Ephemerides (November 2001)
November 29, 2001
No one will ever know how President Al Gore would have responded to September 11th. What no serious observer can doubt is that, had he followed the same course as President George W. Bush, conservatives would have backed him to the hilt. There are, however, unserious observers, of whom few are less serious or more irritating than ultra-partisan leftist Al Hunt, chief of The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau. In his regular Thursday column, Hunt denounces "the narrow right" (by which he means all Republicans to the starboard side of John McCain) for hypothetical obstructionism of a hypothetical Gore war effort. To put it bluntly, he accuses conservatives of supporting anti-American terrorism except when one of their own happens to be in the White House.
The "evidence" for this blood libel is right-wing criticism of Bill Clinton's erratic foreign policy excursions, particularly the war in Kosovo (a skirmish in an area of peripheral interest to the United States) and the cruise missile attacks that destroyed an empty al-Qaeda camp and a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory. Conservatives did criticize those exercises, though, as Hunt does not bother to recall, much of the criticism of the Kosovo operation centered on the Administration's refusal to commit ground troops, who could have driven Serb forces out of Kosovo more expeditiously and discouraged the appalling massacres that followed the Albanian victory. As for the cruise missiles, even pro-Clinton journalists compared them to Wag the Dog, and the justice of that comparison is shown by the complete absence of follow-up. After getting headlines for a day, the Clinton Administration did nothing to weaken al-Qaeda's hold on Afghanistan or its capacity for terrorism.
Throughout the Clinton years, conservatives tried, with no success, to prod a frivolous commander-in-chief into focusing foreign policy on U.S. national interests and using American power effectively. In the light of September 11th, it is obvious that a program of random publicity stunts was not a prudent strategy. Critics of the Clinton approach deseve credit for their insight, not slander as covert al-Qaeda operatives.
November 28, 2001
The "Clone Wars" are escalating. One the one side is the human revulsion against an unnatural and easily abused means of creating human life; on the other scientific curiosity, coupled with grandiose promises that cloning will lead to a better world. That the revulsion is deep-seated and real is shown by its spontaneous appearance across the political and cultural spectrum. Progressive, secular Europe has in fact moved more swiftly than conservative, religious America to outlaw the artificial creation of human beings. Opposition to cloning may be superstitious and irrational, or it may reflect fundamental perceptions of morality. Because the question is so novel, there is no quick and obvious way to determine which.
Since the moral question is difficult, perhaps it makes sense to start with an easier, more practical question: Supposing that cloning is capable of being good, what is it good for? The technique has three potential uses, viz., the propagation of children, the production of embryos for medical research and the culturing of replacement organs. Is any of these its "killer app" (maybe not the most felicitous phrase, I fear)?
As a method of perpetuating the species, cloning is distinctly inferior to the traditional methodology, which is cheap, fast, reliable and capable of being performed by unskilled labor. Its sole drawback is that it isn't available to everyone, so that some humans are deprived of genetic offspring. Among the deprivations of existence, that one is hard to list without giggling.
Not very long ago - within most readers' adult lifetimes - anyone who had advocated bringing a child into being for the sole purpose of lethal medical experimentation would have been labeled a Nazi and dismissed from civilized discourse. The abortion debate has led to relaxation of that "prejudice". Abortion is so useful to so many people that they have reshaped morality to allow it, just as past societies devised "moral" rationales for practices - ranging from slavery and cannibalism to footbinding and female circumcision - that they found attractive on other grounds. Thus there is widespread - not belief, but pretension to belief - in the unimportance of some human-like organisms in comparison to the needs, desires or velleities of our very important selves. That pseudo-belief makes it possible for abortion advocates to tolerate their own actions. So far, however, even societies that are very nonchalant about abortion are finding it hard to extend that nonchalance to what looks exactly like human vivisection. And those that are untroubled by such experimentation can find naturally produced embryos and fetuses in abundance. Again, there is no compelling reason to spend lots of money on a resource that is available in quantity at almost no cost.
The prospect of utilizing an individual's cells to grow substitutes for malfunctioning organs is the most seductive lure of cloning. For example, Instapundit, usually a sensible fellow, dreams in these terms: "One area of science with a lot of promise for extending people's lives - and, just as important, increasing the quality of those extended lives - is therapeutic cloning. Need a new heart, liver, prostate, whatever? Scrape some cells off, grow a new one in a jar, and implant it. There are no rejection problems, since it's genetically yours. There are no ethical problems about competition for scarce donor organs . . . and there are no issues . . . about harvesting organs for donation from prisoners, etc." Maybe that is a theoretical possibility, but it is about as practical as a bridge to the Moon. No one has yet taken the first steps toward nurturing a functioning organ outside of an organism, nor is it more than barely conceivable that, say, a disembodied heart could be produced quickly enough to save its progenitor. A six-month-old heart is of no use to an adult human being. Perhaps it needn't reach full adult size to be useful, but the interval between the determination that a new organ is needed and its availability via cloning would be closer to a decade than a year. Very rich people could, I suppose, have a spare set of organs cloned in advance, but they might find it cheaper to pay for ordinary medicine when and if they have an actual need for it.
If cloning will not accomplish anything that is useful and morally acceptable, why run the risk of engaging in (pardon the blunt word) sin? We lose nothing important (except, perhaps, the identical progeny of a handful of multi-billionaires) by setting this technology aside for the time being. If we rush to develop it and then determine that doing so is wrong, we face repentance and self-loathing, if not certain less pleasant and longer lasting consequences.
November 27, 2001
The National Bureau of Economic Research has concluded that the current economic downturn started in March 2001. Liberals will no doubt continue to place the blame squarely on the policies of George W. Bush (inaugurated in January), particularly his tax cut bill (enacted in May; effective, with limited exceptions, in January of next year), just as they gave credit to Bill Clinton (inaugurated in January 1992) and his tax increase policies (enacted in October 1993; effective in January 1994) for the recovery that began in April 1991. Chronology is not the Left's strong point.
