Anecdotal Evidence:

I still remember Irving Howe’s review in the Times. I reread Konrád every few years, including earlier this year. I don’t know a better novel about children, disability, madness, the animal in man. Gorgeously written, even in translation.

Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941). D. G. Myers, author of The Elephants Teach and LITERARY COMMENTARY:

In the 16th-century French Pyrenees, a husband returns after an eight-year absence much changed. His wife loves him with joyful passion until she begins to suspect that he is an imposter, and turns against him. A tragedy that could not end otherwise than it does, Lewis’s novel shows that there are some human desires that are stronger than erotic passion — and among them is the desire to remain faithful. (A fuller account is here.)

Candia McWilliam, What to Look For in Winter (2010). Sam Schulman, a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A 53-year-old Scottish novelist begins to lose her sight through blepharospasm — being unable to open one’s eyelids. With three children, all with different last names, of two fathers, and a handful of novels — her presiding genius is Sybille Bedford — she has lived through writing, and reading. Now she can only read books on tape, and she dictates this memoir:

I am six foot tall and afraid of small people.
I am a Scot.
I am an alcoholic.
There is nothing wrong with my eyes.
I am blind.
I cannot lose my temper though I am being helped to. . . .
I exude marriedness and I am alone.

Those are her compass bearings. Here is a typical sentence, describing the contents of her mother’s workbasket: “The pinking shears were so heavy and specific that they lived in a holster in the sewing chest with the button box, the cotton reels and the Kwik-unpik, a natty hook for the slashing open of stitches mainly to ‘let things down,’ or to ‘let things out,’ terms perhaps now unknown outwith the psychotherapeutic context.” One of the great books.

George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons (2011). Jonathan S. Tobin, Senior Online Editor of COMMENTARY:

The latest installment in the brilliant fantasy series that inspired HBO’s Game of Thrones. But these novels are not what you’d expect from the genre since they’re beautifully written and filled with fascinating, complex characters.

Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (2002). Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A Catholic priest who shares my offbeat sense of humor recommended Lamb to me a few Christmases back when we were both lecturing at an army base around the holidays. With tongue-in-cheek, Lamb explores the childhood of Jesus Christ through the eyes of childhood pal Biff. The story is wickedly funny, but also respectful. After a run-in with the Romans in Galilee, Biff and Jesus (or Joshua as he was known) set out on an epic adventure to track down the Three Magi — all adherents of Eastern religions. Their journey takes them to Afghanistan, China, and India, where their interactions not only illuminate Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism — but also answer such age-old questions such as why Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas.

Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country (1948). Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Because it’s a book of unusual power, deeply moving and at times lyrical, with vivid characters. Because a great novel emerged out of a great (and real) tragedy and injustice, apartheid in South Africa. And because it reminds us that there is enough hating already in our lands and that the dawn will come, as it has come for a thousand centuries.

Jack Pendarvis, Awesome (2008). Mark Athitakis, author of American Fiction Notes:

A book of more recent vintage, which didn’t get a fair shake since its publisher essentially collapsed when it came out. It’s a riff on tall tales that satirizes modern-day narcissism.

Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire (1998). Joseph Epstein, author of Gossip and Fabulous Small Jews:

An historical novel about the Spartans at Thermopylae that is brilliantly written, richly detailed, and, friends who are classical scholars tell me, has historical accuracy.

Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside (1972). Andrew Fox, author of The Good Humor Man:

Silverberg offers telepathy as a metaphor for any tremendous gift or personal ability which distorts all the other aspects of a person’s selfhood, or causes his full personhood to atrophy. David Selig, Silverberg’s protagonist, who is slowly losing his ability to read other people’s minds, an ability he has relied upon his entire life to the virtual exclusion of any other talent, is a science fictional Bobby Fischer, a prodigy whose extraordinary ability in one narrow realm has benighted the lives of those closest to him and helped twist David into a despicable human being. David’s slow, painful coming to terms with the approaching death of the only thing which has ever made him special stands, along with Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, as one of science fiction’s finest achievements in the portrayal of loss and bereavement.

Honor Tracy, The Straight and Narrow Path (1956). Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A cruelly, wildly funny tale of Irish village life told from the point of view of an innocent visitor who wants to be charmed by the comprehensive inefficiencies of the insular, alien culture into which he has thrust himself, but finally ends up longing to exterminate all the brutes. Though she is now remembered (if at all) as a “humorist,” Tracy’s wit was far sharper and more penetrating than that bland word would suggest, and The Straight and Narrow Path, her second and best novel, is one of the smartest portrayals of cross-cultural confusion ever to see print.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2011). Rick Richman, author of Jewish Current Issues and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A book about an IRS Regional Examination Center and its trainee, “David Foster Wallace,” who goes through boredom-survival training to cope with the endlessly tedious work. The Pale King is a meditation on overcoming the apparent pointlessness of life, by a person tragically unable to survive it even at the pinnacle of his success as the most extraordinary writer of his generation. (A fuller account is here.)

COMMENTARY readers are encouraged to add their own quirky and idiosyncratic recommendations by means of the comment thingamajig below.

