Commentary Magazine


Topic: Columbia University

Columbia’s Slippery Boycotters

In a post in late August, I asked whether Columbia University’s federally-funded Middle East Institute was boycotting Israeli institutions of higher education. Why? Its director, anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, has signed a pledge by some Middle East studies academics “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.” Did that personal pledge extend to the Middle East Institute, a Title VI National Research Center under her direction?
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In a post in late August, I asked whether Columbia University’s federally-funded Middle East Institute was boycotting Israeli institutions of higher education. Why? Its director, anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, has signed a pledge by some Middle East studies academics “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.” Did that personal pledge extend to the Middle East Institute, a Title VI National Research Center under her direction?

I posed the question to David Stone, executive vice-president for communications at Columbia, and received this reply from him:

If an individual faculty member chooses not to participate in events involving Israel, that is a personal choice that has no effect on the programs of the Middle East Institute or the rest of the University. The Institute itself is home to a broad range of teaching and research including a number of fellowships and grants that support faculty and student research and study in Israel; and its faculty members are engaged in a variety of projects with Israeli scholars.

Alan Luxenberg, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, posed the same question directly to Abu-Lughod, and received this reply:

My decision does not affect the Middle East Institute where we welcome distinguished scholars and students from all over the world, fund language training for students in all Middle Eastern languages, support study abroad in all the region’s universities, and support, modestly, summer research for students in all the countries of the region, including Israel.

The Middle East Institute serves the Columbia community. It does not have any institutional partnerships with other universities, whether in the US or abroad.

I’m not surprised (or persuaded) by these answers. I think it’s telling that Abu-Lughod has not issued a public statement of her position, which might be deemed an unacceptable compromise by the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) cult. After all, if you really believe that Israel is South Africa (or worse), why not demonstrably abjure any administrative role in academe that compels you to treat it equally? What’s the worth of a boycott if it doesn’t mean sacrificing your access to something to advance a cause—whether it’s a home soda maker or the coveted directorship of a Middle East center?

But that’s neither here nor there. The taxpaying public has the right to expect that every signatory of the boycott pledge who runs a Title VI National Research Center issue an assurance that the boycott doesn’t apply during working hours. And the public has the right to expect an equal assurance from a university’s higher administration. Anything less than that should be automatically suspect, because it’s the bare minimum, and because it’s obvious that even these assurances don’t mean that there isn’t a stealth boycott underway.

A Title VI federally-funded National Research Center is committed by law to making sure that its programming will reflect “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions.” Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the program, has failed even to define what this means. Consider this test case. On September 19, Columbia’s Middle East Institute co-sponsored (with the university’s Center for Palestine Studies) a panel entitled “The War on Gaza: Military Strategy and Historical Horizons.” (Notice the title, as though there wasn’t a war on Israel too.) It included three Palestinian-American boycotters: Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, Barnard professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, and legal activist Noura Erakat. And that’s it. Read the live tweets from the session, and judge the tenor of the proceedings yourself. Did this event offer “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” and was it structured to “generate debate”? No. So just what must the Middle East Institute do now to assure that it meets its obligation?

My own view is that there’s nothing that a bureaucrat in Washington can do to assure that it does. No Department of Education official is going to detect a stealth boycott or do any serious follow-up on whether taxpayer dollars are going to political activists in academic guise. That means that the reform of Title VI, a creaking holdover from the Cold War, is impossible. If you think that Title VI, on balance, does more good than harm, you’re just going to have to accept that some of your tax dollars will go to agitprop for Hamas. If you think that’s totally unacceptable, you should favor the total elimination of Title VI from the Higher Education Act, now up for reauthorization. There is no middle ground.

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Columbia Boycotts Israel?

The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

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The Gaza war has raised up another tide of Holocaust inversion: the claim by assorted Jew-baiters that Israel has become the Nazis, and the Palestinians their Jewish victims. This was a staple of old Soviet propaganda, which then spread to the Arab world. It took a while for Arab elites, many of which had been admiring of the Nazis, to see “Nazi” as pejorative. But in time they saw the advantages, especially since Holocaust inversion also served to trivialize the Holocaust itself. In recent years, the sickness has spread throughout the Left in Europe, and even festers in dark places in the United States. In a new article over at Mosaic Magazine, I locate one of them: the faculty lounge of Columbia University. Comparisons of Gaza to Auschwitz? The Warsaw Ghetto? Columbia has it all. Read more there.

