Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 17, 2012

Common Ground with Barney Frank

In an interview with New York’s Jason Zengerle, Representative Barney Frank said this:

It seems like you’re leaving in large part because of this dysfunctional atmosphere.

I’m 73 years old. I’ve been doing this since October of 1967, and I’ve seen too many people stay here beyond when they should. I don’t have the energy I used to have. I don’t like it anymore, I’m tired, and my nerves are frayed. And I dislike the negativism of the media. I think the media has gotten cynical and negative to a point where it’s unproductive.

Is that a recent development?

It’s been a progressive development, or a regressive development. And I include even Jon Stewart and Colbert in this. The negativism—it hurts liberals, it hurts Democrats. The more government is discredited, the harder it is to get things done. And the media, by constantly harping on the negative and ignoring anything positive, plays a very conservative role substantively.

But isn’t part of that just because the media is expected to be adversarial?

Who expects it to be adversarial? Where did you read that? Did you read that in the First Amendment? Where did you read that the media is expected to be adversarial? It should be skeptical, why adversarial? Adversarial means you’re the enemy. Seriously, where does that come from?

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In an interview with New York’s Jason Zengerle, Representative Barney Frank said this:

It seems like you’re leaving in large part because of this dysfunctional atmosphere.

I’m 73 years old. I’ve been doing this since October of 1967, and I’ve seen too many people stay here beyond when they should. I don’t have the energy I used to have. I don’t like it anymore, I’m tired, and my nerves are frayed. And I dislike the negativism of the media. I think the media has gotten cynical and negative to a point where it’s unproductive.

Is that a recent development?

It’s been a progressive development, or a regressive development. And I include even Jon Stewart and Colbert in this. The negativism—it hurts liberals, it hurts Democrats. The more government is discredited, the harder it is to get things done. And the media, by constantly harping on the negative and ignoring anything positive, plays a very conservative role substantively.

But isn’t part of that just because the media is expected to be adversarial?

Who expects it to be adversarial? Where did you read that? Did you read that in the First Amendment? Where did you read that the media is expected to be adversarial? It should be skeptical, why adversarial? Adversarial means you’re the enemy. Seriously, where does that come from?

Okay, maybe “skeptical” is the better word.

But that’s a very different word. You reflect the attitude: adversarial. And there is nothing in any theory that I have ever seen that says when you report events that you’re supposed to think, I’m the adversary, so that means I want to defeat them, I want to undermine them, I want to discredit them. Why is that the media’s role? But you’ve accurately stated it, and I think it’s a great mistake.

Do you think I just showed my hand there?

No, I don’t think you showed your hand personally. I think you reflected the Weltschmerz.

But you know the old aphorism, “Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.” I think that’s more what I was trying to get at.

When have you comforted the afflicted? I don’t see that in the media. I don’t see reporting that comforts low-income people or the environment. I think it’s negative about everybody.

But that’s a different problem. It’s the problem of sensationalism: The bad news is the stuff that gets the headlines.

That’s because you choose to give it the headlines.

I would add some amendments to what Representative Frank says. For example, the press, as a general matter, was hardly adversarial when it came to Barack Obama in 2008. As one intellectually honest reporter, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, put it, “It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.”

That said, I think Barney Frank is onto something important. There is a kind of corrosive cynicism that exists among journalists specifically and the political class more broadly that is injurious to self-government. There is an eagerness to be drawn to negativism in a way that distorts reality. It’s not as if negative things don’t happen and shouldn’t be covered; it’s that selective coverage can make individuals and institutions out to be cartoon images.

Viewing oneself in an adversarial relationship with those in power also leads to a leakage of trust in our governing institutions, which is (from my viewpoint) problematic. And by concentrating their focus on what goes wrong – on the knaves and fools rather than on competent, low-key lawmakers — journalists create a kind of carnival mirror when it comes to politicians.

Most members of Congress, from both parties, are not jackasses – but you wouldn’t know that from how Congress is covered. And many who cover politics jump with glee on misstatements by politicians, as if a gaffe is more newsworthy than a serious policy address. We all know it’s much easier to comment on something controversial that’s said on “Morning Joe” or “Fox and Friends” than it is to read a CBO report on income inequality or the fiscal consequences of the Affordable Care Act. It’s easier to cover a pastor who is intent on burning a Koran than it is to read the latest research on the success of Head Start.

These aren’t always easy calls. Sometimes the press has to explore controversial events. And I would be among the last people in the world to discourage vigorous debate in politics. Nor should we expect a presidential campaign to resemble a Brookings Institution seminar. My point is that the role of journalists isn’t to focus almost exclusively on what’s controversial, or silly, or uncivilized; or to try to humble and expose the politically powerful. It is to provide a fair-minded appraisal of events and reality (which is what reporters are supposed to do) and to inform and provide perspective on public debates in an intelligent manner (which is what commentators are supposed to do).

I’d add one other observation: Many members of the press tend to promote what they bemoan. For example, they complain about how presidential campaigns focus on trivial matters even as they cannot resist covering trivial stories. (By the end of the Obama v. Romney campaign, for example, let’s see how much attention is paid to Mitt Romney’s dog Seamus and his trip to Canada in car-top carrier v. his Medicare plan.) The press – parts of it, anyway — hyper-focus on provocative statements by media personalities rather than on premium support as an alternative to the current fee-for-service system in health care.

There are of course impressive exceptions to what I’m describing. Many journalists are serious-minded individuals who have a command of issues that is impressive. But somehow the total is less than the sum of the parts. That is, I think, what Barney Frank was trying to say — and in this instance, I concur with the liberal representative from Massachusetts.

 

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Romney’s Sister Souljah Moment

Democrats weren’t long in trying to blame Mitt Romney for the over-the-top denunciation of President Obama by singer Ted Nugent. Nugent told an audience at the national convention of the National Rifle Association that Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating” and vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Subsequently, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sought to rally her partisans to pressure Romney to condemn Nugent because he has publicly endorsed the likely GOP nominee.

But rather than allow the kerfuffle to fester, the Romney campaign has quickly responded to the charge. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul issued a statement today that made it clear the candidate wouldn’t allow himself to be associated with Nugent’s rhetoric.“Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil,” Saul said.

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Democrats weren’t long in trying to blame Mitt Romney for the over-the-top denunciation of President Obama by singer Ted Nugent. Nugent told an audience at the national convention of the National Rifle Association that Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating” and vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Subsequently, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sought to rally her partisans to pressure Romney to condemn Nugent because he has publicly endorsed the likely GOP nominee.

But rather than allow the kerfuffle to fester, the Romney campaign has quickly responded to the charge. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul issued a statement today that made it clear the candidate wouldn’t allow himself to be associated with Nugent’s rhetoric.“Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil,” Saul said.