The annual lists of the Year’s Best Books are a rite of literary journalism — a vacuous rite, if you ask me, by which critics make themselves the shills of the publishing trade. (Not that I don’t participate as eagerly as anyone else!)

’Tis the season, too, for shopping guides. COMMENTARY herewith offers a different kind of shopping guide. COMMENTARY writers and friends of the magazine were asked to recommend a novel for holiday buying or reading — their personal favorite, their personal secret. It’s an eclectic list (I’ve only read five of the titles myself), but every book on the list is something you will want to hunt down as quickly as possible. Supplies are going fast! Remember: there are only 17 shopping days left until Christmas! Here is a good place to start your wish list for that hard-to-please reader in your family or your bed!

The books are arranged alphabetically by author, with the recommender’s name in bold afterwards, followed by his or her comments.

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008). Matthew Ackerman, Middle East Analyst for The David Project and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Enlightening take on modern India. Great anti-hero narrator with a superb voice. Man Booker prize winner.

Isaac Asimov, Foundation (1951). Omri Ceren, author of Mere Rhetoric and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A briskly written but sweepingly comprehensive survey of the constitutive vagaries in the human condition: the ebb and flow of empire, the ever-present specter of civilizational decline, the indeterminacy of social progress, and — despite these fundamental challenges — the ability of carefully crafted institutions, designed with careful attention to human imperfection, to preserve knowledge and transcend history. Also the series has spaceships and eventually robots, and is one of the most entertaining reads in existence.

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost (1969). Michael Weingrad, director of the Jewish Studies program at Portland State University and author of “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia”:

I have a soft spot for this gothic-comic tale of two not-terribly-powerful wizards and the lurking menace they must face. It’s no Lord of the Rings, but it is a confection of horror and whimsy perfect for a fireside evening.

Romain Gary, The Life Before Us (1975), trans. Ralph Manheim (1978). Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans:

I can’t say anything about the translations into English, but this is quite likely the funniest sad novel I’ve read, in any language. At the novel’s core: the relationship between its first-person narrator — a young boy of Arab descent called Momo — and the elderly Jewish ex-prostitute (also an Auschwitz survivor) who is responsible for his care. I’d read nothing like it before it was assigned in a class 20-plus years ago, and I’ve read nothing like it since.

William Gay, Twilight (2006). William Giraldi, author of Busy Monsters:

Gay had the title before a Mormon housewife filched it for her prudish vampires. Owing much to Faulkner, O’Connor, and McCarthy at his bloodiest, Gay’s gorgeously wrought novel is a human-horror story so depraved it will remind you why you’re afraid of the dark.

Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2005). Seth Mandel, Assistant Editor of COMMENTARY:

As we mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union while Russians are protesting in the streets of Moscow by the thousands to call for free and fair elections, Grushin’s first novel has a new relevance. Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, the title character, gave up a life as a talented underground artist for the mindless comfort of an apparatchik’s career, the salary it comes with, and the stability of having a family with his beautiful wife. But the plot takes place as Gorbachev begins unintentionally deconstructing the rigid society Sukhanov gave up his dreams for, his family emotionally and physically abandons him, and he is haunted near to the point of madness by his past, as it comes rushing back in the form of vivid daydreams and the excruciating sense of nostalgia and regret that he can no longer hide from.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005). Linda Chavez, author of Unlikely Conservative and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Haunting and touching in equal measure. As in Remains of the Day, Ishiguro once again creates characters who live in a world not of their making, but who are forced by circumstance to make choices that reveal the complexity of the contemporary moral landscape. In this case, Ishiguro places his story in a not-too-distant future in which medical science has made it possible to prolong life indefinitely for some, but at the cost of devaluing it for the unfortunate others upon whom the scheme rests. The prose is sparing but packs an emotional wallop uncommon in today’s fiction.

Dave Kattenburg, Foxy Lady: Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yachtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea (2011). Bethany Mandel, Social Media Associate for COMMENTARY:

It’s a book about nine Westerners who stumbled into Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era, and who met an untimely death alongside thousands of Cambodians in the main torture prison. The story follows the author’s journey through four continents as he uncovers the story of the men who died and watches the trial of the man who ran the prison. There’s plenty of books out there that tell the story of Cambodians in the Khmer Rouge time, but this is a relatable story of people who accidentally became part of history in a tragic way.

James Kirkwood, There Must Be a Pony! (1960). John Steele Gordon, author of An Empire of Wealth and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Kirkwood was the son of silent movie stars Lila Lee and James Kirkwood, Sr., and the novel is a more or less thinly veiled memoir. It is often very funny and sometimes achingly sad. It isn’t easy growing up the son of famous people, who always tend to be self-absorbed, especially if their careers are on the wane. Kirkwood wrote several other novels worth reading including Good Times/Bad Times and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as the co-author of the book of A Chorus Line.

