Commentary Magazine


Topic: effect

Nukes Don’t Kill People

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

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From the 2006 Files

When the Eric Massa scandal broke, some assured us that this was nothing like the Mark Foley scandal of 2006. After all, Foley’s were underage male victims. Massa preyed only on adult employees. (Not a great ad campaign, but a distinction nevertheless.) And besides, there was no complicity on behalf of the Democratic leadership or failure to investigate Massa, unlike what the Democrats claimed had been the case with the Republican leadership in 2006. So no problem, right? Uh … no. Politico reports:

The House ethics committee closed its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. Eric Massa on Wednesday afternoon — even as an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that her office learned of concerns about Massa far earlier than previously known.

Sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO that the bipartisan committee decided to close its investigation into the case because Massa’s resignation — effective at 5 p.m. Monday — deprived the committee of jurisdiction over him.

But House Republicans cried foul, with one senior GOP aide saying that the new information about Pelosi’s office “further underscores” the need to find out what actually happened.

Pelosi is said not to know about the specific wrongdoing but merely “that Massa was living with several aides, had hired too many staff members and used foul language around his staff. Racalto [Massa's chief of staff], also raised concerns about ‘the way Massa ran his office’ and informed Pelosi’s member-services staffer that he had asked Massa to move out of the group house on Capitol Hill, the Pelosi aide said.” And all this follows the revelation that Massa had a history of groping and harassment in the Navy. Switch the names and the parties, and this could be straight out of 2006 when the Republicans were under fire:

“This is completely unacceptable,” a senior GOP aide said of the committee’s decision to end its investigation. “If it’s true that Democratic members of the House ethics committee are blocking an investigation of what their own leaders knew about Massa, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Speaker Pelosi has no intention of keeping her promise to lead the most open, honest and ethical Congress in history. What are Democrats on the ethics committee afraid of? What is the Democratic leadership hiding?”

Granted, the Democrats have time to correct the problem. They could, if they are inclined to, conduct a serious investigation into who knew what and when. But the presence of a growing, nasty ethics scandal and the judgment of the House speaker at a time when the Democrats are struggling with ObamaCare smacks of the perfect storm — the convergence of bad news and awful media that has the potential to sink the majority party. And should the Democrats sweep this under the rug — for Massa is now departed — the stench will linger for months.

Arguably, 2010 isn’t like  2006 or 1994. This time there is ObamaCare, Massa, Charlie Rangel, the spigot of red ink, and sky-high unemployment. So 2010 could well be worse for the party in power, which suddenly seems as though it can’t get anything right.

When the Eric Massa scandal broke, some assured us that this was nothing like the Mark Foley scandal of 2006. After all, Foley’s were underage male victims. Massa preyed only on adult employees. (Not a great ad campaign, but a distinction nevertheless.) And besides, there was no complicity on behalf of the Democratic leadership or failure to investigate Massa, unlike what the Democrats claimed had been the case with the Republican leadership in 2006. So no problem, right? Uh … no. Politico reports:

The House ethics committee closed its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. Eric Massa on Wednesday afternoon — even as an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that her office learned of concerns about Massa far earlier than previously known.

Sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO that the bipartisan committee decided to close its investigation into the case because Massa’s resignation — effective at 5 p.m. Monday — deprived the committee of jurisdiction over him.

But House Republicans cried foul, with one senior GOP aide saying that the new information about Pelosi’s office “further underscores” the need to find out what actually happened.

Pelosi is said not to know about the specific wrongdoing but merely “that Massa was living with several aides, had hired too many staff members and used foul language around his staff. Racalto [Massa's chief of staff], also raised concerns about ‘the way Massa ran his office’ and informed Pelosi’s member-services staffer that he had asked Massa to move out of the group house on Capitol Hill, the Pelosi aide said.” And all this follows the revelation that Massa had a history of groping and harassment in the Navy. Switch the names and the parties, and this could be straight out of 2006 when the Republicans were under fire:

“This is completely unacceptable,” a senior GOP aide said of the committee’s decision to end its investigation. “If it’s true that Democratic members of the House ethics committee are blocking an investigation of what their own leaders knew about Massa, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Speaker Pelosi has no intention of keeping her promise to lead the most open, honest and ethical Congress in history. What are Democrats on the ethics committee afraid of? What is the Democratic leadership hiding?”

Granted, the Democrats have time to correct the problem. They could, if they are inclined to, conduct a serious investigation into who knew what and when. But the presence of a growing, nasty ethics scandal and the judgment of the House speaker at a time when the Democrats are struggling with ObamaCare smacks of the perfect storm — the convergence of bad news and awful media that has the potential to sink the majority party. And should the Democrats sweep this under the rug — for Massa is now departed — the stench will linger for months.

Arguably, 2010 isn’t like  2006 or 1994. This time there is ObamaCare, Massa, Charlie Rangel, the spigot of red ink, and sky-high unemployment. So 2010 could well be worse for the party in power, which suddenly seems as though it can’t get anything right.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

It was a year ago today that President Obama launched his drive to reform health care. He was confident that he could do what Bill Clinton had failed to do 16 years earlier. As the New York Times reported on March 6, 2009:

Mr. Obama insisted that ”this time is different” because ”the call for reform is coming from the bottom up, from all across the spectrum — from doctors, nurses and patients, unions and businesses, hospitals, health care providers and community groups,” as well as state and local officials.

The Times was reporting on “a day-long meeting on health care that brought together a diverse group of people, in and out of government.”

“I just want to figure out what works,” Obama told them.

Too bad he didn’t do that. Instead he turned everything over to the ultraliberal Pooh-Bahs of Congress, who produced a bill (or rather two bills, one in the House the other in the Senate) the unpopularity of which has only grown with time. That Obama wanted everything wrapped up by last year’s August recess now seems a long-ago bad joke.

Today there is certainly still a call coming from the bottom up. Unfortunately for the Democrats, it’s an ever-rising groundswell of opposition to ObamaCare, one that threatens to become a political hurricane that could sweep the Democrats out of the majority in both houses of Congress and render the president politically impotent for the rest of his term.

