Tuesday, April 30, 2002
Sounds good? It isn't.Last week, the Washington Times carried an op/ed piece by Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kyl, promoting their Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment. (Or, rather, the "Feinstein-Kyl Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment." I know Washington is all about promoting oneself, but isn't it a little unseemly to name a proposal for a constitutional amendment eponymously?)
We need a victims' rights constitutional amendment because of people such as Roberta Roper, Sharon Christian, Ross and Betty Parks and Virginia Bell. Ms. Roper was denied the opportunity to watch the trial of her daughter's murderer; Ms. Christian was not informed of her rapist's release from custody and ran into him two weeks after the attack; Mr. and Mrs. Parks were never consulted regarding a seven-year delay in the trial of their daughter's killer; and Ms. Bell suffered debilitating and expensive injuries from a mugging but received only $387 in restitution.All those sound like unpleasant experiences for the people involved, but it trivializes the constitution to suggest that it be amended to prevent them. To suggest that it's a good policy to notify victims when their attackers are being released is one thing; to suggest that someone should have a constitutional right to be so notified is quite another. The Constitution is a document to establish and limit the authority of government, not to hand out goodies. To say that criminal defendants have constitutional rights, but "crime victims have absolutely none" is just demagoguery. Crime victims have the same rights that criminal defendants do.
Indeed, it's not even clear what a constitutional amendment would accomplish in the instances described by the senators; most of them sound like bureaucratic failures, not constitutional ones. Indeed, as Feinstein and Kyl indicate, laws guaranteeing victims many "rights" already exist.
Moreover, mere state law has proven inadequate to protect victims' rights. For example, a U.S. Justice Department-sponsored report found that, even in states with strong legal protections for victims' rights, many victims are denied those rights. This report concluded that state safeguards are insufficient to guarantee victims' rights, and that only a federal constitutional amendment can ensure that crime victims receive the rights they are due.See? If "victims are denied those rights," it's because someone isn't doing his job, isn't enforcing the law. A constitutional amendment isn't magic; it still needs to be enforced just like any other law. If the Feinstein/Kyl logic is that the states ignore the law, then doesn't that suggest bigger problems with the government than whether there are victims' rights bills? And don't think that the government is incapable of ignoring constitutional amendments; from racial preferences to gun control, politicians treat the constitution as a mere suggestion when it suits them to do so.
So is there any real point here, other than pandering?
Can I just get some Flintstones vitamins?Another victory for free speech, as the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote overturned a ban on advertising certain types of drugs. The government's seemingly indefensible position was that by keeping information about "compounded drugs" -- essentially, drugs custom-made for an individual customer -- from the public, that this would protect the public health. The logic, in part, was that if customers didn't know about the drugs, then customers couldn't ask about the drugs, and thus customers who didn't need the drugs wouldn't get them. But as the court held:
If the First Amendment means anything, it means that regulating speech must be a last — not first — resort. Yet here it seems to have been the first strategy the government thought to try.Given that the law already restricted the sale of compounded drugs to people who needed them, it would seem difficult to argue that keeping them ignorant serves any additional useful function.
Kudos to Eugene Volokh, whose analysis of the free speech proclivities of the Justices continues to hold true. "Liberal" Justice Steven Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, in favor of restricting speech, just as Volokh's work suggests would be likely.
This ruling, while relatively insigificant itself, is yet another strong signal that the court is unlikely to look favorably on the advertising prohibitions contained in the McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan campaign finance "reform" bill. Historically, pornography and commercial speech have been the least-protected, first amendment-wise, and yet this court has now ruled, in the space of a month's time, in favor of freedom in each of these areas. Doesn't look too good for McCain.
Monday, April 29, 2002
Paul Krugman, eat your heart outStephanie Salter, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a genius. She points out that the Bush Administration keeps publicizing captured Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah's warnings/rumors about future terrorist plans, even though those threats may not be credible. Some might think that the Bush administration was just being cautious, or that Tom Ridge was being self-aggrandizing (a la Gray Davis last year), or that individual administration employees were participating in the great Washington sport of leaking to the press. But not Stephanie Salter. Salter has figured out the Secret Bush Plot. (We know it's a Secret Bush Plot, because Salter is careful to mention the "hijacked presidential election.")
So why, given who Zubaydah is -- al Qaeda's chief of operations and a sworn enemy of the United States -- is the Bush administration so eager to leak his every utterance? And to the hated U.S. news media, no less?Good thinking, Stephanie. Clearly, publicizing rumors that are quickly revealed to be false is a way for the Bush administration to get people to believe "anything the White House sells." (Next: Salter reveals that the Ford Explorer rollover problem is just a scheme by Ford to get free publicity.)
Cry me a riverBill Clinton is having trouble raising money for his presidential library. He's short of his goal and hasn't yet collected the money that was already pledged. Or maybe he isn't having any trouble at all:
A spokeswoman for Mr. Clinton, Julia Payne, said that despite the concerns about the pace of the campaign, the former president has not had any trouble raising money or getting commitments for his library. Instead, he has devoted very little time in the last 15 months to the pursuit, focusing instead on raising money for dozens of other causes. Ms. Payne also predicted that Mr. Clinton would ultimately have no trouble raising the entire sum.This is worth reporting? "All the News That's Fit to Print" is getting sillier and sillier. Either way -- whether Clinton's having trouble or not -- who cares? Why is the New York Times giving Bill Clinton's fundraising efforts free advertising?
So now what?Both the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders agreed to a U.S. proposal to end the siege of Arafat. Arafat wouldn't agree to hand over prisoners to Israel, and, given his history, Israel wouldn't trust Arafat to keep people in prison. So now the prisoners will stay in Arafat's custody, but American and British observers will monitor the situation to make sure they stay in prison. In exchange for allowing this, Arafat gets freedom of movement within the West Bank and Gaza.
The conventional wisdom is that this is supposed to provide Israel with some breathing room in its attempt to hold off the U.N. inquisition over the Jenin massacre hoax. Maybe it will. But since the U.N. has shown itself ready, willing, and able to blame Israel no matter what the situation, that seems a weak approach. Maybe it's just a way to hold Arafat more accountable for terrorist attacks like the one at Adora on Saturday. The Palestinian-apologist argument has been that Arafat can't be blamed for terrorist attacks because he was impotent as long as Israel was isolating him. Well, now he won't be isolated, and won't have that excuse.
That's certainly how President Bush sees it:
President Bush said yesterday he expects Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "condemn and thwart terrorist activities" within the next 72 hours. Top StoriesYeah, and then he'll cure cancer and land a manned spaceflight on Mars.
It's hard to see what Israel has gained from this exchange. If history shows us anything, it's that Arafat never keeps his promises -- but that this failure by Arafat never helps Israel win the support of the so-called international community. So now Israel doesn't have the prisoners they want (unless Britain and the U.S. plan to keep their monitors there indefinitely), and Israel doesn't have Arafat. All Israel has is the quixotic hope that Arafat will suddenly turn into a statesman. When that doesn't happen, Sharon will be able to say, "I told you so" -- but that's not going to be much consolation.
