Tag Archives: The Times

Zelig With A Scotch And Perrier

Christopher Hitchens memoir, Hitch-22

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic with the round-up

Michael Totten at Instapundit’s place:

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS’ new book Hitch-22: A Memoir wasn’t supposed to be released until June, but my copy from Amazon.com arrived today. He sent me an uncorrected advance reader copy a few weeks ago, and it’s terrific.

Excerpt in Vanity Fair

Excerpt from Hitchens in Slate:

The fictions and cartoons of Nigel Molesworth, of Paul Pennyfeather in Waugh’s Decline and Fall, and numberless other chapters of English literary folklore have somehow made all this mania and ritual appear “normal,” even praiseworthy. Did we suspect our schoolmasters—​not to mention their weirdly etiolated female companions or “wives,” when they had any—​of being in any way “odd,” not to say queer? We had scarcely the equipment with which to express the idea, and anyway what would this awful thought make of our parents, who were paying—​as we were so often reminded—​a princely sum for our privileged existences? The word “privilege” was indeed employed without stint. Yes, I think that must have been it. If we had not been certain that we were better off than the oafs and jerks who lived on housing estates and went to state-run day schools, we might have asked more questions about being robbed of all privacy, encouraged to inform on one another, taught how to fawn upon authority and turn upon the vulnerable outsider, and subjected at all times to rules which it was not always possible to understand, let alone to obey.

I think it was that last point which impressed itself upon me most, and which made me shudder with recognition when I read Auden’s otherwise overwrought comparison of the English boarding school to a totalitarian regime. The conventional word that is employed to describe tyranny is “systematic.” The true essence of a dictatorship is in fact not its regularity but its unpredictability and caprice; those who live under it must never be able to relax, must never be quite sure if they have followed the rules correctly or not. (The only rule of thumb was: whatever is not compulsory is forbidden.) Thus, the ruled can always be found to be in the wrong. The ability to run such a “system” is among the greatest pleasures of arbitrary authority, and I count myself lucky, if that’s the word, to have worked this out by the time I was ten. Later in life I came up with the term “micro-megalomaniac” to describe those who are content to maintain absolute domination of a small sphere. I know what the germ of the idea was, all right. “Hitchens, take that look off your face!” Near-instant panic. I hadn’t realized I was wearing a “look.” (Face-crime!) “Hitchens, report yourself at once to the study!” “Report myself for what, sir?” “Don’t make it worse for yourself, Hitchens, you know perfectly well.” But I didn’t. And then: “Hitchens, it’s not just that you have let the whole school down. You have let yourself down.” To myself I was frantically muttering: Now what? It turned out to be some dormitory sex-game from which—​though the fools in charge didn’t know it—​I had in fact been excluded. But a protestation of my innocence would have been, as in any inquisition, an additional proof of guilt.

There were other manifestations, too. There was nowhere to hide. The lavatory doors sometimes had no bolts. One was always subject to invigilation, waking and sleeping. Collective punishment was something I learned about swiftly: “Until the offender confesses in public,” a giant voice would intone, “all your ‘privileges’ will be withdrawn.” There were curfews, where we were kept at our desks or in our dormitories under a cloud of threats while officialdom prowled the corridors in search of unspecified crimes and criminals. Again I stress the matter of sheer scale: the teachers were enormous compared to us and this lent a Brobdingnagian aspect to the scene. In seeming contrast, but in fact as reinforcement, there would be long and “jolly” periods where masters and boys would join in scenes of compulsory enthusiasm—​usually over the achievements of a sports team—​and would celebrate great moments of victory over lesser and smaller schools. I remember years later reading about Stalin that the intimates of his inner circle were always at their most nervous when he was in a “good” mood, and understanding instantly what was meant by that.

Diana McLellan at WaPo:

Hitch-22” (ghastly title) is a fat and juicy memoir of a fat and juicy life, topping 400 pages. As you plunge in for your Zelig-like wallow in the past century’s zeitgeist, you begin to shiver: My God, didn’t this guy leave anything out? Here’s the terrible and tragic 1973 suicide of his beloved Mummy, via pills, in an Athens hotel room with her dreary defrocked-vicar lover, violently dead by his own hand. Here’s a cuddle with a beau at boarding school. Here’s a dab of introspection on what some call his “bromance” with Amis. (Of course, he began to hate Martin’s father, the great author Kingsley Amis, when Kingsley got old and boring. Good thing that won’t happen to him!) Here’s his charmless admission that he prefers American girls to English ones because they put out without a lot of upfront argle-bargle. Here are the sophomoric word games played with his very highest-brow cronies, such as substituting the f-word for “love” in song titles.

His artless self-revelations convey a certain careless elan: “I find now that I can more or less acquit myself on any charge of having desired Martin [Amis] carnally. (My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.)”

But the truth is, for the memoir of a Trotskyite George Orwell worshiper, “Hitch-22” (ugh) has a humongous memory hole. Where’s his wife of eight years, Eleni Meleagrou? He dumped her in 1989, when she was pregnant with their second child, for the elegant Carol Blue, whom he’d met at an airport. Where’s his old Washington soulmate, former New Yorker writer and Clinton confidante “Cousin” Sidney Blumenthal, whom he accused of lying during the Clinton impeachment trial?

It’s been said by unkind people that an honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought. So is an honest journalist one who, once bamboozled, stays bamboozled? Call me naive — please! — but I’m floored that the great dirt-digger still clings to the certainty, peddled by Paul Wolfowitz and Ahmed Chalabi and long since discredited, that the late Saddam Hussein was unseated for his tyranny and his possession of weapons of mass destruction. Tyranny? Has Hitchens seen what we’re still sucking up to? Most tyrants, of course, aren’t squatting atop a quarter of the world’s known oil reserves. Even Alan Greenspan wrote in his 2007 memoir that it was “politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Maybe now that Hitchens is 60-something and says he drinks “relatively carefully,” he’ll run this one through his little gray cells one more time. By the way, “relatively carefully” to him is terribly spartan: just a Scotch and Perrier at lunchtime, followed by half a bottle of wine, and then the same again every evening.

