Monthly Archives: February 2010

What We’ve Built This Weekend

Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got updates in my tummy:

That’s Deep, Man

Beefs Are Gettin’ Quite Nasty Up In This Blogosphere

Memorandum, Mon Amour

What We Are Talking About When We Say Certain Words, Part III

We Study The Studies And Debate The Results

Well, I Never Been To Spain

Brand New Cadillac Will Get The Excise Tax

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The L Couple

Michael Crowley at TNR:

Say what you want about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but “he knows how to work a room.” So claims Flynt Leverett, the contrarian Iran analyst who, with his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, paid a visit to the Iranian president in New York City last fall. During the sit-down at Manhattan’s InterContinental Barclay hotel with a group of invited academics, foreign policy professionals, and other Iranophiles, the Leveretts marveled at Ahmadinejad’s attention to detail as the Iranian took copious notes and strove to pronounce their unfamiliar names correctly. “He addresses every person by name. He made a serious effort to address everyone’s issue,” Flynt says. “It was really striking, the retail politics aspect.”

As former Bush White House officials, the Leveretts might seem unlikely company for the diminutive tyrant. But Ahmadinejad has reason to admire the married Middle East analysts. They are, after all, the most prominent voices in the U.S. media arguing that he was legitimately reelected last June, and that the opposition Green Movement is a flash in the pan. “There is no revolution afoot in Iran, and the social base of this movement is not growing; it is, in fact, shrinking,” Flynt recently said on PBS’s “NewsHour.” He has made his case everywhere from msnbc to NPR to The New York Times op-ed page, where he and his wife have made three shared appearances since late May.

To the Leveretts, Ahmadinejad’s Bill Clinton-like personal touch underscores their argument that, far from a thug repressing his people, he is, in fact, a charming leader with broad Iranian support–and one whose true nature the United States fails to understand. And, in any case, they say, moral indignation over his regime’s character distracts us from clear strategic thinking. Both economic sanctions and the Green Movement will fail to contain Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions. America’s only choice is to engage Iran, nuclear bomb or no. For that, they have earned the enmity of former friends and colleagues–and even drawn death threats. “We are portrayed as un-American, stooges of the regime,” complains Hillary.

But it’s not the Leveretts’ ultra-realist policy views that are so discomfiting. It is the sense that they cross a line into making apologies for the loathsome Ahmadinejad. And that makes for one of Washington’s most intriguing mysteries: How did two ex-Bush aides become the Iranian regime’s biggest intellectual defenders?


What happened? Some critics accuse the Leveretts of becoming corporate shills. Their salon dinners, for instance, have included executives from oil companies that have done business in Iran, including Norway-based Statoil and French Total. The Leveretts firmly deny that they are peddling access or trying to affect policy for corporate gain. Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation, says he recently conducted a review of their business ties and is “entirely satisfied there is no conflict. … The idea that their ideas are compromised is without foundation.”

Perhaps the Leveretts were transformed by what they saw as Bush’s blown opportunity to deal with Iran. Hillary says her dealings with Iranian diplomats as a Bush White House aide at the start of the Afghanistan war made her understand Tehran’s willingness to engage. “It seems that the Leveretts are almost frozen in time circa 2003 on this,” says Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner. The Leveretts have also come to accept the realist critique that Israel occupies too great a role in America’s foreign policy calculus; Flynt clashed with fellow Bush officials about what peace-process concessions Israel should be asked to make, for instance. “For a lot of pro-Israel groups, these [views of Iran] are non-starters,” he says.

Or perhaps, on some level, they have actually grown to admire Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In our meeting, I pressed them to say just how they feel about the Iranian leader. Geopolitics aside, did they consider him a despicable human being? “I think he’s actually a quite intelligent man,” Flynt replied. “I think he also has really extraordinary political skills.” “[T]he idea that he’s stupid or doesn’t understand retail politics is also pretty divorced from reality,” Hillary added. But that wasn’t the question.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Michael Crowley has a devastating piece out now on Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the former National Security Council staffers and expert self-marginalizers. In it, the Leverett does something I didn’t think she was foolish enough to do, which is to tell a reporter what he actually thinks of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The verdict: He likes him! Also, and more egregiously, he defends the Iranian regime for showing restraint in the face of pro-democracy demonstrator

Kevin Sullivan:

I’ve never met the Leveretts, nor have I ever spoken with them about Iran. I have at times found their analysis on the post-June 12 upheaval a bit exaggerated, biased and even downright peculiar. That said, I think Crowley undermines his own article with this acknowledgment of their work:

It’s not obvious that this analysis is wrong–especially in the wake of disappointing Green turnout last week on the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution–although, in a state willing to beat, arrest, and even kill protesters, gauging the popular mood is never simple.OK, fair enough. But flip this around on those who have been cheer leading for the so-called Green Movement, and the same criticism applies. Analysts and experts – clearly wearing their green hearts on their sleeves – have been repeatedly proven wrong about the size and capabilities of the Green Movement, yet no one suspects these well-intentioned partisans of nefarious, or even treasonous ties to agents or officials inside Iran (and if you think the Green Movement is somehow operating outside of Iran’s inner-circle you simply haven’t been paying attention). While I reserve my own criticisms of the Leveretts, I find the very personal and often malicious attacks on them to be really uncalled for, not to mention a distraction from the debate at hand. (incidentally, the Leveretts have written a brief and fair response to some of the nastier charges levied against them.)

Tim Fernholz at Tapped:

Disappointing many who had appreciated their earlier analysis, Leverett and Hillary Mann-Leverett, his wife and frequent writing partner, did not react the same way. Instead, they’ve dismissed the Greens and insisted on more engagement with Ahmadinejad, even comparing Obama to Bush. It’s a strange place to be, one that doesn’t seem to take into account the events of the last year.

Michael Crowley has written a piece exploring their position. He begins and ends his well-reported story with the suggestion that the Leveretts harbor some admiration for Ahmadinejad. Certainly, the Iranian president is despicable, but the restless urge to demonize people like Ahmadinejad has never paid dividends for the United States’ foreign policy; contests of who can hate more do not international achievement make. The Leveretts’ recognition of the Iranian president’s political abilities — and his rationality — is not an indictment of their arguments. Frankly, I’m more curious why Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t make an appearance in the article, since he is generally recognized as Iran’s true leader.

To me, it seems the reason that the Leveretts are so keen to engage the Ahmadinejad regime is that they are realists. They have made the calculation that the Green movement is not likely to overthrow the government soon and that America’s near-term interests are more important than supporting human rights abroad. That’s not a liberal foreign policy, but it also doesn’t require some malign affection for a dangerous theocrat.

Daniel Larison:

What is the point of Crowley’s question? To establish that we are all capable of meaningless moralizing about a foreign leader? If the Leveretts refused to be pulled in by this, so much the better for them. This is more of the same tired personalization of foreign policy. If we obsess over a foreign leader as an embodiment of villainy, it will keep us from having to think rationally about real policy options, and it will absolutely prevent the consideration of any sort of sustained diplomatic engagement. The only purpose for this obsession with Ahmadinejad that I can see is to make it easier to advocate confrontational and aggressive policies against Iran. It is a way of substituting emotion and passion for critical thinking about the potential for improved U.S.-Iranian relations. It is mostly a way of striking the right pose for lack of anything else to contribute to the debate. Iran hawks may have nothing but terrible ideas, but at least they have sufficient hate for Ahmadinejad!

