Commentary Magazine


Topic: the New York Sun

Hillary’s “No”

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

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The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Clinton’s definitive “no” took her partly off the general election hook. But with nearly 80 percent of voters opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, her party, as represented by Obama and Bill Richardson, is still in the hot seat on this issue. Led by liberal Democrats, seventeen states have opposed a national standard for driver’s licenses. (In eight of these states, licenses are already being issued to undocumented workers.) This has led Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac Poll to analogize that, like affirmative action for racial minorities—an issue that badly damaged the Democrats in the 1970’s and 1980’s—today’s immigration issue has split the party’s working class supporters from its liberal activists. And as with affirmative action, liberal activists are quick to deride their opponents as racists.

Brown is right about the broad similarities. But there are also significant differences. Affirmative action and racial quotas pitted middle- and lower-middle-class white male Democrats against African-Americans and liberal activists. But on immigration, the remaining white working-class Democrats are aligned with most African-American voters, who are often those most directly in competition with low cost illegal immigrant labor. And this tension can only be exacerbated by the reality of black downward mobility. According to a new study from the Economic Mobility Project, “children of black parents earning in the middle 20 percent of all families in the late 1960′s had a 69 percent chance of earning less than their parents, the study found. For white children, that chance was just 32 percent.”

Hillary may have dodged a bullet for now, but the internal Democratic party debate on undocumented workers has only begun.

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The “No”s Have It

I recently wrote about the Oxford Union‘s upcoming debate on the Middle East, which was scheduled to take place tonight. The motion to be debated stated: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” The motion was to be seconded by the Israeli revisionist historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe and by Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian physician with an academic appointment at Exeter University. On the “no” side: the British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, along with former Irish MP Lord David Trimble, who is staunchly pro-Israel. And, bizarrely, the passionately anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein.

How, you may ask, does this qualify as a debate? Five out of the six invited participants are all harsh critics, to one degree or another, of the state of Israel. But Finkelstein really belongs in a class by himself, for the hysterical fervor and vitriol of his anti-Zionism and his obsession with minimizing the moral meaning of the Holocaust. Trimble demanded that Finkelstein be dropped from the panel as a precondition for his participation; when the Union accepted Trimble’s argument, Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi decided to withdraw in protest. Clearly, they felt that without Finkelstein on the other side of the floor, there was now a chance the debate might be fair. The debate is taking place tonight nonetheless, with three Oxford students replacing Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi, and Paul Usiskin of Peace Now UK replacing Finkelstein.

Why Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi thought that running away from worthy opponents like Trimble would help their cause is a mystery, but largely besides the point. It is in the nature of such ideologues to engage only in battles they are absolutely sure of winning. Apparently, Finkelstein’s absence undercut their advantage too greatly: instead of being five-sixths anti-Zionist, the panel would be only two-thirds. I predict that the trio will try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by claiming that Finkelstein was “silenced,” and that their withdrawal was a gesture of solidarity with their “dissident” friend. To which one should reply with the words of Hillel Halkin, appearing yesterday in the New York Sun:

Deservedly, Mr. Finkelstein was recently denied tenure at De Paul because of a Jewish campaign to demonstrate that he lacked all academic integrity. It was a fight worth winning, not because qualified scholars with anti-Israel politics should not be allowed to teach at universities, but because men whose only qualification is their politics do not belong in institutions of higher learning.

Halkin could have written these words about Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi as well.

I recently wrote about the Oxford Union‘s upcoming debate on the Middle East, which was scheduled to take place tonight. The motion to be debated stated: “This House Believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” The motion was to be seconded by the Israeli revisionist historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe and by Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian physician with an academic appointment at Exeter University. On the “no” side: the British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, along with former Irish MP Lord David Trimble, who is staunchly pro-Israel. And, bizarrely, the passionately anti-Zionist academic Norman Finkelstein.

