Monthly Archives: June 2006

The Upper West Side Times

The always perceptive Peggy Noonan gets the New York Times right.

She writes:

Once the New York Times was extremely important, and often destructive. Now it is less important, and often destructive. This is not a change for the worse.

The Times is important still because of its influence on other parts of the media: Other journalists, knowing the great resources of the Times, respecting its air of professionalism (which is sometimes not an air but the thing itself), key their own decisions on news coverage to the front and opinion pages. If you’re a blogger or a talk-show lion, you key some of the things you talk about to the Times. It’s still important.

But it’s not what it was. Once it was such a force that it controlled the intellectual climate. Now it’s just part of it. Seventy years ago its depiction of Stalin’s benignity left a generation confused, or confounded. Fifty years ago, when the Times became enamored of a romantic young revolutionary named Fidel, the American decision-making establishment believed what it read and observed in comfort as an angry communist dictatorship was established 90 miles off our shore. The Times’ wrongheadedness had huge implications for American statecraft.

The Times is still in many respects an extraordinary daily achievement. The sheer size and scope of its efforts is impressive–the Sunday paper is big as a book every week, and costs a lot less.

But it is not what it was and will never be again. It was hurt by its own limits–a paper of and from an island off the continent, awkward in its relationship with and understanding of the continent. It was and is hurt by its longtime and predictable liberalism. Predictable isn’t fun. It doesn’t make you want to get up in the morning, tear the paper off the mat and open it with a hungry snap. It was hurt by technology–it lost its share of what was, essentially, a monopoly. And it’s been hurt by its own scandals and misjudgments. The Times rarely seems driven by an agenda to get the news first, fast and clear; to get the story and let the chips fall. It often seems driven by a search for information that might support its suppositions. Which, again, gets boring. The Times never knows what’s becoming a huge national issue. It’s always surprised by what Americans are thinking.

In a way the modern Times is playing to a base, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and the redoubts of the Upper West Side throughout America: affluent urban neighborhoods and suburbs. The paper plays not to a region but a class.

But one senses the people who run the Times now are not so much living as re-enacting. They’re lost on the big new playing field of American media, and they’re reenacting their great moments–the Pentagon papers, the Watergate days. They’re locked in a pose: We speak truth to (bad Republican) power. Frank Rich is running around with his antiwar screeds as if it’s 1968 and he’s an idealist with a beard, as opposed to what he is, a guy who if he pierced his ears gravy would come out.

This is the imagery that comes to you when you ponder the Times. It’s the imagery that comes unbidden when you ponder the national security stories they’ve been doing. They’re all re-enacting. They’re acting out their own private drama in which they bravely stand up to a secretive and all-powerful American government.

I think it’s personal drama in part because there’s no common sense in it. Common sense tells you that when the actual physical safety of Americans is threatened by extremists who’ve declared a holy war, and when those extremists have, or can get, terrible weapons that can kill thousands or tens of thousands or more, and when the American government is trying to keep them from doing what they’d like to do, which, again, is kill–then you’d think twice, thrice, 10 times before you tell the world exactly how the government is trying, in its own bumbling way, which is how governments do things, to keep innocent people safe and bad guys on the run.

It is kind of crazy that the Times would do two stories that expose, and presumably hinder, the government’s efforts. But then it strikes me as crazy that every paper that has reported the latest story–that would include The Wall Street Journal–would do so. Based on the evidence that has become public so far, the Journal, like the Times, and the Los Angeles Times, seems to me to have made the wrong call. But to me it is the New York Times, of all papers involved, that has most forgotten the mission. The mission is to get the story, break through the forest to get to a clear space called news, and also be a citizen. It’s not to be a certain kind of citizen, and insist everyone else be that kind of citizen, and also now and then break a story.

Forgetting the mission is a problem endemic in newsrooms now. It’s why a lot of them do less journalism than politics. When you’ve forgotten the mission you spend your days talking about, say, diversity in the newsroom. You become distracted by tertiary issues. (Too bad. The news doesn’t care the color or sex of the person who finds it and reports it.) You become not journalistic and now and then political, but political and now and then journalistic.