Andrew Sullivan

Patrick Appel:

My main problem with the Leveretts is, like certain hawks, they project a false sense of certainty about the situation in Iran. No one knows exactly how the opposition movement will manifest. The Leveretts assert arguable claims as fact without explaining how they are reaching their conclusions.

Daniel Larison responds to Appel:

The claims the Leveretts have made about the presidential election are substantially no different than those made by Stratfor analysts from the very beginning. All of them have made reasonable arguments that Mousavi voters in general and Green movement protesters in particular do not represent anything like a majority of the population, and they have made fairly common-sense observations that the Green movement has been losing strength as time goes on. Skeptics of the movement’s strength have also cast doubt on claims that the regime is widely seen as illegitimate by most Iranians. These claims have been central to the latest wave of regime change arguments, which have focused on helping the protest movement bring down the government, and the claims are probably wrong. The skeptics’ doubt is informed by what little apparently reliable evidence about Iranian public opinion we have. Compared with this admittedly sketchy and incomplete picture, the Leveretts’ critics cannot muster much more than anecdotal evidence whose importance they continually exaggerate.

No one has obsessively attacked George Friedman et al. as regime apologists or “intellectual defenders” of Ahmadinejad. It seems to me that the Leveretts aren’t being targeted with smears and insults principally because of their analysis, which Crowley does not really attempt to dispute, but because of the policy course they recommend, which is significant, sustained engagement with Iran. What Leveretts’ critics seem to want to do is identify this engagement approach with sympathy and collusion with the regime. This is the same thing that some of the Leveretts’ harshest critics were trying to do when they were attacking Trita Parsi as lobbyist for the regime.

Lee Smith at Tablet:

The opposition camp has been critical of Leverett for his collaborations with Mohamed Marandi, director of Tehran University’s Institute for North American Studies and the son of Khamenei’s personal physician, who appears to have facilitated Leverett’s upcoming visit. “The University of Tehran is the institution which has applied for our visas,” Leverett explained to me.

Leverett was offended when I asked if the Revolutionary Guard had played a role in his invitation, and yet there’s little doubt that his co-author is personally and professionally close to the regime—and publicly justifies some of its most brutal actions. Since the June elections, Marandi has been the Ahmadinejad government’s key spokesperson in the English-language media, and he recently defended the regime’s sentencing opposition members to death. His true occupation may be even more unsavory. “He passes himself off as an academic, but he’s with the Ministry of Intelligence,” says Ramin Ahmadi, co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentary Center and a professor of medicine at Yale.

Of course, if you need to make the case that you have a genuine channel to the regime’s inner sanctum, it’s hard to do better than to partner with a hard-core regime man like Marandi. In the realist view, Leverett’s strong stomach and lack of sentimental attachments is proof that he is coming from the right place. “Flynt comes from a very strong national-interest point of view and emphasizes energy security,” says David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and a frequent guest at dinner seminars at the Leveretts’ Northern Virginia home. “They’re background dinners, usually about eight to 10 people, weapons experts, energy experts, Iranian nationals, with varied points of view on the Middle East,” he says. While Frum explains that Leverett’s “domestic politics are on the conservative, not liberal, side,” it is also true that Leverett’s fame and acceptance in Washington policymaking circles rests on the fact that he was lionized by liberals for his opposition to the Bush administration’s Iran policy.

The story of Leverett’s rise and fall and rise embodies the upside-down weirdness of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when obscure Middle East experts and Washington bureaucrats occupied center stage of the national debate. It’s safe to say that in less turbulent times, and under a less controversial president, no one would have ever heard of Flynt Leverett. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Leverett earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University, earned a doctorate in politics from Princeton, honed his Arabic-language skills in Damascus, and joined the CIA during a period when the agency was not especially known for running agents, or paying much attention to Iran.

In 2001, after a decade at the agency, Leverett landed a plum position on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, then headed by Richard Haass, and was subsequently named senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council staff. In the interagency process that coordinates policymakers in the bureaucracies across Washington—defense, state, White House, CIA—Leverett earned a reputation for committing what are known as “process fouls.” “That’s when you intentionally exclude other policymakers,” says a former senior-level Defense Department official. “Leverett did that to us all the time, withholding a paper and cutting us out of the debate because he feared, rightly, we were going to disagree with him.”

But it was Leverett’s disagreements with the president that, in his account, compelled him, as he wrote in 2005, “to leave the administration.” However, as another former member of the Bush NSC staff explained, Leverett did not leave his post by choice. “The job of a director on the NSC staff is bureaucratic,” says the former Bush official. “If there’s a deputies’ meeting, you take notes. When you get a letter from a foreign government, you log it in and draft a response.” Leverett continually missed deadlines and misplaced documents, and the NSC Records office had a long list of his delinquencies. His office was notoriously messy—documents were strewn over chairs, windowsills, the floor, and piled high on his desk. For Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser and a famously well-organized “clean desk” type, repeatedly missing deadlines and losing important letters was simply not tolerable behavior for an NSC officer, and Leverett was told to leave.

Returning to the CIA briefly before retiring from government service in the spring of 2003, Leverett moved on to the Brookings Institution, and then the New America Foundation, as he began to reinvent himself as an Iran expert with the help of his wife. Hillary Mann Leverett claimed that after rotating back to the State Department from the White House in April 2003 she had received a fax from a Swiss diplomat acting as an intermediary on behalf of the Iranians, offering what the Leveretts would come to call the Grand Bargain. According to the Swiss fax, she said, the Islamic Republic would cease support for terrorist organizations, terminate its nuclear weapons program, and recognize Israel if the United States would in turn guarantee that it had no designs to topple the regime.

So why didn’t the Americans bite? As the Leveretts explained in a series of interviews and their own articles, including, most famously, a 2006 op-ed in the New York Times published with redactions ordered by the Bush White House, it was because of Bush and the neoconservatives, who intended to lead the United States to war again.

The Leverettts responds:

In two previous posts on this blog, “Explaining the Concept of ‘Learning Curve’ to Jeffrey Goldberg” and “Explaining the Concept of ‘Facts’ to Jeffrey Goldberg”, Hillary Mann Leverett responded to a pair of truly shoddy pieces of “journalism” written about her by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.  Now we write jointly in response to a third such offfense, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Flynt Leverett Connection”, which Mr. Goldberg posted on his blog yesterday.  Goldberg’s post both links to and quotes from an “article” published by one Lee Smith earlier this week in The Tablet—an online publication which, until this week, we had never heard of.  Mr. Goldberg, it turns out, is a contributing editor to The Tablet (according to the publication’s website).

In Mr. Goldberg’s previous attempts to write about Hillary (with whom he has, to this day, never spoken or sought to speak), he displayed a fact-free approach to journalism that we found truly unfortunate from someone who works for such a historically august publication as The Atlantic.  In his current effort to portray Flynt (with whom Mr. Goldberg has also never spoken or sought to speak), Mr. Goldberg stoops to a new low in attempted character assassination—a low set by Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith’s “article” is chock full of unsubstantiated statements and  fabricated allegations.  For the record, we would like to respond to these unsubstantiated statements and fabricated allegations lies here.