A careful look at what happened to the economy over the last decade shows the folly of Clinton's high-tax policy. The 1994 tax hike didn't have the immediate detrimental impact that conservatives predicted, which shows only that taxes are not the sole determinant of economic activity. Three factors offset federal tax policy: the amazing increases in efficiency made possible by computerization, decreases in state taxes and the 1994 election's positive jolt to the "animal spirits" of entrepreneurs. Together these produced a stock market boom, which sharply lowered the effective tax rates on full economic income (cash flow plus asset appreciation). In real terms - and against the Administration's will - tax rates declined throughout the 1990's.
Unfortunately, the factors underlying the strong market couldn't last forever. Efficiency improvements inevitably level off; states face the temptation to devote revenues to spending; and the Republican majorities in Congress have steadily declined, with the Senate reaching a tie last November. Hence, investments began to fall in value, resulting in a dramatic upswing in true tax rates. For some unlucky taxpayers, such as those who exercised incentive stock options last year to acquire shares that have since declined by double digit percentages, the effect was ruinous. The bill for alternative minimum tax on ISO exercises can easily be several times the current worth of the acquired property.
Congressional Democrats have been firmly resisting any relief from these unlegislated tax increases. Most likely, they truly believe that taxes are no burden on the economy, but one can't help noting their self-interest here: As long as recession can be laid at the door of President Bush, a slow recovery won't be a bad thing for Democratic candidates in the next elections.
November 22, 2001
For Thanksgiving Day humor, the Associated Press informs us that a Taliban spokesman now says that is it time for the world to forget about the September 11th attacks and move on. Wonder where he got that trick from. . . .
November 21, 2001
According to ABC News, the police chief of Portland, Oregon, has refused to help the Justice Department interview recent immigrants from the Middle East in its quest for information about the September 11th conspiracy. The DoJ rationally thinks that young men who came to the U.S. recently from countries with known al-Qaeda networks might be sources of leads, so it has compiled a list of such persons for questioning. That might sound like standard police work, no different from talking to all of the neighbors of a murder suspect, but crime solving in oh-so-enlightened Portland is evidently secondary to political correctness. The local chief claims, most implausibly, that Oregon law forbids police from interviewing people who are not suspected of having committed a crime. To this he adds stale insinuations of "racial profiling" - as if it would be a productive use of detectives' time to ask, say, middle-aged Hispanic ladies what they know about Mohammed Atta.
To treat routine law enforcement inquiries as an invasion of civil liberties is preposterous, a sign that the "Constitution as suicide pact" school of civil libertarian still flourishes.
* * * *
Though I had really and truly intended to leave the subject alone, "Florida 2000: Bush Wins Again!" by Harvard Law School prof Einer Elhauge is too good to leave unmentioned. Professor Elhauge offers further support for the points made in my 11/14 entry. First, the documented uncertainties and human bias in the media "recount" exceed either candidate's margin of victory under any of the permutations of counting standards. The notion that the results showed that Vice President Gore would have won Florida if all votes had been counted in accordance with voter intentions (trumpeted last Sunday on The Capitol Gang by hyper-partisan Democrat Al Hunt) is exposed as an urban legend in the making. The "recounters" produced 24 different sets of results, each based on a different set of decision rules. Bush "won" twelve of them, Gore the other twelve.
Second, the recount that was really in progress under the tutelage of the Florida Supreme Court was a travesty conducted by untrained personnel under partisan supervision, using standards that changed almost from ballot to ballot. One can be very far from an Equal Protection absolutist and still regard that process as a gross denial of voters' constitutional rights.
Finally, this arduous exercise demonstrates the fallacy of the facile assumption that manual recounts are more accurate than those conducted by machine. In Florida, the machines turn out to have done a good job, and, unlike human beings, whatever mistakes they make are uninfluenced by any interest in the outcome of the contest.
November 18, 2001
There are, of course, bad arguments, as well as good ones, in favor of military trials for foreign terrorists. Instapundit, who doesn't like the idea, says that almost all of the arguments that he has seen supporting it invoke memories of the O. J. Simpson trial. As of the moment when I write this (but it's hard to keep pace with the Pundit), he had not explained why he doesn't believe that the Simpson circus is pertinent, but he and I agree completely in that conclusion.
O. J.'s acquittal has, alas, given far too many Americans an erroneous concept of the flaws in the American criminal justice system and has created discontent with elements, such as openness to the media and the wide latitude given to defense lawyers, that are, on the whole, virtues rather than defects. The really serious faults in our current procedures are the unwarranted exclusion of credible evidence and, arising to compensate for the difficulty in assembling admissible proof, an increasing tendency to define criminal offenses in a vague, open-ended fashion, thus reducing the prosecution needs to show in order to secure a conviction. The Supreme Court has reined in the scope of mail fraud, once the most abused of charges, but statutes like RICO leave prosecutors with great discretion to fabricate "crimes" out of acts that would not normally be regarded as criminal. Those were not, however, the problems in the Simpson case, where the prosecution put in all of its evidence and the indictment was for garden variety premeditated murder (not, say, conspiracy to deprive Nicole Brown Simpson of her civil rights).
What turned Judge Ito's courtroom into a travesty and a miscarriage of justice was simply a confluence of improbable factors that will come together rarely if at all: a celebrity defendant with an unvarnished "good guy" image, careless prosecuting attorneys with too many eyes on book deals and too few on the case at hand, and, of greatest significance, a racial angle - shamelessly but brilliantly exploited by the defense - that led a large segment of the public to desire the defendant's acquittal no matter how patent his guilt.
None of those factors is likely to be present if Osama bin Laden and his surviving lieutenants are brought to trial. Indeed, one risk in a civilian trial is a miscarriage of justice in the opposite direction. There may be al-Qaeda personnel innocent of terrorism, who dealt with strictly military, financial or educational matters, and bear little responsibility for their leader's crimes against humanity. Would they prefer civilian or military justice? The Nuremberg trials offer an instructive parallel: Is it conceivable that an American jury, sitting in 1945, would have acquitted Franz von Papen or Hjalmar Schact or even the hapless Hans Fritzsche? For all of its overtones of "victor's justice", the Nuremberg tribunal gave the leading Nazis fairer hearings than any other imaginable forum.
