Commentary Magazine


Topic: San Diego

More Bad News for Unions From California

As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

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As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

To those who cry foul over the pension reform measures in California or Walker’s clipping of the unions’ wings in Wisconsin, we need to point out that treating public employees as a privileged class is what we might find in dictatorships, not a democracy. The ascendancy of the unions was the product not only of political muscle but the vast expansion of government during the last century. The bigger government got, the greater its appetite for revenue and the more leverage state worker unions had. Having used that power to extract exorbitant contract concessions from the people supposedly representing the taxpayers, the unions were determined to hold onto their grip on the nation’s purse strings.

But like any Ponzi scheme, this was a concept that had to go bust sooner or later. The costs of these contracts and pensions continued to grow with only the seemingly unlimited power of the government to confiscate more of the taxpayers’ income to pay for it. The Tea Party revolt that swept the nation in 2010 was an expression of the public’s disgust at the way states and cities were locked into spending patterns that could not be sustained. Rather than merely stopping the spigot of public funds flowing into union coffers, Scott Walker sought to put in place measures that would ensure unions could never again put a figurative gun to his state’s head in order to get a bigger share of the budget. In California, mayors have acted similarly by passing measures that will reverse the giveaways conducted by their predecessors.

Scott Walker’s defeat of a union movement determined to punish him for undermining their hold on Wisconsin’s finances as well as the result from California ensures that others will follow in those footsteps. The era of unions holding up states and cities is over. A new age of fiscal sanity may not be far off.

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The Rangel Censure Joke

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

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Who Is Tim Pawlenty?

In the 2012 prognostications, Tim Pawlenty has sometimes been an afterthought. It’s not for lack of earnestness or for lack of a good track record as governor. He has both. But he’s yet to break through the clutter and explain why him — rather than Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, or Mitt Romney. That may change over time, and each of those four may fizzle or decide against a run. Pawlenty is inching closer to a decision, in the same methodical fashion in which he governed:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has not made a final decision on whether to make a White House bid, but he’s laying the groundwork and is confident he could run a serious and well-funded campaign if he decides to go ahead.

In a meeting with reporters last week in San Diego, Pawlenty said he is still contemplating whether he is the right person to lead the country out of an economic crisis.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet. I mean, we’re obviously looking at it. But as to whether we do it or don’t do it, I’m not going to make up my mind internally for probably a few months yet,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve got a set of experiences and skills that might benefit the country. But, I haven’t made a decision whether I’m the right person to do that, whether I’m the only person who can do that.”

For now, Pawlenty is mainly defined as what the other candidates are not. Sarah Palin quit the governorship, but Pawlenty makes the case that the key issue will be “‘as you look at the personal and political records of those individuals, what does that tell you about their fortitude personally? Do they have the record to actually back up the rhetoric?’ Pawlenty asked. ‘In other words, are they just giving you pretty rhetoric or do they actually get it done?'” He’s a Midwesterner from a Purple State, not a Southerner from a deep Red State as is Barbour. He’s been uncompromising on social issues rather than suggesting that such issues are irrelevant as McDaniels did. And he’s never supported ObamaCare lite. But being “not flawed like each of the others” isn’t likely to deliver the nomination.

Pawlenty could use a theme and a distinct persona. Once he has those, he would do well to start communicating what he is all about to the conservative electorate. If he doesn’t, he’s going to soon drift into the also-ran category, or if he’s solid (but unexceptional) on the campaign trail, the short list for VP candidates.

In the 2012 prognostications, Tim Pawlenty has sometimes been an afterthought. It’s not for lack of earnestness or for lack of a good track record as governor. He has both. But he’s yet to break through the clutter and explain why him — rather than Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, or Mitt Romney. That may change over time, and each of those four may fizzle or decide against a run. Pawlenty is inching closer to a decision, in the same methodical fashion in which he governed:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has not made a final decision on whether to make a White House bid, but he’s laying the groundwork and is confident he could run a serious and well-funded campaign if he decides to go ahead.