It’s sad. Though I guess if you’re the Times you take comfort in the fact that even though you’re not as important as you used to be, you’re just as destructive as ever.

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Praising Putin

Give Putin some credit. Why isn’t the Bush administration more like him or the Israelis when it comes to dealing with terrorists?

Billionaire Boys Club

Buffett and Gates are generous with other people’s money.

James Taranto writes in the Online Journal:

“Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., will give most of his $44 billion in Berkshire stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, entrusting his philanthropic legacy to the only person richer than him,” Bloomberg reports.

You can see why Buffett would want to give his billions to charity. The federal death tax is currently being phased out, but it will reappear in 2011 unless Congress acts–which means that if Buffett lives that long, the government will confiscate 55% of his assets upon his death.

But wait. Buffett is, as a New York Sun editorial notes, “an avowed supporter of the estate tax.” As we noted in 2001, so is Bill Gates Sr., the Microsoft founder’s old man, who is an executive of the Bill and Melinda Foundation.

As the Sun notes:

Mr. Buffett could have let the government take its share of his estate after he dies. But just as Mr. Buffett has accumulated his vast wealth without paying much personal income tax, he has found a way to avoid the tax man in this maneuver as well, even writing in his letter to Bill and Melinda Gates that a condition of the gift is that the foundation “must continue to satisfy legal requirements qualifying my gifts as charitable and not subject to gift or other taxes.”

On the estate tax, watch what Mr. Buffett does, not what he says. The Gates Foundation isn’t the only recipient of his largesse–three foundations headed by Mr. Buffett’s three children, Susan, Howard, and Peter, will get hundreds of millions of dollars. Tax documents show that in 2004, Peter Buffett and his wife Jennifer each took a $40,000 a year salary for what they reported was 30 hours a week each of work on the foundation.

When billionaires back the death tax, keep in mind that they have no intention of actually paying it. They are being “generous” with other people’s money. This is the way in which the superrich wage class warfare against the merely affluent.

Ann Coulter and the Democrat Human Shields

Three cheers for Ann Coulter.

Mark Steyn writes:

Ann Coulter’s new book Godless: The Church of Liberalism is a rollicking read very tightly reasoned and hard to argue with.

… nobody’s talking too much about the finer points of Miss Coulter’s argument. Instead, everyone — from Hillary Rodham Clinton down — is going bananas about a couple of paragraphs on page 103 and 112 in which the author savages the 9/11 widows. Not all of them. Just the quartet led by Kristen Breitweiser and known as “the Jersey Girls.” These four widows have been regular fixtures in the New York TV studios since they first emerged to complain that the average $1.6 million-per-family compensation was insufficient. The 9/11 commission, in all its ghastly second-guessing showboating, was largely their project. As Miss Coulter writes:

“These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them. The whole nation was wounded, all of our lives reduced. But they believed the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was an important part of their closure process. These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.”

And at that point Senator Clinton jumped in to denounce the incendiary blond commentatrix as (dread word) “mean-spirited.” Maybe so. But in 2004, the Jersey Girls publicly endorsed John Kerry’s campaign for president: they inserted themselves into the political arena and chose sides. That being so, to demand that they be insulated from the normal rough ‘n’ tumble of partisan politics merely because of their biography seems absurd. There are any number of 9/11 widows. A few are big George W. Bush supporters, many are apolitical. I was honoured to receive an email the other day from Deena Gilbey, a British subject whose late husband worked on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center and remained in the building to help evacuate his colleagues. A few days later, U.S. Immigration sent Mrs. Gilbey a letter informing her that, as she was now a widow, her residence status had changed and they were enclosing a deportation order. Having legally admitted to the country the men who killed her husband, the U.S. government’s first act after having enabled his murder is to further traumatize the bereaved.

