Commentary Magazine


Topic: New Orleans

RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Goldberg Was Right About Israel’s Problems but Wrong About the JNF

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

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Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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Stinting on Defense

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

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Not Obama’s Katrina

In his interview from New Orleans yesterday with NBC’s Brian Williams, commemorating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama assured the world that his handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was not his administration’s Hurricane Katrina.

The president is right, if the people of Louisiana are to be believed. Mr. Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill is judged by them to be considerably worse than how Bush reacted to Katrina.

A Public Policy Polling survey reports this:

The oil spill in the Gulf may be mostly out of the headlines now but Louisiana voters aren’t getting any less mad at Barack Obama about his handling of it. Only 32% give Obama good marks for his actions in the aftermath of the spill, while 61% disapprove.

Louisianans are feeling more and more that George W. Bush’s leadership on Katrina was better than Obama’s on the spill. 54% think Bush did the superior job of helping the state through a crisis to 33% who pick Obama. That 21 point margin represents a widening since PPP asked the same question in June and found Bush ahead by a 15 point margin. Bush beats Obama 87-2 on that score with Republicans and 42-30 with independents, while Obama has just a 65-24 advantage with Democrats.

Louisianans are generally softening with time in their feelings about how Bush handled Katrina. Almost as many, 44%, now approve of his actions on it as the 47% who disapprove.

President Obama casts his response to the oil spill, like his response to everything, as textbook perfect. Yet the silly people of Louisiana, like so much of the nation, just don’t appreciate how extraordinarily able and competent Obama is. How difficult it must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For to go through his presidency without the public appreciating the magnitude of his greatness. For the president, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished, no great achievement gets its proper due, not enough villains (Bush, Republicans, members of the Tea Party, conservative bloggers, Fox News, etc.) get nearly enough blame.

When will the scales finally fall from our eyes?

In his interview from New Orleans yesterday with NBC’s Brian Williams, commemorating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama assured the world that his handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was not his administration’s Hurricane Katrina.

The president is right, if the people of Louisiana are to be believed. Mr. Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill is judged by them to be considerably worse than how Bush reacted to Katrina.

A Public Policy Polling survey reports this:

The oil spill in the Gulf may be mostly out of the headlines now but Louisiana voters aren’t getting any less mad at Barack Obama about his handling of it. Only 32% give Obama good marks for his actions in the aftermath of the spill, while 61% disapprove.

Louisianans are feeling more and more that George W. Bush’s leadership on Katrina was better than Obama’s on the spill. 54% think Bush did the superior job of helping the state through a crisis to 33% who pick Obama. That 21 point margin represents a widening since PPP asked the same question in June and found Bush ahead by a 15 point margin. Bush beats Obama 87-2 on that score with Republicans and 42-30 with independents, while Obama has just a 65-24 advantage with Democrats.

Louisianans are generally softening with time in their feelings about how Bush handled Katrina. Almost as many, 44%, now approve of his actions on it as the 47% who disapprove.

President Obama casts his response to the oil spill, like his response to everything, as textbook perfect. Yet the silly people of Louisiana, like so much of the nation, just don’t appreciate how extraordinarily able and competent Obama is. How difficult it must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For to go through his presidency without the public appreciating the magnitude of his greatness. For the president, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished, no great achievement gets its proper due, not enough villains (Bush, Republicans, members of the Tea Party, conservative bloggers, Fox News, etc.) get nearly enough blame.

When will the scales finally fall from our eyes?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Gen. Stanley McChrystal took the blame. But he isn’t the problem, says Jackson Diehl: “If anyone deserves blame for the latest airing of the administration’s internal feuds over Afghanistan, it is President Obama. For months Obama has tolerated deep divisions between his military and civilian aides over how to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he announced last December. The divide has made it practically impossible to fashion a coherent politico-military plan, led to frequent disputes over tactics and contributed to a sharp deterioration in the administration’s relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”

It took Rolling Stone to make clear “just how badly Barack Obama’s ‘good war’ in Afghanistan is going.”

Obama took office in January 2009, yet voters think Hillary Clinton is more qualified to be president: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 57% of voters feel Clinton is qualified to be president, but 34% disagree and say she is not. As for President Obama, 51% say he is fit for the job. However, 44% say he is not qualified to be president, even though he has now served 17 months in the job.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell took a few hits early in his term but his approval stands at 63%, according to an internal poll.

