Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New York Daily News

What Now for Keith Olbermann?

Since Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC on Friday, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the liberal commentator will go next.

Though it seems clear that Olbermann had been anxious to leave the network for a while — the New York Post reported that he’s wanted out for at least a year — it also sounds like the breakup was mutual, and may have even preempted a firing. Olbermann was notoriously tough to deal with, and with the rise of other liberal stars on the network and a pending change in ownership, it wasn’t much of a loss for MSNBC to let him out of his contract.

Of course, the question is, Where will he go now? As far as liberal-commentary careers go, hosting a nightly show on MSNBC is the peak. You don’t really go up from there.

So far, there have been some interesting predictions. The New York Daily News wonders whether he’ll go back into sports commentary (based on one of his Twitter updates). The Huffington Post and Entertainment Weekly predict that he may change career direction and star in Aaron Sorkin’s new TV series Network.

And the Wrap reports that Olbermann is planning to stake out on his own and build a media outlet similar to the Huffington Post — which sounds far more likely:

With two years left on his $7 million a year contract, Olbermann was seeking a full exit package but he really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post, according to the individual. That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.

Olbermann already has a high-profile brand as a liberal opinionater, and he might as well take advantage of it. The move also wouldn’t be without precedent. Former and current cable news hosts Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson have both launched pretty successful media outlets.

Since Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC on Friday, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the liberal commentator will go next.

Though it seems clear that Olbermann had been anxious to leave the network for a while — the New York Post reported that he’s wanted out for at least a year — it also sounds like the breakup was mutual, and may have even preempted a firing. Olbermann was notoriously tough to deal with, and with the rise of other liberal stars on the network and a pending change in ownership, it wasn’t much of a loss for MSNBC to let him out of his contract.

Of course, the question is, Where will he go now? As far as liberal-commentary careers go, hosting a nightly show on MSNBC is the peak. You don’t really go up from there.

So far, there have been some interesting predictions. The New York Daily News wonders whether he’ll go back into sports commentary (based on one of his Twitter updates). The Huffington Post and Entertainment Weekly predict that he may change career direction and star in Aaron Sorkin’s new TV series Network.

And the Wrap reports that Olbermann is planning to stake out on his own and build a media outlet similar to the Huffington Post — which sounds far more likely:

With two years left on his $7 million a year contract, Olbermann was seeking a full exit package but he really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post, according to the individual. That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.

Olbermann already has a high-profile brand as a liberal opinionater, and he might as well take advantage of it. The move also wouldn’t be without precedent. Former and current cable news hosts Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson have both launched pretty successful media outlets.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

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A Sign of the Times

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

What could possibly be a more local concern than the design and lettering of street signs? And yet the New York Daily News is reporting that the federal government’s Federal Highway Administration (whose website opening page is entirely devoted to touting the glories of the Stimulus bill) is requiring that New York City replace its street signs with new ones that will be more readable and, therefore, presumably safer. In Frozen Sneakers, Iowa, (the late William F. Buckley’s mythical Nowheresville) that unfunded mandate would not amount to much. But the vast rabbit warren of New York City has a quarter of a million street signs, and they cost $110 apiece to manufacture and install. New York’s mayor didn’t know anything about it but didn’t seem concerned, as the state, in far worse fiscal shape than the city, will be paying the $27 million cost.

I haven’t the faintest idea if the new signs are more readable than the old ones, although that strikes me as easily testable. What bothers me is another question. Exactly what provision of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over street signs? The answer, of course, is that none does, unless you count Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to lay taxes in order to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” But in 1936 the Supreme Court ruled (United States v. Butler) that the general welfare clause was limited to matters of “national, as distinguished from local welfare.” Of course, the Supreme Court in recent decades has allowed the commerce clause, giving the federal government control over interstate commerce, to be used to justify nearly any action of the federal government.

Meanwhile, today marks the start of the new fiscal year for the federal government. How many appropriations bills has Congress passed to fund the government for fiscal year 2011, its most basic responsibility? Exactly none. They couldn’t even come up with a budget resolution.

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A Rauchian Take

I don’t always agree with Jonathan Rauch, but I always respect the quality and rigor of his arguments. His op-ed in the New York Daily News, on the topic of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, is no exception.

I find Rauch to be the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage. But he makes a persuasive Madisonian and Burkean case against the decision. In Jon’s word:

Now, I agree with Walker that gay marriage is unlikely to cause any significant social harm and will do much good. But the judge insists that the testimony of a handful of expert witnesses in his courtroom rules out the possibility of harm so definitively as to make any attempt at caution or gradualism irrational. The evidence, he holds, is “beyond debate.” In an unpredictable world, that kind of sweeping certainty would leave any Burkean gulping.