How, you may ask, does this qualify as a debate? Five out of the six invited participants are all harsh critics, to one degree or another, of the state of Israel. But Finkelstein really belongs in a class by himself, for the hysterical fervor and vitriol of his anti-Zionism and his obsession with minimizing the moral meaning of the Holocaust. Trimble demanded that Finkelstein be dropped from the panel as a precondition for his participation; when the Union accepted Trimble’s argument, Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi decided to withdraw in protest. Clearly, they felt that without Finkelstein on the other side of the floor, there was now a chance the debate might be fair. The debate is taking place tonight nonetheless, with three Oxford students replacing Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi, and Paul Usiskin of Peace Now UK replacing Finkelstein.

Why Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi thought that running away from worthy opponents like Trimble would help their cause is a mystery, but largely besides the point. It is in the nature of such ideologues to engage only in battles they are absolutely sure of winning. Apparently, Finkelstein’s absence undercut their advantage too greatly: instead of being five-sixths anti-Zionist, the panel would be only two-thirds. I predict that the trio will try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by claiming that Finkelstein was “silenced,” and that their withdrawal was a gesture of solidarity with their “dissident” friend. To which one should reply with the words of Hillel Halkin, appearing yesterday in the New York Sun:

Deservedly, Mr. Finkelstein was recently denied tenure at De Paul because of a Jewish campaign to demonstrate that he lacked all academic integrity. It was a fight worth winning, not because qualified scholars with anti-Israel politics should not be allowed to teach at universities, but because men whose only qualification is their politics do not belong in institutions of higher learning.

Halkin could have written these words about Shlaim, Pappe, and Karmi as well.

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Mistake of the Day

As an avid chessplayer–along with my day job at COMMENTARY, I am a coauthor of the New York Sun’s weekly chess column–I have had a lifelong fascination with blunders, of which I have made more than a few.

This interest has extended to domains far afield from the 64 squares of the chessboard. Mistakes of all sorts, from the trivial to the serious, from typographical errors to the misdesigns that lead to collapses of bridges, from slips of the tongue to intelligence failures, have been a subject that has gripped my attention and is reflected in some of my writing (see, for example, How Inept is the FBI? and Could September 11 Have Been Averted?).

Why do mistakes occur, and what can we do to avert them? One good starting place for answers is the work of Charles Perrow, author of Normal Accidents, which explores mistakes in industrial settings. As the aviation industry, among others, has demonstrated, there are numerous ways to reduce the accident rate (i.e., the mistake rate), but it cannot be brought down to zero. As the clichéd maxim has it: to err is human. There are limits to the functioning of human cognition, and the impact of these limits is magnified inside organizations of all sorts.

Today’s Mistake of the Day is on the decidedly trivial side of the spectrum. It involves the Army, Navy, and Airforce. As reported by USA Today, despites its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the military has been unwittingly seeking recruits on glee.com, a website where you can connect with others who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or everyone else.”

“This is the first I heard about it,” said Maj. Michael Baptista, advertising branch chief for the Army National Guard, which will spend $6.5 million on Internet recruiting this year. “We didn’t knowingly advertise on that particular website,” which he said does not “meet the moral standards” of the military.

Subjects for further inquiry: how many “advertising branch chiefs” does the U.S. military have, how are they recruited, and what are the limits on their cognitive functioning?

As an avid chessplayer–along with my day job at COMMENTARY, I am a coauthor of the New York Sun’s weekly chess column–I have had a lifelong fascination with blunders, of which I have made more than a few.

This interest has extended to domains far afield from the 64 squares of the chessboard. Mistakes of all sorts, from the trivial to the serious, from typographical errors to the misdesigns that lead to collapses of bridges, from slips of the tongue to intelligence failures, have been a subject that has gripped my attention and is reflected in some of my writing (see, for example, How Inept is the FBI? and Could September 11 Have Been Averted?).

Why do mistakes occur, and what can we do to avert them? One good starting place for answers is the work of Charles Perrow, author of Normal Accidents, which explores mistakes in industrial settings. As the aviation industry, among others, has demonstrated, there are numerous ways to reduce the accident rate (i.e., the mistake rate), but it cannot be brought down to zero. As the clichéd maxim has it: to err is human. There are limits to the functioning of human cognition, and the impact of these limits is magnified inside organizations of all sorts.