Where to begin?!  By way of background, we should inform our readers that we are planning a trip to the Middle East next week.  Our itinerary includes Beirut and Damascus.  If our application for visas is approved, we might also be going to Tehran.  (As Middle East specialists, we travel to the Middle East multiple times each year.  We have been wanting to visit Iran for some time, and accepted an invitation from the University of Tehran to do so.)  It seems strange to us that people we don’t know have become so interested in our travel plans of late.  Mr. Smith is certainly very focused on the subject.  He bizarrely asserts that “Western scholars and policy wonks alike understand that access to the [Iranian] regime is a form of currency that can make you powerful or rich or both…all see access to the Iranian regime as the biggest prize in the foreign policy game”.

Considering the amount of grief we have to put up with because we actually want to talk to Iranians, including government officials, both inside Iran and outside the country, we are tempted to conclude that Mr. Smith is describing some parallel universe to the one that we live in.  We don’t know of a single “Western scholar” or “policy wonk” (and we know a lot of people in both categories) who thinks that access to the Iranian regime is going to make them powerful, rich, or both.

Lee Smith responds:

It is true, of course, that access alone does not make anyone rich or powerful, but it is a prerequisite if you wish to act an intermediary between closed societies and Western companies, which is exactly what the Leveretts are up to in Washington. I obtained several emails sent by the Leveretts and pertaining to their business, one of which is a November 2007 message inviting Trita Parsi to one of their “background dinners.” These dinners, which the Leveretts present as a kind of salon, help to generate business for an energy and consulting firm called Stratega, whose CEO happens to be Hillary Mann Leverett. The guests that night included representatives from Norway’s Statoil company, including Ali Ghezelbash, an owner of Atieh Bahar, which is an Iranian consulting firm that in the past facilitated business with Iranian industries, especially in the energy sector, controlled at one time by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In 2006, Statoil was fined $21 million for a 2002 bribe securing “development of a critical Iranian petroleum project.”

In Leveretts’ response to my article, they also claimed to have been quite offended when I suggested while interviewing them that their prospective trip to Iran “was facilitated via Muhammad Marandi on behalf of the IRGC,” or the Revolutionary Guards Corps. They charge that this information was made up, either by my sources or by me.

UPDATE: Greg Scoblete

Larison responds to Scoblete

Patrick Appel

Kevin Sullivan responsd to Appel

Larison responds to Appel

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A K-Thug And His Cat

Larissa MacFarquhar at New Yorker:

When it is cold at home, or he has a couple of weeks with nothing to do but write his Times column, or when something unexpectedly stressful happens, like winning the Nobel Prize, the Princeton economist Paul Krugman and his wife, Robin Wells, go to St. Croix. Here it is warm, and the days are longer, and the phone doesn’t ring much. Here they live in a one-bedroom condo they bought a few years ago, nothing fancy but right on the beach. The condo’s walls are yellow and blue, the furniture is made of wicker, there are pillows and seashells. There are tall, sprawling bougainvillea bushes along the side of the road.

“We first fell in love with St. John,” Krugman says. “It was New York lawyers who’d decided to give up on the whole thing and live on a houseboat and wear their gray ponytails.”

“But St. John went too upscale,” Wells says.

“Our complex is more Midwesterners. Retired car dealers and so on.”

The east end of St. Croix is something of a tourist spot, but the west end, where they decided to settle, is where the Crucians live, and it has a Jimmy Buffett feel to it that they like. In Frederiksted, the west end’s tiny town, there are a couple of coffee shops, a KFC, a Wendy’s, a few churches, a post office, and a promenade by the sea with concrete picnic tables. Not many people about. Farther out along the coast, there are beach bars with plastic chairs and Christmas lights, men with beards and very tanned middle-aged women sitting and smoking in the afternoon.

“The west end is where the whites who’ve gone native live,” Wells says. “They have a couple of beach bars with not very good blues and jazz bands. They were playing Neil Young as we went by the other night, and Paul said, ‘Boy, that was an awful rendition.’ ”

“It was Buffalo Springfield.”

“Yes, Springfield, O.K. I said, ‘Aging boomers, they love any rendition, no matter how bad.’ ”

Here Krugman wears the same shirt for days, a short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt, and bathing trunks. He sits in the room where they eat their breakfast, which has a long window open to the sea. He types at a tiny table that folds out of a closet, which requires him to sit more or less inside the closet, but this is helpful, because the light can be so bright in the room that it becomes blinding. If he turns his head, he can see the sky.

First thing when he wakes up, he checks out a few Web sites, and if he’s not writing his column that day he and Wells will go for a walk on the beach, or they will stroll into Frederiksted and have breakfast at Polly’s, a little coffee shop that serves iced lattes and pretty good egg burritos. If he is writing his column, he will start it on the morning of the day it’s due, and, if the spirit is with him, he will be done soon after lunch. When he has a draft, he gives it to Wells to edit. Early on, she edited a lot—she had, they felt, a better sense than he did of how to communicate economics to the layperson. (She is also an economist—they met when she was a postdoc at M.I.T. and he was teaching there.) But he’s much better at that now, and these days she focusses on making him less dry, less abstract, angrier. Recently, he gave her a draft of an article he’d done for Rolling Stone. He had written, “As Obama tries to deal with the crisis, he will get no help from Republican leaders,” and after this she inserted the sentence “Worse yet, he’ll get obstruction and lies.” Where he had written that the stimulus bill would at best “mitigate the slump, not cure it,” she crossed out that phrase and substituted “somewhat soften the economic hardship that we face for the next few years.” Here and there, she suggested things for him to add. “This would be a good place to flesh out the vehement objections from the G.O.P. and bankers to nationalization,” she wrote on page 9. “Show us all their huffing and puffing before you dismiss it as nonsense in the following graf.”

LARISSA MACFARQUHAR: Hello everyone, thank you for joining us. Professor Krugman, welcome. Professor Krugman will now be answering questions for the next hour, so feel free to send him one.

QUESTION FROM BILL PAPADAKIS: I have noticed that The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (as well as its previous edition) does not contain any footnotes or references, which seems to be in contrast with most books written by economists. I wondered if that was a conscious choice on your part or more of a technical issue?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, this was a book written for a broader audience, so it wasn’t supposed to be laden down. Also, much of the material was written in a white heat (the original version was 1999, but I revised it for the current crisis, basically over two weeks in Oct. 2008), so not so much scholarly apparatus.

QUESTION FROM MAURICIO MEGLIOLI: Dear Mr Krugman: I am very concerned about the current economic situation in the U.S., and in the first world countries. I seem to me (from a distance) that many of the things that happened in Argentina few years ago are now happening in U.S.: falling banks, job losses, auction houses, debt, etc.. In Argentina we have made every political and economical mistake possible for the past 100 years. So, we may deserve it… But, how has this happened to you? How was not prevented it? On the future: What type of economy is facing the world? Is this going to be a more radical phase of capitalism? We all should compete like slaves? Where is China taking all of us? Regards, Mauricio

PAUL KRUGMAN: I’m afraid that the line between troubled developing countries and supposedly sound, mature countries isn’t as sharp as we’d like. It’s worth remembering that Argentina was praised for its wonderful policies as late as, say, 1998; pride goeth before a fall. I guess the point is that rich countries can get sloppy and foolish too. And we’re having a really hard time breaking through the ideological barriers to effective action.