And it isn’t just at the federal level that politicians are feeling the hot wind of public anger rising. Politico reports that state legislatures have approval ratings that in some cases are even worse than Congress’s. Only 16 percent of New Yorkers think their state Senate is doing a good or excellent job. (I guess 16 percent of New Yorkers live on the back of the moon.) Of course, New York is a poster child for legislative dysfunction, but even in Connecticut, only 30 percent approve. In Pennsylvania, it’s 29 percent.

So 2010, thanks in large part to ObamaCare, is shaping up as the most interesting political year since 1980. That was the year that the American electorate began trying to get the political establishment’s attention. They denied a second term to an elected president for the first time since Herbert Hoover and gave the Republicans a majority in the Senate for the first time in 26 years. In 1994 they tried again, ending the Democrat’s majority in the House after 40 years, and even defeating a sitting speaker for the first time since the Civil War.

It was a year ago today that President Obama launched his drive to reform health care. He was confident that he could do what Bill Clinton had failed to do 16 years earlier. As the New York Times reported on March 6, 2009:

Mr. Obama insisted that ”this time is different” because ”the call for reform is coming from the bottom up, from all across the spectrum — from doctors, nurses and patients, unions and businesses, hospitals, health care providers and community groups,” as well as state and local officials.

The Times was reporting on “a day-long meeting on health care that brought together a diverse group of people, in and out of government.”

“I just want to figure out what works,” Obama told them.

Too bad he didn’t do that. Instead he turned everything over to the ultraliberal Pooh-Bahs of Congress, who produced a bill (or rather two bills, one in the House the other in the Senate) the unpopularity of which has only grown with time. That Obama wanted everything wrapped up by last year’s August recess now seems a long-ago bad joke.

Today there is certainly still a call coming from the bottom up. Unfortunately for the Democrats, it’s an ever-rising groundswell of opposition to ObamaCare, one that threatens to become a political hurricane that could sweep the Democrats out of the majority in both houses of Congress and render the president politically impotent for the rest of his term.

And it isn’t just at the federal level that politicians are feeling the hot wind of public anger rising. Politico reports that state legislatures have approval ratings that in some cases are even worse than Congress’s. Only 16 percent of New Yorkers think their state Senate is doing a good or excellent job. (I guess 16 percent of New Yorkers live on the back of the moon.) Of course, New York is a poster child for legislative dysfunction, but even in Connecticut, only 30 percent approve. In Pennsylvania, it’s 29 percent.

So 2010, thanks in large part to ObamaCare, is shaping up as the most interesting political year since 1980. That was the year that the American electorate began trying to get the political establishment’s attention. They denied a second term to an elected president for the first time since Herbert Hoover and gave the Republicans a majority in the Senate for the first time in 26 years. In 1994 they tried again, ending the Democrat’s majority in the House after 40 years, and even defeating a sitting speaker for the first time since the Civil War.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is the NSA helping Google fix its cyberhole? “After Chinese hackers tore Google a new cyberhole in December, the tech titan reportedly looked to an unlikely source for help: the ultra-secretive National Security Agency, better known for tapping phones than patching security holes for private companies. The connection has raised the antennae of Internet privacy experts, who now are warning of the possible risks posed by the close and as-yet undefined ties between the world’s top cybersurveillance agency and a corporate behemoth that has amassed more sensitive data about its users than most personal diaries.” If this were the Bush administration, the ACLU would be going nuts, not just writing letters to Google’s CEO.

Democrats are waking up to just how economically destructive the Obami’s gambit on CO2 is: “Eight Democratic Senators from coal states are mounting a serious challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark ruling that CO2 is a pollutant and demanding a delay in enforcing anti-global warming regulations against polluters.” Hey, they could introduce a bill, get lots of GOP support, and put an end to this.

Independents in Iowa are waking up, too: “A sharp drop in approval for President Barack Obama from Iowa’s political independents has pushed the Democrat’s approval further below 50 percent in the state and below the national average, according to the latest Iowa Poll. Approval among Iowa independents has dropped 10 percentage points since November, to 38 percent. Independents in Iowa helped Obama win the leadoff nominating caucuses in 2008 and later carry the state in the general election.”

In other words, the Left is deluded: “With Obama’s top agenda item, health care legislation, near ruins and congressional Democrats on the defensive heading into this year’s midterm elections, much of the sweeping liberal agenda some of Obama’s supporters hoped for and his enemies feared has been deferred. … And yet in a surreal twilight, issues live on, fed by a kind of mutual dependency between the liberal interest groups that exist to advance them and the conservatives for whom opposing them is a potent rallying force. There is, say liberal leaders who suffered through the drought of the Bush years, no point in giving up.”

When Republican candidates in state Senate races run against Nancy Pelosi, it’s not a good sign for the Democrats: “[Jim] Higdon, a Republican from Kentucky, won a state Senate seat in December in a largely Democratic district with an unlikely strategy: He nationalized his race, warning of one-party rule by featuring Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pictures in his television advertisements and campaign literature. Higdon, who was outspent by a 4-to-1 ratio, is glad she’s so unpopular. … Expect the GOP to replicate the strategy in political races around the country this year.”

Bill Bennett explains what was wrong with Glenn Beck’s CPAC speech. A sample: “The first task of a serious political analyst is to see things as they are. There is a difference between morning and night. There is a difference between drunk and sober. And there is a difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. To ignore these differences, or propagate the myth that they don’t exist, is not only discouraging, it is dangerous.” Worth reading in full.

Whatever Obama is doing doesn’t seem to be working: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. That is the lowest level of strong approval yet recorded for this President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -19. The Approval Index has been lower only on one day during Barack Obama’s thirteen months in office.”

Sen. Ben Nelson declares, “I don’t know if there’s a happy ending for health care.” Two-thirds of the country would be happy, but Nelson and the voters (especially in his state) don’t see eye-to-eye on health-care reform. It may well be that Nelson blew up his career for nothing.

