(1) In Radar, Charles Kaiser has the definitive account of the hiring of Bill Kristol by the New York Times, and Kaiser also examines the snide, nonresponsive reply to objections from the Times' Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal. Kaiser provides these facts, which I personally didn't know before but which one could have easily divined:
Kristols and Rosenthals go back a long way together. Bill's father, Irving, and Andy's father, [former NYT Executive Editor] Abe -- both charter neocons -- were good friends, and Irving Kristol was a proud member of the "Rosenthal for President" lunch club, which also included Bill Buckley, Dick Clurman, Bernard Kalb (known as Bruno Frescobaldi) and Arthur Gelb. And when Andy Rosenthal covered the Bush I White House with Maureen Dowd, Bill Kristol -- then vice president Dan Quayle's chief of staff -- was a source for both Times reporters.
So Abe and Irv were great friends and fellow neocons. And they both molded their good boys, Andy and Bill, to follow faithfully in their footsteps -- Andy at the Times and Bill in Neocon World. Then, Andy and Bill became good friends just like their dads. And then Andy, who was given his position by Publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger (just as Andy's dad, Abe, was hired by Pinch's dad, "Punch" Sulzberger), then hired Bill to be a Times columnist, even appearing to waive NYT rules to do so (i.e., allowing Kristol to continue to work for Rupert Murdoch at The Weekly Standard). As always, the fuel of the conservative movement -- especially its tough guy neoconservative branch, which venerates self-sufficiency, resolve and meritocracy above all else -- is mommy-and-daddy-dependent nepotism.
Kaiser wonders whether Rosnethal is being ignorant or cynically dishonest in failing to understand the objections to Kristol's hiring (i.e., he's responding as though the objection is to hiring a "conservative" rather than to hiring what Kaiser calls "a third-rate neocon apparatchik, a stark symbol of the steep decline of the Washington culture -- and arguably the most consistently mean-spirited and wrong-headed pundit of our time"). Kaiser can't quite bring himself to believe that Rosenthal really thinks that Kristol is -- these are really Rosenthal's words -- a "serious, respected conservative intellectual" and "a captivating writer and keen observer of the political landscape."
But it shouldn't be very hard to believe that our establishment press sees people like Bill Kristol as Serious and respectable. That radical faction dominates establishment punditry, particularly in foreign policy, and they are featured in the most prominent media venues. If one really thinks about it, the page that hosts Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman and David Brooks is a prefectly appropriate place for Bill Kristol to be.
(2) To protest Fox News' outrageous (though revealing) exclusion of Ron Paul from the GOP New Hampshire debate this week, Paul supporters announced that they were going to dump News Corp. stock. I have no idea whether it has had an effect, but Paul supporters are claiming that it has, and the price trend line for News Corp.'s stock price since that campaign was announced does seem pronounced:
News Corp. stock has been declining steadily for the last three months, but the plummeting of the last several days is more severe.
(3) Dan Froomkin yesterday reported on what the top legislative priority is for the Bush administration and the reasons why it is such:
As President Bush begins his final year in office, the White House is aiming for one last major domestic legislative triumph: permanent expansion of government spy powers, including retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that assisted in warrantless surveillance.
In an impromptu briefing aboard Air Force One, as Bush returned to Washington from his Texas vacation yesterday, White House counselor Ed Gillespie told reporters that an administration-supported bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is Bush's top priority.
"FISA is front and center," Gillespie said, according to a pool report from New York Times White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg. "If it is allowed to lapse we will be less safe as a country" . . .
Why is this such a big deal to the White House? Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane explained in the New York Times last month: "At stake is the federal government's extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime". . . .
In short, it's a historic battle over the future of the country as a surveillance state.
Indeed it is. I would add that retroactive immunity is also so vital to the White House because it is the key to suppressing permanently any prospect that their illegal spying will be investigated and adjudicated by a court. That's why obtaining telecom immunity is the top priority for Bush. That's why stopping it ought to be a top priority for anyone who cares about the rule of law and limits on our government's surveillance powers. And that's why it is so obscene for Democrats such as Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller to be leading the way in ensuring that Bush is given everything he is demanding.
(4) The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb responded twice to the post I wrote yesterday about U.S. military spending exceeding the total spent by every other country in the world combined. The Cato Institute's Justin Logan more than adequately deals with several of Goldfarb's specific claims. But I wanted to highlight a response to all of this from National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, presumably by email to Goldfarb, in which Ponnuru attempts to justify our bloated, empire-like military spending:
The analogy isn't perfect, but: We'd expect the police department to have a budget many times that of all the criminals combined, wouldn't we? Fire departments spend a lot more fighting arson than arsonists spend. It's a lot cheaper to break a window than to fix it.
I think that's a fairly accurate summation of the view of those who believe in America as Empire. We are on the side of Good and Right and we enforce the Law in the world. The other countries in the world are the bad criminals that need to be kept in line by us, and it thus only makes sense that we would "have a budget many times that of all the criminals combined" ("all the criminals combined" = "all the other countries in the world").
Moreover, the only reason we have and so frequently use such a vastly superior military is because we are rescuing people and saving them from the world's arsonists. And no matter how financially burdensome it is, that is and should be our role in the world: to act as the world's policemen, saving everyone from all the bad people and bad things that threaten them.
Is it possible that someone genuinely sees American military action in such a self-loving, self-glorifying and painfully mythological light? And if advocates of American empire were honest about how they view our role in the world -- if they told American citizens that they should sacrifice their children's financial futures and stretch our resources further still in order for us to act magnanimously as the world's police and fire departments (rather than because we must battle against scary concocted threats to Our Safety) -- is that a debate they would win? I doubt it.
This ad by Rudy Giuliani relies on such naked fear-mongering as to border on caricature (is that Muslim music playing in the background toward the end?), but clearly, the campaign is targeting people who think about the world the way Michael Goldfarb and Ramesh Ponnuru do:
(5) Cato's Justin Logan has a further reply to Goldfarb's post (and Ponnuru's email). Logan takes note of many of the specific countries which we vastly outspend and writes:
These are the "criminals" against whom we are supposed to be arming ourselves? Okay, so Russia and China are on the list, and we aren't absolutely certain of their intentions. But England?!? Japan? Italy? India? Is it really America Alone, taking on the rest of the world? Please. Is this sort of thing supposed to pass for serious analysis?
Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times apparently thinks it is.