QUESTION FROM STANLEY SMITH: Has the president been a disappointment to you and are you ready to abandon President Obama?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Well, I’m disappointed—but you go to crisis with the president you have. Look, Obama is smart and well-intentioned; I agree with the direction of just about all his policies. What he’s lacked is sufficient urgency and force—plus it’s hard to do things with a relentlessly obstructionist opposition, plus the need for a supermajority. But I still have hope— for example, after a worrying lack of leadership for several weeks, he seems to be pushing hard for health reform again.

QUESTION FROM PATRICIA VADASY: If the Krugmans have pulled out of the stock market, I take serious note as an already nervous non-economist small investor. But without defined pension benefits, bleak prospects for Medicare and Social Security, what would a middle aged person do with her savings to plan for even some shorter retirement period?

PAUL KRUGMAN: You should know that in general I’m not a good stock prophet; I didn’t see the big 2009 runup, for example. I’m only any use here when there’s a huge bubble, as in 1999.

As for retirement planning: I really think that people have to think safety; taking risks for higher yield is a bad idea once you’re in late or latish middle age. Oh, and I wouldn’t worry too much about risks to Social Security or Medicare—barring a complete right-wing takeover, those programs will be there for a long time.

The K-Thug himself:

<!– — Updated: 6:38 pm –>

I’m a Poet

And other unexpected stuff, in this profile.

Overall I thought this profile had a lot of substance in it.

Patrick Appel

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

But now let’s turn to Paul Krugman, who mentions Berkeley in the course of being interviewed by Larissa MacFarquhar for a lengthy profile in the March 1 edition of the New Yorker.

“The book tour for ‘The Great Unravelling’ was like revival meetings, because so few people were speaking out then,” Krugman says. “There was a great event — it was in Berkeley, which devalues it a bit — but there was this event with a joint appearance by Al Franken, Kevin Phillips, and me, with three thousand people in the audience, and when we walked onstage we got a standing ovation. That would have been 2004.”

Devalues?! Isn’t the word you’re looking for “ratifies”? Come on, Paul, embrace the stigma!

Before some of HTWW’s more sensitive fans of Krugman (and our page-view statistics indicate that there are a LOT of you) take affront at my poking fun at the Nobel Prize-winning economist/liberal columnist icon, let me hasten to say I mean nothing but respect. If you have 20 minutes or so to spare, I strongly recommend a visit to the New Yorker. MacFarquhar is an excellent writer, and pulls off the difficult task of enlightening us as to both the person, and the economics, of Krugman. The whole tale of how he really didn’t care much about politics until he was radicalized by George W. Bush is fascinating.

And read to the end: The kicker, which I won’t spoil, is a thing of beauty.

Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine:

Often, while traveling, he is forced to wash them in hotel sinks. This is annoying.

It’s not so much the washing as the drying that presents a problem. Years of experiments have failed to yield a satisfactory solution. Krugman has discovered that it is slow and quite risky to use a hair dryer with any item that involves elastic. Long ago, in Tel Aviv, his roommates found him attempting to dry his underwear in a frying pan.

“The trick with underwear is to wring it out and then press down — ”

“I learned this from yoga workshops,” Wells says. “You get out as much excess water as you can, then you lay a dry towel flat on the floor, you lay the article of clothing on the towel, and roll it up like this — ”

“And then it’s only slightly damp in the morning when you have to put it on.”

“No, it’s usually dry. We also do that on bike trips.”

“Because you can’t take forty pairs of underwear.”

Wait. Forty pairs of underwear for a single bike trip? Why does Krugman need so much underwear? Maybe the economy is far worse off than we thought.

Stephen Spruiell at The Corner:

The New Yorker‘s profile of Paul Krugman is worth reading. Corner readers will find this anecdote grimly funny, if not exactly shocking:

Once Obama won the primary, Krugman supported him. Obviously, any Democrat was better than John McCain.

“I was nervous until they finally called it on Election Night,” Krugman says. “We had an Election Night party at our house, thirty or forty people.”

“The econ department, the finance department, the Woodrow Wilson school,” Wells says. “They were all very nervous, so they were grateful we were having the party, because they didn’t want to be alone. We had two or three TVs set up and we had a little portable outside fire pit and we let people throw in an effigy or whatever they wanted to get rid of for the past eight years.”

“One of our Italian colleagues threw in an effigy of Berlusconi.”

“I put out some coloring paper and markers so that people could write stuff on it and throw it into the fire. People really felt like there was stuff they wanted to shed! I had little hats and party whistles.”

I feel bad for the humanities, apparently not invited to the bonfire. Surely Princeton’s comparative lit professors and sociologists would have liked to get in on the effigy-burning.

Doug J.

Ryan Tate at Gawker:

Krugman is also quoted calling former Treasury Secretary Don Regan, with whom Krugman served in the Reagan Administration, “not that bright;” and boasting about his love for puns, including this one, which he himself added to a textbook: “Efforts to negotiate a resolution to Europe’s banana split had proved fruitless.”

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News Of The Week In Music Vol. 43

#1 Chile Earthquake

#2 Health Care Summit

#3 New York Governor David Paterson not running

#4 Fallout from the Dubai killing

#5 Desiree Rogers resigns

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The Chilean Earthquake And The After Effects

Robert Mackey’s liveblog at NYT


UH OH: 8.8 Earthquake Hits Chile.

UPDATE: Via Jake Tapper on Facebook, here’s the State Department number for those concerned about friends or relatives traveling in Chile: 1-888-407-4747.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Chaiten volcano webcam is still up and showing a lot of smoke or something. Connection? Who knows? (Thanks to reader Joan of Arghh for the link).

MORE: A list of Hawaii twitterers covering the tsunami warning. More on the warning here: Tsunami expected at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time, 4:19 p.m. Eastern.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived in California for more than 30 years, and I don’t ever recall a tsunami warning.  Obviously, this is a rare situation.  The 1960 tsunami killed 61 people in Hawaii and 140 in Japan, but its height was somewhere between three and thirteen feet.  This tsunami is estimated to be considerably smaller — but still dangerous.

In Chile, at least 76 people are reported dead, and MS-NBC has the video showing the extensive damage. That number will unfortunately rise as rescuers begin digging through the rubble. It won’t reach the kind of massive death as we have seen in Haiti despite being a stronger quake, thanks to stronger building codes, but it will almost certainly go into the hundreds. Chile needs our prayers — and let’s hope that the island nations remain safe.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

There’s still much we don’t know — particularly about what’s going on in Concepcion, the country’s second-largest city, which was the closest major town to the quake’s epicenter. Some Flickr users, such as condeorloff, have already started uploading photos of damaged buildings some 200 miles away in Santiago, the capital. So Concepcion must be pretty bad. There have also been numerous aftershocks, and warnings about tsunamis threatening the coastline.But  one thing is already clear: Chile was well prepared for this disaster, having been struck by 13 large earthquakes since 1973. The biggest seismic event in recorded history was in Chile, a 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960.  While the death toll will inevitably go up, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage are likely, the country seems very resilient.

