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Pity the Oil Speculators

The Weekly Standard and Newsweek defend the much-maligned group.

Weekly Standard, July 7 A piece argues that “mustache-twirling speculators” aren’t to blame for the current oil crisis. The investors labeled with the pejorative term speculators actually “play a salubrious role in the market for oil.” But since “how the dollar gets strong or weak is understood even more poorly than what ‘speculators’ do, a crafty politician can blame pretty much anyone he wants.” An article considers which presidential candidate appeals more to Catholic voters and concludes that “questions of support for the war, the troops, and patriotism may well end up cutting in McCain’s favor, not Obama’s.” But in the end, Catholics are not united as a block: “Conservative Catholics will continue to attack Obama on abortion, embryo destruction, cloning, same-sex marriage, and the judiciary—while liberal Catholics will continue to attack McCain on the war, torture, immigration, and climate change.”

Newsweek, July 14 A piece in the “Big Thoughts” issue compares “exact coevals” (they were born on the same date) Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin to determine which man was more important. Though they “were both revolutionaries, in the sense that both men upended realities that prevailed when they were born,” Lincoln ultimately is more important to history because he was “sui generis.” While “there was a certain inevitability to Darwin’s theory,” without Linclon’s presidency, “there is no telling what might have happened to the country.” An article reflects on recent studies that indicate having children might negatively affect people’s happiness. One concluded that “no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.” An op-ed echoes the Weekly Standard’s defense of speculators, arguing that if politicians want to fault someone for high commodities prices, “they should start with themselves.”

Vanity Fair, August 2008 A piece surveys the Bear Stearns meltdown to reveal that “more than a few veteran Wall Streeters” think an SEC investigation will “uncover evidence that Bear was the victim of … a malicious attack brought by so-called short-sellers, the vultures of Wall Street, who make bets that a firm’s stock will go down.” A lengthy Clinton campaign post-mortem suggests that chief strategist Mark Penn “proved to be an old-fashioned sexist” because he “did not appreciate the strength of her character as a woman.” According to the piece, “He and Bill Clinton insisted that she not run as a woman. They ran her as tougher than any man. They also put her out in front as her own attack dog, never an appealing role for any candidate.” Christopher Hitchens recounts his experience of being water-boarded. He writes, “The ‘board’ is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered.”

New York Review of Books, July 17
In an embed piece, Michael Massing delivers somber news about Iraq: “The breakdown in the Army has advanced so far that in a mere thirteen hours, I could see the rising dissatisfaction, anger, and rebellion within it.” He also observes that the “most paradoxical” result of the Iraq invasion is “the way it has boosted Iran’s position in the region.” By taking out Saddam, “the United States removed from power Iran’s mortal enemy” and, perhaps more damaging, “[t]he electoral system the Bush administration devised helped bring to power a Shiite majority with long-standing cultural, religious, and economic ties to Iran.” An essay examines the difficulties presented by the historical study of humor. Laughter, “like sex and eating, [is] an absolutely universal human phenomenon, and at the same time something that is highly culturally and chronologically specific.”

The New Yorker, July 7-14 A piece by Seymour Hersh investigates the White House’s latest maneuverings toward war with Iran. The Bush administration’s “reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities.” He also reports that at a meeting with the Democratic congressional caucus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, according to a senator present, that a “preemptive strike against Iran” would “create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” (Gates’ spokesperson “dispute[s] the senator’s characterization.”) An article explores China’s exploding interest in classical music. Though many in the music world hail China as the savior of the genre, it “is hobbled by commercial and political pressures. The creative climate, with its system of punishments and rewards, still resembles that of the late-period Soviet Union.”