Category Archives: Magazines and Newspapers

Is Mexico a Failed State?

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Martin Peretz seems to think so:

I am extremely pessimistic about Mexican-American relations, not because the U.S. had done anything specifically wrong to our southern neighbor but because a (now not quite so) wealthy country has as its abutter a Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies:  congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits, stifling social mores, Catholic dogma with the usual unacknowledged compromises, an anarchic counter-culture and increasingly violent modes of conflict.  Then, there is the Mexican diaspora in America, hard-working and patriotic but mired in its untold numbers of illegals, about whom no one can talk with candor.

The present political strife between the two countries is actually economic.  But it is not wholly subsumed under the labels of “free trade” or “protectionism.”

The fact is that Mexico is also a failed state…and its failures are magnified by its immediate proximity to the U.S. Its failures will increasingly cross the national boundary, like the drugs and the people, two very different manifestations of our intimacy.

I tend to agree with Peretz but in this case he is way off the mark. Yes, there has been an alarming upsurge in drug-related violence. There is also an understandable concern with border security. But there is a certain amount of hysteria involved as well. Much of this hysteria revolves around violent criminality in Mexico.

Mexico’s murder rate is 11 per 100,000 residents, almost twice the rate in the  United States (5.9 per 100,000 in 2007). Yet when placed in a comparative perspective with other Latin American countries, Mexico’s murder rate is lower. By this measurement, Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia and much of Latin America are all failed states.

Plus his comments regarding the “characteristic deficiencies” of “Latin societies” are offensive. I know Peretz would be upset if one made similar generalizations about Jews and Israelis. So it is disappointing to read him stereotyping other groups.

But Peretz is not alone in his assessment. In addition to the voices of the nativist right, the WSJ’s Joel Kurtzman recently reported:

[A] new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.

One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.

It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to “surge” civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary.

The problem is that in Mexico’s latest eruption of violence, it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico’s antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico’s antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.

Secretary of State Clinton was correct to point out that the U.S. is the primary market for Mexican heroin, cocaine and marijuana and that American consumers are keeping the Mexican drug lords in business. So how do we reduce the demand for these products?

Conservatives tend to support stiffer penalties for users and dealers while liberals generally promote an expansion of drug treatment programs. Neither enforcement or treatment have been especially successful as both policies fail to decrese demand for drugs. A third policy option is drug education but here too, the results have been less than inspiring.

Common libertarian proposals vary from decriminalization of marijuana and a relaxation of enforcement against hard drug users to the legalization of all illicit drugs. They may be on to something. Evidence from Switzerland, the Netherlands and other countries that have experimented with liberalizing drug laws suggest that demand for drugs among teens has decreased immediately following decriminalization or legalization with some moderate increase thereafter. Whether this would work in the U.S., I am not sure.

The Nation on Gaza

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[No links in this post. Feel free to visit The Nation's website if you are so inclined.]

I don’t read The Nation that much these days. What’s the point? The authors always provide a standard lefty perspective that is predictable to the point of boredom. But a good friend of my wife stops by on occasion to chat and she always drops off her old copies of the magazine (as well as the New Yorker, another magazine I find grating).

So, while I was in the restroom this morning, I happened upon The Nation’s Gaza extravaganza and there was plenty to get my bowels moving. First up was an editorial claiming:

Israel’s invasion of Gaza has dramatically worsened a grave humanitarian crisis and will benefit only those who always benefit from war. There is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict.

My reply is, tell that to Hamas.They don’t seem to agree with you, Nation editors. Instead, the organization is ideologically dedicated to Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews.  Why do these authors feel the need to project their own politics onto Hamas? Why don’t they take the time to understand Hamas in their own words?

Next was Alexander Cockburn’s “Beat the Devil” column. Cockburn is a knee-jerk anti-Zionist and his hatred of Jews has been well documented. One sentence of his article was especially relavent:

[I]f the elites are as solidly a part of the amen chorus as they have been down the decades, once you leave the corporate and political highways and get on the side roads of the Internet, the picture is changing.

Yes, on the cesspools of the Internet like Cockburn’s Counterpunch the picture is not so much changing as it is getting more shrill regarding the so-called “Holocaust” and “genocide” in Gaza.