So I think the decision is a radical one, but not, ironically, as it pertains to homosexuality or to marriage. No, Walker’s radicalism lies elsewhere: In his use of the Constitution to batter the principles of its two greatest exponents – Madison and Abraham Lincoln, a Burkean who was steadfast in his belief that ideals must be leavened with pragmatism.

History will, I believe, vindicate Walker’s view of marriage. Whether it will see him as having done gay rights a favor is less clear. For all its morally admirable qualities, his decision sets the cause of marriage equality crosswise with moderation, gradualism and popular sovereignty. Which, in America, is a dangerous place to be.

These are impressive arguments by an impressive, intellectually honest mind. It’s safe to say as well that our political discourse would be much better if it were more Rauchian.

I don’t always agree with Jonathan Rauch, but I always respect the quality and rigor of his arguments. His op-ed in the New York Daily News, on the topic of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, is no exception.

I find Rauch to be the most formidable and persuasive voice for same-sex marriage. But he makes a persuasive Madisonian and Burkean case against the decision. In Jon’s word:

Now, I agree with Walker that gay marriage is unlikely to cause any significant social harm and will do much good. But the judge insists that the testimony of a handful of expert witnesses in his courtroom rules out the possibility of harm so definitively as to make any attempt at caution or gradualism irrational. The evidence, he holds, is “beyond debate.” In an unpredictable world, that kind of sweeping certainty would leave any Burkean gulping.

So I think the decision is a radical one, but not, ironically, as it pertains to homosexuality or to marriage. No, Walker’s radicalism lies elsewhere: In his use of the Constitution to batter the principles of its two greatest exponents – Madison and Abraham Lincoln, a Burkean who was steadfast in his belief that ideals must be leavened with pragmatism.

History will, I believe, vindicate Walker’s view of marriage. Whether it will see him as having done gay rights a favor is less clear. For all its morally admirable qualities, his decision sets the cause of marriage equality crosswise with moderation, gradualism and popular sovereignty. Which, in America, is a dangerous place to be.

These are impressive arguments by an impressive, intellectually honest mind. It’s safe to say as well that our political discourse would be much better if it were more Rauchian.

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Liberal Legal Pundit Behaving Badly?

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

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Undeserved Hosannas

* “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.”

* “After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.”

* “The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace. … The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the … cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.”

Quick — name the Jew hater or vicious enemy of Israel capable of spouting such venom. Arafat? Khadaffi? Ahmadinejad? Actually, the speaker in all three cases was everyone’s favorite Arab moderate, the late King Hussein of Jordan (on, respectively, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967; Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973; and Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988).

I have this little calendar that lists the names of prominent people who died or were born on each specific date. Seeing that the anniversary of Hussein’s death (Feb. 7, 1999) is upon us brought to mind both the decades of duplicity that defined the king’s life until almost the very end and the Hosannas that have been coming his way for the past 11 years. (The trend continued in two recent, largely positive, biographies.)

So desperate are we for any sign of non-fanaticism on the part of an Arab leader, we seem to gladly downplay or overlook the negative and play up the positive, with little regard for historical truth or future implications.

The floodgates of Hussein revisionism were opened immediately upon his passing. Typical was a sugary tribute from columnist Richard Chesnoff, in the New York Daily News:

Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.

Also typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the assertion by New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

While it’s true Hussein was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in ’73 than he’d been in ’67 — losing a large chunk of your kingdom will do that to you — he was far from a passive bystander.

As noted out in the indispensable Myths and Facts, published by Near East Report, Hussein sent “two of his best units — the 40th and 60th armored brigades — to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Nearly forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein was the scorn that had come his way over the years for such behavior as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S., and his fellow Arabs; his permitting the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan had possession of East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, coupled with his circumvention of the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq.

By all indications, the elder-statesman persona adopted by King Hussein in the final years of his life was genuine, and even before then, he was the lesser of evils when compared with other Arab leaders. But to trumpet him as something of a historical giant or visionary is to drain those words of any real meaning and lower the bar for what should constitute forthright and reliable Arab leadership.

* “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.”

* “After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.”

* “The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace. … The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the … cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.”

Quick — name the Jew hater or vicious enemy of Israel capable of spouting such venom. Arafat? Khadaffi? Ahmadinejad? Actually, the speaker in all three cases was everyone’s favorite Arab moderate, the late King Hussein of Jordan (on, respectively, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967; Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973; and Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988).

