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Posts For: September 1, 2014

Ferguson Can’t Save Senate for Democrats

In a year in which the odds are heavily stacked against the Democrats it is to be expected that the party will try just about anything in their quest to retain control of the Senate. But the notion that President Obama’s party can somehow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by attempting to exploit African-American sorrow about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last month may be a new low in the long annals of cynical political stunts.

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In a year in which the odds are heavily stacked against the Democrats it is to be expected that the party will try just about anything in their quest to retain control of the Senate. But the notion that President Obama’s party can somehow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by attempting to exploit African-American sorrow about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last month may be a new low in the long annals of cynical political stunts.

The effort to cash in on the Ferguson tragedy was the conceit of a front-page New York Times feature yesterday that pointed to efforts to increase black turnout as the key to Democratic victory in November. Given that the Democratic base tends not to show up when the presidency is not at stake, the party knows that it must do something to gin up interest in congressional contests. That Democrats have come to rely heavily on minority turnout to win elections is not exactly a secret. The massive successful effort to get blacks as well as other minorities to the polls in 2008 and 2012 was essential to President Obama’s electoral triumphs. Looked at from that perspective, connecting Republicans to the police officer that shot Brown and Democrats to the effort to get justice for the victim makes sense.

But there are a few big problems with this formula that have nothing to do with objections to a strategy that is based on crass partisanship and shameless exploitation of a tragedy.

The first is, contrary to Democrat expectations, although African-Americans are the most reliable of the party’s key constituencies they were probably paying closer attention to the aftermath of the tragedy than most Americans. That means they realized that the most insensitive and most incompetent responses to the tragedy came from Missouri’s Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, not any Republican. Nor were prominent Republicans slow to express sympathy for the slain teenager or guilty of gaffes that could be exploited by the liberal media to create a narrative in which the GOP could somehow be directly tied to the shooting.

So while Ferguson may have angered blacks and made them more likely to engage in political activism, the incident isn’t the sort of thing that can serve as leverage in congressional and Senate elections that are being largely fought on issues that have nothing to do what happened in Missouri.

Second, the attempt to leverage angst about Ferguson into a wave of African-Americans turning out to vote for Democrats en masse requires the party to do some very careful maneuvering.

Rather than Barack Obama’s name being on the ballot this year, politicians that are doing everything in their power to distance themselves from the president will occupy the Democratic line in many places. While African-Americans may believe Democrats are supporters of their interests, it’s not quite so easy to mobilize them to save the political skins of senators who are simultaneously assuring white voters in red states that they disagree with the president on most issues and won’t be reliable supporters of the White House if they are returned to office. If, in the course of wooing African-Americans, senators like Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, or Mark Prior in Arkansas do get closer to the president that might fatally damage them with swing voters they desperately need to win. Indeed, though blacks are the heart of the Democratic Party in the south, their only hope of victory lies in grabbing the political center, not merely playing to the base.

Thus while Democrats may be cynical enough to try to run a pro-Obama campaign in the black community and an anti-Obama effort among whites, the idea that they can do so without either of these constituencies noticing that they are being two-timed if not outright lied to is slim.

Of course, that doesn’t deter race baiters like Al Sharpton, who both Politico and the New York Times recently anointed as President Obama’s go-to person in the African-American community, from trying to turn Ferguson into a political cause. Nor has it stopped other Democrats like Rep. John Lewis from attempting to use the tragedy to revive their glory days in the civil-rights movement. But resentment about police violence isn’t the moral equivalent of Obama’s candidacy, especially when it is obvious that what the establishment protesters are railing at is as much a function of the Democrats as it is the Republicans. If Democrats are going to hold the Senate they are going to have to do better than this tired, cynical racial act.

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Ted Cruz, RINO?

According to The Hill newspaper:

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According to The Hill newspaper:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) late Saturday shrugged off the idea that Republicans would shut down the federal government if President Obama took executive action on immigration reform.

“There is one person and one person only talking about shutting down the government, and that is the White House,” he told The Washington Post after offering a blistering critique of the administration’s policies at the Americans For Prosperity conference in Dallas.

