Commentary Magazine


Topic: Google

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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Goldstoned

One of the big questions surrounding the Goldstone report is whether the Israeli government made a mistake by refusing to cooperate with the mission. It was, admittedly, a serious gamble: If Goldstone’s “fact-finding” commission were in any way sincere in its efforts to present a balanced view, Israel would be giving up on a real opportunity to make its case to the world; on the other hand, if the commission had already decided from the outset to blast Israel and accuse it of atrocities, then to cooperate with the commission would have been to grant it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have had.

Part of an answer came in recent weeks from the mouth of none other than Desmond Travers, a retired Irish army colonel who was one of the commission’s members (h/t, JCPA and Haaretz). In an interview with the Middle East Monitor, Travers unleashes a pile of telling quotes. First, he points out that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” For this reason, he “reject[s]… entirely” Israel’s excuse for the whole operation, since Hamas had anyway stopped terrorizing. This statement, blithely ignoring the thousands of rockets Israelis endured in the years leading up to the operation, or the fact that Hamas continued shooting rockets at Israeli civilians despite many warnings and more limited retaliations, is infuriating to anyone who watched as Israelis in Sederot and other communities suffered repeated barrages, and should alone be enough to call Travers’s objectivity, or at least his judgment, into question.

Second, he dismisses Israel’s claims that Hamas hid its missile stockpiles in Gaza mosques as “spurious.” What about the photographs? “Unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs.” Well, we do have to wonder: If incriminating photos of missile stockpiles do not meet the threshold of “facts” that the commission was meant to find, why the head-spinning gullibility in repeating all those accusations of Israeli war crimes, which were almost entirely based on unverified hearsay?

Third, he makes the claim that when the IDF was in Lebanon, “a significant number” of Irish peacekeepers had been “taken out deliberately and shot” by Israeli forces. This of course would be a grave accusation if it could be taken even slightly seriously. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I confess I’ve never heard this one before, although it’s true that some of these rumors rise and fall so quickly that it’s hard to follow them all. But I couldn’t find a trace of it in a Google search. Could it be that he’s heard a rumor and repeated it to justify his evident bias? Or that he made it up himself? Either way, it has nothing to do with Gaza, and therefore can only add to our sense that this man was anything but objective from the outset.

There is so much more, and it’s worth reading the interview in full. Not least, for example, is the evident glee with which he watches as Israeli officials have difficulty traveling in European countries because of accusations like those in the Goldstone report. Or the telling revelation that Goldstone himself was responsible for the one-sided mandate of the mission, which was supposed to look into Israeli violations but not those of Hamas. Or his flat-out denial of any of the mission’s members having ever made statements that might suggest their anti-Israel bias in advance of the inquiry — even though Goldstone himself has been a notorious basher of Israeli security measures for many years now, and other members of the mission made their bias about the Gaza war well known before the commission was appointed. (For a few examples, see this report by the European Center for Law and Justice, scroll down to p. 26.)

If Travers is in any way representative of Goldstone’s commission, we can all feel a little more comfortable with Israel’s decision not to cooperate.

One of the big questions surrounding the Goldstone report is whether the Israeli government made a mistake by refusing to cooperate with the mission. It was, admittedly, a serious gamble: If Goldstone’s “fact-finding” commission were in any way sincere in its efforts to present a balanced view, Israel would be giving up on a real opportunity to make its case to the world; on the other hand, if the commission had already decided from the outset to blast Israel and accuse it of atrocities, then to cooperate with the commission would have been to grant it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have had.

Part of an answer came in recent weeks from the mouth of none other than Desmond Travers, a retired Irish army colonel who was one of the commission’s members (h/t, JCPA and Haaretz). In an interview with the Middle East Monitor, Travers unleashes a pile of telling quotes. First, he points out that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” For this reason, he “reject[s]… entirely” Israel’s excuse for the whole operation, since Hamas had anyway stopped terrorizing. This statement, blithely ignoring the thousands of rockets Israelis endured in the years leading up to the operation, or the fact that Hamas continued shooting rockets at Israeli civilians despite many warnings and more limited retaliations, is infuriating to anyone who watched as Israelis in Sederot and other communities suffered repeated barrages, and should alone be enough to call Travers’s objectivity, or at least his judgment, into question.

Second, he dismisses Israel’s claims that Hamas hid its missile stockpiles in Gaza mosques as “spurious.” What about the photographs? “Unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs.” Well, we do have to wonder: If incriminating photos of missile stockpiles do not meet the threshold of “facts” that the commission was meant to find, why the head-spinning gullibility in repeating all those accusations of Israeli war crimes, which were almost entirely based on unverified hearsay?

Third, he makes the claim that when the IDF was in Lebanon, “a significant number” of Irish peacekeepers had been “taken out deliberately and shot” by Israeli forces. This of course would be a grave accusation if it could be taken even slightly seriously. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I confess I’ve never heard this one before, although it’s true that some of these rumors rise and fall so quickly that it’s hard to follow them all. But I couldn’t find a trace of it in a Google search. Could it be that he’s heard a rumor and repeated it to justify his evident bias? Or that he made it up himself? Either way, it has nothing to do with Gaza, and therefore can only add to our sense that this man was anything but objective from the outset.

