Ephemerides (June 2002)
June 30, 2002
Suppose that, when you typed "www.republicans.com" into your browser, you were connected to a site that yammered about Bilderburger/CFR conspiracies, blamed the 9/11 attacks on American tolerance of homosexuals, complained about government repression of "patriotic militia" and spread unsubstantiated rumors about prominent liberals' sex lives. Wouldn't there be sharp questions about how such a dubious group got hold of its URL? At the very least, the Republican National Committee would face repeated demands to disavow any connection, and those disavowals would then be greeted with raised eyebrows. "Mr. Fleischer, are you telling me that the White House has absolutely no relationship to a site that uses the Republican name? That your people 'just forgot' to register such an obvious domain name? And how is it, by the way, that its advisory board includes a leading Republican pollster, as well as George W. Bush's former chief domestic policy advisor?"
There isn't any "republicans.com", but try "www.democrats.com" (not to be confused with "www.democrats.org"). Here conspiracy addicts will find the "very likely scenario" that Flight 93 did not crash as the result of a struggle by passengers to regain control but instead was shot down by the Air Force on President Bush's direct order. The evidence is "overwhelming" but "has been removed from public view, as the FBI confiscated everything it could find".
This crackpot theory tells us nothing about Flight 93 but quite a bit about the mentality of Democrats.com. Not only does it peddle tenuous speculation as "overwhelming evidence", but it has an odd perspective on what actions are discreditable. There is no doubt that, if Flight 93 had not crashed, it would have been shot down before it could strike its intended target. If that had happened, no sane voice would have been raised in protest. Yet Democrats.com thinks that protecting the White House or the Capitol in that way would have been scandalous. One wonders why.
But one doesn't wonder too long after browsing a bit. Here are articles that deride the idea of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, proclaim that post-9/11 America is "a totalitarian regime", translate a fawning Chinese interview with Thierry Meyssan (the Frenchman who accuses American rightists of having conducted the 9/11 attacks) and (via links to Salon and TomPaine.com) denounce President Bush as "Sharon's lapdog". Displayed on the home page is a proud "We Believe Cynthia" button. (For those who are happily unaware of that strange personage, here is what Cynthia believes.) Also prominent is a link to a site purveying conspiracy videos, including one on how Mohammed Atta was really trained by the U.S. government for its own covert operations. Another link offers the opportunity to pre-order a tome that blames "oil interests" for 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan.
In short, Democrats.com is a loony left outfit whose self-proclaimed association with the Democratic Party ought to appall any Democrat with an ounce of moderation in his makeup. Does it appall Terry McAuliffe or anyone else on the Democratic National Committee? If so, they keep their feelings to themselves. A Nexis search finds not a single effort by any Democratic official to disclaim the site. Stanley Greenberg, pollster for Bill Clinton, Al Gore and many other Democrats, is listed on its advisory board, alongside Greg Simon, who was Vice President Gore's domestic policy advisor.
It is also scarcely credible that the URL "democrats.com" was sitting in the public domain as late as August 2000, when the site was launched. Years ago, politicians learned the importance of registering URL's that might one day be useful (or used by one's opponents). If the DNC registered "democrats.org" but not "democrats.com", it was amazingly careless (though maybe carelessness should not be ruled out; "democrats.net" appears to be owned by a porn site operator that is trying to sell it off).
Democratic cranks have the same free speech rights as the rest of us, and I don't begrudge them a Web site. What's significant is how welcome they appear to be in the official Democratic Party fold.
June 26, 2002
As the next logical step in the Supreme Court's church-state jurisprudence, the Ninth Circuit's decision that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violates the First Amendment is not all that startling. If government "endorsement" of religion is tantamount to "an establishment of religion", and if trivial marks of favor, such as student-led prayers before football games, constitute "endorsement", a not irrational conclusion is that for teachers to lead students in reciting a declaration that the United States is "one nation under God" maims the Constitutional order.
Whether the Founders would have recognized an "establishment" in such milk-and-water Christianity is more than doubtful. They were familiar with real government endorsement of religion. In England no one could legally vote, be elected or appointed to office, teach or matriculate at a university, hold a military command or conduct a public worship service unless he subscribed on oath to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. Nor could any play be performed until it has passed through censorship that weighed, among other matters, fidelity to Christian faith and morals. These restrictions, onerous as they are in comparison to the state of religious liberty in America today, represented the fruits of a steady process of liberalization. Not too many generations earlier, English governments had burned heretics at the stake.