I for one am glad that Senator Cruz seems to have learned from his disastrous mistake last October, when he was the leading voice (but hardly the only voice) for shutting down the federal government if the president didn’t defund the Affordable Care Act. Leading up to the shutdown many of us said that to follow the Cruz strategy would be a terrible mistake. It was. Nothing good was achieved, while the GOP badly hurt itself in the process. Yet Cruz, to this very day, continues to defend what he did. He was a profile in courage, don’t you know; a man of rare, unbending principles.

But if using the government shutdown as a means to stop Mr. Obama was such a wonderful strategy, then why not pursue it again–especially if President Obama unilaterally acts to legalize those who live in America but who came here illegally? Indeed, the Senator Cruz from October 2013 would excoriate the Senator Cruz of August 2014, just as last fall he excoriated Republicans who warned against his gambit. He would be saying the Ted Cruz of today is unprincipled, craven, weak, afraid of his own shadow, and a man who doesn’t have a clue as to the damage the president is doing to the nation. “Now is the time to fight, not to flee,” Ted Cruz circa 2013 would tell Ted Cruz circa 2014, “a time to take a stand, not retreat.”

Let me reiterate: I’m pleased Senator Cruz has implicitly rebuked the approach he took last fall. But given how critical he was of his colleagues, who turned out to be so much wiser than he, it might be a nice touch for the Texas senator to apologize to those he attacked, and even to admit he was wrong. Because he was. And because even he sees that now.

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Good News for Polar Bears. Bad News for Al Gore.

That some of Al Gore’s global warming predictions turned out to be bogus is no longer much of a surprise. As far back as seven years ago, a British court ruled that Gore’s Oscar-winning environmentalist documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, contained several errors and exaggerations that illustrated the alarmist spirit that motivated the filmmaker. But the news about nature contradicting another one of the former vice president’s predictions should not so much encourage skeptics about global warming theories as inspire both sides in this controversy to lower their voices and to be a little less sanguine about computer models, whether they predict warming or cooling.

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That some of Al Gore’s global warming predictions turned out to be bogus is no longer much of a surprise. As far back as seven years ago, a British court ruled that Gore’s Oscar-winning environmentalist documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, contained several errors and exaggerations that illustrated the alarmist spirit that motivated the filmmaker. But the news about nature contradicting another one of the former vice president’s predictions should not so much encourage skeptics about global warming theories as inspire both sides in this controversy to lower their voices and to be a little less sanguine about computer models, whether they predict warming or cooling.

The report in yesterday’s Daily Mail concerns the extent of the ice cap covering the Arctic. Gore had warned in 2007 while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that within seven years the ice cap would vanish in summer. However, satellite photographs confirm that not only has the ice not vanished, in the last two years it has increased somewhere between 43 and 62 percent since 2012. It turns out that in that time some 1.715 million square kilometers of the Arctic are now covered by ice that were water during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Does this mean that global warning is a myth? Not necessarily. Scientists say 2012 was a year of “freak weather” and that the cooling since then is a regression to the mean rather than a complete reversal of past warming trends that some say remain in place in the long term. But since the evidence shows that the ice cap is larger than at any point since 2006, it’s certainly worth noting.

It may be that the global cooling in terms of overall average temperatures that has been going on since 1997 is a mere blip in the long run that will constitute a pause before a period of severe warming. That’s the assertion of some climate scientists and they might be right when they assert that the climate is being influenced more by man-made activity than in the past.

But let’s also remember that most of the same scientists pooh-poohing cooling trends, whether since 2012 or 1997, didn’t predict the decline in temperatures or the growth of the ice pack. Nor did their computer models, which continue to be used to back up claims of dire environmental damage due to warming in the near and long-term future.

Yet instead of some of the ups and downs of actual climate activity—as opposed to the projected doomsday scenarios that are treated by liberals as being not theory but certain truth—inducing some caution, if not humility on the part of those making alarmist predictions, most seem inclined to double down on their assertions.

