Shielding What from Whom?


The Newsroom

The workings of Washington sometimes attain a kind of purity in their illogic. This happens most often after a particularly jarring event, when the frenzy to do something, anything, becomes irresistible to the beehiving journalists, legislators, lobbyists, and regulators who constitute the capital’s political class. Usually the legislative overreaction is blessedly fleeting and inconsequential. The demand for new gun control measures after the horrors of Newtown is a nice example: Although the legislation would have done nothing to prevent the atrocity that provoked it, it gave our city’s peacocks many weeks of deeply satisfying moral preening and then faded harmlessly away, leaving only a litter of scare headlines, outraged op-eds, and hysterical fundraising appeals tumbling amid the tail feathers. 

Other times, Washington’s gratuitous overreaction has lasting and genuinely destructive effects. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 ...


Do Not Disturb


Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office, “The Buck Stops Here.” Sixty years later, President Obama hangs a sign on the door to the Oval Office, “Do Not Disturb.” In 1978, about halfway between the two liberal presidents, Harvey Mansfield, as we’ve noted ...

Take a Number

Citizens, Not Customers


"We provided horrible customer service,” outgoing acting commissioner of the IRS Steven Miller told the House Ways and Means Committee on May 17, referring to evidence that his agency had targeted Tea Party groups for special scrutiny in determining tax-exempt status. The passing ...

Lois Lerner

Uncivil Service


On May 21, liberal columnists Jonathan Capehart and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo were seen heading into ...


The Brezhnev Doctrine, Iran-style

Tehran pulls out all the stops to win in Syria


Funeral in Lebanon for a Hezbollah member killed while fighting in Syria

Grasping the realities of the Middle East is never easy. This is not primarily because they change quickly, but because so much time, effort, and money is spent to prevent reality from breaking through. Fifteen Saudis kill 3,000 Americans on 9/11, so the Saudis spend even more millions to persuade Americans they are friends and allies. Egypt under Hosni Mubarak presents itself as the very model of stability. There is a vast industry presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as requiring only some tough American pressure for Israeli concessions before peace breaks out​—​not only for the Palestinians but the entire Middle East, whose central problem this is alleged to be.

Our own government has a hard time too. It took George W. Bush enormous effort to break through the false descriptions of the war in Iraq his own generals were giving him, and to insist on the surge so that we did not lose the war. When in 2007 Israel proved to us ...


A Toxic Combination

Obamacare meets the IRS


Of all the scandals in his administration that President Obama knows nothing about, the one Americans find most appalling is the decision by the Internal Revenue Service to target the president’s political adversaries. What’s more, as subsequent congressional testimony has made clear, the IRS ...

Tim Foley, O'Malley

What the Data Didn’t Show

Martin O’Malley’s vaunted management techniques missed the massive corruption in the Baltimore jail.


The presidential ambitions of Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have taken a hit after a federal investigation uncovered a sordid sex-drugs-and-racketeering ring festering right under his nose.

On April ...


The Other Benghazi Scandal

Did we really do all we could have to respond to the attack?


The complexity of Washington scandals as they unfold usually involves many moments at which it is possible to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Two such instances have come into sharper relief in recent weeks. One is that we still have no good explanation for U.N. ambassador Susan ...

Donkey Press

They’ll Always Love Obama

It’s only a matter of time before the media are back in the tank.


Some conservatives think that the elite media are finally turning on Barack Obama and his administration.

The argument goes like this: The trio of scandals that have burst forth in the last couple of weeks—the events before, during, and after the ...

Some things never change.

Taxes for Revenue Only?

The IRS’s corruption has deep historical roots.


The news of the Internal Revenue Service targeting Tea Party groups has Americans spooked. We’re supposed to be a republic, in which everyone is treated equally. So how is it that the federal government has abused so egregiously its taxing power, one of the most potent tools at its ...

AP / Carolyn Kaster

Barnstorming for Jobs and Growth

Rick Perry promotes the Texas Miracle.


Austin, Texas 
When President Obama arrived in Austin three years ago, Texas governor Rick Perry greeted him with a four-page letter asking for help in securing the border with Mexico. “He was not particularly enthralled with my theatrics,” ...


Progressives with Bombs

The whitewashing of the Weather Underground


Someday, they’ll all be hanging out in faculty lounges.