The heartless brain-dead bonehead penpusher who sent out that letter is far more “mean-spirited” than Miss Coulter at full throttle. Yet Mrs. Gilbey isn’t courted by the TV bookers the way the Jersey Girls are. Hundreds of soldiers’ moms believe their sons died in a noble and just cause in Iraq, but it’s Cindy Sheehan, who calls Bush “the biggest terrorist in the world,” who gets speaking engagements across America, Canada, Britain, Europe and Australia. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi winds up pushing up daisy cutters, the media don’t go to Paul Bigley, who rejoiced that the man who decapitated his brother would now “rot in hell,” nor the splendid Aussie Douglas Wood, who called his kidnappers “arseholes,” nor his fellow hostage Ulf Hjertstrom, a Swede who’s invested 50,000 bucks or so in trying to track down the men who kidnapped him and visit a little reciprocal justice on them. No, instead, the media rush to get the reaction of Michael Berg, who thinks Bush is “the real terrorist” rather than the man who beheaded his son.

But it wasn’t until Ann Coulter pointed it out that you realize how heavily the Democratic party is invested in irreproachable biography. For example, John Kerry’s pretzel-twist of a war straddle in the 2004 campaign relied mainly on former senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from a Vietnam grenade accident whom the campaign dispatched to stake out Bush’s Crawford ranch that summer. Maybe he’s still down there. It’s gotten kinda crowded on the perimeter since then, what with Cindy Sheehan et al. But the idea is that you can’t attack what Max Cleland says about war because, after all, you’ve got most of your arms and legs and he hasn’t. This would normally be regarded as the unworthy tactic of snake-oil-peddling shyster evangelists and, indeed, the Dems eventually scored their perfect Elmer Gantry moment. In 2004, in the gym of Newton High School in Iowa, Senator John Edwards skipped the dreary Kerry-as-foreign-policy-genius pitch and cut straight to the Second Coming. “We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases . . . When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.” Mr. Reeve had died the previous weekend, but he wouldn’t have had Kerry and Edwards been in the White House. Read his lips: no new crutches. The healing balm of the Massachusetts Messiah will bring the crippled and stricken to their feet, which is more than Kerry’s speeches ever do for the able-bodied. As the author remarks, “If one wanted to cure the lame, one could reasonably start with John Edwards.”

“What crackpot argument can’t be immunized by the Left’s invocation of infallibility based on personal experience?” wonders Miss Coulter of Cleland, Sheehan, the Jersey Girls and Co. “If these Democrat human shields have a point worth making, how about allowing it to be made by someone we’re allowed to respond to?”

Another gem from Mark Steyn.

Loose and Ill-Digested Opinions

Needed: a dose of Churchillian courage.

Joseph Loconte writes:

Perhaps the most insidious domestic enemy that confronted Churchill in wartime was the spirit of defeatism. There was lots of it in the early days of the war, when Britain stood alone against the Nazi juggernaut. There were proposals to sue for peace with Hitler, fears of a successful German invasion of England, and military blunders that cost thousands of British lives. Churchill never lost heart. “The prime minister expects all His Majesty’s Servants in high places to set an example of steadiness and resolution,” he said. “They should check and rebuke expressions of loose and ill-digested opinion in their circles.”

The loose and ill-digested opinions about the Iraq war could fill volumes. No matter what the sign of progress in the country — fair elections, a liberal constitution, a representative government — some detractors seem seized by an almost pathological gloom.

…The answer to defeatism, of course, is not a policy of denial. The administration is right to describe Iraq as “the central front in the war on terror.” But it emerged as this violent epicenter only after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a metamorphosis for which most Americans were totally unprepared. Vice President Cheney’s insistence last summer that the insurgency was in its “last throes” — even as terrorist attacks were plainly intensifying — surely undercut the credibility of the cause in Iraq. Only in the last several months has President Bush offered a more substantive public account of the fierce difficulties that remain.