While I’m on Columbia, here’s another aspect worth noting. Several hundred Middle East scholars have put out a letter pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. The organized association of Middle Eastern studies has rejected boycotts in the past, and is likely to do so again if the issue even gets tabled at the next convention. So the boycott of Israel in Middle Eastern studies is being organized along the lines of a personal pledge by individual scholars.

Israeli institutions of higher education (including, presumably, the one over which I preside, Shalem College in Jerusalem), are deemed by these scholars to be “complicit in violating Palestinian rights.” The signatories thus pledge “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” The pledge will remain in effect until these institutions call on Israel to end the Gaza “siege,” evacuate all territory “occupied” in 1967, and “promote the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.” In other words, it’s a boycott until Israel dies.

I looked down the list of signatories, and mostly saw the usual suspects. Columbia, of course, is heavily represented. The boycotters include such tenured Columbia radicals as Rashid Khalidi, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Hamid Dabashi, Gil Anidjar, Mahmood Mamdani, George Saliba, Brinkley Messick, Timothy Mitchell, and Wael Hallaq. In fact, no university has more senior faculty boycotters signed on this letter than Columbia.

But one name in particular caught my eye: Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology. I remembered that she had become director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute a few years back. Why is that significant? The Institute she directs is a Title VI U.S. Department of Education-supported National Resource Center (NRC) for the Middle East. An NRC is supposed to “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.”

The question I now have is whether this (taxpayer-subsidized) academic unit of Columbia is boycotting Israeli academe? Or are we to believe that Professor Abu-Lughod is only boycotting Israeli institutions personally, but is prepared to cooperate with them officially? Columbia should issue a clarification, and give a public account of the overseas institutional linkages the Institute does have, so that we can see whether a de facto boycott of Israel is in place at Columbia. You can even pose the question yourself, to Columbia’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, right here.

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Lee Bollinger’s Free-Speech Hypocrisy

Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

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Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.

Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.

It’s not that Bollinger’s article is offensive–it’s standard but welcome boilerplate about the assault on free speech and the need to understand how a changing media landscape affects both the threats to, and opportunities for, freedom of expression and thought in a globalized world. But the choice of author is indefensible. There was no one with a better record than Bollinger to tout free speech? In fact, in American higher education there are few with worse records than Bollinger. And it is just plainly insulting to read Bollinger hypocritically and sanctimoniously pat himself on the back in paragraphs like this:

Second, the very essence of modern life is the opportunity for people everywhere to speak, hear, persuade, change their minds, know what others are thinking, and think for themselves. Our great institutions of higher education, including the one I lead, bear a special social responsibility for educating people to possess a nimble cast of mind, able to grasp multiple perspectives and the full complexity of a subject. And for centuries, great societies of all types have understood that this kind of intellectual capacity is essential to progress. But never have critical thinking and tolerance been more important for individual well-being and for our collective prosperity.

Indeed, Bollinger is right that he has a “special social responsibility”–and it is one he has abdicated in the decade he’s been at Columbia.

It’s not that Bollinger allows no offensive speech at Columbia; I was there to cover Ahmadinejad’s speech and saw plenty of anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists flaunting their pathological suspicions of Jews and countless portrayals of then-President George W. Bush as–who else?–Hitler.

In 2005, after pro-Israel students at the school tried to get the university to address the intimidation they were getting from pro-Palestinian teachers, Bollinger tried to avoid dealing with it. When the New York Times asked him why he didn’t get involved sooner, he explained that he’s just a man who contains multitudes. “I tried to walk a very, very fine line,” he said. “I have a problem because I like to see complexity.”

Lee Bollinger may be a complex man, but his record on free speech is simple and unambiguous. He is an expert on free speech only to the extent that he has clearly studied how to keep it off his campus.

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Obama “Incomplete” Already Changed to F

If memory serves, when I attended Columbia University only a few years before Barack Obama’s arrival on campus, the rule about “incompletes” was that you had a year to complete the course work before your grade was converted from an “I” to an “F.” That somber warning–given to students who were able to procure a pass for not handing in a term paper, taking the final exam or missing classes for one reason or another–was brought to mind by the statement made over the weekend by the only Columbia grad ever elected president that his grade for handling the economy ought to be an “incomplete.”