Sunday, April 28, 2002
Multilateral is French for America-bashingSome diplomats are annoyed at the United States because we keep using our influence in international affairs. The United States successfully pushed to have Jose Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare, removed from his post. This comes a week after the United States' successful effort to replace the head of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thus "prompting concern among some countries about the way Washington is able to influence the fate of international officials who fall foul of its policies." Uh, isn't that the way it's supposed to work? Is the United States supposed to support international officials who don't act in our interests? Well, if you believe the French, the answer is apparently yes:
Some delegates shared Bustani's disquiet. "Multilateralism is based on the independence of international organizations and their leaders," says Anne Gazeau-Secret, the ambassador of France, which abstained in Monday's vote.Doesn't that just sum up the attitude of the French so perfectly? Bureaucrats are supposed to be "independent." They're not supposed to be responsive to their constituents. Trying to get them to be accountable would destroy multilateralism.
Incidentally, reading complaints such as the one above, one might get the impression that the United States sent in Navy Seals to arrest Bustani and remove him from office. In fact, the OPCW held a vote, which Bustani lost, 48-7. Uh, that sounds like multilateralism to me. (And the seven who voted in favor of Bustani? In addition to his home country of Brazil, the freedom-loving states of Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, and Russia. Is the United States supposed to be apologetic for disagreeing with this bunch?)
But it gets even more hypocritical: some complained because they alleged that the United States was using money to sway the outcome of the vote. (The U.S. hasn't yet paid half of its 20% share of the organization's $60 million budget.) So, according to the multilaterists, the United States should pay far more than its share but not have any special influence over the workings of the organization. Say, whatever happened to no taxation without representation, anyway?
I know you are, but what am I?Charles Johnson provides a sampling of what it would sound like if American diplomats talked to Arab countries the way Arab diplomats talk to us.
Who would have guessed it?Somehow, I missed this story this week -- perhaps because it was buried in the paper -- but Tunisian authorities have finally admitted that the explosion at the Djerba synogogue two weeks ago was a terrorist attack, after initially claiming, implausibly, that it was a routine accident.
After the attack, a group directly linked in the past to al Qaeda, the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites, asserted responsibility. Authorities are taking the claim seriously because a faxed statement by the group to two London-based Arabic newspapers contained the name of the truck driver before authorities had released it.While this is hardly an unexpected development, it's much more significant than the limited coverage makes it seem. Not just because, as the paper says, "it would be the first completed by [Al Qaeda] outside Central Asia since Sept. 11." But because it exposes, more clearly than any words could, the lie about terrorism being the fault of the victims.
There are so many, particularly on the left, who claim that Muslim terrorism is caused by American foreign policy, or Israeli occupation, or both. Some of those who say this are motivated by anti-Semitism, and some by reflexive anti-Americanism. And some are just naive. These people want to justify homicide bombers by saying that the poor Palestinians just don't have any choice because they don't have F-15s and tanks. But this Tunisian atrocity wasn't an attack on Israel or the United States. This wasn't an attack by a poor starving refugee. This was a premeditated, well-financed attack on a Jewish target.
This is what Israel is fighting. This is what America is fighting. And these fights won't be won by negotiation or appeasement. They'll be won only when Islamo-fascism is so discredited by defeat that liberal democracy is seen as the only viable alternative.
Saturday, April 27, 2002
Send in the United Nations "investigators"Palestinian terrorists (or, as the AP calls them, "gunmen") killed five Israelis and wounded more than a dozen others in an attack on the West Bank town of Adora. I expect that the "international community" will condemn the Adora killings as quickly and as forcefully as they condemned the Israeli incursion into Jenin. I also expect Ed McMahon to show up at my door with a check.
Friday, April 26, 2002
Contrasting attitudesA Palestinian man was accused of threatening the use of anthrax, after being seen apparently throwing white powder into a mailbox during the height of the anthrax attacks last fall. An Arab immigrant accused of anthrax attacks -- I wouldn't have given good odds on the outcome. But on Thursday he was acquitted of all charges. It just shows how out of date the worldview of the left -- the assumption that the United States is a violent, racist, knee-jerk country -- really is. Even President Bush bought into this, at least a little, rushing to warn us after 9/11 not to overreact to the attacks and take out our anger on Middle Easterners. But maybe Americans are just a little more tolerant than that. Unlike, say, Palestinians, who lynch suspected collaborators without trial.
Are they crazy?President Bush is likely to endorse a bill currently making its way through Congress that mandates so-called mental health parity in insurance coverage. The Washington Post, as is typical, frames this as a debate between Republicans and business on the one hand and Democrats and "mental health advocates" on the other. (Because, after all, anybody who objects to big government hates mental health, as well.)
The main opposition has come from key GOP lawmakers in the House, who object to the higher cost the requirement would impose on employers.Actually, the requirement wouldn't impose a higher cost on employers. It would impose a higher cost on employees. Employers aren't going to absorb the costs out of the goodness of their hearts; if the non-salary costs of employees increase, then employers will reduce salaries to compensate. Or they'll hire fewer employees. Either way, it's hardly a victory for employees.
The Post describes the primary debate as being over the increased cost of such additional insurance coverage. Is there nobody in Congress who actually thinks it's a bad idea to be micromanaging health insurance, regardless of the costs? If employers and insurers want to offer mental health coverage, let them. But why should Congress tell an employer what sort of insurance to offer? Whatever happened to letting people choose for themselves?
One can predict the chain of events to follow: Insurance costs will rise. Fewer Americans will have insurance. More and more politicians will campaign on the "Government needs to provide
And the worst part is, the people who really need mental health treatment the most are likely to be unemployed, so this proposed law would do little for them.
Still wobbly after all these yearsWhile researching a minor point, I happened to come across this account of Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech. Guess who was opposed to Reagan including the powerful line in his speech? (Besides the French, I mean.) The usual suspects at the State Department, of course -- the same naysayers who thought that Dubya's "Axis of Evil" was too provocative. But also our current Secretary of State -- then-National Security Advisor Colin Powell, the man who later let Saddam get away, the man who now refuses to call Arafat a terrorist. Anybody seeing a pattern here?
Calling a spade a tool of some sort, maybeGlenn Reynolds pointed out this Associated Press story about the investigation of Michael Bellesiles. But what I noted was this ridiculously wimpy version of events:
But scholars and critics also became skeptical. Bellesiles has been accused of ideological bias, selective scholarship and misleading statements. Some corrections already have been made in the paperback edition, and Bellesiles' editor at Knopf, Jane Garrett, has said that "other corrections will be made in subsequent printings."Actually, Bellesiles has been accused of fraud, of making up numbers from sources that don't exist and then lying about it. That's not quite the same as "misleading statements."
Thursday, April 25, 2002
Two heads are better than oneWell, that may be true, but two bureaucracies are not better than one. And yet, the House of Representatives is set to turn the Immigration and Naturalization Service from one agency into two, and George Bush appears to be willing to support this approach. The theory is that the two functions of the INS -- providing services to immigrants and enforcing immigration law -- are in conflict, and that they should be handled by different agencies. Great. But how is that going to help solve the problem that the people working at the agency are incompetent civil servants who can't get fired, even if they give student visas to dead hijackers? How is that going to help solve the problem that the agency is using 30 year old computer systems that can't talk to each other?
It's not as if new people are going to be hired at the new and improved INS. The same employees will be there; they'll just be reporting to different people. And this is the brilliant idea our government has come up with to protect the country from terrorism? (Answer: no. This is the brilliant idea our government has come up with to protect incumbent Congressmen's jobs in the November elections. Once this law is passed, expect a spate of campaign ads from candidates explaining how they helped "reform" the INS.)