In a meeting with reporters last week in San Diego, Pawlenty said he is still contemplating whether he is the right person to lead the country out of an economic crisis.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet. I mean, we’re obviously looking at it. But as to whether we do it or don’t do it, I’m not going to make up my mind internally for probably a few months yet,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve got a set of experiences and skills that might benefit the country. But, I haven’t made a decision whether I’m the right person to do that, whether I’m the only person who can do that.”

For now, Pawlenty is mainly defined as what the other candidates are not. Sarah Palin quit the governorship, but Pawlenty makes the case that the key issue will be “‘as you look at the personal and political records of those individuals, what does that tell you about their fortitude personally? Do they have the record to actually back up the rhetoric?’ Pawlenty asked. ‘In other words, are they just giving you pretty rhetoric or do they actually get it done?'” He’s a Midwesterner from a Purple State, not a Southerner from a deep Red State as is Barbour. He’s been uncompromising on social issues rather than suggesting that such issues are irrelevant as McDaniels did. And he’s never supported ObamaCare lite. But being “not flawed like each of the others” isn’t likely to deliver the nomination.

Pawlenty could use a theme and a distinct persona. Once he has those, he would do well to start communicating what he is all about to the conservative electorate. If he doesn’t, he’s going to soon drift into the also-ran category, or if he’s solid (but unexceptional) on the campaign trail, the short list for VP candidates.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

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Dismantling Our NATO-Linked Infrastructure

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

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A Most Disturbing Moment of Clarity

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

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The Decline of Racial Politics

If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

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If the findings of a new Pew poll are any indication, race—or more specifically, the declining prospects of African-Americans—ought to be at the very center of the presidential campaign. Today, notes Juan Williams, summarizing the grim numbers,

only 20 percent of black Americans think life is generally better for black people than it was five years ago, the lowest positive response to that question in polls going back 24 years. Only 44 percent of black people expect life to get better; that’s well below the 57 percent who predicted a better life for black people when the same question was asked in 1986.

And yet, race is playing the smallest role in any election since 1964. Part of the reason for this is the absence of a black Democrat using the presidential primaries to campaign indirectly for the leadership of black America. There is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in the contest. Barack Obama’s appeal, though it has a racial element, is primarily to the same sorts of upper-middle-class Americans who once thought Adlai Stevenson a model of gentlemanly intellect. But more importantly there has been a shift in attitudes that make it harder to use race as a political issue. The Pew Poll found that

71 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics feel that personal behavior—values, education, hard work—is what holds back those black Americans still trapped in poverty. But what is most striking is that a small majority, 53 percent, of black Americans agree that “blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

Confirmation of the shift described by the Pew Poll can be found in the controversy surrounding a new survey by Congressional Quarterly, which found that Detroit was the most crime ridden city: “More people were murdered in Detroit than in San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose combined—and each one of those cities has a bigger population than Detroit.” The findings were contested by the American Society of Criminology, which denounced it as an “irresponsible misuse” of crime data. Not surprisingly, Detroit’s African-American police chief concurred. “Every year,” said Ella Bully-Cummings, “this organization sends out a press release with big, bold lettering that labels a certain city as Most Dangerous, USA…. It really makes you wonder if the organization is truly concerned with evaluating crime or increasing its profit.”

But strikingly, the Detroit Free Press refused to be assuaged by Bully-Cummings’s attempts at displacement. The Free Press took mocking aim at the chief’s

bizarre defense that the report didn’t account for all the crime victims who are druggies and felons. That, of course, is supposed to show that crime isn’t “random” in Detroit, so the city is not that dangerous…. Applying the chief’s logic, why even bother to count undesirables as whole people? When a drug addict gets gunned down by a drug dealer, or an ex-con is shot in a robbery, those should be half-murders. A victim with two priors maybe counts as only a third.

(The phrase “whole people” refers, of course, to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the amendment to the Constitution that defined slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of allocating seats in the House of Representatives.)

Philadelphia’s soaring black-on-black murder rate similarly has made it harder to play racial politics. In 2003, corrupt mayor John “If you want to play you have to pay” Street won re-election by campaigning against an alleged white racist plot against him. But the new mayor Michael Nutter (also an African-American) won by making honest administration and cleaning up the violent crime that’s shaken the city—and not institutional racism—the central campaign issues. “The sad truth,” argues Henry Louis Gates Jr., “is that the civil rights movement cannot be reborn until we identify the causes of black suffering, some of them self-inflicted.” There’s no political hay to be made out of that conclusion—which may be why it’s had such a hard time gaining traction.