There is so much more, and it’s worth reading the interview in full. Not least, for example, is the evident glee with which he watches as Israeli officials have difficulty traveling in European countries because of accusations like those in the Goldstone report. Or the telling revelation that Goldstone himself was responsible for the one-sided mandate of the mission, which was supposed to look into Israeli violations but not those of Hamas. Or his flat-out denial of any of the mission’s members having ever made statements that might suggest their anti-Israel bias in advance of the inquiry — even though Goldstone himself has been a notorious basher of Israeli security measures for many years now, and other members of the mission made their bias about the Gaza war well known before the commission was appointed. (For a few examples, see this report by the European Center for Law and Justice, scroll down to p. 26.)

If Travers is in any way representative of Goldstone’s commission, we can all feel a little more comfortable with Israel’s decision not to cooperate.

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The Myth of Inevitability

The subheading of the Economist’s new “Facing up to China” article reads, “Making room for a new superpower should not be confused with giving way to it.” Darn right! About time someone said … wait, what?

Making room? A new superpower? If you’re taking those for granted, then you can hardly remove “giving way” from the discussion. In recent years, Westerners have adopted a habit of labeling potential challenges “inevitable” and then shading their self-imposed impotence as partnership or diplomacy or, heaven help us, smart power.

The rise of China is certainly the most glaring example, but think of the other distasteful “inevitabilities” we invoked as causes for recent paralysis. In 2007, Time magazine coronated Vladimir Putin, making him Man of the Year for turning Russia into a “critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Meanwhile, Russia was and is in a demographic death spiral and its fragile economy was not rocked, but decimated, by the global recession. No matter, a year after the Time honor, the Man of the Year invaded sovereign Georgia. A year after that, he’s still there. The U.S. has been sitting on its hands the whole time.  Now Putin is playing games with us on the Iran nuclear question. This isn’t to say that Time gave us our Russia problem. It’s just that in the age of post-everything interconnectedness, America should remember it’s still allowed to push back against an ugly world. We need not help the bad guys ascend.

Speaking of which, consider how Barack Obama’s unstoppable Iran engagement came to the tragic rescue of the regime in Tehran. He famously “bore witness” to Ahmadinejad’s crimes because regime change seemed unthinkable. Now, however, even the realists are on board to topple the mullahs.

There are more examples, of course. Iraq was “inevitably” lost, a conviction that has locked the U.S. into a dangerously defeatist stance even as we achieve near-silent victory there.

In these we see a striking failure of imagination. One hesitates to throw the “hope and change” noise back in the faces of the Obama administration and its fans yet again, but the truth is that those two words have come to stand as markers for bottomless chasms in the Left’s disposition. Chinese superpower is as inevitable as we allow it to be. Google certainly seems less than resigned to it. After all, what seems more likely: that the U.S. can happily make room for a China that will, in the Economist’s words, “take up its share of the burden of global governance” or that the U.S. and its traditional allies can knock China significantly off course? The latter is certainly made more difficult by an unfounded faith in the former.

The subheading of the Economist’s new “Facing up to China” article reads, “Making room for a new superpower should not be confused with giving way to it.” Darn right! About time someone said … wait, what?

Making room? A new superpower? If you’re taking those for granted, then you can hardly remove “giving way” from the discussion. In recent years, Westerners have adopted a habit of labeling potential challenges “inevitable” and then shading their self-imposed impotence as partnership or diplomacy or, heaven help us, smart power.

The rise of China is certainly the most glaring example, but think of the other distasteful “inevitabilities” we invoked as causes for recent paralysis. In 2007, Time magazine coronated Vladimir Putin, making him Man of the Year for turning Russia into a “critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Meanwhile, Russia was and is in a demographic death spiral and its fragile economy was not rocked, but decimated, by the global recession. No matter, a year after the Time honor, the Man of the Year invaded sovereign Georgia. A year after that, he’s still there. The U.S. has been sitting on its hands the whole time.  Now Putin is playing games with us on the Iran nuclear question. This isn’t to say that Time gave us our Russia problem. It’s just that in the age of post-everything interconnectedness, America should remember it’s still allowed to push back against an ugly world. We need not help the bad guys ascend.

Speaking of which, consider how Barack Obama’s unstoppable Iran engagement came to the tragic rescue of the regime in Tehran. He famously “bore witness” to Ahmadinejad’s crimes because regime change seemed unthinkable. Now, however, even the realists are on board to topple the mullahs.

There are more examples, of course. Iraq was “inevitably” lost, a conviction that has locked the U.S. into a dangerously defeatist stance even as we achieve near-silent victory there.

In these we see a striking failure of imagination. One hesitates to throw the “hope and change” noise back in the faces of the Obama administration and its fans yet again, but the truth is that those two words have come to stand as markers for bottomless chasms in the Left’s disposition. Chinese superpower is as inevitable as we allow it to be. Google certainly seems less than resigned to it. After all, what seems more likely: that the U.S. can happily make room for a China that will, in the Economist’s words, “take up its share of the burden of global governance” or that the U.S. and its traditional allies can knock China significantly off course? The latter is certainly made more difficult by an unfounded faith in the former.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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Can the Chinese Bluff Obama out of Meeting the Dalai Lama?

The first year of the Obama presidency has been long on appeasement and apologies and very short on principled foreign-policy stands. This hasn’t done either Obama or the country any good, but the president now has the opportunity to change course with respect to one casualty to his previous genuflections: by finally meeting with the Dalai Llama, he can send China and the world the message that human rights do mean something to the United States in the age of Obama.