The North Korean soccer team took a beating. (“After an embarrassing 7-0 drubbing by Portugal yesterday, will the North Korean soccer team have to face the wrath of Kim Jong Il?”) Maybe they should have hired Chinese players instead of Chinese fans.

Obama took it on the chin in court yesterday: “A federal judge in New Orleans halted President Obama’s deepwater drilling moratorium on Tuesday, saying the government never justified the ban and appeared to mislead the public in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued an injunction, saying that the moratorium will hurt drilling-rig operators and suppliers and that the government has not proved an outright ban is needed, rather than a more limited moratorium. He also said the Interior Department also misstated the opinion of the experts it consulted. Those experts from the National Academy of Engineering have said they don’t support the blanket ban.”

It took the NRA to put a bullet through the heart of campaign finance “reform”: “Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), one of just two Republican sponsors of a sweeping campaign finance bill, is so upset about late changes to the measure he is considering withdrawing his support and voting against it. ‘He’s absolutely opposed to the [NRA] exemption,’ Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Hill. ‘The exemptions are getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think they are even done yet.'”

It took Obama to put Russ Feingold’s seat at risk. “Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is still in a virtual dead heat with endorsed Republican challenger Ron Johnson in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal took the blame. But he isn’t the problem, says Jackson Diehl: “If anyone deserves blame for the latest airing of the administration’s internal feuds over Afghanistan, it is President Obama. For months Obama has tolerated deep divisions between his military and civilian aides over how to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he announced last December. The divide has made it practically impossible to fashion a coherent politico-military plan, led to frequent disputes over tactics and contributed to a sharp deterioration in the administration’s relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.”

It took Rolling Stone to make clear “just how badly Barack Obama’s ‘good war’ in Afghanistan is going.”

Obama took office in January 2009, yet voters think Hillary Clinton is more qualified to be president: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 57% of voters feel Clinton is qualified to be president, but 34% disagree and say she is not. As for President Obama, 51% say he is fit for the job. However, 44% say he is not qualified to be president, even though he has now served 17 months in the job.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell took a few hits early in his term but his approval stands at 63%, according to an internal poll.

The North Korean soccer team took a beating. (“After an embarrassing 7-0 drubbing by Portugal yesterday, will the North Korean soccer team have to face the wrath of Kim Jong Il?”) Maybe they should have hired Chinese players instead of Chinese fans.

Obama took it on the chin in court yesterday: “A federal judge in New Orleans halted President Obama’s deepwater drilling moratorium on Tuesday, saying the government never justified the ban and appeared to mislead the public in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued an injunction, saying that the moratorium will hurt drilling-rig operators and suppliers and that the government has not proved an outright ban is needed, rather than a more limited moratorium. He also said the Interior Department also misstated the opinion of the experts it consulted. Those experts from the National Academy of Engineering have said they don’t support the blanket ban.”

It took the NRA to put a bullet through the heart of campaign finance “reform”: “Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), one of just two Republican sponsors of a sweeping campaign finance bill, is so upset about late changes to the measure he is considering withdrawing his support and voting against it. ‘He’s absolutely opposed to the [NRA] exemption,’ Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Hill. ‘The exemptions are getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think they are even done yet.'”

It took Obama to put Russ Feingold’s seat at risk. “Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is still in a virtual dead heat with endorsed Republican challenger Ron Johnson in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race.”

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Changing the Default Reaction to Obama

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:

President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.

In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.

While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:

Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.

This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.

The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.

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Oil Spill Looking More and More Like Katrina

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

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Specter’s Latest Problem

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

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Man-Made Disaster

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

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A New York Times Embarrassment That’s Not on the Front Page

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

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Bigot Bowl

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

In the aftermath of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s stunning reemergence as an obstacle to Barack Obama’s presidential prospects, left-wing pundits have settled on a new strategy for dealing with the fallout. It goes something like this: every time Wright’s name is mentioned, remind the public that the Republicans also have their bigots. In this vein, Ann Friedman of American Prospect has implored liberal bloggers to match every reference to Rev. Wright with a mention of Reverend John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who has endorsed John McCain. Meanwhile, the “progressive” watch-dog group Media Matters lamented the greater coverage that Wright has received over Hagee, while the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post ran opinion pieces prominently highlighting Hagee’s endorsement of McCain in an apparent bid to neutralize the damage that Wright has caused Obama’s campaign.

