Ephemerides (January 2004)
January 28, 2004 A John Kerry quote to ponder again and again: "I think it's time we had a president who asked us to go to the moon right here on Earth by making certain that we are the generation that makes clear that never should young Americans in uniform ever be held hostage to America's dependence on oil in the Middle East." (via David Tell, who also quotes, in toto because you have to read it to disbelieve it, a classic Wes Clark speech). [To comment, click here.]
January 27, 2004 Great psephology I have not, but I don't think that it's too risky to opine that the Democratic race now has two possible trajectories: (1) The party establishment rallies around John Kerry, money and momentum flow in, and it's all over in two weeks. (2) The race slogs on, with three to five more-or-less serious candidates, mixed primary results, nobody above 30 percent in the delegate count, and the exciting prospect that the nominee may, for the first time since 1952, be decided on the convention floor. In either event, the junior Senator from Massachusetts is the current favorite. I doubt that Karl Rove is despondent.
Most importantly, keeping the opposition party out of the fever swamps is good for the country and thus good for the country's leader. President Bush may find John Kerry a tougher opponent than Howard Dean, but victory against him will mean more. Demolishing a "lesser evil" is a poor credential for a successful second term, nor would a campaign poisoned by Soros mouthpieces make it easier to govern thereafter.
So far as Senator Kerry's electability goes, he is fascinatingly like the last sitting Senator to win the Presidency, a parallel that he has relished since his Yale days, when he made sure that everybody knew that his initials too were "J.F.K." (His political career might never have begun if his parents had named him "George".) Both represented Massachusetts. Both were war heroes. Both were occasionally wavering liberals. Neither held a Senate leadership position, was associated with significant legislation, or had otherwise established a presidentabile record. Had they not determinedly sought the Presidency, no one would have thought either a natural for the job.
The great difference is that John F. Kennedy ran when modern liberalism was young and full of spirit. Candidate Kennedy was going to bring the barely tried resources of the federal government to bear against poverty, discrimination, inadequate education and a host of lesser evils. Abroad, he was going to end the dangerous drift toward inferiority to the U.S.S.R. (Remember the Missile Gap?) He was the bold young dreamer pitted against the tired, timid technocrats. And he had one other, more mundane advantage: The Solid South hadn't yet dissolved, much less turned into a Republican stronghold. Of Kennedy's 303 electoral votes, 81 came from former Confederate states.
John F. Kerry's liberalism is stale, shrill and introverted. Where Kennedy called America to greatness, Kerry calls for nervous acquiescence in the sentiments of France, Germany and Russia. Kennedy wanted to lift up the poor. Kerry demands that we take down the prosperous.
A candidate with a limited record and a stirring message can win. So can one with distinguished accomplishments and little to say. But I rather doubt the staying power of a career on the back benches combined with a dystopian platform.
Pretty soon, too, the young Kerry will begin to attract scrutiny. Normally, a man's youthful foibles and follies ought not to matter much. The Kerry campaign, however, has placed immense emphasis on the candidate's heroism in the Vietnam War. If that is to be touted as an important qualification for high office, then it isn't unfair to look at the other side of his record, namely, his active role in spreading false stories of American atrocities in Vietnam. (Vide Mackubin Thomas Owens, "Vetting the Vet Record".) In brief, ex-Lieutenant Kerry claimed, before a Congressional committee, that atrocities were "not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command". That was a lie. As an officer who had served in the field, he must have known that it was a lie. It is a lie for which he has never apologized. As the years have passed, it has simply disappeared from public memory. It shouldn't, and I doubt that it will remain forgotten much longer. [To comment, click here.]
January 27, 2004 A frequent refrain of the anti-immigration crowd is that the United States must "seal its border" with Mexico and that, until that is done, all efforts to deal with the problems of illegal immigration, particularly the President's recent proposal, will be futile. Today's Wall Street Journal presents solid evidence that, if border sealing is the only solution, we have an insoluble problem.
The government spends nearly $4 billion a year (up from less than $800 million at the start of the Clinton Administration) on policing our borders. The Border Patrol has 9,000 agents (three times the number of a decade ago), supplemented by remote-control cameras, motion detectors and other technical support. Nonetheless, an estimated half million people enter the country illegally each year. Presumably, $8 billion and 18,000 agents would reduce the flow somewhat, but effectively closing a 2,000 mile boundary would be fantastically expensive.