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious,” he observes. It does. Pour yourself a stiff one, fasten your seat belt and enjoy this bumpy but never boring ride.

Andrew Sullivan at The Times:

In fact, the blunt Brit is now almost a stock figure. Last week saw the final American Idol featuring Simon Cowell as a judge. Cowell is better known in America than, say, the Supreme Court’s chief justice or three-quarters of Barack Obama’s cabinet. At some point in a distant Wildean past, a British musical judge might be expected to be wittier than his peers. Cowell is witless, inexpert, inarticulate and touchy. He just possesses a series of ugly prejudices and crude hunches and the ability to tell someone to their face that they’re rubbish. In Britain, who really cares? In America he’s a legend.

Or contrast Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant reality show in America with the British version. In the US, he’s far ruder and the recipients of his bile much less socially prepared for it. And so the Brits have found a niche in fostering embarrassment among Americans by saying things Americans in general are far too polite to bring up.

Christopher Hitchens cannot be reduced to this. His first common identity in America was leftism, just as mine was conservatism. He seems to have read everything and met everyone, as his addictive new memoir, Hitch-22, proves. His prose is almost as enjoyable as his company. But he only reached his apotheosis in American culture by attacking the one thing Americans have historically shied from attacking: God. Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Princess Diana were not enough. He needed the Big One to become the Loved One.

The best in this genre occurs when the sentiment is genuine. Hitch really does believe that religion poisons everything. It’s not an act. His visceral, furious response to 9/11, like my own, had not a scintilla of inauthenticity about it. What he has, apart from real skill and extraordinary discipline (drink only makes him work harder), is the courage of his own curiosity.

The Economist:

The nostalgia is sometimes fetid. On his favourite high horse, Mr Hitchens might dismiss another writer’s coy tales of long- ago gay flings at Oxford with future Conservative cabinet ministers as “kiss and hint” writing. The boozy Friday lunches in London with his clever friends, and their shared fondness for puerile, obscene word games, will leave most readers bored and mystified. Mr Hitchens admits that it was funnier at the time (and probably funnier still for those robbed of their critical faculties by copious amounts of alcohol).

But amid the dregs are shards of brilliant, piercing writing. The account of his uncovered Jewish ancestry (concealed by his lively, miserable mother, who killed herself in a hotel room in Athens, with her lover) is more than poignant. His willingness to go to the barricades to defend his friend Salman Rushdie after the fatwa in 1989, and his beloved America after September 11th 2001, is unaffected and appealing. Having lambasted bourgeois values such as freedom and tolerance, Hitch now (a bit late in the day, some might think) understands why they matter.

The ardour is not always matched by insight. In particular, the smoke of incinerated straw men obscures any serious discussion of religion (superstition practised by hypocrites, in his view). And for what is meant to be a no-holds-barred memoir, the author goes lightly on some of his failings. Broken ideals get plenty of self-satisfied scrutiny; broken hearts and marriages rate barely a mention. The impression left is of a writer frozen in a precocious teenagery, whose ability to tease and provoke the grown-ups is entertaining but ultimately tiresome. If Mr Hitchens can stay off the booze and do some serious thinking, his real autobiography, in 20 years’ time or so, should be a corker.

Allen Barra at Salon:

In place of revelation, there is lots and lots of gossip. Hitchens, to take him by his own accounts, is the Zelig of modern Anglo-American letters; he seems to have been everywhere, talked to everyone and made friends in every corner of the world, whether or not anyone else was there to record the conversation.

People seem to want to tell Christopher Hitchens their secrets; like Nick Carraway, he is “privy to the secret of wild, unknown men.” Also some that are very well known: Gore Vidal, we learn, would take “rugged young men recruited from the Via Veneto … from the rear” where they were then taken into the next room where “Tom [Driberg, the journalist] would suck them dry.” (We are not told whether this occurred while Hitchens was still in his Oxford phase.)

Name-dropping, which has become a distressing trait in Hitchens’ work in recent years, is now approaching critical mass. Long stretches of “Hitch-22” read like literary bouquets to Hitch gathered by himself. He names and quotes the usual suspects — Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, long ago identified by Hitchens as partisans. Joining their ranks are “my Argentine anti-fascist friend, Jacobo Timerman,” “my Kurdish friends,” Susan Sontag’s son “my dear friend David,” “my dear friend and colleague Jeff Goldberg [who] said to my face over a table at La Tomate …,” “my friend and ally Richard Dawkins,” “my beloved friend James Fenton,” and “my then friend Noam Chomsky” (even former friends with well-known names make Hitch’s cut). Regrettably, the late great Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James didn’t quite make the list; he passed shortly after Hitchens arrived at his deathbed.

When he isn’t writing about his friends in “Hitch-22,” he is usually writing about how proud he is to have such friends. He was “proud” to be mentioned several times in Martin Amis’ memoir and “absurdly proud” to have a poem by James Fenton dedicated to him. He is, however, “offended” at the idea that he might have been Tom Wolfe’s model for the English journalist in “Bonfire of the Vanities” — in which case he shouldn’t have mentioned it or I would never have known there was such a rumor.

Willa Paskin at New York Magazine:

Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens have been close friends since the seventies, but their relationship is having a moment, thanks to both simultaneously publishing work celebrating the other. Amis’s novel The Pregnant Widow contains a big-brother character modeled on Hitchens; the Hitch’s memoir, Hitch-22, contains a chapter about Amis. This long-term bromance has been fruitful for both men, emotionally and intellectually — but not, perhaps, comedically! Both books refer to a game Amis and Hitch play “that involves substituting phrases like ‘hysterical sex’ for ‘love’ in the titles of movies, songs, and novels.” Some of the results of this word game include “Stop in the Name of Hysterical Sex,” Hysterical Sex Story, and A Fool for Hysterical Sex — exactly the type of not-very-funny pun that might make you laugh hard, but only if “you’d been there.” Amis and Hitchens, hugely accomplished authors, but, also, just like us!