Now we worry about whether a child of atheist parents will feel uncomfortable if he hears his classmates mumbling the name of God.
But others can debate the merits of this decision. What is more interesting to me is the court that handed it down. The CNN Web article on the decision ran as a tag line that the Ninth Circuit was the most liberal and most frequently reversed of the federal courts of appeal. The second part of that statement is spectacularly correct: Over the past three decades, four out of five Ninth Circuit decisions reviewed by the Supreme Court have been overruled. In some sessions, the percentage has been close to 100. No other circuit approaches that record.
Moreover, very few of these reversals occur in politically charged cases. My own area of practice, employee benefits law, is littered with Ninth Circuit cases that reflect sheer judicial incompetence. Again and again, the judges cannot or will not read the law. To take a handful of examples:
In Jacobson v. Hughes Aircraft Co., the court held that using surplus pension plan assets to provide benefits for new employees violated federal pension law, because the measure served the business purposes of the employer. The Supreme Court reversed.
In Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corporation, the court rewrote agreements between Microsoft and persons who worked for it as independent contractors, granting them employee benefits that they had explicitly bargained away. The court did not assert that the workers were misled or coerced, only that their contracts implied terms opposite to what appeared on paper. This time the Supreme Court did not step in, presumably because the case merely involved contract interpretation rather than a significant question of law.
In Michael v. Riverside Cement Company Pension Plan, the court decided that increasing a plan participant's benefit accrual by less than the increase granted to other participants violated a prohibition against reducing accrued benefits. This was another case overlooked by the Supreme Court.
In Schikore v. BankAmerica Supplemental Ret. Plan, the court required a deferred compensation plan for executives to treat claims as filed when they were mailed even though the plan document stated that filing occurred only upon receipt. Again, the case did not attract the attention of the Supremes.
It would be easy to multiply cases and fun (for me, not for my readers) to examine in detail the meretricious arguments that the Ninth Circuit routinely adduces to support far-fetched conclusions. Whether the court does as badly in other fields of law, I don't know, but I have strong suspicions. It is unlikely that its lack of basic competence is limited to the obscure area with which I happen to be familiar.
The Constitution has no simple remedy for a lower court that cannot do its job. The Supreme Court itself has little ability check an errant inferior court, because its nine Justices lack the time to look at more than a minuscule percentage of appellate rulings. Making the situation worse is the Ninth Circuit's excessive size. Though it is only one of twelve Circuits, it embraces fully one-fifth of the country's population and has the largest complement of judges (28 authorized positions, though three lie vacant owing to Senate Democrats' year-long blockade of judicial appointments). As a palliative, this monster ought to be reduced to reasonable size by adding one or two new Circuits and splitting up its vast territory. Of course, that isn't likely to happen while Democrats control the Senate. The Party of Trial Lawyers is quite happy also to be the Party of Jurisprudential Ineptitude.
* * * *
Because they like George W. Bush very little, like Israel not at all and have difficulty disliking anyone who loathes Western civilization, the gentlebeings of the news media, the European Union and the State Department are lamenting the President's insistence that the Palestine Authority become a liberal democracy before it is allowed to rule a sovereign state. The starting point for most of these laments is, How dare George Bush tell the Palestinian people what to do! His declared refusal to deal further with leaders implicated in terrorism is denounced as a rejection of democratic choice.
What these less-than-openminded critics miss is that the President is not seeking to force the Palestinians to do anything at all. Should they choose to "re-elect" Yasser Arafat as their terrorist-in-chief, the Marines won't descend on Ramallah. The American response will simply be to refrain from granting the Palestinian Authority any favors. The PA wants the U.S. to persuade, if necessary coerce, a close ally to acquiesce in risky concessions. Are we unreasonable or undemocratic when we balk at doing that service for people who cheered the destruction of the World Trade Center, who have themselves launched attacks that killed American citizens, who vigorously reject our fundamental values and who truculently refuse to reform?
If the Palestinians feel that giving up terror, despotism and Jew hatred is too high a price for American help in establishing an independent state, they are welcome to continue their war against Israel on their own. President Bush has left them untrammeled freedom of choice, but America has freedom of choice, too.