While lacking the drama that Bill Clinton achieved when he rebuked rapper Sister Souljah for suggesting African-Americans would be justified in killing whites, it still provides Romney with an opportunity to put a little air between intemperate right-wingers and him. In 1992, Clinton seized on Souljah’s comments specifically to prove to the American public that he was moderate and to distance himself from Jesse Jackson who criticized him for his attack on the singer. While Romney doesn’t have quite the same need, he has nothing to lose by establishing an elevated tone in the campaign.

It should also be noted that Wasserman-Schultz should be careful about making too much about the nasty things said by right-wing artists. For every one Nugent on the right, there are a score of left-wing comics, singers and actors who routinely say hateful things about Republicans. If the DNC chair is going to start keeping tabs on the likes of Nugent, she may find herself spending much of the next few months apologizing for comments by liberals.

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No Alternative to American Leadership

The prize for least convincing op-ed article of the day–admittedly a close contest, given all the contenders one can choose from–goes to Kwasi Kwarteng’s New York Times article, “Echoes of the End of the Raj.” Kwarteng, a British Conservative parliamentarian of African ancestry who has written a book about the British Empire, claims (have you heard this before?) the U.S. is in rapid decline and can no longer afford the price of global power, or as he calls it, empire. Those interested in a more comprehensive deconstruction of this unconvincing argument should turn to Bob Kagan’s fine new book. I want to focus here on only one of Kwarteng’s egregious statements.

“America’s position today reminds me of Britain’s situation in 1945,” he writes. Really? He may be the only one who sees the parallels. As it happens, my forthcoming book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” which will come out in January 2013 from W.W. Norton & Co.’s Liveright imprint, contains a short section describing what Britain looked like in 1945 and the years immediately afterward. Here is part of what I write:

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The prize for least convincing op-ed article of the day–admittedly a close contest, given all the contenders one can choose from–goes to Kwasi Kwarteng’s New York Times article, “Echoes of the End of the Raj.” Kwarteng, a British Conservative parliamentarian of African ancestry who has written a book about the British Empire, claims (have you heard this before?) the U.S. is in rapid decline and can no longer afford the price of global power, or as he calls it, empire. Those interested in a more comprehensive deconstruction of this unconvincing argument should turn to Bob Kagan’s fine new book. I want to focus here on only one of Kwarteng’s egregious statements.

“America’s position today reminds me of Britain’s situation in 1945,” he writes. Really? He may be the only one who sees the parallels. As it happens, my forthcoming book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” which will come out in January 2013 from W.W. Norton & Co.’s Liveright imprint, contains a short section describing what Britain looked like in 1945 and the years immediately afterward. Here is part of what I write:

Some 750,000 houses had been destroyed or damaged, public debt was at record levels, the pound devalued, unemployment rising. Britain had to rely on a loan from the United States as a lifeline, even as the new Labor government was launching a dramatic expansion of costly government programs in health-care, schooling, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions.

Rationing remained in effect covering everything from meat, eggs, and butter to clothes, soap, and gasoline. As one housewife noted: “Queues were everywhere, for wedge-heeled shoes, pork-pies, fish, bead & cakes, tomatoes–& emergency ration-cards at the food office.” Even in the House of Commons dining room, the only meat on offer was whale or seal steak. The situation deteriorated even more in the harsh winter of 1947-1948. Coal, gas, and electricity were all in short supply. Everyone seemed to be shivering and complaining, as college student Kingsley Amis put it, “CHRIST ITS [sic] BLEEDING COLD.”

I describe conditions in post-war Britain to make clear why Britain could not afford to hang onto its empire. But does any of this sound like contemporary America? Are we rationing food and clothing? Are we dealing with widespread devastation? Are we unable to afford heat for our homes? Hardly. In fact, America is enjoying unprecedented prosperity–we are many times better off than we were 30 years ago, much less than Britain was 67 years ago, at the immediate conclusion of the most destructive war in history–one that bled Britain dry. We have not been bled dry by our military exertions. The defense budget amounts to less than 5 percent of our GDP–hardly an unsupportable burden, as I have argued many times before.

We do face problems of excessive government spending, exacerbated by President Obama’s Clement Atlee-like propensity for expanding the size of government. But, unlike Britain in 1945, we do not face a fundamental economic crisis. Our economy remains a leader among industrialized, or more accurately post-industrialized nations, with world-beating companies such as Wal-Mart, Apple, and General Electric–not to mention vast demographic advantages and mineral resources such as shale oil–that Britain simply did not have in 1945.

There is no reason we cannot continue to exercise global leadership–and every reason why we must continue to do so. Post-1945 Britain could cede the mantle gracefully to the U.S., confident that we would champion the same liberal values. To whom can the U.S. possibly pass power today? China? Russia? Iran? The question answers itself: there is no alternative to American leadership.

 

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Blame Palestinians, Not Netanyahu, for Shalit Prisoner Recidivism

Critics of Israel’s decision to exchange 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit predicted it would happen. And they were right. Israel’s Shin Bet — the country’s national security agency — announced today that two of those released in order to gain Shalit’s freedom were rearrested on terrorism-related charges. One was brought up on charges of buying illegal weapons while the other was part of a plot to commit more kidnappings of Israelis. This will, no doubt, lead to a chorus of “I told you so’s” from those who blasted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to the lopsided exchange.

These two are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of recidivism. As was the case with past prisoner exchanges, there is every expectation that many more of those released in order to save Shalit will be back trying to kill Israelis before long. But though this will lead many of those who were opposed to the trade to believe this discredits Netanyahu’s choice, they will discover the vast majority of Israelis who approved it probably won’t change their minds. The possibility that many, if not most, of the released prisoners would not abide by the terms of the deal was raised in advance of the exchange and acknowledged by its supporters, if not Netanyahu himself. Yet the same reasons that led this point to be discounted last year still apply.

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Critics of Israel’s decision to exchange 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit predicted it would happen. And they were right. Israel’s Shin Bet — the country’s national security agency — announced today that two of those released in order to gain Shalit’s freedom were rearrested on terrorism-related charges. One was brought up on charges of buying illegal weapons while the other was part of a plot to commit more kidnappings of Israelis. This will, no doubt, lead to a chorus of “I told you so’s” from those who blasted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to the lopsided exchange.

These two are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of recidivism. As was the case with past prisoner exchanges, there is every expectation that many more of those released in order to save Shalit will be back trying to kill Israelis before long. But though this will lead many of those who were opposed to the trade to believe this discredits Netanyahu’s choice, they will discover the vast majority of Israelis who approved it probably won’t change their minds. The possibility that many, if not most, of the released prisoners would not abide by the terms of the deal was raised in advance of the exchange and acknowledged by its supporters, if not Netanyahu himself. Yet the same reasons that led this point to be discounted last year still apply.

The first is that although the return of these terrorists to their deadly trade tells us a lot about the Palestinians, it is not as if these two or all thousands of those given up for Shalit are filling a void in the ranks of Hamas or any other group. Though their experience may be helpful as veteran cadres, there was and is no shortage of recruits to join them. That means that any casualties incurred by the actions of the freed terrorists would probably have happened even if they had never been let go. It simply isn’t fair to assert that Shalit’s life was bought with the blood of others.