Today’s Mistake of the Day is on the decidedly trivial side of the spectrum. It involves the Army, Navy, and Airforce. As reported by USA Today, despites its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the military has been unwittingly seeking recruits on glee.com, a website where you can connect with others who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or everyone else.”

“This is the first I heard about it,” said Maj. Michael Baptista, advertising branch chief for the Army National Guard, which will spend $6.5 million on Internet recruiting this year. “We didn’t knowingly advertise on that particular website,” which he said does not “meet the moral standards” of the military.

Subjects for further inquiry: how many “advertising branch chiefs” does the U.S. military have, how are they recruited, and what are the limits on their cognitive functioning?

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Bloomberg’s PR Problems

Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

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Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

The irony here is that, as two recent New York developments make clear, Bloomberg masterfully has used public relations to obscure his less than impressive managerial record. In 2003, with cameras rolling, Bloomberg opened the City Hall Academy in the Tweed Courthouse, which houses the department of education. “The opening,” declared the mayor, after alighting from a school bus carrying the school’s first group of children, “demonstrates our commitment to excellence, achievement, and innovation in the public school system.” City Hall Academy was to be a model of the kind of innovation the administration wanted to bring to the schools. Yet, last year the school was moved to Harlem, and recently, without fanfare, it was closed. “It was,” says Sol Stern, who writes on education for City Journal, “just another little gimmick…one of those ideas that was rolled out with press releases for them to prove that they are shaking things up.” “Others,” noted the usually Bloomberg-friendly Times, “say it is, in a way, a parable for the educational experiments of the Bloomberg years, with yesterday’s enthusiasms making way for new imperatives. At several critical junctures the academy had to bow to the next programs in vogue.”

Similarly, when Bloomberg began ramping up his presidential campaign, he unveiled a new plan to reduce traffic and pollution in New York through congestion pricing. It was designed to show that he was the sort of bold, problem-solving leader the country needs. Under the plan, motorists who came into Manhattan during business hours would be charged a fee electronically. Leaving aside the virtues or vices of such a proposal, it is a plan that requires extensive planning to accommodate the increased number of people who use mass transit. But the buses and the subways are already overcrowded, and no such planning was in place. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has been put into hurry-up mode to establish a plan for upgrades in time for Bloomberg to jump into the race next October if he so chooses. But the New York Sun reports that the MTA “is warning in a new report that Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal would cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars more than the city has estimated.” “There’s no explanation of where they’re going to get that money,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat of Westchester. The congestion pricing plan “is in complete disarray. We’re at a point now where the transition from concept to plan has not been made.”

It was perhaps Bloomberg’s bad luck that the EEOC suit came out just after a jury found against New York Knicks coach and general manager Isaiah Thomas in a civil case also involving sexual harassment. But with a bit of good fortune, the sexual harassment case against Bloomberg could be settled before he has to decide whether openly to campaign for the presidency as an independent. If that time comes, it would be nice if the national press began to connect all the dots outlining the discrepancies between Bloomberg’s rhetoric and his substantive record.

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Power to the Private Sector

Both the Washington Post and the New York Sun are reporting on a major snafu involving Osama bin Laden’s last videotape.

It seems that the SITE Intelligence Group—a private firm that tracks terrorist activities online and is headed by Ritz Katz, an Israeli citizen born in Iraq and now living in the U.S.—managed to get an advance copy of bin Laden’s rantings from an al Qaeda server. SITE shared its haul with the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center with the proviso that it was meant to be kept strictly confidential to protect SITE’s sources. Within hours the video leaked to the press, however, and apparently al Qaeda webmasters were able to shut down the anomaly that SITE had exploited to keep tabs on the terrorists.

This story is disturbing on several levels: first, for the lack of security within the U.S. government (which makes other governments wary of sharing confidential information) and second, for the apparent lack of capacity within the U.S. intelligence community. With all the billions we spend on surveiling al Qaeda, is it really the case that a small, non-governmental organization can get its hands on a major al Qaeda video before the government can? It’s hard to know for sure because the government is never going to come clean about what it does and does not know, but the high-level officials quoted in these news articles certainly did not dispute the notion that SITE can find out things the government can’t.

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Both the Washington Post and the New York Sun are reporting on a major snafu involving Osama bin Laden’s last videotape.