By the time I got to Naomi Klein’s “Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction” (BDS for short) I got the picture loud and clear. Like most of the loony left, the pundits at The Nation place an extremely negative emphasis on Israel while denying the war crimes and other human rights violations of Hamas. Hamas is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any of these pieces. Instead, we have a narrative where Israel (and the United States) are to blame for all of Gaza’s ills, rather that the genocidal, totalitarian, and theocratic motivations of Israel’s enemies.

Ernest Sternberg: A Revivified Corpse, Left-Fascism in the Twenty-First Century

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Ernest’s Sternberg’s review of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (New York: Random House, 2008 ) in Telos (A Revivified Corpse: Left Fascism in the Twenty-First Century) is well worth reading (also check out Fred Siegel’s review in Democratiya here).

The review is a pithy summary of many of the issues that concern me today including the collusion and alliances of the extreme left and extreme right, the development of Islamist totalitarianism, and the increasing frequency of antisemitism cloaked as anti-imperialism. Observing events in his native France since the fall of the Soviet Union and especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Lévy asks, “what happened to the secular, liberal, left?” In answering this question, Sternberg notes two ideas at the core of Lévy’s conception of contemporary neo-progressive thought:

One is the Good (a poorly chosen word, an insult to classical thinking about the good): the idea that here and now our troubled society can be upended to create a shining new and just society. It’s the end for which it’s worth sacrificing a generation to starvation, reeducation camps, and the police state (p. 66).

Perhaps a better term is “the perfect” as in “the perfect is the enemy of the good” or simply, utopianism.

The review continues:

The other is the Evil: that filth and corruption in which we are now trapped. Leading from one to the other is the “boulevard of history.” Driving us along it is that dialectical machine, that curative force, that “political medicalism” (Lévy quoting Foucault) that carries us from our miserable existence into this fabulous future, with such certainty that we need not fret about lives discarded along the way.

How far we have drifted from May ’68, Lévy mourns. It had seemed then that the Left had shorn itself of communism, devoted itself to anti-fascism and anti-racism, and agreed to work for human rights through imperfect liberal-democratic regimes. It is this non-Marxist Left that had Lévy’s allegiance. But after the collapse of communism and all the more so after 9/11, Lévy saw the coalescence of a new ideology, a new degenerate Left. It first seemed to him pointless, just something cobbled together from defunct ideologies. But then he understood that it was a revivified Left, which was once again acceding to totalitarian temptation. The outcome is today’s neoprogressivism.

Sternberg has more substantial critiques of Lévy’s analysis. In particular, his “failure to comprehend mainstream Anglo-American conservatism.” For Lévy:

conservatism brings to mind those martinets who persecuted Dreyfus: those whose highest values were Authority, Order, Nation, State, Tradition, and Social Body (his capitalizations) as against intellectuals, freedom, democracy, parliament, and rights of man (p. 24). Unable to extricate himself from hoary Left-Right dichotomy, even as he reveals its bankruptcy, Lévy claims the parliamentarian Edmund Burke, whose sin was to be a conservative, as one of the origins of the historical path to Nazism (p. 92).

The irony is that Lévy himself has taken a Burkean turn. Lévy identifies the essence of the anti-totalitarian spirit as one that conceives of politics “as a world of indecision, indetermination, which takes into account the complexity of human affairs, the need for deliberation and compromise” (p. 70)…

American conservatives aren’t interested in Burke because he admired the French queen but because he formulated a powerful argument for incremental reform in light of society’s overwhelming complexity, an argument not so far removed from Lévy’s own…

…Most versions of American conservative thought look for inspiration and tradition not to an ancien régime, but to the American revolution, the Founding Fathers, the constitution, Lincoln’s reforms, and incremental development of America as the original liberal, anti-absolutist state.

Intellectual historian George Nash covers this in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945. Nash argues that the ideology of American conservatism is difficult to pin down. For European conservatives, things were (are?) much easier. Generally speaking, European conservatives were against radical political and social change—better known as revolution—and they supported a national church. In the United States, a country founded on revolution, such a political idea would be regarded as anti-American and the establishment of a state Church–whether Protestant or Catholic–also ran counter to American political culture.