June 24, 2002
That President Bush's plan for resolving the conflict between Israel and the Gaza/West Bank Palestinians was not quite what the State Department originally had in mind is shown by the headline that the White House attached to his speech this afternoon: "President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership". Not "President Bush Calls for Creation of Palestinian State", nor "President Bush Seeks Middle East Peace", nor "President Bush Urges Arab-Israel Settlement". No, the headline picks up this imperative: "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born."
What is significant is not just the insistence that Yasser Arafat and his criminal cronies be ousted from power over the Palestinian Authority but that the change precede the birth of a Palestinian state. Much else must also come before any Palestinian Fourth of July:
I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.
And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.
In essence, the President's plan is for the Palestinian Authority to do what West Germany and Japan did after World War II: Build a functioning, free enterprise democracy at peace with its neighbors, after which sovereignty will come. Of particular interest is that agreement with Israel on security is a precondition to independence. That sequence reverses the one favored by Foggy Bottom and the European Union, where the Palestinian Authority would first become a sovereign state and only then enter into peace negotiations.
The likelihood that the Palestinian kleptocracy and its Arab backers will rejoice at this modest proposal is in the vicinity of nil, but their acquiescence is not the President's goal. The objective is to offer a tangible reward and a pledge of support to Palestinians who want to abandon the wicked, futile creed of Jew Hatred in favor of peace, freedom, prosperity and self-government.
To expect sensible Palestinians to rally instantly, overthrow Arafat and start the work of building a free society is unrealistic. In the short run, Israel will have to continue to hunt down terrorists and retaliate against Palestinian atrocities, while the U.S. will need to pressure Arab regimes to crack down on terrorist organizations. The President's speech includes specific demands for Syrian cooperation that can be read as threats. Is it conceivable that Iraq will not be the first target in the next phase of the war?
While the short run will look about the same as if the President had said nothing, the run after that is more promising. Mr. Bush has refused to countenance the illusions of those Palestinians who thought that the intifada would be rewarded with the offer of immediate Palestinian statehood. Violence is now mere nihilism, and its backers are advocates of mass suicide.
It is possible that Palestinian society is so pathological that its members overwhelmingly prefer the despotic, suicidal present to a liberal future, but it is also possible that the current outpourings of hatred spring primarily from ordinary people's fear of the radicals who wield power over them. Serbian society seemed similarly pathological until Milosevich's fall. Then the world discovered that fanatic nationalists were only a noisy minority that had dominated public opinion through intimidation rather than shared beliefs.
President Bush is betting that the ordinary human desire for a better life for oneself and one's children will prevail over a xenophobia that entails misery for the present generation and death for the next. Historically, that bet has very good odds.
Addendum: Christopher Johnson's Midwest Conservative Journal takes a diametically opposite view, condemning the Bush policy root and branch. Chris's error, IMHO, is his hidden premise that the kind of Palestinian transformation that the President envisions is impossible. His pessimism could prove prophetic, but, if it is, the U.S.-Israeli position will be no worse than it is today. The President has yielded nothing and has promised the Palestinians nothing if they persist in their hostility.
June 21, 2002
The Yale trusteeship election that I wrote about two months ago (April 21st) had the expected result. Leftist architect Maya Lin trounced petition candidate the Rev. W. David Lee (also a left-winger) by 41,575 votes to 8,324. Today I received a letter, addressed to all of his fellow Yale graduates, from Kurt Schmoke, a Democratic politician and the longest serving of the elected trustees, in which he announces the outcome. Judging by this missive, 83 percent of the vote isn't sufficient to reassure the Eli Establishment. Evidently speaking for the trustees as a body, Mr. Schmoke states:
The University is firmly committed to preserving the opportunity for alumni to elect members of the Corporation. It is a privilege that has been extended to Yale alumni since 1871, a privilege that is not shared by the alumni of some sister institutions.
I hadn't been aware that anybody was threatening the deprive the alumni of this privilege. And nobody is - except possibly the trustees themselves. Mr. Schmoke issues a veiled warning that he and his colleagues are starting to have doubts about the wisdom of collegiate democracy:
This year, we experienced for the first time organized campaigning that involved fundraising, paid advertisements, direct mail, e-mail, and telephone solicitation, as well as endorsements by politicians and other prominent alumni. This unprecedented level of campaigning and financial expenditure has prompted many to urge the Corporation to consider changes in the electoral process.