Matthew Yglesias

Marcelo Ballve:

Haiti is the hemisphere’s worst-off country, with the weakest state. Chile is the hemisphere’s up-and-comer, a developing nation that has in the last 20 years earned a reputation for having Latin America’s best-organized and efficient government.As Philip Bobbit argues in his book Terror and Consent a natural disaster is tantamount to a terrorist attack in that it challenges the legitimacy of the state. Haiti’s quake showed up the weakness of the government (we won’t get into whose fault that is, but it’s a long list starting with extortionist reparations demanded by France after Haiti’s independence).

It will be interesting to see how the Chilean state responds to this challenge and meets this test of its capacity.

Ruth Calvo at Firedoglake:

From working on a build with Habitat for Humanity in Chile, I am sure that the little houses we put up are still standing. Most of the building we did was wood frame, and even by falling wouldn’t do a lot of damage. The area where we built, CasaBlanca, is a wine growing area and lowland, so there is not be great threat from earthquakes.

My greatest fear personally is for the Santiago archaeological museum, a priceless collection of pre-Columbian art and mementos. Sadly, the building itself is of stone, a renewal of the monumental architecture period that saw a downtown built of heavy, immense, stone structures. Circling an interior courtyard, the collections are on two stories, with large stairways, heavily built and decorated, many tiles and carved stones. Many of the earthenware remnants of the tribes that occupied the country before Europeans arrived will be easily damaged, and is not recoverable.

In Santiago, the downtown area contains multitudes of the monumental style of buildings, and even farther out the lack of space has created many-storied buildings. Ominously, as in Port au Prince, Haiti, there are supermarkets on the bottom floor scattered everywhere. Apartment buildings abound, many of stone and concrete.

In Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, seaside towns that we visited, the hills rise up from the shore, and older buildings built of stone are interspersed with funiculars to climb the steep hills. Houses are built one above the other, rising up the hills, around the shore. Shopping centers are formed by several stories of stores, with stairways winding up through the stores through several layers. A tsunami has hit Valparaiso, where the docks are full of ships and old stone buildings, and a seaside cafe that has particular appeal – that I hope wasn’t destroyed.

In Vina del Mar, there are many tall apartment buildings where visitors from all over the world vacation. The parks on the beach are lovely, and there is a flower clock that is a feature the town prides itself on. The shopping mall there has several stories, which include a supermarket in the bottom story.

As word continues to come in, I am terribly concerned for the Chileans who were woken up in the middle of the night to find a world tumbling around them. Soon the assistance will start coming in, to do what it can. Much that was of such great worth, though, will never be replaced.

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Saturday Morning Is A Time Of Cartoons And French Libel Law

The review of Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller’s book by Thomas Weigend in European Journal of International Law.

Aisha Labi in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

A law professor at New York University faces trial in a French criminal court in June on libel charges, after refusing to purge an academic book review from a Web site affiliated with a law journal that he edits, Times Higher Education reports.

Joseph Weiler, editor in chief of the European Journal of International Law, is being sued by Karin Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Centre of Law and Business in Israel, for a review of her book, The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court, that was published on the Web site in 2007.

Soon after it appeared, Ms. Calvo-Goller wrote to Mr. Weiler, saying that the review, by Thomas Weigend, director of the Cologne Institute of Foreign and International Criminal Law and dean of the faculty of law at the University of Cologne, was defamatory. She asked that the review be removed from the site.

“Prof. Weigend’s review goes beyond the expression of an opinion, fair comment, and criticism,” she wrote in correspondence reproduced in an editorial on “Book Reviewing and Academic Freedom” that Mr. Weiler has written for the current issue of the European Journal of International Law. She deemed the review “libelous,” saying it could “cause harm to my professional reputation and academic promotion,” and provided an example of a positive review the book had received from another German professor.

Mr. Weiler refused to remove the review but offered to publish a response from Ms. Calvo-Goller, “so that anyone reading the review would immediately be able to read her reply,” an approach that “would have amply and generously vindicated all possible interests of the author of the book,” he wrote in the editorial. “I continue to believe that in all the circumstances of the case … removing the review by Professor Weigend would have dealt a very serious blow to notions of freedom of speech, free academic exchange, and the very important institution of book reviewing.”

Lauren Streib at Business Insider:

So what did the author Dr. Karin N. Calvo-Goller find to be false and defamatory in Professor Thomas Weigend’s book review? Wigend’s statement that, “…in the main part of her book she simply restates the contents of relevant parts of the ICC Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.”

Apparently a pin-prick of a criticism is enough to bruise Calvo-Goller’s ego.

Read the whole play-by-play of the literary transgression at EJIL.

Henry Farrell:

Via a CT reader, this rather horrifying attempt to hold an academic journal criminally responsible (PDF) for publishing a negative book review and then refusing to suppress it. As Joseph Weiler, the editor of the European Journal of International Law describes the culmination of his saga:

… on 26 September 2008 I received a Subpoena to appear before a French Examining Judge in connection with an investigation of alleged criminal libel based on a complaint made by Dr Calvo-Goller essentially replicating the complaints in her first letter to me. … in libel cases, all investigations of the merits of the case are exclusively reserved for the Criminal Court itself and, therefore, as a direct consequence of the complaint being filed, it was necessary that I be referred to the Court for trial. The date for the trial has now been set for 25 June 2010.The review (in the European Journal of International Law ) is decidedly pungent, but (without commenting on the legal aspects,which I know nothing about) it seems to my eyes to be well within the usual norms of academic book reviewing (where a general tendency towards back-slapping congeniality is leavened by occasional fits of vigorous criticism). Weiler asks that academics who are upset at Dr. Calvo-Goller’s novel approach to managing the fallout from negative book-reviews send letters of “indignation/support” by email attachment (preferably with letterhead and affiliation) to, especially if they are editors or book review editors for other journals. He also asks that people send scanned or digital copies of other caustic book reviews to this address, so as to demonstrate that Dr. Calvo-Goller’s unhappy experience at the hands of a critic is nothing unusual.


The substance of her complaints seem quite specious to this non-expert on her subject, and the review itself is a pretty run of the mill negative review. In the pretrial hearing, he was told by the examining judge that she couldn’t rule on substance and the case would be going to trial. Obviously, the idea that book review editors could be subject to criminal sanction, or even defending themselves against criminal charges, could certainly have a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom.

As with the McDonalds case, it’s difficult to grasp why the complainant finds this particular course of action wise. Even if the book review in question contained actionable libelous claims, which seems doubtful, the notoriety of effectively declaring oneself an enemy of academic freedom will surely do more damage to her reputation than a couple of unfair critical remarks in a book review.

I’d certainly be curious to hear a defense of the “burden of proof lies on the defendant” approach to libel law on the merits, because it’s not easy for me to imagine what that would look like.

Zoe Corbyn at Times Higher Education

Mike Masnick at Techdirt:

The editor, Joseph Weiler, has written up the whole saga (pdf), including the letters between the two. He concludes by pointing out how this lawsuit seems to go against all principles of academic discourse:

I believe that in the circumstances of this affair, her action of instigating a criminal libel case against me for refusing to remove the book review is misguided and inconsistent with the most fundamental practices of all academic institutions with which I am familiar and with traditional academic discourse.

It really is difficult to see how someone could think that a slightly negative review could do more harm to one’s professional reputation than filing a criminal defamation lawsuit against the editor who published that review.