It seems that the SITE Intelligence Group—a private firm that tracks terrorist activities online and is headed by Ritz Katz, an Israeli citizen born in Iraq and now living in the U.S.—managed to get an advance copy of bin Laden’s rantings from an al Qaeda server. SITE shared its haul with the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center with the proviso that it was meant to be kept strictly confidential to protect SITE’s sources. Within hours the video leaked to the press, however, and apparently al Qaeda webmasters were able to shut down the anomaly that SITE had exploited to keep tabs on the terrorists.

This story is disturbing on several levels: first, for the lack of security within the U.S. government (which makes other governments wary of sharing confidential information) and second, for the apparent lack of capacity within the U.S. intelligence community. With all the billions we spend on surveiling al Qaeda, is it really the case that a small, non-governmental organization can get its hands on a major al Qaeda video before the government can? It’s hard to know for sure because the government is never going to come clean about what it does and does not know, but the high-level officials quoted in these news articles certainly did not dispute the notion that SITE can find out things the government can’t.

This seems further to confirm the general impression of ineptitude on the part of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. (See Tim Weiner’s meticulously researched book, Legacy of Ashes, for details of this sorry story’s stretching back to the 1940’s.) There is, however, a silver lining to this news. It is good to know that the private sector is filling in where government lags behind.

That is precisely what we should be doing—taking advantage of our strengths as a society to compensate for the weaknesses of our government. There are a lot of smart, entrepreneurial people in America; and while most of them devote their energies to the “business of America”—i.e., business—some can be very effective freelance terrorist-fighters. In the past, I have suggested mobilizing an army of geeks to fight al Qaeda online; that is precisely what the SITE folks are doing, and more power to them.

In fact, as I write in my latest book, War Made New, the Information Age increasingly is taking power away from large, hierarchical, centralized organizations like the U.S. government and giving more power to small, nimble, decentralized, networked entities like al Qaeda. But SITE and its ilk can be just as nimble and networked as al Qaeda. They can be effective in ways that the lumbering U.S. government cannot. Instead of treating them as unwelcome competition, the government would be well advised to encourage our NGO’s to battle their NGO’s.

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Rudy’s Bank Shot

As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

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As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

Giuliani has, essentially, recreated the dynamic of the 1990’s, the dynamic that made Hillary a darling of the Left even as she disavowed some of its policies. Then, the Clintons fought Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr and the GOP’s foolish attempts to impeach Bill, forcing left-wing Democrats to come to their defense. Now, Giuliani, by attacking Hillary as anti-military, has given her ammunition against critics and candidates to her left. As Eli Lake points out in the New York Sun:

For a Democratic candidate who not only voted to authorize the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but scolded the earnest protesters at Code Pink when they questioned her vote, what could be better than having a pro-victory Republican say she was too tough on the military?

Lake describes the dynamic set in motion by the two as a process of “Mutually Assured Nomination.”

All of this, it should be noted, eludes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. For her, Giuliani’s ad against Hillary places him in the same category as Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards in their criticism of the former first lady. She accuses him of ignoring

her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military . . . .

Maybe. But what could be better at the moment for Hillary’s candidacy than having more firepower to fend off challenges coming entirely from her left?

Giuliani and Clinton are leading their respective packs because in the wake of the many failings of the Bush presidency, they are the most competent, most experienced candidates of their respective parties. Each will campaign as the only real alternative to the other—and each will be right. It’s a mutually beneficial antagonism.

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Giuliani’s Weak Spot?

It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

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It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

When Giuliani announced his candidacy last November, the DNC responded with a press release attacking Giuliani for being…too left-wing—he was once a registered Democrat, he opposed the partial-birth abortion ban and some of Bush’s tax cuts, and he supported gay rights. In an editorial, the New York Sun remarked, “Mr. Giuliani may want to keep this press release on file for use in a general election campaign…. ‘Even the Democratic National Committee says I am pro-choice,’ Mr. Giuliani is going to be able to tell Democrats and independent voters.”