Even more importantly, most Israelis still believe Shalit’s life was worth even an exorbitant price. The idea of a leaving an ordinary youngster who had been drafted into the service of his country to die was simply unacceptable. Though these imbalanced exchanges may make no sense to the rational dispassionate observer who may well say they only encourage future kidnappings (such as those the released prisoner was plotting), Israelis believe it is immaterial to the main question of doing everything to ensure that no solider is ever left behind.

A better question to be asked today is why the Palestinian leadership continues to encourage such activities. The general celebration of the release of convicted killers by the Palestinian population illustrated that their devotion to a culture of violence is unchanged. So long as that is true, they will continue to produce such killers. That fact gives the lie to the charges that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. It is this awful insight into the mindset of the Palestinians that will determine whether future generations of Israelis will be forced to fight and their leaders presented with unpalatable dilemmas such as that faced by Netanyahu.

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Iran Prepares for its Chernobyl

One of the most under-reported aspects of the Iranian nuclear program is its environmental impact. The entirety of Iran is one big earthquake zone; there are no safe areas. Indeed, Iranian officials every so often suggest moving the capital out of Tehran simply because that city is both overdue for the big one and relatively unprepared. One of the world’s best Iran specialists got his start as an earthquake surveyor in Iran.

Against this backdrop, Iran today announced its appointment of a commander for nuclear and radiation emergencies. A nuclear accident in Iran is inevitable. When it happens, it will be bigger than that in Japan because, as devastating as the earthquake and tsunami were at Fukushima, the Japanese government was organized enough—despite its miscues—to respond and to welcome foreign assistance. The Soviet response to Chernobyl in contrast was handicapped by a culture of secrecy and bureaucratic fear. In Iran, only the Supreme Leader could make an effective call on such issues as humanitarian assistance and, by the time he did, it may be too late for hundreds of thousands of people, not only in Iran but given the prevailing winds, also in portions of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

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One of the most under-reported aspects of the Iranian nuclear program is its environmental impact. The entirety of Iran is one big earthquake zone; there are no safe areas. Indeed, Iranian officials every so often suggest moving the capital out of Tehran simply because that city is both overdue for the big one and relatively unprepared. One of the world’s best Iran specialists got his start as an earthquake surveyor in Iran.

Against this backdrop, Iran today announced its appointment of a commander for nuclear and radiation emergencies. A nuclear accident in Iran is inevitable. When it happens, it will be bigger than that in Japan because, as devastating as the earthquake and tsunami were at Fukushima, the Japanese government was organized enough—despite its miscues—to respond and to welcome foreign assistance. The Soviet response to Chernobyl in contrast was handicapped by a culture of secrecy and bureaucratic fear. In Iran, only the Supreme Leader could make an effective call on such issues as humanitarian assistance and, by the time he did, it may be too late for hundreds of thousands of people, not only in Iran but given the prevailing winds, also in portions of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Just as gay rights activists expose their hypocrisy when they express solidarity with Hamas and castigate Israel, the number of environmental groups who remain quiet on Iran’s nuclear ambitions for fear of adopting a position that segues with U.S. national security interests is illustrating, indeed, about the true priorities of the environmental lobby.

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An Actual War on Women in Afghanistan

Let’s take a brief interlude from the very fake war on women in the U.S. for some disturbing news about an actual war on women in Afghanistan, where 150 schoolgirls were reportedly poisoned by radical insurgents today. Withdrawal gives President Obama a box to check on his 2008 campaign promise list, but unfortunately it likely means more attacks like this one:

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education. …

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in the hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

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Let’s take a brief interlude from the very fake war on women in the U.S. for some disturbing news about an actual war on women in Afghanistan, where 150 schoolgirls were reportedly poisoned by radical insurgents today. Withdrawal gives President Obama a box to check on his 2008 campaign promise list, but unfortunately it likely means more attacks like this one:

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education. …

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in the hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

Attacks like these are just a preview of the Taliban violence and intimidation campaigns that awaits Afghan women as U.S. forces withdraw. Notice that the school will not even name what group carried it out, for fear of reprisal. Already preparing for the coming day when U.S. protection will no longer be available?

The future for Afghan women is an issue that’s weighing heavily on congressional critics of the withdrawal timetable. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers spoke about what the withdrawal will bring for Afghan women in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday:

“We said to these women that we’re with them,” [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers] said. “What are we saying to them now? I was in one of the first congressional delegations into the country, and I met a woman, a doctor, who spoke better English than I do. She has a U.S. medical degree. She took me to her hospital, a children’s hospital. She told me that when she first heard of the fighting in 2001, she took off her burqa and walked something like 25 or 30 miles to the hospital. She had basically been a prisoner in her husband’s house for three years, and now she was doing surgeries.”

He continued: “And I get angry now because we’re walking away from her. We’re inviting the people, the Taliban, back, the very people who shoot people in soccer stadiums, who chop peoples’ heads off. What message does that send to her? That she might as well put on her burqa and walk back to her husband’s house?”

A little more national media attention on the war on women in Afghanistan would be nice, if only because it would help give partisans on both sides a much-needed reminder about what the term actually means.

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Is Obama Repeating April Glaspie’s Gaffe?

On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

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On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

Alas, there is a thin line between neutrality and moral equivalence. The fact of the matter is that the islands are British, the people residing on the islands are British, and every time anyone has bothered to ask the residents of the Falkland Islands, they have expressed an overwhelming desire to remain fully British. The problem with neutrality is that it legitimizes outrageous claims. There really is nothing to talk about, but by suggesting there is, Obama is fanning the flames of conflict, allowing rhetorical momentum to build, perhaps to the point where Kirchner will look at Obama’s studied neutrality the same way Saddam interpreted Glaspie’s.

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Who’s Mistreating the Palestinians Again?

The standard cliché of Middle East reporting is the notion of Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians. But as anyone with even a minimal grasp of the history of the region knows, the real victimizers of the Palestinians have always been the Arab nations who refused to absorb or resettle them after 1948 but instead preferred to keep them homeless as props to use in the war to destroy Israel. That this is an ongoing story rather than merely a chapter of history is demonstrated anew on the border between Jordan and Syria where Palestinians fleeing the chaos and violence of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad have been left stranded. But as has been the case with the exploitation of the Palestinians in the past, the world isn’t paying much attention.

As the always insightful Khaled Abu Toameh writes for the Gatestone Institute’s Website, more than 1,000 Palestinians attempted to enter Jordan from Syria, but the government of King Abdullah has kept them in a makeshift tent refugee camp with poor sanitary conditions while refusing them entry. The king’s priority remains repressing any possible signs of unrest among the approximately 80 percent of his subjects who are Palestinian and wants nothing to do with them or their plight. So while international “human rights” activists remained focused on aiding Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel, they ignore the real abuses of refugees going on right next door to the Jewish state.

