KRUGMAN LOSES IT

Paul Krugman’s now made the last step toward becoming a bona fide left-wing paranoiac. His column today, in which he endorses David Brock, and portrays all conservative criticism of the Clinton administration or indeed of any liberal figure as part of a plutocratic-funded smear machine is loopy enough. Has he read his own paper’s editorials criticizing Clinton’s Whitewater conduct? But arguing that his own Enron mess was concocted by the same smear machine is simply deranged. The fact of Krugman’s $50,000 Enron sweet-heart deal was reported first not by the Washington Times, but by the New York Times, that well-known organ of the right-wing conspiracy. This site certainly helped bring this fact to others’ attention. I wish I were the beneficiary of vast amounts of right-wing scandal money, but Krugman will have to accept that I have yet to receive one personal dollar from writing for this site for eighteen months and have zero plutocrats (you know my email address if you want to shower cash on the site, guys), except the generous support of hundreds of modest donors, all of whom are promptly disclosed. This site, allegedly a tool of vast right-wing moneyed interests, also broke the story of Bill Kristol’s $50,000 “fee,” as well as reporting on Larry Kudlow’s, Peggy Noonan’s and Irwin Stelzer’s easy Enron money. Moreover, the only way in which the issue of bought-and-paid-for pundits could be raised in the New York Times was by the left-wing site, TomPaine.com, by buying an ad on Krugman’s own op-ed page. The Times’ media reporters – alone in the national media – wouldn’t touch the pundit scandal as a separate, important part of the Enron story. Hmmm. So much for a right-wing conspiracy. Krugman knows this, of course. But rather than reflecting on some of the conflicts of interest his corporate buck-raking has generated, he prefers to disappear down the sink-hole of conspiracy theories, paranoid tales of right-wing money, and the usual Manichean self-righteousness of the hard left. It’s a shame. One day, he’ll start thinking and writing intelligently about economics. Until then, he’s the one who increasingly seems to be blowing smoke.

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FROM BAD TO WORSE

So Cheney’s trip has resulted in a new rapprochement between Iraq and the other Arab dictatorships; it has allowed the Arab dictators to announce that they are ready for ‘peace’ with Israel, while they funnel the arms for the necessary war; and recent events have been manipulated to make it seem now as if Arafat is the man genuinely seeking a cease-fire while the Israelis are preparing for a new assault. This is one of the biggest diplomatic messes the United States has managed to help bring about in many a long year. Arafat wins; the terrorism-sponsoring Saudis win; Saddam wins; Palestinian terrorists win; and the United States is humiliated and Israel pushed into an unending war of attrition with every neighboring state. Hey, how about some more “peace-process,” huh?

SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “All of my friends over here are the wrong kinds of American. They don’t fly flags, they feel alienated by their newspapers and uninspired by the phrase “let’s roll”. Their hearts don’t go pitter-pat when they imagine bombing the shit out of people they don’t know. Liberal Americans think of Bush and Rumsfeld and then feel frightened, embarrassed and sad. Given that this makes them, essentially, enemies of the state, deserving immediate imprisonment inside hand-rolled Cuban wire cages, it is exquisitely merciful of George and Don to be planning a national missile defence system which will protect even them.” Al Kennedy, The Guardian.

THE CHURCH WILL DO NOTHING: “In the early 1990s widespread reports of child abuse by priests, nuns, and Christian Brothers created a scandal in Canada similar to the one the United States is experiencing today. As far as I know, the Canadian Church has done nothing to prevent another scandal.” This and a real Israeli-Palestinian peace-plan on the Letters Page.

BRUNI ON THE GRILL: Frank Bruni wraps up this month’s book club discussion by subjecting himself to several difficult questions – from you guys.

HOW SOME GAY LEFTISTS KEEP OTHER GAYS IN THE CLOSET: This from a dialogue with Rosie O’Donnell on the PlanetOut website:

Planet Out: What do you make of gay journalist Michelangelo Signorile’s assertion that it was your desire to silence your gay critics that made you come out?
Rosie: He is a moron. His idea of gay America consists of only those he deems worthy enough. I do not enjoy him, his point of view or his rhetoric. (He isn’t even funny.) One reason I did not come out sooner, I didn’t want anyone to associate me with Signorile in any way. Same goes for Musto (Michael Musto, Village Voice gossip columnist).

DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: “McCain is wrong on campaign finance issues, but he’s earnestly wrong. Bush is worse: He KNOWS what he’s doing is wrong. McCain is Andrea Yates, living under a delusion. Bush is Susan Smith, rolling his principles down into the cold, dark water in order to get something he wants.” – Michael Graham, michaelgraham.com.

SAID AND ALTERMAN – TOGETHER AT LAST: There’s something clarifying about Eric Alterman and Edward Said simultaneously deciding and writing that a key problem for the Middle East and for American democracy is that most commentators are blindly, reflexively, unalterably defenders of anything Israel does. Here’s Alterman’s exquisite formulation:

For reasons of religion, politics, history and genuine conviction the punditocracy debate of the Middle East in America is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel. The value of this legion to the Jewish state is, for better or worse, literally incalculable, particularly when push x97 as it inevitably does in the Middle East x97 comes to shove.

Notice the escape clause – “and genuine conviction.” Without that phrase, Alterman, who believes a lone blogger is a dangerous force for McCarthyite censorship, would be accusing a whole swath of writers of having dual loyalty, or simply refusing to think or exercise their own conscience or judgment with regard to the Middle East. Most of the people cited are also Jews. The term Alterman uses is: “COLUMNISTS AND COMMENTATORS WHO CAN BE COUNTED UPON TO SUPPORT ISRAEL REFLEXIVELY AND WITHOUT QUALIFICATION.” Then he provides a list – a black-list, you might call it – of all the offending journalists. Here’s Said, who chimes in on the same theme:

The worst misrepresentation of all is that in the 54 years since 1948, never has a narrative of Palestinian heroism and suffering been allowed to emerge. We are all depicted as violent fanatic extremists who are little more than the terrorists that George Bush and his cabal have imposed on the consciousness of a stunned and systematically misinformed population, aided and uncritically abetted by an entire army of commentators and media stars — the Blitzers, Zahns, Lehrers, Rathers, Brokaws, Russerts, and their ilk. The Israeli lobby is scarcely needed with such faithful disciples trailing happily in its ranks.

So here Said is also naming names of journalists lobotomized by blind support for a tiny country. Now why should such people be so blinkered? If it isn’t out of conviction, what could it be? This is fodder for the usual anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and it’s helpful to see Alterman reinvigorate the trope. I wouldn’t call him dangerous or a threat to the republic. But it strikes me that someone publishing blacklists of journalists controlled by the Jews might be a little circumspect about labeling others McCarthyites.

REALITY CHECK I

Can we please take a little break from the “pursuit of peace” in order to acknowledge what we have just learned about the Middle East? We have learned that when the United States and Israel specifically demanded just a couple of days of relative peace, Palestinian terrorists made a point of slaughtering over a dozen Jews at a Passover meal. Notice the timing. Can we also aknowledge that the Arab summit in Beirut has also collapsed into a complete mess of infighting, squabbles and incoherence? So much for the alleged concern of most Arab governments for the plight of the Palestinians. The crisis over there is not hard to discern. Arab and Islamist terrorists, fed by a diet of vicious anti-Semitic propaganda, are engaged in a war aimed at the destruction of Israel and the second holocaust of the Jews. The Arab regimes who help foment the hatred of Israel to distract from their own corruption and failure would be perfectly happy to see this war succeed, and are already supplying the arms for the war effort. Every single attempt to forge some kind of truce between Israel and the Palestinian terrorists and the population that supports them has failed. The efforts have failed because the problem cannot be solved. One side wants to live in some sort of security; the other side, whatever it says in public, is committed to the destruction of what they call the “Zionist entity.” The recent pathetic meanderings of the vice-president of the United States government have had one clear effect: they have emboldened the terrorists to believe, with good reason, that the more they kill, the more leverage they will have with Washington. And the terrorists are using our imminent attack on Iraq as even more leverage to wage an uninterrupted war against Israel.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO?: Perhaps we have an obligation to go through the motions of trying to get a cease-fire. But it won’t happen. Every day, a real full-scale war approaches in which Israel will once again have to fight for survival – but this time against powers that might have access to weapons of mass destruction, and who prefer warfare by surrogates to the conventional conflict in which they have always lost. My own view is that there isn’t much we can do to prevent this except to disable and disarm the most dangerous power in the region, Iraq, and then to foment a regime change in Iran. Negotiating in good faith with pathological anti-Semites and murderers is a mug’s game. They cannot be reasoned with. In the end, they will have to be confronted. The only question is the timing – which I leave in the hands of those with more access to military details than I have.