What would we get in return? Higher labor costs (good for a small segment of workers and bad for all of those other workers who buy the favored group's products) are the one certainty. The setback for multiculturalism that the anti-immigrationists hope for is far less likely. The threat to American culture stems from an elite distaste for assimilation, which wouldn't be affected by a reduced rate of immigration. Those who want to see Spanish become the dominant tongue in large sections of the United States already have millions of Spanish speakers to propagandize. If no more arrive, that won't hinder their efforts. Contrariwise, the Bush proposal, which gives temporary immigrants incentives to return to their homelands, won't help them.
Isn't talk of making the border impentrable or, more absurdly, of rounding up all illegals currently on our side of it, a trifle Wes Clark-ish? Shouting one's determination to do a job doesn't get it done, no matter how shrill the shouting. [To comment, click here.]
Update, 1/28/04: Mark Krikorian, one of the most strident of anti-immigrationists, has responded to the Journal ("Earth to WSJ") with the claim that illegals can be kept out by stringently enforcing the sanctions against employers who hire them. He cites several instances in which that tactic has been tried. In each instance, by his own account, it has failed, because employers complained loudly and successfully about the disruption to their work forces. To Mr. Krikorian, such complaints are groundless (does he suppose that farmers in Georgia are fanatics for multiculturalism?). He would like the INS to embark on a massive program of raids, fines and threats that would ultimately frighten illegals away from remunerative labor. The negative reaction to limited efforts in that direction doesn't give him any clue as to how the public (the American public) would view a prolonged, "Herculean" campaign. Americans may dislike illegal immigration, but their dislike for intrusive law enforcement, vast bureaucracies and the imposition of arbitrary burdens on employers is greater still. The final line of Mr. Krikorian's screed, "The Journal's editorial writers . . . suffer from the malady of all utopian ideologues: an unwillingness to acknowledge facts that are inconsistent with infallible theory," carries a heavy burden of unconscious irony. [To comment, click here.]
January 27, 2004 On this day Wolfgang Mozart was born (1756) and Michael Jackson's hair caught fire (1984). Guess which anniversary is featured on the elevator monitors in the building where I work. Ah, popular culture! [To comment, click here.]
January 26, 2004 A friend sent me (for reasons that aren't important here) an Associated Press story from Davos (I can't find a link, unfortunately) that includes an intriguing line: "A leading Chinese economist told participants . . . that China would have the world's second-largest economy by 2020."
According to standard sources, such as the CIA World Factbook, mainland China already has the world's second-largest economy, with close to 60 percent of the U.S. GDP. Either this "leading Chinese economist" is setting an extremely easy target, or he is inadvertently admitting that the publicized numbers are bogus. When one looks at those figures on a per capita basis, they are distinctly fishy. Are we really to believe that China has almost twice the GDP per person of India? Or that a six trillion dollar Chinese economy cannot pay for a military machine at least equal to ours technologically as well as numerically superior?
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we learned that it and its satellites were much more impoverished than outside experts had believed and that much of our information about their economies was a lie. The same is true, I suspect, of the last great totalitarian power. [To comment, click here.]
January 24, 2004 The "Bush LIED!" crowd are no doubt pleased by WMD-searcher David Kay's exit interviews (as reported, e. g., by The Daily Telegraph), in which he doubts that any stockpiles of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons will be discovered. The moral that some commentators will draw is that the war was all a mistake. They will be wrong.
The three incontrovertible facts about Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are, first, that it retained large stockpiles of chemical armaments after the Iran-Iraq War (no one but fringe idiotarians denies that Saddam Hussein manufactured chemical weapons profusely and used them against both Iran and domestic rebellions); second, that, if those stockpiles were destroyed, it was done with the utmost secrecy; and, third, that the Ba'athist regime vigorously pursued nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities, as Dr. Kay's own research proved.
Given those facts, what accounts for the inability of the Iraq Survey Group to find any unconventional weapons? Did Saddam Hussein decide to anticipate Colonel Ghaddafi by destroying his threatening munitions, then not tell anyone that he was doing so? Even by Saddamite standards, that would be utterly irrational conduct.
What would not be irrational is this: It should have been obvious to Saddam as war with America drew near that chemical weapons were not going to be effective against a modern army. (I assume that the biological and nuclear programs hadn't yet produced anything of immediate military utility; the former would in any case be far more useful for terrorism than war-fighting.) Furthermore, America had been trumpeting for months that any enemy commander who issued orders to use weapons of mass destruction would be speedily executed for war crimes, so there was a large possibility that the weapons wouldn't be used even if useful.
