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One of the strongest arguments in favor of Susan Rice's (now-withdrawn) candidacy for Secretary of State was the hypocrisy of the ostensible arguments against her.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.
Also notable about this brazen show of might is that the missiles traveled through two countries, Iran and Iraq, before hitting their 11 targets in Syria. This means that both countries either gave their permission or simply didn’t confront Putin about the use of their airspace on his birthday.
Why Americans tend more and more to want inexperienced presidential candidates
The presidency, it’s often said, is a job for which everyone arrives unprepared. But just how unprepared is unprepared enough?
Political handicappers weigh presidential candidates’ partisanship, ideology, money, endorsements, consultants, and, of course, experience. Yet they too rarely consider an element of growing importance to voters: freshness. Increasingly, American voters view being qualified for the presidency as a disqualification.
In 2003, I announced in National Journal the 14-Year Rule. The rule was actually discovered by a presidential speechwriter named John McConnell, but because his job required him to keep his name out of print, I graciously stepped up to take credit. It is well known that to be elected president, you pretty much have to have been a governor or a U.S. senator. What McConnell had figured out was this: No one gets elected president who needs longer than 14 years to get from his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory to either the presidency or the vice presidency.* Surprised, I scoured the history books and found that the rule works astonishingly well going back to the early 20th century, when the modern era of presidential electioneering began.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
“If the office is going to become a collection of employees not working together, it essentially becomes no different than a coffee shop.”
There’s plenty of research out there on the benefits of remote and flexible work. It’s been shown to lead to increased productivity, and has an undeniable benefit for work-life balance. But what does it do to everyone back at the office?
In a 2013 memo to workers explaining why the company was eliminating policies that allowed remote work, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of human resources,argued that some of the “best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion,” and that actual presence in the office encourages better collaboration and communication.
What will happen to digital collections of books, movies, and music when the tech giants fall?
When you purchase a movie from Amazon Instant Video, you’re not buying it, exactly. It’s more like renting indefinitely.
This distinction matters if your notion of “buying” is that you pay for something once and then you get to keep that thing for as long as you want. Increasingly, in the world of digital goods, a purchasing transaction isn’t that simple.
There are two key differences between buying media in a physical format versus a digital one. First, there’s the technical aspect: Maintaining long-term access to a file requires a hard copy of it—that means, for example, downloading a film, not just streaming from a third party’s server. The second distinction is a bit more complicated, and it has to do with how the law has shaped digital rights in the past 15 years. It helps to think about the experience of a person giving up CDs and using iTunes for music purchases instead.
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
Somewhere in Europe, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
Here’s what happens if astronomers make contact with a civilization on another planet.
The false alarm happened in 1997.
The Green Bank Radio Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, was picking up some unusual signals—and Seth Shostak, then the head of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research in Mountain View, Caifornia, was convinced that they had come from intelligent life somewhere in the universe.
“It looked like it might be the real deal,” Shostak recalled. Within a few hours, he had a call from The New York Times.
But within a day, it became clear that the source of excitement was actually a European satellite. To make matters worse, a second telescope in Georgia, which would have told the scientists about the true nature of the signal, wasn’t working.