David Frum and Hitchens do a podcast at FrumForum

UPDATE: Hitchens announces that he has cancer at Vanity Fair

Allah Pundit

UPDATE #2: David Brooks in NYT

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #3: Hugh Hewitt

Ross Douthat

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We’ve Been Hit By A Smooth, And Oily, Criminal

Image from Gawker

Giles Whittell, Robert Lea and Ian King at The Times:

BP’s future as a global concern was at stake tonight after the US Attorney General, announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the Louisiana oil spill.

As Eric Holder made his announcement, the British company’s chief executive fought to halt a headlong slide in its stock price.

After losing a third of its value in just six weeks, BP is expected to promise shareholders their full annual dividend in a last-ditch bid to retain their loyalty. More than £12 billion was wiped off the company’s value today alone, as Mr Obama dispatched his top prosecutor to Louisiana and vowed to bring to justice those responsible for what he called “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history”.

Shares in what used to be Britain’s biggest company endured their worst day’s trading in more than two decades, dragging down the FTSE 100 index and with it the value of dozens of leading pension funds.

In Washington, Mr Obama stepped up his efforts to assert control over the disaster response with his second televised address in less than a week. “If our laws have been broken leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of the catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region,” he said.

Mr Holder announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the oil spill. Earlier, he met Louisiana law enforcement officials in New Orleans after ordering BP to preserve records that could shed light on what led to the disaster. He has also instructed US Department of Justice staff to look for evidence of “malfeasance” in the days and hours before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up.

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a criminal and civil investigation into Deepwater Horizon. Although expected, this confirms the worst fears of BP CEO Tony Hayward and associated executives.

“If I were an exec at BP, I wouldn’t be sleeping for the next several years,” said Tony Buzbee, a trial lawyer who has faced BP in several cases.

Buzbee expects a federal criminal investigation to occur in secrecy over several years. The most likely charge is violation of the Clean Air and Water act, which could lead to one year in jail for persons deemed responsible.

Manslaughter charges are unlikely, as these fall outside the ambit of a federal prosecutor, according to Buzbee.

Matthew McDermott at Treehugger:

I can here the collective cry of ‘Right on!’ and ‘About effing time!’ rising up from the TreeHugger readership… CNN is reporting that US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the Gulf Gusher. We’ll have more as it emerges, but this is what we know so far:

Holder said the investigation would be comprehensive and aggressive. He promised that the federal officials will prosecute anyone who broke the law. Holder, who made the announcement during a visit to the Gulf, called early signs of the spill heartbreaking and tragic. The attorney general was in the Gulf to survey the BP oil spill and meet with state attorneys general and federal prosecutors from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the Justice Department.

This all comes after a group of Senators sent Holder a letter last week urging an investigation of potential criminal and/or civil wrongdoing by BP; and statements by Holder last month that the Justice Department would “ensure that BP is held liable.”

Again, more as it emerges. It’s likely to take some time. Though hopefully not as long as it’s taking BP to stop this madness…

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

Some context for understanding possible points of interest for DoJ investigators comes from a preliminary report released last week by Robert Bea, the Director of UC Berkeley’s Catastrophic Risk Management Center: “Failures of the Deepwater Horizon Semi-Submersible Drilling Unit.” Bea’s report, which he describes as “preliminary insights … based upon more than 500 hours of analyses of currently available data provided by approximately 60 informants,” places joint responsibility for the disaster on both BP and the regulatory authority, MMS.

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

  • Based on the information available to me thus far, I believe the Deepwater Horizon failure developed due to:
  • improper well design (configuration of well tubulars),
  • improper cement design and placement (segmented discontinuous cement sheath, minimal volume placed adjacent to lost circulation zone),
  • flawed Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA / QC) — no cement bond logs, ineffective oversight of operations,
  • bad decision making — removing the pressure barrier — displacing the drilling mud with sea water 8,000 feet below the drill deck,
  • loss of situational awareness — early warning signs not properly detected, analyzed or corrected (repeated major gas kicks, lost drilling tools, including evidence of damaged parts of the Blow Out Preventer [BOP] during drilling and/or cementing, lost circulation, changes in mud volume and drill string weight),
  • improper operating procedures — premature off-loading of the drilling mud (weight material not available at critical time),
  • flawed design and maintenance of the final line of defense — including the shear rams of the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) and the associated electrical and hydraulic equipment.

I’m not sure at what point any of the multiple instances of BP incompetence cross the line into criminal malfeasance, but we will certainly be learning more about that in the weeks and  months to come. In the meantime, BP CEO Tony Hayward says: “I want my life back.” I don’t think he’s going to get it.

Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent:

And Congress is starting to take a hard look at regulatory legislation surrounding the oil industry as well. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, will hold a hearing next week “to examine how recent court decisions and federal liability caps influence corporate behavior, affect American taxpayers, and provide justice to victims.”

New laws are coming. One option would be to address the negative externality of cleanup costs: taxing all oil companies and processors in the United States, and forcing them to use the funds to explore new technologies to be used in the event of a disaster. For even if BP had managed to prevent the Deepwater Horizon incident, another catastrophic oil spill would have happened somewhere else, sometime soon. The technologies used to contain and clean up oil remain rudimentary and highly ineffective, particularly those used at sea — top kill, bags of hair, faulty seals. (Of all the well shut-down methods I have seen, it is distressing that the Russians’ controlled nuclear explosion has seemed most promising.) The next conflagration will take light at some point. It would be useful to force the companies at fault to invent the fire hydrant before then.