Republicans are pouncing on this by pointing out, as the Romney campaign said, that it is absurd to ask the American people to re-elect a man who can’t even give himself a passing grade. Nevertheless, contrary to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an incomplete is not equivalent to failure. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that ought to mandate extra time for a student to satisfy course requirements. But Obama’s alibi, repeated by Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter–blaming it all on George W. Bush–doesn’t meet the Columbia standard. Asking for an extra year or even two before being held responsible for the state of the nation is not unreasonable. Asking for four or more years before you can be graded gets you an F at Columbia, Harvard, Occidental, the University of Chicago or any other institution the president was associated with.

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If memory serves, when I attended Columbia University only a few years before Barack Obama’s arrival on campus, the rule about “incompletes” was that you had a year to complete the course work before your grade was converted from an “I” to an “F.” That somber warning–given to students who were able to procure a pass for not handing in a term paper, taking the final exam or missing classes for one reason or another–was brought to mind by the statement made over the weekend by the only Columbia grad ever elected president that his grade for handling the economy ought to be an “incomplete.”

Republicans are pouncing on this by pointing out, as the Romney campaign said, that it is absurd to ask the American people to re-elect a man who can’t even give himself a passing grade. Nevertheless, contrary to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an incomplete is not equivalent to failure. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that ought to mandate extra time for a student to satisfy course requirements. But Obama’s alibi, repeated by Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter–blaming it all on George W. Bush–doesn’t meet the Columbia standard. Asking for an extra year or even two before being held responsible for the state of the nation is not unreasonable. Asking for four or more years before you can be graded gets you an F at Columbia, Harvard, Occidental, the University of Chicago or any other institution the president was associated with.

As I wrote yesterday, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president ever re-elected on the basis of an “incomplete.” But despite the attempt by Obama and Cutter and the rest of the Democrats to paint the situation in January 2009 as the moral equivalent of March 1933, the analogy falls flat. The downturn of 2008 was bad but it was no Great Depression. And Barack Obama’s stimulus boondoggle and Obamacare didn’t gain the support of the country the way FDR’s New Deal did.

Even an often foul-mouthed radical liberal MSNBC talker like Ed Schultz has admitted “a lot of Americans out there … don’t want to hear about Bush anymore.” Barack Obama can run against Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but he can’t run on his record. As for that incomplete the president has given himself, after this much time it’s already been changed on his transcript to the “F” that he fears the voters will give him in November.

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Don’t Dismiss the Moral Power of Protest

A few days ago, a video was posted online of an anti-Israel protest at Portland State University. Following an increasingly common tactic among campus anti-Israelists, the protesters filled a few rows of the audience for a talk on Israel by CBN contributor Erick Stackelbeck with people wearing tape over their mouths and then silently walkingd out, holding signs and – in a few uncontrolled cases – shouting slogans.

As foolish as the protest looks, it would be unwise to dismiss its potential power or what it says about the nature of the view of Israel endorsed by a small yet committed minority at many American universities.

This particular video is interesting mostly because Stackelbeck invites the protesters to take the tape off their mouths, stay for his talk, and then debate him afterwards. It’s an effective way to make them look foolish and is a tactic other pro-Israel speakers, faced with similar displays at other universities, should consider.

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A few days ago, a video was posted online of an anti-Israel protest at Portland State University. Following an increasingly common tactic among campus anti-Israelists, the protesters filled a few rows of the audience for a talk on Israel by CBN contributor Erick Stackelbeck with people wearing tape over their mouths and then silently walkingd out, holding signs and – in a few uncontrolled cases – shouting slogans.

As foolish as the protest looks, it would be unwise to dismiss its potential power or what it says about the nature of the view of Israel endorsed by a small yet committed minority at many American universities.

This particular video is interesting mostly because Stackelbeck invites the protesters to take the tape off their mouths, stay for his talk, and then debate him afterwards. It’s an effective way to make them look foolish and is a tactic other pro-Israel speakers, faced with similar displays at other universities, should consider.