The incoherence of the DNC press release (which also attacked Giuliani for being too right-wing!) helped the candidate survive a choppy, ill-prepared launch, in which he stumbled badly while answering easy questions about abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, and the various ethics and corruption scandals involving his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, which came out after President Bush nominated Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. Before these mistakes could crystallize into a defining moment, though, Giuliani righted the ship. That said, his critics on the Left continue to miss the mark in their hunt to bring down the Republican with the most appeal to Democratic and independent voters.

Consider three recent critiques of the candidate. In the New Yorker, a remarkably long—sixteen pages and nearly 15,000 words—and meandering profile by Peter J. Boyer offers a too-cute-by-half inversion of the newly outdated conventional wisdom that the South will bring down Giuliani as it did McCain in 2000. After a thinly-sourced accounting of how Giuliani’s contentious style rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, the article reaches the conclusion that, as one second-tier critic of the mayor puts it, “All the things that a lot of New Yorkers, myself included, hate about this guy are the things that are actually fuelling his campaign.” Thousands of words into what’s effectively a sanctioned hit focused on how Giuliani alienated New Yorkers, Boyer correctly concludes that this alienation may be a political asset, and certainly does no harm.

Still less effective is the cover story of the August issue of Harper’s, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” by the superb historical novelist Kevin Smith. It’s a nine-page complaint about how in the “new politics, the candidate is everything” (how this differs from the old politics escapes me). Smith claims that Giuliani governed through “regular authoritarian gestures” and “achieved almost nothing of significance.” As in the New Yorker piece, there’s plenty at which the self-satisfied can nod knowingly, but nothing of worth for those still considering their decision, let alone the writers and operatives looking to craft a compelling critique of Giuliani.

The one attack with some teeth comes from Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett, the legendary digger who’s long played Ahab to the mayor’s white whale. In “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” the cover story of last week’s Voice, Barrett launches a lengthy, and at points compelling, attack on the mayor’s 9/11 record. Most resonant is Barrett’s well-documented claim that Giuliani did little to protect the health and safety of first responders, who, at an alarming rate, are being diagnosed with cancer and various rare illness.

As previously noted in these pages, Giuliani’s decision to focus on 9/11 and neglect the rest of his accomplishments as mayor leaves him highly vulnerable to an effective assault on his record in the days and months following the terrorist attack. It’s a danger from which he attempted to insulate himself with his claim earlier this week that “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to.” First responders and political foes pounced on the statement, for which Giuliani quickly apologized.

It was a rare misstep from his increasingly disciplined campaign, but it was a dangerous one—there’s little doubt that the health issues swirling around first responders will become a national story before the campaign is over. While this story will also hurt Clinton and Bloomberg to some extent, it’s Giuliani who has the most to lose should his image as a heroic responder be tarnished.

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Jerry Hadley, R.I.P.

cross-posted at About Last Night

Jerry Hadley’s suicide has set the small town that is American opera to buzzing. It was a surprise—I can’t think of another well-known classical singer who has killed himself—but on further reflection I didn’t find it all that shocking. Hadley’s career had been in decline for a number of years, and he’d long since dropped off my scope. The last time I saw him on stage was in the 1999 Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Harbison’s operatic version of The Great Gatsby, which didn’t make much of an impression on me. The New York Sun‘s obituary quoted something I’d said about him in my 1988 High Fidelity review of his recording of Show Boat, and it took me a moment to remember that I’d written the piece. To outlive your own fame is a terrible fate, and it is all the more poignant for a performer. As I wrote when Johnny Carson died:

I wonder what he thought of his life’s work? Or how he felt about having lived long enough to disappear into the memory hole? At least he had the dignity to vanish completely, retreating into private life instead of trying to hang on to celebrity by his fingernails. Perhaps he knew how little it means to have once been famous.