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
I'm thinking of a number between one and a gazillion... I'll give you three guessesIt's more budget follies at the New York Times -- this one care of the editorial board, rather than Paul Krugman. (Count your blessings: at least this way we're spared talk of the mythical "lockbox.")
President Bush has been asserting lately that the budget is so tight there is barely enough money to pay for anything new besides the war on terrorism. He has begun issuing veto threats if Congress tries to defy his spending priorities. How bizarre it is, then, for him to contend at the same time that the nation needs another tax cut. Last week, the House went along, making permanent the ill-advised 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax reduction enacted last year. The Bush proposal would drain nearly $400 billion more over the next 10 years and cost at least $4 trillion in the decade after that. A more irresponsible position would be hard to imagine.I can imagine one: pretending that there's any such thing as a 10-year budget projection. Politicians do the same thing -- but nobody expects them to tell the truth. We expect -- in the sense of "want," not in the sense of "think it will happen" -- that newspapers will avoid making things up. And yet, that's what they're doing. (Actually, this piece is unclear, but it appears to me that they're projecting twenty years into the future to come up with that $4 trillion number. It's hard to say, since there's no real basis for any of these numbers anyway.)
When they're discussing the "cost" of tax cuts, the problem is compounded. First, they have to guess how much money would be raised in the next decade under the old tax code. Then, they have to guess about the effects of a tax cut on the economy -- or, in Timesworld, simply pretend that there won't be any. Then they subtract fictional number B from fictional number A, and declare that the difference of two guesses is a real number.
The sad truth about budget politics this year is that Congress and the Bush administration have gotten themselves into such a box that irresponsible posturing becomes the easiest recourse. The tax cut of last year, along with the recent mild economic downturn, vaporized the revenues needed to deal with anything outside military and homeland defenses.Vaporized? Only in a world where taxes create money. Tax cuts don't "vaporize" money; they simply leave money in the hands of the people who earned it in the first place. By the way, the 2003 budget will be about $2 trillion. Military and homeland spending amount to about $400 billion. Apparently, to the Times, the $1.6 trillion difference doesn't even count as "anything outside military and homeland defenses."
Oh, the rest of the editorial? I'll save you the trouble of going to the link: Republicans evil. Give money to rich people. Should take it away. Spend it on bureaucrats. Help poor.
There oughta be a lawIf there's a tragedy, the New York Times insists that legislation would have prevented it. If there's a tragedy and there's existing legislation, then the New York Times insists that enforcement would have prevented it. If there's a tragedy and there's existing legislation and enforcement, then the New York Times insists that more legislation and better enforcement would have prevented it.
And if some kids die while in daycare, then it must be the fault of "lax oversight." Nevermind that the deaths were the result of (1) kids being left unattended in hot cars in the summertime, and (2) a car accident. Apparently the Times thinks that the state of Tennessee should employ people to follow around daycare center employees 24/7.
Monday, April 22, 2002
If it's not the government, it doesn't countHeadline in the New York Times: Era of Uncontrolled Growth Is Ending at a California Lake.
The lake, 120 miles east of San Francisco, is one of the few in California with private houses on its shores, and therein lies a problem with which residents and local officials are only beginning to grapple.Oh, my god! Developers! And this is being done without planning! Actually, developers presumably do plan before they build. Or, at least the ones who want to stay in business do. What the Times means, of course, is that there hasn't been much centralized planning by the government. And you can just see the horror on the Times' editors' faces at the thought of that.
Dewey defeats TrumanJean-Marie Le Pen, the French nationalist/racist/anti-Semite/insert-media-synonym-for-far-right-wing-here, scores a big upset, coming in second in France's national elections, ahead of socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin. This gives Le Pen the right to participate in the runoff election with incumbent president Jacques Chirac. That's, I gather, approximately the equivalent of Pat Buchanan beating out George Bush a few years ago for the Republican nomination.
Now, I admit I don't know enough about French politics to comment intelligently on them -- insert punchline here -- but a few thoughts:
Sunday, April 21, 2002
Pointing fingersThe Dutch government resigned recently after a report blamed it for the Serbian massacres of Bosnians in U.N. designated "safe areas" in the mid-1990s. The Dutch sin wasn't action, but inaction. But Samantha Power says that the Clinton Administration was guilty of the same sin.
Once Mladic seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, American policymakers were keenly aware that the men and boys were being separated from the women and children, that Dutch soldiers were barred from supervising the "evacuation," and that the Muslims' fate lay in the hands of Mladic, the local embodiment of "evil."Admittedly, that was on the watch of Bill Clinton, whose foreign policy involved lurching from crisis to crisis trying to win Nobel Prizes. But Clinton was only one of many world leaders that stood by and did nothing as the massacres were going on. That's why Israeli governments continually reject the superficially reasonable suggestion that they should leave the West Bank and let the U.N. keep the peace. It's a joke, and everyone who doesn't work for certain newspaper editorial boards knows it.
Saturday, April 20, 2002
Do as we say, not as we doMark Steyn proves once again that he has a clearer view of the Middle East than Colin Powell and his European fellow-travellers.
Odd, isn't it? The Americans are routinely accused of being (in Pat Buchanan's phrase) Israel's amen corner. But Washington is at least prepared to offer the odd, qualified criticism of Sharon. The rest of the world, by contrast, is happy to parrot Yasser's talking points without modifying a single semi-colon. In the last month, I've found as many Jew-haters on the Continent as in the Middle East, but the difference is that the Arabs are fierce in their hatred, no matter how contorted their arguments, while the Europeans are lazy, off-hand Jew-haters -- they don't need arguments, they're happy to let the Arabs supply the script. Thus, the extraordinary resolution this week by the UN Human Rights Commission which accuses Israel of many and varied human rights violations, makes no mention of suicide bombers, and endorses the movement for a Palestinian state by "all available means, including armed struggle" -- i.e., terrorism. The resolution could have been drafted by the Arab League or the PLO. Forty of the 53 nations on the Commission approved it, including six EU members: Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Only five countries could summon the will to vote against: Britain, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic and Guatemala. (The U.S. is not a member of the HRC, having been kicked off by a coalition of Euro-Arab schemers.)
Pants on fireThis is good news for civil libertarians: a police informant who lied when he implicated another was found liable for malicious prosecution after being sued by his "victim." All too frequently, prosecutors rely on questionable informants because they're convenient and helpful, whether or not they're honest. And once a prosecutor does use an informant, there's no incentive to prosecute him for perjury, so the informant has little to lose by lying. This isn't likely to set a significant precedent, because
Some of us hate childrenThe Washington Post reports on a dispute over the Bush administration's ideas about Head Start, and as usual, reports in a completely unbiased fashion. The paper's sub-headline?
Child Advocates Alarmed by Stress On AccountabilityChild advocates? Are there people who root against children? This is one of those media cliches: rather than framing a policy dispute as a disagreement about how to help a particular cause (e.g. children/women/minorities/the environment), the dispute is between those who want to help the cause and those who have another agenda.
The really odd thing is that the dispute, as portrayed in the Post, is "play vs. learn." Which side of that debate should "child advocates" be on, if such an animal existed?
Friday, April 19, 2002
Not taking sidesPresident Bush calls Ariel Sharon a "man of peace." Either Bush has stopped wobbling, or he really has adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy. Perhaps he really didn't intend for Colin Powell to accomplish anything on his journey through the Middle East, and it was just a way to pretend he was doing something while really allowing Israel to continue its efforts to root out terror.