REALITY CHECK II: “The last time an elected Vice-president did not run for reelection was John Nance Garner in 1940 – 62 years ago! This still does not stop DC gasbags from filling space between elections by speculating about replacements for Nixon, LBJ, Agnew, Quayle and now Cheney. We in New York have recently been subject to speculation about Rudy running for VP. Now we get you on Condeleeza Rice. Next will be Robert Novak plugging Jack Kemp to unify tax cutters, Fred Barnes speaking out for Bill Bennett to line up the religious right, The Bull Moose for McCain to get reformers and David Broder urging Bush to pick Zell Miller as part of a grand coalition to end terrorism and save social security. Stop the nonsense. Cheney will run again as long as he is alive.” This and other charming ripostes to yours truly can be found on the best Letters Page on the web.

THE LAST PRANKSTER: I’m grateful to a reader for pointing out the diary in the current New York Observer. It’s about one of the survivors of the LSD generation immortalized by Tom Wolfe in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” I’m a real liberal when it comes to legalizing recreational substances, but it also seems to me that those of us who favor legalization of most soft drugs have to acknowledge that such a move would hurt some lives as well as help others. This life remembered is a deeply sad one – but it has a serene ending, of sorts. Here’s how his niece, Rachel Lehman-Haupt, describes it:

The life that defined my uncle was not about pushing his mind to the outer limits. It was a painful, daily fight to stay within the limits. Yet Sandy managed to become a leader in Sullivan Counts recovery community. Everyone called him “Duke,” and his pastor would seek out his advice. As he found mind-stabilizing drugs, sobriety, a good marriage and a church, he discovered that Keses amped-up American dream was empty. For him, Kesey was not an American hero, but a self-indulgent cultish leader who made a lost young man more lost.

THOSE AMBULANCES: You may recall how one of the most impassioned recent complaints of some Palestinians was that the brutal Israelis were preventing medical ambulances from getting into Palestinian refugee camps to tend to the wounded, after Israeli army incursions. The Israelis argued that these ambulances were actually being used by terrorists to funnel arms for suicide bombers. All the usual suspects decried the Israeli argument as paranoid and unconvincing. Funny. A report today, forwarded to me by a reader, includes the following details:

Reserve soldiers at a mobile roadblock today captured a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance driver who was caught transporting an explosive belt of the type detonated by suicide bombers, Israel Radio reported. The ambulance was stopped and searched between Nablus and Ramallah, and soldiers found the explosive belt under a stretcher upon which a Palestinian boy was lying. The boy’s family was with him in the ambulance. The ambulance driver, Islam Jibril, a resident of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, told interrogators he received the belt from Muhammad Titti, a senior Tanzim activist close to Palestinian Authority West Bank security chief Marwan Barghouti. The belt contained some 10 kilograms of explosives. IDF sappers detonated it in a controlled explosion.

See? This is the reality. Israelis have to live with it daily. Instead of crticizing and cajoling them, we need to reassert that terror is terror; and that it is the goal of the United States to unite with Israel in defeating it, wherever it is found.

BRUNI FIGHTS BACK: “I like it that I’m suddenly “godless.” A question about that: would you prefer that writers like me not admit to and examine some of those prejudices we do have? And is it really best to try to smack us around when we’re honest?” I’m with Bruni on this one. And then there’s another batch of reader responses. Get your questions to Bruni in soon. He’ll be in the hot seat Friday morning.

OUR GREAT SENATE: Wanna know why some members of the Bush administration are not so keen on sharing all their military planning with Senators and Congressmen? Because you end up with stories like this.

