Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Sun

Blocking Ricciardone

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

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Queen Esther Goes to Alaska

As Jen noted yesterday, Sarah Palin, widely considered intellectually deficient by many Jews I know, appeared at a shabbaton (a study session on the Jewish Sabbath) the evening before she spoke at Glenn Beck’s rally. The shabbaton took place at the Hershey Lodge, near Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, which has probably been attended more frequently on the Sabbath by many Northeastern Jews than their local synagogues. Benyamin Korn offers details in an article in the online New York Sun:

My colleague Sheya, director of PalinTV, presented Mrs. Palin with the ArtScroll edition of Perek Shira, a commentary on the song of celebration sung by Jewish women during the exodus from Egypt. Mrs. Palin received the Hebrew volume with obvious delight; she has used the biblical Book of Esther as bedtime reading material for her eight-year-old daughter, Piper. She wants Willow to emulate Esther, Jewish history’s great heroine, who risked everything to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plan for genocide.

Although 65 years have passed since the Holocaust, the threat of genocide still hangs over the Jewish people — and again from Persia. Iran openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, with its charter calling for the extermination of the Jewish State, fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. Syria races to build chemical and biological weapons to use against Israel. Mrs. Palin makes it clear that she recognizes these threats to America’s ally, Israel, and wants to end them. She minced no words in her remarks to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, criticizing the Obama administration for “coddling our enemies while abandoning our treasured ally, Israel.”

Maybe it’s not just Palin’s right-wing politics that gets secular Jews so riled up. Maybe it’s also that Palin, that idiot, may actually know more about Judaism and feel no discomfort about emulating  Jewish traditions and Jewish particularism in the way that they seem to.

As Jen noted yesterday, Sarah Palin, widely considered intellectually deficient by many Jews I know, appeared at a shabbaton (a study session on the Jewish Sabbath) the evening before she spoke at Glenn Beck’s rally. The shabbaton took place at the Hershey Lodge, near Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, which has probably been attended more frequently on the Sabbath by many Northeastern Jews than their local synagogues. Benyamin Korn offers details in an article in the online New York Sun:

My colleague Sheya, director of PalinTV, presented Mrs. Palin with the ArtScroll edition of Perek Shira, a commentary on the song of celebration sung by Jewish women during the exodus from Egypt. Mrs. Palin received the Hebrew volume with obvious delight; she has used the biblical Book of Esther as bedtime reading material for her eight-year-old daughter, Piper. She wants Willow to emulate Esther, Jewish history’s great heroine, who risked everything to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plan for genocide.

Although 65 years have passed since the Holocaust, the threat of genocide still hangs over the Jewish people — and again from Persia. Iran openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Hamas, with its charter calling for the extermination of the Jewish State, fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren. Syria races to build chemical and biological weapons to use against Israel. Mrs. Palin makes it clear that she recognizes these threats to America’s ally, Israel, and wants to end them. She minced no words in her remarks to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, criticizing the Obama administration for “coddling our enemies while abandoning our treasured ally, Israel.”

Maybe it’s not just Palin’s right-wing politics that gets secular Jews so riled up. Maybe it’s also that Palin, that idiot, may actually know more about Judaism and feel no discomfort about emulating  Jewish traditions and Jewish particularism in the way that they seem to.

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Spy vs. Spy

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

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Ridley Scott’s Final Cut

The fifth and final cut of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner, comes out this week in a variety of overstuffed DVD packages. Anyone interested in the film should read Gary Giddin’s very eloquent New York Sun piece on the film’s somewhat awkward juxtaposition of marvelous visuals and clunky storytelling. He gets the otherworldly quality of Scott’s compositions just right:

Every inch of the screen is answered for, indoors and especially outdoors, as horizons disappear into matte paintings, smoke pots, shimmering neon, giant screens, airborne vehicles, and crowds as opaque and variously dressed as in a Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. From the justly celebrated opening shot — a grotesque metropolitan hell with fireballs shooting into the starless night — we are drawn into an alternate world.

Giddin comes down hard on the story (maybe too hard), saying the script and characterizations “suggest directorial incompetence,” but his basic point stands: Blade Runner succeeds on the power of its meticulously created world. It’s a triumph of visual ingenuity that, even in the age of limitless CGI possibility, few films can match.

More than that, however, the film is a landmark because of how it opened up the genre of cinematic science fiction. Much science fiction, especially the low-grade junk that flourished in the decade before Blade Runner hit the screen, was cheap, rough, and carelessly assembled. That’s not to say that none of it was enjoyable in some adolescent way, but it was hardly serious; even the best efforts (Star Wars) rarely transcended their pulp origins.

Blade Runner, though imperfect, sought to be something more, something grand and thoughtful, and if its fraught production process (exhaustively detailed in Paul Sammon’s book, Future Noir) resulted in a less-than-focused final product, its outsized ambitions, and the talent behind them, were always completely clear. In the end, simply looking as stunning as it did was enough of an accomplishment, for it gave the often raw and jagged science fiction genre permission to be something more than a juvenile stomping ground—to be haunting, elegant, and yes, even beautiful.