November 15, 2001
William Safire, who normally confines his outrage to dangling participles, is furious at President Bush's executive order setting up military tribunals to try non-citizens linked to the al-Qaeda network who are captured during the current war: "Seizing dictatorship", "replacement of the American rule of law with kangaroo courts", "drumhead tribunals", "Orwellian twist", "Soviet-style abomination".
You might think, reading such hyperventilation, that the President was proposing to line al-Qaeda functionaries up against a wall and shoot them without trial. . . . No, wait a minute - read to the end of his essay and you discover that that is what Mr. Safire proposes. He urges the armed forces to make sure that Osama bin Laden (and presumably other top members of his organization - al-Qaeda isn't a one-man band) are not taken alive, even if that means refusing to let them surrender! What tender concern for "the American rule of law". Let's replace it not with kangaroo courts but with the bullet or the bomb in the night, sort of like the Cheka.
Douglas Kmiec, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel under President Reagan, answers legal and constitutional criticisms of military-style justice in today's Wall Street Journal. On a practical level, the President's order is a prudent approach to the difficulties that will arise if American forces take large numbers of al-Qaeda prisoners in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Most of the those captured will undoubtedly be foot soldiers whose only crime is to be on the wrong side of the fighting. As the usages of war demand, we will detain those until we can release them without danger to our own interests. But the prisoners will also include architects and perpetrators of terrorist crimes. We have every right to mete out justice to them and to punish their atrocities. The question is how to go about doing so without being unjust ourselves.
Ideally, we would send suspects back to the United States for trial in our civilian courts, and that may be what happens. The President hasn't ruled it out. On the other hand, as Mr. Safire concedes, civilian justice may be a pipe dream. The accused could run into the hundreds; their accomplices may work to disrupt the proceedings through violence; many of their crimes may have been committed against non-Americans on foreign soil, thus casting doubt on our courts' jurisdiction; important evidence may have to be kept confidential for reasons of wartime security; other evidence may be inadmissible (has the Miranda Warning been translated into Pathan?); inflamed public sentiment is certain to hamper jury selection. Perhaps these problems can all be surmounted, but it doesn't seem monstrous to anticipate that they won't.
Under those circumstances, the choice lies among (i) freeing the terrorists, (ii) killing them without judicial process and (iii) establishing courts that will give them as fair and full a hearing as is possible. The President has opened the way for the third alternative. One can argue, of course, about the details. I would be horrified if prosectors were permitted to extract confessions by torture (despite the sudden sympathy for that technique among deranged leftists like Alan Dershowitz) and displeased if the burden of proof were placed on the defense. Relaxation of the rules of evidence is far less upsetting. The doctrine that credible evidence must be excluded if it was improperly gathered is a relatively recent creation of the American judiciary, one that so staunch a civil libertarian as Benjamin Cardozo ("Must the criminal go free because the constable has blundered?") protested against. (Disagreement with Mr. Safire impels me to end at least one sentence with a preposition.) Likewise, a unanimous jury verdict is not a fundamental condition for a fair trial. The precise formulation of the prosecution's burden of proof is even less of an issue. The practical difference between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "by clear and convincing evidence" is trivial.
What is important about the proposed tribunals is that defendants will have the right to be represented by counsel, to know the charges against them, to be tried only for acts that were defined as crimes at the time of commission, to confront their accusers, to rebut the evidence presented against them (with national security limitations that already apply to a large extent in civilian trials), to cross-examine witnesses, to require the prosecution to prove guilt, and to have both verdicts and sentences independently reviewed. In short, these "drumhead tribunals" will be more solicitous of the rights of the accused than 90 percent of the world's functioning judiciaries.
It's important in wartime to keep close watch over our liberties, so that we do not brutalize ourselves (e. g., by tolerating torture or committing atrocities or shooting prisoners out of hand) or acquiesece in "emergency" measures (like national identification cards) that will limit our freedom when peace returns. It's also important, though, not to malign public officials for prudent actions that preserve liberty to the greatest feasible degree in a time of danger and distress. The President's decision on dealing with terrorists falls into the latter category, not the former.
* * * *
The Florida "recount" story had all the legs of spavined nag on the way to the glue factory, so I'll let it rest in well-deserved peace and obscurity after noting two final words on the subject. Byron York provides further confirmation of the uncertainty and inaccuracy of the methods used by obtain the new, improved results, while John Podhoretz reminds us of the most important fact about the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court: Democrat-dominated election boards weren't counting ballots; they were manufacturing votes. If they had been allowed to finish their work, the upshot would have been far more chaotic than the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. "The nation would have survived. But the heights of partisan bitterness that had been reached by Dec. 12 of last year - the worst since Vietnam - would have been as nothing compared to the vicious and disgusting warfare that surely would have erupted in the nation's capital in January."
November 13, 2001
A familiar game of the demagogues who have hijacked the civil rights movement is to twist innocent linguistic usages into racial slurs. The Sacramento Bee reports a truly ludicrous example. At a City Council hearing, a lawyer objected to a new method of traffic enforcement. In the course of his remarks, he said, "Let's call a spade a spade." One Lauren Hammond, a councilwoman of color, flared up: "You -- made an ethnically and racially derogatory remark and I hope you think about what you said. -- It is not appreciated. It is no longer a part of modern English. The phrase just isn't used in good company anymore." In a subsequent interview, she called the speaker's reference to shovels "an old racist analogy". As the article gently points out, it has been traced back to that famous old racist Plutarch.
Lauren Hammond sounds like something of a nut case. Following up a hint in the Bee article, I checked Nexis and discovered that last year she was claiming to find racism in Russian language materials prepared by the Census Bureau. Unfortunately, her tactic is a common one. Back when I was in law school, a member of the Black Law Students Alliance browbeat my securities law professor into apologizing for referring to "white hats" and "black hats" (by which he meant the SEC and stock manipulators) in class. A couple of years ago, a city official in Washington, D.C., temporarily lost his job when he called a proposed appropriation "niggardly".