A. M. Klein, The Second Scroll (1951). Ruth R. Wisse, author of The Modern Jewish Canon and Jews and Power:

In 1949 the Canadian poet A.M. Klein went on a fact-finding mission to see what was left of the Jews in Europe, Morocco, and Palestine. The Second Scroll, his only published novel, is a fictional account of such a journey, cast as a modernist epic in a high literary style to transmit the magnitude of the Jewish renewal. We were not present when Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, but Klein feels he was there during an exodus and ingathering of no less consequence. This book is spiritual-intellectual red meat for readers who may have tired of their diets of minimalism, irony, and polymorphous perversity.

György Konrád, The Case Worker (1969), trans. Paul Aston (1974). Patrick Kurp, author of Anecdotal Evidence:

I still remember Irving Howe’s review in the Times. I reread Konrád every few years, including earlier this year. I don’t know a better novel about children, disability, madness, the animal in man. Gorgeously written, even in translation.

Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941). D. G. Myers, author of The Elephants Teach and LITERARY COMMENTARY:

In the 16th-century French Pyrenees, a husband returns after an eight-year absence much changed. His wife loves him with joyful passion until she begins to suspect that he is an imposter, and turns against him. A tragedy that could not end otherwise than it does, Lewis’s novel shows that there are some human desires that are stronger than erotic passion — and among them is the desire to remain faithful. (A fuller account is here.)

Candia McWilliam, What to Look For in Winter (2010). Sam Schulman, a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A 53-year-old Scottish novelist begins to lose her sight through blepharospasm — being unable to open one’s eyelids. With three children, all with different last names, of two fathers, and a handful of novels — her presiding genius is Sybille Bedford — she has lived through writing, and reading. Now she can only read books on tape, and she dictates this memoir:

I am six foot tall and afraid of small people.
I am a Scot.
I am an alcoholic.
There is nothing wrong with my eyes.
I am blind.
I cannot lose my temper though I am being helped to. . . .
I exude marriedness and I am alone.

Those are her compass bearings. Here is a typical sentence, describing the contents of her mother’s workbasket: “The pinking shears were so heavy and specific that they lived in a holster in the sewing chest with the button box, the cotton reels and the Kwik-unpik, a natty hook for the slashing open of stitches mainly to ‘let things down,’ or to ‘let things out,’ terms perhaps now unknown outwith the psychotherapeutic context.” One of the great books.

George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons (2011). Jonathan S. Tobin, Senior Online Editor of COMMENTARY:

The latest installment in the brilliant fantasy series that inspired HBO’s Game of Thrones. But these novels are not what you’d expect from the genre since they’re beautifully written and filled with fascinating, complex characters.

Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (2002). Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A Catholic priest who shares my offbeat sense of humor recommended Lamb to me a few Christmases back when we were both lecturing at an army base around the holidays. With tongue-in-cheek, Lamb explores the childhood of Jesus Christ through the eyes of childhood pal Biff. The story is wickedly funny, but also respectful. After a run-in with the Romans in Galilee, Biff and Jesus (or Joshua as he was known) set out on an epic adventure to track down the Three Magi — all adherents of Eastern religions. Their journey takes them to Afghanistan, China, and India, where their interactions not only illuminate Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism — but also answer such age-old questions such as why Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas.

Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country (1948). Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

Because it’s a book of unusual power, deeply moving and at times lyrical, with vivid characters. Because a great novel emerged out of a great (and real) tragedy and injustice, apartheid in South Africa. And because it reminds us that there is enough hating already in our lands and that the dawn will come, as it has come for a thousand centuries.

Jack Pendarvis, Awesome (2008). Mark Athitakis, author of American Fiction Notes:

A book of more recent vintage, which didn’t get a fair shake since its publisher essentially collapsed when it came out. It’s a riff on tall tales that satirizes modern-day narcissism.

Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire (1998). Joseph Epstein, author of Gossip and Fabulous Small Jews:

An historical novel about the Spartans at Thermopylae that is brilliantly written, richly detailed, and, friends who are classical scholars tell me, has historical accuracy.

Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside (1972). Andrew Fox, author of The Good Humor Man:

Silverberg offers telepathy as a metaphor for any tremendous gift or personal ability which distorts all the other aspects of a person’s selfhood, or causes his full personhood to atrophy. David Selig, Silverberg’s protagonist, who is slowly losing his ability to read other people’s minds, an ability he has relied upon his entire life to the virtual exclusion of any other talent, is a science fictional Bobby Fischer, a prodigy whose extraordinary ability in one narrow realm has benighted the lives of those closest to him and helped twist David into a despicable human being. David’s slow, painful coming to terms with the approaching death of the only thing which has ever made him special stands, along with Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, as one of science fiction’s finest achievements in the portrayal of loss and bereavement.

Honor Tracy, The Straight and Narrow Path (1956). Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A cruelly, wildly funny tale of Irish village life told from the point of view of an innocent visitor who wants to be charmed by the comprehensive inefficiencies of the insular, alien culture into which he has thrust himself, but finally ends up longing to exterminate all the brutes. Though she is now remembered (if at all) as a “humorist,” Tracy’s wit was far sharper and more penetrating than that bland word would suggest, and The Straight and Narrow Path, her second and best novel, is one of the smartest portrayals of cross-cultural confusion ever to see print.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2011). Rick Richman, author of Jewish Current Issues and a contributor to COMMENTARY:

A book about an IRS Regional Examination Center and its trainee, “David Foster Wallace,” who goes through boredom-survival training to cope with the endlessly tedious work. The Pale King is a meditation on overcoming the apparent pointlessness of life, by a person tragically unable to survive it even at the pinnacle of his success as the most extraordinary writer of his generation. (A fuller account is here.)

