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Putin On the Pressure

The Weekly Standard on why it’s time to stop humoring the Russian president.

Weekly Standard, Oct. 23 An article contends that it’s time for the United States to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over his increasingly undemocratic rule and anti-Western foreign policy. Since taking office Putin has slowly cast aside democratic principals in favor of authoritarian tactics such as renationalizing the economy, cracking down on freedom of speech, and limiting parliament’s power. The writer argues that Putin’s cozying up to China, distancing Russia from the West’s sphere of influence, and his aggression toward Georgia indicate that the man who called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” is bent on “reviving one feature after another of a police state.” Fred Barnes tells Republicans to steady themselves for bad news on Election Night. Their only hope to hold on to hemorrhaging congressional seats is for Karl Rove to engineer the capture of Osama Bin Laden right before Nov. 7, Barnes counsels. “Rove is clever, but not that clever,” he laments.— Z.K.

The New Yorker, Oct. 23 A piece discusses water shortages in the world’s poorest regions. Despite major breakthroughs in irrigation and water delivery technology, “nearly half the people in the world don’t have the kind of clean water and sanitation services that were available two thousand years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.” In India, 40 million people live in slums with no running water. The most popular solutions, such as dams and desalination, require energy and infrastructure unavailable in many rural towns. Water policy expert S. Janakarajan thinks India needs to do a better job collecting rainwater. “Everyone wants to solve this problem with smart technology,” he said. “We are more likely to solve it by simply being smart.” A piece looks at Renán Almendárez Coello, whose seven-hour Spanish morning show, El Cucuy de la Mañana (The Bogeyman of the Morning), rules the Los Angeles airwaves. The show ranges from raucous to raunchy to drippingly sentimental, but Coello’s priority now is to mobilize Latino voters.— C.B.

Time and Newsweek, Oct. 23 A Time piece weighs the likelihood of a Barack Obama presidential run in 2008. On the campaign trail, voters greet the Illinois senator as “the political equivalent of a rainbow—a sudden preternatural event inspiring awe and ecstasy.” He bridges racial and ideological gaps with ease. And when asked about his candidacy, Obama’s response, however dodgy, is “definitely not a no.” But his noncommittal balancing act—a style that has worked so far—may become a liability on the national stage: “You have to convey strength,” said one Chicago politician, “and it’s hard to do that when you’re giving on-the-other-hand answers.” A Newsweek article follows Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California on the verge of her likely accession to House speaker. Her disciplined, audience-tested style mimics that of her GOP detractors. She fights Republican attempts to paint her as a liberal villain by avoiding the limelight: “Two thirds of the public have absolutely no idea who I am,” she says. “I see that as a strength.”

On North Korea: A sprawling article in Newsweek chronicles the history of U.S.-North Korea relations that led to last week’s nuclear test. The relationship peaked under President Clinton, capped by Kim’s genial 2000 meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung wishes Bush had followed through: “I am confident that if President Bush had [pursued] the agreement sought by President Clinton the North Korean issue would have been resolved, and I am very sorry about that.” While the detonation itself was “little more than a nuclear popgun,” the world’s top proliferators could still do serious damage. Even if sanctions hurt its economy, Pyongyang could “resort to illicit funds instead—the kind that can come from WMD sales.” A Time piece contends that North Korea’s nuclear test changes the global playing field for the worse. Mutually assured destruction is no longer a deterrent, with an “unpredictable host of Bomb throwers” like Iran, Pakistan, and al-Qaida ready to join the nuclear club. Former Defense Department official Graham Allison calls the test “bad news for the country, bad news for the region, bad news for the world.”—C.B.

New Republic, Oct. 23 The cover piece argues that America’s taste for expansion is nothing new, but rather part of its DNA. Despite our purported discomfort with power and wealth, American expansionist tendencies “are not some aberration from our true nature. That is our nature.” What crazy ideology made us this way? Plain old liberalism: “[T]he most important foreign policy statement in U.S. history was not George Washington’s farewell address or the Monroe Doctrine but the Declaration of Independence and the enlightenment ideals it placed at the heart of American nationhood.” A piece revisits the post-9/11 hagiographies of Donald Rumsfeld in light of the defense secretary’s recent decline in popularity. Several profiles emphasized Rumsfeld’s virility, especially in contrast to Clinton and his “pear-shaped” entourage. One narrative offered a “wholehearted endorsement of Rumsfeld’s hallucinatory worldview” during the Iraq invasion, yet ignored his role in the calamitous aftermath.— C.B.

Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary’s rise as “a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement.” Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking “small steps” without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the “brashly confident leader of health-care reform”—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged “interactive drama” that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the “real lack of meaning” in video games. But there’s just one problem: “Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun.”— C.B.

Economist, Oct. 14 An editorial urges North Korea’s neighbors to sacrifice “short-term stability” for long-term security and impose sanctions on Kim Jong-il. Neither South Korea nor China wishes for the flood of refugees that would result from a regime collapse. But the international community must penalize North Korea, the editors argue, lest it appear weak to aspiring nuclear powers like Iran. A piece suggests North Korea might collapse even without harsh sanctions. Still recovering from a famine that killed 3 million people in the 1990s, the country faces an increasing risk of food shortages, especially with half of its food aid coming from China and South Korea. A piece examines Wal-Mart’s recent decisions to sell generic drugs at a low cost and to provide employees with high-deductible health insurance—a move that is becoming popular among major firms. Critics say high deductibles burden sicker workers, while supporters claim they “encourage consumers to become price-conscious for regular care.”— C.B.

New York, Oct. 16
A cover piece on Jon Stewart acolyte and Republican Party tormentor Stephen Colbert sets up the comic as not just a political satirist but a possible political phenomenon. Colbert’s performance at this year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner may have bombed with the Beltway establishment, but it struck a chord with many Democrats, the writer claims. Could Colbert become the liberals’ new talking head? The author believes so: “[H]e’s become something very close to what he’s parodying, a kind of Bill O’Reilly for the angry left.” The prospect of Karl Rove keeping his mythic status as “Bush’s brain” isn’t great, according to an article. Republicans who once worshiped at the altar of Rove are grumbling about his hubris, policy blunders, and tendency to take sole credit for the party’s achievements. But if Republicans manage to keep their majority in the House, then “Rove will be restored to demigod status,” says political observer Larry Sabato.— Z.K.

New York Times Magazine, Oct. 15 A cover story examines the battle over immigration in Arizona. Despite the state’s reputation for leaning right on border issues, Republican money is now going to moderate candidates rather than hard-liners, who are considered “beatable.” The divide pits “those who want to systematize the country’s widening dependence on foreign labor” in the John McCain mold against “those who want to slam the door.” In 2005, President Bush embraced a border-tightening plan proposed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. Then last month when McCain endorsed Republican House candidate Randy Graf, a hard-liner, “his endorsement was silent on Graf’s anti-immigrant stand.” A piece profiles Wang Hui, a leading intellectual member of China’s New Left, which proposes a “Chinese alternative” neoliberalism. While many Chinese dissidents push for modernization, Wang fears such reforms will leave the peasants and workers behind. Free markets, he argues, could easily result in upheaval: “When radical marketization makes people lose their sense of security, the demand for order and intervention from above is inevitable.”— C.B.  

The New Yorker, Oct. 16
A piece examines the unpredictable politics of Rupert Murdoch. The chief executive of News Corp., which owns Fox News and the New York Post, has appeared at fund-raisers for Hillary Clinton and contributes to the Clinton Foundation’s climate initiative, prompting fear among conservatives that he’s swinging left. Even after the Post spent the ‘90s pillorying President Clinton as “horndog-in-chief,” Murdoch and the former president have become friends. It’s a convenient relationship for both, as Clinton courts conservatives for Hillary and Murdoch nurses his media empire: “I’m always interested in new ideas,” he says. “It’s what keeps me young.” A piece discusses the spate of post-9/11 conspiracy theories. One online documentary claims planes never actually hit the Twin Towers but that Wall Street speculators detonated a bomb to upset markets. Nicholas Lemann writes that the conspiracy theorist “mistakenly empowers particular, and evil, forces with the ability to determine the course of events, and it misses the messiness and contingency with which life actually unfolds.”— C.B.

Weekly Standard, Oct. 16 Charles Krauthammer cries hypocrisy in the handling of the Mark Foley page scandal. He points out that in 1983, when former Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds’ affair with a 17-year-old male page was discovered, Studds was censured for the consensual relationship and went on to serve in the House until the 1990s. Krauthammer asks why Foley and the Republican leadership are held to a different standard. A rehash of past congressional sexual escapades concludes that “it is better to be a carnivorous congressman from Massachusetts than from Florida or Illinois, and that the quality of congressional sexual misconduct has much to do—surprise!—with politics.” A piece answers why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always smiling: He’s dreaming about annihilating Israel. “Ahmadinejad has a coherent ideological vision in which the call to wipe out Israel is no ordinary manifestation of anti-Semitism. Instead, it is the beckoning of an apocalyptic event that will usher in a millennium of bliss for all believers,” the writer claims.— Z.K.