Alas, Hadley, unlike Carson, lost his fame comparatively early, and all too clearly longed in vain for its return. He was, of course, an operatic tenor, and as such the closest thing in music to an athlete, which suggests an appropriate epitaph: Now you will not swell the rout/Of lads that wore their honours out,/Runners whom renown outran/And the name died before the man.

cross-posted at About Last Night

Jerry Hadley’s suicide has set the small town that is American opera to buzzing. It was a surprise—I can’t think of another well-known classical singer who has killed himself—but on further reflection I didn’t find it all that shocking. Hadley’s career had been in decline for a number of years, and he’d long since dropped off my scope. The last time I saw him on stage was in the 1999 Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Harbison’s operatic version of The Great Gatsby, which didn’t make much of an impression on me. The New York Sun‘s obituary quoted something I’d said about him in my 1988 High Fidelity review of his recording of Show Boat, and it took me a moment to remember that I’d written the piece. To outlive your own fame is a terrible fate, and it is all the more poignant for a performer. As I wrote when Johnny Carson died:

I wonder what he thought of his life’s work? Or how he felt about having lived long enough to disappear into the memory hole? At least he had the dignity to vanish completely, retreating into private life instead of trying to hang on to celebrity by his fingernails. Perhaps he knew how little it means to have once been famous.

Alas, Hadley, unlike Carson, lost his fame comparatively early, and all too clearly longed in vain for its return. He was, of course, an operatic tenor, and as such the closest thing in music to an athlete, which suggests an appropriate epitaph: Now you will not swell the rout/Of lads that wore their honours out,/Runners whom renown outran/And the name died before the man.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, The NIE

As usual, there has been considerable fanfare leading up to the release of the new National Intelligence Estimate on “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland.” (Or, to be more exact, the release of the NIE summary—the full text remains classified.) Early commentary suggested that this NIE—a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community—had determined that al Qaeda was just as potent today as it had been on 9/11, and that therefore President Bush’s anti-terrorism policies have been a dismal failure. The actual text is more nuanced, providing ammunition for both the President and his critics.

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As usual, there has been considerable fanfare leading up to the release of the new National Intelligence Estimate on “The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland.” (Or, to be more exact, the release of the NIE summary—the full text remains classified.) Early commentary suggested that this NIE—a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community—had determined that al Qaeda was just as potent today as it had been on 9/11, and that therefore President Bush’s anti-terrorism policies have been a dismal failure. The actual text is more nuanced, providing ammunition for both the President and his critics.

The summary begins with a nod to administration achievements:

We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al-Qa’ida to attack the US Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United States since 9/11.

It goes on to say that al Qaeda remains active in planning to attack the U.S., and that “[a]s a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.” It lists several causes for concern:

We assess that the spread of radical—especially Salafi—Internet sites, increasingly aggressive anti-US rhetoric and actions, and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West’s Muslim population is expanding, including in the United States.

None of this is particularly new or surprising. And although it could be used by Democrats as evidence that Bush isn’t doing enough to win the war on terrorism, it also helps Republicans who argue, against Democrats like John Edwards, that there really is a war on terrorism.

The NIE’s take on Iraq also cuts both ways:

Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

So much for last Friday’s front-page New York Times story, whose headline claimed “Bush Distorts Qaeda Links.” (The argument being that the President doesn’t acknowledge the differences between al Qaeda in Iraq and the main al Qaeda group.) It turns out, as the NIE notes, that the two are closely linked. To be sure, the fact that Iraq has become a staging ground for such an active al Qaeda franchise is an indictment of U.S. policy to date; if Bush hadn’t muffed the post-invasion phase of operations, this might not have happened. But it has happened, and the NIE finding strengthens the case for remaining in Iraq to fight the terrorists.

In another area the NIE delivers a more scathing (if implicit) indictment of Bush policy:

We assess the group [al Qaeda] has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe-haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.

This shows the bankruptcy of our policy of supporting unreservedly Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship, aimed at increasing Pakistani efforts against extremists. While there have been such efforts, they have been insufficient to prevent al Qaeda from establishing a “safe haven” in Pakistan. The intelligence community would not admit this lightly, as it is sure to aggravate Islamabad.

Eli Lake reports this morning in the New York Sun that another, classified section of the NIE locates an al Qaeda safe haven in eastern Iran. This shows the need for a revised policy not only toward Pakistan, but also toward Iran. The Bush administration has done poorly on both fronts. But there is scant cause to think that a Democrat would have done any better. We know, in fact, that the Clinton administration didn’t have any more success in dealing with these breeding grounds of terrorism.