Is the NSA helping Google fix its cyberhole? “After Chinese hackers tore Google a new cyberhole in December, the tech titan reportedly looked to an unlikely source for help: the ultra-secretive National Security Agency, better known for tapping phones than patching security holes for private companies. The connection has raised the antennae of Internet privacy experts, who now are warning of the possible risks posed by the close and as-yet undefined ties between the world’s top cybersurveillance agency and a corporate behemoth that has amassed more sensitive data about its users than most personal diaries.” If this were the Bush administration, the ACLU would be going nuts, not just writing letters to Google’s CEO.

Democrats are waking up to just how economically destructive the Obami’s gambit on CO2 is: “Eight Democratic Senators from coal states are mounting a serious challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark ruling that CO2 is a pollutant and demanding a delay in enforcing anti-global warming regulations against polluters.” Hey, they could introduce a bill, get lots of GOP support, and put an end to this.

Independents in Iowa are waking up, too: “A sharp drop in approval for President Barack Obama from Iowa’s political independents has pushed the Democrat’s approval further below 50 percent in the state and below the national average, according to the latest Iowa Poll. Approval among Iowa independents has dropped 10 percentage points since November, to 38 percent. Independents in Iowa helped Obama win the leadoff nominating caucuses in 2008 and later carry the state in the general election.”

In other words, the Left is deluded: “With Obama’s top agenda item, health care legislation, near ruins and congressional Democrats on the defensive heading into this year’s midterm elections, much of the sweeping liberal agenda some of Obama’s supporters hoped for and his enemies feared has been deferred. … And yet in a surreal twilight, issues live on, fed by a kind of mutual dependency between the liberal interest groups that exist to advance them and the conservatives for whom opposing them is a potent rallying force. There is, say liberal leaders who suffered through the drought of the Bush years, no point in giving up.”

When Republican candidates in state Senate races run against Nancy Pelosi, it’s not a good sign for the Democrats: “[Jim] Higdon, a Republican from Kentucky, won a state Senate seat in December in a largely Democratic district with an unlikely strategy: He nationalized his race, warning of one-party rule by featuring Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pictures in his television advertisements and campaign literature. Higdon, who was outspent by a 4-to-1 ratio, is glad she’s so unpopular. … Expect the GOP to replicate the strategy in political races around the country this year.”

Bill Bennett explains what was wrong with Glenn Beck’s CPAC speech. A sample: “The first task of a serious political analyst is to see things as they are. There is a difference between morning and night. There is a difference between drunk and sober. And there is a difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. To ignore these differences, or propagate the myth that they don’t exist, is not only discouraging, it is dangerous.” Worth reading in full.

Whatever Obama is doing doesn’t seem to be working: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. That is the lowest level of strong approval yet recorded for this President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -19. The Approval Index has been lower only on one day during Barack Obama’s thirteen months in office.”

Sen. Ben Nelson declares, “I don’t know if there’s a happy ending for health care.” Two-thirds of the country would be happy, but Nelson and the voters (especially in his state) don’t see eye-to-eye on health-care reform. It may well be that Nelson blew up his career for nothing.

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The Left: Pass Health Care and Go Out in a Blaze of Glory

In the endless search for justifying political suicide — that is, continuing with the quest to pass ObamaCare — many on the Left argue that the “damage has been done.” In other words, they are already going to be punished by conservatives and independents for almost passing ObamaCare, so they might as well go through with it and please their base. Well, for starters, it’s nice to see that they finally realize that the bill is unpopular, that it was a lie that Democrats could pass it and “sell it later,” and that it’s going to cost many Democrats their seats. But is it really true that there’s no harm in going forward and passing a noxious bill that 70 percent of the electorate hates?

Megan McArdle neatly summarizes the argument on the side of “you gotta be kidding”:

Who are you more likely to leave:  the spouse who makes a pass at another woman, and then thinks the better of it, or the spouse who goes through with it?  Maybe you’ll leave them either way.  But it does not follow that they are better off going through with it.  I don’t think it is actually true that trying to pass a bill people hate, and then thinking the better of it because it turns out the electorate hates it, is no different from trying to pass a bill people hate, finding out that they really, really hate it, and then ignoring them and pushing it through anyway.

Moreover, passing ObamaCare would entail debating it and making more deals over an extended period of time, which is likely to remind everyone just why it was they hated the bill in the first place. Indeed, the threat of ObamaCare looming on the horizon is precisely what I suspect the Republicans are hoping for. It would keep the troops pumped up, send Democrats into a defensive crouch, and suck up time that could be better spent by Democrats doing things the voters might like better.

Now Public Policy Polling has a survey that Tom Jensen describes as follows:

The GOP leads 43-40 on the generic Congressional ballot. When you ask people how they’ll vote if the Democrats don’t pass their health care plan the GOP leads 43-38. That’s because the level of support from Democratic voters for their own party drops from 80% to 76% if there is no health care bill. The GOP level of support remains unchanged at this point whether it passes or not.

Well, that’s some evidence for the “go ahead and jump” advice. But the difference between passing and not passing the bill in the poll is within the margin. Moreover, it doesn’t account for how much madder independents will get in the interim as more attention is devoted to the bill. (Recall that with each vote in the House and Senate at the end of 2009, support for the bill went down.) In addition, the poll doesn’t consider a logical alternative that might actually help Democrats — passing a targeted set of reforms that many Republicans could support (e.g., tort reform, equalizing the tax treatment of individual- and employer-purchased health-care plans).

Elected lawmakers, I think, are reluctant to follow the advice of the Left (including those in the White House), which has driven its party’s fortunes into the ground in just a year. They see the results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts and can read the polls for themselves. The double-down crowd may have appeal out in the blogosphere, but I don’t think there are too many takers among those still hoping to avoid being swept out in the wave election of 2010.