At one point in The Company You Keep, Robert Redford’s new film about the residue of the Weather Underground, a character named Sharon Solarz is captured by the FBI after living under a series of aliases since her involvement in a Michigan bank robbery decades earlier in which a security guard was killed. Ruminating in her cell, she describes for a young journalist the moral dilemma people like her faced back then. They could either sit by and watch as America destroyed the innocent peasant culture of Vietnam or take arms against atrocity. She says decisively of her group’s decision to go all-in against the war in Vietnam, “We made mistakes, but we were right,” and then, after a beat, “I’d do it again.” 

At about the same time that The Company You Keep was being previewed, New York University announced that it was appointing Kathy Boudin, real-life model for the Solarz character, as a 2013 scholar-in-residence at the law ...

Books & Arts

The Great Debate

Against slavery, as it happened.


Liberated slaves—‘contrabands of war’—at Cumberland Landing, Virginia (1862)

Replete with stunning horror stories, as one would expect, this remarkable collection of antislavery writing astonishes nonetheless. For example: “Our first black President was a man of such distinguished talents, that none chose to risk their own reputation for discernment by not acknowledging it”​—​which is from an anonymous short story, not contemporary media fawning, published in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator on April 2, 1831. 

Edited by James Basker, the illustrious president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and on a chronological path marked by 216 selections and 158 authors, this is an essential collection for understanding the passionate debate over slavery that exploded into the Civil War. 

Starting with the first ...

Janet Malcom

One Writer’s Bloc

Sometimes Janet Malcolm gets it right, and sometimes not.


In his introduction to this new collection of essays by Janet Malcolm, Ian Frazier writes generously, if generically, that the book “brings together a wide range of pieces that display her unique skills.” By the time we have finished reading Forty-one False ...

Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Virtue

Style and substance in the voice of John Henry Newman.


When John Henry Newman died in 1890, English papers around the world singled out different aspects of his life and work for praise or censure, but on one point they were unanimous. As the obituarist of the Colonies and India put it, “We question ...

On the stump in Charlotte (1948)

The Red Balloon

Henry Wallace is not to be taken seriously, then or now.


Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s second vice president and the Progressive party candidate for president in 1948, was once again in the news earlier this year. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick produced a multipart Showtime series and large book blaming the Cold War on his removal ...

dpa / everett collection

Franz K. on Trial

The inner meaning of the outsider Kafka.


Nothing has been left unsaid about Franz Kafka (1883-1924), the Jewish insurance lawyer from Prague who conducted his work life in Czech, his personal life in German, and his nocturnal writer’s life in a highly condensed metaphoric ...

Pine district pictures

Girl, Uninterrupted

A landmark in cinematic self-love.


Not once, not twice, but three times in the course of the 86-minute running time of the extravagantly praised Frances Ha is the title character shown running through Manhattan. Once, we see her running with her best friend. Another time we see her running to find an ATM. ...


Ray Manzarek, 1939-2013

Joseph Bottum on the guy who knew Jim Morrison


Ray Manzarek with Jim Morrison in London, 1968

I met him once. Well, met in the loosest sense: I was introduced to Ray Manzarek at a Los Angeles restaurant in the 1980s and got to shake his hand. No more than that, but even at the time it felt like an encounter with passing greatness, a brush with the fading mythology of the age, and down through the years, I’ve never forgotten it.

Manzarek died of cancer on May 20, at age 74, to obituaries around the nation that dutifully mentioned his screen-music compositions, his fiction writing, the handful of solo albums, and the mentorship of young musicians to which he devoted himself as a producer. But then, duty over, the obituaries all heaved a sigh of relief, turning back in delight to the late 1960s when Manzarek was in his twenties and played the organ, one of those Vox Continentals with the plastic keys, for a rock group called The Doors. Everything else in the man’s life, the 40-odd years after lead singer Jim Morrison’s ...


Daily Briefing




As readers well know, The Scrapbook prefers to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and so Act One, Scene 2 of the Obama scandals has been interesting to watch. True, it took evidence of the administration’s deep (and possibly unlawful) hostility toward the press to ...

Proof! Nyhan’s chart.

The Benghazi Graph

Dartmouth government professor Brendan Nyhan is one of those political scientists who must really want his field to be considered a hard science, like chemistry or physics. To that end, he often marshals graphs and quantitative measurements in service of his arguments, no matter ...


Another IRS Target

Tax collection may be a necessary evil, but the IRS has been working hard to emphasize the latter over the former. And this applies to conduct beyond the current scandal over political targeting. 

As you may know, adoption is expensive. It ...


Starving for a Beer

It's become an all too familiar tale: A naïve, amoral Westerner travels to Stalinist North Korea and returns with breathless tales of what a wacky, weird, and wild time he had there! (Somehow, the country’s extensive gulag never makes it onto the visitor’s itinerary.)


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