Monday, December 24, 2007

Time's "Thing" of the Year: Like who cares?

There was a time – many years ago – when Time magazine was an “institution” (Henry Luce, etc.) and I used to read it from cover to cover. I even received an award from ex-editor Henry Grunwald when I graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism and was offered a job in their “Discover” magazine (didn’t take it). In any case, since those days Time was gradually transformed into the older and serious brother of People magazine, and now it has basically become the Lenin Mausoleum of American journalism. Which begs the question: who really cares which person or thing (remember “You”?) Time chooses at the end of the year? Time has decided to put Vladimir Putin on the cover this year. Wow! I don’t plan on reading the reasons for their choice. I guess that it’s something along the lines of Russia turning into a renewed “threat” to the West? Putin=Peter the Great=Stalin? Cold War II? My “thing” of 2007 is the move by Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and an “identified Middle East investor” to inject a few billions of dollars into the to the financially squeezed UBS, a leading Swiss bank and Europe’s fourth largest. It signals an historic process in which the balance of global economic power if beginning to shift. And apropos magazines: There was also a time when I enjoyed reading the Christmas season’s issue of the Economist which used to include very clever items about such issues as, say, why do midgets tend to vote for conservative parties. This year the issuelooks and reads like a recycled National Geographic

Charlie Wilson's Wonderful War

A few years ago I had assigned the late 60 Minutes producer George Crile’s Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times for one of my political science classes. It’s a great read. But I was also hoping that the book about the alcoholic, (druggie?), womanizing and corrupt Democrat who represented Texas’s Second Congressional District, a Bill Clinton-type minus Yale/Oxford, and the “adventures” he and a loud-mouth and fat CIA operator and a Born-Again Reaganite and over-sexed socialite from Texas had shared during the twilight years of the Cold War supporting Osama bin Ladin and his gang would help demonstrate to my students one of the arguments that classical liberals/libertarians make that “war is the health of the state,” and in the case of Charlie and his pals, that wars help you raise election campaign money, get re-elected, get laid and party until it’s the end of the Soviet Union. Indeed, if you read the book or see the new movie with Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Seymour Hoffman proves once again that he is a fantastic actor), you learn how Wilson, who in a world without politics would have probably been (like Clinton) a successful insurance salesman, exploits the mess that the Soviets had gotten themselves in Afghanistan (yes. I know what that reminds you of…) to divert attention from the federal investigation (conducted by no other than our pal Rudy Giuliani) of his alleged crimes and misdemeanors by leading the effort to help the Afghani mujahidin kill a lot of Russians (mainly by using stingers to shoot down Soviet helicopters). Afghanistan gets Charlie everything that a Washington politician only fantasizes about – allies in the bureaucracy and Congress; financial backing from domestic interest groups and foreign partners (including then Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Saudis and the Israel Lobby) and a lot of television coverage which helps Charlie raise money and have a lot of good time while jet setting, drinking and bedding babes, and transform a small-time southern politician into a national hero. I admit. The unintended consequence of all of that was that it helped weaken the Soviet Empire. And. yes, it also helped to produce 9/11 which ended up not being a lot of fun. And btw. Charlie, as far as I know, still now makes a living (in addition to the fat Congressional pension) as a registered lobbyist for the government of Pakistan. Who knows? Maybe one day there will be a movie called "Paul Wolfowitz's War." But who'll play Shaha Ali Riza in the movie?