When the Dalai Lama visited the United States in the fall, Obama declined to meet with him because, as the White House explained, he didn’t want to antagonize the Chinese right before his November Asia trip. But now that his trip — during which Beijing humiliated the president anyway — is behind him, surely the time is ripe for Obama to send China a signal that its abuses in Tibet and elsewhere are a matter of serious concern. However, the Chinese are warning Obama that a meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader would damage relations with the United States. A Communist party official announced today in Beijing — which rejects all calls for more autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet — that there will be “consequences” if the Dalai Lama is given an official meeting.

America’s record on Chinese human rights has been spotty at best in the last generation. Bill Clinton met the Dalai Lama, but only informally.  Similarly, George W. Bush only met privately with him. And despite occasional lip service paid by American leaders against China’s abuses of human rights and its jailing of democracy advocates, the animating spirit of U.S. policy toward China has been one of indifference to the plight of those Chinese yearning for freedom. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of China’s attempt to escalate the muzzling of Google as well as cyber attacks on dissidents, Beijing has believed all along that this administration is a paper tiger. And as Beijing showed in November, its contempt for Obama, who foolishly hoped that appeasement might yield Chinese cooperation in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, is boundless. The Chinese believe, as do many Americans, that the size of America’s debt to China and the essential character of this administration mean they have nothing to fear from Washington.

The White House says Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama.  But it doesn’t say when. Last week’s State of the Union speech demonstrated again that when challenged by domestic critics, Obama’s instincts always tell him to stick to his plans, no matter how ill-considered they might be. But until now, his response to threats from governments like the Islamist regime in Iran, China, and Russia has been to back down. The question is whether he can find the courage to stand up and do the right thing, even on a mere symbolic point like meeting with a widely revered advocate of peace. An official meeting, something that neither President Bush nor President Clinton dared to do, would be the appropriate response to Beijing’s threats. It would also be a necessary signal that, despite every other recent indication, Washington hasn’t forgotten its moral obligation to speak up for millions of Chinese locked in the laogai — the Chinese gulag.

The first year of the Obama presidency has been long on appeasement and apologies and very short on principled foreign-policy stands. This hasn’t done either Obama or the country any good, but the president now has the opportunity to change course with respect to one casualty to his previous genuflections: by finally meeting with the Dalai Llama, he can send China and the world the message that human rights do mean something to the United States in the age of Obama.

When the Dalai Lama visited the United States in the fall, Obama declined to meet with him because, as the White House explained, he didn’t want to antagonize the Chinese right before his November Asia trip. But now that his trip — during which Beijing humiliated the president anyway — is behind him, surely the time is ripe for Obama to send China a signal that its abuses in Tibet and elsewhere are a matter of serious concern. However, the Chinese are warning Obama that a meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader would damage relations with the United States. A Communist party official announced today in Beijing — which rejects all calls for more autonomy for the oppressed people of Tibet — that there will be “consequences” if the Dalai Lama is given an official meeting.

America’s record on Chinese human rights has been spotty at best in the last generation. Bill Clinton met the Dalai Lama, but only informally.  Similarly, George W. Bush only met privately with him. And despite occasional lip service paid by American leaders against China’s abuses of human rights and its jailing of democracy advocates, the animating spirit of U.S. policy toward China has been one of indifference to the plight of those Chinese yearning for freedom. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of China’s attempt to escalate the muzzling of Google as well as cyber attacks on dissidents, Beijing has believed all along that this administration is a paper tiger. And as Beijing showed in November, its contempt for Obama, who foolishly hoped that appeasement might yield Chinese cooperation in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, is boundless. The Chinese believe, as do many Americans, that the size of America’s debt to China and the essential character of this administration mean they have nothing to fear from Washington.

The White House says Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama.  But it doesn’t say when. Last week’s State of the Union speech demonstrated again that when challenged by domestic critics, Obama’s instincts always tell him to stick to his plans, no matter how ill-considered they might be. But until now, his response to threats from governments like the Islamist regime in Iran, China, and Russia has been to back down. The question is whether he can find the courage to stand up and do the right thing, even on a mere symbolic point like meeting with a widely revered advocate of peace. An official meeting, something that neither President Bush nor President Clinton dared to do, would be the appropriate response to Beijing’s threats. It would also be a necessary signal that, despite every other recent indication, Washington hasn’t forgotten its moral obligation to speak up for millions of Chinese locked in the laogai — the Chinese gulag.

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Chinese Ire and Obama’s Big Stand

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

Read Less

Climate-Change Skepticism on the Rise

Those who wondered how Climategate and Himalayagate would affect public opinion need look no further. A new study released today by Yale and George Mason researchers reports that since fall 2008, “public concern about global warming has dropped sharply.” Notably, the study finds public trust in both scientists and politicians has also decreased, as has confidence that a climate-change consensus exists among scientists.

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, says the results are not the consequence of Climategate alone — or, as he wryly puts it, “a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct.” Instead, he suggests that unemployment, the health-care debate, and general frustration with Washington have “largely push[ed] climate change out of the news.”

But that’s an unlikely hypothesis, especially given high-profile events like Copenhagen. In fact, the Google News Archives graph seems to show, if anything, an uptick in news coverage about climate change. The fact is, there has been effulgent coverage on climate change lately — and this study suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees.

Perhaps most interesting is the statement made by Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:

The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. … The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue.