The longest running example is the abrupt reclassification of widely accepted terms as stigmata of bigotry. When I was young, "colored people" (that's the "CP" in "NAACP") and "Negro" were commonplace and unproblematic. All at once, they were displaced by "black" and declared to be derogatory. Lately, "black" has become "incorrect" and has been rejected for "African-American". The transparent motive for these changes is to make people feel guilty about their linguistic habits, thus disarming them against charges of collaborating in racism.
The mindset of these philological blackmailers is nicely illustrated by a quote from the author of a forthcoming book entitled The Development of African-American English, "To call a spade a spade is not unlike the situation of 'niggardly' in that the term itself is innocuous. The problem is, when you live in a racist society, what you find is there is no such thing as neutral language." Au contraire, when you are desperate to perpetuate the myth that society is racist, you can't afford to admit that innocuous language is neutral.
Lauren Hammond and her ilk are so wrapped up in imaginary victimization that they may not have noticed that their country is under attack by real enemies. Osama bin Laden would be delighted to kill Lauren Hammond or, failing that, to see her enslaved or immured in a harim. America's "racist" society is spending money and blood to protect her. It even protects her First Amendment right to throw crybaby tantrums over words that she doesn't understand. But it retains it own right to stop responding to her nonsense.
* * * *
The Taliban, labeled "resilient" by the American media just a couple of weeks ago, are today running for their lives. We'll now hear rounds of applause for the Northern Alliance - probably undeserved, alas. Sudden collapse is characteristic of pre-modern warfare. The Alliance has been routed before and could fail again, though Western aid makes that less likely in the short run. The Daily Telegraph has published an excellent map of the military situation as it stood in the early morning hours of the 14th, Kabul time.
November 12, 2001
The November 5th Ephemerides told of the smear campaign directed against a city council candidate in Lakewood, Colorado, who was accused, on absurdly flimsy grounds, of anti-Moslem bigotry. Happily, the tactic didn't work. Republican Tom Booher won the seat with 56 percent of the vote against Democrat Zenat Shariff Belkin's 40 percent. The district is solidly Republican, but a state Democratic leader had been quoted as crowing that his party would prevail against "the extreme right wing. . . . we're going to keep electing Democrats because of guys like these".
* * * *
The Florida "recount" stories weren't as awful as I'd anticipated. They generally pointed out that, if the votes had been recounted in any way that anyone was proposing at the time, George W. Bush's victory would have been affirmed - not that that conclusion means very much in light of the massive uncertainties inherent in this after-the-fact scrutiny. I did notice bias peeking through in one spot: The on-line Wall Street Journal''s summary of the story declared that "a clear plurality" of those who went to the polls in Florida had "intended" to vote for Gore, an assertion not found anywhere in the story itself. It's important to remember that the Journal's news staff is just as left-of-center as any other major paper's and often seems less inhibited about slanting the news. It no doubt feels an impulse to counteract the editorial page.
The most interesting Florida story was not the shopworn haggling over hanging chads but a statistical analysis of the abundant psephological data, which concludes that ballots cast by Republicans, particularly black Republicans (there aren't many in Florida, but they do exist), were significantly more likely to be spoiled than Democratic ballots and that the spoilage rate climbed suspiciously when the county election supervisor was a Democrat, particularly a black Democrat. (John R. Lott, Jr. and James K. Glassman, "GOP Was the Real Victim in Fla. Vote") Here are the key findings:
A black Republican was 50 times more likely to have his ballot disqualified than a black Democrat.
Similarly, a white Republican's ballot was more likely to be disqualified than a white Democrat's.
The overall rate of spoilage was 14 percent higher where the county election supervisor was a Democrat, 31 percent higher where he was a black Democrat.
In all cases, these results are "other things being equal". The authors used regression analysis to isolate the impact of particular variables. A poor, illiterate, first-time voter's ballot is, of course, far more likely to be spoiled than one cast by his wealthy, well-educated counterpart. What this study did was determine which political and racial groups were most likely, given comparable levels of income, education, etc., to have their ballots thrown out.
Lott and Glassman's conclusions are preliminary and, in light of the limitations of the data, may not be provable with absolute certainty. Still, they support the hypothesis that there may indeed have been a concerted effort to prevent Floridians from casting valid ballots - waged by Democratic election officials against Republicans in general and black Republicans in particular. As the authors conclude, "The irony is that those who screamed discrimination the loudest may have the most to hide."
November 11, 2001
So, according to Matt Drudge, the newspapers will tell us tomorrow morning that, if every untallied ballot had been counted the way that the papers think that they should have been, Al Gore would have carried Florida. Ho, hum. Figuring out the real intentions behind ballots with too few or too many candidates marked is an exercise in finding pictures by staring at the clouds. The margin of error is so huge that no result could be reliable, and it's a good bet that a large majority of the cloud starers favored candidate Gore. However impartial they tried to be, it's no surprise if they found a tiny Gore margin, reportedly a maximum of 700 votes out of 175,000 reviewed. We will never know with absolute certainty who won Florida, but machines that don't care about the outcome and don't change their criteria for accepting votes are most likely a better indicator than a manual account conducted according to subjective standards. The American public of course has other matters to think about these days.
November 10, 2001
Georgetown University has posted a copy on Mr. Clinton's speech on-line. Read in full, it is a marvelously Clintonian performance, so artfully ambiguous that the normally hardnosed "Best of the Web Today" has been led to the conclusion that the Washington Times report was "unfair". Read carefully, however (as one must read all of the ex-President's prose), the piece is no less appalling than than the Times made it sound.
Mr. Clinton is an undisciplined orator, whose points are as dispersed as a bungled air strike. Isolated passages support the war effort, and others wander off to unrelated topics. The part that caught the Times reporter's attention comes early: a two-part litany, first of Western crimes against the Muslim world, for which "we are still paying the price", and then of American crimes against non-White peoples. These remarks do not appear in an intellectual vacuum. They are identical to the assertions of the minuscule anti-war movement. Unless the speaker is extremely careless (and he has always been, to the contrary, extraordinarily careful with words), he must have realized how his statements would resonate. Yet he not only makes them but takes no precautions against the resonance.