But if these opinion-makers believe that they’ve found their escape route in calling attention to Hagee, they are sorely mistaken. For starters, the empirics don’t work in their favor, as Hagee’s relationship with McCain isn’t remotely analogous to Wright’s relationship with Obama. Indeed, despite Hagee’s disturbing bigotry–he has said that the planning of a gay pride parade in New Orleans prompted Hurricane Katrina as a divine response–he is merely one of McCain’s many endorsers. But Rev. Wright is, after all, Obama’s spiritual guide of two decades–a man that Obama respected so much that he refused to distance himself from Wright for months after the pastor’s anti-American vitriol first hit YouTube.

In turn, the sheer imprecision of the Hagee-is-McCain’s-Wright argument will ultimately keep liberal opinion-makers on the defensive. After all, when Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson make their quadrennial pilgrimages to the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats will look downright hypocritical for having declared their outrage over the lesser-known Hagee. Voters will thus be reminded that, when it comes to relying on notorious bigots to mobilize key electoral cleavages, the Democrats are no better than Republicans. The difference, however, is that only the front-running Democratic candidate has compared one of these bigots to his grandmother.

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This Takes The Cake

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

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Bookshelf

• Would Truman Capote now be read if he hadn’t written In Cold Blood? I wonder, and Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote makes me wonder all the more.

It happens that I hadn’t read any of Capote’s early essays for a number of years prior to the publication of this posthumous collection, but the impression they made on me when I was in college remained unchanged after I looked through Portraits and Observations. The young Capote was a very talented, very precious journalist who had a knack for travel writing and literary portraiture but was greatly in need of precisely the kind of rigorous editing he got when he started writing for the New Yorker. There is an unmistakable difference between the flossy essaylets he was writing for Vogue and Mademoiselle in the 40’s and early 50’s and the long, elaborately reported pieces on Marlon Brando and Porgy and Bess in Russia that passed through the scrupulous hands of William Shawn before seeing print. In “The Duke in His Domain” and “The Muses Are Heard” we meet for the first time the “nonfiction novelist” who poured all the tricks he’d learned from writing fiction into the creation of In Cold Blood, a book that for all its undeniable flaws remains a classic of postwar American journalism.

Capote never wrote anything better than In Cold Blood—and next to nothing after it that was any good at all. Once he made his bundle, he let loose the reins of his craft and succumbed to self-indulgence. The results can be seen in Portraits and Observations, the first half of which consists of pieces written between 1946 and 1959, not a few of which are very fine indeed. In that year Capote departed for Holcomb, Kansas and his rendezvous with the murderers of the Clutter family, and from then onward Portraits and Observations becomes increasingly uneven and ultimately pointless.

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• Would Truman Capote now be read if he hadn’t written In Cold Blood? I wonder, and Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote makes me wonder all the more.

It happens that I hadn’t read any of Capote’s early essays for a number of years prior to the publication of this posthumous collection, but the impression they made on me when I was in college remained unchanged after I looked through Portraits and Observations. The young Capote was a very talented, very precious journalist who had a knack for travel writing and literary portraiture but was greatly in need of precisely the kind of rigorous editing he got when he started writing for the New Yorker. There is an unmistakable difference between the flossy essaylets he was writing for Vogue and Mademoiselle in the 40’s and early 50’s and the long, elaborately reported pieces on Marlon Brando and Porgy and Bess in Russia that passed through the scrupulous hands of William Shawn before seeing print. In “The Duke in His Domain” and “The Muses Are Heard” we meet for the first time the “nonfiction novelist” who poured all the tricks he’d learned from writing fiction into the creation of In Cold Blood, a book that for all its undeniable flaws remains a classic of postwar American journalism.

Capote never wrote anything better than In Cold Blood—and next to nothing after it that was any good at all. Once he made his bundle, he let loose the reins of his craft and succumbed to self-indulgence. The results can be seen in Portraits and Observations, the first half of which consists of pieces written between 1946 and 1959, not a few of which are very fine indeed. In that year Capote departed for Holcomb, Kansas and his rendezvous with the murderers of the Clutter family, and from then onward Portraits and Observations becomes increasingly uneven and ultimately pointless.