How to structure the tax? I leave it to the public policy experts to figure that out. But I would imagine either requiring oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries to spend one or two percent of profits on cleanup and prevention research, then allowing them to license or sell their products to one another; or taxing the oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries, putting the funds into a pool and having the government disburse the money to vetted research organizations.

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Gordon Gone, Dave In Downing, Nick’s New Friend

Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian:

8.05pm: You can watch a video of Brown’s resignation statement here.

8.06pm: David Cameron is in the car on his way to the Palace now. But he seems to have to got stuck in traffic. He’ll have to take it up with Boris.

8.11pm: David Cameron just arrived at Buckingham Palace with his wife Samantha. They’ve gone in to the building.

8.17pm: When Tony Blair became prime minister, he gave a speech announcing his victory as dawn broke over London. Cameron seems to have had equal luck with the elements. Apparently there is a rainbow over Buckingham Palace.

[…]

8.29pm: David Cameron is prime minister, Sky tells us. In the old days these things used to appear in the London Gazette. Nowdays it’s a newsflash on Sky.

Simon Lewis, Brown’s press spokesman, is leaving Downing Street, Sky reports. He will be replaced by a career civil servant from the Treasury.

[…]

8.47pm: Cameron says he believes Britain’s best days lie ahead and that he believes in public service. He will take difficult decisions, so that together “we can reach better times ahead”.

He wants to restore trust in politics, and ensure that politicians are always the servants of the people, not their masters. But real change will only take place when people accept responsibility. He wants to try to build a more responsible society.

8.45pm: He says he and Nick Clegg are forming a joint government. They are both leaders who want to put aside party interest and work in the national interest.

8.44pm: Cameron is arriving in Downing Street, with his wife Samantha.

He says the Queen has asked him to form a government and he has accepted.

[…]

1.00am: That’s it. Britain has got its first coalition government for more than 60 years. And Nick Clegg will be sitting in cabinet alongside Liam Fox and William Hague. Will it work? Who knows. But it is a bold project, and it will be certainly be interesting. We’ll get our first good look at it tomorrow (rather, later today) when the Cameron cabinet is expected to meet for the first time. And we’ve also got a new (interim) Labour leader. And the Labour leadership contest will soon begin in earnest.

Clive Crook:

I was surprised and impressed that Brown did not have to be stretchered out of Number 10 under heavy sedation–that he was willing to sacrifice what was left of his career, his reputation beyond redemption, to keep Labour in power. I had thought him less principled than that.

An interesting question is whether a Lib-Lab pact might have been put together if only Brown had declared his intention to resign immediately last Friday. Once the Tories did so well in the popular vote, and the Lib Dems so poorly (relative to expectations) it was always going to be difficult for Clegg to get behind Brown as PM. The electorate would have been disgusted. But this “coalition of losers” issue would have been very much attenuated if Brown had put himself out of the picture at once. And, as I say, a Lib-Lab policy program is easy to draw up. Perhaps, privately, he told Clegg he would go. But if he was negotiating over the weekend to keep himself in office, that would have subtracted a lot from the deal, and made Clegg more receptive to Tory overtures.

Then again, a Lib-Lab alliance would still have been short of votes. And another awkward issue would have come swiftly to the fore: the gross over-representation at Westminster of an implacably Labour-supporting Scotland. In case you’d forgotten, Scotland has its own parliament, as well as having a big say in who rules down south. One of the wonderful ironies of British politics is that the Tories, who have the biggest interest in paring Scotland’s power in Westminster, are the ones most dedicated to the union. Expect this issue to assume large importance in the coming era of unstable coalition government.

Meanwhile, might have beens don’t count. A Lib-Con “coalition” it is–details to come. Just what the country needs as it contemplates a public-debt crisis and embarks on a draconian program of fiscal restraint.

Barry Legg at The Guardian:

Whatever sort of Prime Minister David Cameron makes, we already know one thing for sure: he must already be the world’s worst poker player. Never in British political history has a negotiator playing for such stakes so comprehensively thrown away his hand before the game even began. Purely because Cameron was desperate to get himself into Number 10, and thus shield himself, with the Downing Street patronage machine, from the entirely justified anger of his party for failing to win a majority against Gordon Brown last Thursday, he has given into more Lib Dem demands than even Labour were willing to stomach. From whipping Tory MPs through in support of a referendum on AV, the number and nature of cabinet places he’s going to give to the Liberals, to surrendering the bedrock of the Westminster system – by giving way on fixed parliaments – Cameron gains office but not power.

As is evident from even a cursory examination of the three parties’ positions, the Lib Dems and Labour are closer to one another in virtually every regard than either is to the Tory Party. Yet now we are to have a coalition government between us and the Liberals. And it’s a coalition the Lib Dems are delighted to be in, and why shouldn’t they be? From European policy to electoral reform Cameron has, even before the government begins, given away so much that the least Tory party on the constitution and the most pro-EU party is content to make him Prime Minister.

Given that Labour, in refusing to meet Lib Dem demands, explicitly cited excessive Liberal spending plans, it’s enormously depressing from a Tory point of view to consider what’s going to give way. Either, no serious effort is going to be made to address the deficit, or, in order to finance Lib Dem policy goals, Tory ambitions, most noticeably as regards defence, will have to bear the brunt of even beginning to try and make the sums add up. Now is not the time I fear to have shares in Aircraft Carriers.

Daniel Finkelstein at The Times:

Emerging from the cinema a few years back, having watched Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves, my friend remarked that he thought it the greatest film ever made. I looked sceptical. “Well,” he said. “Something has to be.”

So in the same spirit, let me write something I have always fancied writing without appearing ridiculous. And now I can. This is a defining moment in British political history. Something has to be.

Like Robert Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, and split the Conservative Party for a generation, or Stanley Baldwin’s gentle manoeuvring to install the first Labour Government in 1924 and thus dish the Liberals, David Cameron’s generous offer to the Liberal Democrats has changed British politics for ever. Whether it succeeds or not.

