Politics & Policy

State of the nation, &c.

Well, the nation can breathe a sigh of relief now. Scooter Libby seems to be heading to jail. Richard Armitage is at large, but he was never perceived to be a threat anyway. Valerie Wilson has a book-and-movie deal.

Yes, isn’t America a great, great country? Definitely on the right track.

‐The elementary-school teachers say — or used to say, in an older America — that sarcasm is a most unattractive quality. And they, of course, are right.

‐Is it just me, or are these eight fired U.S. attorneys . . . a teeny bit whiny? What did they think they had, life tenure? How many of us have that kind of protection? Are they so indispensable to the nation — sacred to us — that we must have their services?

This New Mexican says he felt “leaned on,” by big bad Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson. He says he “felt pressured.”

Well, boo frickin’ hoo. I have been talking to oppositionists in Cuba who feel the pressure of working under threat of imprisonment, torture, and death. The worst that could have happened to this attorney was what — that he would become a media hero and have to work in a private firm?

I may be missing a gross injustice. But I don’t think we should lose much sleep over the Persecuted Eight. And maybe Americans could grow up a little.

‐Reading about John Edwards and what he thinks Jesus would think of us, I remembered the rule. You know the rule, don’t you? You can talk about Jesus and religion all you want, if you’re a liberal Democrat. That’s cool. But if you’re a conservative Republican, you are a dangerous theocrat, about to torch the Constitution.

Remember when Jesse Jackson used his Democratic-convention speech to liken Vice President Quayle to Herod? Very, very cool. But any word out of Jerry Falwell’s mouth — incredibly uncool.

You simply have to remember the rules. And there are lots of them, such as, “You can be against a war if you haven’t served in the military, but you can’t support a war if you haven’t served in the military.” Unless President Clinton is going into Haiti because Randall Robinson is hunger-striking. Or whatever.

Anyway . . . you remember the rules, you’ll get along in this country jes’ fine.

‐I was going to say that Russian journalists — and other journalists interested in Russia — are dropping like flies, but then I read this news bulletin. Matters are getting ridiculous, don’t you think?

MOSCOW (AP) — A journalist who fell to his death from a fifth-story window had received threats while gathering material for a report claiming Russia planned to provide sophisticated weapons to Syria and Iran, his newspaper said Tuesday.

Prosecutors have opened an inquest into the death of Ivan Safronov, a military affairs writer for the daily Kommersant who died Friday in what some media said could have been murder.

They can’t kill all journalists who get too close to uncomfortable truths, can they? Of course, they don’t have to kill them all — just enough to discourage the others.

‐President Bush said the following in his American Legion speech:

[Certain] members of Congress seem to believe that we can have it all: that we can find al Qaeda, pursue national reconciliation, initiate aggressive diplomacy, and deter Iran’s ambition in Iraq — all the while withdrawing from Baghdad and reducing our force levels. That sounds good in theory, but doing so at this moment would undermine everything our troops have worked for. There are no shortcuts in Iraq.

I cite these words because they strike me as utterly true.

‐When it comes to finding out the truth about Iran’s nuclear program, whom should you trust, or, whom should you trust more — the Iranian foreign minister or Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize?

I ask because of this report yesterday: “Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied his country has slowed its nuclear program, contradicting remarks by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei that Tehran appeared to have paused enrichment. Mottaki said enrichment was continuing unabated.”

Have some more:

“Iran’s legitimate activities with the aim of producing fuel . . . are continuing their natural trend,” Mottaki told a news conference. “There has been no change in that course.”

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization also said there had been no change in the enrichment schedule. ElBaradei had said Monday that Iran appeared to have at least temporarily paused on the development of its uranium enrichment program.

Wouldn’t it be something if you were better off going to the Iranian regime itself for the truth about its nuclear program than to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize?

Of course, ElBaradei may be more protective of the mullahs’ image than the mullahs themselves are.

‐Was reading this article on the State Department’s annual human-rights report — and raised an eyebrow at this sentence: “The report . . . lambasted U.S. foes Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea for systematic violations of basic human rights.”

U.S. foes, sure — but I think of them as more foes of humanity.

‐Do you know who Mario Chanes de Armas was? Probably not, because he was a Cuban human-rights hero and the media aren’t too keen on publicizing them. But the Financial Times had an excellent obit of this remarkable man, who died on February 24. If you read nothing else this week — I suggest you read this.

I can’t resist a healthy excerpt:

Mario Chanes de Armas, who has died in Miami at the age of 80, sailed from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 with Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara to launch the Cuban revolution. Two years after the revolution’s success, after criticising Castro’s lurch towards Moscow and communism, he was summarily jailed by his former comrade for 30 years.