COMMENTARY readers are encouraged to add their own quirky and idiosyncratic recommendations by means of the comment thingamajig below.

Read Less

Poll: Warren Opens Lead Over Brown

With almost a year until the Massachusetts Senate election, this UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll is hardly a reliable predictor of the outcome. But the trend it shows is troubling for Republicans: Elizabeth Warren has gained 10 points in just the last two months. Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate, has already broken with Republicans on several occasions, and the added vulnerability could make him more likely to side with Democrats on contentious issues:

Warren leads Brown by a 49-42 percent margin, outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points. That number includes voters who say they are “leaning” for either candidate. But even without the “leaners,” Warren still leads by a 46-41 percent margin, barely within the margin of error.

The poll of 505 registered Massachusetts voters was conducted for UMass-Lowell by Princeton Survey Research from Dec. 1 – Dec. 6, and shows Warren with her largest lead yet in the campaign. A UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll taken in late September showed Brown ahead by a 41-38 percent margin, so the new poll represents a 10-point swing in Warren’s favor in less than two months.

Read More

With almost a year until the Massachusetts Senate election, this UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll is hardly a reliable predictor of the outcome. But the trend it shows is troubling for Republicans: Elizabeth Warren has gained 10 points in just the last two months. Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate, has already broken with Republicans on several occasions, and the added vulnerability could make him more likely to side with Democrats on contentious issues:

Warren leads Brown by a 49-42 percent margin, outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points. That number includes voters who say they are “leaning” for either candidate. But even without the “leaners,” Warren still leads by a 46-41 percent margin, barely within the margin of error.

The poll of 505 registered Massachusetts voters was conducted for UMass-Lowell by Princeton Survey Research from Dec. 1 – Dec. 6, and shows Warren with her largest lead yet in the campaign. A UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll taken in late September showed Brown ahead by a 41-38 percent margin, so the new poll represents a 10-point swing in Warren’s favor in less than two months.

Of course, Republicans can’t afford to lose Brown in the Senate, for both symbolic and practical reasons. But they may end up effectively losing him on certain issues if he’s forced to tack further to the left in the lead-up to the election.

According to the poll, the attack ads against both campaigns have had their desired effect. Brown’s negatives have increased, but so have Warren’s. A silver lining in the poll for Brown is that the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to be increasingly unpopular in the state. Just 26 percent support the movement, while 34 percent oppose it. Warren has aligned herself so closely with OWS that it will certainly hurt her if that trend continues.

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Re: The Benefits of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

Max Boot is, of course, correct when he highlights the intelligence advantages that derive from maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But there’s a broader point as well.

As much as Obama administration officials hint at containment of a nuclear Iran, containment is simply not possible without permanent basing in the region along all of Iran’s borders. Obama’s abandonment of Iraq not only snatches defeat from the jaws of victory in that country and perhaps Syria as well, but also ends any possibility for containment. Also, stationing U.S. troops as tripwires in America’s regional allies is the best check on Iranian subterfuge. While the Iranian regime often lets ideology color its actions, the Iranian government is also pragmatic: It understands the cost of action increases exponentially when it might involve American troops.

Read More

Max Boot is, of course, correct when he highlights the intelligence advantages that derive from maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But there’s a broader point as well.

As much as Obama administration officials hint at containment of a nuclear Iran, containment is simply not possible without permanent basing in the region along all of Iran’s borders. Obama’s abandonment of Iraq not only snatches defeat from the jaws of victory in that country and perhaps Syria as well, but also ends any possibility for containment. Also, stationing U.S. troops as tripwires in America’s regional allies is the best check on Iranian subterfuge. While the Iranian regime often lets ideology color its actions, the Iranian government is also pragmatic: It understands the cost of action increases exponentially when it might involve American troops.

Alas, by withdrawing from Iraq and setting a timeline in Afghanistan, Obama has undercut not only containment of Iran but also its deterrence.

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Obama, Osama and Appeasement

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidates at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s forum blasted President Obama for his policy of pressure on Israel. In particular, Mitt Romney struck a responsive chord when he said Obama was pursuing an “appeasement strategy” toward Palestinians and their supporters throughout the Arab and Muslim world by placing the onus for progress toward peace only on the Jewish state and by failing to effectively oppose Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear weapons.

The president responded today by touting one of the few foreign policy achievements of his administration: killing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. Obama deserves credit for that, but citing the targeted killings of terrorists begs the question of his approach to Israel. While Obama has fought al- Qaeda, appeasement is the operative term to describe his approach to the Palestinians.