THE PRICE OF CELIBACY: An interesting little column in the St. Louis Post-Despatch. It has the following haunting quote from a priest in it:

“When a young man comes to the priesthood, he is directed to divorce himself from sexual feelings. Later, he may have a sexual awakening of sorts, and it’s as if he is going through adolescence, a time of awkward sexual advan
ces. Sadly, he may see a child as a safe person to approach.”

Of course this doesn’t in any way excuse this behavior. But it does seem to me that we need to understand why good men do awful things, what pressures celibacy and the current training of priests may inflict upon a man’s psycho-sexual and emotional health. Celibacy, after all, is a deeply unnatural and difficult calling. Imposed on the unprepared or the under-developed, it can lead to great evil. Isn’t that one reason to debate it in the context of the current crisis?

NOAH ON BROCK

A devastating piece by Slate’s Tim Noah about the pathological lying of David Brock, serial and unremitting mendacity that liberal ideologues like Rick Hertzberg and Frank Rich gloss over in their continued effort to demonize the right. Noah is particularly good at Brock’s most recent blatant lie – about the treatment in his book of Bruce Bawer, and whether Bawer had any conflict of interest in reviewing the book for Washington Post’s Book World. Bawer had no real conflict of interest – he didn’t work for the American Spectator at the time Brock did, his gay alienation from the right might actually lead him to sympathize with Brock, and his departure from the Spectator was not in any way something that could lead him to view Brock disparagingly (on the contrary, in fact, it confirms Brock’s current view of the homophobia rife at that magazine at the time). Still, Brock simply lies in print in the Washington Post about the issue, as Noah definitvely shows. Those crack journalists, Len Downie and Robert Kaiser, took this lie at face value, never seem to have investigated it, and blamed Bawer for the flap. Yes, Bawer is a friend of mine. But you don’t have to be a friend of someone to see when he’s been wronged.

A BIG MARLIN ON THE LINE

“This sort of “Oh, gosh, you fooled us again, Governor” stance by the press sure makes it look like Bush plays the press. It’s like he’s got a big marlin on the line, one so big he can’t bring it into the boat, but he pulls it in, then lets it run, then pulls it in again. And the fish never figures out that it’s on the line.” – Your take on Frank Bruni’s take on the press versus Bush – in the Book Club. Next up: your questions for Frank Bruni. Send them in with the word ‘question’ in the subject line and we’ll send him the toughest ones.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” – T.S. Eliot, 1950.

WHY CELIBACY IS THE PROBLEM: A terrific email from a reader, who highlights what I think has been an over-looked aspect of the Church’s crisis: power. I’ve long believed that sex which is a function of one person’s power over another is indeed sinful. That goes for all those married women in years gone by who were treated as sexual instruments by their husbands, and indeed those women now subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace. This was my one sole moral objection to Clinton’s sex life – not that he had affairs, which struck me as a matter between him and his wife, but that he had affairs with less powerful women he could control. That’s what was at the crux of the Clinton case: the abuse of power, not the pursuit of sex. And I think that abuse of power for sex is what the essential problem of priestly sexual predation is about. Here’s how my reader puts it:

The problem really isn’t pedophiles, nor is it gay priests, it’s a church so clueless that it doesn’t realize the evil of using power to coerce sex. And that is closely tied to clerical celibacy. Religious celibates experience sex only as temptation. Although the church professes that married sex is beautiful, I don’t think they really believe it. (Did you notice that the married couple canonized recently, the Quattroccis, gave up sex, while married, on the advice of their spiritual director?) The clergy and bishops seem to not realize what an abomination coerced sex is because they don’t really see the beauty and dignity in freely chosen sexuality – including gay and out-of-wedlock sexuality. They have acted as though a teenager being coerced is no different from a teenager “messing around”… Celibate clergy live in an all-male culture, and tend not to hear female-type insights. Women are far more sensitive than men to problems of power imbalance in sexual relationships (probably because we are often on the wrong end of a power imbalance). I found it interesting that the abusive priest featured in this week’s Newsweek stopped because a nun became suspicious of his relationship with a teenage boy. A non-celibate clergy (even if all male) would be forced to listen to input from women – and would get insights that don’t seem to be getting through now.