Certainly the statement didn't thrill Bush critics like David Sanger, who once again editorialized against Bush in the news section of the New York Times.
But even some members of Mr. Bush's administration seemed confused today about whether Mr. Bush had simply misspoken, or whether he was returning to the kind of statements he made at his Texas ranch over Easter weekend, which Israel took as a green light to press ahead with its military action.Perhaps the point is to be ambiguous? Sanger doesn't even consider the possibility, because it doesn't fit into his agenda of pushing Bush to force Israel to surrender.
Someone forgot the scriptThe Arab propaganda line has been that Israel has been massacring poor innocent civilians in Jenin, that without provocation Israel just decided to destroy the town (or "refugee camp," whichever sounds worse). This has been repeated so frequently that many members of the media were convinced that massive war crimes had taken place -- admittedly, aided by the fact that Israel wasn't letting independent observers into the town -- and any story to the contrary was described as pro-Israel bias.
So how do people explain this article in the Egyptian based Al-Ahram Weekly? It describes the Palestinian behavior in Jenin, approvingly, perhaps not realizing the significance:
Omar admits he is one of only a few dozen fighters not to emerge either dead or in plastic handcuffs from the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank.This was not the Israeli army vs. Palestinian civilians, with Israel deliberately knocking down buildings for no reason; it was Israel fighting against a Palestinian militia, which the Palestinians creating the "booby traps" that Israel accused them of placing, thus forcing the IDF to knock down buildings in self-defense.
I'll wait to see the "international community" retract the claims of Israeli war crimes. But I won't hold my breath.
Caribou 1, People 0So Robert Kuttner thinks that the U.S. is becoming more conservative? Then perhaps he can explain a big defeat in the Senate for President Bush's ANWR drilling plan. The plan needed 60 votes to defeat a filibuster; it only got 46. It's hard to know precisely what to make of this one. For whatever reason, environmental lobbyists pulled out all the stops to defeat this one; the League of Conservation Voters threatened Congress that they'd count this vote double in their annual environmental rating of each congressman. I guess they've run out of fundraising issues to flog.
Of course, the New York Times showed more of its unbiased objective reporting, describing this as "an issue that has pitted Democrats and environmentalists against Republicans and petroleum interests," as if the only people who would benefit from drilling were oil companies, and as if their opponents were all altruists who cared about making the world a better place.
Why does Paul Krugman hate America?Juan Gato dissects yet another idiotic column from Paul Krugman. Krugman has been ranting for months about Bush's tax cut, pretending there's a real "lockbox."
Slanted perspectiveBob Kuttner argues in The American Prospect that American politics may be close to a "tipping point" in favor of conservatism. His argument is that conservative media, think tanks, foundations, and the like are growing stronger, while liberal ones are growing weaker.
All of this has caused the ideological center of gravity in America to shift steadily to the right, even though polls show most Americans remain fairly liberal on the policy particulars. That is, most Americans say they would pay higher taxes to support things like universal health insurance, high-quality child care, and prescription drugs for all. Most Americans overwhelmingly support the present Social Security system. Most do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most think workers should be paid a living wage and have the right to join unions. So, in a sense, elite opinion is far to the right of mass opinion and the political system is just not offering voters the menu they'd like to see. Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham termed this a "politics of excluded alternatives."I wish. Unfortunately, I think this theory says more about Bob Kuttner's politics than it does about America's. Liberals have already won; the reason that conservatives are so much more vocal is because they have more to complain about.
Think about it: what's the last government program that was actually threatened by this supposed conservative dominance Kuttner sees? Is there a single government agency that is in danger of being closed? (The potential reorganization of the INS doesn't count; that's shuffling bureaucracies around, not eliminating them.) What was the recent response to 9/11? It was to federalize airport security personnel, as if making them government workers is going to improve them. The "prescription drug" benefit that Kuttner discusses as though it were a pipe dream was promised by both major party candidates in the last election. There's a debate over how to pay for it, and about whether to provide direct subsidies to individuals or to negotiate reduced costs through Medicare, and whether it can be afforded -- but nobody in the mainstream is saying that it's simply not the government's job to pay for drugs.
What kind of strange political world do we live in where a longshot proposal to privatize two percent of wages in social security is seen as a conservative "tipping point"?
Thursday, April 18, 2002
Breaking newsA small plane has just hit (11:45, EDT) the tallest building in Milan, Italy. It's 30 stories high, housing local government offices, and the plane hit around the 26th floor. Smoke is coming from the building, and an Italian legislator has already declared that it was a terrorist attack, though that's an unofficial announcement.
[Update: it seems that the legislator may have been jumping the gun to get himself on television; it now appears as if it may have been an accident. Only two people have been confirmed killed, but dozens have been hospitalized. Still, we're all jumpy, for obvious reasons.]
Role reversalWhat if the U.S. were planning to attack Iraq, and Israel were demanding that the United States show restraint? Victor Davis Hanson examines the Middle East from this opposite perspective.
Mr. Sharon: We know that. But the perception lingers that the present American administration is full of hawks, obsessed with Saddam — and wants to punish an old nemesis rather than deal with more fundamental social issues.People won't want to accept the role reversal, but it points out how hypocritical those who counsel that Israel show "restraint" really are.
Beirut redux -- or maybe Mogadishu. Either way, a bad ideaIn Wednesday's New York Times, Tom Friedman proposed that U.S. or NATO forces police a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It sounds superficially like a good idea: if they can't live together peacefully, then we'll just make them do it. They really want to live in peace, and if it weren't for their leaders, they'd do so. So we'll just impose it on them, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Not quite. Robert Kagan explains in the Washington Post why that will never work. First of all, the United States is the only third party that Israel would ever trust, which means that the financial and personnel burden would fall entirely on us. And our troops would be targets, just as they were in Lebanon in the 1980s, when an earlier round of homicide-bombers killed 240 Marines. And even if, by some miracle, our troops didn't start as targets, they'd end up that way as soon as they took sides -- just as in Somalia.
Is there another option I'm missing? If not, the proposal for an international peacekeeping force looks less like a real plan than a desperate if noble attempt to solve the insoluble in the Middle East -- a deus ex America summoned to provide a miracle when all roads to peace have reached a dead end. Even Ehud Barak's idea of building a very, very big fence between Israel and the Palestinians looks better. Help us out, Tom.The problem is, Friedman is so wrapped up in intervention and peace proposals and peace processes, that he just doesn't see that when two parties are at war over a fundamental issue -- like the existence of one of the parties -- the only way to end the war is for one side to win. Or maybe he does see that, but just doesn't want to admit it.
Okay, he visited, but he didn't enjoy itNewark Mayor Sharpe James, who had been criticizing his opponent in the mayoral race for having an aide who visited a stripclub, actually had been there himself.
Mayor Sharpe James said today that he had visited a nightclub that investigators say offered sex on the side, but he said he had done so only in an official capacity to see that it was shut down.He then turned to his mother and told her that the marijuana she had found in his dresser drawer wasn't his, and that he was "just holding it for a friend."
Hey, it couldn't hurtForty-two failing schools in Philadelphia will now be managed by Edison Schools, two universities, and four smaller private management companies. The New York Times calls this "privatization," but it's not, really -- it's subcontracting. It's not a trivial distinction; the schools are still public, funded with tax dollars. They're just run by private companies. Still, it's a step.