What these cooling trends indicate is that the factors influencing climate may be a bit more complex than the simple equation between carbon emissions and rising temperatures that popular culture now treats as revealed truth.

Time will tell who has been telling the truth and who has been hyping predictions of doom in order to advance certain ideological agendas that benefit from hysterical predictions. Given the damaging economic cost of some of the anti-warming measures recommended by the Gore crowd, it is understandable that some people might be prepared to treat the entire theory as a lie. But it could be that in order to get us to believe that the world is warming a bit, we’ve been told that it is melting.

If so, it could be that for all of the honors and wealth that has been showered on Gore as a result of his alarmist shtick, he and others like him may have done more harm than good to the environmentalist cause. That’s especially true at a time when President Obama is seeking to rally support for a new climate change treaty that he doesn’t plan to submit for approval to a skeptical U.S. Senate.

In the meantime, the polar bears—the poster children of global warming whom our impressionable children were endlessly told would soon be swimming for their lives in an Arctic denuded of ice—seem to be doing just fine in their expanded frozen empire. We should all toast their good health and learn from this episode to take further pronouncements from Gore and his ilk or anyone else making climate predictions with a truckload of salt.

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Turkey Doubles Down on Conspiracy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

There was, for example, the “Interest Rate Lobby,” a thinly-disguised attack on allegedly Jewish-run finance. Erdoğan subsequently dispensed with the niceties promoted by his aides and blamed Jews directly. A bit over a year ago, one of Erdoğan’s favorite newspapers accused me personally of plotting the unrest that culminated in the Gezi Park protests, never mind that I’ve never met (or am not on speaking terms) with so many of the officials supposedly participating in my secret meeting, and I wasn’t even in Washington at the time. (My response to that bout of Erdoğan craziness is here.) Buzzfeed listed nine conspiracy theories used to explain the corruption scandal in Turkey. Whenever Al Jazeera calls you out on conspiracies and suggests you’re becoming a banana republic, you probably have something to worry about.

Because the Erdoğan regime has taken over the independent press—press freedom in Turkey, of course, now ranks below even Russia and is on par with Iran—conspiracy theories now substitute for news and analysis. What is missed in fact is made up for in repetition. Given how conspiracies have become the new normal, it says something when the craziness of any particular one shines through. Such was the case last summer when Turkish journalist and longtime Erdoğan mouthpiece Yiğit Bulut claimed that Israel was trying to assassinate Erdoğan by telekinesis. (Of course, this was always silly claim: didn’t Bulut know that to build up lethal telekinetic power is a seven-day task, but many Israelis would have to rest on Saturday and that it’s hard to focus telekinetic power simultaneously upon interest rates and telekinetic assassination?)

Well, rather than end Bulut’s career, Bulut’s loyalty and his ardent defense of Erdoğan against Israel’s evil telekinesis plot have paid off (so much for Jews being able to trash careers in such enlightened societies such as Turkey). Erdoğan has announced that he has appointed Bulut to be his chief economic adviser. With dark clouds looming on the horizon for Turkey’s economy, let’s hope that Bulut’s credentials go beyond his constant vigilance against malevolent telekinesis and the machinations of the Interest Rate Lobby. Let us hope that he keeps an open mind so he can dream up and expose ever more conspiracy theories to explain Erdoğan failures. In the meantime, however, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulut is as clear a sign that investors should flee and flee fast from what Turkey is becoming.

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The Israeli “Land Grab” and Hopes for Peace

Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

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Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

As the New York Times reported today, the seizure of the vacant land is being considered proof that the Netanyahu government doesn’t want peace. It was condemned by the Palestinian Authority, the United Kingdom, and even criticized by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. But the way the story is being presented in the mainstream press is highly misleading.