I have this little calendar that lists the names of prominent people who died or were born on each specific date. Seeing that the anniversary of Hussein’s death (Feb. 7, 1999) is upon us brought to mind both the decades of duplicity that defined the king’s life until almost the very end and the Hosannas that have been coming his way for the past 11 years. (The trend continued in two recent, largely positive, biographies.)

So desperate are we for any sign of non-fanaticism on the part of an Arab leader, we seem to gladly downplay or overlook the negative and play up the positive, with little regard for historical truth or future implications.

The floodgates of Hussein revisionism were opened immediately upon his passing. Typical was a sugary tribute from columnist Richard Chesnoff, in the New York Daily News:

Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.

Also typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the assertion by New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

While it’s true Hussein was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in ’73 than he’d been in ’67 — losing a large chunk of your kingdom will do that to you — he was far from a passive bystander.

As noted out in the indispensable Myths and Facts, published by Near East Report, Hussein sent “two of his best units — the 40th and 60th armored brigades — to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Nearly forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein was the scorn that had come his way over the years for such behavior as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S., and his fellow Arabs; his permitting the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan had possession of East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, coupled with his circumvention of the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq.

By all indications, the elder-statesman persona adopted by King Hussein in the final years of his life was genuine, and even before then, he was the lesser of evils when compared with other Arab leaders. But to trumpet him as something of a historical giant or visionary is to drain those words of any real meaning and lower the bar for what should constitute forthright and reliable Arab leadership.

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Courage, Mr. Holder?

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

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The Giuliani Concession

I think Giuliani — whom I trumpeted as the best Republican candidate for 2008 in my book, Can She Be Stopped? — looked relieved and happy as he delivered what is surely the final speech of his campaign as a candidate. I think, with no inside knowledge, that he figured his goose was cooked after the story in the New York Daily News in November about his then-mistress being driven around in NYPD vans. His campaign didn’t know how to address the matter, and every time it said something, there was another story in the News advancing it. Even the correcting stories a few weeks later that indicated the whole thing was just an accounting quirk couldn’t help him regain his footing. Rudy was in a reduced condition from that moment forward, and he has now been released from two months of fatalistic anxiety. That has to feel good.

I think Giuliani — whom I trumpeted as the best Republican candidate for 2008 in my book, Can She Be Stopped? — looked relieved and happy as he delivered what is surely the final speech of his campaign as a candidate. I think, with no inside knowledge, that he figured his goose was cooked after the story in the New York Daily News in November about his then-mistress being driven around in NYPD vans. His campaign didn’t know how to address the matter, and every time it said something, there was another story in the News advancing it. Even the correcting stories a few weeks later that indicated the whole thing was just an accounting quirk couldn’t help him regain his footing. Rudy was in a reduced condition from that moment forward, and he has now been released from two months of fatalistic anxiety. That has to feel good.

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Mr. Sharpton’s Neighborhood

New York magazine recently reported on the continuing political influence of Al Sharpton, a man whose last foray into politics was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary in which he received negligible support. For some inexplicable reason, Sharpton plays the role of kingmaker in Democratic circles, with candidates falsely assuming that he holds sway with black voters. Sitting with him at the swank Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Gray listens to voicemails left on Sharpton’s phone from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seeking Sharpton’s advice. “In the end they may all hate my guts,” Sharpton says. “But it’s the reality of the landscape . . . how much they need me and how bad. I’m sure right now they know they need me.”

One would hope that the F.B.I.’s subpoenaing several of Sharpton’s closest associates as part of an investigation to determine whether he swindled the government out of federal campaign-matching funds four years ago would dissuade the leading Democratic contenders from so shamelessly paying obeisance to this man. But if instigating race riots and defaming public servants were not enough to get Sharpton booted out of respectable circles, what’s a little embezzlement of taxpayer money?

Sharpton’s lawyer told the New York Daily News “I can’t think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn’t under investigation,” which is probably accurate. His latest travails conjure up memory of this December 2000 New York Times article–perhaps the most hilarious item ever to appear in the paper–detailing a deposition Sharpton gave to the lawyers of the prosecutor he defamed in the Tawana Brawley case:

The company, he says, pays part of his rent and all of his utilities for the family home on Ditmas Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It bought some of his furniture and a couple of his business suits. It pays for most of his telephone calls. He says it now pays the $15,000 tuition for each of his two young daughters who attend the prestigious Brooklyn private school Poly Prep Country Day School. . . .
Mr. Bolnick wanted to know if Rev. Als Productions maintained an office in Mr. Sharpton’s home. Mr. Sharpton said it did.

”A separate entrance?” Mr. Bolnick asked.