In the endless search for justifying political suicide — that is, continuing with the quest to pass ObamaCare — many on the Left argue that the “damage has been done.” In other words, they are already going to be punished by conservatives and independents for almost passing ObamaCare, so they might as well go through with it and please their base. Well, for starters, it’s nice to see that they finally realize that the bill is unpopular, that it was a lie that Democrats could pass it and “sell it later,” and that it’s going to cost many Democrats their seats. But is it really true that there’s no harm in going forward and passing a noxious bill that 70 percent of the electorate hates?

Megan McArdle neatly summarizes the argument on the side of “you gotta be kidding”:

Who are you more likely to leave:  the spouse who makes a pass at another woman, and then thinks the better of it, or the spouse who goes through with it?  Maybe you’ll leave them either way.  But it does not follow that they are better off going through with it.  I don’t think it is actually true that trying to pass a bill people hate, and then thinking the better of it because it turns out the electorate hates it, is no different from trying to pass a bill people hate, finding out that they really, really hate it, and then ignoring them and pushing it through anyway.

Moreover, passing ObamaCare would entail debating it and making more deals over an extended period of time, which is likely to remind everyone just why it was they hated the bill in the first place. Indeed, the threat of ObamaCare looming on the horizon is precisely what I suspect the Republicans are hoping for. It would keep the troops pumped up, send Democrats into a defensive crouch, and suck up time that could be better spent by Democrats doing things the voters might like better.

Now Public Policy Polling has a survey that Tom Jensen describes as follows:

The GOP leads 43-40 on the generic Congressional ballot. When you ask people how they’ll vote if the Democrats don’t pass their health care plan the GOP leads 43-38. That’s because the level of support from Democratic voters for their own party drops from 80% to 76% if there is no health care bill. The GOP level of support remains unchanged at this point whether it passes or not.

Well, that’s some evidence for the “go ahead and jump” advice. But the difference between passing and not passing the bill in the poll is within the margin. Moreover, it doesn’t account for how much madder independents will get in the interim as more attention is devoted to the bill. (Recall that with each vote in the House and Senate at the end of 2009, support for the bill went down.) In addition, the poll doesn’t consider a logical alternative that might actually help Democrats — passing a targeted set of reforms that many Republicans could support (e.g., tort reform, equalizing the tax treatment of individual- and employer-purchased health-care plans).

Elected lawmakers, I think, are reluctant to follow the advice of the Left (including those in the White House), which has driven its party’s fortunes into the ground in just a year. They see the results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts and can read the polls for themselves. The double-down crowd may have appeal out in the blogosphere, but I don’t think there are too many takers among those still hoping to avoid being swept out in the wave election of 2010.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There’s a smart argument for building up Palestinian institutions and encouraging economic growth as a prelude to peace. But the Obami have reversed it, spreading poverty as they stagger through the “peace process.” Insisting on a settlement freeze has only put the squeeze on Palestinian workers: “These are skilled construction workers, men who actually rely on jobs in those ‘illegitimate’ settlements for their livelihoods, and they’ve been penalized harshly by the moratorium—they used to earn $40 a day; now, if they’re working at all, they’re getting $13.  ‘The settlement freeze has only brought more poverty,’ [says] Abdel Aziz Othman. … If you were of a sardonic cast of mind, you might call this the freeze to nowhere.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes the KSM trial. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wakes up and opposes it too. (Did they think it was a good idea up until the Massachusetts Senate race?) Who thinks this is still going to happen? Not Rep. John Boehner. But Obama does. It seems he’s outside the bipartisan consensus on this one.

Why didn’t Obama move to the center like Bill Clinton did? The New York Times explains: “So the gamble underlying Mr. Obama’s speech seems to be that he can muddle through the November elections with perhaps 20 or 30 lost seats in the House, and a handful in the Senate, and avoid the kind of rout that led Mr. Clinton to declare the end of the big government era.” That doesn’t look like such a great bet these days, especially since “Mr. Obama has seen the passion of his own political base wither.”

Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court may turn out to be as politically tone deaf as his Gates-gate comments: “A noted Supreme Court historian who ‘enthusiastically’ voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night ‘really unusual’ and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.” When Obama loses the law-professor vote, he’s in real trouble.

Ben Bernanke is confirmed for another term as Fed chairman by a 70-30 vote. A good warning for Obama, perhaps, of the dangers of letting populist, business-bashing rhetoric get out of hand.

Sen. Judd Gregg goes after the MSNBC hosts: “You can’t make a representation and then claim you didn’t make it. You know, it just shouldn’t work that way. You’ve got to have some integrity on your side of this camera, too.” Yowser.

Republicans are getting feisty. Sen. Jon Kyl on the SOTU: “First of all, I would’ve thought by now he would’ve stopped blaming the Bush administration for the mess that he inherited. And I don’t think that the American people want a whiner who says, woe is me. It was a terrible situation. And more than a year after he’s sworn in, he’s still complaining about the Bush administration.”

There’s a smart argument for building up Palestinian institutions and encouraging economic growth as a prelude to peace. But the Obami have reversed it, spreading poverty as they stagger through the “peace process.” Insisting on a settlement freeze has only put the squeeze on Palestinian workers: “These are skilled construction workers, men who actually rely on jobs in those ‘illegitimate’ settlements for their livelihoods, and they’ve been penalized harshly by the moratorium—they used to earn $40 a day; now, if they’re working at all, they’re getting $13.  ‘The settlement freeze has only brought more poverty,’ [says] Abdel Aziz Othman. … If you were of a sardonic cast of mind, you might call this the freeze to nowhere.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes the KSM trial. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wakes up and opposes it too. (Did they think it was a good idea up until the Massachusetts Senate race?) Who thinks this is still going to happen? Not Rep. John Boehner. But Obama does. It seems he’s outside the bipartisan consensus on this one.