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Looking For Harry Hopkins In All The Wrong Places

Giles Whittell and James Bone in the Times:

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.

Argentina appealed to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, last night to intervene in the dispute, a move Britain adamantly opposes.

“The Secretary-General knows about the issue. He is not happy to learn that the situation is worsening,” Jorge Taiana, the Argentine Foreign Minister, said after meeting Mr Ban in New York.

“We have asked the Secretary-General, within the framework of his good offices, to stress to Britain the need to abstain from further unilateral acts.”

A top UN aide acknowledged, however, that Mr Ban would not be able to mediate because of Britain’s opposition.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s Ambassador to the UN, said: “As British ministers have made clear, the UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands . . . We are also clear that the Falkland Islands Government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters, and we support this legitimate business in Falklands’ territory.”

Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner:

Obama to Britain: Drop Dead


Well, I’ll say this for Obama: He’s consistent. Whether it’s the Poles, the Czechs, or the Brits, the message is clear. On his watch (too kind a word) longstanding American allies can be expected to be taken for granted, insulted and, if convenient, dumped. Now, every country (including, of course, the U.S.) must do what it needs do in the pursuit of its national interests, and those alone. In foreign policy nothing else should count. But a clear view of what those interests are is indispensable, and that must include a full understanding of what the consequence of particular actions might be. If Obama is again showing that, with him at the helm, the U.S. is not a reliable ally to its friends, then he must learn to expect less from those friends.

Nile Gardiner at Heritage:

Even by the relentlessly poor standards of the Obama administration, whose doctrine unfailingly appears to be “kiss your enemies and kick your allies”, this is a new low. The White House’s neutrality in a major dispute between America’s closest friend and the likes of Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, Argentina’s biggest backer, represents the appalling appeasement of an alliance of anti-Western Latin American regimes, stretching from Caracas to Havana – combined with a callous indifference towards the Anglo-American alliance.

Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen a staggering array of foreign policy follies by this administration, from the throwing under the bus of the Poles and the Czechs over missile defence to siding with Marxists in Honduras. But this latest pronouncement surely takes the biscuit as the most brazen betrayal so far of a US ally.

As the Obama government is amply aware, the tensions between London and Buenos Aires are escalating dramatically, with British military contingency planning already under way. In effect, Washington declared today that it would remain neutral in the event of another war in the South Atlantic, a stunning declaration to make.

Thousands of British soldiers are laying their lives on the line alongside their American allies on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Yet the president of the United States is either unwilling or too timid to offer a single word of support for the British people, who face a mounting confrontation with a corrupt, populist Argentine government that is threatening a blockade of British territory.

To put it bluntly, the Obama administration is killing the Special Relationship, and the prospects of a recovery look extremely bleak as long as Barack Obama remains in the White House.

Toby Young at The Telegraph:

For this alliance to survive, both countries must recognise their obligations and, from time to time, that involves one of us setting aside more localised concerns for the sake of the cause. Tony Blair would have preferred it if President Bush had been prepared to wait for a second UN resolution before launching the invasion of Iraq, but he decided that Britain should follow America into battle nevertheless. He recognised that the preservation of the Atlantic alliance had to be prioritised above all else, both for our sake and the sake of the world.

In return, we naturally expect America to side with us when it comes to our own territorial disputes — and this element of quid pro quo was recognised by Ronald Reagan when he backed Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War. It wasn’t in America’s regional interests to side with us, but Reagan knew the terms of the deal: It was your country, right or wrong. You don’t abandon your closest ally in her hour of need.

So it is truly shocking that Barack Obama has decided to disregard our shared history and insist that we have to fight this battle on our own. Does Britain’s friendship really mean so little to him? Do the sacrifices Britain has made in defence of the Atlantic alliance count for nought? Who does he think will replace us as America’s steadfast ally when she finds herself embroiled in a territorial dispute of her own — possibly with the very same motley crew of Latin American rabble rousers? Spain? Italy? France? Good luck with that, Mr President.

You’d think that having made his bones in Chicago, Obama would know the Chicago Code of Honour: When someone picks a fight with a friend of yours, they pick a fight with you.

It is at times like this that I remember the words of Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s unofficial emissary to Britain during the Second World War. In our darkest hour, when we stood virtually alone against Hitler, Hopkins was dispatched to Britain to assess our situation. Did we have the will to remain in the fight? Was this a country that America should risk its national interest to defend?

Before Hopkins returned to deliver his verdict to Roosevelt, Lord Beaverbrook gave a small dinner party for him and it was there that he rose to give a toast. “I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return,” he said. “Well I am going to quote to you one verse from the Book of Books: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’”


Dan Spencer at Redstate:

Do not let Obama get away with this latest outrage. Call the White House. Call your Senators. Call your Representative. Tell them the American people, if not their current president, back our most dependable and important ally. So should the federal government.

Alex Massie:

The Times overstates the extent of US support during the Falklands War. That is, while said support was eventually forthcoming and, indeed, extremely useful it was far from immediate. Indeed, initially the State Department sympathised with the Argentine position while Jean Kirkpatrick, then Ambassador to the United Nations, openly sided with the Galtieri regime. Better to support a nasty little junta as a bulwark against lefty influence in Latin America you see? And to hell with the interests of your friends. Interests trump alliances, or so the argument went.

And something of that spirit still exists in Washington. There’s no desire to take a public stand on this issue that would irritate other Latin American countries who have no need to be reminded of what they deem US interference in Latin America. Equally, there is a certain view in Washington that the Falklands are a mildly absurd remnant of a long-gone British imperial era and, since the death of that age was a US objective post-WW2 it’s not a great surprise that Foggy Bottom remains unimpressed by the last embers of that once glorious fire.

If push does eventually come to shove then the Americans will, I suspect hope, back Britain. But they’d rather not have to take a decision of any sort. If that means annoying the UK then so be it. And of course, the UK can be annoyed because Washington calculates, not unreasonably, that in the end, Britain won’t do much to frustrate US objectives elsewhere whereas the Latin Americans will in areas of policy in which Britain has next to no interest or stake.

Daniel Larison:

Is the ownership of the Falkland Islands the business of the United States? I have no idea how it could be. This is a matter to be resolved by the British and Argentinian governments. Complaints about U.S. neutrality are misguided. It is probable that the only side that could benefit from U.S. involvement is the side rejecting British sovereignty and exploitation rights.

As a comparison, consider the dispute over Kashmir. A long-time U.S. ally, Pakistan, has pressed Washington for yeas to try to internationalize the Kashmir dispute. As the de facto government controlling Kashmir, India wants to keep the issue between the two neighbors. One of Obama’s early missteps was to suggest publicly that he was open to U.S. mediation of what the Simla accord had determined should be treated as a purely bilateral issue. Since then New Delhi has prevailed on the administration to abandon that idea, and the result is the confirmation of the status quo. As a general rule, leaving bilateral territorial disputes to the two parties involved is the correct thing to do. This is what the administration has done in the case of the Falklands, and unless we want our government to become even more interventionist in its foreign policy and even more meddlesome in other conflicts around the world we should applaud Washington’s refusal to weigh in on either side of the dispute.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison

John Hinderaker at Powerline

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New York’s Luck With Governors Continues

Danny Hakim in NYT:

Gov. David A. Paterson is set to announce that he will not seek election in the wake of reports that he and the State Police intervened in a domestic-assault case against a senior aide, according to a person told about the plans.