The New York Times simply refers to the land in its headline as “West Bank Land Near Bethlehem.” That’s true in that the place is in the area taken by Israel in June 1967 and it is near the city of Bethlehem. But savvy readers should have picked up on the mention in the story of the fact that it is “in” a settlement bloc. Though the Peace Now organization condemned the move as one that would “dramatically change the reality” in the area, since it is already inside an area that is heavily populated by Jews and claimed by the Jewish state, it’s hard to see how anything that happens inside it would affect the future of other parts of the West Bank which might theoretically be conceded to the Palestinians as part of an independent state.

But this isn’t just any settlement bloc; it’s Gush Etzion. That may not mean much to Americans, let alone Europeans who can be counted on to condemn anything the Israelis do, but it does put the matter of whether this decision actually affects possible peace negotiations in perspective.

It needs to be remembered that most peace advocates keep telling us that the terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians are well known and that all that is needed is the will to implement them rather than more discussions about the details. But among those terms is the concept of territorial swaps that was endorsed by President Obama and even approved by the Palestinian participants in the Geneva initiatives. The swaps would allow Israel to keep the blocs of settlements—most of which are adjacent to the 1967 lines—in exchange for other territory to be given to the Palestinians. While there is some dispute as to which blocs are part of this consensus, there is no doubt that one of them is the Etzion bloc.

There are two reasons for the assumption that Gush Etzion stays inside of Israel even if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank.

One is that it is just south of Jerusalem and requires no great manipulation of the map. It guards the southern flank of Israel’s capital and the area containing 22 Jewish communities with over 70,000 living there can be retained while leaving Bethlehem inside a putative Palestinian state.

But this land is also significant because, contrary to the narrative in which Jews are portrayed as “stealing” Arab land, Gush Etzion was actually populated and owned by Jews not only prior to 1967 but also prior to Israel’s War of Independence. Gush Etzion was a bloc of Jewish settlements that was overrun by Jordanian army units and local Palestinians after a bitterly contested siege. Its inhabitants were either massacred or taken prisoner and their homes and farms destroyed. As such, it was the first land to be reclaimed for Jewish settlement after the 1967 war put it back in Israeli hands.

Let’s be clear about this. Neither the ownership nor the future of Gush Etzion is up for debate in any peace talks. In every peace plan, whether put forward by Israel’s government or its left-wing opponents, the bloc remains part of Israel, a reality that most sensible Palestinians accept.

The legal dispute about whether empty land can be converted to state use for development or settlement or if it is actually the property of neighboring Arab villages is one that will play itself out in Israel’s courts. Given the scrupulous manner with which Israel’s independent judiciary has handled such cases in the past, if the local Arabs can prove their dubious assertions of ownership, the land will be theirs.

But no matter who wins that case, it won’t affect the territory of a Palestinian state since whether individual Arabs own these lots or Jews won’t make a difference in peace talks. If Jews wind up living there it won’t impact the future borders of a Palestinian state any more than the fact that Arabs are building on lots in Bethlehem.

Why then is the Gush Etzion land decision being represented as such a blow to a peace process that was already torpedoed earlier this year by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation fact and rendered even more unlikely by the terrorist war of attrition launched by Hamas this summer?

The reason is fairly obvious. The Palestinians and their cheerleaders aren’t really interested in negotiating peace and drawing lines that could effectively divide the land even on terms favorable to their side. The Obama-endorsed land swaps that would include Gush Etzion or any other possible provisions to achieve peace are irrelevant to their goals because it is still impossible for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s a fact that pro-peace Israelis like Livni and others here in the United States need to understand. Livni didn’t condemn the Etzion announcement because she believes it actually could impact the terms of a peace deal. She knows it won’t. Rather, she thinks that the move will draw attention to the area and encourage Arabs and foreign governments to advocate for Israel to give up even this land that Jews originally owned. But whether or not attention is drawn to the bloc, the Palestinians are no more willing to let the Jews keep it than they are to let them keep any other part of the West Bank or those lands that were inside the pre-67 lines.

Livni, like some other Israelis, is also uncomfortable with the idea that the motivation for this decision is to send a message to the Arabs about terrorism. Giving more land for Jewish settlement in this area may also be a response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers that set off the war with Hamas since the trio were taken and killed in this very area. Sending such a message is a policy that can be debated, but whether or not it is wise or appropriate has nothing to do with the terms of peace.