Now, what would you do in that situation? Destroying the weapons still accomplishes nothing unless carried out openly. Leaving them in storage is also useless. There are just two ways (at least I can think of no others) to gain some benefit from this arsenal. One is to ship it to friendly foreign countries, and many commentators (including Dr. Kay himself in a new Daily Telegraph interview) have noted that possibility. The other is to concentrate as many weapons as possible into ultra-secret hiding places, away from conventional weapons stockpiles, with the intention of retrieving them after military defeat and employing them as instruments of terror.
Documents captured with Saddam Hussein reportedly show that plans for anti-American terrorism were laid in advance. There was certainly ample time for preparations during the long, slow "rush to war".
If hiding chemical weaponry for the aftermath of the war was the Ba'athist plan, it held out the prospect of vastly more impressive attacks than the pinpricks that Coalition forces have suffered for the past several months. Mustard gas shells lobbed into downtown Baghdad would disrupt the interim government and keep alive the fear that was the Ba'athists' most potent source of power.
What probably went wrong was that there were no massive popular uprisings in behalf of the old regime to distract the occupiers, Coalition troops were able to maintain effective patrols throughout the Sunni Triangle, and retrieval thus proved unfeasible. With Saddam's sons dead and he and most of his principal lieutenants in custody, there may now be no Ba'athists at large who know where to find the caches. If they are well-concealed, the chance that our forces will run across them by chance in the near future is slender.
More than one lesson can be learned from this experience. One is that delaying the invasion in hopes of gaining U.N. approval was not a risk-free strategy. Between Congressional authorization of military action and the start of the attack, six months passed, during which Saddam had, and very likely took, the opportunity to make peacekeeping in Iraq considerably more dangerous than it had to be. Luckily, his plans didn't (so far) succeed, but Fortuna Americam adiuvat is not a maxim on which it is safe to depend. [To comment, click here.]
January 21, 2004 With the traditional blogger exhortation, "go easy on the new guy", let me welcome Arend Smilde's C. S. Lewis Pages, a collection of English and Dutch materials about the great scholar and Christian apologist. Particularly worthy of perusal is Mijnheer Smilde's long, thoughtful review of A. N. Wilson's biography of Lewis ("Sweetly Poisonous in a Welcome Way"):
Wilson’s own remarkable combination of superior writing and inferior judgement as embodied in this book has never, I think, received the close attention it deserves. One obvious reason for such attention is that it could help to dispel some false notions about C. S. Lewis. What is probably more important in the long run is that a close study of this book is likely to increase our general understanding of the workings of intellectual fraud. . . . Wilson’s image of Lewis is at least as fantastic as any Lewis devotee’s image. To be sure, his imagination works in a different way. Wilson would never ascribe to Lewis improbable feats of ascetism and saintliness. He rather invents details or episodes which will throw doubt on Lewis’s sincerity and chastity.
January 20, 2004 Relaxing in the wake of Iowa, I have posted the latest installment of my examination of Roger Stritmatter's doctoral dissertation purporting to prove, from markings in an old Bible, that "William Shakespeare" was a pseudonym. [To comment, click here.]
January 19, 2004 A great sigh of relief as the Iowa Democratic caucus results come in. The danger of month after month of a poisonous, conspiracy-mongering Presidential campaign, one more at home in Egypt than America, has receded, if not vanished. Neither John Kerry nor John Edwards would, in my judgement, make a very good President, but the country can survive not-very-good Presidents. Besides, both have displayed campaign skills that aren't going to keep Karl Rove awake nights. Their caucus showings were definitely a case of victory going to the general who made the next-to-the-last blunder.
Speaking of generals, there still looms Wesley Clark, who has labored mightily to transform himself into a madman. He may, if Howard Dean's support collapses abruptly, be the big winner next week in New Hampshire. Then, too, the nomination of a non-madman Democrat may make little difference to the tone of the Democratic campaign. Independent expenditures by the Soros-funded Bush Haters could well drown out the official party line.
Still, I am less fearful now that future historians will compare 2004 to 1856, with rough-and-tumble politics turning into civil war. If our Republic endures into the next millennium, the Iowa Democratic Party will deserve a small, but real, share of our descendants' gratitude. [To comment, click here.]
Update, 1/20/04: David Frum has the same idea and does a better job of expressing it:
Have the Democrats gone sane? Yesterday Iowa Democrats administered a brutal drubbing to Howard Dean and the far left of the Democratic party generally, opting instead for the two most sensible candidates on the ballot. If the Democrats go on to drub General Wesley Clark in New Hampshire, we may have to revisit all those articles about the “angry electorate” and “divided America” – and open our minds to the hopeful reality that the patriotic consensus of 9/11 still holds.