This was supposed to happen months ago, but opposition by the Philadelphia mayor, parents, and (who else?) the teacher's union stalled the decision; this happened only because the governor had the authority to push it through in spite of the mayor. The union was particularly upset:
After the meeting, Jerry Jordan, a vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he regretted that the panel had said so little about how the schools would be redesigned by the outsiders.Yes, Mr. Jordan, it is like "Let's see what works." Imagine that. We know what doesn't work, and that's continuing with the existing approach, which has resulted in a "system in which more than half of the nearly 200,000 students had failed to achieve minimum proficiency on state reading and math tests." Why exactly should a union which has presided over that be "respected?"
And as further evidence that the schools desperately needed to be taken over:
After the roll was called, several dozen student protesters, who have long argued that it was undemocratic for a for-profit company to operate a public school, chanted, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and "I am not for sale!"Undemocratic? Huh? Do they even know what the word means, or do they just think it's something that sounds bad?
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
It wasn't meIf I had won $110,333,333, you wouldn't be seeing any updates here for quite a long while. Sigh.
Don't just sit there, Do SomethingThe Washington Post reports that Congress has begun considering legislation to create a national ID card. The proposal being considered would turn the driver's license into a de facto national ID, by setting federal standards for the design and content of driver's licenses, and creating some unspecified sort of national database for sharing the information.
The problem is, nobody -- at least nobody involved in actually writing the laws -- has exactly thought through what this is supposed to accomplish. Such a proposal could be very effective at stopping underage drinking, but is unlikely to be a significant obstacle for terrorists. There are many separate issues:
Let's look at a situation like September 11th: Mohammed Atta presents an identification card at the airport in order to be allowed to board the plane. The airline check-in counter employee first has to verify that the card is genuine, by checking a nationwide database (just as merchants do with credit cards). Then the employee has to verify that the card belongs to Atta, by comparing his biometric identification to that on the card. (This means that his fingerprints or retina or the like will have to be scanned at the check-in counter. Further, this means that every location which will require identification will require this scanning equipment. Every police car will require it, for traffic stops.)
That seems to be as far as legislators have thought. But there's more: none of that will help unless the information provided at the time Atta obtained the ID card is accurate. What if, when Atta applied for his driver's license, he did so under the name Bubba Jones? The airline counter employee will verify that he's Bubba Jones, the owner of the valid ID card. Of course, it could be mandated that Atta provide proof of identify at the time he applies for the card -- but that simply shifts the problem one level. How do we ensure that this proof of identity is valid? Couldn't that be forged?
But suppose you find a way around that problem, somehow. Your whole expensive, high-tech system is still worthless, because Mohammed Atta could apply under his real name, using valid documents, obtain a valid ID card, and then go hijack the airplane. Unless you have reason to suspect him in advance, and a national database listing everyone suspicious, it doesn't do any good to identify him. And unfortunately, that last step, the hard part, has nothing to do with a national ID system at all. It has to do with foreign intelligence.
And of course, all that assumes that a civil servant can't be bribed. How much do people think Department of Motor Vehicle employees get paid, anyway? For a small (by international conspiracy standards) $50,000 payment, don't you think one could be persuaded to look the other way as an inaccurate license is issued?
Now if they could just implement the same technology for politicians and our tax dollarsThe Washington Post reports on a relatively new development in crime control. ("Crime control" is their phrase, not mine. I guess they thought "crimefighting" sounded too much like a comic book.)
Jose Gonzalez was charged by Arlington police over the weekend with auto theft.Maybe they could catch Osama Bin Laden this way.
Why do they hate us, part XXVIIMuslimpundit's back after an absence, and it was worth the wait, as he explains why Israel is so hated in the Arab world:
And traditionally, the place that Islamic theology, as well as those Muslim civilisations, accorded to Jews in this ecumenical outlook is that of a powerless, contemptible and weak people. Despite referring to Jews as the "People of the Book" in the Qur'an, Muslim scholars have, in their works, by and large emphasised Jews as an example of an inferior people. An examination of the ancient stories in the Qur'an that talk at length about God, Moses and the “transgressions” of the Children of Israel, provides a religious basis for this Muslim view. This is why, in traditional Islamic theology, as well as in history, Jews have by and large been accorded much tolerance by Muslims, but not necessarily respect.There's lots more. I don't know if it's right, but it would explain why one Palestinian being killed in Israel prompts Muslim outrage, while hundreds of Muslims being killed in India is virtually ignored.
I stubbed my toe; I blame MicrosoftNot that they had anything to do with it, but apparently that makes no difference. The mother of Charles Bishop, the idiot teenager who stole an airplane and crashed it into a Tampa building in January has sued the maker of the acne drug Accutane for causing her son's suicide. As Michael Fumento notes, there's no evidence whatsoever that Accutane causes depression or suicide. Moreover, there's no evidence, other than the mother's claims, that the kid even took Accutane; the autopsy found none in his system. And given that the kid left a note praising Osama Bin Laden, it's a little difficult to see how depression was even a factor.
But, hey, if you can profit off your son's death, why not?
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Congressional budget cuts fail to cure cancer and create world peaceA new study was released showing that the overall condition of welfare children, since the 1996 national welfare reform, hasn't changed significantly. That's very good news; despite all the predictions of disaster from activists, there have been no catastrophes. Welfare rolls have been reduced substantially, and yet the horror stories of children starving to death just haven't materialized.
But that's not good news if you're pro-welfare, and evidently the media is. So how do they spin it? With the headline "Study: Welfare reform hasn't helped kids." That's not exactly inaccurate -- but as a friend pointed out, the headline could just as easily have been "Children not harmed by welfare reform," or it could have been "Taxpayers save money without affecting children."
Mothers facing new welfare rules are finding jobs and earning more money. But they haven't improved their parenting skills, they still have trouble paying rent, and they spend less time with their kids, according to a three-state study that examined details of family life.So they're working more. They're making more money. They're spending less time with their kids -- but that's hardly a negative, since much of the time they were previously spending with their children was time when they should have been working.
So how can this not be good news?
A top welfare official in the Bush administration agreed that the system is not doing much to improve the lives of children. That's why the administration wants to add improving child well-being to the list of goals for the welfare law, which is being renewed this year, said Wade Horn, who heads the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.I thought the goal of welfare was to provide a safety net so that people didn't starve to death. I thought it was the job of parents, not the government, to worry about the well-being of children, especially when the "well-being" is measured so arbitrarily as "time watching television," which this study measured. Silly me.
Victory for free speechThe Supreme Court has just voted to strike down a ban on child pornography that didn't involve actual children. The law proscribed pornography involving adults that looked like children, pornography involving computer-generated images that looked like children, and pornography marketed in such a way that it "conveys the impression" that children are involved. A surprisingly strong 6-3 first amendment vote -- which was actually even stronger, as all nine justices expressed concern about elements of the law. Only the section of the law forbidding "virtual child pornography" had any support, with three justices voting in favor and a fourth, Clarence Thomas, suggesting that if evidence arose that this hindered the prosecution of real child pornography cases, that he'd rethink his vote.
It's extremely encouraging that the court did not buy into the For The Children rhetoric of the law's proponents; politicians, after all, have a tendency to insist that everything from highway construction to farm support payments are necessary because of the welfare of children. One of the arguments made by proponents of the law was that this non-child-child-pornography could be used by pedophiles to seduce children; the Court didn't buy into this speculative causal link between speech and child abuse.
