State of the Union

Memorializing Ike

The National Civic Art Society’s winning counter-entry.

Paul Goldberger reframes the debate — er, impasse — about the Eisenhower Memorial in the August issue of Vanity Fair:

For all that the war over the Eisenhower Memorial has been cast as a battle between modernism and traditional design, it’s really not that at all. The greatest memorials, whatever their architectural style, have conveyed a single, powerful idea with absolute clarity: the Washington Monument speaks of the singularity of the man who, more than any other, established the United States; the Lincoln Memorial of the democratic vision of the man who held it together. The Jefferson Memorial is weak because it fails to evoke Jefferson’s lively, inventive mind; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a success because its wall of names conveys, with heartbreaking directness, the way in which individual losses join together to create a tragedy of monumental proportions for all.

This is an important point. Frank Gehry’s design fails not because it does something new, but because it is incoherent (though it is not quite, as the traditionalist National Civic Art Society claims, a “monument to nihilism”). And give Gehry credit for his first consideration, which deals directly with the memorial’s wasteland-context:

The memorial is to be built on a four-acre site in front of the headquarters of the Department of Education, a dreary modernist box a block south of the Mall, set behind one of the bleakest concrete plazas in Washington, a hostile expanse that opens onto a view of parked cars and traffic running along Maryland Avenue, which slices diagonally through the space as it runs toward the Capitol. Long before it selected Gehry, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission chose the site as “Eisenhower Square,” and proposed the idea of turning the four acres into a park that would have a memorial as its centerpiece, in effect honoring Eisenhower and solving an urban design problem at the same time.

Gehry says he was searching for a way simultaneously to set off the memorial quadrant from its surroundings and obscure the ungainly façade of the Department of Education, but not block views and light for those inside the building, so he needed something that would be both large and semi-transparent.

But Gehry’s unfocused, narrative-driven structure doesn’t work: amid “shocking” tapestries of woven steel, it portrays Eisenhower as a barefoot boy “looking toward the statues that represent his future accomplishments.” The NCAS is doubling down in opposition, and on Tuesday met at a reception on Capitol Hill to showcase top entries from its 2011 counter-proposal competition.

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The Mortality Paradox; or, The Health Benefits of Cyanide

In recent weeks my description of the possible scale of the Vioxx Disaster has begun getting a little coverage on the web and in the British press, leading to some strong “push back” by people who say I can’t possibly be right. They may certainly be correct in their opinion, but I think their reasoning is mistaken, so I thought I’d briefly summarize the analysis once more, emphasizing again that the evidence is purely circumstantial.

I realize most readers may be growing increasingly weary of Vioxx mortality disputes—I certainly am—but given the tens or more likely hundreds of thousands of American deaths at issue, adding a few short paragraphs of text seem not totally unwarranted. Read More…

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Thalidomide II and the Silence of the American Media

A couple of years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Sydney Schanberg, one of America’s most celebrated Vietnam War journalists and a former top editor at the New York Times, explained to me the sad realities of our major newspapers. According to him, there was generally a strong inverse relationship between the geographical distance separating a newspaper’s headquarters and the willingness of its top executives to probe for malfeasance and corruption. So while the New York Times was always very eager to have its zealous investigative journalists plumb the depths of suspected scandals in Chicago, or even better in Kabul, Moscow, or Beijing, a similar scrutiny of improper doings a mile or two away in City Hall or upstate in Albany was normally far less encouraged. Read More…

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The Frumming of Cato

Have a look at the byline-less “Crane Chronicles” series (1, 2, 3) over at Breitbart, in which the LA-based viral news blog takes a firm stand on the side of the Brothers Koch in the battle for the future of the libertarian think tank. The latest, published last Tuesday, quotes several anonymous sources and accuses Cato Institute president Ed Crane of sexual harassment and creating a “hostile and degrading” work environment for women.

It’s bracing stuff, but readers of this blog need no warnings to take Breitbart News’ anonymous sources with a grain of salt.

