May 2009: Nobody asked me, but..

Cheney 2.0, Europe and Islam, and GM’s narrowing market appeal

With apologies to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, here are my much-delayed observations for the month: nobody asked me, but…

THERE’S SOMETHING VERY STRANGE ABOUT DICK CHENEY VERSION 2.0. This “New Cheney” has been quite eager in numerous media appearances to defend the harsh “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the Bush II years, policies the once-reticent former Vice President was instrumental in shaping. While in office, the secretive Cheney made no secret of his disdain for the American press, but now anxious to defend the Bush legacy, the suddenly voluble Cheney is courting media appearances. Has Cheney belatedly discovered the value of openness and public debate? Or does he prize it only when it serves his self-interest?

THE LOWER THE STAKES, THE NASTIER THE POLITICS? The furor in England over the Oxford University’s prestigious post of professor of poetry, which is an elective honor, would suggest that old saw is true. Ruth Padel, the first woman to hold that job since its establishment 1708, abruptly resigned her post after the Sunday Times revealed that she “tipped off journalists about past allegations of sexual harassment made by students at Harvard University in 1982 against her main rival, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott.” Padel conceded her actions had been “naive and silly” while maintaining that she acted in “complete good faith.” Now neither Padel nor Walcott will run for the position when Oxford reopens nominations in October.

DO GROWING ISLAMIC POPULATIONS IN MANY EUROPEAN NATIONS THREATEN FREE SPEECH, TOLERANCE, and women’s rights? Only, I would argue, if Europeans shy away from openly addressing the question of conflicting values.

Conservative columnist Mark Steyn’s piece in Commentary magazine, “Israel Today, the West Tomorrow,” warns of what he calls the Islamicization of Europe coupled with a growing anti-Semitism and hostility toward Israel. Changing demographics, Steyn concedes, presents a problem only insofar that European Muslims reject assimilation and Enlightenment values and embrace radical versions of Islam.

An Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti, has documented a disturbing episode in Rotterdam:

For a performance by the Muslim Salaheddine Benchikhi, the Zuidplein Theatre agreed to his request to have the first five rows set aside for women only. Salaheddine, an editorialist for the website, is known for his opposition to the integration of Muslims. The city council has approved this: “According to our Western values, the freedom to live one’s own life by virtue of one’s convictions is a precious possession.” A spokesman for the theater has also defended the director: “It is hard to get Muslims to come to the theater, so we are willing to adapt.”

It does raise this question: would European civil libertarians ignore the physical segregation of any other group (immigrants, gays, etc.) in a public place? Wouldn’t they rush to the European Human Rights Commission for intervention? There should be no double standard. Defending the civil rights of women today, (when Muslims represent 24% of the population of Amsterdam, 20% of Marseille, 14% of Birmingham, and 13% of Rotterdam according to the Economist), will better preserve them for tomorrow.

SO WILL REPUBLICANS, CONSERVATIVES, AND LIBERTARIANS PURCHASE GM CARS after the Obama Administration’s intervention and UAW-friendly bankruptcy? I’d guess that any American with laissez faire economic views, those who would have preferred to see the dysfunctional carmaker fail without any federal bailout, will hesitate before buying GM. Since some 40% of Americans describe themselves as conservatives (according to Gallup), and liberal Democrats lean toward small imports (for example, virtually all of Obama’s economic team drives foreign cars), that spells trouble for the market share of Government Motors.

It’s hard to see how GM retirees, UAW workers, and rental car fleets will provide enough demand for the Obama turn-around plan to work. Will Washington respond to flagging GM car sales with targeted incentives (like the “trade in that clunker car” provisions working their way through Congress) or more outright subsidies?

IF PHIL JACKSON ISN’T THE BEST PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL COACH of all time, who is? With Jackson’s Lakers winning the 2009 NBA championship, his tenth title, the former Knickbocker player has exceeded the Celtics’ Red Auerbach’s championship mark, in what is arguably now a much more competitive league. Jackson not only handled the volatile Kobe Bryant, but—most importantly—also skillfully pushed the development of Lakers’ center Pau Gasol (as Eric Neel of ESPN recently reported).

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM NEW ENGLAND’S POET, ROBERT FROST (1874-1963): “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders

All rights reserved