The clear message to a Katha Pollitt or a Barbara Kingsolver or an anti-war protester hoisting a "No to Racist War" sign is, I understand your point of view. I feel your pain. Sure, I have to condemn the suicide bombers, but I see that there are two sides to this conflict. Maybe that message is insincere. Maybe Mr. Clinton's real opinion is that President Bush is right to attack terrorism with all the force at his command. But how is one to know? As in the run-up to the Gulf War a decade ago, "Slick Willie" has a reassuring word for everybody. Has any other former President ever behaved thus when our nation was at war? Thursday's "Best of the Web" had it right: What would we think of Herbert Hoover if, two months after Pearl Harbor, he had delivered a speech recalling America's history of discrimination against the Japanese and undercutting outrage at Tokyo's imperialism with a jaundiced condemnation of our own policy of Manifest Destiny?
Later portions of the Clinton speech imply that the U.S. is pursuing the wrong strategy. The two sections that immediately follow the listing of Western and American sins read strangely and are replete with ambivalence. Mr. Clinton declares that "conventional military strategies that have included terrorism with it have won because of conventional military power, and terrorism has normally been a negative", a truth supposedly illustrated by General Sherman's scorched earth strategy during his March to the Sea. "It had nothing whatever to do with winning the Civil War, but it was a story that was told for a hundred years later, and prevented America from coming together as we might otherwise have done. When I was a boy growing up in the segregated South, . . . people were making excuses for unconscionable behavior by talking about what Sherman had done a hundred years ago."
What do these remarks mean? Osama bin Laden relies on a strategy of pure terrorism. He has no force with which to wage "conventional military strategies" and no chance of winning "because of conventional military power". The side in this conflict that does possess conventional military power is the United States, and the anti-war movement repeatedly accuses us of coupling our use of that power with "terrorism", i. e., the death and destruction that our weapons inadvertently inflict on civilians. To anti-American ears, Mr. Clinton is saying, By bombing Afghanistan, the U.S. is not pursuing legitimate military objectives but merely creating new generations of enemies who will hate us a hundred years from now.
What comes next is very odd, even by Clintonian standards. We are told that "offense always wins [at] first" in any war but "then sooner or later, hopefully sooner, decent people get together and figure out how to defend themselves". From one point of view, those words encourage us to endure early setbacks and not despair of ultimate victory, but a different theme quickly appears. The example of how decent people defend themselves is - you can read it for yourself - the doctrine of mutual assured destruction! The train of thought then wanders off incoherently, but all of the defenses alluded to are purely defensive, emphasizing reaction to terrorist threats and tracking, rather than disabling, potential terrorists. Conspicuously not mentioned are the active defensive steps initiated by President Bush, which aim at breaking up the terrorists' networks, destroying their infrastructure and denying them safe havens anywhere in the world. Passive defenses that leave terrorist organizations with their capabilities intact are futile, Maginot-like half-measures. They are the least that one can ask for - and the most that Mr. Clinton endorses.
Finally, Mr. Clinton has broader, longer-term proposals, all of which are straight out of the "root causes" textbook. To prevent Third Worlders from turning into terrorists, we are urged to spend more money on anti-poverty programs, education, the allevation of AIDS and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Less expensively, but even less usefully, we are called on "to reach out and engage the Muslim world in a debate". The goal of this debate is to win over to secular and humane values people who "believe that because they have the truth you either share their truths or you don't. If you're not a Muslim, you're an infidel. If you are and you don't agree with them, you're a heretic, and you're a legitimate target." We are going to debate such people? This is the spirit of the protester mentioned a few items down, with her sign, "War Isn't the Answer. Dialogue Is."
All in all, Mr. Clinton's speech at Georgetown is either a peculiarly unperceptive tissue of irrelevancies and non sequiturs or a subtle appeal to Americans - at least to left-wing Americans - to assign to their country a due proportion of blame for the present war and look skeptically on military solutions. I don't think that Mr. Clinton is unperceptive.
November 9, 2001
Puzzled by the lack of outcry over the former President's statements concerning responsibility for the September 11th attacks - only National Review Online and OpinionJournal's "Best of the Web Today" seem to have paid attention - I hunted around for other stories about the speech. The one on CNN's Web site is instructive. Headlined "Clinton Sees Struggle for 'Soul' of 21st Century", it has been carefully sanitized to remove any references to America's and Western civilization's putative sins against blacks, Native Americans, Moslems and Jews and to how terrorism is the price that we pay for those misdeeds. Instead, the reader is led to believe that Mr. Clinton simply called for "a great debate with the Muslim world over its values versus the values of the West". In itself, that is a rather silly sentiment - we have seen how the soi disant champions of Islam conduct "debates" - but it isn't outrageous until combined with the rest of the speech - which CNN didn't regard as worthy of reporting. It looks like mainstream media hacks are back at their old game of shielding the First Felon from public scrutiny.
November 8, 2001
Some presidents' names become adjectives -- Lincolnian gravity, Rooseveltian reassurance, Kennedyesque charisma, Nixonian deviousness, Reaganesque leadership. To understand the meaning of "Clintonian," parse this from a 1997 news conference: "I don't believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I have changed government policy solely because of a contribution."
It is reasonable to believe that he was a rapist 15 years before becoming president, and that as president he launched cruise missiles against Afghanistan (a nearly empty terrorist camp), Sudan (a pharmaceutical factory) and Iraq to distract attention from problems arising from the glandular dimension of his general indiscipline. As president he was fined $90,000 for contempt of court, and there is no reasonable doubt that he committed and suborned perjury, tampered with witnesses and otherwise obstructed justice. In the words of Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the 7th Circuit, Clinton's illegalities "were felonious, numerous and nontechnical" and "constituted a kind of guerrilla warfare against the third branch of the federal government, the federal court system."
Clinton is not the worst president the republic has had, but he is the worst person ever to have been president.
