Brooks, Cohen and Nocera

Bobo’s whistling past the graveyard again.  In “The Conservative Future” he gurgles that our political-entertainment complex makes it easy to caricature today’s G.O.P. But there’s an unorthodox crop of younger free-thinkers weaving a textured vision worth knowing.  He speaks fondly and longingly of (FSM help us all) Rod Dreher and [shudder] Megan McArdle.  (Let’s also not forget that Bobo fizzed that ZEGS was one of their great “thinkers.”)  In “Gaza Without End” Mr. Cohen says Israel, stuck in violent patterns of the past, could make an effort to test Palestinian good will rather than prove Palestinian bad faith.  This will happen the day after I’m declared the next Pope, so until you see me wearing the papal tiara…  Mr. Nocera has a question in “Race and the N.C.A.A.”  He asks is it just a coincidence that the most high-profile investigations into recruiting and eligibility involved black athletes?  Here’s Bobo:

If you listened to the Republican candidates this year, you heard a conventional set of arguments. But if you go online, you can find a vibrant and increasingly influential center-right conversation. Most of the young writers and bloggers in this conversation intermingle, but they can be grouped, for clarity’s sake, around a few hot spots:

Paleoconservatives. The American Conservative has become one of the more dynamic spots on the political Web. Writers like Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth. Writers at that Web site, and at the temperamentally aligned Front Porch Republic, treasure tight communities and local bonds. They’re alert to the ways capitalism can erode community. Dispositionally, they are more Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.

Larison focuses on what he calls the imperial tendencies of both the Bush and Obama foreign policies. He crusades against what he sees as the unchecked killing power of drone strikes and champions a more modest and noninterventionist foreign policy.

Lower-Middle Reformists. Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, E21 and others, recently pointed out that there are two stories about where the Republican Party should go next. There is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts. Then there is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.

Salam promotes the latter. This means acknowledging that working-class concerns are not what they were in the 1980s. The income tax is less burdensome than the payroll tax. Family disruption undermines social mobility. Republicans, he argues, should keep the social conservatism, which reinforces families, and supplement it with an agenda that supports upward mobility and social capital.

Similarly, Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute has argued for a Republican Party that listens more closely to working-class concerns. Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has argued for family-friendly tax credits and other measures that reinforce middle-class dignity. Jim Manzi wrote a seminal article in National Affairs on the need to promote innovation while reducing inequality.

Soft Libertarians. Some of the most influential bloggers on the right, like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok and Megan McArdle, start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.

Many of these market-oriented writers emphasize that being pro-market is not the same as being pro-business. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago published an influential book, “A Capitalism for the People,” that took aim at crony capitalism. Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner does muckraking reporting on corporate-federal collusion. Rising star Derek Khanna wrote a heralded paper on intellectual property rights for the House Republican Study Committee that was withdrawn by higher-ups in the party, presumably because it differed from the usual lobbyist-driven position.

There are a number of unpredictable libertarian-leaning writers, including Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic on civil liberties issues, and Eugene Volokh on legal and free speech concerns.

Burkean Revivalists. This group includes young conservatives whose intellectual roots go back to the organic vision of society described best by Edmund Burke but who are still deeply enmeshed in current policy debates.

Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs is one of the two or three most influential young writers in politics today. He argues that we are now witnessing the fiscal crisis of the entitlement state, exemplified most of all by exploding health care costs. His magazine promotes a big agenda of institutional modernization.

The lawyer Adam J. White has argued for an approach to jurisprudence and regulatory affairs based on modesty, but not a doctrinaire clinging to original intent. Ryan Streeter of Indiana champions civil-society conservatism, an updated version of the Jack Kemp style.

By and large, these diverse writers did not grow up in the age of Reagan and are not trying to recapture it. They disdain what you might call Donor Base Republicanism. Most important, they matured intellectually within a far-reaching Web-based conversation. In contrast to many members of the conservative political-entertainment complex, they are data-driven, empirical and low-key in tone.

They are united more by a style of feedback and mutual scrutiny than by a common agenda. Some politically unorthodox people in this conversation, such as Josh Barro of Bloomberg View, Meghan Clyne of National Affairs and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, specialize in puncturing sentimentality and groupthink.