If Mr. Maibach really believes that the evidence is so clear-cut, he’s absolutely right; in light of the climate-change community’s recent woes, the public would welcome an education from scientists who both present and defend the evidence for climate change.

Those who wondered how Climategate and Himalayagate would affect public opinion need look no further. A new study released today by Yale and George Mason researchers reports that since fall 2008, “public concern about global warming has dropped sharply.” Notably, the study finds public trust in both scientists and politicians has also decreased, as has confidence that a climate-change consensus exists among scientists.

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, says the results are not the consequence of Climategate alone — or, as he wryly puts it, “a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct.” Instead, he suggests that unemployment, the health-care debate, and general frustration with Washington have “largely push[ed] climate change out of the news.”

But that’s an unlikely hypothesis, especially given high-profile events like Copenhagen. In fact, the Google News Archives graph seems to show, if anything, an uptick in news coverage about climate change. The fact is, there has been effulgent coverage on climate change lately — and this study suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees.

Perhaps most interesting is the statement made by Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:

The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. … The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue.

If Mr. Maibach really believes that the evidence is so clear-cut, he’s absolutely right; in light of the climate-change community’s recent woes, the public would welcome an education from scientists who both present and defend the evidence for climate change.

Read Less

Time to Short Tom Friedman

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Read Less

China’s Clever Netizens

Google’s decision last week to stop censoring in China pointed international attention toward netizens, who have become increasingly bold in advocating for human rights and freedoms. These basement bloggers are putting a new spin on a tool long used by political reformists: music. Online music videos criticizing government corruption and censorship are successfully going viral, even as Beijing’s Internet crackdowns continue.

China Digital Times reports on one such video, “My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom,” which is conveniently translated into English on their blog. (The footnotes at the end help an English-speaking reader pick up on the nuances.)

“My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom” is primarily a criticism of Chinese censorship. But it also confronts the politicization of Chinese language. Beijing repeats its calls for “harmonious society,” a euphemistic justification for one-party rule, repression, and censorship. But the Chinese word for “harmonize” sounds the same as the word for “river crab.” This makes the buttery crustaceans irresistible to dissident mockers.

The success of these videos is enough to make Beijing’s censors … ehm, crabby. “Even the most self-censored Chinese search engine Baidu still can find over 29,000 copies of this song, including on one of the nation’s largest news and game portals, Netease,” the Digital Times writes. “If you search the title of the song on Google? Over 830,000 webpages show up.”

YouTube-genre flicks do not pretend to be catalysts for a social uprising; they’re an end in themselves. But while many feature silly cartoons and vulgar wordplay — take for instance “The Song of the Grass Mud Horse,” explained neatly by CNN here — they are not insignificant. We all remember what MTV perpetrated on the radio star.

Call it “Bare Bottom” exposure: the use of entertainment and humor can influence Chinese culture and thus, eventually, Chinese politics. The rowdy irreverence appeals to a broader, younger audience. In short, these music videos are the creation of a citizenry willing to question its government.

Such an attitude can ignite bigger changes eventually. It has happened before. Take, for instance, the trial of the band the Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, which helped rally momentum for Vaclav Havel’s Charter 77, a precursor to Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08.

A Chinese public willing to think and act independently — even if only online — foreshadows a time when Big Brother could find itself at the bare bottom too.

Google’s decision last week to stop censoring in China pointed international attention toward netizens, who have become increasingly bold in advocating for human rights and freedoms. These basement bloggers are putting a new spin on a tool long used by political reformists: music. Online music videos criticizing government corruption and censorship are successfully going viral, even as Beijing’s Internet crackdowns continue.

China Digital Times reports on one such video, “My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom,” which is conveniently translated into English on their blog. (The footnotes at the end help an English-speaking reader pick up on the nuances.)

“My Brother’s at the Bare Bottom” is primarily a criticism of Chinese censorship. But it also confronts the politicization of Chinese language. Beijing repeats its calls for “harmonious society,” a euphemistic justification for one-party rule, repression, and censorship. But the Chinese word for “harmonize” sounds the same as the word for “river crab.” This makes the buttery crustaceans irresistible to dissident mockers.

The success of these videos is enough to make Beijing’s censors … ehm, crabby. “Even the most self-censored Chinese search engine Baidu still can find over 29,000 copies of this song, including on one of the nation’s largest news and game portals, Netease,” the Digital Times writes. “If you search the title of the song on Google? Over 830,000 webpages show up.”

YouTube-genre flicks do not pretend to be catalysts for a social uprising; they’re an end in themselves. But while many feature silly cartoons and vulgar wordplay — take for instance “The Song of the Grass Mud Horse,” explained neatly by CNN here — they are not insignificant. We all remember what MTV perpetrated on the radio star.

Call it “Bare Bottom” exposure: the use of entertainment and humor can influence Chinese culture and thus, eventually, Chinese politics. The rowdy irreverence appeals to a broader, younger audience. In short, these music videos are the creation of a citizenry willing to question its government.

Such an attitude can ignite bigger changes eventually. It has happened before. Take, for instance, the trial of the band the Plastic People of the Universe in Czechoslovakia, which helped rally momentum for Vaclav Havel’s Charter 77, a precursor to Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08.

A Chinese public willing to think and act independently — even if only online — foreshadows a time when Big Brother could find itself at the bare bottom too.