It isn't surprising, I suppose, that a purebred liberal would like for his alma mater to take the McCain-Feingold route and get all of that awful campaigning out of elections. From his next paragraph, it is obvious that Mr. Schmoke attaches little importance to an informed electorate:
I share the concern that this year's experience, if it becomes the norm, might compromise our ability to attract highly diverse individuals with distinguished records of personal achievement to serve as stewards committed to the welfare of the whole institution. In the past, in part because there was no campaigning, the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee (which annually solicits the views of 1,400 alumni [less than two percent of living Yale alumni, ed.] concerning potential candidates) has had no difficulty in finding exceptional candidates. If, however, an organized campaign and attendant expenditures of tens of thousands of dollars were to become a requisite for electoral success, thus mirroring the election process for public office, many prominent and highly qualified candidates may decline to stand for election.
Does it matter what the voters know about the nominating committee's anointed? Is it too much to expect potential "stewards committed to the welfare of the whole institution" to tell the electorate how they intend to exercise their stewardship? For Mr. Schmoke, it is clear, the answers are "no" and "yes".
Even on its own terms, this worry about "expenditures of tens of thousands of dollars" is rather silly. The Rev. Dr. Lee is, I venture to say, less affluent than any sitting Yale trustee. If he could afford a modest campaign - it consisted of one mailing to alumni, a Web site, a few print ads and some solicitation of voters thought likely to be sympathetic - so can any other Yalie, at least any other who is likely to be tapped by the nominating committee. One might note, too, that Dr. Lee, after making this effort, lost overwhelmingly to a candidate who apparently spent not a dime out of her own pocket.
So what is Mr. Schmoke so agitated about? Does he really fear that the Yale Corporation cannot survive a brush with democracy? Or is he simply fearful and suspicious of democracy itself?
June 17, 2002
Watergate-plus-thirty is an anniversary to heat up the lukewarm cockles of liberal hearts. Liberalism may be in intellectual and political retreat, but it can fondly recollect its great triumph over the diabolical Richard Nixon. One thinks of nostalgic Confederate veterans swapping tales about Manassas and Chancellorsville.
Conservatives have reflexively tended to look back on Nixon's fall with regret, on the sound but not infallible principle that whatever the Left applauds must be deplorable. In the short run, Watergate did indeed spawn unhappy consequences, not only Republican electoral defeats in 1974 and 1976 but also such overreactive legislation as the independent counsel law (which met its demise only when Democrats learned that it roasted geese as well as ganders) and campaign finance reform (still ramifying to strangle free elections). The long run impact was more positive. An event like Watergate was bound to happen. The Republic was fortunate that we finally got it over during Richard Nixon's term of office.
What is most important about Watergate is that it was not an extraordinary instance of Presidential overreaching. President Roosevelt used the Department of Internal Revenue and other executive agencies to harass political enemies, and his precedents were taken up by his successors. President Nixon just followed an established pattern. It was his bad, though not wholly undeserved, luck that one particular abuse of power - objectively no worse than many others over the preceding four decades - touched off a conflagration. If the break-in had not been farcically bungled, if the public mood had not been rendered exceptionally sensitive by the war in Vietnam, if Nixon himself had not been the object of irrational loathing among large segments of the media, Watergate would still be known only as a luxury office/apartment building, and "plumbers" might still operate on behalf on Presidents.
Many conservatives are to this day galled by the blatant double standard that led to Richard Nixon's being disgraced for conduct that Lyndon Johnson indulged in without rebuke. That is, I think, the wrong reaction. Nixon was held to a higher standard than Democratic Presidents, and there has been little move toward equitable treatment since then. If Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan or either George Bush had been discovered dallying with a 20-something intern, there would have been no hairsplitting about what is or isn't "sexual relations".
But the double standard should not be regretted. It is one of the Republican Party's great strengths. The GOP's leadership ranks are periodically swept clean of undesirable characters, leaving them - not saintly but a couple of cuts above the opposition. The star of the contemporary Democratic Party is a serial adulterer who was disbarred for lying in court and appears never to have learned any lesson that was not narrowly political. His Republican opposite number is a sober family man who can talk persuasively about reforming one's life. Republicans and conservatives should be able to live with the contrast. It is an enduring legacy of Watergate and, paradoxically, the one most advantageous to the Right.