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The standard cliché of Middle East reporting is the notion of Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians. But as anyone with even a minimal grasp of the history of the region knows, the real victimizers of the Palestinians have always been the Arab nations who refused to absorb or resettle them after 1948 but instead preferred to keep them homeless as props to use in the war to destroy Israel. That this is an ongoing story rather than merely a chapter of history is demonstrated anew on the border between Jordan and Syria where Palestinians fleeing the chaos and violence of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad have been left stranded. But as has been the case with the exploitation of the Palestinians in the past, the world isn’t paying much attention.

As the always insightful Khaled Abu Toameh writes for the Gatestone Institute’s Website, more than 1,000 Palestinians attempted to enter Jordan from Syria, but the government of King Abdullah has kept them in a makeshift tent refugee camp with poor sanitary conditions while refusing them entry. The king’s priority remains repressing any possible signs of unrest among the approximately 80 percent of his subjects who are Palestinian and wants nothing to do with them or their plight. So while international “human rights” activists remained focused on aiding Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel, they ignore the real abuses of refugees going on right next door to the Jewish state.

Abdullah understands all too well that a Fatah-Hamas unity coalition of Palestinian groups that is incapable of signing a peace with Israel that would give them an independent state may eventually decide to try and establish one on the territory of his kingdom. Given the fact that Jordan makes up two-thirds of the original land considered part of Palestine before it was first partitioned in 1922, Abdullah knows, as his father Hussein did, that they constitute a potentially mortal threat to the Bedouin minority that forms the ruling class there. As Abu Toahmeh writes, the king is having his government concoct new legislation that will exclude Palestinians from government institutions.

Abdullah’s concerns are real and shared by both the United States and Israel. But that doesn’t excuse the press and the so-called human rights crowd from ignoring any ill usage of the Palestinians that can’t be blamed on Israel. The suffering of ordinary Palestinians is real, but a solution to their problems requires both a sea change in their own political culture and a willingness on the part of the Arab world to stop abusing them. Unfortunately, neither seems even a remote possibility. In the meantime, don’t expect an army of activists to descend on Jordan to help the Palestinians there or anyplace else in the Arab world where they are being mistreated.

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Fareed Zakaria for Secretary of State?

Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon reports on speculation that the Obama administration might consider CNN talk show host Fareed Zakaria for a senior diplomatic post, perhaps even Secretary of State. Kredo raises concern regarding Zakaria’s naiveté regarding Iran, and to this one could add his pronounced lack of appreciation for fundamental tenets such as freedom and liberty.

What concerns me more about Zakaria, however, is his willing to compromise on basic American political freedoms. In his capacity as a trustee on the Yale Corporation, Yale University’s governing body, Zakaria counseled the university to embrace censorship ahead of its decision to interfere editorially in the nominally independent Yale University Press to censor an academic work on the Danish cartoon controversy. “You’re balancing issues of the First Amendment and academic freedom, but then you have this real question of what would be the consequences on human life,’’ he explained.

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Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon reports on speculation that the Obama administration might consider CNN talk show host Fareed Zakaria for a senior diplomatic post, perhaps even Secretary of State. Kredo raises concern regarding Zakaria’s naiveté regarding Iran, and to this one could add his pronounced lack of appreciation for fundamental tenets such as freedom and liberty.

What concerns me more about Zakaria, however, is his willing to compromise on basic American political freedoms. In his capacity as a trustee on the Yale Corporation, Yale University’s governing body, Zakaria counseled the university to embrace censorship ahead of its decision to interfere editorially in the nominally independent Yale University Press to censor an academic work on the Danish cartoon controversy. “You’re balancing issues of the First Amendment and academic freedom, but then you have this real question of what would be the consequences on human life,’’ he explained.

Now, Yale had received no threats whatsoever, so what Zakaria counseled was preemptive surrender. If the United States is to triumph over its enemies, ready abandonment of traditional American values is not a reflex the United States needs.

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Nocera Hits the Bulls-Eye on Magnitsky Act

President Obama has been decrying “the way Congress does its business these days” and promising to act “with or without this Congress,” so fed up is he by the lack of bipartisan solutions coming from the legislative branch. So the president, one would think, would be delighted that Congress has come together to produce a bipartisan, popular bill that would also give the president a strong foreign policy move while simultaneously beefing up his credentials on human rights and democracy.

I’m talking, of course, about the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011,” a bill that would sanction Russian human rights offenders. It is named after the Russian attorney who was detained without trial for investigating Russian corruption and then beaten and left to die in prison. It is intended to replace the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, aimed at getting the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, but which is outdated and will likely be repealed now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and has broad bipartisan support. But Obama staunchly opposes the bill. Today, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera adds his voice to the growing chorus of commentators, both liberal and conservative, who support the bill:

I have to confess that when I first began receiving press releases about this effort, which has gained traction in Europe as well as the U.S., I didn’t take it very seriously. Visa restrictions didn’t seem like much of a price for allowing an innocent lawyer to die in prison. But after watching the reaction of the Russian government, which has repeatedly and vehemently denounced the bill — and which is now, out of pure spite, prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously — I’ve come to see that it really does hit these officials where it hurts them most.

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President Obama has been decrying “the way Congress does its business these days” and promising to act “with or without this Congress,” so fed up is he by the lack of bipartisan solutions coming from the legislative branch. So the president, one would think, would be delighted that Congress has come together to produce a bipartisan, popular bill that would also give the president a strong foreign policy move while simultaneously beefing up his credentials on human rights and democracy.

I’m talking, of course, about the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011,” a bill that would sanction Russian human rights offenders. It is named after the Russian attorney who was detained without trial for investigating Russian corruption and then beaten and left to die in prison. It is intended to replace the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, aimed at getting the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, but which is outdated and will likely be repealed now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and has broad bipartisan support. But Obama staunchly opposes the bill. Today, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera adds his voice to the growing chorus of commentators, both liberal and conservative, who support the bill:

I have to confess that when I first began receiving press releases about this effort, which has gained traction in Europe as well as the U.S., I didn’t take it very seriously. Visa restrictions didn’t seem like much of a price for allowing an innocent lawyer to die in prison. But after watching the reaction of the Russian government, which has repeatedly and vehemently denounced the bill — and which is now, out of pure spite, prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously — I’ve come to see that it really does hit these officials where it hurts them most.

Nocera makes an important point as to why the Magnitsky bill so easily got under the skin of Russian officials. It may sound marginal or even shallow, but it’s undeniably effective:

Who knew that what corrupt Russian officials care about, more than just about anything, is getting their assets — and themselves — out of their own country? They own homes in St. Tropez, fly to Miami for vacation and set up bank accounts in Switzerland. They understand the importance of stashing their money someplace where the rule of law matters, which is most certainly not Russia. Besides, getting out of Russia is one of the pleasures of being a corrupt Russian official.