Read Less

Going Google

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Read Less

Google’s Moral Triumph

Google’s virile decision to stop cooperation with Chinese censors struck a pretty contrast yesterday with Hillary Clinton’s near-simultaneous speech at the East-West Center. While Google bluntly called out a moral conflict, Ms. Clinton’s speech conveniently sidestepped ideology. But those divergent morals and ideas are both powerful and problematic.

Clinton spent her speech focusing on the other sources of power — economic, political, and military. It was diplomatically savvy of her. But while morality and ideology can be approached with subtlety, they are the substance that underwrites American diplomacy. They do not need to be stridently asserted, but if they disappear altogether, America has made the biggest concession of all.

Clinton referred to the “principles that will define America’s continued engagement and leadership in the region” — but her principles seemed grounded in utility rather than moral or ideological commitment. Even her brief bone-toss to human rights fell short: she “applauds” the flaccid ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, in which even Burma has veto power. And without irony, in the subsequent sentence, she advanced her “principle” that “our institutions must be effective and be focused on delivering results.”

Compare that with the lancing statement from Google’s news-making blog. After discovering a hacking attempt that targeted Chinese human-rights activists, Google announced its decision publicly “not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.” Furthermore, Google wrote, “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially all our offices in China.”

That was a gutsy statement, and it forces China to take Google seriously. Like the U.S., Google knows it may suffer greatly from impaired relations with China. And like American statesmen and diplomats, the Google executives have rightly attempted for years to uphold both their ethics and their interests.

However, when totalitarian China sits in the same room as democratic America or freedom-reliant business, there are underlying and fundamental differences in ideology and morality. Temporary agreements about specific details of the relationship — though often necessary and even good — do not mean that those conflicts have disappeared. Google’s stand against the Chinese Goliath has only increased its international reputation. Hopefully, if the United States is faced with a similar immediate quandary, Hillary Clinton will respond with the same moxie.

Google’s virile decision to stop cooperation with Chinese censors struck a pretty contrast yesterday with Hillary Clinton’s near-simultaneous speech at the East-West Center. While Google bluntly called out a moral conflict, Ms. Clinton’s speech conveniently sidestepped ideology. But those divergent morals and ideas are both powerful and problematic.

Clinton spent her speech focusing on the other sources of power — economic, political, and military. It was diplomatically savvy of her. But while morality and ideology can be approached with subtlety, they are the substance that underwrites American diplomacy. They do not need to be stridently asserted, but if they disappear altogether, America has made the biggest concession of all.

Clinton referred to the “principles that will define America’s continued engagement and leadership in the region” — but her principles seemed grounded in utility rather than moral or ideological commitment. Even her brief bone-toss to human rights fell short: she “applauds” the flaccid ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, in which even Burma has veto power. And without irony, in the subsequent sentence, she advanced her “principle” that “our institutions must be effective and be focused on delivering results.”

Compare that with the lancing statement from Google’s news-making blog. After discovering a hacking attempt that targeted Chinese human-rights activists, Google announced its decision publicly “not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.” Furthermore, Google wrote, “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially all our offices in China.”

That was a gutsy statement, and it forces China to take Google seriously. Like the U.S., Google knows it may suffer greatly from impaired relations with China. And like American statesmen and diplomats, the Google executives have rightly attempted for years to uphold both their ethics and their interests.

However, when totalitarian China sits in the same room as democratic America or freedom-reliant business, there are underlying and fundamental differences in ideology and morality. Temporary agreements about specific details of the relationship — though often necessary and even good — do not mean that those conflicts have disappeared. Google’s stand against the Chinese Goliath has only increased its international reputation. Hopefully, if the United States is faced with a similar immediate quandary, Hillary Clinton will respond with the same moxie.

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Google Grows a Conscience in China. Will Obama?

For the past two decades the Communist government of China has managed the unique trick of expanding its economy while maintaining its iron grip on the political life of the country. Western businesses have become willing accomplices in Beijing’s tyrannical rule in exchange for access to cheap labor and the world’s largest market. This has created a huge surge in China’s economic growth while solidifying the party’s hold on power. But it appears that one large Western company may have had enough. Yesterday, Google announced that it may soon close its Chinese operation as a result of the government’s attempt to hack into its computer system to penetrate the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists.

This is a reversal for Google, since in order to do business in China it had previously agreed to allow Communist censorship of its site in Chinese. That meant that in China, if you did a Google search for phrases such as “Tiananmen Square massacre” or “Dalai Llama,” the response would come up blank. Google had rationalized that the benefits of Google’s resources to ordinary Chinese would outweigh the deleterious effect of their participation in the regime’s thought-control policies. But the recent attacks on Google’s database — part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent and appeals for democracy in China — from sources that are almost certainly controlled by Beijing have convinced Google that there is no way they can continue to operate as an unwitting ally to the world’s largest tyranny. Google says it will attempt to negotiate an agreement with the government to create an uncensored Internet, but if it fails to obtain satisfactory results, it will close their Chinese offices and shut down Google.cn.

This is an important milestone for Westerners doing business in China. The attacks on Google have shown again that for all the opportunity for profit in that vast nation as its economy has opened up, it still lacks the basic premise for a free-market system: the rule of law. Property rights remain at the mercy of an all-powerful state that reserves the right to suppress any individual, company, or group that threatens its monopoly on power. Individuals and companies can certainly do business in China and make money, but they do so only at the mercy of a vicious authoritarian government.