Inevitably, Bill Clinton was going to offer us his pseudo-intellectual analysis of the "root causes" of anti-American terrorism. Just as inevitably, he was going to assign the fault squarely to America. The Washington Times reports on a speech delivered by the Big He to an admiring undergraduate audience at Georgetown University, in which he instructs us that the September 11th atrocities were the price that we pay for slavery, for looking "the other way when a significant number of native Americans were dispossessed and killed" and even for anti-Jewish pogroms during the First Crusade (which really bother Osama bin Laden and his anti-Semitic supporters, I'm sure). "The answer, Mr. Clinton said, is to spread freedom and democracy, reduce global poverty, forgive billions in debt, improve health care systems and encourage - even fund - education in developing countries." It's fairly clear from the context that he is not endorsing spreading freedom and democracy in the way in which the U.S. military is doing that right now in Afghanistan, by destroying freedom and democracy's enemies. Instead, he wants us to pour lots more money into worldwide versions of government programs that have created an hereditary underclass in the United States. To listen to a former President second the slander that American got what it deserved on September 11th and should offer billions of dollars in atonement is appalling - but not, alas, the least bit unexpected.
During last January's pardon scandal, someone (perhaps Arlen Specter, that rich source of bizarre legal theories) argued that Clinton should be impeached after his term ended, in order to deprive him of "the emoluments of office". That idea is probably bad constitutional law, but it certainly would be satisfying. Barring that step, we should at least start calling the last President to account for his role in the crisis facing his successor. If Clinton wants to place blame, he can hardly expect immunity from candid analysis. Worth pondering is an essay by Kevin Cherry, writing in today's National Review Online, which succinctly reviews Clinton's acts of omission and commission that left our country vulnerable to Osama bin Laden and his ilk.
November 7, 2001
Deja vu all over again! While waiting for the homeward bus this evening, I saw my first protest march of the war. The protestors numbered a couple of hundred, escorted by half a dozen of Chicago's Finest, who exchanged eye-rolling grimaces with bystanders. So far as I could tell from a quick inspection, virtually all of the marchers were white and the great majority were old enough to have marched in solidarity with the communists in Vietnam.
Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.
-- Col. Bin Tui, People's Army of [North] Vietnam
(quoted in Lewis Sorley, A Better War)
One woman displayed a hand-made sign declaring, "War Is Not the Answer. Dialogue Is." I spent a moment contemplating the kind of dialogue that she might engage in with the Taliban.
The cavalcade wasn't notably energetic. A fellow with a megaphone monotonously repeated, "One - Two - Three - Four. We don't want your racist war. Five - Six - Seven - Eight. We don't want your racist hate." But hardly anybody chanted along. I have seen passport office lines with more vim and vigor. I suppose that these aging radicals turned out from nostalgia for the Sixties, when they believed that they were shaking the world and taking down Amerika. (See sidebar quotation.) As they trudged through the Michigan Avenue crowds, ignored by the masses whom they dream of leading in revolt (just yesterday Ralph Nader was proclaiming that the country is ripe for revolution), seeing American flags in every window, finding no response to their hollow cries of racism, I imagine that they found it harder and harder to work up enthusiasm for a chant. No one seemed angry with them. They are too insubstantial for anger, ghosts and revenants from a bygone age, pathetically pursuing their dead vendettas against the living world.
November 6, 2001
In the 19th Century, election by secret ballot was a controversial innovation. It was adopted in England in 1872 only after a long struggle. Liberals, who (with quixotic exceptions like Anthony Trollope) fought to bring about this reform, had little doubt about the reasons for conservative resistance: Voters who had to declare their preferences openly were vulnerable to influence, bribery and intimidation. Even the anti-ballot Trollope portrays employers as warning their workers not to come back after election day if they don't vote Conservative. The argument for secrecy was straightforward: It allowed the voter to express his own mind. Whatever threats or inducements might be offered, the citizen in the privacy of the polling booth could safely ignore them.
A compromise was occasionally put forward: Let voters choose between casting a ballot and giving their votes openly. Ballot advocates dismissed that half-measure on the ground that it furnished no real protection. Anyone trying to sway votes with threats or bribes would demand to see what his victims actually did.
That ballots should be mandatorily secret is one of those questions that seemed settled only a few years ago, yet it has now been reopened, and the optional secret ballot is, without much publicity, making rapid strides. The technique for eliminating secrecy is voting by mail. In Oregon, statewide elections are conducted entirely in that manner. Other states are approaching the same end by allowing voters to cast mail-in absentee ballots without any restrictions. In Washington State, for instance, "absentees" now represent the majority of voters. Elsewhere, the tide is moving strongly in the same direction, and we will probably soon see voting over the Internet supplementing the mails.
Voting by mail or from one's home computer can be secret or not, depending upon the whim of the voter. If he wishes to hand his marked ballot to someone else in exchange for a ten dollar bill, or to show it to his spouse, employer or union steward, no one can, as a practical matter, stop him. The effect is to reverse the verdict of the 19th century and to adopt the pseudo-compromise that the reformers rejected.
Oddly, 21st century liberals seem untroubled by the demise of secrecy. Washington's two left-wing Senators objected strenuously and successfully when a committee voted tentatively in favor of a bill to tighten absentee ballot procedures in federal elections. We hear nothing from liberal spokesmen about the dangers of vote buying or voter bludgeoning. To suggest that there is a reason for their silence, just as there was a reason for 19th century conservatives' parallel insouciance, would be invidious, of course.
November 5, 2001
Today is Guy Fawkes Day, an occasion until very recent times for Englishmen to blame Roman Catholicism in general for a few hotheads' harebrained plot to blow up King and Parliament in 1605. There is no likelihood that Americans will ever christen September 11th "Osama bin Laden Day" and celebrate it by burning muftis in effigy while pronouncing maledictions on Islam as the great enemy of religion and liberty. Our conspicuous absence of bigotry is a virtue, but every virtue has its concealed vice. Bigoted irrationality can turn opposition to bigotry into a destructive weapon.