In 1963, Random House brought out Selected Writings of Truman Capote, a neat little anthology of Capote’s fiction and journalism that contains the best of his work prior to In Cold Blood, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “A Christmas Memory” and the two big New Yorker pieces reprinted in Portraits and Observations. Selected Writings is out of print, alas, but I suggest that you seek out a used copy, since this new volume is not an adequate substitute for it, unless you feel an irresistible desire to wallow in Capote’s later writings. The only “late” piece in Portraits and Observations that I was glad to add to my shelf was “Ghosts in Sunlight: The Filming of In Cold Blood,” an interesting 1967 reminiscence of the making of Richard Brooks’s film. The rest is dross.

Incidentally, Capote makes the following nostalgic claim in a 1959 essay about Louis Armstrong:

I met him when I was four, that would be around 1928, and he, a hard-plump and belligerently happy brown Buddha, was playing aboard a pleasure steamer that paddled between New Orleans and St. Louis…. The Satch, he was good to me, he told me I had talent, that I ought to be in vaudeville; he gave me a bamboo cane and a straw boater with a peppermint headband; and every night from the stand announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, now we’re going to present you one of America’s nice kids, he’s going to do a little tap dance.” Afterward I passed among the passengers, collecting in my hat nickels and dimes.

As the Brits say, no doubt this is true, but the fact is that “the Satch” stopped playing on New Orleans excursion boats in 1921, three years before Capote was born. It seems that the author of In Cold Blood was fabricating material long before the reliability of his most successful and admired book was challenged by those in a position to know. William Shawn wouldn’t have liked that one bit.

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The Matthews Thesis

On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

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On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

For the Matthews Thesis to have merit, he would have to erase virtually all of the day-to-day activity of the war against radical Islam, which consists of unprecedented levels of cooperation and integrated planning across scores of countries. He would have to ignore our trade and development policy. And he would have to ignore the fact that the United States went to war with Iraq with a coalition of more than two dozen countries.

Second, President Bush is not against the United Nations as a matter of principle. After all, the United States helped shepherd through a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote (1441) finding Iraq in material breach of its previous ceasefire agreements and offering Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. But a willingness to work through the U.N. is different than ceding authority to conduct American foreign policy to it. Mr. Matthews may be in favor of that; the President is not.

A third point: it makes great sense for the President to quote the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which is fully consistent with the President’s freedom agenda (and, in fact, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights echoes the principles found in our own Declaration of Independence). It is perfectly reasonable to insist that the United Nations live up to its founding charter.

As for Burma: what we are seeing unfold there is a stirring and courageous stand by Buddhist monks and democratic activists against a brutal military junta, which is now using violence to put an end to the uprising. This moment—like the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the Martyr’s Square protest in Lebanon in 2005—is important and it ought to command our attention and support. It is exactly the type of issue that should be raised at the U.N.

Chris Matthews, ever voluble and confused on the facts, is critical of the President for not being sufficiently multilateral and (presumably) not solicitous enough of regimes like Syria and China—yet he appears to be morally indifferent to a great struggle for liberty that is unfolding before our eyes. All of which is a reminder why Chris Matthews is a perfect choice to host a program on MSNBC.

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Hypocrisy is an abiding weakness of most politicians. Republicans tend to specialize in hypocrisy regarding sex and family—think of Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, or Robert Livingstone—while Democrats go in for financial or class hypocrisy—think of John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, or John Edwards.

Recently, I went with friends to a talk by former Senator Edwards at New York’s Cooper Union, to hear, in the candidate’s words, how he plans to “dramatically reduce poverty.” Laudably, he wants to cut the current poverty rate of 12.6 percent by a third within a decade. But he offered few specifics. Those that were trotted out, such as more job-training programs, sounded like leftovers from the Great Society days. But if Edwards is retrogressive about poverty, he’s been very progressive in building up a fortune of as much as $62 million.

Tim Middleton of MSN, evaluating the former Senator’s new financial disclosure statement, describes Edwards as a man “of the people and profits” with “substantial investments in limited partnerships, sub-prime mortgage lenders, and an offshore hedge fund.” Edwards has (to some degree rightly) criticized offshore hedge funds as unpatriotic, and sub-prime lenders as piratical. He’s described the sub-prime lending business as the “wild west of the credit industry, where . . . abusive and predatory lenders are robbing families blind.”