”We use the front entrance for Rev. Als,” Mr. Sharpton said. ”The back entrance is what we use for the family and guests.”

Mr. Bolnick seemed a bit confused. ”But when I walk in the front door to visit, to make a business meeting with Rev. Als, I walk through your personal residence?”

Not exactly, Mr. Sharpton said. ”We consider it our personal residence, one part of the house, one that you would not walk through.”

The answer was still not getting through to Mr. Bolnick. He asked again, ”So I can go through the front door to Rev. Als without going through your personal residence?”

Mr. Sharpton then explained how his entertainment business related to his floor plan: ”We consider the living room and dining room part of Rev. Als. We entertain people for speaking engagements — hopefully the artist will sign with us. That’s all part of doing the business.”

”If I have Artist A at 1902 Ditmas and they eat in the dining room,” he said, ”that is a Rev. Als.”

The exchange ended with Mr. Bolnick noting that while he himself met clients in his living room, that did not make it an office.

”There is an office there,” Mr. Sharpton said of his house. ”But when you walk in the door, you are not walking into the office. But nor are you walking into my living quarters, either.”

On second thought, any politician worth his salt ought to be consulting Sharpton, whose parsing and inability to answer a simple question prove him to be a valuable political consultant.

New York magazine recently reported on the continuing political influence of Al Sharpton, a man whose last foray into politics was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary in which he received negligible support. For some inexplicable reason, Sharpton plays the role of kingmaker in Democratic circles, with candidates falsely assuming that he holds sway with black voters. Sitting with him at the swank Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Gray listens to voicemails left on Sharpton’s phone from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seeking Sharpton’s advice. “In the end they may all hate my guts,” Sharpton says. “But it’s the reality of the landscape . . . how much they need me and how bad. I’m sure right now they know they need me.”

One would hope that the F.B.I.’s subpoenaing several of Sharpton’s closest associates as part of an investigation to determine whether he swindled the government out of federal campaign-matching funds four years ago would dissuade the leading Democratic contenders from so shamelessly paying obeisance to this man. But if instigating race riots and defaming public servants were not enough to get Sharpton booted out of respectable circles, what’s a little embezzlement of taxpayer money?

Sharpton’s lawyer told the New York Daily News “I can’t think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn’t under investigation,” which is probably accurate. His latest travails conjure up memory of this December 2000 New York Times article–perhaps the most hilarious item ever to appear in the paper–detailing a deposition Sharpton gave to the lawyers of the prosecutor he defamed in the Tawana Brawley case:

The company, he says, pays part of his rent and all of his utilities for the family home on Ditmas Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It bought some of his furniture and a couple of his business suits. It pays for most of his telephone calls. He says it now pays the $15,000 tuition for each of his two young daughters who attend the prestigious Brooklyn private school Poly Prep Country Day School. . . .
Mr. Bolnick wanted to know if Rev. Als Productions maintained an office in Mr. Sharpton’s home. Mr. Sharpton said it did.

”A separate entrance?” Mr. Bolnick asked.

”We use the front entrance for Rev. Als,” Mr. Sharpton said. ”The back entrance is what we use for the family and guests.”

Mr. Bolnick seemed a bit confused. ”But when I walk in the front door to visit, to make a business meeting with Rev. Als, I walk through your personal residence?”

Not exactly, Mr. Sharpton said. ”We consider it our personal residence, one part of the house, one that you would not walk through.”

The answer was still not getting through to Mr. Bolnick. He asked again, ”So I can go through the front door to Rev. Als without going through your personal residence?”

Mr. Sharpton then explained how his entertainment business related to his floor plan: ”We consider the living room and dining room part of Rev. Als. We entertain people for speaking engagements — hopefully the artist will sign with us. That’s all part of doing the business.”

”If I have Artist A at 1902 Ditmas and they eat in the dining room,” he said, ”that is a Rev. Als.”

The exchange ended with Mr. Bolnick noting that while he himself met clients in his living room, that did not make it an office.

”There is an office there,” Mr. Sharpton said of his house. ”But when you walk in the door, you are not walking into the office. But nor are you walking into my living quarters, either.”

On second thought, any politician worth his salt ought to be consulting Sharpton, whose parsing and inability to answer a simple question prove him to be a valuable political consultant.

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The Shia Awakening

After returning to the U.S. from my summer trip to Baghdad and Ramadi, I wrote a piece for the New York Daily News that warned against bingeing on optimism in the wake of the surge. I wrote this despite the dramatic turnaround in Iraq’s Anbar Province. The abject defeat of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq in and around Anbar’s capital of Ramadi is stunning, but local. The fight still rages on elsewhere, and in each place it is different. In early 2007, Ramadi was the most violent city in all of Iraq. It was also, counterintuitively, the easiest city to win.