The Washington Times reports that a City Council candidate in Lakewood, Colorado, is in trouble because the state's leading newspaper has uncovered anti-Moslem bias in his campaign literature. The manifestation is that bias is - disclosing his opponent's name! She is Zenat Shariff Belkin, an Arab immigrant from Zanzibar. In a leaflet dealing with taxes and labor unions - not a word about religion, foreign policy or terrorism - Republican candidate Tom Booher four times refers to her by her maiden name, Zenat Shariff. According to the left-wing Denver Post, the use of that name rather than her full married name constitutes "a cynical ad hominem attack on the Muslim name of a rival".
What a truly preposterous charge! Calling Mrs. Belkin "Zenat Shariff Belkin" (as the leaflet does three times) draws attention to her ethnic background to exactly the same extent. Since both she and her frothing-at-the-mouth Post supporters use that name, presumably without anti-Islamic intent, their notions of bigotry must be exquisitely subtle. (When, by the bye, did Arab names automatically become "Moslem"? The vast majority of Arabs living in the United States are Christians.)
In fact, the Post has no intelligible grounds for its nasty accusation. Like many other latter day liberals, it treats racism as so terrible a crime that innocence is no defense. Mr. Booher has tried to explain his nomenclature, but he should save his breath. No explanation will satisfy his accusers. Because their complaint is not rational, reason is powerless against it. And, so long as this tactic succeeds, as it appears to be succeeding in this case, the Left will continue to wield it with reckless abandon.
* * * *
On a cheerier election note, Sandanista commandante Daniel Ortega has become the William Jennings Bryan of Nicaragua by losing his third consecutive presidential election. The victor, former Vice President Enrique Bolaños, was expropriated and imprisoned back when Ortega was in power (1979-1990). What is most fascinating about this race is that the international press unanimously, so far as I can determine, predicted the opposite outcome. Ortega, now portrayed as a "moderate", was supposed to win handily. Reporters scoffed at the U.S. Embassy's carping about his past and current associations with terrorists. It looks, though, like the voters believed the Embassy rather than the media and that forecasts of an Ortega triumph were an instance of the wish being father to the thought.
November 4, 2001
A book review in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal (Jerry Z. Muller on Enemies of the Enlightenment by Darrin M. McMahon) concludes that the ideas of the 18th century opponents of the Enlightenment formed "a rough template for a host of counter-Enlightenment ideas that are with us still today, from Cambridge to Kabul". By "Cambridge" the reviewer means postmodern academics who denounce rational thought as a cloak for racism, sexism and imperialism; by "Kabul" he means Islamic fundamentalism.
There is a superficial resemblance. The anti-philosophes attacked the use of reason as an instrument for analyzing Church and State. Their argument was, however, fundamentally different from that of the postmodernists. To a de Maistre or de Bonald, inherited institutions were more rational than philosophical constructs, because they rested on millennia of human experience. The problem with applying reason to them was that reason lacks the necessary tools for an adequate analysis. The postmodernists, by contrast, do not believe that reason exists in any real sense; in their eyes, truth is merely a construct deriving from race, class and gender. Their position in many ways takes the Enlightenment to its natural conclusion. The philosophes used reason to "see through" tradition. The postmodernists see through reason, leaving no basis for thought or action but irrational impulses. (C. S. Lewis forecast this development in The Abolition of Man, a book as uncannily prescient as Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France or Orwell's 1984.)
The counter-Enlightenment may be closer to Kabul, but not by much. Islamic fundamentalism is a relatively young movement, dating from the early 19th century, and one of its defining characteristics is its rejection of the medieval Islamic consensus. Its zeal for purifying Islam by stripping away traditional accretions to the sharia and Koran is quite a different project from the counter-Enlightenment's defense of tradition as the root of faith.
The anti-philosophes lost their battle long ago. It is unfair to blame them for contemporary trains of thought against which their ideas would be a useful vaccine.
November 3, 2001
Two Washington Post letters to the editor on the alleged "stifling" of anti-war dissent on campus:
In response to your Oct. 30 news story "Dissenters Find Colleges Less Tolerant of Discord Following Attacks": Where has Michael Fletcher been? Colleges have long been intolerant of dissent. Conservative speech and ideas have been ridiculed and censored -- sometimes violently -- for decades.
The stupidest statement in the article is: "In an effort to promote campus diversity, two-thirds of the nation's colleges and universities have adopted speech codes." These codes are designed to promote conformity, censorship and uniformity of expression and to quash dissent from the liberal, politically correct orthodoxy. What author Harry Silverglate and his friends are upset about is that now it is not unfashionable to express patriotic thoughts or to object openly to the snide, liberal elitist anti-American inanities spouted by professors today.
The second stupidest statement is: "But many speech advocates say campuses are now far less tolerant of controversy." I guess stealing and burning newspapers, trashing offices and the like for controversial cartoons or editorials or advertisements is "tolerant". When the left does those things, no one in the media or academia speaks of "intolerance". But let normal students simply express anger at a professor's incredibly insensitive and lunatic rantings, and suddenly campuses are hotbeds of McCarthyism deserving of your paper's scrutiny.
-- Robert Hawkins
It is interesting that your paper seems to think intolerance for dissent on college campuses is something new. Leftist students and administrations have been intolerant of "free speech" -- shouting down, firing and punishing guest speakers, students and professors for politically incorrect ideas -- for years now. Liberals have been cracking down on "hate speech" (i.e., "dangerous" pro-life "haters"), which is simply any speech or idea in opposition to whatever campus liberals want culturally and politically. It is done in the name of internationalism, diversity, tolerance and social justice.
Your paper suddenly notices "intolerance" for free speech when left-wing "haters" are silenced and punished for incorrect expression. What goes around comes around.
"Liberals" on college campuses used to know that if they banned the free speech of others, they would eventually lose their right to free speech as well. They used to know that the best way to defeat a bad idea was to give it expression for all to hear and argue. The intolerance for a diversity of ideas on American college campuses is shameful and has been for a very long time.
Gosh, I hope I did not offend anyone with this letter.
