Jacob Laksin

Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine.

Anna Parashkevova, RIP

2010 June 6

One of the great perks of being associated with the Washington D.C.-based Phillips Foundation is meeting young, enterprising journalists setting out to make their mark in the world. Anna Parashkevova (Anna Moya by marriage), was very much in that category. Born in Bulgaria, she immigrated to the United States with her family, went on to attend Dartmouth College, and began what by all accounts was a promising career as a foreign correspondent. I met Anna just once, and found her an engaging and charming conversationalist. Embarrassingly given my Russian roots, her Russian was perhaps even better than mine. She talked most fondly about her work – she was then a correspondent for Russia’s Russia Today television channel – and about her Cuban husband. It’s doubly tragic then that Anna’s life and career were cut short last week, when she was murdered by her husband in their Brussels home. He has since turned himself in to the authorities. I’m devastated for her family and extend my deepest condolences to them. And I’m sorry to hear that a promising journalistic career has ended much too soon. Requiescat in pace.

To read more about Anna, visit here. To view some of her television work, click here.

“Iron Man” and the Cultural Contradiction of Liberalism

2010 May 29

My former colleague Elizabeth Ames has a sharp and provocative piece up at FoxNews on the Left’s contradictory view of capitalism. She cites the example of the recent “Iron Man” movie sequel, whose hero, Tony Stark, is the kind of high-living capitalist that the big-government Left typically reviles. As Elizabeth puts it, “Tony Stark exemplifies a central contradiction of liberalism: Mavericks like him are heroes to Big Government liberals – but only on the screen.” In the real world, meanwhile, the Left prefers candidates that champion government power rather than anti-establishment underdogs like Sarah Palin and the Tea Parties. read more…

From Prison to Professor

2010 April 14

From the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up file: Convicted felon and disgraced attorney Bill Lerach is scheduled to teach a course next year at the University of California at Irvine. Lerach was recently released from prison after pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge for giving kickbacks to lead plaintiffs in class action suits. So, what will this corrupt hack be teaching? Naturally, a course called “Regulation of Free Market Capitalism — Why Have We Failed?” Lerach is not the least bit repentant about his past and he insists that if he had to do it all over again “I would not have done anything differently.” I suppose UC’s reasoning in this hire is that no one is better to lecture on the failures of free-market capitalism then the people who give it a bad name. I’m reminded of an adage that the late Bill Buckley was fond of citing: The problem with socialism is socialism; the problem with capitalism is capitalists. We see it yet again.

How Not to Help the Poor

2010 April 13

A few years back, New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg came up with an anti-poverty program that could sound practical only to those accustomed to buying their way out of trouble. Instead of, say, encouraging economic independence and fostering self-sufficiency among New York’s underclass, the administration offered to bribe them. The phenomenally patronizing idea was that if you paid the poor they would do the right thing and stop being poor. Payments ranged from $25 for attending a parent-teacher meeting to $50 for getting your child a library card to $100 for visiting the dentist. Parents and children split a $400 payout if the child graduated from high school, while students who passed a state Regents exam could make a cool $600.

Three years and bout $40 million in private donations later, the results are in: With one small exception, the program is a demonstrable failure. It turns out that adding the incentive of a cash payment had no effect on school attendance or educational performance for children in primary or middle school and only made a difference in high school for pupils who were already above average – that is, who had initiative and understood the benefits of academic success as a long-term investment in their future, not as a short-term monetary gain. But having seen the program fail in practice, its architects are now defending it in theory. It was, supposedly, a valiant effort on which the jury is out. If you want a more sober assessment, you could do no better than to read Heather MacDonald’s devastating report card on the program in City Journal. As MacDonald shows, the program was indeed a failure – and was doomed to be one from the start. read more…

Meet the new Palestinians — same as the old Palestinians

2010 April 7

The New York Times today reports on a hopeful-sounding development: After years of anti-Israel violence have failed to improve their plight, the Palestinians in the West Bank are trying a new approach. So, what are they doing? Building their economy, reining in corruption, marginalizing extremists, curbing anti-Israel incitement? Not exactly:

Goods produced in Israeli settlements have been burned in public demonstrations. The Palestinian prime minister has entered West Bank areas officially off limits to his authority, to plant trees and declare the land part of a future state.

Curiously, the Obama administration, so quick to condemn Israel for building settlements on disputed territory in Jerusalem, has yet to condemn this Palestinian campaign to establish facts on the ground in the absence of a negotiated settlement. Just as curious, the Palestinians have started a boycott campaign against Israeli products – even as they and their apologists have taken to claiming that Israel’s “blockade” on certain goods entering Palestinian territories is primarily to blame for their misfortunes. How strange that the Palestinians should adopt the very measures that they insist are responsible for their economic woes: read more…

Gorby the Democrat

2010 March 14

Mikhail Gorbachev is a living negation of the axiom that history is written by the winners. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, whose existence he tried desperately to salvage, Gorbachev has improbably recast himself as a heroic democrat who, however imperfectly, brought down the edifice of communist repression and now champions democracy for his native Russia. Gorby’s revisionism can be wincingly embarrassing, but it does not necessarily tarnish his pro-democratic campaign – especially since his is one of the rare prominent Russian voices making the case for political reform.