I couldn’t agree more.

MAXIM AGAIN: Of course, the truly funny thing about Maxim’s goof-up is when it got the delivery wrong and sent New York’s copies to Philadelphia by mistake. If you received the wrong copy in Philly, you were informed that Philadelphia is ” “a glorified piss break between New York and D.C.” You were also told that the average inhabitant of such a city is “a lard-ass with arteries packed as tight as a Colombian airline passenger’s G.I. tract.” If only they’d had the balls to send that out in every copy, I’d respect them.

NEW STAR ON THE BLOCK: She’s 22, she’s conservative, and she writes as well as anyone in the mainstream press. Check asparagirl out.

IT’S THE CONSULTANTS, STUPID: Here’s one reason to celebrate campaign finance reform. Political consultants are about to get a lot poorer. Walter Shapiro has the goods in Slate.

AND STILL THEY FIND THEM: “This afternoon, I watched them bring someone out of Ground Zero. From 39 stories up, and 300 yards away, the workers are small figures an eighth of an inch tall. Itx92s raining here, so theyx92re very visible in their yellow rain slickers…” A gripping first-hand account from yesterday at Ground Zero – continued on the Letters Page.

ALL OR NOTHING?: Eve Tushnet, on her wonderful blog, takes on my attempt to stay in the Church while remaining a pretty happy homosexual, with, gulp, a sex life. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere in my two books, Virtually Normal and Love Undetectable. So I’m not going to go into extreme detail here. But here’s Tushnet’s argument:

I read Sullivan’s Love Undetectable during a period in my life that was already rough; I was deeply shaken by his rejection of the Church’s sexual teachings, and his reasons for that rejection, but since I lacked his emotional commitment to the Church my options were different. He stays in, and dissents; I had absolutely no reason to go that route. I had no deeply-felt connection to Catholicism. I wasn’t raised in it. And so my options were: reject Sullivan’s claims about sex, or reject the Church. That’s why I think that Sullivan’s form of Catholicism is accurately described as “Oprahfied”–its claim to be Catholic rests, ultimately, on nothing stronger than the unpredictable waves of human emotion.

What Eve posits here is a binary world where you are either a) completely orthodox or b) you base your beliefs about, say, sexual morality, on pure self-interest, while incoherently staying in the Church for sentimental reasons. But surely there’s something somewhere in the middle.

A THIRD WAY: My argument for the moral neutrality of homosexuality, for example, for the moral good of some homosexual sexual activity, and for the moral evil of abusive sexual activity, whether gay or straight, is not based on pure blind emotion. It’s not wish-fullfilment. It’s an argument that the reduction of human sexuality to pure, heterosexual, procreative sex strikes me as excessively strict, given the not-so-terrifying moral dangers of other forms of human sexuality. It’s an argument that other forms of sex – pre-marital, contracepted, same-sex, masturbatory – are not always the ‘evils’ the Church claims them to be – and indeed might be legitimate and humanizing ways to express sexual freedom. I’m not saying that the heterosexual, procreative act isn’t a beautiful and holy and mysterious thing. I’m saying that other forms of sexuality are not therefore ‘evil.’ I believe that the God-given moral and spiritual autonomy of people – and the psychological and spiritual freedom that can be tapped through the mystery of sexual experience – means that our sex lives cannot be easily reduced to procreation alone. In fact, I’d go further and say that the reduction of human sexuality to such an instrumental plane is demeaning to human nature and untrue to morality. It’s like saying the human mouth can only be used to breathe and eat – not speak and sing and kiss. I’m not going to win this argument, I know. The Church hierarchy can listen, and simply ignore it. That’s what they do. But, hey, it’s what I think.

