Issue 54 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

We are missing our friend Peter David, the Washington bureau chief for The Economist. He was such a mensch.

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President Obama chose a very communitarian theme for his reelection campaign:  “I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.”

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Some writers and publications will go to a great length to stick out above the noise. The cover story of the May 21st Newsweek, by the master of this dubious practice, Andrew Sullivan, declares that Obama is The First Gay President.

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Prize winning cartoon in the New Yorker: God declares, “I hate my fans.”

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NPR reports that films by the Lebanese feminist director Nadine Labaki are very popular and play in major theaters across the Middle East, “from Beirut to Cairo.” Must be doing well in Israel…

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How liberal can you get? A French man provided target suggestions to an alleged member of Al Qaeda. However, his lawyers argued that because he never intended to act on his words, he was not guilty.

Defining Weaponization Down: Why We Should Be Wary of ‘Successful’ Nuclear Negotiations With Iran

With the next round of nuclear negotiations with Iran set to begin on Wednesday, commentators are increasingly optimistic that they will succeed. There has, however, been an alarming lack of discussion about the fact that Washington has been in the habit of constantly shifting down its definition of what a “successful” outcome would consist of.

Over the course of the Iranian nuclear crisis—across the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama—one goal has remained consistent: that Iran not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons. “They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” declared President Bush. “And that’s unacceptable to the United States, and it’s unacceptable to the world.” For his part, Barack Obama announced in March 2012, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

Read the rest at The New Republic.

NATO: The Mother of All Deals

A message to the NATO summit in Chicago: Be realistic. Trade in items of low saliency to us, but of great import to Russia, for items that have little saliency for Russia but that are keenly sought by us. A line or two on how I came up with this somewhat distinct notion of a deal: I was attending a meeting in Moscow when a very high-ranking member of the Russian government (whom I cannot name) must have had a last-minute cancellation on his schedule. He asked the Russian organizer of the meeting to bring over a few foreigners for an informal chat. It was supposed to last half an hour, but wound up lasting about an hour and a half.

Read the rest on The Huffington Post.

The Dilemma of American Terrorists

Should terrorists with American citizenship, preparing to strike in places such as Yemen or Somalia, be treated differently than other terrorists? Should security considerations allow the government to violate their constitutional right to be tried in an American civilian court? If they cannot be captured and brought before an American judge and jury, should our courts at least be involved in reviewing their case before they are taken out by a drone or a special-forces team? Or, at the very least, should the courts review the criteria according to which American terrorists are targeted?

Read the rest at The National Interest.

The Chinese Are Coming

In one of those breathless reports about the dangers posed by the rising China, the New York Times informs us that the Chinese have reached the Caribbean beaches. Behold what they dared to do: they built “a brand new $35 million stadium” in the Bahamas. You’re not alarmed yet? “The tiny island nation of Dominica has received a grammar school, a renovated hospital and a sports stadium. . . . Antigua and Barbuda got a power plant and a cricket stadium, and a new school is on its way.”

The Times adds that “the Chinese have flexed their economic prowess in nearly every corner of the world. But planting a flag so close to the United States has generated intense vetting—and some raised eyebrows.” The term “planting a flag” is revealing. It implies that the nation behind these gifts is seeking conquest. Flags are usually planted to indicate that this is now our territory. Google “planting a flag” and the first image that jumps up is that of Iwo Jima. The Russians made this kind of claim on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole. So far, though, there are no signs that China has territorial ambitions in the Caribbean.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Recent Publications

From Empire to Community is now available in German: Vom Empire zur Gemeinschaft (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2011).

The Best Government Money Can Buy

series of articles in the Chicago Tribune details how the lobbying efforts of the tobacco industry and chemical companies have led to the routine inclusion of flame retardant chemicals in furniture manufacturing, despite evidence that the chemicals are ineffective and potentially hazardous. In the 1980s, cigarette companies looking for a scapegoat to blame for house fires sparked by cigarettes began promoting flame retardant furniture and spending millions to recruit fire safety groups to their cause. As the influence of the tobacco industry waned, the fire retardant manufacturers increased their efforts to keep the chemicals in furniture. The group Citizens for Fire Safety collected $17 million from their “members” (three major flame retardant manufacturers) between 2008 and 2010 to lobby for the inclusion of the chemicals. Studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, neurological and developmental issues, and infertility. Furthermore, there is little evidence to support the claim that the chemicals do anything significant to protect consumers from fires.

I Read

An NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll surveyed the opinions of 3,000 Americans on compensation for organ donations that can be made while a person is alive (kidney, bone marrow, and liver). The poll found that 60% of those surveyed would support compensation in the form of credit for future health care costs. 46% supported compensation in the form of tax credits, 42% in the form of tuition reimbursement, and 41% in the form of cash. Click here for a communitarian approach to organ donation.

From Akiva Eldar’s article, New Tactics, Same Netanyahu on The National Interest: “Netanyahu knows enough about American politics to have no illusions about the strong statements against Iran that Republican candidates uttered repeatedly during their campaign. He must have read Yitzhak Rabin’s memoirs, where he quotes President Gerald Ford’s response after the Israeli prime minister reminded the president of his support, while in Congress, to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ford responded with a wide smile: ‘I realized that life looks different from the Oval Office.’”


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