[…]

If the Conservatives had won a small majority, it isn’t hard to imagine them being swept out in five years’ time by an alliance — either explicit or implied — of Labour and Liberal Democrats. Something like that happened in 1997 and produced the Blair landslide. Now a combination of the new maths of the Commons and Cameron’s boldness has disrupted this.

And in doing so, changed politics for years. The Liberal Democrats have been picked up and put down in a different place, partly by Nick Clegg of course, but largely by a Cameron offer of partnership that they weren’t expecting. The anti-Conservative majority is, in an extraordinary political coup, no longer an anti-Conservative majority. Things are much more complicated now.

The second part of the opportunity relates to Cameron’s own party. Five years of work — admittedly not as consistent as it should have been — to rebrand the party did not change perceptions as much as the Cameron team hoped. But now this. Cameron has the potential to lift himself and the party above normal partisan politics. He can become a national leader, his party seen as broader, more generous, more capable of listening and of compromise.

The very fact of working with a coalition partner might force Conservatives to sound more moderate and less strident. And Cameron will be Prime Minister, leader of the Conservatives, of course, but more than that. And the Tories will be able to share the political price of the difficult decisions ahead with another political force. Cuts won’t be “Tory cuts”, the Chancellor might be working with Vince Cable, rather than being attacked by Vince Cable.

So Cameron’s extraordinary response to the election has brought him much as well as the keys to No 10. But he has made a huge gamble. Could this move split his party, not now but in the years to come? Might the Liberal Democrats prove not merely prickly partners, but impossible ones? Could the unfamiliar disputes and debates of coalition partners be perceived as weakness and chaos?

Unknown, unknowable. But this can be said with certainty. Politics has changed for ever.

Andrew Sullivan:

“I can’t believe how much they’ve offered us. The Tories have basically rubbed out their manifesto and inserted ours. We’ll have to cope for four or five years with our flesh creeping, but still,” – a left-leaning Lib-Dem member of parliament to Michael Crick.

We’ll find out soon enough. I should say I am not opposed to the referendum on AV or instant run-off voting. My concern is that Britain continues to have a one-member-one-constituency system, to ensure direct representation and avoid too much power going to party elites. Under AV, the Liberals would do much better – but Britain would also have a chance to retain strong, clear, one-party governments.

In some ways, too, this outcome allows Cameron to ditch the Tory right. I suspect there will be grumbling among the ranks, and that William Hague, the chief negotiator for Cameron, will once again be delegated to bring them on board.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

The big news from Britain, according to Fox News, is that Queen Elizabeth herself has agreed to become prime minister:

Queen Elizabeth accepted the invitation of Conservative Party leader David Cameron to become Britain’s new prime minister Tuesday night after Gordon Brown resigned following his failure to form a coalition government with another liberal party.That was awful nice of Cameron to extend the invitation.

Alex Massie:


HMQ: Good luck laddie, you’re going to need it…


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Don’t Phone Us, E.T., And We Won’t Phone You

Jonathan Leake at The Times:

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

Instapundit

Fausta Wertz

Unlike Carl Sagan, who actually sent a message to any (space) aliens out there, Stephen Hawkin would rather we don’t

Daniel Drezner:

Hmmm… this is undeniably true, but dare I say that Hawking is being a bit simplistic?  Oh, hell, who am I kidding, I’m a blogger.  Of course I’ll say that Hawking is being simplistic.

Critics might accuse me of being soft in the Theoretical War Against Aliens, embracing the mushy-headed liberalism of Contact over the hard-headed realpolitik of, say, Independence Day.  And the risk-averse approach suggested by Hawking is certainly a viable policy option.  But let’s dig a bit deeper and consider four thought-provoking questions from an interplanetary security perspective.

1)  In space, does anybody understand the security dilemma? In international relations, there is at least full information about who the other actors are and where they are located.  Clearly, we lack this kind of information about the known universe.  

What Hawking is suggesting, however, is that efforts to collect such information would in and of themselves be dangerous, because they would announce our presence to others.  He might be right.  But shoiuldn’t that risk be weighed against the cost of possessing a less robust early warning system?  Isn’t it in Earth’s interests to enhance its intelligence-gathering activities?

2)  Carried to its logical extreme, isn’t Hawking making an argument for rapidly exhausting our natural resources? If Hawking is correct, then the sooner we run out of whatever might be valuable to aliens, the less interest we are to them.  Of course, this does beg the question of which resources aliens would consider to be valuable.  If aliens crave either sea water or bulls**t, then the human race as we know it is seriously screwed.

3) Why would aliens go after the inhabited planetsCeteris paribus, I’m assuming that aliens would prefer to strip-mine an uninhabited planet abundant with natural resources than an inhabited one.  Three hundred planets have already been discovered in the Milky Way, and there are “likely many billions.”  Even rapacious aliens might try some of them first before looking at Earth, since we are mostly harmless.

There is a counterargument, of course.  Over at Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh tries to assuage fears of aliens by observing, “Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?”  This cuts both ways, however.  If those jellyfish fail to notice us but notice our abundant amounts of salinated water, they could decide to come without a care in the world for the bipedal inhabitants of Earth.

4)  How do we know that some human aren’t already trying to contact aliensStephen Walt and others assume that the presence of aliens would cause humans to form a natural balancing coalition.   I’m not so sure.  My research into other apocalyptic scenarios suggests that some humans — that’s right, I’m looking at you, Switzerland! — would bandwagon with the aliens.  Indeed, for all we know, some humans are already trying to welcome their future alien overlords.  Which begs the question —  wouldn’t Hawking’s isolationist policy allow the quislings to monopolize the galactic message emanating from Earth?