This is not only about targeting Russian criminals’ vested interests, but about the symbolism of basing legislation on human rights and especially the rule of law as well. As Nocera notes, our dedication to the rule of law is a big reason this law would be effective.

And it’s not just Russians. Last month, at Intelligence Squared U.S.’s debate on China and capitalism, Ian Bremmer said the same thing:

We got to watch what people do, not what people say, what they do. Did you see that piece in the Wall Street Journal, talked about the disposition of Chinese millionaires, how over 50 percent of Chinese millionaires say they prefer to live in the United States than China? And yeah, it’s about quality of life. Yeah, it’s about the environment. Yeah, it’s about opportunities for their kids. It’s also about no rule of law in China and worrying about corruption and the sanctity of their assets over the long term. Your assets are okay tomorrow. The United States, we’re over-litigious. China doesn’t have that problem. You don’t have to worry about lawyers in China. You have to worry about someone ripping off your stuff or being forced out of the country or not being heard from again.

Nocera says passing the bill would give Republicans and Democrats separate victories that also give them the political cover to pass the bill. “Bipartisanship will reign,” Nocera says. But he forgets to add: if Obama will get out of the way.

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Breivik Isn’t Insane, But Norway’s Legal System Might Be

Anders Breivik, the man accused of murdering 77 people in Norway, testified yesterday before a five-judge panel which will decide whether he’s guilty and whether he’s insane. There’s more than enough evidence for the guilt; he’s admitted to the attack. But Breivik’s performance in court yesterday should remove any shred of doubt that he was sane and fully aware when he allegedly carried out the massacre.

And it really was a performance. Walking into the court, the accused killer gave a Nazi-like fist pump. He told prosecutors his one regret was that he attacked a youth camp instead of a journalism conference nearby. And he showed zero remorse for the massacre, calling it “spectacular” during a drawn-out explanation of his motivations:

Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik defended his massacre of 77 people, insisting today he would do it all again and calling his rampage the most “spectacular” attack by a nationalist militant since World War II.

Reading a prepared statement in court, the anti-Muslim extremist lashed out at Norwegian and European governments for embracing immigration and multiculturalism. …

Breivik has five days to explain why he set off a bomb in Oslo’s government district on July 22, killing eight people, and then gunned down 69 others at a Labor Party youth camp outside the Norwegian capital. He denies criminal guilt, saying he was acting in self-defense, and claims the targets were part of a conspiracy to “deconstruct” Norway’s cultural identity.

“The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country,” he said as he finished his statement, in essence a summary of the 1,500-page manifesto he posted online before the attacks. “I therefore demand to be found innocent of the present charges.” …

According to Breivik, Western Europe was gradually taken over by “Marxists and multiculturalists” after World War II because it didn’t have “anti-communist” leaders like U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The senator dominated the early 1950s with his sensational but unproven charges of Communist subversion in high government circles in the U.S.

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Anders Breivik, the man accused of murdering 77 people in Norway, testified yesterday before a five-judge panel which will decide whether he’s guilty and whether he’s insane. There’s more than enough evidence for the guilt; he’s admitted to the attack. But Breivik’s performance in court yesterday should remove any shred of doubt that he was sane and fully aware when he allegedly carried out the massacre.

And it really was a performance. Walking into the court, the accused killer gave a Nazi-like fist pump. He told prosecutors his one regret was that he attacked a youth camp instead of a journalism conference nearby. And he showed zero remorse for the massacre, calling it “spectacular” during a drawn-out explanation of his motivations:

Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik defended his massacre of 77 people, insisting today he would do it all again and calling his rampage the most “spectacular” attack by a nationalist militant since World War II.

Reading a prepared statement in court, the anti-Muslim extremist lashed out at Norwegian and European governments for embracing immigration and multiculturalism. …

Breivik has five days to explain why he set off a bomb in Oslo’s government district on July 22, killing eight people, and then gunned down 69 others at a Labor Party youth camp outside the Norwegian capital. He denies criminal guilt, saying he was acting in self-defense, and claims the targets were part of a conspiracy to “deconstruct” Norway’s cultural identity.

“The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country,” he said as he finished his statement, in essence a summary of the 1,500-page manifesto he posted online before the attacks. “I therefore demand to be found innocent of the present charges.” …

According to Breivik, Western Europe was gradually taken over by “Marxists and multiculturalists” after World War II because it didn’t have “anti-communist” leaders like U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The senator dominated the early 1950s with his sensational but unproven charges of Communist subversion in high government circles in the U.S.

This isn’t the argument of an insane person; it’s the argument of a twisted and ugly ideologue. Breivik’s beliefs are certainly delusional, but his actual argument follows the thought-pattern of someone who is sane and lucid. He is clearly aware of the gravity of the massacre and discusses specific ways he would alter his plan if he had a chance to do it again. He offers a motivation for the attack and lays out his case for self-defense. They are appalling, to be sure. But those who argue he’s insane are denying the real evil that appears to have driven him.

Moreover, the panel of judges sat through Breivik’s extended rant, in essence giving him a prominent international media platform to spout his extremism. When victims’ families asked why the court was allowing this, Breivik threatened to stop speaking at all if his diatribes were curtailed:

Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer representing victims’ families, also interrupted Breivik, saying she was getting complaints from victims who were concerned that the defendant was turning the trial into a platform to profess his extremist views. Her remarks prompted the judge to again urge Breivik to wrap it up.

Breivik replied if he wasn’t allowed to continue he might not speak at all.

Breivik has admitted to massacring 77 people – including teenagers – and seems proud of it. For that, he faces a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison and was given a courtroom platform to espouse his noxious political beliefs at length. Plenty has already been said about the disgraceful leniency of the Norwegian legal system as it applies to this case, but seeing photos of Breivik strolling into the courtroom with a smile on his face and a fist bump really emphasizes the injustice of it all.

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Recall Puts Wisconsin Into Play for GOP

The decision by Democrats and their union allies to try and defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker via recall is increasingly looking like a bad bet. The latest poll numbers out of the Badger State show that Walker leads all possible Democratic challengers in the vote that is scheduled for June 5.  The best showing of the four Democrats in the race was from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who trailed Walker 50-45 percent. Walker bests Kathleen Falk by seven points and both Doug La Follette and Kathleen Vinehout by ten points. The Public Policy Polling survey conducted for the Daily Kos also showed that while Wisconsin voters are nearly evenly split about Walker’s job performance, 51 percent approve of him.

By bowing to the dictates of an angry labor union movement and pushing for a recall, Democrats gambled that they could knock off Walker and set the stage for a reversal of the 2010 Republican tidal wave that swept the governor and a GOP legislative majority into office. But if they fail in June, it will not only encourage Republicans to think they might steal the state from President Obama in November, they will have immeasurably strengthened Walker.