June 12, 2002
The "civil libertarian" outcry over the detention of Abdullah al-Muhajir (né Jose Padilla) has such an air of unreality that one almost imagines it to be a deliberate parody, a kind of Bill of Rights fantasia aimed at showing us how bizarre unfettered legal theorizing can become.
The suppositious victim of this outrage against freedom is a member of an organization that is openly at war with the United States, one that has attacked our territory and killed thousands of our countrymen. Had his superiors assigned him to carry a rifle in Afghanistan, no one would have objected to his being held without trial after being captured. When an American citizen lately resident in Saudi-controlled Arabia was taken prisoner over there, we were spared demands that he be either released or indicted on criminal charges.
Mr. al-Muhajir/Padilla happened to be captured in Chicago while on a mission to gather information that would be helpful in planning future attacks. If that does not make him a combatant, then neither were the members of the German General Staff.
I don't think that advanced civil libertarians are having second thoughts about the propriety of incarcerating enemy soldiers in time of war, but they definitely believe that something is wrong and that fascism is again descending on America. In the words of the New York Times:
Our Constitution guarantees that those suspected of crimes must be informed of the charges against them, be able to confront their accusers, consult with a lawyer and have a speedy and open trial. But that means very little if the government can revoke all those rights merely by labeling someone a combatant. And as Mr. Mujahir's [sic] case shows, the government is prepared to strip away the rights of American citizens as readily as those of foreigners.
Well, if the government wishes to punish al-Muhajir/Padilla for a crime, he will have all of those rights, which he will, under the procedures established by the Bush Administration, be able to exercise in a civilian court room. Is the Times arguing that, because he is alleged to have committed an ordinary crime, he is immune to detention as a combatant?
What about the fear that "the government can revoke all those rights merely by labeling someone a combatant"? There are two rather obvious answers:
First, habeas corpus is available to the accused, if he has been labeled wrongly. The courts are open and functioning. As a matter of fact, Mr. al-Muhajir/Padilla's objections to imprisonment were heard this afternoon by a federal judge.
Second, government officials already possess, if they wished to exercise it, immense power to arrest and hold citizens arbitrarily. Yet few sane people worry about the existence of that power or suggest that it be curtailed by abolishing arrests. The reason is that our country is not governed by monsters. The danger that the government will deliberately pin the label of "enemy soldier" on innocent Hispano-Moslems is nil, and our judicial system has ample means of correcting mistakes. In the al-Muhajir/Padilla case, there is no rational doubt that the government was neither malicious nor mistaken.
The comeback to this line of argument is, "Oh, so you think that the government is always right? I thought that you conservatives distrusted government." The implied dichotomy is, however, ridiculous. There is a broad middle ground between unquestioning confidence in the efficacy of government action and paranoid certainty that the magistrates freely chosen by a moderate, generally sensible polity are covert tyrants who will inevitably abuse any police power.
As a safeguard of liberty, the framers of the Constitution placed more faith in the good sense of elected officials than in the formal processes of law. The writ of habeas corpus can be suspended in time of invasion or rebellion (Art. I, sec. 9); free elections cannot.
Finally, let us note the peculiar concluding sentence of the paragraph quoted above: "the government is prepared to strip away the rights of American citizens as readily as those of foreigners". I was unaware that we had been stripping foreigners of any right other than the "right" to wage war against us. Does the Times believe that we should have preceded air attacks in Afghanistan with drops of leaflets informing the Taliban of their Miranda rights?
It is heavily tabu these days to hint that absurd objections to the conduct of the war stem from lack of patriotism, and I have no doubt that the editors of the Times are patriotic in their own fashion. Unfortunately, their fashion is refracted through a maze of intellectual fun-house mirrors until it is distorted into a mockery of common sense.
June 9, 2002
In a public relations blunder reminiscent of the pre-Reformation, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, is quoted as telling the Italian magazine Trente Giorni that U.S. press coverage of the priestly sex scandal in the American Roman Catholic Church is a "witch hunt" by anti-Catholics, acting "with a fury that reminds me at times of Diocletian and Nero and more recently of Stalin and Hitler". Then he tops off this strange assertion by strangely theorizing that CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe are angry at the Church for its opposition to abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia and for its support of a Palestinian homeland. (Eric J. Lyman, "Cardinal Blasts U.S. Media for Sex Coverage")
The first reactions that I have seen - all from conservative American bloggers, but I'm very sure that the blogosphere will be unanimous this time - range from mocking to furious. It is scarcely possible to list all the ways in which the Cardinal displays his abysmal ignorance. If a man like this is really papabile (which I doubt, for reasons that we will get to in a moment), one can only hope that John Paul II will prove to be immortal.