The Gush Etzion announcement is no land grab. It concerns vacant lots inside an area that will always be kept as part of Israel. But the anger that it generated does send a signal to Israel that the Palestinians aren’t going to accept their continued presence in any part of the country. That’s bad news for peace but remedying it will require a shift toward acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy among the Palestinians, not the surrender of Jewish communities.

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Iran Negotiations Are Bearing Fruit (for Iran)

President Barack Obama’s much-vaunted nuclear outreach to Iran is finally bearing fruit, although perhaps not in the way the White House expected. Certainly, when it comes to the fundamental issues relating to Iranian centrifuges and the duration of any extra inspection regime, the two sides are as far apart as ever, and they will remain so: Iran recognizes that despite senior American officials’ protestations to the contrary, the White House would rather have a bad deal than no deal.

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President Barack Obama’s much-vaunted nuclear outreach to Iran is finally bearing fruit, although perhaps not in the way the White House expected. Certainly, when it comes to the fundamental issues relating to Iranian centrifuges and the duration of any extra inspection regime, the two sides are as far apart as ever, and they will remain so: Iran recognizes that despite senior American officials’ protestations to the contrary, the White House would rather have a bad deal than no deal.

When it comes to the Iranian economy, however, the negotiations have been nothing but positive. According to Iran’s Central Bank, the Iranian economy contracted by 5.4 percent in the Iranian calendar year ending on March 20, 2013. Obama’s team promised Iran perhaps $7 billion in sanctions relief just to come to the table to negotiate. Such relief was strategically inept, the equivalent of giving a little kid desert first and then inviting him to the table to eat his spinach. If the Iranian leadership’s goal was economic relief, they achieved it even before talks began.

The Obama administration has assured that sanctions relief was reversible, and if Iran didn’t play ball, they’d be back in the same dire position they had put themselves into before. That, of course, was nonsense. Momentum matters in international relations, as does greed. Once sanctions were loosened, it would be near impossible to ratchet up significant pressure again.

For Iran, the decision to talk rather than to compromise is the gift that keeps on giving. Consider the latest headlines:

  • Iran has announced that in the first five months of the Iranian year (March 21-August 21, 2014), trade volume has increased 136 percent.
  • The deputy finance minister announced yesterday that foreigners’ willingness to invest in Iran has increased 500 percent. In addition, Iran has announced that they have received more than 300 European and Arab trade delegations.
  • Iranian officials singled out Qatar, the tiny, gas-wealthy Persian Gulf emirate that increasingly finances terrorist groups and encourages the growth of radical Islamism abroad, for its willingness to invest in Iran.

Between 2000 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran more than doubled. At the same time, the price of oil quintupled. Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested it in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. As Iran redoubles its investment in its military, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs, the region will be paying the price for years to come for allowing Iran such a cash windfall without winning anything in exchange.

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Don’t Give Press Conferences When You Don’t Have Something to Say

It may have been the most perplexing moment of the Obama presidency: The president’s press conference on Thursday when he declared “we don’t have a strategy yet” on ramping up military action against ISIS. The best that people inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt could do was say he was speaking with refreshing candor; the rest of us reacted with varying degrees of dismay.

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It may have been the most perplexing moment of the Obama presidency: The president’s press conference on Thursday when he declared “we don’t have a strategy yet” on ramping up military action against ISIS. The best that people inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt could do was say he was speaking with refreshing candor; the rest of us reacted with varying degrees of dismay.

Four days of news stories since have centered on inside-the-administration conflicts when it comes to ISIS, on the damage the president might have done to international efforts to build an anti-ISIS coalition, and the wound he might have inflicted on his own party in the run-up to the election by sounding so irresolute.