My initial impression of such a strong pro-free speech vote on such an unpopular subject, is that it suggests that other litigation which threatens free speech is in trouble. That includes lawsuits against Hollywood over Columbine-like tragedies, and McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan's campaign finance censorship law.
Irony, thy name is EUThe European Union is worried about the money they're sending to Afghanistan:
THE European Union is losing patience with the Afghan interim government of Hamid Karzai, fearing that hundreds of millions of pounds in aid are being frittered away by stubborn officials with no understanding of economics.European officials were furious, saying, "Hey! We're the experts on frittering away money! Why are we letting Afghanistan do it, when we could have all the fun?"
There are fears that aid is vanishing into a bureaucratic maze where few records are kept. "There has to be some sort of transparency, otherwise our dollars will end up in somebody's Swiss bank account," said one official.They then adjourned the meeting, after voting to send a few hundred million to Yasser Arafat, who promised to stop by Geneva on his private jet as soon as Israel let him leave.
Also, there's ice in AntarcticaAccording to the Washington Post, there's drinking going on in college. And apparently, some students drink too much.
The Post's spin: those students must not realize that drinking too much is dangerous. Unfortunately, there really isn't much in the way of evidence for this:
About 1,400 students a year succumb to drinking-related deaths, though fewer than 300 of those result from alcohol poisoning or choking in their sleep, a recent study showed.As Steven Milloy points out, this "study" essentially made up the statistics. So what is the Post to do? Simple -- invent more "facts":
For every such fatality, many college officials believe, there are 10 to 20 close calls where students end up in the emergency room just a drink or two away from death.Who are these people? Where do they get their information from? Is there any reason to believe they're credible? Has the reporter surveyed "many college officials," or is he just reporting hearsay because it makes the story sound dramatic? After all, a mere 300 deaths a year is hardly an epidemic.
Monday, April 15, 2002
Puzzling analogiesI'm sure about four people reading this site care about Cornel West leaving Harvard and coming to Princeton, but it's my site. West elaborated on why he left:
On Monday, West discussed the meeting with Summers that reportedly kindled their dispute.So does that make West the Yasser Arafat of higher education?
Good news, bad news?Israel is now saying that rather than the "massacres" reported by people who weren't even there, rather than the "hundreds" rumored to have been killed (including by Israel's own army), only 45 Palestinians were killed during the fighting in Jenin. That number has not yet been independently verified, but since the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli Army could not bury the bodies without any oversight, it will be. (Dare you to try to get a court ruling in Iraq, or the Palestinian Authority, which goes against army policy.)
In some ways, the entire discussion is perverse, as if tallying the number of dead changed the moral equation. If Israel is legitimately defending itself (and it is), then 20 dead or 200 is all the same. If Israel's actions were illegitimate, then 2 dead would be too many. But since public relations matters more than logic or morality, the lower the death toll, the better for Israel. More importantly, of course, is whether the dead are civilians or combatants -- though that may never be known to any degree of certainty. Still, the fewer the total dead, the fewer civilian casualties there could be. Either way, all supporters of Israel will breathe a sigh of relief if this lower total turns out to be the case, and those who cavalierly charged "genocide" will be even more thoroughly discredited than they already are.
Still, there was major destruction to the camp's infrastructure; let's see if Saudi Arabia holds a telethon to build new homes in Jenin, or if they're too busy giving money to homicide bombers and Yasser Arafat's corrupt, terrorist Palestinian Authority.
Life imitates bloggingLast week, I wrote sarcastically about the World Conference on aging blaming Israel. Apparently, my only mistake was that I didn't provide hysterical quotes of outrage from Arab diplomats, because, as it turns out, the conference decided that everything really is Israel's fault.
Slippery slopesThe folks at Libertarian Samizdata provide an argument why the International Criminal Court is a bad idea, even if its founders start with the best of intentions.
Bureaucracies, once established, tend not only to grow but also actively seek reasons for their continued existance and expansion. Just now, it is only the above-mentioned type of activities which are under the ICC's remit but how long will it be thus circumscribed? A brief to tackle 'crimes against humanity' can be interpreted in all manner of ways to cover all manner of policy decisions. A tough anti-immigration policy? A lack of welfare benefits? No nationalised 'free' health care? No state education programme? There are no end of people who earnestly believe that such things constitute 'crimes'.. The ICC may be benign but how long will it stay that way?It has happened before -- and it will happen again.
Sunday, April 14, 2002
Slightly one sided IIDamian Penny reports that the leftist British media (i.e., the Independent) don't even pretend to be objective in their coverage of the Arab-Israeli war, treating every secondhand Palestinian allegation as fact.
They're not anti-Semites; they're just pro-Soccer.Add the Ukraine to the list of countries where Jews are being attacked by mobs shouting "Kill the Jews!" Ukrainian authorities are blaming it on "soccer hooliganism," saying it has no connection to anti-semitism.
Meanwhile, back in Tunisia, funeral services were held for the 13 dead as the result of a synagogue explosion that everyone except Tunis believes to be an attack.
I wonder how many other synagogues will be coincidentally, accidentally attacked while world leaders continue to blame all the problems of the world on Israel?
Too little is still too muchYasser Arafat's "condemnation of violence" was a feeble, perfunctory excuse for statesmanship, a face-saving gesture for Colin Powell to allow the Secretary of State to meet Arafat without looking like he was (too) soft on terrorism. As I noted the press release barely mentioned the terrorist attack of Friday, and spent most of its language condemning Israel. Still, even that was too much for our supposed "allies", who complained about Arafat being forced to make the statement.
``Once again, President Arafat yields to pressure, especially American pressure,'' said an unsigned column in the Saudi Al Watan daily.That's Saudi Arabia. Then there's a Jordanian reaction:
But [Jordanian newspaper columnist] al-Majali called the U.S. demand for a statement from Arafat ``American political terrorism,'' saying, ``It is illogical to ask the victim to denounce terrorism and not to ask the butcher to stop his terrorism.''Even ignoring the twisted interpretation of which side is the victim, Powell did ask Israel to pull back its troops. Do these people just reprint the same anti-Israel cliches every week, regardless of what has happened that week?
Back to our "allies" the Saudis, who not only whined about it, but threatened the United States:
In the Saudi-owned, London-based Al Hayat daily, Saudi columnist Dawood al-Shirian also accused the United States of supporting Israel's West Bank offensive and warned it would prompt terrorist attacks against the United States.Why not let us worry about "American interests?" You stick to worrying about Islamo-fascist interests, okay?
Arafat renounces violence, orders Palestinians to lay down their arms; Powell elected PopeWell, almost. Actually, Secretary of State Colin Powell accomplished exactly nothing by meeting with Arafat, who refused to renounce violence, or conduct any negotiations, until after Israel "withdraws" from the territory it "occupies."
A senior aide, Saeb Erekat, said Arafat stood by his commitments, including an end to violence. But, Erekat said after the three-hour meeting, that meant "once the Israelis complete the withdrawal we will, as Palestinians, then carry out our obligations."Powell, of course, called the meeting "useful and constructive," because what else is he going to say? "Arafat told me to go to hell, Sharon told me to go to hell, and I don't even know why I'm stuck here. Does anybody know who got voted off on Survivor?"