It isn’t clear whether Google is flexing its libertarian muscles in China because of a decision that competing with the more widely trafficked but also more heavily censored local search engine Baidu is pointless or because it feels that it is strong enough to force Beijing to back down. But no matter what the source of their motivation, it’s apparent that the latest provocations by the Communists have convinced Google’s leadership that they must take a stand. And for that they deserve the applause of all believers in civil liberties and freedom. For too long, the vast forces dedicated to accommodation and appeasement of Beijing have sought to convince Americans that Chinese don’t care about freedom and that we shouldn’t lift a finger to help them obtain it. This attitude has been reflected in the Obama administration’s conscious decision to downplay the issue of human rights in our dealings with China. Such weakness hasn’t earned America China’s help on other issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But it has resulted in a situation where the Communists think they can do virtually anything to the West and get away with it.

Who would have thought that an Internet company like Google, with much to lose, would show more backbone and commitment to freedom than the government of the United States? Is it too much to hope that Washington can take inspiration from Silicon Valley when it comes to China? Let’s hope that Google sticks to its guns on censorship. Whether it wins and forces Beijing to back down or even if it doesn’t, Google has thrown down the gauntlet of liberty to tyrants in a way that should make all Americans proud. It’s also given our elected leaders an example to follow.

For the past two decades the Communist government of China has managed the unique trick of expanding its economy while maintaining its iron grip on the political life of the country. Western businesses have become willing accomplices in Beijing’s tyrannical rule in exchange for access to cheap labor and the world’s largest market. This has created a huge surge in China’s economic growth while solidifying the party’s hold on power. But it appears that one large Western company may have had enough. Yesterday, Google announced that it may soon close its Chinese operation as a result of the government’s attempt to hack into its computer system to penetrate the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists.

This is a reversal for Google, since in order to do business in China it had previously agreed to allow Communist censorship of its site in Chinese. That meant that in China, if you did a Google search for phrases such as “Tiananmen Square massacre” or “Dalai Llama,” the response would come up blank. Google had rationalized that the benefits of Google’s resources to ordinary Chinese would outweigh the deleterious effect of their participation in the regime’s thought-control policies. But the recent attacks on Google’s database — part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent and appeals for democracy in China — from sources that are almost certainly controlled by Beijing have convinced Google that there is no way they can continue to operate as an unwitting ally to the world’s largest tyranny. Google says it will attempt to negotiate an agreement with the government to create an uncensored Internet, but if it fails to obtain satisfactory results, it will close their Chinese offices and shut down Google.cn.

This is an important milestone for Westerners doing business in China. The attacks on Google have shown again that for all the opportunity for profit in that vast nation as its economy has opened up, it still lacks the basic premise for a free-market system: the rule of law. Property rights remain at the mercy of an all-powerful state that reserves the right to suppress any individual, company, or group that threatens its monopoly on power. Individuals and companies can certainly do business in China and make money, but they do so only at the mercy of a vicious authoritarian government.

It isn’t clear whether Google is flexing its libertarian muscles in China because of a decision that competing with the more widely trafficked but also more heavily censored local search engine Baidu is pointless or because it feels that it is strong enough to force Beijing to back down. But no matter what the source of their motivation, it’s apparent that the latest provocations by the Communists have convinced Google’s leadership that they must take a stand. And for that they deserve the applause of all believers in civil liberties and freedom. For too long, the vast forces dedicated to accommodation and appeasement of Beijing have sought to convince Americans that Chinese don’t care about freedom and that we shouldn’t lift a finger to help them obtain it. This attitude has been reflected in the Obama administration’s conscious decision to downplay the issue of human rights in our dealings with China. Such weakness hasn’t earned America China’s help on other issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But it has resulted in a situation where the Communists think they can do virtually anything to the West and get away with it.

Who would have thought that an Internet company like Google, with much to lose, would show more backbone and commitment to freedom than the government of the United States? Is it too much to hope that Washington can take inspiration from Silicon Valley when it comes to China? Let’s hope that Google sticks to its guns on censorship. Whether it wins and forces Beijing to back down or even if it doesn’t, Google has thrown down the gauntlet of liberty to tyrants in a way that should make all Americans proud. It’s also given our elected leaders an example to follow.

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Face the Voters

On Face the Nation, there was some serious talk as to why the Christmas Day bombing is so perilous for the Obama team. It is not simply that once again Democrats may be perceived as weak on national security. There is a more basic issue now rumbling through not just conservative circles but also in the mainstream media: can these people be trusted to do much of anything? Jan Crawford took up the competency angle:

The reason that’s an issue for Obama is that it goes to the bigger question of the competency of his government and the trust that people have in that government. You look at polls. Polls show that the trust in government is an all time low. Domestically, obviously, stimulus plan hasn’t worked. Unemployment is high. And so now we have a situation where a terrorist can get on an airplane, seemingly could have  been caught if some officials had just done a basic Google search of the database. And the Homeland Security secretary is insisting the system worked.