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Hypocrisy is an abiding weakness of most politicians. Republicans tend to specialize in hypocrisy regarding sex and family—think of Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, or Robert Livingstone—while Democrats go in for financial or class hypocrisy—think of John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, or John Edwards.

Recently, I went with friends to a talk by former Senator Edwards at New York’s Cooper Union, to hear, in the candidate’s words, how he plans to “dramatically reduce poverty.” Laudably, he wants to cut the current poverty rate of 12.6 percent by a third within a decade. But he offered few specifics. Those that were trotted out, such as more job-training programs, sounded like leftovers from the Great Society days. But if Edwards is retrogressive about poverty, he’s been very progressive in building up a fortune of as much as $62 million.

Tim Middleton of MSN, evaluating the former Senator’s new financial disclosure statement, describes Edwards as a man “of the people and profits” with “substantial investments in limited partnerships, sub-prime mortgage lenders, and an offshore hedge fund.” Edwards has (to some degree rightly) criticized offshore hedge funds as unpatriotic, and sub-prime lenders as piratical. He’s described the sub-prime lending business as the “wild west of the credit industry, where . . . abusive and predatory lenders are robbing families blind.”

But Edwards’s principal employer in recent years, Fortress Investment Fund III, is based in the Cayman Islands. Fortress owns Nationstar mortgage, which describes itself as “one of the nation’s leading mortgage lenders offering non-prime mortgages,” and should presumably be one of the objects of Edwards’s scorn. Fortress (where Edwards has $16 million invested) has also agreed to purchase Penn National Gambling, the third largest gambling company in the U.S. Anyone who has visited casinos in urban wastelands like Atlantic City, New Orleans, or Gary, Indiana knows that such places prey on the delusional hopes of the less-well-off. Edwards is, in effect, investing in a tax on the poor. (He also owns stocks in Schlumberger, Haliburton’s chief rival. Could this affect his political judgment?) These sorts of contradictions are not exclusive to Edwards. Fred Thompson, whose dealings as an attorney were subjected to scrutiny today in the Washington Post, has been described as both a million-dollar lawyer-lobbbyist in a pickup truck and a Washington outsider from the D.C. suburbs.

But then what? Shouldn’t it possible to have an adult debate about politics that recognizes that politicians, even more than the rest of us, are sometimes caught up in contradictions? What’s not adult is when Edwards, speaking to citizens as if they were children, hypocritically argues that he joined Fortress to learn more about the connections between financial markets and poverty.

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Sound and Fury on the Economy

For all the hubbub about the innovative format of last night’s debate among Democratic presidential candidates, what was striking was how little effect the new format actually had. The debate was still, essentially, a group press conference in which—a few brief exchanges aside—the candidates displayed their placards. Take their rhetoric on the economy. As in earlier gatherings, the candidates handed out the same semi-populist doom and gloom about a country losing economic hope while only the very wealthy improve their lives. To listen to the candidates, you’d think the poor were sinking deeper into poverty due to predatory lending practices, while a cabal of insurance, pharmaceutical, and oil companies were conspiring to turn the U.S. into a giant New Orleans.

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For all the hubbub about the innovative format of last night’s debate among Democratic presidential candidates, what was striking was how little effect the new format actually had. The debate was still, essentially, a group press conference in which—a few brief exchanges aside—the candidates displayed their placards. Take their rhetoric on the economy. As in earlier gatherings, the candidates handed out the same semi-populist doom and gloom about a country losing economic hope while only the very wealthy improve their lives. To listen to the candidates, you’d think the poor were sinking deeper into poverty due to predatory lending practices, while a cabal of insurance, pharmaceutical, and oil companies were conspiring to turn the U.S. into a giant New Orleans.

But, as David Brooks notes in his column today, “after a lag, average wages are rising sharply. Real average wages rose by 2 percent in 2006, the second fastest rise in 30 years.” Similarly, he observes, “according to the Congressional Budget Office, earnings for the poorest fifth of Americans are also on the increase.” Nor, says Arthur Brooks, writing in the Wall Street Journal, are Americans sinking into a slough of economic despond. They continue to be optimistic about their chances for a better life. The National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey shows that in 1972, 30 percent of the population said that they were “very happy” with their lives; in 1982, 31 percent; in 1993, 32 percent; and in 2004, 31 percent. “In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred—even as income inequality has increased significantly.” “The data,” Arthur Brooks concludes, “do tell us that economic mobility—not equality—is associated with happiness.”