Since Nov. 6, the G.O.P. has experienced an epidemic of open-mindedness. The party may evolve quickly. If so, it’ll be powerfully influenced by people with names like Reihan, Ramesh, Yuval and Derek Khanna.

I wonder how he managed to get “G.O.P.” and “open-mindedness” in the same sentence without his head exploding.  Poor Bobo, grasping at such slim reeds…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

How does it end in Gaza?

This has been the issue with all the self-defeating Israeli military offensives of the past 16 years — Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and now Operation Pillar of Defense, all of them, not coincidentally, initiated on the eve of national elections in Israel.

Gilad Sharon, the son of Ariel Sharon who orchestrated Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, has an idea for an ending. He expressed it this way in The Jerusalem Post:

“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima — the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a cease-fire.”

Atomic bombs, blackness, stillness, nothingness — Sharon allows himself to indulge the old Israeli dream that the Palestinian people should just disappear. But of course they do not. They regroup. They find new leaders. They endure with hatred of Israel reignited by loss.

This is an old story. As early as 1907, Yitzhak Epstein, a Zionist, wrote an article called “A Hidden Question” in which he observed: “We have forgotten one small matter: There is in our beloved land an entire nation, which has occupied it for hundreds of years and has never thought to leave it.” Zionism, Epstein warned, would have to face and solve “The Arab Question.”

The specific question for Israel in the run-up to this operation was what to do about rockets launched from Gaza at its citizens. No government can accept having its civilians subjected to regular rocket attacks from a neighboring territory.

As usual, the prelude was messy — a rocket fired from Gaza hitting southern Israel on Nov. 3; a Palestinian killed near the border on Nov. 4; three Israeli soldiers wounded in a blast at the border on Nov. 6; a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli machine-gun fire on Nov. 8; four Israelis soldiers wounded by an anti-tank missile on Nov. 10; four Palestinian teenagers killed when Israel fires back; steadily increasing rocket fire from Gaza. (That is just a rough summary, and of course each side has a different version.)

The question for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was what to do: Escalate or pursue the cease-fire negotiations then being conducted on an unofficial basis through Egyptian good offices with Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas and the man responsible both for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his release a year ago. The aim of the cease-fire talks, in the words of the independent Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin, “was to move beyond the patterns of the past.”

On Nov. 14 Netanyahu made his decision: Jabari was assassinated, with accompanying video of his exploding car. (One imagines the reaction of a kid seeing it: “Dad, I did that yesterday!”)

And here we are in the patterns of the past: Palestinian children among at least 90 people already killed in Gaza, three Israelis dead from rocket fire, Palestinian government buildings being blown up, diplomats scrambling for a cease-fire, the U.S. Congress isolated in its blanket approval, Israel casting around for a plausible endgame as regional fury mounts.

Is all this good for Israel? No. Unless good is defined as policies that radicalize the situation, erode middle ground, demonstrate the impossibility of agreement, and so facilitate continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the expansion of settlements there and the steady eclipse of the idea of a two-state peace. This may well be Netanyahu’s criteria for a tactical victory from Operation Pillar of Defense (along with victory for Likud on Jan. 22.)

There will be no other Israeli “victory.” As Aluf Benn, editor in chief of the Israeli daily Haaretz, commented, “The assassination of Jabari will go down in history as another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election.” Jabari, Benn argued, was in effect Israel’s point man in a money-for-truce exchange that worked imperfectly. Now, “Israel will have to find a new subcontractor to replace Ahmed Jabari as its border guard in the south.”

In other words Hamas will not go away. It will have to be dealt with. The United States now deals with the Muslim Brotherhood (the parent of Hamas) and Salafis in the new Egypt. Dealing with reality is a good thing.

Israel, I learn from my colleague Ethan Bronner, has a preferred metaphor for its repetitive security operations: “Cutting the grass,” as in “a task that must be performed regularly and has no end.” But of course bombing Gaza is potent fertilizer to the grasses of hatred.

What, I wonder, does Shalit think? His Hamas tormentor freed him in the end.

The Middle East has opened up. Young Arabs are thinking about their own societies. Israel, stuck in the patterns of the past, has another option: Testing Palestinian good will rather than punishing Palestinian bad faith. Under Netanyahu, it has not even tried. Until it does the endings will be bad.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Nocera, who still has a hard-on for the NCAA:

On Monday night, a U.C.L.A. freshman named Shabazz Muhammad scored 15 points in his highly anticipated college basketball debut, as his Bruins lost to the Georgetown Hoyas, 78-70.