Gorbachev’s op-ed in the Times today is a case in point, provided you can get past the self-serving historical exegesis. For instance, he depicts himself and foreign minister Andrei Gromyko as anti-ideologues and principled reformers, conveniently skirting past the fact that both were, until the bitter end, hidebound communists who simply hoped to return the Soviet Union to its foundational, Leninist roots but who failed to foresee the cascading consequences of their modest reforms.

Never mind that for the moment. What Gorbachev lacks in honesty about his own historical role he compensates for in an importantly candid critique of Vladimir Putin and the current Russian government. In essence, he argues that Putin’s Russia is starting to look very much like the Soviet Union of old. That is not an original view, exactly, but its airing, even in an American newspaper, has become an auspicious occasion as Putin’s government has silenced or marginalized what there was of a free Russian press. read more…

Massa the Martyr?

2010 March 10

Writing below, Matthew Vadum generously accepts embattled Rep. Eric Massa’s claim that he was forced to retire from Congress due to his opposition to ObamaCare. While this is indeed Massa’s current self-serving explanation, I for one don’t find it credible, not least because it has shifted several times now: He had initially claimed that he was resigning for health reasons related to his cancer treatment.

There’s also no mystery about what Massa is being accused of. By his own admission, Massa “groped” at least three men who worked for him; there are also allegations that he had inappropriate physical contact with an intern. I think it’s safe to say Massa’s insistence that there was “nothing sexual” in his advances will not put that matter to rest. Massa’s sexual preferences are a private matter, but sexual harassment is a legal issue, and if that is what occurred here then Massa’s posturing as a victim of a White House-orchestrated conspiracy is so much diversionary drivel. read more…

Biden’s Dinner Diplomacy

2010 March 10

As a presidential candidate, Obama won plaudits from media and political sophisticates for his promise to meet “without preconditions” with America’s enemies. This was to be a break with the putative “cowboy diplomacy” of the Bush years. Obama didn’t get around to explaining how his administration would conduct diplomacy with America’s allies, but now we have a good example from Vice President Biden, who along with his wife Jill showed up more than an hour and a half late to a dinner at the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This snub was apparently intended to show the Obama administration’s disapproval of Israel’s decision this week to go forward with housing construction in East Jerusalem. read more…

Mitch Daniels on the State of the Nation

2010 March 8

Thanks to the good folks at the Hudson Institute in New York, I had the chance to hear Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels deliver some remarks today on the somewhat ambitious topic of “the state of the nation.” (Daniels joked that he would have preferred a more modest theme to expound upon, for instance “the universe and its prospects.”) As governor, Daniels has built up a reputation as a conservative policy wonk and pragmatist who has found innovative ways to streamline government and cut bureaucracy while eschewing partisanship. As the Republican Party searches for its next standard bearer, it’s perhaps not surprising that some influential conservatives – most notably the New York Times’ Ross Douthat – are talking him up as a possible presidential nominee in 2012. read more…

Yes, Looting is a Crime

2010 March 7

It’s a good thing we have post-modern, post-moral professors, or else some might get the crazy notion that looting is a bad thing. From a weekend piece in the Times, apropos the looting that followed last week’s earthquake in Chile, we get these two nuanced views on the morality of – let us dispense with the niceties – collective theft:

Tricia Wachtendorf, associate director of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center, objects to even the use of the words “looting” or “crime” to describe taking essential goods, noting that nobody objected to firemen taking water from stores near Ground Zero to rinse the World Trade Center’s smoke from their eyes. read more…

The New Left and the New Right

2010 March 5

David Brooks has a provocative column today likening today’s Tea Party movement to the New Left that emerged in the 60s counterculture. Brooks is right about some of the outward similarities: the populist rhetoric; the grassroots activism; the disdain for political elites; and, ultimately, the somewhat diffuse policy agenda defined more by what it stands against than what it stands for. With a nod to our own David Horowitz, a former New Left icon whose books are now big with the Tea Party set (among others!), Brooks even slyly suggests a certain intellectual symmetry between the two social movements.

read more…

Troubling Marriage: Child Brides and Jihadist Terror

2010 March 4

It’s fair to say that Nicholas Kristoff isn’t anyone’s idea of a conservative, but his excellent column today picks up on a theme that incensed some on the Left when it was earlier explored by Middle East scholar Martin Kramer (I wrote about that controversy yesterday).

Kristoff’s column is actually about the moving plight of a 12-year old Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali (pictured above), who at the age of 10 was forced into a marriage with a 30-something man who violated and abused her. Against all odds, she became the rare case of a Muslim child bride successfully winning a divorce from her husband. That story is told in her internationally selling book, bracingly titled I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Nujood’s story is compelling on its own terms, but Kristoff also makes a larger point. It’s no coincidence, he argues, that Yemen is home to child marriage and a burgeoning hotspot for al-Qaeda and affiliated jihadists. read more…

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