I look forward to a healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints in the comments — remember, the future of mankind may depend on it.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

We’ll have to wait for the show, but Hawking’s extended comments suggest he’s paying more attention to Independence Day than to Stanislaw Lem. Without any apparent help, this planet has already produced such inscrutable creatures as the platypus, the coelacanth, and chupacabra. The third solution to Fermi’s paradox suggests platform neutrality is not as widespread elsewhere in the Alpha Quadrant as it is here on Earth. Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

In what I have to imagine will be one of the better headlines you are going to read today, scientist Stephen Hawking offers some sage advice on how to deal with an alien encounter — the real kind, not the Arizona kind. Truth be told, fter all the dim, earthbound news of late, close encounters of the third kind offers a nice change of newsy pace.

Rod Dreher

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The Times Of London Finds A Document

Tim Reid at Times Of London:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway:

Wilkerson has been critical of Cheney and Rumsfeld in the past, and I’m sure the response on the right will be to accuse Wilkerson of having a grudge for the former Bush Administration. Nonetheless, these are fairly serous allegations and it will be interesting to see if anyone pays attention to them on this side of the pond.

Radley Balko:

To borrow from Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Now, as Mary has pointed out, there was actually a study done in summer 2002 that showed that vast majority of those at Gitmo were innocent. So this is not news.

But I certainly welcome some public discussion about the maltreatment of a number of innocent people at Gitmo as we enter back into discussions on closing Gitmo.

Jim White at Firedoglake:

While doing background research and reading that was inspired by this post and the ensuing comment thread at Emptywheel, I ran across a document that I believe outlines the Joint Chiefs policy that was cobbled together to justify the long term detention and interrogation of innocent civilians that was described in the Times article.

The publication, which is a 298 page pdf file, can be found here. The document is titled “Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations”. I have not read the entire document, but my attention was directed to Appendix G through my initial Google internet search on the term “mobile detainee review and screening teams”. Appendix G is titled “Joint Exploitation Centers” and has this graphic at the beginning:

joint exploitation centers

Moving down to section 4 of this appendix, titled “Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center” we find the description of the responsibilities of the centers:

b. Responsibilities. Service component interrogators collect tactical intelligence from EPWs and ECs based on joint force J-2 criteria. EPWs (i.e., senior level EPWs) and ECs are screened by the components; those of further intelligence potential are identified and processed for follow-on interrogation and debriefing by the JIDC to satisfy theater strategic and operational requirements. In addition to EPW and ECs, the JIDC may also interrogate civilian detainees, and debrief refugees as well as other nonprisoner sources for operational and strategic information. The JIDC may identify individuals as possessing intelligence of national strategic significance; these persons may be relocated to a strategic exploitation center for longer-term interrogation.

Acronyms present here: EPW = enemy prisoner of war; EC = enemy combatant; J-2 = intelligence directorate of a joint staff; JIDC = joint interrogation and debriefing center.

There is a lot packed into this small paragraph. We start with normal interrogation and debriefing of enemy prisoners of war and enemy combatants, but somehow these same joint interrogation and debriefing centers are supplied with civilian detainees and even refugees [don’t refugees have special, protected status under the Geneva Conventions?] to interview, and then, somehow, from among these various groups interviewed, the JIDC “may identify individuals” who are sent for longer term interrogation (i.e. to Guantanamo) if the JIDC decides that they posses “intelligence of national strategic significance”. There seems to be no restriction that the long-term detainees only come from the EPW or EC groups, so innocent civilians could end up in Guantanamo under this policy, just as Wilkerson has documented.

Riverdaughter at The Confluence:

The London Times on Line confirms what I’ve suspected for some time:  George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent’. In our continued hunt to provide our nation with a false sense of security against terrorists, we’ve now issued a  fatwa on one of our own citizens. We continue to ignore the justice system as well as the Treaties we have signed to uphold.  Why are these things continuing?  Why isn’t our justice system being used to hold these decision makers accountable for their abuse of executive power?

An aide to Colin Powell has come forward to provide evidence showing exactly how many folks were innocently imprisoned.  Exactly how long will it take us to find out they were also subject to interview ‘techniques’ that are criminal.  Impeachment may be off the table for Bush and Cheney, but should they be subjected to war crimes trials?

Andrew Sullivan:

Lie after lie after lie. And the illegal imprisonment and torture of individuals often completely unrelated to terrorism at all. And no accountability. This was America for almost eight years. And Obama has perpetuated the avoidance of responsibility with staggering diligence.

Jon Bershad at Mediaite:

In these days where we have a president who half the country hates with a passion and half the country blindly follows despite his questionable decisions, it’s nice of The Times in London to remind us of the happy days of a few years ago, back when we had a president who half the country hated with a passion and half the country blindly followed despite his questionable decisions.

That’s right, it’s a brand new W. scandal and, if it turns out to be true, it could be quite a damaging one. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to Colin Powell, has claimed that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were all aware that many prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were entirely innocent but left them there anyway. The accusations were made in a document that The Times has obtained.

[…]

It’ll be interesting to see how much of an uproar this document makes here in America. If it does, chances are it’s because the release of the WikiLeaks video earlier this week brought the Iraq War screaming back into the public consciousness. Besides, Liberals will probably have missed their time being the outraged party for eight years. To be honest, it’s not nearly as fun being the guys on top.

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Oh, Brother…

Shawn Pogatchnik at Huffington Post:

It often starts as a voice in the wilderness, but can swell into an entire nation’s demand for truth. From Ireland to Germany, Europe’s many victims of child abuse in the Roman Catholic church are finally breaking social taboos and confronting the clergy to face its demons.

Ireland was the first in Europe to confront the church’s worldwide custom of shielding pedophile priests from the law and public scandal. Now that legacy of suppressed childhood horror is being confronted in other parts of the Continent – nowhere more poignantly than in Germany, the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI.

The recent spread of claims into the Netherlands, Austria and Italy has analysts and churchmen wondering how deep the scandal runs, which nation will be touched next, and whether a tide of lawsuits will force European dioceses to declare bankruptcy like their American cousins.