SPERMS AND EGGS ALONE: That doesn’t mean all sexual activity is equally okay. But it means that, as Catholics, we can apply other moral standards to it other than: will it create a baby? Some of those standards, drawing from within the Catholic faith tradition, might be, for example: Does the sexual act express love? Does it respect the other and treat him or her as an equal? Does it demean or abuse another person? Does it draw one away from God? Does it represent freedom for both parties? These, frankly, strike me as more profound moral issues than the mechanistic one of whether a sperm is going to find an egg. The Church has partly acknowledged this already. It already makes exceptions to its otherwise stric
t rules. It gives communion each week to millions of people who practise contraception and who masturbate, and doesn’t in general make much effort to enforce these ‘doctrines,’ because, given human nature, they are unenforceable. The Church allows bad marriages to be ‘annulled’ rather than ended, if enough money and influence can be brought to bear. It allows infertile couples – as long as they’re straight – to have non-procreative sex, and gladly marries them. It even allows married, non-celibate clergy in England right now, as long as they are former Anglicans who have defected. So celibacy can be waived for a one-time influx of disaffected priests from other denominations – but not to address a real crisis of vocation in America. And the Church really draws the line at accommodating historically marginalized groups like gays or those from failed marriages or those who seem unable or unsuited to form a long-term monogamous relationship. I’ve argued at great length that these double-standards need to be examined – not accepted as given – for authentically Catholic reasons. This is especially true when Jesus was quite clear about the evil of excluding marginalized people from God’s church, while far less insistent on sexual orthodoxy as the lynch-pin of a Christian life. I’m not therefore arguing out of emotive, Oprahfied self-interest. I’m arguing from within the Catholic tradition against a current Catholic orthodoxy. You may disagree, and I’m not saying there aren’t strong arguments on both sides. But it’s unfair to dismiss this argument as mere emotionalism or selfishness. In fact, it’s worse than unfair. It’s insulting.

TWO READERS, TWO POINTS

You help make this website’s letters page one of the most erudite and provocative on the web. Here’s a couple of simple, powerful emails that proves the point that readers out there know as much as anyone paid to pontificate for a living. Here’s one about blogging:

The folks at the NYT and any other major news periodical or network don’t see the change that is happening. It is gradual change, but change. I’m 36, Andrew, and haven’t watched a nightly news on a network in I don’t know how long. I rarely even pick up a newspaper anymore. All my news comes from the cable news and the Internet. Blogging, what you and others are doing so well, is liberating to both the author and the reader. That idea of liberation would scare the hell out of the high and mighty if they were able to recognize it. They won’t. But over time, how and where we get information will continue to evolve. We aren’t going back to the elitist old way. I know I’m brighter and more thoughtful than most of the columnists out there. And there are many others like me. We are starting to patch together the news the way we want it. Not the way it is delivered to us.

I think he’s right, and that the blogging revolution is in its mere infancy. Here’s another simple point contra-Bob Wright. Again, I think it speaks for itself:

The thesis of the arguments from the left appears to be that American policy is the reason for Islamic hatred of the US. However, to the more balanced observer, the reasons for Islamic hatred of the US is fueled more by the unrelenting and clearly unbalanced information being fed to the Arab masses by their governments, media and mosques. To the Arab observer restricted to Arab news sources including Al Jazeera, all they see is apparent Israeli killing of largely Palestinian operatives committing, in the process of committing, planning or ordering terrorist attacks. However, the targets in these attacks are referred to as martyrs or worse, civilians by the Arab reporters. Israeli civilians killed in pizza parlours, wedding receptions and bat mitzvahs are ignored in the Arab media which instead glorifies the “heroism” of the martyrs who committed the terrorist deed. When you have populations who largely disbelieve that Arabs committed the WTC bombing and believe that Jews were advised to stay home that day, what kind of rational policies can you implement that would satisfy them. Should not the left be concentrating more on seeking reform in the Arab countries that rule with an iron fist and channel their populations anger by creating the images of a barbaric US and Israel. Furthermore, does the left not see that this incitement is the root cause for the hatred against Israel and the US. Would not Syrians be happier not living under the despotic rule of Assad or Iraqis happier not living under the tyranny of Hussein? Similarly, what is to gain by having the Saudis remain in power? Moreover, how can the left overlook the intolerance and hatred being preached in the mosques, particularly in countries where Islam is the dominant religion? To me, the problem is intolerance and hatred from the Moslem world, not US policy or Israel’s policy of self-defence.

Another exercise in the bleeding obvious that you won’t find represented too exhaustively on many op-ed pages. Keep those emails coming.