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The decision by Democrats and their union allies to try and defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker via recall is increasingly looking like a bad bet. The latest poll numbers out of the Badger State show that Walker leads all possible Democratic challengers in the vote that is scheduled for June 5.  The best showing of the four Democrats in the race was from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who trailed Walker 50-45 percent. Walker bests Kathleen Falk by seven points and both Doug La Follette and Kathleen Vinehout by ten points. The Public Policy Polling survey conducted for the Daily Kos also showed that while Wisconsin voters are nearly evenly split about Walker’s job performance, 51 percent approve of him.

By bowing to the dictates of an angry labor union movement and pushing for a recall, Democrats gambled that they could knock off Walker and set the stage for a reversal of the 2010 Republican tidal wave that swept the governor and a GOP legislative majority into office. But if they fail in June, it will not only encourage Republicans to think they might steal the state from President Obama in November, they will have immeasurably strengthened Walker.

As the Daily Kos itself notes in an analysis, these numbers show a remarkable improvement for Walker over the last poll taken by PPP. The reason for this is that for the first time the poll screens for likely voters. So not only is Walker clearly in the lead to retain his job, Mitt Romney has also made significant inroads against President Obama in a key swing state, with the likely GOP nominee now trailing the incumbent by 50-44 as opposed to the 53-39 margin in February.

The Daily Kos does hold out some hope for the left, because Democrats have been so focused on their own gubernatorial primary that they have yet to unleash an avalanche of negative ads on Walker. Theoretically, the four weeks between the primary and the recall will give the Dems enough time to raise Walker’s negatives and give them a chance. But the problem with this reasoning is Walker’s foes have spent the last year and a half working overtime to demonize him because of his successful efforts to reform the state’s finances and restrict the power of state worker unions to hold Wisconsin’s fiscal future hostage to their demands for more money and benefits. It’s not likely that a fresh assault from the left is going to alter the public’s opinion of him now.

The point here is that unless something happens to shift opinion, the recall effort is likely to be a bust that will render Walker virtually bulletproof for the rest of his current term in office and help put Wisconsin in play for the presidential election.

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Maybe the Pulitzers Ran Out of Writers

In the aftermath of the Pulitzer Prize board’s inability to give out a fiction award yesterday, the three jurors who selected the three finalists have got mad, and the critics have been speculating like mad. My own theory is that the Pulitzers ran out of writers.

Literary prizes have little to do with literary merit (and the little gets less every year). They are just another medium of book advertising. The best evidence is how few books win more than one of the big three awards — Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle — in any one year. The last novel to be honored with both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award was E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News nearly two decades ago in 1994. Only six works of fiction have been dual winners:

1955    William Faulkner, A Fable
1966    Katherine Anne Porter, Collected Stories
1967    Bernard Malamud, The Fixer
1982    John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
1983    Alice Walker, The Color Purple
1994    E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

It is less unusual for the National Book Critics Circle Award to go to a book that wins another prize the same year. Nine times since the award was established in 1976 it has gone to a book that also won another laurel:

1979    John Cheever, Stories (also won Pulitzer)
1982    John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich (also won National Book Award and Pulitzer)
1991    John Updike, Rabbit at Rest (also won Pulitzer)
1992    Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (also won Pulitzer)
1993    Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses (also won National Book Award)
2004    Edward P. Jones, The Known World (also won Pulitzer)
2005    Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (also won Pulitzer)
2008    Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (also won Pulitzer)
2011     Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (also won Pulitzer)

If anyone were to draw up a list of the 14 most striking and distinctive and influential American books of the past six decades, however, very few of the titles on these two lists would be on it. The lack of multiple awards is significant, but even more telling is how badly the multiple awards correlate with lasting reputations.

The dirty little secret of literary prizes is that they must not be given out more than once to the same writer. Saul Bellow won the National Book Award three times (1954, 1965, 1971); William Faulkner, twice (1951, 1955); William Gaddis, twice (1976, 1994); Bernard Malamud, twice (1959, 1967); Wright Morris, twice (1957, 1981); Philip Roth, twice (1960, 1995); and John Updike, twice (1964, 1982). But no American writer who has begun his or her career since 1976 — no one belonging to the “boomer” generation or after — has won more than once.

The Pulitzer Prize appears to have an unwritten policy forbidding repeat winners. The last writer to win the more than once was John Updike, who took home the Prize for Rabbit Is Rich in 1982 and then again for Rabbit at Rest nine years later. Here is a complete and unabridged list of the American fiction writers who have won the Pulitzer more than once: William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington, John Updike.

The rationale for the Pulitzer’s unwritten prohibition against repeat winners becomes clear when you examine the cover of Steven Millhauser’s new volume of stories, We Others:

Given Millhauser’s genius for short fiction, We Others should have been a serious contender for the Prize. (It was Janice Harayda’s choice for the Pulitzer That Wasn’t.) But the reason it wasn’t considered is obvious. Millhauser captured top honors in 1997 for Martin Dressler, making it possible for Knopf to fill a box on his grid-like cover with “winner of the Pulitzer Prize” — an honor that goes on the same level as the title. Winning a second Prize adds nothing to what Knopf can do to sell Millhauser’s books. The Pulitzer is an advertising sticker to slap on a writer’s dust jacket. And one sticker is all it takes.

If writers can only win the Pulitzer once, though, and if few books commandeer more than one trophy per year, the store of American fiction writers is going to be exhausted sooner rather than later. More than anything else, that may explain why no Pulitzer Prize in fiction was awarded this year.

In the aftermath of the Pulitzer Prize board’s inability to give out a fiction award yesterday, the three jurors who selected the three finalists have got mad, and the critics have been speculating like mad. My own theory is that the Pulitzers ran out of writers.

Literary prizes have little to do with literary merit (and the little gets less every year). They are just another medium of book advertising. The best evidence is how few books win more than one of the big three awards — Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle — in any one year. The last novel to be honored with both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award was E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News nearly two decades ago in 1994. Only six works of fiction have been dual winners:

1955    William Faulkner, A Fable
1966    Katherine Anne Porter, Collected Stories
1967    Bernard Malamud, The Fixer
1982    John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
1983    Alice Walker, The Color Purple
1994    E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

It is less unusual for the National Book Critics Circle Award to go to a book that wins another prize the same year. Nine times since the award was established in 1976 it has gone to a book that also won another laurel:

1979    John Cheever, Stories (also won Pulitzer)
1982    John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich (also won National Book Award and Pulitzer)
1991    John Updike, Rabbit at Rest (also won Pulitzer)
1992    Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (also won Pulitzer)
1993    Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses (also won National Book Award)
2004    Edward P. Jones, The Known World (also won Pulitzer)
2005    Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (also won Pulitzer)
2008    Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (also won Pulitzer)
2011     Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (also won Pulitzer)

If anyone were to draw up a list of the 14 most striking and distinctive and influential American books of the past six decades, however, very few of the titles on these two lists would be on it. The lack of multiple awards is significant, but even more telling is how badly the multiple awards correlate with lasting reputations.