While it is true, as Joel Pollak notes, that the students’ refusal to debate is a sign of an anti-intellectualism that has taken hold at far too many schools, there is a powerful statement within the silent protest that anti-Israelists are trying to latch onto. For if you believe that Jewish independence is morally repugnant, it is appropriate to refuse to debate those who cast themselves as its defenders. The act of debate itself, the granting of a platform in a university, is itself a kind of approval, if not for the totality of an ideology then at least for its place within respectable debate. Because anti-Israelists are driven by the conviction that Israel is not a topic worthy of debate, it makes sense for them to refuse to do so.

Conveying that message, along with the idea that anti-Israelists speak for the center of campus opinion, is precisely the idea behind staging such a protest.

It’s a view many who support Israel should find easier to understand than they perhaps realize. It was only five years ago that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was granted his bit of real estate on the campus of Columbia University, and many were the voices who found it appalling. And rightly so. Letting him in the door conveyed the idea on a significant stage that he stood for ideas worth debating, not standing against. So too can you find this thinking in a recent article criticizing Harvard’s hosting of a “one state solution” conference by the esteemed Alan Dershowitz, who, in pointing out that a conference around a question like “Are the Palestinians Really a People?” would likely find no sanction on campus was reminding us that there are limits to the questions we consider. Though those limits may often be misplaced, it is undoubtedly true that it is good for there to be some.

Thankfully, anti-Israelists committed to the idea that Israel does not deserve even a hearing on campus are no more than a small fraction of nearly any school, and thus incapable of pushing pro-Israel voices off campus. But to ensure their ranks do not grow, and they do not succeed in making Zionism an ideology not even permitted a defense, we’ll have to recognize the potential power of their strategy and get better at reaching the vast middle whose views remain up for grabs.

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In Defense of Labels

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

Columbia University hosted a “No Labels” conference that John and Byron York have written about. The motto of the No Labels group is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” Tom Davis, the former GOP congressman from Virginia, puts it this way: “Labels … get in the way of getting things done.”

Now, I understand people wanting to avoid using labels. For one thing, it advances the impression (which often differs from the reality) that one is independent-minded and unbiased, pragmatic rather than dogmatic, willing to judge issues on the merits and based on reason rather than on rigid ideology. The impression people want to make is obvious: my mind — unlike The Labeled — is a Dogma-Free Zone. No simplistic labels can do justice to the complexity of my beliefs. It’s all quite self-affirming.

What is also at play, I think, is an understandable reaction against hyper-partisanship and the loyalty by some to a political party and ideology that overrides independent thought. Such a mindset is often at war with empirical evidence; any data or circumstances that call into doubt one’s most deeply help convictions have to be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed. To be in politics is to be a member of a team — and the other side is always wrong. No aspect of its argument can be seen to have merit. We all know people like this — and the truth is that many of us in politics struggle, to one degree or another, with precisely this. The temptation to twist facts and reality to fit into our preconceived notions and theories is quite strong; not many of us resist it as well as we should.

At the same time, there is something to be said in defense of labels — and George Will (not surprisingly) put it as well as anyone when several years ago he wrote:

Particular labels, like everything else, come and go. But there always are various labels because they are useful, even necessary: Politics is a varied business. If a politician’s behavior is not utterly cynical, or mindless, it will have a pattern that is related, at least a bit, to his beliefs. Political actions tend to cluster; so do political actors. Labels describe how particular people generally cluster. … Labels identify classes; but people, by acting, classify themselves.

What one hopes to achieve in politics is to develop a coherent body of thought to help interpret the world. There’s actually quite a lot to be said for having a worldview that helps make sense of unfolding events. To apply a label to oneself (like “conservative” or “liberal”) often means associating with a particular intellectual tradition and with men and women who have thoughtfully and carefully reflected on human nature, society, and the role of government. It matters if your intellectual cast of mind is shaped and informed by Burke or by Rousseau, by Madison or by Marx, by C.S. Lewis or by Ayn Rand. And so it’s only natural that in politics, people, upon reflecting on certain basic questions, would coalesce around certain parties and certain labels.

Pace Tom Davis, then, labels don’t always get in the way of getting things done. Political labels, like political parties, can serve a useful purpose. And I for one would argue that allowing certain intellectual traditions (like conservatism) to inform our current political debates is doing what’s best for America.

A final warning to those who find themselves attracted to promise of a world without labels: No Labels can easily transmute into No Convictions — and politics without convictions, uninformed by deep principles and the best that has been thought and written, becomes simply a power game. And that world is even worse than a world with labels.

