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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"There was a brief flap last week when the Nixon Library released a tape of a conversation between Henry Kissinger and the former president. At one point, Kissinger says 'the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.' A number of pundits have already explored what these disturbing remarks tell us about Kissinger himself and his relationship with Nixon, but Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who is now a columnist for the Washington Post, has decided that the real culprit is the entire 'realist' approach to foreign policy. Not only does he consider realism to be a 'sadly limited view of power, discounting American ideological advantages in global ideological struggles,' he claims that 'repeated doses of foreign policy realism can deaden the conscience.' Such statements tell us two things: 1) Gerson hasn't read many (any?) realists, and 2) Gerson hasn't spent much time reflecting on the morality of his own government service. If he had, perhaps his own conscience would be a bit more troubled. For starters, to use Henry Kissinger as a stand-in for all realists is bogus and intellectually lazy. Most academic realists thought the Vietnam War a foolish waste of U.S. resources, for example, yet Kissinger prosecuted that war with enthusiasm during his tenure as national security advisor and secretary of state. Similarly, most contemporary realists opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Kissinger supported it (as did Gerson). Before indicting an entire school of thought on foreign policy, therefore, you'd think Gerson would have spent some time familiarizing himself with what realists actually wrote." (Foreign Policy)


"It took continued 9-plus percent unemployment, falling approval ratings and a 'shellacking' in the November elections, but President Obama finally appears to understand that he actually needs at least some of those fat cats in the business community, if he's going to fix the economy anytime soon. At least that was the feeling to come out of a private dinner this month, where two key Obama advisers met with 20 or so top business leaders. The meeting was at the swank Manhattan home of Betty and John Levin, a man who made a fairly large fortune as a hedge-fund manager and investor. Other guests included Loews Corp CEO James Tisch, Ajit Jain of Berkshire Hathaway, Honeywell CEO David Cote and John Myers, the former president of GE Asset Management. Days later, Obama would sign on to the extension of the Bush tax rates, as well as tax cuts on capital gains that mostly benefited the 'rich' -- while still referring to Republicans and their business allies as 'hostage takers.'" (Charlie Gasparino)


"As the only former president who's also nasty on the saxophone, it should come as no surprise that Bill Clinton knows how to throw a good party! Life & Style's Scene Queens have learned that for his 65th birthday next year, he's planning a special concert at Staples Center in LA, which can hold up to 20,000 people, and every A-lister in town will be scrambling to get an invite. 'He's lining up some of the biggest artists in the world to help celebrate his birthday,' an insider tells the Scene Queens. 'His camp is in talks with Paul McCartney, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen.' And Bill, whose birthday is Aug. 19, isn't having just one party to celebrate the milestone: 'Apart from the main concert, which will be at Staples Center in LA, Bill's going to have a ton of other events and parties surrounding his big day,' says the spy. If you manage to snag an invite, expect to see a ton of celebs. 'Bill's always loved meeting stars. He loves the idea of throwing a huge event for his 65th birthday and inviting all his friends, famous or not.'" (LifeandStyle)



"In those days, Milton --- like many New England boarding schools --- was staunchly traditional. Teachers were addressed as 'sir.' There was a girls’ school across the street, but we had no co-ed classes. And before the prom, we rushed to get our 'dance cards' signed by our coolest friends, so our dates wouldn’t think we were social outcasts. But the library was the setting for the most memorable event of my first year at Milton --- there, the night before we went home for Christmas, the headmaster read 'A Christmas Carol.' Arthur Bliss Perry was as Old Boston as it gets. Son of a Harvard professor who discoursed on Emerson and edited the Atlantic Monthly, he came to Milton to teach in 1921 and became headmaster in 1947. In 1961, when I first encountered him, he was a figure out of time --- a tall, thin patrician, wearing three-piece suits, a school tie and eyeglasses with octagonal lenses and the thinnest of wire frames.The Milton library was a red-brick, ivy-covered cathedral. For Mr. Perry’s reading, the fireplace was lit. I believe we stood as Mr. Perry entered and took his seat in a baronial chair that had been set between the two standing lamps that were the only lights. And then Arthur Bliss Perry became Charles Dickens. He read without accent and without drama. He didn’t play up the sentiment. He simply delivered --- as he had each December for fourteen years and would for two more --- the greatest Christmas story since the original one. I got shivers. Maybe a tear. It was that remarkable an experience. Last December, I decided our almost-eight-year-old daughter was ready for a version of 'A Christmas Carol' not dumbed down by Disney." (NYSocialDiary)


"Lately, Barack Obama doesn’t look like such a bad poker player. Roundly criticized for 'negotiating with himself' before the Republicans even got to the table on the tax compromise—and for the Democrats’ abysmal showing in the midterm elections—the president can now claim a head-turning sequence of out-of-nowhere legislative victories: the long-sought repeal of the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' law, the passage of the New Start treaty with Russia, and, on Wednesday afternoon, a bill extending health coverage benefits for rescue workers and others who got sick in the 9/11 aftermath. Republicans had invested much time and energy in blocking all of them, and very few Democrats in Washington would have been willing to predict two weeks ago that any of these measures would pass. More credit, in truth, may be owed to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi than to Obama directly. When the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell repeal failed in the Senate as an attachment to a defense appropriation in September, Pelosi forced a vote on a stand-alone repeal in the House; the surprising margin in favor of getting rid of the law (250–175) surely put some psychological pressure on the Senate. And Joe Lieberman, an independent, worked that issue harder than any other senator. On the arms control treaty, the White House appeared to have been more directly involved, with the president making last minute calls to senators and approval of the New Start treaty framed by the White House as part of Obama’s acceptance of the tax compromise extending the Bush tax cuts for the upper brackets. But it, too, depended on the work of senators—in this case people like Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, who persuaded several of his GOP colleagues to hop aboard, directly defying Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell." (Michael Tomasky/NYRB)

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