A more serious deficiency is Lévy:

lacks an explanation for the rise of neoprogressive barbarism. Despite much intellectual name-dropping, the book is short on theory. Yet, his initial outline of totalitarian articles of faith gives a hint. The new totalitarians must envision a Good as well as an Evil, only Lévy is silent on what their Good might be.

Sternberg will discuss “Left Fascism” at the 2009 Telos Conference in NYC (Jan 17). Details below:

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From the conference website:

The conference topic will be New Administration: War, Class and Critical Theory, which will consider both the new administration in Washington and political shifts abroad, viewed in light of Telos‘s long-standing concern with “administered society,” expansive bureaucracies, and the role of the “new class.”

Conference Schedule

Saturday, January 17

9:00 Greetings: Mary Piccone, Introduction: Russell Berman

New Class and Capitalism:
Beyond Welfare and State and Neo-Liberalism

Chair: David Pan

9:15 Jim Kulk: “Political Divisions and the Financial Crisis”

10:00 John Milbank: “Revived Red Toryism: The New Political Paradox”

10:45 Break

11:00 Neil Turnbull: “Federal Populism and its Failure as Regionalism”

11:45 Michael Marder: “In the Name of the Law: Schmitt and the Metonymic Abuses of Legitimacy”

12:30 Lunch

Old Wars, New Wars

Chair: Tim Luke

1:30 Joseph Bendersky: “Horkheimer, ‘Militant Democracy,’ and War”

2:15 David Pan: “World Order and the Decline of U.S. Power: Soft or Hard Landing?”

3:00 Break

3:15 Adrian Pabst: “The Berlin Doctrine: Rethinking the Euro-Atlantic Community”

4:00 Ernie Sternberg: “Left Fascism”

4:45 Closing Discussion

What Part of “Not” Does the New York Times Not Understand?

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I was reading today’s NYT in my office and came across this brief piece from the editors, “Meaner Streets in Washington.” Here is a bit:

Congress is considering a reckless piece of legislation that would eviscerate gun controls in the District of Columbia, ignoring the democratic rights of the residents of the nation’s capitol…

Hey NYT, what about the democratic rights of all Americans, regardless of where they live, that are enshrined in the United States Constitution?

Second Amendment

[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Honest Reporting: The New York Times and Israel

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[H/t Grand Muffti. This goes in the “tell me what I don’t already know” department. HonestReporting has an important analysis of anti-Israel bias in the NYT. Post links to the report on anti-Zionist blogs which claim the newspaper is part of “The Lobby.” Have fun...]

The last HonestReporting long-term analysis of the New York Times was released in November of 2007. At the time, we found that there were several disturbing patterns in how the Times reported events in the Middle East. Our conclusion was that the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian actions was so different, that there could be no question that the reporting was favoring the Palestinians rather than remaining impartial. We highlighted specific cases where headlines dealing with Israeli or Palestinian actions were written in different styles. We also noted that the vast majority of images used by the Times appears reflectively sympathetic to the Palestinians while virtually ignoring the greater context surrounding the conflict.

We have now concluded a broader survey of the Times. Specifically, we looked at 205 articles between July of 2007 and June of 2008. Using this much larger time frame, we found that our original thesis has only been strengthened. Specifically, when reviewing headlines and photographs, it is clear that there is an inherent bias in New York Times reporting about the conflict that favors the Palestinians.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: JULY 2007-JUNE 2008- SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:

  • 82 percent of headlines that introduced articles describing Israeli military operations were written in a direct style in which the words “Israel” or “Israeli Forces” (or a similar phrase) were the subject. In the majority of these cases, no details were given as to whether the casualties were combatants or civilians. An example of this type of headline ran in the Times on January 4, 2008: “Israeli Forces Kill 9 in Gaza.”
  • Only 20 percent of headlines that introduced articles describing Palestinian attacks named the group responsible. Most of these headlines were written in a passive, less direct style that removes responsibility of the attack from those who caused it. An example of this type of headline ran on May 13, 2008: “Rocket Fired from Gaza Kills Woman in Southern Israel.”
  • 75 percent of the photographs that could be objectively determined as drawing sympathy for one side or the other in the conflict favored the Palestinians. Palestinian casualties of Israeli military operations and pictures of civilians dealing with shortages in Gaza dominated Times coverage during the time period studied.