After a few days of head-scratching, I think what happened here is pretty simple: The president should not have given that press conference at all since he didn’t know what to say about ISIS. He didn’t have to. He could have stayed silent. It is perfectly acceptable for the administration to find itself in a quandary about how to handle ISIS. This is a very complicated problem, and a fluid one. The purpose of presidential statements, especially when it comes to foreign and military issues, is to establish American policy. The words the president uses are closely parsed by American observers, but that’s nothing next to what happens outside our borders, where the president’s utterances are studied as though they were Talmud by non-Americans for whom the United States doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.

The president should only speak when he knows what to say.

 

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Remembering Martha

On the afternoon of September 1, 1914—one hundred years ago today—the dead body of a bird was found lying on the floor of its cage in the Cincinnati Zoo. That was, and is, not unusual. Birds mostly have short life expectancies. But this one was special. It was frozen in a 300-pound block of ice and shipped by fast train to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington where it was stuffed and mounted.

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On the afternoon of September 1, 1914—one hundred years ago today—the dead body of a bird was found lying on the floor of its cage in the Cincinnati Zoo. That was, and is, not unusual. Birds mostly have short life expectancies. But this one was special. It was frozen in a 300-pound block of ice and shipped by fast train to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington where it was stuffed and mounted.

The bird was named Martha, after George Washington’s wife, and she was a passenger pigeon. With her death, her species went extinct. That, too, was not unusual. The great auk (1852), the Labrador duck (c. 1872), and the Carolina parakeet (1918) had all gone extinct in the same time period.

But, again, the passenger pigeon as a species was special. Probably the most abundant bird that has ever lived, it had filled the skies of eastern North America in unbelievable abundance. Passenger pigeons had once constituted between 25 and 40 percent of the entire avifauna of North America and now it was gone forever. As a natural wonder it was like losing Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.

In 1860, a British naturalist reported a flock flying over head in the early morning. A mile wide, the flock stretched from horizon to horizon and continued unabated until late afternoon. Since passenger pigeons flew at about sixty miles an hour, that means that that one flock contained at least 3.7 billion birds.

What happened? How could a species that could eclipse the sun with its abundance vanish in only half a century? The answer lies in the passenger pigeon’s habitat, survival strategy, and the Industrial Revolution.

The passenger pigeon was a creature of the vast eastern North American forest that once stretched unbroken from the Atlantic shore to well past the Mississippi. It lived on the mast produced by nut-bearing trees such as oak and beech. But mast is produced irregularly. Abundant in one area one year, the next year may see almost no production in that area. So the birds had to scout to find the places where mast was plentiful and they would then nest in that area. In Wisconsin in 1872 one nesting area covered over 850 square miles and each tree might hold over a hundred nests.

After two weeks, the roly-poly squabs were abandoned and, still unable to fly, they would flutter to the ground to fend for themselves. It was, of course, a field day for the predators in the area, but they could hardly make a dent in the total pigeon population.

But as European settlement swept westward in the first half of the 19th century, much of the great forest was converted to cropland and the pigeon’s habitat shrank markedly. Human hunters would shoot the pigeons, which made excellent eating, but, like the natural predators, they could not seriously impact the number of pigeons. Then, with the coming of the railroads and the telegraph everything changed. When a nesting area was discovered, human hunters would rush to it in large numbers, slaughter the pigeons by the tens of thousands, and send them to market in the big eastern cities. From that 1872 Wisconsin nesting, a hundred barrels, each containing 300 birds, was shipped every day of the 40-day nesting season. That’s 1.2 million birds and doesn’t count those that were shipped alive, consumed locally, or the myriad squabs who, their parents dead, starved to death when still in the nest.

Under the onslaught, the passenger pigeon population plunged. By the 1890s there were too few left to make the mass hunts profitable. But by then it was too late. The last pigeon caught in the wild was shot in 1898. Within a decade the only ones left were, like Martha, in captivity.

The Smithsonian has Martha on exhibit in the Smithsonian’s castle on the Mall in Washington, where she will remain on display until June of next year. She is worth a visit. And while there, remember what the great ornithologist William Beebe wrote about extinction: “when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”

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