Read More

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidates at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s forum blasted President Obama for his policy of pressure on Israel. In particular, Mitt Romney struck a responsive chord when he said Obama was pursuing an “appeasement strategy” toward Palestinians and their supporters throughout the Arab and Muslim world by placing the onus for progress toward peace only on the Jewish state and by failing to effectively oppose Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear weapons.

The president responded today by touting one of the few foreign policy achievements of his administration: killing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. Obama deserves credit for that, but citing the targeted killings of terrorists begs the question of his approach to Israel. While Obama has fought al- Qaeda, appeasement is the operative term to describe his approach to the Palestinians.

From his first day in office, Obama has sought to distance the United States from Israel and to heighten pressure on the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians than it already has in order to entice them to return to peace talks. He has picked fights with the Israelis over settlements and most importantly on Jerusalem, where he has done more than any of his predecessors to undermine the Jewish state’s hold on its capital. He became the first president to publicly accede to the Palestinians’ demand that the 1967 lines be the starting point for future negotiations. That his effort to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians has utterly failed to revive the peace process is just more proof that, like Obama’s “engagement” of Iran, appeasement usually fails to impress terrorists and tyrants.

It should also be mentioned that in just the last week, members of his administration have launched attacks on Israel blaming it for its isolation (Defense Secretary Leon Panetta), for anti-Semitism in Europe (Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman) and accusing it of being undemocratic and comparable to Iran (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).

Taken collectively, these actions have shaken the U.S.-Israel alliance, prompting many supporters of Israel to question their willingness to vote for Obama next fall. But, like his Democratic apologists who respond to criticism of his policy toward Israel by discussing abortion, Obama’s only answer is to change the topic. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to get away with this kind of intentional obfuscation of the question.

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Romney Surrogates Attack Gingrich

Newt Gingrich has become enough of a threat to Mitt Romney that the Romney campaign has no choice but to respond. Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted Newt Gingrich as a career politician who has “never run anything,” and now two more Romney surrogates – former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent – are piling on:

“If the nominee is Newt Gingrich, then the election is going to be about the Republican nominee, which is exactly what the Democrats want,” Talent said, per Reid Epstein [of Politico]. “If they can make it about the Republican nominee, then the president is going to win.”

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Newt Gingrich has become enough of a threat to Mitt Romney that the Romney campaign has no choice but to respond. Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted Newt Gingrich as a career politician who has “never run anything,” and now two more Romney surrogates – former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent – are piling on:

“If the nominee is Newt Gingrich, then the election is going to be about the Republican nominee, which is exactly what the Democrats want,” Talent said, per Reid Epstein [of Politico]. “If they can make it about the Republican nominee, then the president is going to win.”

When Gingrich was Speaker, Talent said he was so erratic that “you would have to check the newspapers, this was before the internet, to see what the Speaker had said that you have to clean up in your own district.” …

“For Newt Gingrich in an effort of self-aggrandizement to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative leadership,” Sununu said. “Gingrich’s undercutting of Paul Ryan proves that he’s more concerned about Newt Gingrich than he is about conservative principles.”

If Romney is going to go after Gingrich, this is the smartest way to do it. There’s no need for Romney to get his own hands dirty, especially since any direct shots he takes at Gingrich could end up antagonizing the conservative base. And the attacks are more potent when they come from Republican figures who conservatives have deeper respect for, like Christie and Talent.

Will Romney be asked whether he agrees with the statements from his surrogates? Of course. Can he brush off these questions with vague comments about how he trusts the insight from Sununu and Talent, but right now he’s personally more focused on getting his message out to the public than on the flaws of his opponents? Definitely. He doesn’t have to get involved in the mud-slinging.

One advantage that Romney also has is that Gingrich has countless enemies in D.C., many of them from the Republican Party. Members of Congress may not be wild about the idea of Romney as the nominee, but there are probably plenty who fear a Gingrich nomination even more. If the race continues its current trajectory, expect a lot more prominent voices from Washington to start echoing the same critiques that Sununu and Talent are making against Gingrich.

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Too Late For Another GOP Hopeful? Yes.

As volatile as the Republican presidential race has proven to be, it’s fascinating how even as the names of the frontrunners keep changing, one theme seems to keep recurring: the desire for a GOP savior to swoop in from the wings and save the party from the undesirable choices facing it. That hope kept speculation brewing about the possibility of Paul Ryan or Chris Christie running all summer until the players in that fantasy league were forced to cash out. But even with voting in Iowa and New Hampshire just weeks away, the rumors are flying again. Bill Kristol claims today in the Weekly Standard that there remains a “Valentine’s Day Option” available for Republicans in which Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio will take advantage of both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney stumbling in the January races and somehow run the table as one snatches away the nomination from the candidates who have spent the last year running hard.

Kristol cites the research of Larry Sabato, who says the long, drawn-out primary calendar and the fact that states will be allocating their votes proportionately rather than in a winner-take-all fashion means it’s not impossible for some dark horse to win. But the wish here appears to be the father of the thought. With the polls showing Newt Gingrich vaulting to a huge lead in the polls, many Republicans are understandably dubious about their prospects in the fall with him as their standard-bearer. They are grasping onto any scenario, no matter how unlikely, that provides an alternative to Newt. But as unpalatable as the choices before them may be, the odds against a new candidate succeeding are still formidable.