[read it all]

Standpoint Magazine/Online

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Just a nod of approval to the new Standpoint magazine and website. First Democratiya and now this. Why don’t we have similar projects in the U.S.?

In the “About Us” section:

Standpoint’s core mission is to celebrate our civilization, its arts and its values – in particular democracy, debate and freedom of speech – at a time when they are under threat. Standpoint aims to be an antidote to the parochialism of British political magazines and to introduce British readers to brilliant writers and thinkers from across the Atlantic, across the Channel and around the world.

In a market swamped by the journalistic equivalent of fast food, Standpoint hopes to offer the discerning reader a feast of great writing — properly edited and presented in an elegant design that makes even longer pieces a pleasure to read. Unashamedly highbrow in an era of relentless ‘dumbing down,’ it responds to the unfulfilled needs of the educated public.

Standpoint aims to provide an opportunity for a fresh, truly international cast of writers to explore the timely and the timeless. It will offer a guide for those perplexed by the 21st century and a running commentary for those who are happy to embrace it. In a world of rapid change, Standpoint is an indispensable resource and companion.

I wish them the best of luck in this endeavor.

Here is a small selection of what you’ll find:

Jonathan Bate. The wrong idea of a university.

Michael Burliegh. How to Defeat the Global Jihadists.

The Mole. The MOD: Unfit for Service.

Michael Young. Hariri: An Assassination too far.

UPDATE:

The Democratiya link (above) has been fixed. I did not realize they recently changed from a .com to .org

If you’ve been clicking on the book review links from last month (Democratiya 13) they should work now.

Democratiya 13 (Summer 2008)

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Somewhat related to the post below, the current edition of Democratiya (13, Summer 2008 ) contains some articles revisiting May 1968. I have not had a chance to read it but here’s what you’ll find:

Editor’s Page

Letters to the Editor

Russell A. Berman
Dick Howard
Philip Spencer
Fred Siegel
Eric Chenoweth
Marko Attila Hoare
Neil Robinson
Jason Farago
Matthew Omolesky
Gabriel Noah Brahm Jr.
Carrie-Ann Biondi
Cathy Lowy
David Hirsh
Robert J. Lieber
Mark Gardner/Dave Rich
Donna Robinson Divine
Lyn Julius
Rayyan Al-Shawaf
David Zarnett
Michael Weiss
Carl Gershman
Lawrence J. Haas
Eric Lee
Kahn and Podhoretz

Interview with Matthias Küntzel / Jihad and Jew-Hatred

The New Criterion: Special Section on Education

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The recent edition of The New Criterion has a special section concerning education. I’ve only had a chance to read Paquette’s article but all of them look interesting:

Introduction: What was a liberal education?

by Roger Kimball

An introduction to our special issue on education.

———————————–

On the sadness of higher education

by Alan Charles Kors

On comparing the university life then with now.

———————————–

The world we have lost: a parable on the academy

by Robert L. Paquette

On the Alexander Hamilton Center affair at Hamilton College.

———————————–

The new learning that failed

by Victor Davis Hanson

On the value of classical learning.

———————————–

Liberalism vs. humanism

by James Piereson

On the battle between learning for the sake of learning and learning for utility.

———————————–

The age of educational romanticism

by Charles Murray

On requiring every child to be above average.

Jane’s: Dozens of Iranians and Syrians died from poison gas missile blast

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[From Israel Insider]

Additional proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction was revealed Monday in a Jane’s Magazine report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas and VX gas.

The factory was created for the purpose of adapting ballistic missiles to carry chemical payloads, Jane’s claimed.

Although reports of the accident were circulated at the time, no details were released by the Syrian government, nor was the Iranian connection revealed.

[continue reading]

Schoenfeld: Fare Thee Well, Alberto Gonzales, and Good Riddance

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[Hat tip to Gabriel Schoenfeld at Contentions]

Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.

A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.

Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

[continue reading]