The first piece makes hay out of Ed Crane talking to Jane Mayer for her paranoid New Yorker profile on the Kochs. The author, whoever that might be, takes this as heresy, unconscionable collusion with the “Democrat Media Complex” that places him beyond the pale of sympathy. The quote in question involves a “top Cato official” referring to Charles Koch and his Market-Based Management ideas as an “emperor” who’s “convinced he’s wearing clothes.” Reading David Koch’s letter about the controversy, it’s tough to escape the conclusion that the Kochs have taken offense at Crane’s insufficient deference to their silly management philosophy:

When confronted about this, Ed initially claimed he only spoke briefly and favorably about us. He later acknowledged that he had made the statement as quoted, but it was only for background. Subsequently, he claimed that he was misquoted. As Ed has shown, he will partner with anyone – including those that oppose Cato and what it stands for – to further his personal agenda at the expense of others working to advance a free society.

Whether or not Ed Crane should have spoken to Jane Mayer should be irrelevant, though that sort of tribalism certainly animates the staff of Breitbart News. The idea that the president of the leading libertarian think tank should have some sort of gag rule for talking to left-wing reporters is nonsense. Whether Mayer misquoted Crane or quoted him against his wishes is not irrelevant, but to suggest that his statements were part of some sort of power grab on Crane’s part is more than the evidence supports. Either the Kochs are using this line as part of a power grab of their own, or Charles really was offended by the characterization of his book. To anyone who doubts the Kochs are narcissistic enough for that to be a motivating factor I would ask: What kind of self-respecting billionaire writes a self-help book? Read More…

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Something Rotten in the State

With the number of Secret Service members and agents caught up in the partying-with-prostitutes scandal in Cartagena now at a dozen, and six already gone, how much wider and deeper does this go?

No one can take pleasure in seeing Secret Service agents — whose deserved reputation is that they will “take a bullet” for the president, his family and all whom they protect — shamed and disgraced.

Yet one would have to be naive to believe this was some isolated incident. No sooner was the first day’s work done in Cartagena than 20 hookers were trooping into the hotel rooms of SS agents, supervisors and members of the military advance team.

And Sen. Charles Grassley asks a relevant question.

As the Secret Service travel and work in close contact with the White House Advance Office and White House Communications Agency, was the Obama staff oblivious to this misconduct? If they were aware of it, did no one report it to the White House chief of staff?

Hostile intelligence services often use “honey traps” to ensnare U.S. diplomats and journalists. Thus this hookers-and-agents scandal is no laughing matter. Read More…

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Fun in Cartagena

I am having a problem in wrapping my head around the recent Secret Service scandal. The tale of the sins and omissions of the Obama Secret Service team in Colombia is still being revealed, piece by piece. The miscreants constituted a so-called advance team, flying on a military aircraft, which goes into a location where a protected official is going to be present. The advance team liaises with local police and security personnel at the US Embassy or Consulate. It checks out security at the airport, along the route of travel on the ground, at the hotel, and at the various venues where meetings will take place. It writes up reports so the team that actually travels with the president will be prepared to provide a security envelope, working with the locals. The advance team members normally leave well before the president arrives.

All of which is to say that the advance team members are not actually protecting anyone and are basically doing a survey to improve the level of security for someone who will follow. They are not normally on twenty-four hour duty and, in my experience, they tend to be unmarried young men who frequently take advantage of the opportunity provided by foreign travel to hit some bars and try to meet some women. There is not necessarily anything wrong with that. Now admittedly, the narrative as it is playing out regarding more than a score of prostitutes and extreme inebriation demonstrates a complete lack of discretion and is certainly over the top, but I have to think their crime is a matter of degree rather than commission unless there were indiscretions relating to what they were doing that might have compromised the security of their mission, which does not appear to be the case. It seems clear that they did not discuss what they were working on in Colombia with the women and there was no compromise of sensitive information.

Not to belabor the issue, but during my time in CIA I certainly knew many government officials who, when traveling, regularly and openly indulged in excessive intake of alcohol and prostitutes without anyone at State Department or CIA even raising an eyebrow. Indeed, in some circles it was viewed as the manly thing to do. In the Colombia incident, if one of the Secret Service officers had not gotten into a fight with a prostitute over her compensation everything would have ended quietly and there would have been no story at all to tell.

