Bergergate, &c.


Call me a right-wing paranoid – it’s been done before! – but I think that, if Sandy Berger were a conservative Republican, the story of his criminality would be a really, really big deal. Bear in mind that the man was national security adviser. Do you know about his criminality? You may read about it here. Let me provide just a taste:

In October 2003, the [inspector general’s] report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator’s notes said, “Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught.”

The notes said that Berger had “destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash.”

As I said, that’s just a taste.


If Berger were a Republican, the word “Nixonian” would be making a big, big comeback – at a minimum.


Remember how President Clinton and his people reacted shortly after the first news about Berger and the Archives came out? Oh, that’s just Sandy, ha, ha, ha – didn’t surprise any of us, when we heard about it. You should have seen his desk at the White House! Sloppy Sandy – ethical as the day is long, though.


Yeah, what a crock.


It could be that Berger performed a real service in stealing and deep-sixing documents – that is, a service to the Clinton administration. (I warned you this would be a paranoid item.) Berger’s lawyer – remember Lanny Breuer, of Lewinsky fame? – says there’s no need to fret: The 9/11 Commission received all the documents it should have; Berger deprived the commission, and therefore the nation, of nothing.


Tom Davis, the Republican congressman – and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee – isn’t so sure. Here’s what he says: “There is absolutely no way to determine if Berger swiped [certain] original documents. Consequently, there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all required materials.”


Berger got off pretty lightly: $50,000 fine, 100 hours of community service, no access to classified documents for three years. Whoop-de-doo.


It seems we will never know whether Berger destroyed inconvenient documents. From the look of it, he was trying to avoid embarrassment to himself and the Clinton administration, at the expense of the public’s right to know. To know what? How our government treated al Qaeda before 9/11. In any event, Berger did a lousy, lousy thing.


As would be clear to one and all, in every village and hamlet of this country – if only he were a “neocon” from Texas. (Preferably evangelical!)


Oh, have a little more of the story re Berger:

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

“He headed toward a construction area. . . . Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone,” the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

“He was aware of the risk he was taking,” the inspector general’s notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

But only some.

Remember that Condoleezza Rice has been national security adviser – just like Berger. Can you imagine her doing that? I mean, “the whole bitsy,” as my grandmother would say? Looking up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ, etc.?

Anyway . . .

will quote from this AP report, headed “Bush Signs Nuclear Deal with India”: “The Bush administration said the pact deepens ties with a democratic Asian power, but was not designed as a counterweight to the rising power of China. ‘We don’t have a policy that would build up a relationship with India to contain China,’ undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns told reporters before the bill signing.”

Oh, yeah, we don’t have such a policy? Why?

Let’s hope that the undersecretary was, um . . . being “diplomatic.”

Very, very interesting are the comments of Supreme Court justices outside the Court. The other day, the AP ran a report on a speech given by John Paul Stevens. He once held that laws forbidding flag-burning were constitutional, but has changed his mind. Referring to Court decisions that permitted burning, he said, “Ironically, those decisions seem to have solved the problem, because no one burns flags anymore.”

Now, is that the role of judging — to solve problems? Or is the role of judging to interpret the Constitution and laws?

It’s a lot more fun to be an activist on the bench than to be a mere judge on it. But if people want to have fun — they should run for office, you know?

I would like to urge on you a fascinating news story: here. It is fascinating on many levels, and down many avenues. It begins,

Romania’s president presented a report Monday denouncing the former Communist regime as “criminal and illegitimate” and guilty of committing crimes against humanity — the country’s first such official condemnation.

President Traian Basescu, in presenting the 650-page report, accused the regime of gross violations of human rights. Romania ended 45 years of Communist rule with the 1989 overthrow and execution of its last dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

“The regime exterminated people by assassination and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” Basescu said. “Behind the socialist humanism there was hidden the most profound contempt for people, for the individual.”

What a marvelous and bracing statement: “the most profound contempt for people, for the individual.”

Have some more of the news story:

“The Communist regime was illegitimate and criminal. . . . It treated an entire population as a group of guinea pigs for an experiment,” Basescu said.

He added that the system was thrust upon Romania by the Soviet Union, which occupied the country in 1945. “It forced citizens to live in lies and fear,” he said.

“As the president, I condemn the Communist system . . . and I state my admiration to the citizens who opposed the dictatorship.”

“I state my admiration” — beautiful. They’re not universally applauded, you know, these opponents of Communist dictatorship.

The story, from the AP, tells us that Basescu’s speech was interrupted by “ultranationalist hecklers.” Among those in attendance was Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader. (He did not heckle, needless to say.)

We learn, too, that the 650-page report was drafted by a team headed by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a University of Maryland professor. Now, get this:

The report accuses some prominent current politicians, including former president Ion Iliescu, of contributing to the Communist regime. It also names prominent journalists, writers, and poets who, it said, indoctrinated Romanians. Tismaneanu’s own late father, Leon Tismaneanu, also is mentioned for his writings in support of the Communist regime.

What did the ex-president, Iliescu, say about the report? That it was “demonizing the Left.”

But, in the story, a journalist, Corina Dragotescu, gets the last word: “We lived in Communism and we know what it was. But this is something needed for future generations when they ask: ‘Why was Communism overthrown?’”

Indeed, an extraordinarily rich and telling story. And hats off to the Romanians, for coming to terms, to this degree.

There is another story you should know about — though this one’s grimmer. It comes from Libya, and it concerns over 400 children, dead of AIDS. Six foreigners — five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor — were accused of infecting these children. And they have been sentenced to death. The Libyan mob howled with glee. “Execution! Execution!” they yelled, and “God is great!”