While not particularly revelatory, the NIE performs a valuable service by calling attention to the threat we still face from Islamist terrorists—something that many complacent Americans have been losing sight of in recent years.

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What is MTHEL?

What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?
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What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?

That is a vital question, requiring an urgent answer. Writing in the New York Sun, Halkin suggested three: none of them at all appealing.

The first is using air power to destroy rocket launchers as they are discovered and killing the organizers of such attacks with targeted assassinations. But Halkin is not convinced this will be successful: “the anarchy in Palestinian society has reached the point that not even the heads of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, were they to seek to stop the Qassam attacks because they feared for their own lives, would necessarily be able to do so.”

A second approach would be to reoccupy Gaza. But this has significant drawbacks: “the price Israel would pay for this in terms of military casualties would be high” and the last thing Israel needs “is once again to have to police this tiny, overpopulated strip of human misery that is an ideal place for urban guerrilla warfare.”

Another idea is for Israel to answer rocket attacks with artillery fire, leveling those portions of the Gaza strip from which the rocket-fire emanates. Halkin finds this solution to be “ugly,” but also the “best” of the three. It might, he suggests, “put an end to violence very quickly, once Palestinians in Gaza became as panicky as Israelis in Sderot and screamed at their leaders to put an end to it.”

Halkin might well be right in his ranking, but there is a fourth approach that should be considered—not just considered but made an urgent priority. It has implications not just for facing down the terrorists of Hamastan but also for pacifying the rocket-rich territory of Hizbollahland to the north and for contending with other dangers yet to emerge.

It is called MTHEL. Both the Pentagon and Israel were investing heavily in it up until 2005, when spending was abruptly cut. Although not much discussed, that decision seems to have been a far worse Israeli blunder than any committed in the course of last summer’s war. But what is MTHEL? It stands for Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser. To watch it in action, click on the video below.

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A Muslim Magnet School?

Two weeks ago the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be establishing a new magnet high school to teach Arabic culture and language. A week later, the BOE revealed plans to place the school within an existing elementary school; the resulting hue and cry from concerned parents put an end to that. But the city is set to go ahead with the project as soon as it finds a physical space.

One goal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (for such is the school’s name) is to recruit enough native Arabic speakers to comprise 50 percent of the student body. It seems perverse to take immigrant students, who most need immersion in the language, culture, and values of the United States, and teach them more about the culture from which they came. As leading education historian Diane Ravitch told the New York Sun, “It is not the job of public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history.”

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Two weeks ago the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be establishing a new magnet high school to teach Arabic culture and language. A week later, the BOE revealed plans to place the school within an existing elementary school; the resulting hue and cry from concerned parents put an end to that. But the city is set to go ahead with the project as soon as it finds a physical space.

One goal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (for such is the school’s name) is to recruit enough native Arabic speakers to comprise 50 percent of the student body. It seems perverse to take immigrant students, who most need immersion in the language, culture, and values of the United States, and teach them more about the culture from which they came. As leading education historian Diane Ravitch told the New York Sun, “It is not the job of public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history.”

There is no intrinsic reason that Arabic language and culture should not be taught in city schools, as long as the curriculum can be kept free of political or ideological bias. But there is very little reason to believe that politics and ideology can be kept out of Middle Eastern studies, especially in an educational establishment in love with the ideology of multiculturalism, an establishment to which American cultural unity is a myth. And especially when one looks at the lineup of organizations responsible for the school’s design: the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Salaam Club of New York, and the Arab American Family Support Center of Brooklyn, all committed advocates for their own culture. The leading candidate for principal is a former teacher named Debbie Almontaser, an emigrant from Yemen, who routinely wears a hijab.

As much as supporters claim that there is no politics involved, that has rarely been the case when American curricula have dealt with Middle Eastern or Islamic matters. As the Family Security Foundation recently documented, the educrats tasked with creating these curricula have frequently inserted biased and partisan explanations of the region’s conflicts, out-and-out anti-Semitic slurs, and an uncritical portrayal of Islam into textbooks and approved curricula. (As a practical matter, the people most involved in writing these textbooks, as well as in reviewing them for state Boards of Education, are quite often advocates themselves of militant versions of Islam.)