Traveling on the government dime, referred to as TDY, is frequently regarded as an excuse to behave badly. I recall that while I was in Barcelona as CIA Chief a certain US Ambassador with a roving  (joke intended) assignment in Europe would frequently arrange to visit the city and invariably call me to ask what bars would be best for picking up women. He would be very explicit in describing what he was looking for.  When I complained to the State Department’s inspector general about the calls on security grounds, that he was casually discussing my CIA status on the phone, it was treated as a joke. I also hosted teams of CIA visitors in town periodically.  If they were young guys intent on seeing the city I would warn them about which areas were dangerous but let it go at that.  If they were doing their jobs, what they did in their spare time, as long as it was not illegal or compromised government secrets, was not my business. I trusted them to have enough sense not to reveal any sensitive information and, as far as I know, they never did.

So my initial reaction is, “Why the fuss?” The demands to hang these men out to dry coming from both the Obamas and Mitt Romney are only reasonable if the team was operating under standing orders or guidelines explicitly detailing what constituted unacceptable behavior while overseas, which I doubt was the case. Which suggests that in this instance the team, and its supervisors, are mostly guilty of exercising bad judgment, a transgression that normally means they would be reassigned to other duties.  One should note in passing that prostitution is legal in Colombia as is drinking for anyone over the age of sixteen. The resort to prostitutes by visitors to Cartagena is so institutionalized that the hotel where the Secret Service team was staying had a policy in place that they should be out of the room by 6:30 a.m.

All right, so let’s accept that the Secret Service team should be punished somehow for behaving badly and exercising poor judgment in a high level situation in which at least a modicum of personal restraint was called for, but no one was placed in danger and no one was really hurt. The feeding frenzy is the media and among outraged members of congress, where sexual transgressions of all types and alcoholism are far from uncommon, is a bit hard to comprehend.

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The Outing of Deep Throat

As the 40th anniversary of Watergate impends, we are to be bathed again in the great myth and morality play about the finest hour in all of American journalism.

The myth?

That two heroic young reporters at The Washington Post, guided by a secret source, a man of conscience they dubbed “Deep Throat,” cracked the case and broke the scandal wide open, where the FBI, U.S. prosecutors and more experienced journalists floundered and failed.

Through their tireless investigative reporting, they compelled the agencies of government to treat Watergate as the unprecedented constitutional crisis it was. No Pulitzer Prize was ever more deserved than the one awarded the Post in 1973.

These young journalists saved our republic!

However, the myth, fabricated in All the President’s Men and affirmed by the 1976 film of the same name, with Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, has a Hellfire missile coming its way. Read More…

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Arlen Specter’s Filthy New Memoir

You might have thought the former Pennsylvania senator had finished with what harm he could wreak on the republic. But you’d be wrong, oh so wrong. The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel wades into the pages of his depraved new memoir, Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing As We Know It, and witnesses sights that shouldn’t be seen in the rankest bolgia of the Inferno: “knee to knee” with Sarah Palin; John Thune “looked like a movie star in or out of clothes”; “Ted Kennedy came over and climbed into the bath. Kennedy was one of the Senate’s giants, in many ways. … I’d never seen two men in the whirlpool before…” Politics, carnality, and grand guignol haven’t collided like this since the last time Tinto Brass, Gore Vidal, and Bob Guccione collaborated.

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He Kept This Four-Ten All Loaded With Lead . . .

A post by Scott Eric Kaufman at Lawyers, Guns and Money links to Matt Taibbi’s acerbic sendoff to the late Andrew Breitbart and suggests it will “will demonstrate which conservatives are competent readers and which aren’t.” Chalk Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator up as an incompetent reader. He quotes the nasty part of Taibbi’s obit but leaves out all of the nice parts and whines about how mean liberals are to conservatives:

All of which raises two questions.

1. Why do liberal pundits delight in the death of conservatives?

2. Why do liberal pundits have no shame in publicly expressing these sentiments?

You can probably give the same answer to both questions. Liberal pundits hate conservatives and their hatred of all things conservative knows no bounds. I would also add that liberal pundits aren’t very mature.

Breitbart played hardball when he was alive by, among other things, dancing over Ted Kennedy’s fresh grave a few years ago. I held no particular animus towards Breitbart and take no joy at his premature death, but I see no reason to pretend that he was anything other than a nasty character who earned his hatred.