Why didn’t Obama move to the center like Bill Clinton did? The New York Times explains: “So the gamble underlying Mr. Obama’s speech seems to be that he can muddle through the November elections with perhaps 20 or 30 lost seats in the House, and a handful in the Senate, and avoid the kind of rout that led Mr. Clinton to declare the end of the big government era.” That doesn’t look like such a great bet these days, especially since “Mr. Obama has seen the passion of his own political base wither.”

Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court may turn out to be as politically tone deaf as his Gates-gate comments: “A noted Supreme Court historian who ‘enthusiastically’ voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night ‘really unusual’ and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.” When Obama loses the law-professor vote, he’s in real trouble.

Ben Bernanke is confirmed for another term as Fed chairman by a 70-30 vote. A good warning for Obama, perhaps, of the dangers of letting populist, business-bashing rhetoric get out of hand.

Sen. Judd Gregg goes after the MSNBC hosts: “You can’t make a representation and then claim you didn’t make it. You know, it just shouldn’t work that way. You’ve got to have some integrity on your side of this camera, too.” Yowser.

Republicans are getting feisty. Sen. Jon Kyl on the SOTU: “First of all, I would’ve thought by now he would’ve stopped blaming the Bush administration for the mess that he inherited. And I don’t think that the American people want a whiner who says, woe is me. It was a terrible situation. And more than a year after he’s sworn in, he’s still complaining about the Bush administration.”

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LIVE BLOG: ‘Common Sense’?

Now he says the freeze won’t take effect until next year. Oh. A laugh erupts. Then he complains that in the eight years preceding him we got ourselves into a huge deficit. And ignoring the mound of debt he has incurred, he calls for “common sense.” His delivery may be crisp, John. But the substance is downright incoherent.

Now he says the freeze won’t take effect until next year. Oh. A laugh erupts. Then he complains that in the eight years preceding him we got ourselves into a huge deficit. And ignoring the mound of debt he has incurred, he calls for “common sense.” His delivery may be crisp, John. But the substance is downright incoherent.

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LIVE BLOG: Freeze Won’t Take Effect Until Next Year…

….”that’s how budgeting works.” But he’ll take credit for it now, thank you.

….”that’s how budgeting works.” But he’ll take credit for it now, thank you.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hardly a record the Democrats want to run on: “The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, in its budget outlook released Tuesday, also projected a ‘muted’ economic recovery over the next few years. The unemployment rate will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year and then decline at a slower pace than in past recoveries, the CBO said. The jobless rate won’t return to a sustainable level of 5 percent until 2014, the budget office predicted.” No wonder “blame George W. Bush” is the crutch of choice for the Obami.

In the latest CNN poll, 50 percent of adults (not even registered voters) disapprove of Obama’s performance, and 55 percent think he didn’t focus on the most important problems in his first year.

Allan Metzer is skeptical on the “spending freeze”: “Why should one think the president is serious if he first increases discretionary spending by almost 30%, then proclaims a freeze. And he follows the freeze by announcing a pitcher full of new entitlements. I will treat his statement as the start of a serious effort to control spending when he proposes to cut entitlements.”

Sen. John McCain has a challenge: “If you really believe in freezing spending, then come out in the State of the Union address and promise to veto the Senate Democrats’ $80 billion spending bill, which they’re drawing up right now, and say you’ll veto the House’s $154 billion spending bill, too.”

But the Left really hates the idea: “Liberals are denouncing the spending freeze across blogs and airwaves. Many believe the move is all about politics, not policy. And the politics, many say, are just as clumsy as the policy.”

Meanwhile, the Senate defeated an amendment to create the Conrad-Gregg deficit-reduction commission, which Obama backed. “Supporters garnered 53 votes for the plan, which was co-sponsored by Gregg and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. But 60 votes were required under procedural rules. Thirty-six Democrats and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted for the plan, as did 16 Republicans.” Obama can’t get even that through the Senate, but maybe on this one he wasn’t trying. (It’s getting hard to tell.)

And Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh oppose using reconciliation to pass health care. It seems Scott Brown has sent a shiver through the Congress, halting action on just about everything. Well, if the first rule of lawmaking is “do no harm,” this is a positive development.

James Taranto observes that “intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or sense. Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas. What’s more, there is a particular type of stupidity to which intelligent people are uniquely prone: intellectual snobbery, or the tendency to cultivate an attitude of contempt toward those who are not as bright. This may appeal to New York Times readers or voters in, say, Hyde Park–that is, to people who think they’re better than everyone else too. But it may prove Barack Obama’s undoing as a national politician.” Well, that and his not accomplishing anything.

Marty Peretz catches Obama editing Israel out of the list of countries assisting in Haiti. “The fact is that, next to our country, Israel sent the largest contingent of trained rescue workers, doctors, and other medical personnel. … So didn’t Obama notice? For God’s sake, everybody noticed the deep Israeli involvement. I understand that Obama doesn’t like Middle East narratives that do not contain ‘one side and the other side’ equal valence. But he couldn’t have that here. The Arabs don’t care a fig, not for their impoverished and backward own, and certainly not for strangers. That’s why their presence in Haiti amounted to a couple of bucks from Saudi Arabia and maybe from some other sheikhs. … Yes, I think that the labors of the Israelis were edited out of Obama’s speech, either by his speechwriters (who have made dissing Israel their forté) or by his own oh-so-delicate but dishonest censoring mechanism.”

Hardly a record the Democrats want to run on: “The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, in its budget outlook released Tuesday, also projected a ‘muted’ economic recovery over the next few years. The unemployment rate will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year and then decline at a slower pace than in past recoveries, the CBO said. The jobless rate won’t return to a sustainable level of 5 percent until 2014, the budget office predicted.” No wonder “blame George W. Bush” is the crutch of choice for the Obami.

In the latest CNN poll, 50 percent of adults (not even registered voters) disapprove of Obama’s performance, and 55 percent think he didn’t focus on the most important problems in his first year.

Allan Metzer is skeptical on the “spending freeze”: “Why should one think the president is serious if he first increases discretionary spending by almost 30%, then proclaims a freeze. And he follows the freeze by announcing a pitcher full of new entitlements. I will treat his statement as the start of a serious effort to control spending when he proposes to cut entitlements.”