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As volatile as the Republican presidential race has proven to be, it’s fascinating how even as the names of the frontrunners keep changing, one theme seems to keep recurring: the desire for a GOP savior to swoop in from the wings and save the party from the undesirable choices facing it. That hope kept speculation brewing about the possibility of Paul Ryan or Chris Christie running all summer until the players in that fantasy league were forced to cash out. But even with voting in Iowa and New Hampshire just weeks away, the rumors are flying again. Bill Kristol claims today in the Weekly Standard that there remains a “Valentine’s Day Option” available for Republicans in which Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio will take advantage of both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney stumbling in the January races and somehow run the table as one snatches away the nomination from the candidates who have spent the last year running hard.

Kristol cites the research of Larry Sabato, who says the long, drawn-out primary calendar and the fact that states will be allocating their votes proportionately rather than in a winner-take-all fashion means it’s not impossible for some dark horse to win. But the wish here appears to be the father of the thought. With the polls showing Newt Gingrich vaulting to a huge lead in the polls, many Republicans are understandably dubious about their prospects in the fall with him as their standard-bearer. They are grasping onto any scenario, no matter how unlikely, that provides an alternative to Newt. But as unpalatable as the choices before them may be, the odds against a new candidate succeeding are still formidable.

Let’s address the first problem for this fantasy scenario, the identity of the mystery candidates who will step in at this late date. It’s fair to ask why if Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio or Mr. or Ms. Unknown chose not to run back in the summer when they could have entered every primary (the filing dates for many states has already passed), they would do so now? Let’s just say if they had really wanted to run, they already would have.

Second, despite the delegate math that Sabato ably analyzes, the result of a January standoff between Romney and Gingrich is far more likely to produce a prolonged battle between the two than to prompt an as-yet-unnamed challenger to step forward. Moreover, a scenario in which both Gingrich and Romney “fall flat” in January seems to me to be totally far-fetched. That would require one of the other candidates currently in the race to somehow knock one or both of the current frontrunners off in Iowa or New Hampshire, a possibility that is hard to imagine at the moment.

It is true the schedule was created in order to avoid a situation where a few early wins effectively clinches the nomination before most of the country has voted, as was the case when John McCain won the GOP nomination in 2008. But the notion of someone parachuting in, as Kristol says, by Valentine’s Day and then sweeping to victory on Super Tuesday in March seems a stretch even in a race that has been characterized by drastic shifts in support among the candidates.

Republicans are not wrong to worry about Gingrich’s general election prospects. Though he’s currently riding high, he is a perfect target for Democrats’ attacks and could implode at any moment between now and next November. But like it or not, the Republican presidential nominee will be one of the candidates already running. As crazy and unpredictable as this race has been, the idea of a Valentine’s Day surprise says more about the unfulfilled hopes of GOP activists for a better candidate with which to oppose President Obama than it does about the actual chances of another Republican getting into the race.

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The Benefits of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

The crash of an American RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth drone, in Iran has gotten a fair amount of attention. What has not been reported until now is that this drone was launched from Afghanistan to conduct a surveillance mission over Iran. It has also been widely reported that American surveillance drones take off from Afghanistan to enter Pakistani air space. And not only drones: the SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden also launched from Afghanistan.

This points to one of many hidden benefits of a substantial American presence in Afghanistan: It not only keeps the Taliban and Haqqani network out of power, but it also allows us to influence events in Pakistan and Iran. We are already losing our basing rights in Iraq; if we lose them in Afghanistan, too, that would be a calamity for American interests in the region. But there is no way Hamid Karzai and the leaders of Afghanistan will allow us to operate from their soil, thus risking the wrath of powerful neighbors, if we are not committed to preserving the stability of the Afghan government. And that cannot be done unless we commit to maintaining a substantial troop presence in Afghanistan for the long term.

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The crash of an American RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth drone, in Iran has gotten a fair amount of attention. What has not been reported until now is that this drone was launched from Afghanistan to conduct a surveillance mission over Iran. It has also been widely reported that American surveillance drones take off from Afghanistan to enter Pakistani air space. And not only drones: the SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden also launched from Afghanistan.

This points to one of many hidden benefits of a substantial American presence in Afghanistan: It not only keeps the Taliban and Haqqani network out of power, but it also allows us to influence events in Pakistan and Iran. We are already losing our basing rights in Iraq; if we lose them in Afghanistan, too, that would be a calamity for American interests in the region. But there is no way Hamid Karzai and the leaders of Afghanistan will allow us to operate from their soil, thus risking the wrath of powerful neighbors, if we are not committed to preserving the stability of the Afghan government. And that cannot be done unless we commit to maintaining a substantial troop presence in Afghanistan for the long term.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Gen. John Allen, the senior NATO/U.S. commander in Kabul, wants 68,000 troops to remain until 2014. President Obama must grant his request. Otherwise, he will increase the risk of a catastrophic failure that could not only hand this valuable terrain to America’s enemies but would also reduce our leverage on two vitally important neighboring states.