Neither John Kerry nor John Edwards would make as good a president as George Bush. They lack his courage, his toughness, and his principles. That said, the Iowa results are deeply reassuring: There are some 600,000 Democrats in Iowa, and they may be some of the most liberal Democrats in the country. And yet when the time came to cast a ballot, not even they could stomach the destructive opportunism of the Dean campaign.
From a purely selfish partisan point of view, I’m sorry that Dean did not do better: He was and remains the most beatable of all the major candidates. But partisanship isn’t everything. The Democratic voters of Iowa spotted the worst candidate and the worst man in the race, and soundly thrashed him.
January 17, 2004 From a friend who thinks ill of President Bush's immigration proposals:
[X's] family has lived on the Arizona-Mexico border since the 1870s (she first came to DC on Sen. Goldwater's staff just out of grad school). She gave a talk to a group of anti-immigration activists here Wednesday night. Though she has told me much about what's going on down there, this was the first time I had heard her full presentation. The audience was up in arms at the end. Her stories of the rampant criminality of the illegal alien traffic and what is has done to the border ranchers are truly horrific. It is impossible to work a ranch when 500-1000 people cross your land every day, stealing, vandalizing, tearing up the irrigation system, killing livestock, car jacking vehicles and menacing anyone they come across (particularly women). They travel in large packs, with armed guides and escorts. Smugglers easily make $100,000 a month, so the gangs fight each other for business and kill when the going gets rough. A Border Patrol officer was recently killed on Erin's family land. Ranchers can no longer travel or work alone, and always carry guns. Even in their own homes, in their own beds, they keep a weapon handy. It sounds like the Roman frontier during the ancient barbarian migrations.
My friend thinks that these shocking conditions are an argument against regularizing the flow of workers from Mexico to the U.S. I'd say that they show how dreadful current policies are and how vital it is to extend the rule of law to immigration. There wouldn't be $100,000 a month to be made in people-smuggling if Mexicans could apply for jobs legitimately and take the bus across the border.
Similar arguments are made, I know, in favor of legalizing narcotics. The difference is that a larger supply of less expensive drugs would have its own undesirable consequences, which (in my opinion at least) outweigh the benefits of reducing the role of criminals in their distribution. By contrast, there's nothing intrinsically bad about one man's employing another on mutually agreeable terms. Once the incentives for "travel[ing] in large packs, with armed guides and escorts" and "stealing, vandalizing, tearing up the irrigation system, killing livestock, car jacking vehicles and menacing anyone they come across" go away, the problems created by immigration are molehill-sized or merely fanciful. And most of its effects have already been felt, because the vast majority of those who will secure temporary resident status under the Bush plan are already here. Their impact on economics, politics and culture is part of the status quo. Regularization will get rid of the barbarians without worsening whatever detriments the arrival of peaceable aliens may bring. [To comment, click here.]
January 14, 2004 Today's Wall Street Journal, looking at the leading Democratic Presidential candidates, asks, "What does it say about this proud political party that its most fervent voters are rejecting their biggest names for candidates who neither they nor the rest of the country know much about?"
I'm tempted by the editorialist's suggestion that "this mystery predilection" may "reflect a loss of confidence in traditional Democratic ideas", but the phenomenon that he describes isn't new. Contrasts in candidates' résumés have distinguished the major parties since the New Deal. In the ten elections since 1944 when the Republican Presidential nominee wasn't an incumbent President, he had heavyweight government service in nine cases: as Vice President (Nixon, Bush père), governor of a major state (Dewey, Reagan, Bush fils), Senate Majority Leader (Dole) or Supreme Commander of the largest military coalition in history (Eisenhower). Barry Goldwater was the lone exception, and he had been a leading conservative spokesman, not a mere Senate backbencher, for several years before winning the nomination.
During the same period, the Democrats likewise ran ten races without an incumbent President on their line. Half the time, they followed the same pattern as that Republicans:two incumbent Vice Presidents (Humphrey, Gore), a former VP (Mondale) and a large-state governor (Stevenson). On the other five occasions, though, they put forward Senators without leadership positions (Kennedy, McGovern) and small-state governors (Carter, Dukakis, Clinton), none of them a widely known figure before he began running for the Presidency. In other words, obscurity has played well with Democratic primary voters. It shouldn't be a great surprise that it seems likely to win again, giving the party another minor league governor or a general who commanded in a minor league war or, perhaps, a Senator notable only for ambition. The two aspirants who might qualify as big leaguers (Senator Lieberman and Representative Gephardt) seem well out of the running.
