Ich bin ein Big Talker



On June 19, President Barack Obama delivered a lengthy speech in Berlin, in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The shades of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan surely wept.

Half a century ago, President Kennedy declared, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ ” A quarter-century ago, President Reagan challenged the general secretary of the Soviet Union: “Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev​—​Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” President Obama, by contrast, declared nothing notable and challenged no one powerful. With the Berlin Wall down and the Cold War won, the president of
the United States talked at length and had nothing to say.

It would be too harsh, perhaps, to say that Obama’s remarks served only to ratify the judgment rendered the week before by ...

Syrian rebels in Aleppo, June 20, 2013

Adrift in Syria


Two weeks ago, the Obama administration seemed to announce a major reversal of policy: In light of the American intelligence community’s finding, with a high level of confidence, that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against the opposition, the White House ...


A Texan Takes Manhattan

With Gov. Rick Perry in New York.


Someday, all of this will be in Dallas: the governor in Midtown, June 18

New York City
"Look up the definition of poaching,” Rick Perry told his press secretary Josh Havens. Perry was annoyed at being accused, in headlines and news stories and by Democratic governors, of trying to “poach” companies from blue states and carry them off to Texas, where he is governor.

Perry didn’t think the word applies to his forays—to California in February, Illinois in April, and last week to New York and Connecticut. Sure, he wants to lure companies to Texas, bringing thousands of jobs with them. But “poach”? Nope, not that. It sounds sneaky, illicit, or, at best, would still be hostile conduct by one governor toward the state of another.

Havens tapped into an online dictionary and read the definition to Perry: “to take fish or game illegally.”

“Or jobs,” Perry said.

Iraqi Shia militiamen in Baghdad, preparing to depart for Syria, June 2013

The Iraq War Is Not Over

Since the departure of U.S. troops, it’s only heated up.


Sectarian war has reignited in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shia militias have remobilized, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is conducting an intensive and escalating campaign of spectacular attacks against Shia targets, and some of the former Baathist insurgents are staging an effective campaign ...

President Hassan Rouhani

Meet the New Mullah

Same as the old mullah.


Iranians aren’t wrong to celebrate the presidential victory of Hassan Rouhani. It is a (small) thumb in the eye of the country’s clerical ruler, Ali Khamenei. Leaving aside foreign affairs and the nuclear issue for a moment, everyone should take some joy from ...

The fledgling Al Jazeera bureau in Washington, 2006

Al Jazeera at the Newseum

Made-in-Qatar media, live from a studio in Washington.


Bankrolled by the oil and gas wealth of Qatar, now hiring 800 staff members and opening 12 news bureaus across the United States, Al Jazeera will soon be coming to a television near you. From its Doha headquarters, the media empire of Qatar’s royal family is launching a new channel ...

Not in our backyard: a protest in neighboring Thailand

Hucksterism vs. Nonproliferation

Irreconcilable U.S. nuclear policies.


In mid-May a U.S. nuclear sales delegation ventured to Vietnam to convince Hanoi officials to buy Westinghouse reactors. Led by a Commerce Department undersecretary, it included an Energy Department assistant secretary, the director of the newly created White House Office of ...

I have a China dream: Xi Jinping (right)

Beijing’s New Slogan

China’s president has a dream.


For his first summit with Xi Jinping three weeks ago, President Obama was apparently prepped by administration Asia hands that the new Chinese president would likely talk of a “new pattern of major power relations.” What that means in terms of actual Chinese policy is perhaps no more clear ...


City Under Siege

The European Union’s coming attack on the Anglo-Saxon financial sector


Oi, Brussels: Sod off.

Take a visit to the cyber-belly of the beast, to a website run by the European Commission, the EU’s bureaucratic core, and you will be told that “the financial sector was a major cause of the [economic] crisis and received substantial government support.” Soon it will be payback time, in the form of Europe’s new Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), set to be levied at a rate of 0.1 percent on equity and debt transactions, and 0.01 percent on trades in derivatives. It will ensure that the financial sector “makes a fair and substantial contribution to public finances.”

We’ll see. This new “contribution,” potentially much more onerous than those fragments of a percent suggest, may or may not be substantial (taxes of this type have a record of backfiring), but the revenues predicted by the commission ($45 billion or so, but the math is fuzzy) could be eclipsed by the punch that the tax delivers to economic growth.

Russia Today television interviews Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

A Bear in the Desert

Why did the Obama administration allow a Russian resurgence in the Middle East?


For decades during the Cold War, U.S. policy sought to minimize the role of Moscow in the Middle East. As the Soviet Union weakened dramatically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so too did its capacity to influence events there (and many other places besides). So matters have stood since. A ...


