Empty Promise

The public editor's office of The New York Times has been busy this year. Byron Calame, the second journalist after Daniel Okrent to fill the post, has so far been called to editorialize on two particularly controversial Times pieces: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau's report on NSA wiretapping and Kurt Eichenwald's article on a teenager involved in child pornography on the Web. (Both first appeared in December 2005.) Late last month, Calame interrogated the managing editor in charge of the "space budget"--that is, divvying up column inches.

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Loan Shark

When scandal-plagued Tom DeLay finally gave up his quest to regain the leadership of congressional Republicans, the preternaturally tan Ohio Republican John Boehner sat down and drafted a 37-page political manifesto to win the votes of his colleagues. Boehner, himself long known as a friend to K Street, issued a tempered critique of the Republicans’ sale of indulgences to lobbyists like Jack Abramoff.

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Notebook

BEYOND RED AND BLUE  It’s no revelation that the liberal blogosphere features extreme partisanship and reflexive loathing of political adversaries. But the Jack Abramoff scandal seems to have driven some online activists over a cliff in their never-ending witch-hunt for secret villains. The latest target is John McCain.  This week, the Arizona Republican lashed out at Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Obama had told McCain that he would join a bipartisan group working to come up with a lobbying reform plan, then decided instead to back a proposal crafted by Senate Democratic leaders.

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Memory Loss

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to refer the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. There is plenty to like about the IAEA resolution, starting with the large majority it commanded among the organization's member states--even the usually recalcitrant Russians and Chinese signed on.

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On the evening of January 29, 2002, President Bushstrode to the podium in Congress to deliver the State of the Union address. His speech was a triumph of triumphalism, with roars and applause punctuating nearly every sound bite. Fresh off a quick and massive victory in Afghanistan, Bush outlined his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Speaking firmly, almost with an auditory swagger, Bush told the public that the war on terrorism had given the United States a new mission. We would hunt down terrorists, destroy regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction, and spread freedom throughout the world.

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Wilted Rose

As the helicopter crossed the Black Sea coast and began descending toward the airfield in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, I could see the telltale aftermath of war through the window. Against the incongruous backdrop of lush vegetation and citrus groves were abandoned, burnt-out houses and farms, untouched since Georgians and ethnic Abkhaz fought for dominance of the region in 1992-1993. Since the end of the fighting, the conflict has remained frozen in place. Abkhazia has declared independence from Georgia, but Tbilisi remains intent on reasserting its control.

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Opposition Party

This year's State of the Union came not long after Karl Rove sparked outrage among liberals by unveiling the GOP's strategy for the 2006 elections. "At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security," Rove said. "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview." I think Rove's claim is largely false, and I think his strategy is cynical.

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Privacy in the age of the search engine.

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Unwelcome Guest

"I have been hired, temporarily, to write about the news," NPR contributor Sarah Vowell announced during her first stint last July as a guest columnist for The New York Times. Her six attempts evidently pleased her employers at the editorial page because now she is back, again temporarily, to write about the news. So far this month we have been treated to her take on the president's State of the Union speech (she is displeased) and on torture (she is confused). Along the way the following bits of coruscating wisdom have emerged: The electoral victories of Hamas in Palestine and George W.

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Uncle Sam

Senator Patrick Leahy wanted a straight answer to a simple question. "Wouldn't it be constitutional for the Congress to outlaw Americans from using torture?" the senator asked Judge Samuel Alito during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week. Here was Alito's reply: "Well, senator, I think the important points are that the president has to follow the Constitution and the laws. ... But, as to specific issues that might come up, I really need to know the specifics."This wasn't exactly the answer Leahy was looking for.

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