At the very least, there's a paradox here. Democrats are the "party of big government", yet they are significantly less likely than "small government" Republicans to want a leader who has succeeded conspicuously in a government role. Instead, they prefer novelties from the nooks and crannies of politics. There ought to be a lesson in such behavior, though I'm not sure of what it is. [To comment, click here.]
January 14, 2004 Not the record for alarmist reporting but a good effort. Today's Wall Street Journal, in a column probably available to subscribers only, worries about "serious safety concerns" at O'Hare Airport.
Air-traffic control operational errors increased six-fold last year.
"We are in a dire situation," said Raymond Gibbons, president of the controller's union at the Federal Aviation Administration's approach-control facility in Elgin, Ill. "We are pushing safety margins ... to limits I've never seen."
In the fourteenth paragraph, after many further expressions of alarm, we get some numbers:
Last year, controllers' operational errors — defined as mistakes that result in aircraft separation standards being violated — increased six-fold in the Chicago Tracon, the Terminal Radar Approach Control facility, which handles traffic approaching and departing the area's airports. There were 24 errors in 2003 [emphasis added], up from four in 2002 and eight in 2001. . . .
Separate from the Tracon numbers, the O'Hare control tower had 13 operational errors of its own last year [emphasis added] — more than the previous three years combined.
O'Hare Airport has roughly 60,000 takeoffs and landings a month. Therefore, the combined error rate for both the controllers and the tower is one per 20,000 flights. Looked at from the other side, 99.99995 percent of the flights are error-free. The standard for "error", it should be noted, is extremely strict. Planes that miss each other by a mile may violate the separation standards.
One wishes, of course, that the error rate were zero, but I'd be delighted to have a computer, or any other piece of equipment, that worked right 99.99995 percent of the time. [To comment, click here.]
January 13, 2004 A man who has been outstandingly successful in his field accepts a Cabinet post under an administration in which he has close personal contacts but with whose philosophy he isn't entirely comfortable. He arrives in Washington with an understandably high opinion of his own ideas and abilities, coupled with scorn for ordinary politicking. Slowly he discovers that politics trumps policy, colleagues competing for the President's ear don't always play fair, and his brilliant concepts are being ignored. Eventually he is asked to leave. He writes a scathing book about his experiences.
That was Robert Reich, whose Locked in the Cabinet is still in print and in a respectable 35,000th place on the Amazon sales list. Paul O'Neill, who is spreading his fifteen minutes of fame over the current week, has followed about the same trajectory, except that he didn't write his own book. In fact, judging by what he said on Today this morning, he also didn't read it. Like a proper CEO, he left the keypunching to a hired hand and merely had his photo taken for the book jacket. In the business world, that routine works fine, because a bevy of PR drudges trawl through the manuscript for potential errors and embarrassments, a process that makes the typical CEO book boring but safe.
Unhappily for Mr. O'Neill, he forgot that he didn't have a PR department, and he didn't know that his ghost writer was an inveterate Bush hater who had already used an earlier Bush disappointment, John DiIulio, as a peg for an anti-Administration tirade. I'm sure that he was extremely surprised to learn that the ghost, an eager volunteer for the job, had, er, "sexed up" documents to make the absurd claim that the President was allotting Iraqi oil contracts to his buddies as soon as he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
By next week, the whole contretemps will be remembered only by the Moveon.org crowd, which will be a kinder fate for Paul O'Neill than his negligence deserves. [To comment, click here.]
January 13, 2004 Being one of those frugal people who never wasted a micro-cent on Salon.com, I can't read Joe Conason's piece on how sending men to Mars is All About Halliburton, except for the couple of paragraphs quoted by Instapundit. Professor Reynolds' correspondents are arguing about whether Mr. Conason truly believes that oil will be found on Mars. Now, Joe may believe that Bill Clinton never told a lie, but imagining that Mars was once the abode of the lush flora and fauna that are the precondition for the formation of oil strikes me as beyond even his gullibility. He must be thinking that a Mars expedition will want to drill for geological samples. Halliburton manufactures drills suitable for the purpose. Therefore, isn't it obvious that President Bush has launched a major scientific initiative to make it possible for his Vice President's former employer to fatten its bottom line with orders for — what? A couple of drilling rigs and a dozen bits?
The idea is comical. Less comical is the thought that, in all likelihood, thousands of readers of Salon.com have reached such a pitch of irrationality that they believe it.Thank God the Angry Left doesn't have nuclear weapons! [To comment, click here.]