Tom Schaller:

Paterson is not resigning, just abandoning his bid for re-election. His announcement today comes less than 24 hours after he insisted that he would not give up his campaign, even in the face of political pressure to step aside amid a widening scandal involving domestic violence involving a top aide, David Johnson. Reporting by the New York Times increased pressure on Patterson to explain why he and the State Police had intervened to protect Johnson.

Details of the Johnson episode aside, Paterson was already trailing badly in a head-to-head primary matchup against Democratic attorney general Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor and Pataki predecessor Mario Cuomo. More to the point, Paterson has proved to be far less competitive against possible GOP nominee and former Hillary Clinton Senate opponent Rick Lazio than Cuomo, who consistently bests Lazio in potential head-to-head general election matchups.

Paterson’s approval numbers had actually been rising since last autumn, giving him and his allies hope of a political comeback until his numbers started to tank again. He abandons his campaign just four days after the latest Siena College poll shows him trailing Lazio by 7 points, while Cuomo is cruising, enjoying leads of 30 to 40 points. Suffice to say Lazio can’t be happy about Paterson’s departure; the longer Paterson stayed in, the better Lazio’s chances of facing a divided Democratic Party in the solidly blue Empire State.

Four years ago, Spitzer-Paterson carried all but three counties in New York. Cuomo may not post a victory of that magnitude, given the national mood. But in what otherwise promises to be a tough night for Democrats from coast to coast, Paterson’s departure finally clears the path for a safe Democratic seat and something for the party to cheer in November.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

UPDATE: Businesswoman Kristin Davis, “The Manhattan Madam,” announced that she will run for New York governor today.

From her email announcement:

Kristin Davis, known as the Manhattan Madam who supplied call girls for Eliot Spitzer when he was Attorney General and Governor, will announce her candidacy for Governor of New York State as an Independent Candidate at 11am on March 1, 2010 at the historic Roosevelt Hotel located at 45 East 45th Street at Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10017- 2nd floor, Sutton Suite.

At least she has a business background. That will be important since the state is bankrupt.

Michelle Malkin:

Call it Patrick Gaspard’s revenge. Recall how Obama’s top White House domestic policy aide — the ACORN/WFP/SEIU “air traffic controller” — intervened in NY-23, has kept his till in the NY politics pot, and made the unpopular Paterson a target to pave the path for Cuomo.

Behold the persuasion of power.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

The news that Gov. David Paterson (D-N.Y.) won’t seek a full term of his own in the wake of a new scandal reminds me of this TV ad that Paterson and gubernatorial nominee Eliot Spitzer ran in 2006, and which first became darkly ironic when Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal.


The “all the way to the end” line is especially bitter now. And it’s especially hard to see how Spitzer’s rumored designs on a comeback campaign for state comptroller will work now that his hand-picked successor is going to leave in disgrace, loathed by most of the state’s voters.

Pareene at Gawker:

Back when the New York Times stories that suggested an abuse of power were just delightful rumors of stories of drug-fueled orgies, Paterson gave a press conference that was ostensibly about the state’s response to that day’s massive snowfall. He eventually said the only way he was leaving office without losing an election was “in a box.”

According to sources we just made up, the accidental governor made this tough choice once he realized that he’d finally lost the support of Gawker.


Haha, we almost put “Officially Quits Race” in the headline, but how can a civil rights leader and symbol of hope/change such as David Paterson quit his own race? Anyway, so much for the dream, the dream of America’s first blind black governor. Just 11 months ago, America gathered around its communal browser and held hands and cried, just a little, as it seemed the nation’s old wounds had finally healed in the form of this wonderful man and his magical, appointed-by-somebody rise to the highest office in … Albany. But now it’s over, collapsed in a pile of cocaine and whores and thuggish sidekicks, as so many New York political/entertainment careers have collapsed.

What the tabloids reported has become “oh right we’ll say it too” truth, via the New York Times: Paterson had dropped out, forever, and Harold Ford can finally be president of NYC, with Julia Allison as his Snow Queen.

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My, That Is An Exceptional 6 Train

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz at The League:

Lowry and Ponnuru seem to believe that mass transit is a “socialistic program” and an “infringement on our liberty.” Presumably they think this because mass transit is built and administered by the government and supported, quite often, by taxes. But the exact same thing is true of highways. Would Lowry and Ponnuru denounce the Interestate system as socialistic on the same grounds?

Their casual slander also dishonors one of the recently passed heroes of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich. Weyrich co-founded the Heritage Foundation and founded the Free Congress Foundation. Lowry and Ponnuru, who both probably knew him, also know that he was as American and un-socialistic as they come. Weyrich realized that transit was, in some cases, an eminently reasonable way of transporting people. If  Lowry and Ponnuru are unsettled by the fact that Europeans have more transit than we do, they should look back to the time when America had both more transit and less government than Europe did, or than it does now. If you’d like to read more on the conservative case for transit, see David Schaengold here.

Matthew Yglesias:

But of course they have nothing to say about genuine infringements of liberty like minimum parking requirements, maximum lot occupancy rules, building height limits, prohibitions on accessory dwellings, etc. that are mainstays of America’s centrally planned suburbs. That’s because to them what really matters isn’t socialism or liberty (certainly nobody who cares about liberty could be as enthusiastic about torture as National Review writers are) but Americanness. Even here, though, their critique falls badly flat. The world’s largest subway systems are in Japan and South Korea—not socialistic Europe—followed by New York City right here in the United States. Multiple-unit train control was invented in Chicago, as part of the world’s first electrically driven railway. I believe that all of the world’s 24-hour rapid transit systems (NYC Subway, Chicago L, NY-NJ PATH) are in the United States of America.

Brad DeLong:

Can people please stop bringing forward Ramesh Ponnuru as a “reasonable conservative” now?

Damon Linker at TNR on the rest of the essay:

Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original. It is so widely held and so frequently asserted on the right, in fact, that it can almost be described as conservative conventional wisdom. Still, NR’s treatment of the subject stands out. Lowry and Ponnuru aim for comprehensiveness, and they maintain a measured, thoughtful tone throughout their essay, marshalling a wide range of historical evidence for their thesis and making well-timed concessions to contrary arguments. It’s hard to imagine this key conservative claim receiving a more cogent and rhetorically effective defense. Which is precisely what makes the essay’s shortcomings so striking. While its authors clearly mean it to stand as a manifesto for a resurgent conservative moment, the essay far more resembles a lullaby—a comforting compilation of consoling pieties set to a soothingly familiar melody. The perfect soundtrack to a peaceful snooze.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with definitions. Lowry and Ponnuru aim to convince their readers that the President of the United States denies the idea that lies at the core of American identity: that the country is exceptional. But what makes America exceptional? This is what the authors tell us: Americans affirm a creed that upholds “liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.” These principles then combine with “other aspects of the American character—especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force—to form the core of American exceptionalism.”