Churchill’s first wartime speech to the British people as prime minister was shocking for its sobriety: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” He later warned the House of Commons: “Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey, hardship our garment, constancy and valor our only shield.” And, while England rejoiced over the escape of thousands of British troops from a German onslaught at Dunkirk, Churchill injected his usual dose of realism: “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

The strength of a great leader, Martin Gilbert suggests, is his ability to frame the horrific realities of war within a larger moral vision. In this regard, no political figure of the 20th century possessed both the bearing and the eloquence of Winston Churchill. None understood better why Hitler and his ideology had to be confronted — and utterly defeated.

“People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy,” he said in a radio address during the Munich crisis of 1938. “But the antagonism is here now. It is this very conflict of spiritual and moral ideas which gives the free countries a great part of their strength.” Once war was declared, Churchill kept reminding the country what the conflict was fundamentally about. “We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny and in defense of all that is most sacred to man.”

For all his faults, President Bush sees correctly what is now at stake in Iraq: The forces of decency and democracy against the macabre vision of al Qaeda and Islamic fascism. His determination to stay the course is grounded in a set of moral and democratic ideals. “As we fight the war on terror in Iraq and other fronts, we must keep in mind the nature of the enemy,” Bush told Air Force graduates two years ago. “The terrorists who attacked our country on September 11, 2001 were not protesting our policies. They were protesting our existence.” He has repeated the message, in various forms, dozens of times. He did so again during his recent visit to Baghdad, in a commencement address this week to the U.S. Merchant Marines, and at a Republican fundraiser. “We’re going to win the war on terror,” Bush said, “if we don’t lose our nerve.”

As the debate in Congress makes painfully clear, too many war critics still fail to admit the blackness of the threat — the hideous inhumanity of radical Islam — that confronts us in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Without this moral realism, detractors have allowed their qualms about the conflict to degenerate into fatalism and defeatism. No surprise, then, that they now lack the resolve to carry on.

It was once said of Winston Churchill that he had “enough courage for everybody.” Churchill’s steadfastness, however, must not be confused with empty bravado. His strength of character was rooted in his life experience, moral clarity, and spiritual conviction. We will need more of that courage in the difficult days ahead, not less.

The Moral Equivalence Disease

John Podhoretz takes on the leftists who claim to “support the troops.”

He writes:

Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq likely hopes [with the torture killing of two American soldiers] to make service personnel believe themselves at risk of death by torture from any band of Iraqis they encounter – so that they’ll act differently: cautious, suspicious, with the hypervigilance of someone in the midst of a battle. If it works, civilians who mean our armed forces no harm may find themselves shot or killed by mistake as a result of the hair-trigger posture our forces will have to assume to keep themselves safe.

Could anyone blame them?

The answer, of course, is yes. If this is a new strategy, it exists not only to terrorize American and Coalition forces but also to divide them from Iraqis – to sow fear and hostility that will go both ways, to cause an upsurge in resentment and anger toward U.S. forces.

Here at home, we know there is a very serious constituency for stories about Americans committing massacres against Iraqis – from news magazines that print unconfirmed accounts and run them as gospel to congressmen like John Murtha who feel free to say that servicemen and women as yet charged with no offense in the Haditha incident committed murder “in cold blood.”

Until now, it has been possible for Murtha and others to say their consuming interest in the alleged misconduct of U.S. forces is a fearless effort to get at the truth of what is going on in Iraq. They claim to speak on behalf of the servicemen and women who are, they believe, fighting in a pointless and useless war.

And even as they do so, they often can’t help but draw a complete moral equivalence between the actions of U.S. forces in Iraq and the conduct of the insurgent terrorists. Consider these sentences, published yesterday by the liberal blogger Jeralyn Merritt: “It’s hard to express the sinking feeling this news brings. What can you say to the families of these young men to help reduce their grief? When does it end? Torture is disgraceful. But the United States does not have clean hands.”

Before word came that the two Americans of blessed memory were possibly beheaded, the ur-blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote that he prayed for the safety of our soldiers but wondered how America could say it would be wrong for the insurgents to torture our guys when we supposedly torture their guys.

What will such people say about the actions of the military men and women who must do their jobs now in the wake of the unspeakable murders of Tucker and Menchaca?