January 10, 2004 Various news media (ABC and Fox, for instance, and I heard it on the radio news this morning) are making the peculiar claim that, because Saddam Hussein has been classified as a prisoner of war, the Geneva Convention allows him to be tried for crimes against humanity only by an international tribunal or the occupying power, not by an Iraqi court. I'm no expert in international law, but there are some assertions so odd that no research is needed to discredit them.
First, assuming that Iraq has jurisdiction to try a citizen and former office holder for offenses committed in Iraq (and it surely does), how could that jurisdiction conceivably be divested by his capture in war? That notion doesn't pass the test of elementary common sense. Eugene Volokh confirms that the Geneva Convention doesn't appear to say anything of the sort.
Second, after World War II the Federal Republic of Germany tried thousands of former German soldiers for crimes against humanity. Many of those men must have been Allied prisoners as of the end of the fighting. It's scarcely likely that their trials were conducted in defiance of the Geneva Convention.
I presume that some reporter was informed that international tribunals and occupying powers may, under the law of nations, try prisoners of war and, eager to see an obstacle to the expressed American desire to have Saddam brought to justice by an Iraqi court, leapt to the wishful conclusion that only they had that right. In the world of journalism, that may even pass for cogent reasoning. [To comment, click here.]
Update: For a more detailed analysis, vide Intel Dump, which concludes, "By giving POW status to Saddam, we actually make it easier to give him back to the Iraqis so they can try him, because there's no discretion involved. Art. 118 mandates that we hand Saddam back to the Iraqis at the cessation of hostilities — end of story. This is probably why the Pentagon chose this course of action. Here we have a situation where American interests coincide with the dictates of international law. How could the choice be any easier?" But it's not so easy for a journalist whose first priority is embarrassing the Bush Administration and 37th, if that, is getting the facts straight.
January 9, 2004 Australian Design Group's Seven Ages, long in the production queue, has met the company's goal of 1,000 pre-orders and is scheduled to ship within the next couple of months. The bad news is that the price has now gone up to $75 (U.S.) from the $50 pre-publication figure. The good news is that designer Harry Rowland has about as consistently excellent a record as anybody. If the game is close to its apparent quality, it may draw some Civilization III players away from their computers. [To comment, click here.]
January 8, 2004 The OpinionJournal Political Diary, primarily written by Holman Jenkins and John Fund (invaluable, but you can get it for only $3.95 a month), has an interesting note on the political side of the immigration issue:
The religious revival detected in this country has been even stronger in Latin America, where evangelical support groups are a funnel for immigrants looking to better their lives by coming north. Meanwhile, participation of the religious right in U.S. politics dropped off between 1996 and 2000, one reason Florida was so close last time. Guess which two voting groups are most important today to locking up Florida for the GOP next year? No wonder Karl Rove will be dining with key fundraisers in Palm Beach tonight and President Bush will follow him there tomorrow.
Evangelicals' longstanding interest in Latin America is invisible to the mainstream press, but the President presumably knows about it.
On the other hand, the White House can't be delighted by the sulfurous reaction of a large segment of conservatives to its immigration initiative. An exorbitant farm bill, a campaign finance law that takes direct aim at freedom of speech, steel tariffs, ambiguity on same-sex unions, a huge expansion of Medicare: The NRO Corner grumbled at all of those yet took them in stride. Now it prints message after message from readers who sound like they've joined Howard Dean's Bush-Haters (and many of them threaten to vote for any Democrat over That Man in the White House). You'd think that the President had just doubled tax rates, freed Saddam Hussein and named a lesbian running mate. (Samples: ". . . my inbox is full of rage"; "told me he can't take any more of this, and he's probably going to sit out the next election, or he may hold his nose and vote for Dean"; "makes me long for an alternative to Bush"; and, worthy of some kind of award, the cry that the President's stand makes him a (metaphorical) wife beater.)
Get a grip, mates. First of all, the choice isn't between tolerating several million illegal workers and sending them all back to Mexico. It's between having five to seven percent of our national work force mired in a semi-underground economy and regularizing their status. Right now, thousands of companies engage in unlawful hiring, and such ancillary services as alien smuggling and document forgery represent a sizeable, unhealthy "industry". This web of illegality enmeshes what should be an entirely innocent activity: one man's employment of another on mutually agreeable terms. The pervasive evasion of the law was an evil in peacetime. In the midst of war, it is dangerous. The shadowy corners that hide illegal lettuce pickers also shelter more sinister men.