The fifth and final cut of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic, Blade Runner, comes out this week in a variety of overstuffed DVD packages. Anyone interested in the film should read Gary Giddin’s very eloquent New York Sun piece on the film’s somewhat awkward juxtaposition of marvelous visuals and clunky storytelling. He gets the otherworldly quality of Scott’s compositions just right:

Every inch of the screen is answered for, indoors and especially outdoors, as horizons disappear into matte paintings, smoke pots, shimmering neon, giant screens, airborne vehicles, and crowds as opaque and variously dressed as in a Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. From the justly celebrated opening shot — a grotesque metropolitan hell with fireballs shooting into the starless night — we are drawn into an alternate world.

Giddin comes down hard on the story (maybe too hard), saying the script and characterizations “suggest directorial incompetence,” but his basic point stands: Blade Runner succeeds on the power of its meticulously created world. It’s a triumph of visual ingenuity that, even in the age of limitless CGI possibility, few films can match.

More than that, however, the film is a landmark because of how it opened up the genre of cinematic science fiction. Much science fiction, especially the low-grade junk that flourished in the decade before Blade Runner hit the screen, was cheap, rough, and carelessly assembled. That’s not to say that none of it was enjoyable in some adolescent way, but it was hardly serious; even the best efforts (Star Wars) rarely transcended their pulp origins.

Blade Runner, though imperfect, sought to be something more, something grand and thoughtful, and if its fraught production process (exhaustively detailed in Paul Sammon’s book, Future Noir) resulted in a less-than-focused final product, its outsized ambitions, and the talent behind them, were always completely clear. In the end, simply looking as stunning as it did was enough of an accomplishment, for it gave the often raw and jagged science fiction genre permission to be something more than a juvenile stomping ground—to be haunting, elegant, and yes, even beautiful.

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This Year in Democracy

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #1: The Jewish Conspiracy

Are Jews running U.S. foreign policy from behind the scenes? This is a question lately on many lips, from those of Jimmy Carter to professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, respectively of the University of Chicago and Harvard, on down to David Duke, Ph.D., of the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the pioneers in resurrecting this idea, first put into wide circulation in this country in the early part of the 20th century by the industrialist Henry Ford in his tract The International Jew, is Michael Scheuer. Formerly of the CIA, where he ran the unit responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden, Scheuer has not only kept himself occupied writing books—see my discussion of one of them in What Became of the CIA—he has also been busy on the lecture circuit.

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Are Jews running U.S. foreign policy from behind the scenes? This is a question lately on many lips, from those of Jimmy Carter to professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, respectively of the University of Chicago and Harvard, on down to David Duke, Ph.D., of the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the pioneers in resurrecting this idea, first put into wide circulation in this country in the early part of the 20th century by the industrialist Henry Ford in his tract The International Jew, is Michael Scheuer. Formerly of the CIA, where he ran the unit responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden, Scheuer has not only kept himself occupied writing books—see my discussion of one of them in What Became of the CIA—he has also been busy on the lecture circuit.

Two years ago, speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Scheuer explained that Israel is engaged in what is “probably the most successful covert-action program in the history of man,” the object of which is to control not just policy but political debate in the United States. When pressed to identify some of these “covert” activities, Scheuer came up with only one example: the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

More recently, as we learn from today’s New York Sun, Scheuer addressed the taxpayer-funded Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia, where he explained that “U.S. citizen Israel-firsters . . . dominate the American governing elite” where they act to ensure that those like himself “who question the nature and benefit of current U.S.- Israel ties are slandered as pro-Nazi, anti-Semites.”

Up until now, I have never seen a shred of evidence, or even heard the allegation—except from Scheuer himself—that he is in any way “pro-Nazi.” But is Scheuer anti-Semitic, or do Jews just call him that as part of a covert operation to silence him? I am not sure what the proper answer is; I need to resume my clandestine communications with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and get further instructions.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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It’s the Sidewalks, Stupid

Should Michael Bloomberg run for President? He was elected mayor on the strength of his reputation as a business executive and a technocrat who gets things done. His popularity is high in New York. But is his sterling reputation as chief executive officer of the city based upon achievement or on the appearance of achievement?

I raise this question in an op-ed in today’s New York Sun. The Sun also published two of my photographs suggesting that appearances of one of the mayor’s signature projects are not what they should be. These photos are only available in the printed edition of the Sun, not on its website. But contentions has them below the jump. The full op-ed can be found here.

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Should Michael Bloomberg run for President? He was elected mayor on the strength of his reputation as a business executive and a technocrat who gets things done. His popularity is high in New York. But is his sterling reputation as chief executive officer of the city based upon achievement or on the appearance of achievement?

I raise this question in an op-ed in today’s New York Sun. The Sun also published two of my photographs suggesting that appearances of one of the mayor’s signature projects are not what they should be. These photos are only available in the printed edition of the Sun, not on its website. But contentions has them below the jump. The full op-ed can be found here.

Schoenfeld1
The sidewalk on W. 17th Street, Brooklyn, between Mermaid and Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

Schoenfeld2
A close up of the sidewalk on W. 17th Street, Brooklyn, between Mermaid and Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

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