Spoke too soon?Apparently, the people of Venezuela may still have Hugo Chavez to kick around anymore. The militarily-appointed interim president, Pedro Carmona, has stepped down. Large counterprotests against the coup have occurred, and Chavez is vigorously denying that he resigned.
The anti-Chavez forces apparently overplayed their hand; instead of forcing out Chavez and sticking with the constitutional order of succession, they decided to dissolve the government and promise elections down the road. Venezuela's neighbors weren't happy with this, and Chavez supporters weren't, either. Unfortunately, it could get ugly, depending on whether or not the military splinters, and how far they're willing to go to advance whatever agenda they decide upon. Just as I said the other day, I guess we'll have to see how this plays out.
This time, he really means itUnder intense pressure from the United States, Yasser Arafat vigorously denounced terrorism. Well, he kinda, sorta disagreed with terrorism. Actually, he didn't say anything; instead, he issued a press release. An eleven paragraph press release, of which one mentions yesterday's homicide bombing. Even then, it was carefully worded:
On this basis, we strongly condemn the violent operations that target Israeli civilians, especially the recent operation in Jerusalem.The catch here is, many Palestinians do not view Israelis living in the West Bank or Gaza as "civilians," regardless of their jobs. Arafat was careful not to spell that out, though. He went on to spend most of his statement condemning Israel, as if anybody needed a reminder of his opinions on that subject.
But what was extremely conspicuous by its absence was anything stronger than a "condemnation." For instance, an order to his forces not to engage in terrorism. Or, heaven forbid, an order to his forces to arrest others engaging in terrorism. Not that even the most starry-eyed optimist expected that. Still, Colin Powell, desperate to pretend that diplomacy still has relevance here, seized on this statement as sufficient to justify a meeting on Sunday.
At this meeting, Yasser can pretend that he's really truly sorry and won't do it anymore, and Powell can pretend to believe him, and then Bush can pretend to be hopeful, and Sharon can pretend he cares, and then Arafat can get back to the business of terrorism and Europeans can get back to deploring the "cycle of violence" and condemning Israel, and Saddam Hussein can get back to encouraging attacks on Israel to distract Bush from attacking him.
Saturday, April 13, 2002
I expect we'll see human rights protesters rushing here any day nowFighting between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government have claimed at least 160 lives so far in a single battle.
"They are so ferocious that they killed officers ... even after they surrendered," Vohra said. "They were stripped naked, then paraded, and finally beheaded with khukris, he said, referring to the traditional Nepali knives.But only when the Israeli government kills someone is it worthy of Security Council resolutions.
What exactly do these people do for their government paychecks?The IRS employs approximately 100,000 people. Apparently none of them are paid to actually look at the tax returns we're all forced to file. According to the Washington Post, over the last two years, the IRS has mistakenly paid about $30 million to people claiming a tax credit for slavery reparations. There is, of course, no such credit allowed under the tax code. The Post tries to portray the recipients of these credits as innocent dupes of scam artists and urban legends, but it's a little hard to believe that they couldn't figure out that the credit didn't exist when they looked at their tax return and couldn't find a line to put it on.
Then again, Paul Krugman is a nationally prominent economist, and he sees imaginary line items on the 1040, so maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental.
Slightly one-sidedIt's not hard to see why the rest of the world is so much less supportive of Israel than the United States is. Blame the media. The Reuter's headline for Saturday's recap of Middle Eastern events:Israel launches new raids in defiance of U.S. Last I checked, the U.S. asked Israel to withdraw and asked Arafat to condemn terror attacks, and to stop them. Neither side has complied. So why is the sole focus on Israel's behavior? How come the headline isn't: Palestinians blow up pedestrians in defiance of U.S.? Or, at least, Arafat refuses to denounce terror attacks in defiance of U.S.? After all, even today, President Bush reiterated his demands for Arafat:
"The president expects Yasser Arafat to denounce this morning's attack, to step up and show leadership," Fleischer said. "This is murder and Yasser Arafat needs to renounce it and renounce it soon, if not today.""Expects" may not be the right word here; why on earth would anybody "expect" Arafat to renounce murder? What would make today any different than any time over the last six months? (Let alone the last four decades?)
Friday, April 12, 2002
Thanks for nothing, LarrySo Harvard's new president, Lawrence Summers, gets into a feud with Cornel West, so now we're stuck with him at Princeton? For someone who is so concerned with "respect," Princeton is actually somewhat of an odd choice for West (though he spent six years here earlier in his career) because African American Studies is a non-degree granting program, rather than a full department.
Coincidently, a devastating review of West's behavior during the Summers incident was just published by John McWhorter in City Journal. McWhorter takes West to task for playing the victim card when confronted by Summers with valid criticisms.
Why, you thought they'd solve something?Is there any group other than the staff of the New York Times editorial board that could get excited enough about the World Assembly on Aging to write an editorial about what the delegates are discussing? It's a United Nations conference! They'll sit around for a week arguing that the United States should give away lots of money, write a report blaming Israel for something-or-other, and go home.
Pounding the tableThere's an old legal aphorism that goes, "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table." Paul Krugman does a lot of pounding the table. Today, since he has run out of things to make up about President Bush's social security or energy plans, he decides to slur Bush over Thomas White. White's the secretary of the army, and a former Enron executive who presided over one of the more questionable Enron subsidiaries, which makes him an easy target. But Krugman doesn't care about Thomas White; he wants to go after Bush.
I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious that the Bush administration has appointed a record number of corporate executives to high-level positions, often regulating or doing business with their former employers.I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious that Paul Krugman has set a record for the fewest factual columns in a newspaper career. Also, I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious I won the lottery last night. Fork over the money.
The administration clearly doesn't worry about conflicts of interest, but you don't have to posit outright corruption to wonder. For example: The secretaries of the Navy and Air Force are both lifelong defense-contractor executives. Won't they tend in the nature of things to believe that what's good for General Dynamics is good for America? Indeed, defense stocks have soared, partly because Wall Street analysts predict that profit margins on future contracts will be far higher than was considered appropriate in the past.Oh. I see. Nothing else has happened in, say, the last six months that might affect the future profitability of the defense industry, has it? Wait, don't tell me... it's on the tip of my tongue. Nope, sorry, I can't think of anything. It must be corruption. By the way, who exactly would Krugman like to see as secretaries of the armed forces? Greenpeace activists?
But there's a further question. Many of the business executives recently appointed to government positions first entered the private sector after prior careers in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. As Sebastian Mallaby put it in The Washington Post, they are "political types dressed up in corporate clothing: people who got hired by business because they knew government, then hired by government on the theory that they knew business." (Dick Cheney is the quintessential example.) So are they really good businessmen, or are they just crony capitalists, men who have lived by their connections?So wait, are they "lifelong defense-contractor executives," or are they "political types"? I can't keep all this innuendo straight. Paul, help me out here!
Consider the case of Thomas White, secretary of the Army, a former general who became a top Enron executive in 1990.But I thought he was "a former general." Sheesh. Am I the only one reading these columns? Does Krugman ever look at them after he churns them out?
One theory I've heard is that Mr. White can't be fired: that there are facts about the administration's relationship with Enron that it doesn't want to come out, and that Mr. White knows where the bodies are buried.One theory I've heard is that Paul Krugman personally organized the anthrax attacks last fall. Okay, it's probably not true, but as long as "theories I've heard" can substitute for facts, you might as well make them interesting.
