I'm late to this but want to weigh in, about a tawdry aspect of DC politics that I hope has finally gone so far that it will impeach itself. I'm referring to the "bigot" accusations about former Senator Chuck Hagel (official photo at right).
One of the strongest arguments in favor of Susan Rice's (now-withdrawn) candidacy for Secretary of State was the hypocrisy of the ostensible arguments against her. The same Senators McCain and Graham who had no problem approving Condoleezza Rice as Secretary eight years ago, despite the mis-information she had conveyed about WMD in Iraq, were now righteously dead-set against Susan Rice because of the (vastly less consequential) mis-information she had conveyed about the Benghazi attack. If you've forgotten how amazing these contortions were, I direct you to, of course, Jon Stewart.
But that's over, and the Secretary-of-State presumptive, John Kerry, is well qualified for the job. Now the next delegitimization fight is coming into view. It concerns Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, who appears to be Barack Obama's favorite as the next Secretary of Defense.
You can argue in favor of Chuck Hagel for this role: a bipartisan pick, combat-veteran cred, cautious realist-centrist record over the years. Or you can argue that someone else would be better: perhaps Democrats should promote their own Democratic national-security team; others have worked more closely with Obama; maybe Hagel's worldview has grown more dovish than Obama's, and so on. That's all fine.
What is poisonous, and should be resisted, is the effort to rule out Hagel through the bogus charge that he is anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic. This campaign is charmingly being led by William Kristol (also here) and others at Kristol's Standard, with predictable backup from the WSJ op-ed page, the WaPo's right-wing blogger, and its often-neocon main editorial page. Incredibly, this is part of the Post's ed page case against Hagel: " 'The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,' [Hagel has said]. 'So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.' " It's amazing that the paper offers the quote as if it discredited Hagel. In fact it is an argument in his favor, and it echoes what, for instance, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said about a military budget that is twice as high as it was ten years ago.
But the nastiest comments have been about Hagel's views on Israel. The WSJ delicately puts the point this way, under the headline "Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem":
Prejudice--like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations--has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," the odor is especially ripe.
And, just as subtly from Kristol today, "Hagel also has a record of consistent hostility to Israel over the last decade."
There's an olfactory element here all right. It's the stench of trying to remove someone whose policies you dislike with the damning accusation that underneath it all is outright bigotry. One of the big, supposedly damaging bits of evidence against Hagel is his having said to the author of a book on US-Israel relations:
"I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator... I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."
Of course, that is what any United States senator should say -- whether the other country in question is Israel, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan, or any other allied but different power. And any Israeli, British, German, etc official should and would put the interests of his or her country first.
Four years ago, a just-elected President Obama gave in to a similar campaign to remove Chas Freeman from consideration as head of the National Intelligence Council. He was wrong to do so. Obama has learned about his opposition since then, and is in a much stronger position. Whether or not Hagel is the person he really wants for the job, he should make clear that he's not being steered by these bully-boy tactics.
* For instance, Judis about Hagel: "I can't confidently say that he would make a good or great Secretary of Defense, but I can say with confidence that Hagel is a honorable man who served with distinction as a senator and that his foreign policy views, including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination."
**From a Tweet today: "Totally disagree with this WashPost editorial criticizing Chuck Hagel for defense: ... Hagel would be excellent."
UPDATES: 1) As nearly all the items linked to above point out, Hagel was wrong to use the phrase "the Jewish lobby" in one instance, rather than "the Israeli lobby," which includes Jewish and non-Jewish members, notably large numbers of evangelical Christians. But Aaron David Miller, the person who quoted Hagel that way, rejects the "odor" interpretation. As Peter Beinart pointed out:
Aaron Miller, the well-respected former peace processor from a distinguished Cleveland Jewish family who quotes Hagel as saying that ["Jewish lobby"], also calls him "a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values." Or that Miller himself writes that "political pressures have taken a serious toll by conditioning a key branch of the American government [Congress] to be reflexively pro-Israel." Maybe Miller has a Jewish problem too?
2) The Washington Post editorial opposes Hagel for being too much of an anti-defense leftie, especially about Iran, rather than explicitly for being anti-Israel. But its out-of-the-blue quality -- Hagel has not even been nominated -- and strained logic are why I mentioned it in this sequence.
UPDATE^Update A former Republican Senate staffer writes:
I agree about Hagel, without qualification.
I wonder about how good a Secretary of Defense he would make, on account of his recent experience so remote from the massive administrative burden and unique political environment of the Sec Def job. But unlike with Susan Rice, there is not a clearly superior candidate from what I can see.
The particular issue here is that SecDef has vastly more policy autonomy than almost any other Cabinet official. If Hagel's views really did diverge from Obama's on an important issue, it would be very difficult. But with that caveat, I really wish Obama would just go ahead and nominate his candidate for this and other jobs, and suspend his instinct to look for confirmations without controversy.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements in what appears to be a case of blackmail.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, who first reported on the indictment, notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But reading between the lines of the indictment against Hastert suggests a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
To be far from home in a major, diverse metropolis such as New York or Los Angeles is one thing. But those who have landed in small cities across the Midwest face a whole other sort of isolation.
CINCINNATI—When they were deciding where to settle down and raise a family, Lorena Mora-Mowry, a lawyer from Venezuela, and her husband Paul, a mechanical engineer from California, performed extensive research. Based on reports they read in magazines and brochures, they decided that Cincinnati, with its low cost of living, access to arts and the outdoors, and strong schools, would be a good place to live. They moved here in 1995.
It was a difficult transition from (relatively) open-minded, Latino-heavy Southern California to Cincinnati, where just about everybody was either white or black, and where immigrants were a rarity. Mora-Mowry tried to speak to people in stores, but they could never understand her accent, and she hated the long, cold winters.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
Our roundtable on "Mhysa," the 10th episode in the HBO show's third season.
Every week for the third season of HBO's fantasy series Game of Thrones, our roundtable of Ross Douthat (columnist, The New York Times), Spencer Kornhaber (entertainment editor, TheAtlantic.com), and Christopher Orr (senior editor and film critic, The Atlantic) will discuss the latest happenings in Westeros.
Orr: It seems only fair. After Arya's brutally aborted reunion with her family last week, tonight we were offered a few literal and metaphorical homecomings. In descending order of satisfaction: Sam and Jon find each other once again at Castle Black; Daenerys adopts a city's worth of new dependents; Davos is accepted back into Stannis's embrace about five minutes after the latter sentenced him to death; Jaime (or most of him) reunites with a less-than-entirely-ecstatic Cersei; and Theon (or at least his self-described "best part") is delivered to his dad in a box. Oh, and Tywin Lannister is restored to his rightful place as the man in Westeros on whose bad side you least want to be, king or no king. (Paying attention, Joffrey?)
We've been here before, of course, in both Seasons One and Two: The penultimate episode overturns the Game of Thrones playing board—Ned loses his head, the Lannisters turn the tide on the Blackwater—and the season finale picks up the remaining pieces.