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Bollinger: Big Government News

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective — is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective — is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

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New York’s Eminent Domain “Blight” Grows

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

The ruling of New York’s Court of Appeals — the state’s highest judicial body — in favor of Columbia University’s bid to have the property of landowners who will not sell their land to the institution condemned is another depressing chapter in the sorry history of the corruption of the use of eminent domain.

While I have no quarrel with the university’s desire to expand the Morningside Heights campus, where I spent my undergraduate years north into Harlem, the idea that it can use its clout with the state to bludgeon those who will not sell to it is repulsive. Moreover, the court decision, which overruled a lower appeals court’s rejection of the use of eminent domain in this case, is especially troubling. Though most of the property owners in the West Harlem area desired by Columbia sold it, some did not. In response, Columbia prevailed upon the State of New York to condemn the recalcitrant owners’ property upon the doubtful premise that it was “blighted,” which mandated its demolition and replacement with more useful (at least to Columbia) projects, which might ultimately generate more tax revenue. The four active warehouses and two bustling gas stations that Columbia wished to flatten to make way for new buildings of its own do not fit that description of “blighted,” though there is no shortage of locations in New York City that do.

Referring to another eminent-domain case in which the Court had recently ruled in favor of the effort to bulldoze businesses and apartments in order to make way for a new basketball arena and other real-estate projects in the Atlantic Yards section of Brooklyn, the decision, which was written by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, claimed that “if we could rule in favor of a basketball arena, surely we could rule for a nonprofit university.”

But in making this point, Judge Ciparick revealed that what is on display in this decision is not the application of a coherent legal principle but rather merely the justification of an act of judicial tyranny. In this way, New York has ratified a procedure by which the powerful, be they the real-estate developers who own the NBA Nets or the trustees of one of America’s most prestigious universities, can simply force small property owners out of their businesses and homes for the sake of the convenience of the wealthy and of those who are better connected to power brokers. This means that the state has the power to label any property as “blighted” in order to create a legal fiction device that allows powerful interests to acquire it without the consent of its owners. This is state-sponsored theft by any definition and the fact that it is practiced on behalf of a “nonprofit university,” as well as an NBA team, does not make it any less odious.

This case, like the outrageous Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court, which allowed New London, Connecticut to seize private homes to benefit a large corporation (that wound up not building anything on the ruins of the condemned property anyway) ought to inspire a groundswell of support for reform of eminent domain laws. Unless and until such laws are amended to restrict state seizures to cases of properties that are actually blighted and which could be used for a genuine civic purpose rather than merely for the benefit of large, powerful, and wealthy developers, the property rights of every American remain at risk.

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A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

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The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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Why Buying Time on Iran Matters

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

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Talking Down the Military Option

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

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Obama’s Meeting with the Dalai Lama: Welcome but Late

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

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The Latest Milestone in Chinese Tyranny

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

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Bought and Paid

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

While the media was fixated on a health-care vote with a preordained outcome, the New York Post broke a blockbuster story over the weekend:

Anti-Israel, pro-Iran university professors are being funded by a shadowy multimillion-dollar Islamic charity based in Manhattan that the feds charge is an illegal front for the repressive Iranian regime.

The deep-pocketed Alavi Foundation has aggressively given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University and Rutgers University for Middle Eastern and Persian studies programs that employ professors sympathetic to the Iranian dictatorship.

“We found evidence that the government of Iran really controlled everything about the foundation,” said Adam Kaufmann, investigations chief at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

And remember the much criticized visit of Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? It seems it was a good deal for Columbia University: “In one of the biggest handouts, the controversial charity donated $100,000 to Columbia University after the Ivy League school agreed to host Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax filings obtained by The Post.”

The Iranian regime has gotten its money’s worth. Gary Sick of Columbia chimes in that we can disregard all that “wipe Israel off the map” stuff from Ahmadinejad. The Sick translation of Ahmadinejad’s genocide talk: “What he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to [sic] the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.” Got that?

Other professors from Columbia and Rutgers (which also received funds) are equally forthcoming with propaganda nonsense, enough to make the mullahs proud. This is a scandal of the first order — a financial conflict of interest and an ethical betrayal of the universities’ supposed role as bastions of academic independence and free inquiry. They have instead among their ranks a number of shills for the mullahs, whose leftist claptrap is subsidized by those with an interest in seeing the mullahs’ party line recirculated through American universities. It seems worth taking a look, especially when these institutions receive taxpayer money and their students earn degrees on taxpayer-supported scholarships.

