Gustavo Dudamel may not be Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin, but for those who follow the world of classical music, there’s little doubt the 31-year-old is a very big deal indeed these days. The native of Venezuela is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has become the latest superstar of the symphonic set. His charisma and trademark hairdo of flowing curls have helped propel his orchestra into a series of performances that are being broadcast in movie theaters around the country. But the talented conductor is also the focus of some unflattering coverage because of the political implications of his ties to Venezuelan institutions.
As the New York Times reported yesterday, the LA Philharmonic’s tour of Dudamel’s native land has thrown a spotlight on his mentor José Antonio Abreu and the youth music program El Sistema that set him on the path to stardom. Whether he intended to do so or not, Dudamel has allowed himself to be used as a prop of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s dictatorial president whose office took over El Sistema two years ago. Instead of using his international prestige to stand up against Chavez’s efforts to subvert democracy, Dudamel may have become one more artistic façade for a government hell-bent on destroying human rights in Venezuela. In doing so, he has become part of a long tradition of morally obtuse musicians who played for dictators.
It may not be the equivalent of the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81 or the subsequent seizures of American citizens in Lebanon, but the Obama administration has a hostage crisis of sorts on its hands, and how it handles it will be of considerable importance not only to the president’s standing but the country’s.
This crisis has come about because the transitional regime in Egypt has decided to put on trial 19 Americans and two dozen others who are guilty of the apparent crime of trying to develop civil society and democracy. Seven of those defendants, who will go on trial on Friday, are actually in Egypt and unable to leave as long as the proceedings go on. Several have sought refuge at the U.S. embassy, like Cardinal Mindszenty, who lived in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years to escape Communist persecution. Those held hostage include Sam LaHood, son of a cabinet member, who is head of the International Republican Institute’s Cairo office.
Last Thursday, Jim Geraghty speculated at National Review that Sheldon Adelson might have a business motive for his preferences in the Republican presidential race. Adelson has donated more than $10 million to keep Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive and has seemed to indicate he will support Mitt Romney if and when Gingrich throws in the towel. But Adelson doesn’t appear to be at all interested in Rick Santorum, the Republican who is currently leading in the national polls. That caused Geraghty to ponder whether Santorum’s opposition to gambling may be causing the casino mogul to want to keep Gingrich in the race so as to ensure that Santorum can’t beat Romney.
Given that Adelson’s priority is ensuring a strong pro-Israel alternative to President Obama and that Santorum is as solid a supporter of the Jewish state as Gingrich and Romney, Geraghty’s notion seemed logical. But this morning COMMENTARY received an e-mail letter-to-the-editor from Adelson’s office (in response to posts by Alana and myself on the subject of Santorum’s stand on gambling) that should debunk this thesis. It reads:
Regarding your February 16th article: “Santorum wants to ban gambling?”
I agree with Rick Santorum. I am in favor of the comment he made about destination casinos and I am, as he is, against any type of gaming on the Internet. You might also know I am not against Rick Santorum. I am in favor of Newt Gingrich.
Sheldon G. Adelson
If you look at the “2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment” presented on February 16 by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and compare it with the “2011 Worldwide Threat Assessment,” you find a startling development. Last year, the assessment was “we do not know whether [North Korea] has produced nuclear weapons, but we assess it has the capability to do so.” This year it is, “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.”
The new assessment is apparently based on a revised judgment, not new intelligence, since it cites the same evidence as the 2011 assessment, but comes to a different conclusion. It illustrates the fact that the key is nuclear weapons capability, not production. Once capability is achieved, the critical technical line has been crossed; after that, production is a political decision that cannot easily be discovered until after the fact. As Iran heads down the same path traversed by North Korea, consider Clapper’s February 16 responses to Sen. Lindsey Graham on Iran’s activities:
Rick Santorum was interviewed Friday morning by CBS’s Charlie Rose on the former Pennsylvania senator’s views on contraception. It’s clear that Senator Santorum is tired of talking about contraception. One can understand why.
Senator Santorum’s core defense is that he’s supported federal funding for contraception in his role as a public official, even though he’s personally opposed (as a faithful Catholic) to it. But in this October 2011 interview Santorum – presumably in an effort to contrast himself with the other GOP candidates — insisted that he would talk about contraception if he were president. He argued that contraception, even within the context of marriage, was damaging to the institution. In talking about contraception, Santorum said this: “Again, I know most presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These have profound impact on the health of our society.” [emphasis added]