Chanes de Armas served his full sentence, six years of it in solitary confinement in a windowless cell in which he could barely stand up, making him the longest-serving political prisoner in the western hemisphere at the time.

Well, almost his full sentence. In an effort to keep it quiet from the international media, Mr Castro released him the day before his 30-year term was completed.

The first thing Chanes did was to visit the grave of his only son Mario, who had been born soon after his father was jailed and who had died unexpectedly aged 22. Chanes had not been allowed to attend the funeral because he refused to sign up to a “re-education” programme.

Chanes spent longer in jail than Nelson Mandela. Unlike Mandela, however, the stories of Chanes and his fellow Cuban political prisoners received little publicity outside the Cuban exile community in Miami. . . .

In 1956 Castro, Chanes and Guevara sailed to Cuba aboard the overcrowded cabin cruiser Granma. Tipped off in advance, Batista’s forces largely decimated the group but Castro escaped to the Sierra Maestra mountains and Chanes went underground.

Caught by Batista’s agents during a dynamite-smuggling run from the Florida Keys, he was jailed and was still in an underground dungeon in Havana when in 1959 Batista was forced to flee the country. Supporters freed Chanes and he was there to greet Castro when he and his guerrillas finally rumbled into the capital. . . .

In 1961, five months after Chanes was married, Castro’s agents accused him of plotting to assassinate the leader, and he was summarily jailed for 30 years — ironically, just as under Batista, for “subversion.” Chanes insisted all his life that the charges were trumped up because of his outspoken opposition.

Of his years in jail Chanes said: “I watched men get shot, point blank, beaten with bayonets, arbitrarily pulled out and punished. But we were alone. The world didn’t know.” . . .

Chanes never showed bitterness about his years in Castro’s jails, saying they had never crushed his spirit. “After my release, during my two years in Cuba, I realized that no-one on the island was free anyway. I don’t have feelings of hatred or vengeance. Vengeance is for cowards.”

There was a man. There was a man.

‐A young and learned friend sent me the following, fascinating note:

This is a little thing [not really], but something caught my eye in a news story on global warming: “The Bush administration has set a target of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent by 2012, and is spending $3 billion a year on climate change research.”

$3 billion a year, adjusted for inflation, is actually very close to what this country has spent, on average, over the past 20 years on missile-defense research. I just thought that was an interesting coincidence in numbers.

Interesting, to say the least.

‐Another friend — also young and learned, as it happens! — sent me this drawing, which comes from the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organization. It shows the Statue of Liberty with a smoke-belching factory where the torch should be, and filthy lucre where the tablet should be. This is a commentary on global warming (and America’s obvious cause of it).

My friend wonders what this has to do with molecular biology. And the answer is: It has to with the raging insanity into which much of the world has plunged over this subject.

‐Have a couple of music reviews, from the New York Sun: For a review of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, go here; and for a review of Joyce DiDonato, the American mezzo-soprano, go here.

‐You may remember that I reviewed, the other day, an album called Il Divino Boemo. This was the nickname of Josef Mysliveček, an 18th-century Czech composer who went to Italy to have his career. They couldn’t handle “Mysliveček,” so they dubbed him “Il Boemo,” meaning, “The Bohemian.” Later the name was sweetened up with “Divino.”

I have a dear Czech-born friend who, looking at the CD, saw a reference to Mysliveček’s “outlandish” name. She said, “It sounds perfectly simple and ordinary to me. It’s ‘Il Boemo’ that sounds exotic!”

So much depends on where you stand, doesn’t it, guys?

‐A reader wrote to expand on my comments about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Thursday:

I think another reason “they” hate her is that they like to think of themselves as rebels. You know, transgressive art, standing up to The Man by going to Peet’s instead of Starbucks . . .

Then along comes Ayaan Hirsi Ali who REALLY rebels against oppression, and they feel like pathetic wankers, so they hate her. Oh yeah, they’re pathetic wankers. Not to mention she was oppressed but refuses to be a victim, one of the worst crimes in the book for the bien pensant Left.

Astringently and well expressed.

‐Finally, a word about Bleak House (the venerated Dickens novel). Some time ago, I confessed my inability — my repeated inability — to get beyond about page 10. A reader writes,

Wow, I can identify so much! I’m a huge Hitchcock fan and read in a bio that Bleak House was his favorite book (and that he re-read it every year to inspire himself). Of course, I ran right out and bought a copy. Never made it past about page 10.

Nice not to be alone! (But would be even nicer to plow through Bleak House.)

Check you soon.

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