Really, what have the Obami done well? Not the stimulus plan. Not crafting a popular and coherent health-care bill. And not instilling confidence that there are competent people who can, when bombarded with intelligence, put it together to prevent an attack or even craft a policy designed to extract information after an attack. But Bob Schieffer, not exactly a fire-breathing conservative, really laid into the Obami. The problem is not only competence but also trust. The Democrats are consumed with political spin even on national security. He notes that Janet Napolitano was getting hammered but explains that this is a symptom of a bigger issue:

But she was just following the modern bipartisan public relations template in this age of information management. First, play down the problem. Second, emphasize what did not go wrong. Assure us that those in charge are investigating, and most important, emphasize no one in any position of responsibility is at fault. It’s not lying. But it’s not exactly the whole truth, certainly not the whole story. All she left out was that part about asking us to respect the privacy of those involved. Oh, I’m sorry. I got the government spin mixed up with the Tiger spin. Here is the difference. Tiger can hire as many people as he wants to make his excuses. It maydo him no good but it’s his money to spend as he wishes. When government officials insult us with spin they’re doing it on our dime, which is supposed to be used to operate the government, not to hold news conferences to tell us what a fine job people on the public payroll are doing. As we learned during Katrina, self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation. It makes it worse. Because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says. Real security is built on trust in government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.

Yowser. Now that’s a narrative that should concern the Obami. Unfortunately, one wonders if they know what to do with a problem not solvable by spin and attack-dog tactics. At some point you really have to govern. Sadly, that is not their strong suit.

On Face the Nation, there was some serious talk as to why the Christmas Day bombing is so perilous for the Obama team. It is not simply that once again Democrats may be perceived as weak on national security. There is a more basic issue now rumbling through not just conservative circles but also in the mainstream media: can these people be trusted to do much of anything? Jan Crawford took up the competency angle:

The reason that’s an issue for Obama is that it goes to the bigger question of the competency of his government and the trust that people have in that government. You look at polls. Polls show that the trust in government is an all time low. Domestically, obviously, stimulus plan hasn’t worked. Unemployment is high. And so now we have a situation where a terrorist can get on an airplane, seemingly could have  been caught if some officials had just done a basic Google search of the database. And the Homeland Security secretary is insisting the system worked.

Really, what have the Obami done well? Not the stimulus plan. Not crafting a popular and coherent health-care bill. And not instilling confidence that there are competent people who can, when bombarded with intelligence, put it together to prevent an attack or even craft a policy designed to extract information after an attack. But Bob Schieffer, not exactly a fire-breathing conservative, really laid into the Obami. The problem is not only competence but also trust. The Democrats are consumed with political spin even on national security. He notes that Janet Napolitano was getting hammered but explains that this is a symptom of a bigger issue:

But she was just following the modern bipartisan public relations template in this age of information management. First, play down the problem. Second, emphasize what did not go wrong. Assure us that those in charge are investigating, and most important, emphasize no one in any position of responsibility is at fault. It’s not lying. But it’s not exactly the whole truth, certainly not the whole story. All she left out was that part about asking us to respect the privacy of those involved. Oh, I’m sorry. I got the government spin mixed up with the Tiger spin. Here is the difference. Tiger can hire as many people as he wants to make his excuses. It maydo him no good but it’s his money to spend as he wishes. When government officials insult us with spin they’re doing it on our dime, which is supposed to be used to operate the government, not to hold news conferences to tell us what a fine job people on the public payroll are doing. As we learned during Katrina, self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation. It makes it worse. Because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says. Real security is built on trust in government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.

Yowser. Now that’s a narrative that should concern the Obami. Unfortunately, one wonders if they know what to do with a problem not solvable by spin and attack-dog tactics. At some point you really have to govern. Sadly, that is not their strong suit.

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Profile Me if You Must

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

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Not the Social Diva, But the Presidential Diva

Maureen Dowd — I know you’re shocked I’d think this — doesn’t get it remotely right in her column on the fall from grace of Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers. (I leave the Woods episode to others, who have greater interest in golf and sports-celebrity infidelity.) As for Rogers, Dowd observes:

Even if Desiree thought Congress was grandstanding, it was goofy of her to use the Constitution to get out of a Congressional summons. The Obama White House is morphing into the Bush White House with frightening speed. Its transparency is already fogged up.

The smart thing would have been for Desiree to sail up to Congress, wearing designer sackcloth and pearls of remorse, apologize for the oversight at her first state dinner and promise it wouldn’t happen again.

It just made her look weaker that she couldn’t simply accept some blame publicly for what happened at a dinner she was in charge of, and draw the heat away from the First Family she serves. She’s no G. Gordon Liddy.

But, of course, it is the president who holds the executive privilege and who asserts it. It is the president and his enablers, not Rogers, who is treating the Constitution as though it were silly putty, stretching and bending it however it suits their fancy. When Dowd writes, “Both the golf diva and the social diva mistakenly think the rules need not apply to them, ” she’s missing — or disguising — the point. It is the president who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. And even Dowd can’t really conceal what is going on as she declares, “Never mind the White House’s absurdly asserting executive privilege to dismiss a faux pas.” Well, we should mind.

Dowd may be obsessed with the golf and social divas, but there is a real and recurring theme here that should trouble those who used to inveigh against George W. Bush for “shredding the Constitution” or restoring the “imperial presidency.” The normal rules of restraint against political opponents and critical media outlets (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News) don’t apply to Obama and his enablers. The normal rules of Constitutional interpretation don’t apply to them, whether it concerns czar mania or executive privilege. That’s a recipe for abuse, overreach, and the political landmines, which befall a White House indifferent to advice and hostile to criticism.