 

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Barack Obama, Political Hack

In his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama took another stab at summarizing the philosophy of the Republican Party. And this is the best Obama could do: “Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.”

This is a silly and intentionally misleading statement — silly because it’s so transparently false and intentionally misleading because the president surely cannot believe his own rhetoric. The problem for Obama is it’s becoming a pattern. Earlier this year, he charged that Republicans want the elderly, autistic children and children with Down syndrome to ““fend for themselves.”

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In his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama took another stab at summarizing the philosophy of the Republican Party. And this is the best Obama could do: “Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.”

This is a silly and intentionally misleading statement — silly because it’s so transparently false and intentionally misleading because the president surely cannot believe his own rhetoric. The problem for Obama is it’s becoming a pattern. Earlier this year, he charged that Republicans want the elderly, autistic children and children with Down syndrome to ““fend for themselves.”

After that, he told us the GOP plan is “”dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance.”” Given his rhetorical trajectory, Obama will soon be insisting that Republicans favor reinstituting slavery at home and genocide abroad (or perhaps it’s favoring genocide at home and slavery abroad).

These are the kinds of things a politically desperate and intellectually bankrupt politician says. The president must believe he cannot win a debate on philosophy on the merits, so he instead employs the crudest caricatures he can.

The point is that there seems to be no limit, no check, on what Obama will say in order to demonize his opponents — or, to quote Obama’s own words, his “enemies.”

It is Obama who believes he can play by his own rules. For him, truth is increasingly beside the point. Words are merely tools to be employed in what he believes is a Great Cause. In this instance, the Great Cause happens to be his re-election, despite the fact that Obama and his team are having the darndest time articulating what exactly he would do in a second term beyond “finish the job.” (Apparently his demolition project can’t be completed in one term; it will require two.)

The shame is that there is a genuinely interesting and important debate of ideas to be had over the size, reach, and role of the federal government in our lives. Honorable people have very different views on this matter; some, like Obama, are drawn to a European-like model of social democracy, one that wants to centralize more and more power with the federal government as a means to eliminate income inequality and ensure greater fairness. Others believe the federal government has dramatically exceeded its constitutional authority, that it is leading us down a path to fiscal ruin, and in the process it is undermining civic character.

The great divide between conservatives and liberals today is over equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. Those are serious intellectual differences to discuss, but Obama apparently wants no part of it. He would rather turn his opponents into brutish, cartoon characters.

What makes all of this even more farcical is that Obama conceives of himself as a genuine intellectual, the leader of a national seminar. During his run for the presidency, Obama created an image of himself as a man thirsting for an honest, high-minded debate. He promised to ““turn the page”” on the old brand of politics, promised us ““hope and change,”” and declared, “”If you don’’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.””

It was Obama who said, “”We have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism… [...] That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, ‘’not this time….’’”” It was Obama who in an interview declared, “”I want us to rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”” And it was Obama who said on the night of his election, on a stage in Grant Park, “”I will listen to you, especially when we disagree… [...] Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for too long.””

But it turns out this was a mirage. The fact that Obama’s presidency has been a failure and that he is so manifestly inept in his current role has turned him into a fairly unprincipled (and remarkably uncreative) political hack. He has succumbed to his uglier impulses. He wouldn’t be the first president to do so. The same thing happened to Richard Nixon and to Jimmy Carter, who started out as a decent man and ended up as a petty one.

The whole thing is a shame. To watch a presidency fall apart can be a poignant thing; and to watch a president dishonor himself in the process can be a sad one.

 

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Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards

The Association of Jewish Studies has announced the two winners of the Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards.

Marina Rustow of the Johns Hopkins University was honored in the category of ancient and medieval Jewish history for Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Cornell University Press). A history of Karaism, Rustow’s book sets out to challenge the received scholarly notions of “heresy” and “mainstream.” Rustow is more interested in the social conditions that give rise to accusations of heresy than in defining the slippery concept.

Shachar M. Pinsker of the University of Michigan was honored in the category of Jewish literature and linguistics for Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe (Stanford University Press). Two more runners-up were recognized: Gabriella Safran of Stanford University for Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-Sky (Harvard University Press), a book that I described on Jewish Ideas Daily as one of last year’s best, and Maeera Y. Shreiber of the University of Utah for Singing in a Strange Land: A Jewish American Poetics (Stanford University Press).

The great Jewish historian Lucy M. Dawidowicz once said that Jewish scholarship was a route to Jewish identity, and one of the richest. Scholars like Rustow, Pinsker, Safran, and Shreiber demonstrate just how right she was. They will be honored in ten days at the annual AJS convention, which is being held in Washington this year.

The Association of Jewish Studies has announced the two winners of the Jordan Schnitzer Book Awards.

Marina Rustow of the Johns Hopkins University was honored in the category of ancient and medieval Jewish history for Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Cornell University Press). A history of Karaism, Rustow’s book sets out to challenge the received scholarly notions of “heresy” and “mainstream.” Rustow is more interested in the social conditions that give rise to accusations of heresy than in defining the slippery concept.