Al Qaeda had seized it and declared it the capital of their so-called “Islamic State in Iraq.” Local tribal leaders and civilians initially welcomed al Qaeda as liberators against the hated American occupiers, but later rejected them after al Qaeda behaved like…al Qaeda, and launched a horrific murder and intimidation campaign against everyone who opposed them. “It was basically a hostile fascist takeover of the city,” Army Captain Jay McGee told me.

Zarqawi’s lieutenants make up a relatively small percentage of the “insurgency” in Iraq, but they are by far the most psychotic and destructive. No one should be surprised that they were expelled from Anbar. They went at the Iraqis with car bombs and kitchen knives. They sawed off the heads of children as well as adults. They murdered entire families just for making eye contact with American soldiers. The Iraqis in Ramadi had little choice but to form an alliance with Americans, in order to purge these killers from their lands.

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After returning to the U.S. from my summer trip to Baghdad and Ramadi, I wrote a piece for the New York Daily News that warned against bingeing on optimism in the wake of the surge. I wrote this despite the dramatic turnaround in Iraq’s Anbar Province. The abject defeat of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq in and around Anbar’s capital of Ramadi is stunning, but local. The fight still rages on elsewhere, and in each place it is different. In early 2007, Ramadi was the most violent city in all of Iraq. It was also, counterintuitively, the easiest city to win.

Al Qaeda had seized it and declared it the capital of their so-called “Islamic State in Iraq.” Local tribal leaders and civilians initially welcomed al Qaeda as liberators against the hated American occupiers, but later rejected them after al Qaeda behaved like…al Qaeda, and launched a horrific murder and intimidation campaign against everyone who opposed them. “It was basically a hostile fascist takeover of the city,” Army Captain Jay McGee told me.

Zarqawi’s lieutenants make up a relatively small percentage of the “insurgency” in Iraq, but they are by far the most psychotic and destructive. No one should be surprised that they were expelled from Anbar. They went at the Iraqis with car bombs and kitchen knives. They sawed off the heads of children as well as adults. They murdered entire families just for making eye contact with American soldiers. The Iraqis in Ramadi had little choice but to form an alliance with Americans, in order to purge these killers from their lands.

However, as I wrote in late August, “what worked in Ramadi might not work in Baghdad. [Moqtada al-Sadr's radical Shia] Mahdi Army’s relative moderation, compared with al Qaeda’s brutality, prevents it from being rejected by the entire society.”

I may have been too pessimistic and given Sadr’s militia more credit than it deserves.

The New York Times reported last week that many Shias in Baghdad, including some tribal sheikhs, are now turning against the Mahdi Army and working with the Americans to evict them. Sadr’s base is collapsing from right underneath him, and it’s a direct result of the successful assault on radical Sunnis by General Petraeus’s surge forces and the Mahdi Army itself.

The Mahdi Army picked up substantial local support thanks to its defense of Shias from Sunni insurgents and death squads. Neither the American soldiers nor the Iraqi security forces were able to secure the streets of the neighborhoods, so Sadr’s militia was called on for the job. Many portions of Baghdad have since been purged of Sunni extremists, partly due to the notorious sectarian “cleansing” and population transfers. The Mahdi Army is a victim of its own success, in a way: it has outlived its perceived usefulness and has degenerated into an ideology-free gang of murderous street thugs who do not want to let go of power. A militia need not be as deranged as al Qaeda to wear out its welcome, even in Baghdad.

Sadr’s army has been opposed by a substantial number of Shias all along. The new opposition comes from his base, and includes several sheikhs who supported him not long ago.

It’s hard for Americans to appreciate just how much power sheikhs have in Iraq. What they say goes. I spent a week in the Graya’at neighborhood of Baghdad, where every sheikh had come around to the American side. Earlier this year they insisted that not a single shot shall be fired at American soldiers, and not a single shot has been fired since. When they say it’s time to join Moqtada al-Sadr, or it’s time to join the Americans, nearly every person under their authority does what they say.

In the parts of Iraq where the locals turn against the insurgents en masse, it is only a matter of time before the insurgents are finished. Civilians phone in actionable intelligence on the locations of safe houses, weapons caches, IED’s, and everything else.

The radical Sunnis in Iraq are the most vicious. It is logical, then, that they are being defeated first. Extremist Shias have been tougher because they are more moderate, as well as more numerous. But defeating Sunni insurgents knocks out support from under the radical Shias. If you’re looking for a reason to hope in Iraq, that is it.

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