 

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Defending corpse urination begs the question: who’s the racist?

For years the writers, editors and readers of The American Conservative have had to endure the undeserving charge that its paleo-conservative-libertarian roots are racist. I’ll never forget the former Washington Times writer who told me to my face, quite smugly as we were sharing a cab during the 2008 Republican National Convention, that I write for a racist rag.

In part, these charges are old, lobbed and maintained by founding editor Pat Buchanan’s more adamant longtime detractors. But the slander endures, most vociferously it would seem, by unreconstructed liberals who never read the magazine and neoconservatives like my arrogant cabmate, who especially abhor the magazine’s founding manifesto:  that the Bush Administration’s war policy was a mistake, and that the political and tactical reaction to 9/11 was and is not only stunningly wrongheaded, but dangerous and motivated by venal special interests that hew not to the U.S constitution nor to the morals and values of an American republic.

Couldn’t one as easily say their own advocacy of endless war against “brown people” in the Middle East and Central Asia – not to mention North and East Africa – is racism on a Global scale? Writers at The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Times and Commentary have been ruthless non-apologists for the indiscriminate killing of non-whites as a means to their ends, from the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq and the flattening of Fallujah to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, today’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and all of the wars’ human repercussions (death, disease, displacement). In their world, these are always treated as time-wasting, politically motivated afterthoughts that merely muddy their own paper-white narrative.

On a micro-level, how can calling what happened at Abu Ghraib (dragging Arab men by leashes, stacking them up naked in a pyramid, beating and turning dogs loose on them) “a small prison scandal” over which the American public got unduly “hysterical,” not be considered racist in some way? Those were among the many remarks Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol made on the air and in writing that urged Americans to recalibrate their outrage downward in the wake of the 2004 revelations.

His cohort at Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, agreed,  downplaying what happened at Abu Ghraib while making it a political issue, accusing the Democrats of going off  “the intellectual and moral rails as to compare the harassment and humiliation of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib—none of whom, so far as anyone then knew, was even maimed, let alone killed—to the horrendous torturing and murdering that had gone on in that same prison under Saddam Hussein or, even more outlandishly, to the Soviet gulag in which many millions of prisoners died.”

Now, Kristol, in an effort, again, to downplay what many are already calling a war crime, has declared U.S Marines urinating on (desecrating) Afghan corpses part of an American military tradition.

But it’s also worth noting that pissing has a distinguished place in American military history. Most famously, General George S. Patton relieved himself in the Rhine on March 24, 1945—and made sure he was photographed doing so. …

It wasn’t just American generals who seemed preoccupied with pissing back in 1945. Three weeks earlier, Winston Churchill had visited the front lines near Jülich. Churchill had long dreamed of urinating on Hitler’s much-vaunted Siegfried Line to show his contempt for Hitler and Nazism…

So perhaps, as Rep. Allen West, once a battalion commander in Iraq, put it last week, all the sanctimonious Obama administration bigwigs “need to chill.” Did Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta really need to speak up at all?

Does Kristol realize he is comparing dead men to a river or a territorial boundary, suggesting these corpses were never human at all?

Kristol and his ilk don’t think much of the Geneva Conventions, so it is almost not worth the breath to remind them that desecrating corpses is in violation of international treaty, but it is also against military law, which means the Marines already recognize such desecration is not heroic, funny, eye-for-an-eye, nor proof of battlefield supremacy. It’s wrong.

Funny how even suggesting such behavior was happening in World War II or even Vietnam is taboo, but today Kristol and his more deranged ideological offspring like Pamela Geller of the popular Atlas Shrugs website, now appear to be cheering it on, even questioning the loyalty and politics of those who don’t.

“I love these Marines,” wrote Geller after the story broke last week. “Perhaps this is the infidel interpretation of the Islamic ritual of washing and preparing the body for burial.”

What a hoot! Even scarier are the comments, some of which suggest that if al Qaeda wants to field an army of bloodthirsty psychos, beheading and dismembering their enemies and desecrating the dead, then our Marines have every right to do it too. Read More…

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