So far as I can see, the NRO crowd (estimable people most of the time — opposite to Hamlet, they are mad only when the wind is southerly) fantasizes that the problem of illegal immigration can be solved by stern police measures. We'll simply round up approximately one in every 14 workers in the United States, put them on southbound buses and build a 2,000-mile wall from Port Isabel, Texas, to Imperial Beach, California. Were that program possible, it would be a disaster, tantamount to a plague that wiped out eight million-plus workers and their families. The workers and families are mostly poor, but does anyone with a modicum of economic education believe that their elimination would make the rest of us better off?
The "hard line" on illegal aliens dances on the same plane of unrealism as Wesley Clark's delusion that "multilateralism" can win the War on Terror. In each instance, the policy won't work and would make matters worse if it did.
Eventually, I suppose, the nay-saying segment of the Right will calm down, take a look at what the President actually wants to do, begin to feel that the past few days' fulminations are rather silly, and commend Dubya for being wiser than they. In the meantime, Terry McAuliffe has good news for the first time in a long, long while. [To comment, click here.]
January 7, 2004 The Bush Administration's new immigration proposals strike me as merely a modest concession to reality. Several million illegal immigrants hold jobs in the United States. There is no realistic prospect of detecting and expelling more than a minuscule proportion of them. Getting rid of them all, if it were feasible, would be economically catastrophic. Hence, the President proposes to allow them to remain as temporary residents, subject to a host of conditions. Their residency permits will be good for only three years (possibly, but not certainly, renewable) and then only if they continue to hold jobs. They will be allowed to bring family members into the country only if they can demonstate their ability to support them. They will have to pay a fine if they enter the country before securing a job. (That includes illegals who are already here.) Their employers will have to demonstrate that citizens or green card holders are not available to fill their positions.
It's astonishing that this niggardly offer has gotten a favorable first reception from Mexico, the country with the greatest interest in regularizing the treatment of illegals. One can't but suspect that Mexican President Vicente Fox, having burned a lot of bridges to Washington with his opposition to the Iraqi campaign, will take a positive view of almost any American gesture. Less astonishing is the reflexive condemnation from National Review, a fine publication whose free market principles vanish whenever immigration becomes an issue (very odd for an editorial staff top-heavy with recent arrivals from abroad). The blindness is such that NR writer Andrew Stuttaford (a non-citizen and a fervent libertarian on almost every other question) endorses John Kerry's balderdash about how a temporary worker program "rewards business over immigrants by providing them with a permanent pool of disenfranchised temporary workers who could easily be exploited".
Many conservatives are wary of immigration because they worry about cultural or political upheavals. Assuming arguendo that such fears are valid, the Bush proposal does nothing to bring them nearer to reality. Temporary workers won't gain voting rights, won't get any shortcuts to citizenship and will be discouraged from remaining in the United States on a long-term basis. (Among other disincentives, despite having to pay Social Security taxes, they will have to leave the country in order to draw benefits.) The only imaginable objection is the left-wing economic argument that immigrants "take away American jobs" and "undermine wages", postions that ignore both economic theory (workers create wealth; there is no fixed number of jobs, and the price that employers will pay for a worker depends on the marginal value of his production — analogies between the markets for labor and for consumer goods can be highly misleading) and the facts of history. Consider that every year about 3½ million native-born Americans join the work force. The past five years' additions by themselves heavily outnumber the estimated 8 million illegal alien workers. If the labor market operated in the way that immigration opponents fear, the influx of "the young" would be a perennial threat to the well-being of everybody over thirty. Yet the economy continues to grow and wages to rise.
Conservatives should be applauding the new policy as an example of prudent reform. Instead, I fear, a great many will ally with protectionist liberals to maintain an irrational and unsatisfactory status quo. [To comment, click here.]
January 6, 2004 The ancient Greeks used to snigger about how Macedonian males had certain lavender tendencies. Perhaps King Philip invaded and conquered their country in order to shut them up. Be that as it may, the U.S. State Department evidently believes that modern Macedonia is home to victimized homosexuals who need support from an American advertising campaign. According to a recent visitor to the country —
. . . the U.S. embassy in Macedonia is using U.S. taxpayer dollars to erect billboards promoting the homosexual agenda.
Not just billboards, but graphic billboards. The large photo array includes three pictures of gay men holding each other; three pictures of women in suggestive positions (one even using elderly women); and lastly, a ménage à trois with an Asian woman, a blond woman (neither looking even remotely Macedonian), and a man who looks very much like Jesus of Nazareth.