The troubling trends – from czars to the war on Fox to the stunt of elastic executive privilege – flow from the mindset and prickly personality of the president, not from his social secretary. Perhaps that’s why when you Google “Obama” and “Nixon” and “arrogance,” you get 4.29 million entries. Try it.

Maureen Dowd — I know you’re shocked I’d think this — doesn’t get it remotely right in her column on the fall from grace of Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers. (I leave the Woods episode to others, who have greater interest in golf and sports-celebrity infidelity.) As for Rogers, Dowd observes:

Even if Desiree thought Congress was grandstanding, it was goofy of her to use the Constitution to get out of a Congressional summons. The Obama White House is morphing into the Bush White House with frightening speed. Its transparency is already fogged up.

The smart thing would have been for Desiree to sail up to Congress, wearing designer sackcloth and pearls of remorse, apologize for the oversight at her first state dinner and promise it wouldn’t happen again.

It just made her look weaker that she couldn’t simply accept some blame publicly for what happened at a dinner she was in charge of, and draw the heat away from the First Family she serves. She’s no G. Gordon Liddy.

But, of course, it is the president who holds the executive privilege and who asserts it. It is the president and his enablers, not Rogers, who is treating the Constitution as though it were silly putty, stretching and bending it however it suits their fancy. When Dowd writes, “Both the golf diva and the social diva mistakenly think the rules need not apply to them, ” she’s missing — or disguising — the point. It is the president who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. And even Dowd can’t really conceal what is going on as she declares, “Never mind the White House’s absurdly asserting executive privilege to dismiss a faux pas.” Well, we should mind.

Dowd may be obsessed with the golf and social divas, but there is a real and recurring theme here that should trouble those who used to inveigh against George W. Bush for “shredding the Constitution” or restoring the “imperial presidency.” The normal rules of restraint against political opponents and critical media outlets (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News) don’t apply to Obama and his enablers. The normal rules of Constitutional interpretation don’t apply to them, whether it concerns czar mania or executive privilege. That’s a recipe for abuse, overreach, and the political landmines, which befall a White House indifferent to advice and hostile to criticism.

The troubling trends – from czars to the war on Fox to the stunt of elastic executive privilege – flow from the mindset and prickly personality of the president, not from his social secretary. Perhaps that’s why when you Google “Obama” and “Nixon” and “arrogance,” you get 4.29 million entries. Try it.

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Heads Begin to Roll

Climategate has claimed its first casualty. The AP is reporting that Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, is stepping down “pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change.”

Meanwhile, Michael Mann, another major player, is under investigation at Pennsylvania State University.

The White House, however, is deep in nothing-has-changed mode. That perhaps is inevitable given that the president and 70 other heads of state and government will be arriving in Copenhagen next week to hold a conference on limiting greenhouse gases to stop global warming. But the whole idea of global warming is predicated entirely on the validity of the data that Climategate now brings into very serious question. I reiterate my suggestion that the 70 heads of state forget the conference and just enjoy Copenhagen.

The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate is still on the president’s legislative agenda. But it’s hard to see why any senator would take a political risk voting for it now. It is politically a lot easier — not to mention a lot wiser — to insist on getting to the bottom of all this first. When wisdom and political expediency coincide, politicians can be counted on to be wise.

So the White House might want to consider shifting over to get-real mode. Why? Well, one reason is that “Climategate,” a word that did not even exist two weeks ago, now gets 1,270,000 hits on Google.

Climategate has claimed its first casualty. The AP is reporting that Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, is stepping down “pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change.”

Meanwhile, Michael Mann, another major player, is under investigation at Pennsylvania State University.

The White House, however, is deep in nothing-has-changed mode. That perhaps is inevitable given that the president and 70 other heads of state and government will be arriving in Copenhagen next week to hold a conference on limiting greenhouse gases to stop global warming. But the whole idea of global warming is predicated entirely on the validity of the data that Climategate now brings into very serious question. I reiterate my suggestion that the 70 heads of state forget the conference and just enjoy Copenhagen.

The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate is still on the president’s legislative agenda. But it’s hard to see why any senator would take a political risk voting for it now. It is politically a lot easier — not to mention a lot wiser — to insist on getting to the bottom of all this first. When wisdom and political expediency coincide, politicians can be counted on to be wise.

So the White House might want to consider shifting over to get-real mode. Why? Well, one reason is that “Climategate,” a word that did not even exist two weeks ago, now gets 1,270,000 hits on Google.

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Map Check

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
Read More

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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Read Less

Media Wars

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

Read Less

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2) If you haven’t already done so, please give us a few minutes to take our reader survey, which helps give us a sense of who you are and what interests you. By taking the survey, you have a chance to win an iPod Touch, which is an extremely nifty gadget. The survey is here.

Two quick notes.

1)  We’ve changed servers (don’t ask, it’s too complicated and boring to explain), and if you’re having any difficulty dealing with our site, chances are you’re using a bookmark. It would be worth it to delete that bookmark and just bookmark it again. Our web address hasn’t changed, but this what the techies tell us works best if there’s a problem. (You can also empty your Internet cache, which is something you’re supposed to do anyway every now and then. Don’t ask me how. That’s what Google is for.)

2) If you haven’t already done so, please give us a few minutes to take our reader survey, which helps give us a sense of who you are and what interests you. By taking the survey, you have a chance to win an iPod Touch, which is an extremely nifty gadget. The survey is here.

Read Less




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