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Immigration Politics: Again, a Loser for the GOP

Another election day has come and gone, and we’ve seen another, admittedly surprising, failure for those who believe anti-immigration fervor is the new driving force in American politics. Virginia Republicans were counting on the matter to help them retain control of the State Senate there, but it did not do the trick, and for the first time in a decade, Democrats are in control of the legislature in Richmond.

Some partisans on the issue claim a partial victory because of a Republican win by an anti-immigration guy in Virginia’s Prince William County, but since the victor was reelected, it is a mite questionable how potent the issue was in securing his return to his own seat. What is unquestionable, though, is that in a fascinating repeat of a failed electoral strategy in Virginia’s governor’s race last year, Republicans thought they saw a way to win by thumping hard on immigration — and they lost instead.

You would think, from the bottomless depths of the populist sentiment on the matter dating back to 2004, that anti-immigration fervor would be a potent issue at the ballot box. After all, despite polling that showed majority support for most of the provisions in the immigration-reform bill proposed earlier this year, the measure fell apart owing largely to a potent grass-roots revolt on the Right. (The bill deserved its fate; it was disastrously constructed and internally inconsistent, but the proximate cause of its failure was not in the drafting but in the wild hostility to any manner of immigration reform that was not exclusively punitive.)

And yet, in almost every recent electoral contest in which a candidate has sought to harness the emotional power of the anti-immigration cause to propel him to victory, the issue hasn’t done the trick.

In San Diego two years ago, Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist tried to get himself elected to the House as a single-issue anti-immigration candidate and failed twice. Vulnerable Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth preached fire and brimstone on the issue last November and was turned out anyway. Another Arizonan, Randy Graf, sought victory with immigration as a single issue last year and was slaughtered at the polls. Only California Rep. Brian Bilbray, in a complex special election in 2005, made effective use of anti-immigration fervor to get himself back to Washington.

The common presumption is that immigration has become an issue of central importance in electoral politics. At some point, pretty soon, there’s going to have to be hard evidence of that or Republican politicians will begin to face the very real possibility that their party is turning Hispanics into an implacably hostile anti-GOP bloc without securing any real political gain for it.

Another election day has come and gone, and we’ve seen another, admittedly surprising, failure for those who believe anti-immigration fervor is the new driving force in American politics. Virginia Republicans were counting on the matter to help them retain control of the State Senate there, but it did not do the trick, and for the first time in a decade, Democrats are in control of the legislature in Richmond.

Some partisans on the issue claim a partial victory because of a Republican win by an anti-immigration guy in Virginia’s Prince William County, but since the victor was reelected, it is a mite questionable how potent the issue was in securing his return to his own seat. What is unquestionable, though, is that in a fascinating repeat of a failed electoral strategy in Virginia’s governor’s race last year, Republicans thought they saw a way to win by thumping hard on immigration — and they lost instead.

You would think, from the bottomless depths of the populist sentiment on the matter dating back to 2004, that anti-immigration fervor would be a potent issue at the ballot box. After all, despite polling that showed majority support for most of the provisions in the immigration-reform bill proposed earlier this year, the measure fell apart owing largely to a potent grass-roots revolt on the Right. (The bill deserved its fate; it was disastrously constructed and internally inconsistent, but the proximate cause of its failure was not in the drafting but in the wild hostility to any manner of immigration reform that was not exclusively punitive.)

And yet, in almost every recent electoral contest in which a candidate has sought to harness the emotional power of the anti-immigration cause to propel him to victory, the issue hasn’t done the trick.

In San Diego two years ago, Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist tried to get himself elected to the House as a single-issue anti-immigration candidate and failed twice. Vulnerable Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth preached fire and brimstone on the issue last November and was turned out anyway. Another Arizonan, Randy Graf, sought victory with immigration as a single issue last year and was slaughtered at the polls. Only California Rep. Brian Bilbray, in a complex special election in 2005, made effective use of anti-immigration fervor to get himself back to Washington.