Will this increasingly passionate refusal to draw distinctions between the actions of Americans at arms and the behavior of Islamofascist monsters continue?

Will they show support for our troops at the moment they most need it – real support, as opposed to crocodile tears and the displays of profound disrespect for their mission? Or will they continue to use any means possible – including harsh judgments of the horrifying split-second choices made by young men in a dangerous situation who have put their lives on the line for the rest of us – to get at the president whom Sullivan, with his typical tone of reserved understatement, yesterday called “shallow, monstrous, weak and petty”?

Will the news media treat our men and women at arms well at such a time by giving them the benefit of the doubt, or will they make another choice?

We shall see whether “I support the troops” is a phrase that means something.

The Allocation of Scarce Goods

<a Ben SteinBen Stein offers some wise words on “economics.”

An excerpt:

And, speaking of economics, I just read one of the best books about economics I have ever read: “Everyman,” by Philip Roth. It is a slender novel. Even a dope like me can read it in a couple of hours, tops. I call it a book about economics because economics, as the immortal professor C. Lowell Harriss taught us on Day 1 of “Money and Banking” at Columbia, is about the allocation of scarce goods. Mr. Roth would have made a fine practitioner of the dismal science, because this book is about the scarcest of human resources, and the proper allocation and sad misallocation of that resource.

That resource, of course, is the love of those we care about and who care about us. Mr. Roth’s main character makes every sort of mistake in this allocation, but at the end realizes his mistakes and has one good day, perhaps, where he gets his economics right and appreciates fully the love that made his life possible, the love for him that was in the bones of his parents.

I’ve been especially haunted by one part of the book. In it, Mr. Roth’s protagonist — who has no name — talks about his dad opening a jewelry store in Elizabeth, N.J., called Everyman’s Jewelry Store, specializing in jewelry for working people. He opened it in the depths of the Great Depression — in 1933, the only year on record when the combined profits of all American business were negative. (Some economists also include 1934.) When asked why he took such a risk, he said, “So I would have something to leave my boys.” This was a man who understood the allocation of scarce goods.

My father did not start a jewelry store. He never had any kind of business at all. After he left the Navy in 1945, he never once applied for a job. He was supersmart, and he was sought out to work for the rest of his life, starting at the Committee for Economic Development, a businessmen’s group studying economic problems, to serving on the Council of Economic Advisers as a member and, later, chairman under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. My father always told me that he regretted not having had a business, so that he and I would be partners, and he could leave me a place to work where I would not be beholden to a boss.

He was seriously mistaken, of course. He had plenty to leave me. Father’s Day is next week, and for all of my Pop’s life, I gave him dinky little presents on that Sunday. Douwe Egberts pipe tobacco. Neckties from Brooks Brothers and Hermès. Sweaters, always from Brooks Brothers. Near the end of his life, I gave him a tallis, a Jewish prayer shawl (which he loathed — he was never big on ceremony).

But what I got from him was far beyond a name on a pebbled glass door saying “Stein & Son.” I got from him a lifetime of teaching by example — that you get the things you want by hard work, not by whining. The inheritance of a name synonymous with integrity on public policy issues, regardless of party line. A name known nationwide for wit and insight.

Islamoschmoozing

Mark Steyn on whether you should believe the “diversity outreach” police or your lying eyes.

An excerpt:

The other day, listening to an interview on America’s National Public Radio with the mayor of Toronto, I was laughing so much I drove off the road. David Miller warmed up with a bit of boilerplate Islamoschmoozing: “You know, in Islam, if you kill one person, you kill everybody. It’s a very peaceful religion. And they’re as shocked as Torontonians are. And . . .”

Renee Montagne, the anchorette, instantly spotted the ghastly breach of PC etiquette and leapt in: “Well, they sort of are Torontonians,” she pointed out.

“Sorry,” gulped the mayor, hastily re-smothering Muslims within the great diversity quilt. “They’re shocked as every Torontonian is . . .”