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Mazel Tov!

CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager, who probably had other things to do yesterday but still chose to spend some of the waning hours of his bachelorhood writing an item on Columbia University’s president and his misguided commencement address, is getting married today. Details in the New York Times.   (Other details relating to Eric Trager and his intended can be found here.)

CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager, who probably had other things to do yesterday but still chose to spend some of the waning hours of his bachelorhood writing an item on Columbia University’s president and his misguided commencement address, is getting married today. Details in the New York Times.   (Other details relating to Eric Trager and his intended can be found here.)

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Bollinger Still Doesn’t Get It

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-“where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending my sister’s graduation from Columbia University (congrats, Rachel). As one might expect from a university of Columbia’s ilk, virtually every facet of commencement was rooted in well-established tradition. The procession opened with the ringing of the Class of 1893 Bell above St. Paul’s Chapel. The students donned Columbia blue caps and gowns (that’s powder blue for 1980s baseball fans). The Class Day speaker was a distinguished Columbia alumnus. And, as is Columbia tradition, the University president-rather than an outside figure-delivered the keynote commencement address.

Given the continuity with which Columbia imbues its graduation ceremonies, perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s speech demonstrated that he still doesn’t get it. Indeed, nearly eight months after inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, Bollinger still believes that the entire affair was a test of free speech. With the Ahmadinejad incident strongly implied, Bollinger thus used his address to warn of the “Censorship Impulse”:

It is said: A speaker will persuade people to think bad thoughts and do bad things; will offend some and make others angry and resentful; will ruin the minds of our youth; will lead others to think we approve the message or don’t care enough to oppose it; will bring instability, divert us from other more important tasks, and make it more difficult and perhaps even impossible for experts to handle the situation. We limit speakers in other ways, too, when claiming that others will be “chilled” and thereby diminish speech overall or that it will reflect badly on the rest of us.

Now, here’s the interesting point: All these arguments about the costs of openness are very often true – in the sense that they point to consequences that are real. Indeed, that’s why freedom of speech and academic freedom are continually under siege, even in a nation that says it places this value at its core, because “reasonable people” can always make freedom seem foolish and foolhardy.

Yet the “reasonable people” who protested Ahmadinejad’s invitation–myself among them–weren’t primarily concerned with what Ahmadinejad might say. After all, calls for Israel’s destruction are old news at the infamous Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while few expected that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial would sway Columbia students. Rather, “reasonable people” argued that giving Ahmadinejad the pulpit at one of America’s top universities would legitimize his insidious views in the Middle East, and boost his credibility in Iran. “Reasonable people” further asked what standing Columbia University had to interfere in international politics in this deleterious manner.

One is therefore left to wonder whether the phrase “Censorship Impulse” implies that Bollinger’s recommended response to perceived censorship is to act impulsively. Indeed, Bollinger seems to believe that he strengthened the university’s role as a “forum”-“where everything under the sun can be debated and discussed,” as he said in his address-with his harsh introduction of Ahmadinejad. Of course, “reasonable people” recognize that Bollinger merely affirmed his own political immaturity with this sad spectacle. “Reasonable people” therefore resist his pompous attempts to teach us a lesson on censorship by framing the Ahmadinejad incident in the inaccurate trope of free speech.

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Abu Lughod’s Little Fib

In a panel discussion in Columbia University last week, commemorating “60 Years of Nakba – The Catastrophe of Palestine 1948-2008,” Lila Abu Lughod, a professor of anthropology and gender studies at the university, emotively told the audience how her father, Ibrhaim, had been expelled from his hometown of Jaffa in Palestine in May 1948.

Expelled? This is not exactly how Ibrhaim Abu Lughod himself described the circumstances of his flight in a 1990’s television documentary he prepared and presented with his friend and colleague Edward Said:

There was a Belgian ship, and one of the sailors, a young man, looked at us – and the ship was full of people from Jaffa, some of us were young adults – and he said: “Why don’t you stay and fight?” I have never forgotten his face and I have never had one good answer for him.

