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Monday, December 17, 2012

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"Several years ago, Gene Healy wrote a book called The Cult of the Presidency, which offers one of the most enduring insights into our political culture. Americans, Healy argued, have come to regard the president as a national father figure and mythical monarch, a cultural understanding that is impossible to reconcile with the limited and enumerated powers the presidency shares with co-equal branches of government. Healy’s analysis is essential for understanding Bloomberg’s plea, and the general outpouring of emotion directed at President Obama in the wake of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are powers Obama may have and things he can do, but preventing 48,000 deaths is not among them. When Obama promised last night to 'use whatever power this office holds,' he was in all likelihood committing himself to far more limited steps than the poetry of his address might have implied or that his supporters may have hoped, because the powers of just one branch of government over law is very finite. One bit of fuzzy thinking that has crept into the debate is a conflation between America’s epidemic of routine gun violence and America’s epidemic of mass murders. Both may be horrific stains upon our national fabric, but they are different things, and very different in scales, requiring different solutions. Routine gun violence — hunting accidents, burglaries, heated arguments — kill orders of magnitude more people than the four mass murders to which Obama referred. If you have lost a loved one, it doesn’t really matter if they were killed alone or killed en masse. It matters, of course, to the rest of us. Massacres are visceral events that seize the entire nation’s attention. I have almost always found myself in the uncomfortable and slightly guilty position of feeling no emotion at all in the face of what most others see as gut-wrenching events. I was a nonplussed eighth grader unable to understand why my classmates were distraught — even crying! — at the explosion of the Challenger, a pattern that has repeated itself through episodes of national grief, catharsis, and joy for everybody, it seemed, but me. But parenthood has transformed me into a weepy, emotional wreck when it comes to matters relating to children." (Jonathan Chait)


"Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, may be headed back to the political spotlight as he’s considered a likely interim replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). President Obama is set to tap Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, according to media reports. This means Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) needs to find someone to fill Kerry’s seat until a special election can be held in the late spring or early summer. Dukakis, who is 79, has remained politically active. He campaigned for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this fall and teaches at Northeastern University. The Democratic primary for Kerry’s seat will be intense and Patrick is expected to tap someone as an interim replacement who would promise not to run in the special election. 'He’ll most likely appoint a placeholder. A lot of people speculating that’s Mike Dukakis,' said Jim Spencer, president of the Campaign Network, a Boston-based political consulting group. 'That’s the most obvious choice. Everybody thinks it’s Dukakis.' David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said he has heard Dukakis floated as an interim successor along with Vicki Kennedy, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) widow." (TheHill)


"More than half of Americans say the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, reflect broader problems in society rather than an isolated act of a troubled person – more than after other recent shooting incidents, suggesting the possibility of a new national dialogue on violent crime.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds that 54 percent of Americans favor stricter gun control laws in general, numerically a five-year high, albeit not significantly different than in recent years. Fifty-nine percent support a ban specifically on high-capacity ammunition clips, a step on which partisan and ideological gaps narrow substantially and 'strong' support peaks. At the same time, sharp divisions among population groups – regionally, between men and women, and politically – mark the difficult nature of the gun debate. And this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that more Americans continue to say that enforcing existing laws is a better way to reduce gun violence than passing new laws, although by the narrowest gap in a decade." (ABCNews)


"New York Times staffers are placing bets on how long their new, embattled CEO Mark Thompson will stay in the job, according to sources who tell us an office pool has been started. Thompson, who’s embroiled in the BBC 'Newsnight' scandal in the UK, was supposed to hold two 'town hall' meetings with Times staffers this month. They were to include a discussion of his role in the BBC shelving an investigation into abuse claims against suspected pedophile TV host Jimmy Savile while Thompson was the BBC’s director-general. But those meetings have now been pushed into next year. No word on how much money is in the pool. A Times spokeswoman didn’t get back to us for comment." (PageSix)


" A grey, rainy Sunday, cold and damp. Appropriate weather for the way the nation was feeling, after the catastrophe in the school rooms in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. I had lunch on Friday at Swifty’s with Nina Griscom. I wouldn’t call it a working lunch but I always come away knowing more about something than I knew before we started. Nina is good company because her life is full of interest (www.ninagriscom.com) so there’s a lot of change to report. I mention the lunch only because in retrospect it was a great way to start my weekend (which is basically Friday and Saturdays that I don’t have a deadline). So when we departed Swifty’s, I could say to myself, this was a nice day. Until I got home and learned the news. The business of Guns and Gun Control returns to the fore. There are now hundreds of millions of handguns in private hands in America today. Would it even be humanly possible to confiscate them? The boy’s mother had several guns, and she liked 'shooting' with her children, teaching them how. The ultimate irony: One child used one or more of them, to kill her and more than two dozen other people including 20 innocent little children who were first terrorized by this monster. For he was a monster, in the end. The question arises: what if the boy had never been taught to use a gun? What if there were no guns in that woman’s house? The question cannot be answered." (NYSocialDiary)


"Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States is a very courageous effort to set the record straight. Stone is an old adversary of mine with whom I’ve recently made my peace. I agree very much on certain parts of his extremely controversial theories about his country. But unlike most other historians, Oliver has paid his dues. He won a Bronze Star in Vietnam as a grunt, whereas he could have gotten deferments, since he was at Harvard and near the top of his class. Stone sees Uncle Sam as a rapacious imperialist. He cites American repression of the Filipino struggle for independence around the turn of the 20th century and the repeated US interventions and covert operations in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. He names capitalism as the bogeyman. He also says that the United States, not the Soviet Union, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for perpetuating the Cold War. That’s not what the great Greek historian Taki has taught us all these years, yet Stone has a point. Stalin never trusted the West, but he had no designs on taking us over from the outside. Trotsky did, but thank God someone stuck an ice axe in his head in 1940. Ironically, I disagree with Oliver only on empirical grounds. I traveled throughout the communist world all during the late 1950s playing tennis, and what always struck me about people living behind the Iron Wall was the lack of smiles. I’d seen very poor black townships in the American South, as well as the poorest sections of Harlem in New York, yet the smiles were there. Not in Budapest, Bucharest, and Warsaw, nor in Moscow, where I found myself in 1957. Where I totally agree is Stone’s take on the two atomic bombs we dropped on the gallant Japanese. They were wholly unnecessary and the US knew it, for the Japanese were willing to surrender by May 1945." (Taki)



"Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp and 150 other glittering guests gathered at the Carlyle after midnight yesterday to celebrate the final gig in the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary tour Saturday night. The celebration went on till the wee hours, spies say, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards each hosted their own private tables for family and friends in a discreet corner at the back of the hotel’s restaurant. The pair, plus band mates Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, were in 'jubilant moods,' an observer added. They’d played with Gaga hours earlier in Newark, as well as Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., former band member Mick Taylor and blues-rock duo The Black Keys, to cap off their latest tour. With no dates scheduled in 2013, the Carlyle bash took on added significance with some guests wondering whether they might be saying goodbye to more than just this tour. " (PageSix)

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