-- Jo Marie Thompson
The Post reporter who wrote, "In an effort to promote campus diversity, two-thirds of the nation's colleges and universities have adopted speech codes" will be hard to beat for this year's Orwell Award!
November 2, 2001
With amateur Napoleons rushing to find fault with the strategy and tactics of the U.S. military in the present conflict, perhaps it would be worthwhile to take a glance at the generalship of its adversary. By any standard, Osama bin Laden is closer to Enver Pasha than Suleiman the Magnificent.
The surprise attack on September 11th was a classic example of treating warfare as a means of "sending messages". The destruction of the World Trade Center, scarcely paralleled atrocity though it was, did nothing to disrupt our government or armed forces. The attacks that evidently were supposed to do something along those lines (the Pentagon plane crash and the aborted action possibly aimed at the White House) were insufficient for their purpose even if they had been successful. General bin Laden had one clear opportunity to inflict maximum physical and psychological damage; he failed to make effective use of it.
Compounding the initial assault's lack of focus was the absence of follow-up. The feeble anthrax-by-mail campaign would be the stuff of late night comedy if four people had not unhappily died. Aside from that, there was nothing: no succession of bombings and hostage takings, no unleashing of computer viruses or disruption of the Internet, none of the nerve-wracking violence that Israelis have been living with for years. America was given time to recover from the first shock, a fatal blunder when fighting a much stronger opponent. It is as if the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, then waited six months to invade the Philippines.
Now that the war is localized in Afghanistan, bin Laden and his allies appear to be adhering to an entirely passive strategy. Except for crude propaganda of the kind that appeals only to the already well-disposed (Moslem fundamentalists and Western leftists), they have done nothing to open new fronts that might disperse American forces. In response to American actions, they simply sit in their lines. Eventually even the oft-beaten, ineptly led and ill-equipped Northern Alliance will be able to break through a foe that has lost all initiative. A point to note is that winter will be a far easier campaign season for U.S., British and Turkish commandos than for the 19th century Taliban army.
Western commentators make much of bin Laden's efforts to rally the Islamic world to his cause, even claiming that the U.S. is "losing the propaganda war". If that is bin Laden's strategy, he has deprived himself of the instruments for carrying it out. Hiding in a primitive wilderness, he is largely out of touch with his "troops" and cut off from his pre-war financial empire. To convey his side of the story to the world he must rely, ironically, on his enemies' news services. Those may be imbued with anti-Western prejudice, but they will only serve as conduits for his message, not (with rare exceptions) as megaphones.
Underlying these failures is a severe disjunction between bin Laden's declared objective - to push the U.S. out of the Middle East - and the means by which he has pursued it. Not even spectacular victories in Afghanistan will compel America to withdraw from Tel-Aviv or Riyadh. To achieve his goals (probably hopeless in light of the disparity of resources), bin Laden needs either to make continued war intolerable for the American home front or to make our commitment to the Middle East excessively costly. He has so far failed in the one area and barely tried in the other.
In summary, the man who would topple the "American Empire" has proven himself to be an incoherent strategist and ineffective tactician. The Pentagon may be slow-moving, bureaucratic and unadventurous, but, next to the Sa'udi barbarian, it is a veritable regiment of Robert E. Lees.
* * * *
Every day in every way Political Correctness becomes odder and odder. The "British" Broadcasting Company, which, as noted directly below, has no qualms about employing pro-terrorist zealots as reporters, has banned broadcasters on its international television programs from wearing Remembrance Day poppies, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. In fact, a guest on one BBC show was ordered to take off his poppy, though management later said that it would apologize. The rationale for this ukase - that non-British viewers won't understand what the poppies mean - is so ridiculous (how important is a grasp of haberdashery to watching the news?) that it is most likely a way of saying "f--- you" to critics. The BBC, like our own National Public Radio (whose senior foreign editor boasts that that his staff will try to "smoke out" - and thus thwart - secret U.S. military operations (reported by James S. Robbins in National Review Online), regards itself as apart from and superior to the country that pays its bills. It probably never occurred to the network's top brass that proper journalists would even want to commemorate the war dead of their imperialistic, proto-fascist, American lackey homeland. We should be grateful that the "B"BC doesn't disguise its sentiments.
November 1, 2001
The British Broadcasting Company gets its reports on the Gaza Strip from a man who earlier this year declared, at a rally of the Hamas terrorist organization, "journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people." No newspaper outside of Israel reported this proclamation of bias, and the BBC brushed aside complaints. In Spain respectable newspapers run cartoons of hook-nosed Jews massacring innocent Palestinians. When a five-month-old Jewish baby was fatally stoned by Palestinians, the only stories in the European press mentioned the infant fleetingly and concentrated instead on her neighbors' retaliatory smashing of a Palestinian greenhouse. When shots were fired at U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, the Euromedia loudly blamed Israeli extremists. When an investigation by Danish police established that that would-be assassin was almost certainly Palestinian, the story was barely reported.
In a long, thorough article ("New Prejudices for Old"), Tom Gross, a Middle Eastern reporter for the past six years, exposes the vicious anti-Israeli sentiment of Europe's television networks and prestige press. (A few right-wing papers are, he notes, somewhat more balanced.) The general picture of media bias against Israel has been apparent for many years. Gross fills in the details and shows the extent to which anti-Israeli reporting draws on anti-Semitic stereotypes. He does not, indeed, think that the correspondents who misinform the world about Israel are classic Jew baiters. Most of them are simply following an anti-Israeli vogue. Compounding their faddishness is lack of the proper tools. Many of those assigned to cover Israel make an effort to learn Arabic; very few know any Hebrew.
As Gross bleakly concludes, "The systematic building up of a false picture of Israel as aggressor, and deliberate killer of babies and children, is helping to slowly chip away at Israel's legitimacy. How can ordinary people elsewhere not end up hating such a country? And, contrary to the perceptions of some, Israel is not a big, tough major power that can withstand such international antagonism indefinitely. As the Jews have learnt only too well, acts of wholesale destruction and ultimately genocide did not just spring forth in a vacuum; they were the product of a climate. In this affair, the international media is not an innocent bystander."