While this essay cites numerous examples of Islam encroaching on education in the U.S., its assessment of how far this phenomenon has progressed in England (which has no equivalent of a constitutional Establishment Clause, and which has a number of state-subsidized Islamic schools) is truly chilling. Adrian Morgan, the author, points out that many such schools have graduated young men who have had short, inglorious careers as Islamic terrorists, at home and abroad. That fact alone should be a testament to the difficulty of proper oversight in these matters, and it should give the New York City Board of Education pause. The way to prevent the spread of Islamism in the U.S. isn’t to segregate Muslim children socially, but to encourage them to enter the broader cultural conversation that makes up American life. Whatever benefits the Khalil Gibran International Academy may provide, it will leave its students severely deficient in that respect.

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The Muslim Lobby

Europe’s democracies have changed dramatically in recent years in response to Islamic population growth, growth fueled by immigration and birth rates substantially higher than local norms. Great Britain, France, Italy, and other nations have been forced to accommodate the needs and preferences of their Islamic citizens, often at the expense of the global conflict with radical Islam.

Can it happen here? Suppose that the writer Mark Steyn is right to argue that “demographics are destiny.” What number of Muslims, agitating for their self-defined interests and agendas, would constitute a critical mass in the U.S.? At what point would American politicians feel compelled to take up their cause?

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) all worked overtime this past election cycle to create the impression that, in American politics, Muslims are now a force to be reckoned with. They were especially emphatic about the country’s growing Muslim population—some 8 million souls, in their oft-repeated estimates.

So it comes as a useful corrective to read Patrick Poole’s “Numbers Don’t Lie” in this week’s Front Page Magazine. Poole cites two recent pieces (in IBD and the New York Sun) criticizing the methodology of the survey that produced the 8 million figure and citing new estimates drawn from survey work done at CUNY and the University of Chicago—estimates suggesting that there are, in fact, not 8 million Muslims in the U.S. but well under 3 million. Moreover, of these, only a minuscule 4,761 are dues-paying members of CAIR, which presents itself as the community’s authoritative voice.

Whether CAIR or any of the others truly represents the sentiments of American Muslims is a question that political strategists might consider before pandering to their radical demands or overlooking their questionable (or worse) political associations, all amply documented over the years by observers like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. But why be fooled by numbers? The readiness to inflate the size of their alleged constituency is only another tactic in a campaign of intimidation to which too many have already succumbed.

Europe’s democracies have changed dramatically in recent years in response to Islamic population growth, growth fueled by immigration and birth rates substantially higher than local norms. Great Britain, France, Italy, and other nations have been forced to accommodate the needs and preferences of their Islamic citizens, often at the expense of the global conflict with radical Islam.

Can it happen here? Suppose that the writer Mark Steyn is right to argue that “demographics are destiny.” What number of Muslims, agitating for their self-defined interests and agendas, would constitute a critical mass in the U.S.? At what point would American politicians feel compelled to take up their cause?

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) all worked overtime this past election cycle to create the impression that, in American politics, Muslims are now a force to be reckoned with. They were especially emphatic about the country’s growing Muslim population—some 8 million souls, in their oft-repeated estimates.

So it comes as a useful corrective to read Patrick Poole’s “Numbers Don’t Lie” in this week’s Front Page Magazine. Poole cites two recent pieces (in IBD and the New York Sun) criticizing the methodology of the survey that produced the 8 million figure and citing new estimates drawn from survey work done at CUNY and the University of Chicago—estimates suggesting that there are, in fact, not 8 million Muslims in the U.S. but well under 3 million. Moreover, of these, only a minuscule 4,761 are dues-paying members of CAIR, which presents itself as the community’s authoritative voice.

Whether CAIR or any of the others truly represents the sentiments of American Muslims is a question that political strategists might consider before pandering to their radical demands or overlooking their questionable (or worse) political associations, all amply documented over the years by observers like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. But why be fooled by numbers? The readiness to inflate the size of their alleged constituency is only another tactic in a campaign of intimidation to which too many have already succumbed.

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Clash of Civilizations

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

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