Sen. John McCain has a challenge: “If you really believe in freezing spending, then come out in the State of the Union address and promise to veto the Senate Democrats’ $80 billion spending bill, which they’re drawing up right now, and say you’ll veto the House’s $154 billion spending bill, too.”

But the Left really hates the idea: “Liberals are denouncing the spending freeze across blogs and airwaves. Many believe the move is all about politics, not policy. And the politics, many say, are just as clumsy as the policy.”

Meanwhile, the Senate defeated an amendment to create the Conrad-Gregg deficit-reduction commission, which Obama backed. “Supporters garnered 53 votes for the plan, which was co-sponsored by Gregg and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. But 60 votes were required under procedural rules. Thirty-six Democrats and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted for the plan, as did 16 Republicans.” Obama can’t get even that through the Senate, but maybe on this one he wasn’t trying. (It’s getting hard to tell.)

And Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh oppose using reconciliation to pass health care. It seems Scott Brown has sent a shiver through the Congress, halting action on just about everything. Well, if the first rule of lawmaking is “do no harm,” this is a positive development.

James Taranto observes that “intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or sense. Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas. What’s more, there is a particular type of stupidity to which intelligent people are uniquely prone: intellectual snobbery, or the tendency to cultivate an attitude of contempt toward those who are not as bright. This may appeal to New York Times readers or voters in, say, Hyde Park–that is, to people who think they’re better than everyone else too. But it may prove Barack Obama’s undoing as a national politician.” Well, that and his not accomplishing anything.

Marty Peretz catches Obama editing Israel out of the list of countries assisting in Haiti. “The fact is that, next to our country, Israel sent the largest contingent of trained rescue workers, doctors, and other medical personnel. … So didn’t Obama notice? For God’s sake, everybody noticed the deep Israeli involvement. I understand that Obama doesn’t like Middle East narratives that do not contain ‘one side and the other side’ equal valence. But he couldn’t have that here. The Arabs don’t care a fig, not for their impoverished and backward own, and certainly not for strangers. That’s why their presence in Haiti amounted to a couple of bucks from Saudi Arabia and maybe from some other sheikhs. … Yes, I think that the labors of the Israelis were edited out of Obama’s speech, either by his speechwriters (who have made dissing Israel their forté) or by his own oh-so-delicate but dishonest censoring mechanism.”

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Another Peace Process in Our Time

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 60th month of his 48-month term, a declared non-candidate for re-election (in the event there is ever another Palestinian election), presently governing only half of the putative Palestinian state — has told Haaretz that a peace agreement could be reached within six months if Israel will make more pre-negotiation concessions.

Peace could be reached not only in our time but with four full months left over to complete Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement freeze. Abbas will hold the football himself.

Not even those on the Left in Israel believe in this process any more. Ari Shavit, writing in today’s Haaretz, notes that:

There’s one small problem: Similar things were said to us when the Beilin-Abbas agreement was formulated in 1995. Similar things were said to us on the eve of Camp David 2000. Similar things were promised us when the Geneva Initiative was signed in 2003. Similar things were promised us when Israel went to Annapolis in 2007.

Six months is in fact exactly what Abbas promised at the beginning of the Annapolis Process in 2007, only to reject still another Israeli offer of a state 12 months later.

Shavit encapsulates in a single paragraph the reason there is currently no prospect of peace, with or without additional Israeli concessions, made before or after negotiations begin:

With Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, arming itself to the teeth and enjoying the support of about one-third of the Palestinians, it has the right to veto any diplomatic progress. With Fatah unwilling to recognize the Jewish nation-state and objecting to a demilitarized Palestinian state, there is no chance for a peace treaty.

Perhaps one day there will be another Palestinian presidential election, with a candidate campaigning on a platform calling for recognition of a Jewish state and acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian one. Perhaps one day the Palestinians will elect such a person. But today there is no such candidate, nor even another scheduled election. The Palestinian peace movement consists of recycled interviews with Haaretz.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 60th month of his 48-month term, a declared non-candidate for re-election (in the event there is ever another Palestinian election), presently governing only half of the putative Palestinian state — has told Haaretz that a peace agreement could be reached within six months if Israel will make more pre-negotiation concessions.

Peace could be reached not only in our time but with four full months left over to complete Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement freeze. Abbas will hold the football himself.

Not even those on the Left in Israel believe in this process any more. Ari Shavit, writing in today’s Haaretz, notes that:

There’s one small problem: Similar things were said to us when the Beilin-Abbas agreement was formulated in 1995. Similar things were said to us on the eve of Camp David 2000. Similar things were promised us when the Geneva Initiative was signed in 2003. Similar things were promised us when Israel went to Annapolis in 2007.

Six months is in fact exactly what Abbas promised at the beginning of the Annapolis Process in 2007, only to reject still another Israeli offer of a state 12 months later.

Shavit encapsulates in a single paragraph the reason there is currently no prospect of peace, with or without additional Israeli concessions, made before or after negotiations begin:

With Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, arming itself to the teeth and enjoying the support of about one-third of the Palestinians, it has the right to veto any diplomatic progress. With Fatah unwilling to recognize the Jewish nation-state and objecting to a demilitarized Palestinian state, there is no chance for a peace treaty.

Perhaps one day there will be another Palestinian presidential election, with a candidate campaigning on a platform calling for recognition of a Jewish state and acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian one. Perhaps one day the Palestinians will elect such a person. But today there is no such candidate, nor even another scheduled election. The Palestinian peace movement consists of recycled interviews with Haaretz.

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Apartments in Jerusalem, Now More Scandalizing than Ever

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

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The Meaning of Palestinian Politics

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

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Here’s A Strategy for Bush and McCain

Barack Obama is a supporter of the special-interest cesspool called the Agriculture Bill. I would hope John McCain — against it from the getgo — would make a very big deal of it, as it would be interesting to see Obama defend a bill giving subsidies to Kentucky thoroughbred horse breeders (a downtrodden group if ever there was one–I’ve heard some of them can’t even afford a private jet).

