Best News Item of The Day: Binyamin Netanyahu humiliated after Barack Obama ‘dumped him for dinner’

March 26, 2010

 Binyamin Netanyahu addresses the AIPAC Conference

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The President was said to have walked out of the meeting, saying to Mr Netanyahu: ‘Let me know if there is anything new

Giles Whittell, Washington, and James Hider, Jerusalem

For a head of government to visit the White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in private was, until this week, unheard of. Yet that is how Binyamin Netanyahu was treated by President Obama on Tuesday night, according to Israeli reports on a trip viewed in Jerusalem as a humiliation.

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisers and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman, who spoke to the Prime Minister, said.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House telephone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”. Continue reading

Bonfire of the Intellectuals: In defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Click image to expand.Ayaan Hirsi Ali

the spectator

Paul Berman’s outraged attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s attackers.

By Ron Rosenbaum
Posted Thursday, March 25, 2010, at 10:41 AM ET


Return with me now to the lusty days of yore, when engagé public intellectuals battled it out over Trotskyism, anarcho-syndicalism, and just who betrayed whom in the bloody streets of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War—and later in the savage pages of The Partisan Review, where those battles were refought. Sometimes the intense seriousness of the intellectual combat can sound overstrained in retrospect (cf. the Woody Allen joke about Commentary and Dissent merging to form Dysentery). But in fact these were foundational postwar arguments, waged by some of the sharpest thinkers in print as they clashed over urgent questions about the future of totalitarianism and democracy.

The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman’s new 300-page polemic (to be published this spring), recalls these heady days in a book that is likely to provoke an intense controversy among public intellectuals. The most contentious assertion in Berman’s book is that some of the most prominent of these—people who rushed to the defense of Salman Rushdie when he was threatened with death for a novel deemed blasphemously irreverent to Islam—have failed to offer wholehearted support to Muslim dissidents today, people such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born author and Muslim apostate, whose lives are similarly threatened. This failure, this “flight of the intellectuals,” Berman argues, represents a deeply troubling abandonment of Enlightenment values in the face of recurrent threats to freedom of expression.

Berman’s book will likely provoke bouts of rage, praise, and condemnation in print and online. In doing so, his book will remind us that those old Partisan Review smack-downs raised questions that have evolved and mutated but remain unresolved: Is there a paradox at the heart of Enlightenment values? Should a belief in “tolerance” extend to the intolerant? Must Enlightenment values stop short of challenging multicultural values? Or do multicultural values sometimes entail moral relativism? One key issue, for instance, is whether Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s campaign against female genital mutilation makes her—as the intellectuals Berman attacks have called her—an “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” the flashpoint buzz phrase of the controversy. (Although my favorite buzz phrase is the one the French intellectual Pascal Bruckner devised for those who have sneered at Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “The racism of the anti-racists.”)

Berman’s new book exhibits the same dedication to moral clarity on these questions demonstrated in his earlier Terror and Liberalism. He gives earnestness a good name! He has the knack for seeing and saying not just the subtle but often the obvious things that so many soi-disant intellectuals blind themselves to in the search for self-congratulatory comlplexification. I’m thinking of Berman’s review of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which was long and digressive (but rewarding for both reasons) and had the radical effrontery to say what so many intellectual reviewers couldn’t find the words for, because, perhaps, it would mark their response as too tribal, too “ethnic”—that Roth’s book about an anti-Semitic presidential candidate (Charles Lindbergh) might have something to do with anti-Semitism! (It was really about Bush, they rushed to tell us. Despite Roth’s own disclaimer, of course; they knew better.)

In any case, Berman’s portrait of the behavior of today’s intellectuals when confronting the plight of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is devastating. I was going to say his portrait of certain intellectuals, because he singles out the well-respected writers Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash for their aggressive sniping and snarking at Hirsi Ali when she was (and still is) under threat of death. But in fact the relative silence of the rest of the intelligentsia, when confronted with the threats against her, is almost more scandalous. (An exception is my colleague here at Slate Christopher Hitchens.)

Hirsi Ali, who described her decision to leave Islam in 2007’s Infidel, was subsequently driven from her refuge in Holland by death threats that followed her from Somalia. And by the murder of her friend and supporter, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose slashed and bleeding body was found with a note that called Hirsi Ali next to die.

In The Flight of the Intellectuals, Berman contrasts the way intellectuals have treated Hirsi Ali—with ostensible support, in the abstract, but condescension, disdain, and nitpicking criticism in all the best intellectual venues—with the way they and others rallied unequivocally to the support of Salman Rushdie in 1989 over the Satanic Verses fatwa. Continue reading

U.S. Plans Big Expansion in Effort to Aid Homeowners

March 25, 2010 By DAVID STREITFELD

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/business/26housing.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print

The Obama administration on Friday will announce broad new initiatives to help troubled homeowners, potentially refinancing several million of them into fresh government-backed mortgages with lower payments.

Another element of the new program is meant to temporarily reduce the payments of borrowers who are unemployed and seeking a job. Additionally, the government will encourage lenders to write down the value of loans held by borrowers in modification programs.

The escalation in aid comes as the administration is under rising pressure from Congress to resolve the foreclosure crisis, which is straining the economy and putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes. But the new initiatives could well spur protests among those who have kept up their payments and are not in trouble.

The administration’s earlier efforts to stem foreclosures have largely been directed at borrowers who were experiencing financial hardship. But the biggest new initiative, which is also likely to be the most controversial, will involve the government, through the Federal Housing Administration, refinancing loans for borrowers who simply owe more than their houses are worth. Continue reading