What the blogosphere has not rushed to do is find out what kind of Cardinal this one is. He is, in fact, a prominent liberal. A modernist Catholic journalist recently picked him as his favorite Papal candidate (Thomas Watson, "Vatican Journalist Surmises Church's Future"), and it is his unquestioning liberalism that leads him to create the absurd link between sex scandals and Palestine, the European Left's cause du jour. The same liberalism leads to his being described as a possible successor to the present Pope; nowhere is wishful thinking more rampant than among journalists pining for the modernization of the See of Rome.
One aspect of His Eminence's ignorance has a touch of irony. The mainstream U.S. media are indeed anti-Catholic, but the animus extends only to Catholic traditionalists. With the institutional Church and the American hierarchy, secular journalists feel quite comfortable. That isn't surprising. Save on a handful of issues like abortion, where media accounts are always careful to "balance" official voices with those of modernist dissenters, the American bishops are, on the whole, reliable political liberals whose calls for "social justice" go down well at CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. The hierarchy has even made its pro-life stances on abortion and euthanasia less unacceptable by weaving them into a "seamless garment" with opposition to capital punishment, as if very young and very elderly innocents were entitled to no greater moral consideration than convicted murderers.
Thus the Cardinal was attacking organs that, until recently, sedulously avoided drawing attention to priestly sins. If the U.S. Catholic Church were even moderately right-wing, we can be confident that pedophilia would have been in the headlines years, if not decades, ago. Complaints by teenage boys of sexual abuse by priests, as well as multi-million dollar settlements to purchase the victims' silence, have been going on for a long time. The "lavender network" apparently got its start in pre-Vatican II days. There was, in short, a plethora of grist for exposés, but little of it got ground until so many events collided in the Boston Archdiocese that it was impossible to let the situation remain under-reported.
Thus the media slowly and reluctantly paid attention to a scandal that had been under their noses for 30 or 40 years. Religion reporters suddenly had to leave off rewriting diocesan press releases and start asking embarrassing questions. Leaked e-mails from Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, remarking that the Los Angeles Times' lead religion writer could be counted on to give stories about the Church a favorable spin, show what the previous expectation had been.
If one can believe polls - and conversations with Roman Catholic friends - rank-and-file American Catholics are delighted that the press has finally uncovered this mass of corruption (no pun intended) and hope that the Vatican will act to cleanse it. Those who are unhappy about the bad press are liberal priests. When a Florida bishop was exposed as a pederast, a majority of the clergy in his diocese signed a petition asking Rome to reject his resignation. Meanwhile, according to a Chicago Sun-Times poll, 87 percent of Catholic laymen would defrock any priest guilty of the same offense.
It is no doubt from the clergy, not the laity, that Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga takes his lead. His blast at anti-Catholic bigotry looks like a ploy to convince conservative laity that perverted priests are victims of the same prejudices as Catholics who favor the Latin mass or express their opposition to abortion with excessive zeal. A few months ago, in the early stages of the scandal, that spin-doctoring might have worked. Now it is likely only to draw the pew folk's wrath toward the other side of the Atlantic.
June 6, 2002
Recriminations over last summer's California energy crisis will doubtless continue for years, for at least as long as state taxpayers are burdened with Governor Davis' long-term, above-market electricity contracts. The governor and his friends would like to place blame on other parties, and they have been helped a great deal by evidence of what the press calls "manipulation" of the California energy market. The actions of the private sector do indeed point a moral, but it is not a moral of the kind that liberals enjoy.
Under the name of "deregulation", California set up a bizarre market place where sellers of electricity could compete under command economy rules. Those rules were set by a state agency, the Independent System Operator, which found the task of telling buyers and sellers how they could and could not get together and engage in acts of consensual economics quite daunting. Unintentionally but inevitably, it created odd incentives to engage in behavior that would normally have lost money. Actors in the market figured out what those incentives were, acted accordingly and were rewarded with profits. The ISO chased after them, constantly striving to plug loopholes, but not doing much more than move them around.