The Democrats definitely have some things right. They are leading the effort to expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance program—which aids workers who have lost their manufacturing jobs to foreign competition—to include service workers as well. But the Deomcrats are also looking to sink well-wrought trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia.

The Republicans definitely miss the mark at times, too, particularly on the genuine (and justified) anxieties of the public about the effects of globalization. Talk of the beauty, efficiency, and long-term benefits of markets is not enough; the public expects government to help balance large-scale risk and rewards in the here-and-now. The GOP would make a profound mistake, for both the future of free trade and for their own political future, if, as the White House seems inclined, they were to block the expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to include service workers.

“Feeding off pessimism about the war and anger at Washington, the candidates,” says David Brooks, “now compete to tell dark, angry, and conspiratorial stories about the economy.” This is not just a matter of rhetoric; these overheated arguments present a real danger. They might conflate the legitimate need to help cushion Americans from the increased risks of the global economy with an attempt to roll back the growth of free trade that has underwritten precisely the economic mobility so important to economic happiness. And that really would be bad news.

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Getting to Know Beverly Sills

Commemorating a cultural figure like Beverly Sills (1929–2007), who died last week of lung cancer at 78, is not easy. After a much-publicized career as a coloratura soprano, Sills served as general director of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center, and later of the Metropolitan Opera. On July 3, in a bizarre tribute, the New York Philharmonic gave a conductorless performance, purportedly in her honor, of a work that most certainly requires a conductor—Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. (The Philharmonic’s press office announced that this silly “tradition began with the death of Bernstein.”)

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Commemorating a cultural figure like Beverly Sills (1929–2007), who died last week of lung cancer at 78, is not easy. After a much-publicized career as a coloratura soprano, Sills served as general director of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center, and later of the Metropolitan Opera. On July 3, in a bizarre tribute, the New York Philharmonic gave a conductorless performance, purportedly in her honor, of a work that most certainly requires a conductor—Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. (The Philharmonic’s press office announced that this silly “tradition began with the death of Bernstein.”)

A far better way to honor Sills would be to address a problem mentioned in an astute obituary by critic Tim Page: the fact that Sills made most of her studio recordings after her voice had already begun to deteriorate. Exceptions may be heard on VAI, including a 1969 concert DVD of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, a 1964 Offenbach Tales of Hoffmann from New Orleans, and a 1968 Handel Julius Caesar from Buenos Aires, conducted by Karl Richter. Deutsche Grammophon alos offers a few choice recordings, including a 1958 Ballad of Baby Doe by Douglas Moore, a 1969 Donizetti Roberto Devereux led by Charles Mackerras, and a 1970 Donizetti Lucia Di Lammermoor conducted by Thomas Schippers. These and a few other high points are slim pickings for a singer who banked on the sensuous sheen of her voice as a major part of her artistry, in addition to acting smarts and a surprisingly agile stage presence. Sills’s actual performing is probably less known today than her post-retirement persona of jolly, steel-willed fundraiser and promoter of culture.

Getting closer to Beverly Sills—and away from Sylvia Bills—would require transferring to CD a number of surviving performance tapes. They would include a 1967 Handel Semele from Cleveland led by Robert Shaw, and a 1966 production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie co-starring Placido Domingo. Sills’s work in contemporary music, like a Boston performance of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza from 1965 conducted by Bruno Maderna, or a 1959 New York City Opera staging of Hugo Weisgall’s Pirandello-based opera, Six Characters in Search of an Author, should be of high interest. Roles that Sills eventually repudiated for extra-musical reasons (like the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, which can be heard in a 1966 Tanglewood version led by Erich Leinsdorf, or Suor Angelica in a 1967 City Opera performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico) would also make essential listening on CD.

Add to these a number of concert works never recorded in the studio, like a 1967 rendition of Poulenc’s Gloria from the Caramoor Festival, and a number of Boston Symphony events conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, like a 1966 Schumann Scenes from Goethe’s Faust; 1967 and 1968 versions of Haydn’s Creation Mass; and a 1969 Beethoven Ninth Symphony from Tanglewood. These and other documents from her vocal prime, if made available on CD, would be revelatory posthumous tributes to Beverly Sills.

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