“You have to presume that the cover-up of abuse exists everywhere, to one extent or another. A new case could appear in a new country tomorrow,” said David Quinn, director of a Christian think tank, the Iona Institute, that seeks to promote family values in an Ireland increasingly cool to Catholicism.

Richard Owen at The Times:

The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal last night as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy. The cleric went on to reoffend and was convicted of child abuse but continues to work as a priest in Upper Bavaria.

The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for therapy in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The archdiocese confirmed that the Pope, who was then a cardinal, had approved a decision to accommodate the priest in a rectory while the therapy took place.

The priest, identified only as H, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing. In 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined DM 4,000 (£1,800 today). There have been no formal charges against him since.

The church has been accused of a cover-up after at least 170 allegations of child abuse by German Catholic priests. The scandal broke in January but the claims, which continue to emerge, span three decades. Critics say that priests were redeployed to other parishes rather than dismissed when they were found to be abusing children.

Francis Rocca:

Benedict discussed the spreading scandal with the head of Germany’s Catholic bishops on Friday (March 12), hours before it drew closer than ever to the pontiff himself, as the Archdiocese of Munich, where Benedict was archbishop from 1977-1982, released a statement acknowledging it had reassigned an accused sex abuser in 1980.

Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop at the time, but Munich’s statement said that an underling, former Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, had taken “full responsibility” for the decision.

Six years after his reassignment to a parish, the priest, identified only as H., was convicted of sexually abusing minors in another jurisdiction. He is still an active priest, according Suddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper that broke the story.

An advocate for abuse victims in the U.S. voiced skepticism about the archdiocese’s assertion that Benedict had not approved the abuser’s reassignment to pastoral work.

“It boggles the mind,” said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We can’t think of a single case anywhere on the planet where a credibly accused predator priest was put back around kids and no one asked or told the top diocesan official.”

Earlier on Friday, Benedict met with Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, for a briefing on the state of the church in Germany. While the meeting had been previously scheduled, clearly the most urgent topic in their 45-minute conversation was the growing number of sex abuse allegations.

At least 170 abuse allegations have emerged this year involving children at German Catholic schools, prompting an investigation by prosecutors.

Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture:

Here’s what we know: While the Pope was Archbishop of Munich, a priest there was accused of sexual abuse. He was pulled out of ministry and sent off for counseling. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the decision to remove the priest from his parish assignment– got that? remove him. [Editor’s note: The preceding sentences are not accurate. Actually the facts provide an even stronger defense of the Pontiff. See the update below. ] He also approved a decision to house the priest in a rectory while he was undergoing counseling. We don’t know, at this point, whether the priest could have been sent to a residential facility, to take him out of circulation entirely. That might have been a more prudent move. We don’t know whether he was kept under close observation. But we do know that he was not involved in active ministry.

Then the vicar general of the Munich archdiocese made the decision to let the accused priest help out at a parish. That vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, says that he made that decision on his own, without consulting the cardinal. The future Pope never knew about it, he testifies. Several years later, long after Cardinal Ratzinger had moved to a new assignment at the Vatican, the priest was again accused of sexual abuse.

A grievous mistake was made in this case; that much is clear now, and the vicar general has sorrowfully taken responsibility for the error. Could you say that the future Pontiff should have been more vigilant? Perhaps. But to suggest that he made the decision to put a pedophile back in circulation is an outrageous distortion of the facts. The AP story carries a very different headline:

Pope’s former diocese admits error over priest

That’s not so eye-catching. But the headline fits the facts.

Update

After learning more about this case, I realize that the analysis above is not quite accurate, and the effort to implicate the Pope is even more far-fetched than I had received. The accused was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, but a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been sent to a facility in Munich for counseling. So the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not responsible for his treatment; his only connection with the case was his decision to let the priest stay in a rectory in the Munich archdiocese while he was undergoing treatment there. There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.

Ruth Gledhill at The Times:

What is often forgotten is how little was known of paedophilia. It was believed it could be cured, and that penitence was tantamount to recovery.

The Church, in its ignorance of the recidivism of paedophiles, too often gave them a second, third or fourth chance, moving them to different parishes, or even different countries, where they just abused again. Children’s homes made the same mistake.

The latest scandal coming out of Germany is not enough to threaten the Pope or the Church. But on top of a succession of damaging revelations it can only increase the damage being done to its moral authority on the world stage. The killer fact that could bring down the Pope or Church probably does not even exist.

The Pope is pretty unassailable. He is not elected, he is a monarch, and the centralisation that has taken place under the last two Popes has cemented that power. Pope Benedict XVI has also indicated in his three encyclicals the depths of his own integrity and intellectual rigour.

Damian Thompson at The Telegraph:

And now let us turn to the commentary by Ruth Gledhill, under another nasty headline: “Scandal still not enough to threaten the Pope”. (The Times will just have try harder, eh?) It begins:

The case of a sex abuser being given accommodation in Munich with the approval of its then archbishop, now the Pope, is reminiscent of the scandal that engulfed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor soon after his appointment to Westminster.

No, it is NOT reminiscent of that scandal, Ruth. The Pope did not put a paedophile back into circulation; in contrast, the Cardinal showed very bad judgment in the case of Michael Hill and was lucky to hang on to his position. But, by writing such bollocks, you make it reminiscent.

And then there is this gem:

The Pope is pretty unassailable. He is not elected

Ruth, it long ago became clear to me that you do not know nearly enough about the Catholic Church to comment on it authoritatively. But surely even you have heard of something called a conclave.

Gary Stern:

Now what? Based on the past, I would expect Catholic groups to start circling the wagons. Any day, we should start hearing complaints about media coverage focusing on the scandals instead of all the good work that the Catholic Church is doing in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere.

Otherwise, the Vatican is not known for reacting swiftly to crises. We’ll see.

Inside the Vatican’s Moynihan writes:

*****

In Rome, some fear this is just the beginning.

This fear is not idle, as the internet and world press are already full of reports that these crises may cast a shadow over the entire pontificate.

The battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict’s papacy.

*****

David Goldman at First Things:

Inventing news where there is none is not a new pastime for the press, but the intense interest that the European media has shown in the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI, goes beyond the usual range of invidious gossip. The 86-year-old Monsignor Ratzinger, the retired conductor of the Regensburg Cathedral’s famous boys’ choir, assumed his post a decade after a sexual abuse scandal surfaced. The offenders were punished and the matter was put to rest. Earlier this week reporters cornered the retired priest and demanded to know whether he would testify about the sex scandal in his choir. Ratzinger replied that he would be happy to testify if asked, but as the events preceded his tenure he had no knowledge of the facts—and headlines appeared in major German media that “the pope’s brother is ready to testify about sex abuse.”

[…]

There is nothing particularly scandalous about any of this, but it provides a pretext for the press to associate the innocuous actions of the pope’s brother with serious offenses elsewhere. The same AP report, for example, states: “The scandal sweeping church institutions in many European countries kept widening Tuesday. . . . Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s. And across Germany, more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools. In Austria, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.”

The stories appear written to lead the inattentive reader to associate a boxed ear from Msgr. Ratzinger with serious offenses elsewhere.

Andrew Sullivan:

The Vatican is claiming that Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, had no clue about any of this:

Mgr Gruber said that the Pope, who was made a cardinal in 1977, had not been not aware of his decision because there were 1,000 priests in the diocese at the time and he had left many decisions to lower-level officials. “The cardinal could not deal with everything,” he said. “The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake … I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologise to all those who were harmed.” He did not indicate whether the convicted paedophile would be allowed to continue working in the church.

An American group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it “boggles the mind to hear a German Catholic official claim that a credibly accused paedophile priest was reassigned to parish work without the knowledge of his boss, then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger”. Any expulsion of a priest from the Church, however, must go through the Vatican.

It boggles my mind too, as well as the fact that, according to his former victim, this convicted pedophile is still even working in the church around children! And why is he given anonymity as “H”?

(Video: ABC News’ Brian Ross trying to get an answer from then Cardinal Ratzinger about the rampant sexual abuse and misconduct – subsequently confirmed in great detail – about Vatican favorite Marcial Maciel.)

Atrios:

I’ve seen the basic Vatican defense elsewhere as something along the lines of “plenty of abuse happens by people who aren’t priests.” This is of course true, but it’s not about bad priests, it’s about the institutions and powerful people who cover for them and fail to protect other victims.

Joe Windish at Moderate Voice:

Suspending the priest at the center of a German church sex-abuse scandal more than 30 years after the church first heard of the child molestation allegations hardly ends the scandal that is enveloping Pope Benedict XVI

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)

Not content with shielding its own priests from the law, Ratzinger’s office even wrote its own private statute of limitations. The church’s jurisdiction, claimed Ratzinger, “begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age” and then lasts for 10 more years. Daniel Shea, the attorney for two victims who sued Ratzinger and a church in Texas, correctly describes that latter stipulation as an obstruction of justice. “You can’t investigate a case if you never find out about it. If you can manage to keep it secret for 18 years plus 10, the priest will get away with it.”

The next item on this grisly docket will be the revival of the long-standing allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-reactionary Legion of Christ, in which sexual assault seems to have been almost part of the liturgy. Senior ex-members of this secretive order found their complaints ignored and overridden by Ratzinger during the 1990s, if only because Father Maciel had been praised by the then-Pope John Paul II as an “efficacious guide to youth.” And now behold the harvest of this long campaign of obfuscation. The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime. Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil—a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel. What is needed is not medieval incantation but the application of justice—and speedily at that.

Rod Dreher:

For example, I’m an admirer of Pope Benedict, who looks to be entering rough waters as the child sex abuse scandal turns out not to have been only an American problem, but a European one. As someone who was once deeply involved in that foul beast of a story, I’ve tried to use the emotional distance brought by time and my departure from the Catholic Church to take a more nuanced view of what brought these crimes about. I don’t actually believe that bishops intended for children to be molested. I really don’t. But all their good intentions counted for nothing; children — hundreds, perhaps thousands of them — were turned into the sexual playthings of corrupt clerics, and those in authority, who had the power and the duty to stop them, mostly did nothing. You can say all you want to about how the bishops were hornswoggled by the psychiatric profession, which gave them bad advice, and you can use that to point to the genuine tragedy of these bishops putting more trust in shrinks than in their own moral tradition and common sense. And you would have a point. Plus, it is the very definition of tragedy to cause the Church’s reputation be eviscerated by a cover up undertaken to protect the reputation of the Church.

But who can muster the wherewithal to think of the church sex abuse scandal in its tragic dimensions when few if any of the high-ranking clergy — bishops and archbishops, I mean — under whose watch this evil flourished in clerical ranks have been made to take responsibility for it in any real way? Mind you, I really do think there truly is a tragic element in this story, but to grapple with it absent meaningful accountability on the part of the malefactors is to feel as if one is expected to extend cheap grace.

UPDATE: More Dreher

Ross Douthat

UPDATE #3: George Weigel at National Review

More Sullivan

UPDATE #4 More Dreher and more Sullivan

DiA at The Economist

UPDATE #5: Ross Douthat‘s column in NYT

Rod Dreher

Douthat responds

Dreher responds

George Weigel at First Things

Paul Moses at Commonweal

UPDATE #6: E.D Kain at The League

Sullivan responds

Kain responds

UPDATE #7: More Sullivan here and here

E.D. Kain on Sullivan’s piece

Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal

UPDATE #8: Mary Gordon at Huffington Post

UPDATE #9: Sullivan again

UPDATE #10: Hitchens again

Douthat on Hitchens here and here

UPDATE #11: Joseph Bottum at First Things

Ross Douthat on Bottum

Rod Dreher on Bottum

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Filed under Crime, Foreign Affairs, Religion

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.’”

Amen.

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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