The billboards read: "Face Reality, The Campaign to Promote the Rights of Sexual Minorities," and in the lower right-hand corner is the seal of the American embassy, Skopje.
The billboard is prominently displayed in the capital of Skopje, and also in the peaceful, ancient city of Ohrid. It is unclear how many of these billboards dot the Macedonian landscape. . . .
The arrival of these billboards has been noticed by Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski, who was "appalled to see that the embassy of the United States of America would sponsor something such as this in Macedonia."
He told me, "U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to promote alternative lifestyles in my country, and I do not believe that most Americans would appreciate this. We have many more pressing issues that the money could be used for. This is deeply offensive to most people in Macedonia which represents a very conservative mix of the Orthodox Christian and Muslim faiths." [Kerri Houston, "Diplomatic Missteps"]
January 5, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor labors mightily to insinuate the Congressional tours of Iraq are Potemkin-like affairs, yet it has to concede that skeptical lawmakers come back convinced that the United States did, and is doing, the right thing over there.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the lone GOP senator to oppose the war in Iraq in 2002, returned from a two-day visit last October convinced that US action had been justified. Others aghast at President Bush's $87 billion request for reconstructing Iraq last October — atop of a $78 billion request in April — came back committed to voting the full amount. Democrats, who account for a third of 170-plus congressional visits to date, often come back determined to stay and spend what is needed to win the peace.
"It's important to see for yourself and to get some sense of what's going on," says Senator Chafee, who voted for President Bush's $87 billion supplemental request a week after his return from Iraq. He says that his visit convinced him that Iraqis were relieved to see Saddam Hussein toppled.
For Chafee, a telling moment came as an Iraqi passenger in a passing bus gave the military convoy he was riding in a thumbs up. The impromptu gesture struck him. "My head kind of snapped around to see if I saw what I thought I saw, and I did," he says. At another stop, an elderly Iraqi woman signaled the convoy by placing her hand on her heart. "I think it was a gesture of respect," he said.
January 4, 2004 The cleverest advertising won't sell a lousy product over and over again. On the other hand, inept advertising can ruin the prospects of a good one. Stanley Kurtz tells the story (an old one, alas) of how NASA manages to take the excitement out of the great adventure of space travel:
I’ve never paid attention to the NASA channel, but since the Mars landing, I’ve surfed there from time to time. On the one hand, the “programming,” if you can call it that, is almost ludicrously unprofessional. For starters, there’s a lot of dead air. I’ve also seen an “interview” featuring totally inaudible questions, with answers from an expert who doesn’t know when he’s on camera. The taped segments are completely lacking in commentary. Nonetheless, the channel is enthralling. There is spectacular footage of the rover’s take-off, shot from the rocket itself. The constantly replayed footage of the exaltation in the control room during the landing is wonderful to look at. And the very detailed animation of the craft’s take-off, landing, and operation (although it could sure use some commentary) is worth significantly more than a thousand words. (It’s very striking to see the similarity between the Martian terrain in this animation and the terrain where the spacecraft has actually landed.) The news conferences can be very interesting as well. I just wonder why this channel’s offerings are so poorly produced. I suppose there’s a reluctance to pour taxpayer money into the venture. But it does seem as though just a little bit of inexpensive effort could make things a whole lot better. They can land a craft on Mars, so why they can’t run a TV channel? [emphasis added] In any case, at a time like this, the NASA channel is well worth a look.
January 3, 2004 While enjoying snow in the Pacific Northwest (there's been none worth noticing in Chicago all winter), I caught up on my favorite non-computer blog, John Hertz's Vanamonde. (SF fen invented blogs decades ago, calling them "APA's"; "blog" has a wholly different fannish meaning — vide infra.) As it is Hugo nomination season and John is the most deserving fan never to have been named "Best Fan Writer", I take the liberty of quoting a couple of tidbits:
Trinlay Khadro reports a friend's bringing the Rimpoche Lama from an airport. "Having just come from rural India and before that rural Tibet, [he] was unfamiliar with traffic lights — his perception: 'How nice! When the red light comes on, everyone stops a minute to meditate.'"
Blog is a drink! . . . Decades ago Liverpool fans put up a sign at a con Drink Blog; mundanes tried to order some in the hotel bar, only to hear (the barkeep being in on it), "Sorry, no more until tomorrow," and as the Beatles later sang, tomorrow never knows . . . . Cartoons show furious fuming. Tales recount supposed actual mixtures, e. g., black-currant juice with Tia Maria, mustard, Alka-Seltzer — I can't go on.