Of course, they have been badly misled, these Libyans. The foreigners seem obviously scapegoated — and their lives are in gravest jeopardy.

All of our lives, here in America, we’ve been told about the Salem witch trials: McCarthy, Arthur Miller, blah, blah, blah. Such nonsense, most of the time. But, once in a while, out in the world, something like Salem does occur — a shudder-making, horrifying moment.

For the full story, please consult this AP report.

A speck of good news? Remember that Turkish writer, Ipek Calislar, who’d been charged with the crime of insulting Ataturk? Acquitted. (The story is here.) Whew. Good thing Turkey wants EU membership. Without the Euros scrutinizing it — life could be tougher for liberal-minded Turks, such as Mr. Calislar.

Of course, a group of U.S. congressmen — either naïve or malicious — trooped down to Havana, to do their thing with the regime. There they were, ensconced at the National Hotel, reading from their sad, sad script. What contempt the Communists must quietly have for such Americans. (For a report, go here.)

Representative Delahunt of Massachusetts said “it’s incumbent on us, representing the first branch of our democracy, to come here and to state that we are willing to engage in a sincere and open dialogue, and that everything is on the table.”

Representative Meeks of New York said, “I think this is the golden opportunity [for talks] . . . especially as we make a transition in Washington. This should be a dialogue in which we talk to one another, not at one another.”

This is what happens in a democracy like ours, of course: People like Meeks assume power — a type of power — and they are such pathetic innocents. They know nothing of police states, nothing of totalitarians: “a dialogue in which we talk to one another, not at one another.”

I mean, the Castroites — among the most hard-bitten and thuggish people alive — must be crying with mirth as soon as the Meekses are out of view.

The likes of Representative Flake think Americans can do business with Cubans. They, we, cannot: We can only do business with the regime, aiding it. That’s the way the Communists have rigged the system. You pay the regime in (much-coveted) dollars, the regime pays the Cuban workers in (worthless) Cuban pesos. The Euros can tell you all about it.

But, of course, these congressmen seek out political prisoners — the Biscets and the Antúnezes, right? Oh, you are a screech!

One Manu Sharma really, really wanted his drink — had to have it:

The son of a wealthy Indian politician has been convicted of murder in the shooting death of a waitress who refused to serve him a drink, a case that tested the Indian judiciary’s willingness to take on the powerful elite. . . .

Sharma was acquitted by a lower court earlier this year, a ruling that touched off street protests and forced authorities to reopen the case. Jessica Lall, a former model, was shot and killed in 1999 while waitressing at an upscale New Delhi bar. She had refused to serve Sharma a drink because it was closing time.

He had to have it, that he did. (The full story is here.)

Franco Zeffirelli, advocate of federalism – indeed, of the principle of subsidiarity? Guess what the legendary director told The (London) Spectator. (The article is here, but a subscription is required.) He said, “The provinces and regions should finance their own theaters. I don’t see why the worker from northern Italy should pay for the opera house in Sicily.”


Holy mackerel, Franco sounds like Steve Forbes!


He also names the women he regards as the greatest of the 20th century: Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Mother Teresa, and Margaret Thatcher.


The guy can mix it up, can’t he?


Let’s break for a little language. The other day, I perused a long article about Iraq that said both “Shiite” and “Shia,” “Shiites” and (again) “Shia” (because “Shia” is both plural and singular).


Look, as far as I’m concerned, you can say “Shiite” or you can say “Shia.” (I prefer “Shiite,” mainly because that’s what I grew up with, and I’ve always thought of “Shia” as a more British expression.) But you must not say “Shiite” and “Shia” in the same article! Choose ye!


Had an amusing letter from a reader who was once a student in Austria. (This was in response to something I’d written about Salzburg.)

Innsbruck was great fun. We had an outstanding year for snow and skiing. One day I was going up the T-bar with a Tyroler, and each of us asked the other auf Deutsch where home was. When I replied Chicago, the Tyroler looked at me and said, “Ah, Gangsterstadt!”

Which is to say, “Ah, Gangsterland!”

A couple of columns ago, I mentioned Monica Yunus, the soprano who is the daughter of the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus (the Bangladeshi micro-loaner). A reader reminded me that, at the Nobel ceremony, Monica sang “O mio babbino caro” (“Oh daddy dearest,” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi).

Sweet, idn’t it?

Earlier this week, I was writing about Paul Johnson, to whom George W. Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (The awards were handed out last Friday.) I mentioned what WFB had said about Johnson: that his greatness was so routine, so predictable, you could overlook it.


Reader writes, “I’ve often had the same thought about Thomas Sowell.”


And the Medal of Freedom should hang around that neck, too. I think it may well, before GWB is through. (I once referred to Sowell and Phil Gramm, the former Texas senator, as “splendid cusses.”)

End with a little golf? Two items. First, Fred Couples (1992 Masters champion) was commenting on Tiger Woods: “He’s winning 55 percent of the tournaments he plays. He’s probably ahead of Shaq’s free-throw percentage.”

Absolutely hilarious — and astute.

And I offer you something from an AP story about John Daly. After a recent round – of golf, I mean! – a fan approached him and said, “Your book was the best one I ever read. Actually, it was the only one I’ve ever read.”

No, let’s not end on that. You are familiar with this line from one of the Gershwins’ songs: “The world will pardon my mush . . .” (rhymes with “crush”). Well, I hope you’ll pardon my mush, in saying how grateful I am to the readers of this column, and of NRO, and of National Review. Your support and interest are deeply meaningful, and . . .


Well, before the mush piles up further, I’ll just say, Here’s to a marvelous 2007 – and I’ll see you soon.