Some of this is faintly ridiculous. (Is anything less exceptional in human history than a country’s willingness to defend itself by force?) As for the rest, it’s either a string of American banalities and clichés—or an abstract of the Republican Party platform. The next several paragraphs of the essay make it very clear that it’s the latter. That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru expect their readers to believe that what makes our country exceptional is that large numbers of Americans affirm the ideology of the modern conservative movement. But that’s not quite right. Through long stretches of the essay they go much further—to imply that America is exceptional because the nation’s creed is the ideology of the modern conservative movement.

Follow the bouncing ball: the fact that “a profit-seeking company” founded Jamestown and that Puritan merchants wrote “In the name of God and of profit” at the top of their ledgers; that, in a “telling coincidence,” Adam Smith’s “free-market classic” The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence; that Benjamin Franklin’s name “comes from the Middle English meaning freeman, someone who owns some property”; that Abraham Lincoln supposedly hated few things more than “economic stasis”—all of these and many other anecdotes are supposed to add up to an endorsement of “the American economic gospel” (read: libertarian economic gospel) about “wealth and its creation.” Meanwhile, other cherry-picked facts in later paragraphs serve to highlight the American fondness for democratic elections, the country’s incorrigible patriotism and religiosity, and its “missionary impulse” to “export our model of liberty” to the world, often at the point of a gun.

More Yglesias:

In this telling, there’s something insidious about asking if they don’t do something better someplace else. But of course another way of looking at it is that you by definition can’t find examples of alternatives to the US status quo by looking at the US. That’s why you regularly see the Cato Institute touting Chile’s pension system or Heritage extolling the virtues of Sweden’s K-12 education or David Frum talking up French nuclear power. After all, we’ve never attempted to shift from a guaranteed pay-as-you-go pension system to a mandatory savings one in the United States. Nor do we have any examples of widespread operation of public elementary schools by for-profit firms. Nor do we have a robust nuclear power sector. So if you want to explore these ideas—ideas that conservatives often do want to explore—you need to look at models from abroad.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! So why isn’t it okay for liberals to talk about French health care or Finnish education or Danish energy policy? As Barack Obama once said, when you look at the right sometimes it’s like they’re proud of being ignorant.

Mark Murray at MSNBC:

And the cover story in the latest National Review, entitled “Defend Her: Obama’s Threat to American Exceptionalism,” contends: “The president has signaled again and again his unease with traditional American patriotism. As a senator he notoriously made a virtue of not wearing a flag pin. As president he has been unusually detached from American history: When a foreign critic brought up the Bay of Pigs, rather than defend the country’s honor he noted that he was a toddler at the time. And while acknowledging that America has been a force for good, he has all but denied the idea that America is an exceptional nation.”

Of course, Obama was asked whether he believes in American exceptionalism while visiting Europe during the NATO summit. His response: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.”

That question Obama was asked defined American exceptionalism as the United States being “uniquely qualified to lead the world.” Historians typically regard American exceptionalism as why the U.S. didn’t have socialist revolutions or strong working-class movements like most of Europe did in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yet the conservative definition of American exceptionalism — particularly in the National Review article — is aimed at Obama’s efforts to reform the nation’s health-care system, enact cap-and-trade (which, ironically, is based on market principles), etc. Here’s National Review summing up what American liberals want: “Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, the like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society?”

But if you read Obama’s speeches — from the president campaign and now as president — you see a president with a different idea of American exceptionalism: America’s unique ability to evolve and become a more perfect union. “This union may never be perfect,” he said in his famous ’08 speech on race, “but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given,” he said in his inaugural address. “It must be earned.”

Here’s what he said in his Berlin speech during the presidential campaign: “We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived — at great cost and great sacrifice — to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world.”

So it’s not that Obama doesn’t think America is an exceptional nation; his own words debunk that critique.

Rather, it’s that conservatives and liberals have two very different ideas of what “exceptional” means.

UPDATE: Matthew Lee Anderson

Samuel Goldman at PomoCon

James Poulos at PomoCon

UPDATE #2: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner

Friedersdorf on Hanson

DiA at The Economist

Greg Scoblete

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #3: Lowry and Ponnuru responds to critics

John Holbo on the reponse

Matthew Yglesias on the response

UPDATE #4: Friedersdorf responds to the response

Goldman responds to the response

Schmitz responds to the response

UPDATE #5: More Larison

UPDATE #6: Peter Lawler

UPDATE #7: James Poulos and Robert Farley on Bloggingheads

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I Bet You Think This Blog Post’s About You, Don’t You, Don’t You?

Chicago Sun-Times:

Warren Beatty, you’re off the hook. The song wasn’t about you.

Singer Carly Simon, after 38 years, has apparently ended the great mystery of who she was singing about in her 1972 smash “You’re So Vain.”

It was … medial mogul David Geffen, according to The Sun of London.

The 64-year-old Simon has reworked the song, and included a backwards portion that whispers Geffen’s name, according the paper. Geffen was the head of Simon’s Elektra label at the time,

Tina Dupuy at Media Bistro:

She tipped the world off by saying his name backwards on a re-recording of the song for her upcoming ablum. She say’s “David” backwards? Only the most popular name in North America. So…yeah, mystery solved.

Juli Weiner in Vanity Fair:

Although, throughout the years Simon’s story about the subject of the song has shifted. The indefatigable has a robust run-down:

• 1973: Simon tells Rolling Stone she “can’t possibly tell who it’s about because it wouldn’t be fair.”

• 1983: Ten years later she admits to the Washington Post that the song “certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty. He certainly thought it was about him.”

• 1989: Fame magazine reports, “For the record, Simon acknowledges the song is a little about Beatty; it’s a composite of three men from her L.A. days.”

• 1990: “I can never give it away,” Simon lies to VH1.

• 1990: Simon said: “It’s about the young Oprah Winfrey.” A-ha!

• 1994: Clues! “I think it’s a very attractive man. I think it’s a very complicated man who is obviously concerned with his image, but obviously worthy of my love or my interest. I don’t LOVE just anyone. You know, he’s gotta have a certain amount of character. If he was only vain it would be boring, but there’s a lot more to him. He hobknobs with the underworld.”

• 2001: “I could never really solve it because if I did, then no one would have anything to talk to me about,” Simon concluded.

• 2003: Dick Ebersol received a clue. “The letter ‘E’ is in the person’s name.”

• 2004: Simon gives another clue. An “A.”

“David Geffen”: so obvious in retrospect.

Jim Shea at Hartford Courant:

I don’t know, compared to the other candidates, Geffen doesn’t look like someone about whom you would write the lyrics: “You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht.”

Doree Shafrir at Gawker:

The decades-long guessing game over “You’re So Vain” has finally ended, much to the chagrin of all the narcissistic old musician dudes like James Taylor who thought it was about them. And it’s… David Geffen?! WTF?

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait at TNR:

No wonder everybody got it wrong. We were searching in the wrong sexual orientation.

Of course, the real problem here is that the song lyric (“You’re so vain/You probably think this song is about you”) is incoherent. Of course he thinks the song is about him — it is about him. How could that be held up as evidence of vanity?

Update: The more I think about it, the less sense Simon’s explanation for the song’s subject makes. Take this verse:

You had me several years ago
When I was still quite naive
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me

Okay — everybody thought “had me” meant had me as a lover, but now she means as a client. That works. But what about this:

Well, you’re where you should be all the time
And when you’re not, you’re with
Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend

What’s wrong with a gay man spending time with the wife of a close friend?

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