The political and media interest in this tale centers on the greedy "manipulators". But, if the companies followed the ISO's rules - and there are very few allegations that they didn't - it is hard to see why they should be condemned. If the ISO's energy accounting was set up in such a way that exporting power to Oregon and then importing an equal amount counted as a net influx, who were mere private persons to doubt the government's wisdom?
"It is not from the benevolence of the baker that we expect our bread", but those who denounce energy sellers for extracting the highest prices that they could legally obtain now appear to think that it is from the benevolence of power companies that we should expect our electricity. If the government mandates strange ways to make money, men will take advantage of them, and the fault lies not with those who profit from the opportunity but with those who brought it into existence.
California's experience demonstrates yet again that giving orders to markets doesn't work. The ISO tried to design a machine for distributing electricity and wasn't able to construct one that worked adequately. The windfalls accruing to clever operators were a waste product of an inefficient mechanism. The solution is not to make the machine ever more complex - that will merely reduce its efficiency further - and certainly not to start imposing draconian penalties for the offense of following the letter of the law. The lesson that we ought to learn is that, wherever the government experiments with command-and-control regimes, profiteering will flourish. The former is soil and fertilizer for the latter.
June 4, 2002
Far be it from me to claim inside knowledge of what moves the stock market, but the media explanation for yesterday's decline ("growing distrust of corporate America", as the Wall Street Journal's liberal news pages put it, oddly echoed today by the editorial page) is rather peculiar. Accounting scandals are old news, and there was nothing new to suggest that they are deeper or more widespread than previously thought. The resignation of Tyco's chairman was a sensational development, but the proximate cause was a personal, not a corporate, matter, and questions about his company's accounting have been widely reported for weeks.
While focusing on information that investors have doubtless already figured into their valuations, the instant market analysts were silent about one important event and two emerging trends.
The New York Times disclosed the Bush Administration's alleged change of heart on Global Warming. Other accounts of the pertinent document, a bureaucrat-authored study for a U.N. climate change commission, suggest that the Times was exaggerating (surprise, surprise), but any increase in the possibility that the U.S. may start drifting toward Kyoto-style restrictions on economic activity is unpromising for investments.
Forecasts began to appear that the dollar's decline against other currencies will continue and perhaps accelerate. The dollar's weakness forebodes inflation, a bad disease that often attracts a worse cure from heavy-handed Dr. Fed.
The economic damage of the Administration's steel tariffs started working its way into the consumer economy. (Vide May 31, 2002.) There was superficially good news on this front - the European Union apparently has decided to put off imposing retaliatory tariffs - but it was of ambivalent import. The leading candidate for a compromise between the U.S. and the E.U. is a system of selective exemptions for favored foreign producers, thus inserting a heavy dose of politics into the flow of trade.
These negatives strike me as more than adequate to explain why investors were not brimming with joie de vivre yesterday. The real world is still more important than accounting standards.
June 2, 2002
That Yasser Arafat lies repeatedly is no big news; he isn't alone among Middle Eastern (or other) politicians in that respect. What is remarkable about "General" Arafat is the brazeness of his lying. As the price of escaping from Ramallah, he declared his opposition to suicide-murder bombings. Liberal opinion for the most part reacted unskeptically, and even the U.S. began talking about the need to rebuild the Palestinian Authority's "security apparatus", thus enabling it, we were assured, to carry out its "mission" of "stopping rogue attacks" on Israeli civilians.
And now, having quickly squelched proposals for democratic reforms within his domain, the "General" has, according to the Associated Press, offered cabinet positions in his quasi-government to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine - four unapologetic terrorist groups that have supported and carried out bombings targeted at innocents. The last three have publicly refused the offers, on the ground that the "General" isn't enough of a Jew hater, but Hamas is still considering the matter.
CIA director George Tenet is meeting with the "General" tomorrow about reforming the Palestinian Authority. No doubt he will hear assurances of good behavior and renunciations of terror. It is time for us to stop listening. To paraphrase what Diana Trilling once said of Mary McCarthy, every word out of Arafat's mouth is a lie, including "a", "and" and "the". Our only message for him ought to be that he has no credibility left: After too many decades of falsehood, his choice is between going quietly or at the barrel of a gun.