Someone please tell me why the following would be wrong, naïve, or counterproductive: Congress sends the bill to the White House. The President asks for fifteen minutes on TV, during which he 1) signs the veto message, 2) does a quick show-and-tell on the bill’s more egregious features, 3) says that this piece of legislation is Exhibit A of how and why Washington doesn’t work for the benefit of the people any more, 4) says this is the time to stop this sort of thing and 4) tells the people to E-mail their congressmen and senators (helpful crawl giving the House and Senate websites) and to say that they’re mad as hell about this and they’re not going to take it any more.

The president isn’t going to get anything out of Congress in the next eight months anyway, so he has nothing to lose by enraging Capitol Hill big time. Doing this would 1) cause the Congressional servers to collapse under an avalanche of irate e-mails, 2) raise his approval ratings, and 3) get the veto sustained.

It would also be a big boost to McCain, who actually has a track record against special-interest legislation, which Obama lacks.

Barack Obama is a supporter of the special-interest cesspool called the Agriculture Bill. I would hope John McCain — against it from the getgo — would make a very big deal of it, as it would be interesting to see Obama defend a bill giving subsidies to Kentucky thoroughbred horse breeders (a downtrodden group if ever there was one–I’ve heard some of them can’t even afford a private jet).

Someone please tell me why the following would be wrong, naïve, or counterproductive: Congress sends the bill to the White House. The President asks for fifteen minutes on TV, during which he 1) signs the veto message, 2) does a quick show-and-tell on the bill’s more egregious features, 3) says that this piece of legislation is Exhibit A of how and why Washington doesn’t work for the benefit of the people any more, 4) says this is the time to stop this sort of thing and 4) tells the people to E-mail their congressmen and senators (helpful crawl giving the House and Senate websites) and to say that they’re mad as hell about this and they’re not going to take it any more.

The president isn’t going to get anything out of Congress in the next eight months anyway, so he has nothing to lose by enraging Capitol Hill big time. Doing this would 1) cause the Congressional servers to collapse under an avalanche of irate e-mails, 2) raise his approval ratings, and 3) get the veto sustained.

It would also be a big boost to McCain, who actually has a track record against special-interest legislation, which Obama lacks.

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Filling Cracks

CNN is reporting that 2,000 Chinese troops are rushing to plug “extremely dangerous” cracks in the Zipingku Dam, which stands about three miles upriver from the earthquake-ravaged Dujiangyan City. The endangered population of Dujiangyan City stands at about 630,000. If there’s a serious dam accident, the resulting devastation could immediately rival that of neighboring Burma, where the official death toll stands at about 40,000 from a typhoon that hit two weeks ago.

China’s dams present deadly problems of huge literal and figurative size. In 1975, Typhoon Nina hit China and the Banqiao Dam collapsed, destroying 60 more dams and killing almost 200,000 people. China’s own Water Resource Department claims that 30,000 dams in China are in “critical condition.” China keeps building newer and larger dams, while maintenance of the country’s older ones get neglected. Additionally, the rampant corruption of local governments enables huge sums allocated for dam maintenance to end up in the pockets of officials. Unchecked growth, without consideration for scale or infrastructural soundness, leaves the citizens of China unprotected in the event of unforeseeable circumstances. Let’s hope they plug this dam. But going forward, the Chinese government can’t hope to spot-fill cracks as a way of warding off catastrophe.

CNN is reporting that 2,000 Chinese troops are rushing to plug “extremely dangerous” cracks in the Zipingku Dam, which stands about three miles upriver from the earthquake-ravaged Dujiangyan City. The endangered population of Dujiangyan City stands at about 630,000. If there’s a serious dam accident, the resulting devastation could immediately rival that of neighboring Burma, where the official death toll stands at about 40,000 from a typhoon that hit two weeks ago.

China’s dams present deadly problems of huge literal and figurative size. In 1975, Typhoon Nina hit China and the Banqiao Dam collapsed, destroying 60 more dams and killing almost 200,000 people. China’s own Water Resource Department claims that 30,000 dams in China are in “critical condition.” China keeps building newer and larger dams, while maintenance of the country’s older ones get neglected. Additionally, the rampant corruption of local governments enables huge sums allocated for dam maintenance to end up in the pockets of officials. Unchecked growth, without consideration for scale or infrastructural soundness, leaves the citizens of China unprotected in the event of unforeseeable circumstances. Let’s hope they plug this dam. But going forward, the Chinese government can’t hope to spot-fill cracks as a way of warding off catastrophe.

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“Pariah Diplomacy”

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

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Oh No! It’s Civil War! Except It Isn’t.

Watch the pundits bite their nails and fear for the future: Oh, how awful this continuing battle in the Democratic party is! What a nightmare! Hillary is taking the low road! Obama is Adlai Stevenson redux! Fault lines are being exposed that could lead to an earthquake which might swallow up Democratic ambitions this year!

Nonsense.  There has never been a primary process with this kind of involvement. More than 30 million votes have been cast so far for Obama and Clinton combined. Every one of those voters is a committed Democrat, by virtue of his participation in the primary. Once there is a nominee and the dust settles, that nominee will have a base of primary voters larger and more passionate than anyone has ever seen. One thing surely unites them, and that is a desire to see a Democrat in the White House and an end to Republican rule.

The campaigns are echoing this hysteria, and for a reason. Obama needs superdelegates to believe his fresh and dandy new voters and the party’s African-American base will be so enraged if Hillary actually becomes the nominee that they will firebomb the Denver convention and subvert the party’s chances for victory because hope will have been murdered in its cradle. Hillary needs superdelegates to believe that Obama’s victory is going to make ethnic whites flee to McCain’s side.

 Obama and Hillary are going to have an equal amount of difficulty, for different reasons, appealing to independents (McCain will have problems too, because he’s running on the Republican line), but my guess is neither of them has to worry very much about fellow Democrats.