Thereafter, Ms. Montagne expressed bafflement that these allegedly alleged fellows would have wanted to commit a terrorist atrocity in what was, compared to the Great Satan next door, “a very open society, very liberal immigration policy, very good social services.”

Mayor Miller agreed: “More than half of the people who live in Toronto, including myself, were not born in Canada. And I think that’s why Canada works.”

“Although it didn’t work in this case,” Ms. Montagne pointed out, somewhat maliciously.

“Well, we don’t expect these kinds of occurrences, exactly because of our public services, because of diversity,” blah, blah. Insofar as there’s any relation between jihadists and “good social services,” the latter seem to attract the former — at least in the sense that Ahmed Ressam, Zac Moussaoui, the shoe-bomber, the tube bombers, etc., were all products of the Euro-Canadian welfare system. But go ahead, pretend that these guys were upset about insufficient “social services,” that they wanted to behead Stephen Harper to highlight the fact that wait times for the beheaded at the Toronto General are now up to 18 months, and they don’t always reattach the right head. It’s easy to scoff that a chap who can be bothered blowing up the Canadian Parliament must be insane, but, if you were a jihadist sitting in the cave back in the Hindu Kush listening to Renee Montagne and David Miller, wouldn’t you conclude that they’re the ones who are nuts? The Islamic Army of Aden PR guy seems by comparison to have a relatively clear-sighted grasp of reality.

This morning I was listening to Don Imus interview windbag Joe Biden who ranted about how closing Guantanamo is a no brainer since the “rest of the world” views the prison with horror. If the rest of the world, including the Islamicists, are horrified, then we must be doing something right down there.

Crush

If there ever was a time for minimalist war against the Iraqi “insurgency,” it ended long ago. Now is the time to crush the jihadists, Sadaamites, and suicidal lunatics in Iraq.

From today’s Wall Street Journal editorial:

We’re not military experts, but as a political matter securing Baghdad first may be the better strategy. Countries can live with unstable hinterlands if they have to; ask the Colombians. But security in a national capital is crucial for confidence in the government and to prevent the flight of the educated middle class, on whom the future so heavily depends. Baghdad is also a multiethnic city, so its stability would carry a symbolic message for the minority-dominated provinces.

Any new military operation would entail a more aggressive role for U.S. troops–and probably more casualties–as the November elections approach. But history has shown time and again that Americans are willing to tolerate casualties in service of what they believe is a winning cause. What Americans have slowly been turning against in Iraq is the appearance of helplessness in the face of the daily drip of car bombings and stories of students slaughtered for belonging to the wrong Muslim sect. Down this road lies more flagging public approval, until some unexpected setback triggers a political stampede for withdrawal.

Thus Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha had it exactly wrong yesterday when he responded to news of Zarqawi’s death by saying “we should be able to substantially reduce our presence in Iraq and redeploy our military outside of Iraq.” Mr. Bush might just as well give a surrender speech. The strategy of the insurgents has never been to “win” in any conventional military sense, but instead to cause chaos and drive the Coalition out too soon. Democrats like Mr. Murtha have too often been playing right into their hands.

Oooops!

New York Times Bush bashing columnist Bob Herbert misses a scoop:

Instead of beginning to pull our troops out of Iraq, we are sending more in. The permanent Iraqi government, which was supposed to be the answer to everybody’s prayers, is a study in haplessness. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s man in Iraq, remains at large.

And David Brooks gets it right:

One of the paradoxes of this war is that when U.S. forces commit atrocities, we regard it as a defeat for us because we have betrayed our ideals. When insurgents commit atrocities, it is also a defeat for us because of our ineffectiveness in the face of the enemy. Either way, morale suffers and the fighting spirit withers away.

And so the hunger to leave Iraq grows. A dissenting minority is furious that so many Americans are willing to betray the decent Iraqi majority in order to preserve some parlor purity. And the terrorists no doubt look at our qualms not as a sign of virtue but of weakness, and as evidence that savagery will lead to victory again and again.