The dirty little secret of literary prizes is that they must not be given out more than once to the same writer. Saul Bellow won the National Book Award three times (1954, 1965, 1971); William Faulkner, twice (1951, 1955); William Gaddis, twice (1976, 1994); Bernard Malamud, twice (1959, 1967); Wright Morris, twice (1957, 1981); Philip Roth, twice (1960, 1995); and John Updike, twice (1964, 1982). But no American writer who has begun his or her career since 1976 — no one belonging to the “boomer” generation or after — has won more than once.

The Pulitzer Prize appears to have an unwritten policy forbidding repeat winners. The last writer to win the more than once was John Updike, who took home the Prize for Rabbit Is Rich in 1982 and then again for Rabbit at Rest nine years later. Here is a complete and unabridged list of the American fiction writers who have won the Pulitzer more than once: William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington, John Updike.

The rationale for the Pulitzer’s unwritten prohibition against repeat winners becomes clear when you examine the cover of Steven Millhauser’s new volume of stories, We Others:

Given Millhauser’s genius for short fiction, We Others should have been a serious contender for the Prize. (It was Janice Harayda’s choice for the Pulitzer That Wasn’t.) But the reason it wasn’t considered is obvious. Millhauser captured top honors in 1997 for Martin Dressler, making it possible for Knopf to fill a box on his grid-like cover with “winner of the Pulitzer Prize” — an honor that goes on the same level as the title. Winning a second Prize adds nothing to what Knopf can do to sell Millhauser’s books. The Pulitzer is an advertising sticker to slap on a writer’s dust jacket. And one sticker is all it takes.

If writers can only win the Pulitzer once, though, and if few books commandeer more than one trophy per year, the store of American fiction writers is going to be exhausted sooner rather than later. More than anything else, that may explain why no Pulitzer Prize in fiction was awarded this year.

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The Khamenei Fatwa Is a Ruse

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program before the weekend talks in Istanbul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We’re looking for concrete results,” and continued, “They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition.”

Secretary Clinton must take this argument seriously, because she has been looking into the fatwa very closely. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized,” Clinton said.

EU diplomats also took notice of Iranian emphasis on the fatwa:

“One of the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because he was sharing information from a closed session, said the Iranians appeared to be moving toward that goal, engaging in discussion about the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He said the Iranian team had mentioned supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa, or prohibition, of nuclear weapons for Iran, in the course of the plenary discussions.”

As Jonathan Tobin discussed yesterday, a delegation of 12 Iranian nuclear scientists attended the North Korea’s failed missile test at the same time that the chief nuclear negotiator in Istanbul was proclaiming Iran’s religious commitment to non-proliferation. So what were they doing there? Verifying how compatible is their leader’s fatwa with a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead?

Secretary Clinton and all other parties involved should judge the Iranians by their actions. They speak for themselves. The fatwa is a ruse – one that clearly just won Tehran another five weeks of quiet.

 

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program before the weekend talks in Istanbul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We’re looking for concrete results,” and continued, “They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition.”

Secretary Clinton must take this argument seriously, because she has been looking into the fatwa very closely. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized,” Clinton said.

EU diplomats also took notice of Iranian emphasis on the fatwa:

“One of the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because he was sharing information from a closed session, said the Iranians appeared to be moving toward that goal, engaging in discussion about the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He said the Iranian team had mentioned supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa, or prohibition, of nuclear weapons for Iran, in the course of the plenary discussions.”

As Jonathan Tobin discussed yesterday, a delegation of 12 Iranian nuclear scientists attended the North Korea’s failed missile test at the same time that the chief nuclear negotiator in Istanbul was proclaiming Iran’s religious commitment to non-proliferation. So what were they doing there? Verifying how compatible is their leader’s fatwa with a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead?

Secretary Clinton and all other parties involved should judge the Iranians by their actions. They speak for themselves. The fatwa is a ruse – one that clearly just won Tehran another five weeks of quiet.

 

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Ashton, Not Obama, in Charge of Iran Talks

Laura Rozen’s account of the behind-the-scenes action during the Iranian nuclear talks in Istanbul undermines the notion that President Obama is in control of the P5+1 diplomatic process that he fiercely defended during the weekend. As Rozen’s reporting makes clear, it is the European Union’s Catherine Ashton who was clearly in charge of the affair, and as long as that fierce critic of Israel is calling the shots, it’s unlikely the Iranians will surrender their nuclear ambitions.

Indeed, by championing Iran’s right to nuclear development, which could be ultimately used for military purposes, Ashton may be steering the negotiations toward a deal that will be represented as defusing the crisis while not removing the threat of an Iranian bomb. Though the Europeans are championing the idea that the talks have value, the Iranians seem to be back to their old tricks in convincing their negotiating partners of their interest in a solution while sticking to a playbook whose only objective is to remove the threat of an oil embargo in exchange for giving up nothing. This may be Obama’s idea of a ticking clock, but with Ashton dragging out the process, there is, as even Rozen concluded, little likelihood that real progress is in the offing.

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Laura Rozen’s account of the behind-the-scenes action during the Iranian nuclear talks in Istanbul undermines the notion that President Obama is in control of the P5+1 diplomatic process that he fiercely defended during the weekend. As Rozen’s reporting makes clear, it is the European Union’s Catherine Ashton who was clearly in charge of the affair, and as long as that fierce critic of Israel is calling the shots, it’s unlikely the Iranians will surrender their nuclear ambitions.

Indeed, by championing Iran’s right to nuclear development, which could be ultimately used for military purposes, Ashton may be steering the negotiations toward a deal that will be represented as defusing the crisis while not removing the threat of an Iranian bomb. Though the Europeans are championing the idea that the talks have value, the Iranians seem to be back to their old tricks in convincing their negotiating partners of their interest in a solution while sticking to a playbook whose only objective is to remove the threat of an oil embargo in exchange for giving up nothing. This may be Obama’s idea of a ticking clock, but with Ashton dragging out the process, there is, as even Rozen concluded, little likelihood that real progress is in the offing.

As Rozen makes clear, the Iranians seem all too comfortable with Ashton as their chief interlocutor. Though Ashton, a failed leftist British politician who has become the EU’s foreign policy chief, is praised for her skill in orchestrating the talks, her coziness with the Iranians has to worry President Obama. According to Rozen, she spent a three-hour dinner with the top Iranian negotiator discussing “political party funding in the U.S.,” a clear illusion to the influence of the pro-Israel community and President Obama’s need to sound tough about the nuclear question. This nugget raises the inescapable conclusion that Ashton’s position may actually be closer to the Iranians than it is to that of Washington.