The common presumption is that immigration has become an issue of central importance in electoral politics. At some point, pretty soon, there’s going to have to be hard evidence of that or Republican politicians will begin to face the very real possibility that their party is turning Hispanics into an implacably hostile anti-GOP bloc without securing any real political gain for it.

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An Act of Kindness from Iraq

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

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An Interview with Jack O’Brien

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

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A-Rod Nation

Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

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Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

The unenthusiastic crowd reaction was both predictable and understandable. Allegations of steroid use have dogged the slugger. Barry Bonds will never outlive the perception that he cheated his way into the record book, and except in the Bay Area, he is considered an embarrassment to baseball.

Because this is contentions, let me put Bonds’s disgrace into broader perspective. On the same day that Bonds tied Aaron, A-Rod, sometimes known as Alex Rodriguez, became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 homers. When the Yankee third baseman breaks Bonds’s mark—some say he will even surpass 800 home runs—he will help rub out the stain of steroid use that has tainted his sport. In these times when many think our global position is in decline, let’s not forget that America’s greatest attribute is not its strength, but its capacity for self-renewal. We are a nation of A-Rods.

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¡Viva la Inmigración!

The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

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The New York Times reports that an anti-immigrant backlash is building among Republican primary voters in Iowa. There is room to doubt how significant this trend is, since the two most anti-immigrant candidates in the Republican field are Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, who are struggling to register in single digits, while the early leaders, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, are both fairly pro-immigrant. But there is no question that, even if it remains a minority sentiment, there is a substantial nativist, even xenophobic, wing in the Republican party.

As it happens, I was in Miami yesterday and got a chance to observe diversity in action. I loved it. What a booming, vibrant city! I reveled in the Latin and Caribbean accents, the variety of foods, the multiplicity of cultures. My lasting taste of Miami was a terrific Cuban sandwich, espresso, and guava pastry at a Cuban coffee shop at the airport. Beats Hardees hollow.

I’ve been to Des Moines before, and I hope I don’t unduly offend any Iowans by noting that I prefer Miami or other multicultural metropolises like Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. It’s not just a matter of the weather—though there is that too. And it’s not that the Midwest doesn’t have any ethnic spice; every part of the U.S. was settled by someone from somewhere, who brought along native customs, foods, languages, and cultures. The big difference is that the dominant immigrant groups in the Midwest arrived long ago, generally in the 19th century. Their cultures have blended into a generic white-bread Americana, so now these assimilated German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans or Polish-Americans resent new arrivals just as much as they were once resented by English-Americans.

All this immigrant-bashing, itself a long American tradition, is pretty silly. Ambitious young immigrants, both high-tech inventors and low-tech lettuce-pickers, provide much of the vigor that keeps our economy vibrant. They always have. The contrast with insular, graying Japan, which is only now recovering from a decade-long recession, couldn’t be starker.

Concerns that these immigrants won’t assimilate or will destroy our common culture seem to me vastly overblown. American culture is spreading all over the world, much to the distress of the Academie Francaise and other guardians of traditional folkways. People all over the world are acting, dressing, and speaking like Americans, while watching American-produced TV shows and movies, playing American video games, and listening to American music. (Indeed, on a recent trip to Berlin I did very well speaking English to everyone from army officers and government officials to waiters and taxi drivers.) Do nativists really mean to suggest that, while American culture is conquering cities from Singapore to Santiago, it will die out in San Diego or Miami? It seems implausible, to put it mildly. Indeed, Miami remains identifiably American. Its secession from Florda—the lurid and implausible nightmare of some immigrant-bashers—isn’t remotely in the cards.

This isn’t to minimize some of the problems with immigration, which undoubtedly puts a strain on schools and social services. But on the whole I’d say immigration was and remains a major plus for the United States. There is even something to be said, dare I say it, for the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” Shorn of some of their radical academic dogma, they are a realistic recognition that America is the sum of divergent parts. The inevitable process of assimilation, which is going on now as in the past, is a good thing on the whole, but it does have its downside. I, for one, hope that Miami never loses its Latin flair.

*Editor’s Note: The title of this post originally contained an error.

 

 

 

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