Shachar M. Pinsker of the University of Michigan was honored in the category of Jewish literature and linguistics for Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe (Stanford University Press). Two more runners-up were recognized: Gabriella Safran of Stanford University for Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-Sky (Harvard University Press), a book that I described on Jewish Ideas Daily as one of last year’s best, and Maeera Y. Shreiber of the University of Utah for Singing in a Strange Land: A Jewish American Poetics (Stanford University Press).

The great Jewish historian Lucy M. Dawidowicz once said that Jewish scholarship was a route to Jewish identity, and one of the richest. Scholars like Rustow, Pinsker, Safran, and Shreiber demonstrate just how right she was. They will be honored in ten days at the annual AJS convention, which is being held in Washington this year.

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Time Is Running Out to Stop the Iranians

Some parts of the leftist blogosphere (that means you, Andrew Sullivan; you too, Michael Cohen seem to have been particularly perturbed by my recent op-ed in the L.A. Times bemoaning our failure to take the Iranian threat with the seriousness it deserves.

This causes them, as AEI fellow Marc Thiessen points out, to deny evidence gathered by no less than the Obama administration Treasury Department about links between Iran and al-Qaeda. It also causes them to ignore plentiful evidence of the devastating effect an Iranian bomb would have on the already tenuous and shaky prospects for stability in the Middle East.

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Some parts of the leftist blogosphere (that means you, Andrew Sullivan; you too, Michael Cohen seem to have been particularly perturbed by my recent op-ed in the L.A. Times bemoaning our failure to take the Iranian threat with the seriousness it deserves.

This causes them, as AEI fellow Marc Thiessen points out, to deny evidence gathered by no less than the Obama administration Treasury Department about links between Iran and al-Qaeda. It also causes them to ignore plentiful evidence of the devastating effect an Iranian bomb would have on the already tenuous and shaky prospects for stability in the Middle East.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and member of the royal family, made the threat very explicit on Monday when, according to the AP, he said Saudi Arabia would feel compelled to acquire its own nukes to offset Iran’s: “It is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons.” As Jonathan noted yesterday, it is hard to imagine a more chilling thought than another Islamic fundamentalist state with lots of radicals on its soil also being in possession of nuclear weapons. Pakistan and Iran with nuclear weapons is bad enough; a nuclear Saudi Arabia compounds the problem. And it might not end there. Egypt and Turkey are also candidates for nuclear status if Iran gets the bomb.

A nuclear arms race in the Middle East? If you think that’s acceptable then, yes, I am blowing the Iranian threat out of proportion. But if you think that’s not acceptable, then we have to face up to the fact that time is running out to stop the Iranians.

 

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Corzine: I May Not “Testify Accurately”

Though Jon Corzine’s pronouncement–“I simply do not know where the money is”–may make his testimony today on the MF Global scandal sound anodyne and uninteresting, that seems not to be the case. In fact, the preview of Corzine’s testimony includes two statements that should get some attention.

Corzine, under whose leadership MF Global plunged into bankruptcy under a cloud of bad investments, shady deals, and missing investor cash, has decided to present himself as a mensch who is doing the country a favor by testifying. Even more revealing is his intimation that he will almost surely (unintentionally) mislead Congress today. The Washington Post reports:

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Though Jon Corzine’s pronouncement–“I simply do not know where the money is”–may make his testimony today on the MF Global scandal sound anodyne and uninteresting, that seems not to be the case. In fact, the preview of Corzine’s testimony includes two statements that should get some attention.

Corzine, under whose leadership MF Global plunged into bankruptcy under a cloud of bad investments, shady deals, and missing investor cash, has decided to present himself as a mensch who is doing the country a favor by testifying. Even more revealing is his intimation that he will almost surely (unintentionally) mislead Congress today. The Washington Post reports:

In his prepared statement, Corzine says that many people in his situation would invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. However, as a former senator, Corzine says, he recognizes the importance of congressional oversight and believes “it is appropriate that I attempt to respond to your inquiries.”

Though anything he says could be used against him, Corzine hedges his testimony by saying he had too little time to prepare for the hearing and only limited access to records “essential to my being able to testify accurately.”

The former statement is risible; the latter unbelievable. Is Corzine to be lauded for answering questions? Perhaps he thinks so. But to recap: Corzine made risky investments in European bonds as the continent sank toward insolvency and after he was warned by executives at MF Global about the risks; he used his influence with federal regulators to get them to back off on instituting rules that would have prevented Corzine’s activities and protected his investors from his recklessness; and several hundred million dollars of investor cash went missing, prompting an investigation into whether Corzine covered his firm’s bad bets with other people’s money.

So Corzine isn’t doing Congress any favors. But the second statement is almost shocking in its brazen disregard for the investigation. Corzine is saying he may not tell the truth at the hearing today because he didn’t have enough time to prepare the “correct” answers to possible questions. This will probably ensure that Corzine will be back to testify, as investigators will no doubt spend the next month fact checking every statement he makes today.

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