My preferred explanation, however, is that Mr. White has been protected by the administration's infallibility complex. In case you haven't noticed, this administration never, ever admits making a mistake; even when it makes a policy U-turn, it tries to rewrite history to pretend that everything is still going according to plan.Speaking of which, I wonder when Krugman is going to admit he was wrong about last year's tax rebate. I expect about the same time Condoleezza Rice is serving her second term as president, after Krugman finally gets over his sulking about his lack of influence in Washington.
In his spare time, he did Michael Bellesiles' researchThe Washington Post reports that the resume of D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few had a few minor mistakes on it, such as claiming a degree from a college which he only attended briefly. The error has been blamed on "staff," as if some secretary just decided to inflate his credentials on her own. Then again, some Europeans keep putting "elected leader" on Yasir Arafat's resume, so I guess anything is possible.
Good news, bad news?Venezuelan President/Dictator Hugo Chavez has been removed from office in a coup, according to the Venezuelan military. He lost the support of the military after his supporters fired into a crowd of marchers who were protesting his attempt to install his cronies in charge of the state oil company, killing at least twelve.
Venezuela is a key source of oil for the United States, and Chavez's actions had prompted a strike which was threatening to disrupt the nation's oil supply. So while this might create a short term disruption, it's probably beneficial in the long run.
On the one hand, a military coup is hardly something to be glad about. On the other, the military ousted a pro-Castro, pro-Saddam demagogue who was becoming more and more authoritarian -- with one of his final acts being to shut down the television stations that were broadcasting the protest march.
I guess we'll have to see how this plays out -- and whether Europe gives even a fraction of the amount of attention to these events as they do to Israel.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
Maybe Arafat can get a European trademark on terrorismPeople often mock the federal government, and correctly so, for having dozens of pages of regulations to control the size of holes in swiss cheese or to define chocolate chip cookies. But at least Washington doesn't do these sorts of things by multinational committee, as the European Union does:
On Tuesday, the 15-member union’s regulatory committee discussed a proposal by the EU Commission to include the Feta cheese on its list of appellation of origin products. These products can only be marketed as such if made in a specific geographical area traditionally linked with the product. However since no votes where taken after the discussion, the vote would have to be postponed for the next committee meeting in the following months.If the proposal passes, anybody will be allowed to make Feta cheese, but only Greece will be able to call it Feta cheese. Oh, but it gets more bureaucratic, the longer it goes on:
The Commission's proposal envisages a transitional period of 5 years, which would help the cheese producers to adapt.The punchline, such as it is: they came up with this proposal years ago, but it was overruled by the European Court, who ordered them to reconsider whether or not Feta cheese was a generic term.
And these people expect to be taken seriously as an international political, economic, and military force?
It only counts when we do itHezbollah is stepping up its attacks from Lebanon on Israel's northern border. You'd think this would be big news, but it isn't. The Post headlines it, "Lebanese Border Skirmishes Could Spark Regional War." Could? What the heck do they think is going on now? Why are attacks on Israel seen as part of normal, everyday life in the Middle East, while Israel defending itself would be "war"?
"We thought that when the Israeli army withdrew, we'd finally get peace," said Valency Ahoun, the mayor of several Israeli villages along the northern border. "I cannot understand what Hezbollah is doing."I believe that's what Europe calls the "peace process."
More campaign finance hyperbole from the TimesThe New York Times is again upset about a campaign finance issue before Congress, but Jason Rylander tears their argument to shreds.
If you're in favor of burdensome, redundent reporting requirements, then join the NY Times in their sanctimony. But even if you truly care about regulating campaign spending, the bill before the House this week to eliminate duplicate filing requirements on state and local candidates and PACs is no Trojan horse. It doesn't weeken McCain-Feingold. It's a needed reform that restores some sense to the campaign finance system.Jason explains what the laws actually say, instead of what the Times claims they say.
Not a surpriseThe Daily Californian, Berkeley's student newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the Deputy Mayor of San Diego is calling for a boycott of the Padres because their owner held a fund-raiser in favor of a ballot initiative which would ban racial profiling. (Via OpinionJournal's Best of the Web.) This is the "good" kind of racial profiling, as far as liberals are concerned -- the kind where the state collects racial data on job and college applicants -- and therefore opposition to it is racist. The article makes a faint attempt to be evenhanded, but can't quite manage it:
The recent census data, which demonstrates that California is a state without an ethnic majority, may have scared whites and provided the impetus for the initiative.This is a news story, remember, and that wasn't a quote, but rather the reporter's analysis. Now, finding liberal bias in the Berkeley student newspaper is approximately as shocking as finding sand in Northern Africa, but that seemed pretty egregious to me -- particularly given that the article notes that the initiative is the brainchild of activist Ward Connerly (who is black).
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
Plus, they all talk funny over thereEveryone else has probably already linked to this, but it's such a good piece that I felt the need to do so, too. David Brooks explains why they hate us, where "they" is Europe and the Arabs, and "us" is the United States and Israel.
AROUND 1830, a group of French artists and intellectuals looked around and noticed that people who were their spiritual inferiors were running the world. Suddenly a large crowd of merchants, managers, and traders were making lots of money, living in the big houses, and holding the key posts. They had none of the high style of the aristocracy, or even the earthy integrity of the peasants. Instead, they were gross. They were vulgar materialists, shallow conformists, and self-absorbed philistines, who half the time failed even to acknowledge their moral and spiritual inferiority to the artists and intellectuals. What's more, it was their very mediocrity that accounted for their success. Through some screw-up in the great scheme of the universe, their narrow-minded greed had brought them vast wealth, unstoppable power, and growing social prestige.Right after 9/11, George Bush said that it was because "they" hated our way of life. "Intellectuals" sneered at this -- it was just more of Bush's "simplistic" thinking. The elite all "knew" that it was a reaction to our foreign policy, because, after all, our "way of life" wasn't something worth thinking about. Brooks explains why it is.
Sure, just pick on the attorneysAlthough in this case, it might be justified. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced on Monday that four associates of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman's have been indicted for passing messages to Rahman's terrorist organization in Egypt. At least three of the people indicted worked on Rahman's defense team during previous terrorism trials in New York, including his attorney, Lynne Stewart.
The facts of the case shouldn't be too difficult to establish; a few years ago, it was openly noted in the Egyptian media that this was going on:
Last Thursday, the spiritual leader of the militant Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, affirmed from his US prison that he has withdrawn his support for the group's unilaterally declared truce. However, the statement was not exactly a call to revive the armed struggle against the government. Abdel-Rahman said he would leave the final verdict on the fate of the cease-fire to the Gama'a leadership in Egypt. Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence for conspiring to blow up the World Trade Centre in New York.Still, it's a troubling case. It's built on wiretaps of conversations between attorney and client, and could give ammunition to Ashcroft's attempt to limit attorney-client privilege in alleged terrorism cases. It's a dangerous precedent, even if Ashcroft insists that this effort will be limited to terrorism cases.
Stewart, incidentally, has a rather, uh, interesting career, hanging out with the likes of nutcase Ramsey Clark. She has built a practice on defending the radical and unpopular, including mobster Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, Rahman, Larry Davis (an accused drug dealer who shot several members of the NYPD who came to his apartment to arrest him, claiming (successfully) self defense, and members of the "Ohio 7," a domestic terrorist group responsible for the murder of a New Jersey police officer, She also pled guilty once before to contempt charges for refusing to disclose the source of her fees in a drug case.