By the time of the Georgetown game, U.C.L.A. already had three games under its belt, and had traveled to China. Muhammad, whom many regarded as the best player coming out of high school this year, had to skip those early games and miss the overseas trip. You can guess why. Until late last Friday, he was the subject of an investigation by the N.C.A.A., which, earlier this month, had declared him ineligible “due to violations of N.C.A.A. amateurism rules.”

In the scheme of things, missing three games and a trip abroad is hardly the most onerous of penalties — even throwing in the $1,600 Muhammad is supposed to pay back for accepting “impermissible benefits.” But this case is so offensive, even by the N.C.A.A.’s debased standards, that I felt the need to bring it to a wider audience.

The central character in this drama, aside from Muhammad himself, is Benjamin Lincoln, a white, middle-aged financial adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. In 2007, when Muhammad was in seventh grade, Lincoln met Ron Holmes, Muhammad’s father, at a wedding. Over time, the two men became close.

Holmes is in the Las Vegas real estate business, and things got a little rough after the housing bubble burst. So when, as a top recruit, Muhammad wanted to visit Duke and the University of North Carolina — visits his family would have to pay for — Lincoln told Holmes he would pick up the tab. Under the N.C.A.A.’s byzantine amateurism rule, close family friends are allowed to pay for such visits, but agents, boosters and hangers-on are not. It almost goes without saying that the N.C.A.A. gets to decide who is a close family friend and who is a booster.

Lincoln and Holmes were confident that he fit into the former category. The N.C.A.A., however, quickly became suspicious — and antagonistic. It quietly put out the word to schools that were recruiting him that he was under a cloud.

In the spring, when Muhammad signed a letter of intent with U.C.L.A., the N.C.A.A. revved up. Led by its assistant director of enforcement, Abigail Grantstein, it demanded thousands of documents from Muhammad’s family and interrogated everyone involved. Grantstein infuriated Lincoln by implying in an interview that he was somehow dirty.

Sure enough, on Nov. 9, the N.C.A.A. declared Muhammad ineligible. In the N.C.A.A. press release, there was no mention of how long his suspension would continue. U.C.L.A., declaring itself “disappointed,” vowed to appeal. But such appeals don’t often succeed, and based on precedent, it seemed likely that Muhammad wouldn’t get to play until next year sometime.

On Thursday, the day before the appeal ruling was due, a remarkable article appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Florence Johnson Raines, a Memphis lawyer, told a reporter that she had been on an airplane in early August and overheard a man bragging that his girlfriend “Abigail” was going to bring down Muhammad, whose family, he said loudly, was “dirty and they were taking money and she’s going to get them.” This indiscretion came only a week after the N.C.A.A. had asked for documents and three months before the N.C.A.A. declared Muhammad ineligible.

Is it a surprise that, the very next day, the N.C.A.A. restored Muhammad’s eligibility? Not after that revelation. Abigail, of course, was Grantstein, and she had apparently breached the confidentiality the N.C.A.A. always insists on — indeed that she herself insists upon when she conducts interviews. Far worse, she appeared to have made up her mind about Muhammad’s guilt before conducting her investigation. The boyfriend’s seeming delight in Muhammad’s plight had offended Jones, which is why she spoke to The Los Angeles Times.

The N.C.A.A. now says it is investigating the overheard conversation because it wants to protect “the integrity” of its process.  For those of us who never believed that N.C.A.A. investigations were conducted with integrity, however, it was a case of suspicions confirmed.

There is something else. Three of the most high-profile eligibility cases this basketball season — Muhammad, Nerlens Noel at Kentucky and Rodney Purvis at North Carolina State — are African-American. Five Ohio State football players who were suspended for trading some of their Ohio State gear for tattoos in 2010 were African-American. Ditto the 14 North Carolina football players who got embroiled in a scandal two years ago.

When I asked Stacey Osburn at the N.C.A.A. whether white players ever had such problems with the N.C.A.A., she insisted they did. Yet somehow, the high-profile cases almost always seem to involve blacks.

Could it be that the N.C.A.A. rules are inherently discriminatory, or that its investigators are primed to think the worst of talented black football and basketball players, even before an inquiry?

Nah. Must just be a coincidence.


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