In a panel discussion in Columbia University last week, commemorating “60 Years of Nakba – The Catastrophe of Palestine 1948-2008,” Lila Abu Lughod, a professor of anthropology and gender studies at the university, emotively told the audience how her father, Ibrhaim, had been expelled from his hometown of Jaffa in Palestine in May 1948.

Expelled? This is not exactly how Ibrhaim Abu Lughod himself described the circumstances of his flight in a 1990’s television documentary he prepared and presented with his friend and colleague Edward Said:

There was a Belgian ship, and one of the sailors, a young man, looked at us – and the ship was full of people from Jaffa, some of us were young adults – and he said: “Why don’t you stay and fight?” I have never forgotten his face and I have never had one good answer for him.

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Reasons to Commit Suicide

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

One of my most productive confidential sources in Washington keeps what he tells me is an expanding file on his desk labeled “reasons to commit suicide.”  He occasionally sends me items that he’s added to it.

Here’s the latest, a conference starting tomorrow at Columbia University: “Fear of Flying”: Can a Feminist Classic Be an American Classic?

Thirty-five years ago, Erica Jong’s first novel, the international bestseller Fear of Flying, electrified readers around the world and sparked fierce debate. Breaking from conventional expectations of fiction by and about women, Fear of Flying freed other women writers to write intelligently and openly about sex and to debate intimate issues of importance to women. Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired a large collection of Erica Jong’s archival material in 2007. Jong’s papers have become an important asset as the Columbia Libraries continue to document the history of women and feminism in contemporary American society. In an outgrowth of this interest and intent, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library will join the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College in gathering a group of distinguished writers and critics for a half-day conference, “Fear of Flying: Can a Feminist Classic be a Classic?” on Friday, March 28, 2008.

Speakers will revisit Jong’s novel and will assess the status of women’s writing and of feminism in today’s literary scene and the possibilities of subversion open to contemporary young women writers.

Here is the question of the day. What would be more painful to endure: watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reap the dividends of being ineffectually insulted by the president of Columbia, or attending this conference?

Read Less

Save Mehdi Kazemi

Remember when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in his speech at Columbia University, that there are no gay people in Iran? He insisted that they “don’t have that in Iran.”  Anyone familiar with the human experience would find this statement ridiculous. Anyone familiar with Iran’s human rights’ record would recognize that this statement might be true–only because the legal penalty for male homosexuality in Iran is death.

But it appears that someone might almost take Ahmadinejad’s words at face value, after all. Take the case of Mehdi Kazemi. Kazemi came to London to study in 2004. His boyfriend was executed in Iran in 2006, after being forced to reveal Kazemi’s identity as his sexual partner. Fearing for his life if he returned home, Kazemi applied for asylum in the UK, but his application was turned down.

Incredibly, as reported in The Independent, “The Home Office’s own guidance issued to immigration officers concedes that Iran executes homosexual men but, unaccountably, rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians.” That currently there is no place for homosexuals in Iran is made clear by Iran’s policies and the views of its leaders: only a more benign regime will be prepared to accommodate basic human rights. What is more striking is that the victims of this kind of persecution may not, it seems, hope to find shelter in Europe. I guess the EU states are too busy giving asylum and shelter to hundreds of Islamic militants.

Remember when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in his speech at Columbia University, that there are no gay people in Iran? He insisted that they “don’t have that in Iran.”  Anyone familiar with the human experience would find this statement ridiculous. Anyone familiar with Iran’s human rights’ record would recognize that this statement might be true–only because the legal penalty for male homosexuality in Iran is death.

But it appears that someone might almost take Ahmadinejad’s words at face value, after all. Take the case of Mehdi Kazemi. Kazemi came to London to study in 2004. His boyfriend was executed in Iran in 2006, after being forced to reveal Kazemi’s identity as his sexual partner. Fearing for his life if he returned home, Kazemi applied for asylum in the UK, but his application was turned down.

Incredibly, as reported in The Independent, “The Home Office’s own guidance issued to immigration officers concedes that Iran executes homosexual men but, unaccountably, rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians.” That currently there is no place for homosexuals in Iran is made clear by Iran’s policies and the views of its leaders: only a more benign regime will be prepared to accommodate basic human rights. What is more striking is that the victims of this kind of persecution may not, it seems, hope to find shelter in Europe. I guess the EU states are too busy giving asylum and shelter to hundreds of Islamic militants.

Read Less




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