Rozen’s reporting on the way the Europeans and others who are committed to the myth of what the president calls a “diplomatic window” with Iran were played by the Iranians also gives us a good idea of how effective Tehran’s representatives were in Istanbul. Using the same tactics employed in the previous attempts to talk them out of their nuclear program, the Iranians raised the hopes of the Euros for a while and then dashed them. By the time they were finished, Ashton and her crew actually thought they had come out ahead because the Iranians had agreed to another meeting, albeit one that would not be held until the end of May. The article also makes it clear the long delay before the next round that will be held, at Iran’s behest, in Baghdad, is due as much to Ashton as anyone else.

Even those cheering the diplomatic process admit the talks would have had more credibility if there had been a bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Iran. But it never happened, though Rozen claims Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman made a good impression on everyone in Istanbul by taking an appropriately “tough” attitude with the Iranians. But the most important thing to understand about Sherman is that she was the Clinton administration’s North Korea Policy Coordinator. Which means she is among those responsible for a feckless policy of appeasement of the North Koreans that ultimately led to their achieving nuclear capability. For an administration that has vowed never to allow Iran to go nuclear to have one of the people who can be blamed for the failure to stop North Korea as our point person in the talks is yet another reason to call into question Obama’s credibility on this issue.

The happy talk emanating from Istanbul and the ease with which the Iranians stonewalled the P5+1 negotiators creates a stark contrast with President Obama’s vow to keep the pressure on Iran. The failure to obtain anything of substance from this meeting as well as the long delay until the next conclave give no reason to hope for better results in Baghdad in May and should be counted as just the latest diplomatic triumph for the Iranians. If Obama is serious about bringing the Iranians to heel — an assumption open to debate — he must attempt to take back control of the process from Ashton. If not, he may find that she not only will not defuse this crisis but also may create another issue for the Republicans to use against him this fall.

 

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Kabul Attack Hardly a Sign of Strength

I respectfully dissent from the conclusion reached by some U.S. officials and outside analysts who claim to see Sunday’s assaults in Afghanistan as a show of strength and not weakness by the insurgency. No question there was an intelligence failure in not anticipating and preventing the attack. But no security force, no matter how formidable, can possibly stop every terrorist attack before it happens. Afghan and coalition forces have disrupted countless Haqqani attempts to attack Kabul in the past. Indeed, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack in the capital since September. But no defense can be full-proof.

It is hardly a sign of insurgent strength that some 40 Haqqani operatives managed to strike a series of Afghan and coalition targets in Kabul and a few other sites in eastern Afghanistan. It is not all that difficult to smuggle AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades into Kabul–but then it’s not so difficult to smuggle such weapons into the United States either. But once again, as in September, the insurgents had to stage their attacks from abandoned buildings, which suggests they do not have too much support in the capital. Certainly they were not able to infiltrate the parliament or other targets–they were not even able to penetrate the perimeter as far as I can tell. And Afghan forces responded quickly, managing to kill almost all the attackers while limiting civilian casualties.

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I respectfully dissent from the conclusion reached by some U.S. officials and outside analysts who claim to see Sunday’s assaults in Afghanistan as a show of strength and not weakness by the insurgency. No question there was an intelligence failure in not anticipating and preventing the attack. But no security force, no matter how formidable, can possibly stop every terrorist attack before it happens. Afghan and coalition forces have disrupted countless Haqqani attempts to attack Kabul in the past. Indeed, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack in the capital since September. But no defense can be full-proof.

It is hardly a sign of insurgent strength that some 40 Haqqani operatives managed to strike a series of Afghan and coalition targets in Kabul and a few other sites in eastern Afghanistan. It is not all that difficult to smuggle AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades into Kabul–but then it’s not so difficult to smuggle such weapons into the United States either. But once again, as in September, the insurgents had to stage their attacks from abandoned buildings, which suggests they do not have too much support in the capital. Certainly they were not able to infiltrate the parliament or other targets–they were not even able to penetrate the perimeter as far as I can tell. And Afghan forces responded quickly, managing to kill almost all the attackers while limiting civilian casualties.

For the sake of comparison look at this description from the Encyclopedia Britannica of the 1968 Tet Offensive:

“On January 31 … the communists launched an offensive throughout South Vietnam. They attacked 36 of 44 provincial capitals, 64 district capitals, five of the six major cities, and more than two dozen airfields and bases. Westmoreland’s Saigon headquarters came under attack, and a VC squad even penetrated the compound of the U.S. embassy. In Hue, the former imperial Vietnamese capital, communist troops seized control of more than half the city and held it for nearly three weeks.”

Now that was an attack indicating insurgent strength, even if much of that strength was decimated in the robust U.S.-South Vietnamese offensive. The fact that Vietnamese capitals were able to attack dozens of cities with roughly 80,000 men showed impressive capabilities; they were even able to hold the city of Hue for a few weeks before being expelled by U.S. Marines. The fact that the Haqqanis were able to muster 40 gunmen to attack seven sites–not so impressive.

 

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Obama Leads by Healthy Margin in Poll

In an example of why you can’t put too much stock in a single poll, the latest CNN/ORC survey found the opposite of yesterday’s Gallup matchup between Romney and Obama. The president leads, and by a healthy margin:

President Barack Obama holds a nine-point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney thanks in part to the perception that the president is more likeable and more in touch with the problems facing women and middle class Americans, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday also indicates a large gender gap that benefits Obama, but the public is divided on which candidate can best jump-start the economy.

According to the poll, 52 percent of registered voters say if the presidential election were held today, they would vote for the president, with 43 percent saying they would cast a ballot for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the White House.

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In an example of why you can’t put too much stock in a single poll, the latest CNN/ORC survey found the opposite of yesterday’s Gallup matchup between Romney and Obama. The president leads, and by a healthy margin:

President Barack Obama holds a nine-point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney thanks in part to the perception that the president is more likeable and more in touch with the problems facing women and middle class Americans, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday also indicates a large gender gap that benefits Obama, but the public is divided on which candidate can best jump-start the economy.

According to the poll, 52 percent of registered voters say if the presidential election were held today, they would vote for the president, with 43 percent saying they would cast a ballot for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the White House.

Allahpundit picks out some oddities from the crosstabs:

Fourteen percent of Tea Party supporters are leaning towards … O? Not staying home, mind you, but actually stepping up for four more years of Obamanomics? C’mon. …

Obama won women by 13 points in 2008 so a 16-point gender gap is not, alas, out of the realm of possibility. Explain to me, though, how he wins men by three — which would be larger than the spread between him and McCain — after four years of a grinding “mancession.” Again, c’mon.

Exactly. I have no trouble believing a gender gap is responsible for Obama’s lead, as women have historically gone for Democrats, and recent polling has shown that so far, this year is no exception. But Obama’s lead with men contradicts recent polls and what you’d typically expect to see, so unless it’s replicated in other surveys, it sounds like it’s a hiccup in the data.

For more, take a look at the CNN/ORC crosstabs here. And for a good, related read, check out Nate Silver’s 12 commandments for reading general election polls – and why you shouldn’t treat them like the primary ones.

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