Watch the pundits bite their nails and fear for the future: Oh, how awful this continuing battle in the Democratic party is! What a nightmare! Hillary is taking the low road! Obama is Adlai Stevenson redux! Fault lines are being exposed that could lead to an earthquake which might swallow up Democratic ambitions this year!

Nonsense.  There has never been a primary process with this kind of involvement. More than 30 million votes have been cast so far for Obama and Clinton combined. Every one of those voters is a committed Democrat, by virtue of his participation in the primary. Once there is a nominee and the dust settles, that nominee will have a base of primary voters larger and more passionate than anyone has ever seen. One thing surely unites them, and that is a desire to see a Democrat in the White House and an end to Republican rule.

The campaigns are echoing this hysteria, and for a reason. Obama needs superdelegates to believe his fresh and dandy new voters and the party’s African-American base will be so enraged if Hillary actually becomes the nominee that they will firebomb the Denver convention and subvert the party’s chances for victory because hope will have been murdered in its cradle. Hillary needs superdelegates to believe that Obama’s victory is going to make ethnic whites flee to McCain’s side.

 Obama and Hillary are going to have an equal amount of difficulty, for different reasons, appealing to independents (McCain will have problems too, because he’s running on the Republican line), but my guess is neither of them has to worry very much about fellow Democrats.

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Somalia’s Islamist Insurgency

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

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Caveat Emptor

Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

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Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

There is, needless to say, not a scintilla of evidence that Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt made any attempt to wipe out the population of the Philippines. There is no doubt that a lot of Filipinos died in the course of the war, but most of those deaths were the result of disease, not American bullets. In my book, I cite the generally accepted casualty totals: 4,234 American dead and, on the other side, 16,000 Filipinos killed in battle and another 200,000 civilians killed mainly by disease and famine. My sources for these estimates are books written by William Thaddeus Sexton, an historian writing in the 1930’s, and two more recent accounts written by Stanley Karnow and Walter LaFeber. Neither Karnow nor LaFeber is exactly an American imperialist; in fact, both are well-known liberals. Yet their casualty counts are seven times lower than those claimed by Wikipedia, and they make no mention of any genocide.

Where does the Wikipedia figure come from? The footnote refers to an online essay, “U.S. Genocide in the Philippines” by E. San Juan Jr., posted on an obscure website. The author is described as follows: “E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Republic of China.” Not exactly a pedigree that instantly screams out that he has any special expertise on the Philippine War.

In his short essay (1,046 words), E. San Juan Jr. concedes that his claims of genocide and of 1.4 million dead do not come from any mainstream sources. He writes: “Among historians, only Howard Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the ‘genocidal’ character of the catastrophe.” But even these ultra-left-wing “revisionist” historians (who also have no expertise in the Philippine War) have, in his telling, cited no more than 600,000 dead Filipinos.

So whence the figure of 1.4 million? According to Mr. San Juan, “The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).” I confess to never having heard of Ms. Francisco (whose works are cataloged online by neither the Library of Congress nor the New York Public Library), but Amazon does contain a link for one of her books. It’s called Conspiracy for Empire: Big business, corruption, and the politics of imperialism in America, 1876-1907 and it was published in 1985 by something called the Foundation for Nationalist Studies, which doesn’t have a web page (or at least none that I could discover).

I am, to put it mildly, underwhelmed by the historical evidence gathered here to accuse the U.S. of having killed 1.4 million people in an attempted genocide. This is not the kind of finding that would be accepted for a second by any reputable scholar, regardless of political orientation. But it is the kind of pseudo-fact that is all too common on the world’s most schlocky wannabe “encyclopedia.” Caveat emptor.

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Old Gould

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

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The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Some readers may be allergic to the Second Vienna School, but Gould was one of the rare pianists (like Italy’s Maurizio Pollini, who played Arnold Schoenberg’s works with genuine love. A 1960’s meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Schoenberg “Phantasy,” has a feeling of affection (tied to Gould’s admiration for Menuhin) unmatched in the discography. A gentler version of Schoenberg’s modernist investigations came from the Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887– 1952). Gould found spooky poetry in Valen’s work, too.

All of these achievements are essential elements of Gould’s artistry, and those who love—or dismiss—Gould based on his Bach recordings alone are missing the forest for the trees. Some who admire Gould’s Bach have missed his obsessively intense recording of Johann Sebastian’s “Art of Fugue” on the organ. Yes, Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” from 1955 and 1981 are both remarkable, but they are not the summa of all things Gouldian. Yes, there are bad recordings by Gould, like his Mozart sonatas (music he despised) or his famously ungainly 1962 Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein. Yet the best of Gould is splendid indeed.

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Should We Give Aid to North Korea?

Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

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Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

Humanitarian assistance is always in season. In fact, the United States has been one of the largest food donors to North Korea in recent years. Yet aid is fungible. Whether we provide in cash or kind, each dollar we give means that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il can spend one fewer dollar on his suffering populace, and one more building weapons of mass destruction. We have, in a real sense, funded the devices that threaten us. Moreover, North Korea’s regime has diverted assistance from the United Nations World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, to feed the military and favored officials instead of the country’s most needy citizens. If it were not for aid provided by Bill Clinton and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il’s destitute regime would have collapsed long ago.

Substantial aid, however, can also undermine a government by dividing the ruling cadre and winning the loyalty of common folk—if the assistance is monitored rigorously by inspectors. For instance, many ordinary North Koreans have gotten their first glimpses of the outside by talking to foreign aid inspectors, and thereby have realized that all Pyongyang told them about other nations is wrong. Moreover, government minders, accompanying foreign inspectors, have traveled around their country for the first time and learned about the failures of their own government. When he has felt threatened by it, Kim Jong Il has turned down international aid, most notably in 2004, when he told the U.N to stop assistance.

By all means, then, let’s help the North Koreans devastated by this week’s rains, but only if we can use aid to subvert their despicable leaders.

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