The Great Bugout

Obama’s retreat from the Middle East


Barack Obama’s foreign policy has one core principle: Get the United States out of the Middle East wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he “inherited” from George W. Bush and avoid repeating those mistakes. There have been other themes sounded by the White House, most notably the ...

Books & Arts

Anchors Away

Is naval supremacy a thing of the past?


President and Mrs. Obama on board the USS Carl Vinson, 2011

Is naval power back? Early in June, Russia announced that it would be permanently stationing an armada of ships in the Mediterranean, restoring a deployment that came to an end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This muscle-flexing is part of Russia’s effort to bolster the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to stick a finger in the eye of the United States. China, for its part, recently introduced its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and the formation of carrier battle groups will eventually follow, enabling the Chinese military to develop long-range capabilities at sea. 

As our major rivals expand their naval capabilities, America’s Navy has been on the way down. Today, the naval fleet is less than half the force it was at the end of the Cold War, and is roughly equivalent in size to what it was during World War I. And thanks ...

Friedrich Hayek, 1960, John Maynard Keynes, 1944

Dueling Economists

A century of back-and-forth between Hayek and Keynes.


John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), godfather of the “stimulus” and the “multiplier,” and Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), who argued that government intervention in the economy breeds prosperity-killing economic distortions, weren’t just polar opposites in economic ...

Reed (left) at the Palazzo Mattei di Giove, Rome, 1948

Classical American

What today's architecture owes to Henry Hope Reed.


Over half a century ago, Henry Hope Reed, who died in May at age 97, launched a permanent campaign to restore the classical tradition to its rightful primacy in American public art and architecture. The Golden City (1959) provided the polemical and ...

William Dean Howells

Commerce and Art

The disdain is largely one-sided.


John Kinsella, a highly regarded Australian poet who teaches at Cambridge, was quoted not long ago in the Times Literary Supplement as saying that he has “not sold his soul to market fetishization.” Kinsella means that he doesn’t want even to think about making a profit ...

‘Arrested’ Again

‘Arrested’ Again

The second life of a much-beloved sitcom.


And now, the story of an Emmy-winning sitcom that was canceled in 2006 and the one writer who had no choice but to spend seven years figuring out how to get it back on the air. It’s .  .  . Arrested Development. Or, to be precise, it’s the ...

Superman’s Choice

Superman’s Choice

Less powerful than a locomotive, but more meaningful.


Critics aren’t crazy about Man of Steel, the new Superman movie. It has a 56 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the site that aggregates reviews. But audiences love it; the Cinemascore poll gives Man of Steel a grade of A-. 

So what ...


Sam and the Sabra Tomcat

Lee Smith, peace (kitten) maker


tom labaff

The anniversary of the start of the last war between Israel and Lebanon is coming up on July 12, and it makes me wonder how Israel is doing. Not Israel the country, of course—it’s thriving seven years after fighting Hezbollah on its northern border for 34 days. I mean Israel the cat.

A couple of months before the war broke out, I was walking home one night after an evening with friends in my Beirut neighborhood, when I heard the loud cries of a cat. I looked around and spied her peeking out from behind the tire of a parked car. She was still a kitten, much smaller than her voice let on, and she looked hungry. As I was deliberating whether to go in search of a can of tuna for her before sending her on her way, she made the decision for me. She raced up my blue jeans and blazer, claws first, and perched on my shoulder for the walk home. As soon as she surveyed the beautiful view of the city and the Mediterranean from the balcony of my ...


Concrete Proof

Concrete Proof


Coin of the Realm

The Scrapbook tends to avoid inductive reasoning—that is, drawing a general conclusion from specific examples—because any good polemicist can cherry-pick his anecdotes. But some recent tidings from Bratislava, in Slovakia, have tempted us to wander down Inductive Lane.


Second Time as Farce

For a brief moment last week, The Scrapbook felt a twinge of compassion for President Obama. The setting was Berlin. Readers will remember the extraordinary (and extraordinarily peculiar) sight in 2008 of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking to a throng of ...


More Borders, Please

The Scrapbook was alarmed at the very French way that the OECD, the Europe-based club of rich countries, tried to make a splash at last week’s G-8 summit in Northern Ireland—by urging the world’s governments to make their tax systems more transparent to one another. The Scrapbook ...

LGBTQAI Etiqutte

The New Etiquette

"What pronoun do you prefer?” The Scrapbook, as readers may know, prefers its. As in, the question above left The Scrapbook scratching its head. But if you seek “to be inclusive,” it’s the polite thing to ask. We gleaned this from a sign titled “Transgender Etiquette,” ...


Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"A couple of weekends a month, Tom McMahon, 44, a federal government budget analyst who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., joins his wife for a special indulgence, squeezed in around brunch and his regular Sunday touch rugby games: simultaneous pedicures, ...


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