Ephemerides (February 2004)
February 27, 2004 Bjørn Stærk reports on an instance of media bias in Sweden that makes one grateful for the relative objectivity of The New York Times.
An edition of Mediemagasinet, a program for media criticism [on Sweden's state-run Svt], [was] dedicated entirely to scrutinizing SvT's own leading program for investigative reporting, Uppdrag Granskning.
What they found was a pattern of exaggeration and deception. Statistics were abused: In a program about supposed high levels of crime in the military, a comparison was made between rates of sexual abuse among Swedish officers and the general population. But the numbers for the general population had not been adjusted for age, or even sex! And even these meaningless numbers came out worse than the ones for officers. Only by excluding figures for rape could Uppdrag Granskning present a higher rate among officers, so that's what they did. So numbers proving less sexual abuse in the military than among Swedes in general including women, children and the elderly, and far less excluding, were deliberately turned around to prove the opposite. Impressive.
Since this item does not mention Senator John Kerry, I believe that it is unnecessary to mention that he served in Vietnam and that the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
February 27, 2004 The proverbial man from Mars might wonder whence comes all of the shouting about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. Judging by their statements, the great majority of both backers and opponents, including President Bush and Senators Kerry and Edwards, agree that recognition of same-sex marriage is best left to the decisions of individual states. The amendment language currently under consideration certainly does not on its face override state authority in this area. It reads,
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
By any reasonable reading, the addition of those words to the Constitution would not prevent state legislatures from bestowing whatever rights and privileges they wished upon people who were not "married" in the Constitutional sense. What it is designed to bar is the judicial or executive construction of constitutions or statutes to recognize same-sex "marriages" without legislative action. The amendment's sponsors have clearly stated that that is their intention. President Bush, in endorsing a Constitutional solution (he did not commit himself to any particular amendment), said the same thing.
Advocates of same-sex marriage are determined, however, not to find common ground. Thus they insist that right-wing activist judges could read the FMA, in its current form, as prohibiting state officials from carrying out the terms of explicit, legislatively enacted domestic partnership laws. Having said that, they offer no alternative language to cure that alleged defect, and it is quite clear that they want none. Their bottom-line position is that a "states' rights" amendment on same-sex marriage is, and ought to be, impossible to draft and that the nation should therefore leave the entire matter in the hands of unelected judges and rogue mayors.
That also seems to be the essence of the "states' rights" stance of the Two Johns. Their approach is guaranteed to make the debate as nasty and volatile as possible. Note that, if the FMA were already in place, the citizens of Massachusetts wouldn't be arguing over amending their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and tempers would be much calmer than they are today. Little is more inflammatory and detrimental to democratic (small "d") harmony than judicial imposition of unpopular social change. It is, indeed, scarcely in the interests of homosexuals to "win" in that manner. Slow victories, gained in the court of public opinion, are the only kind that last.
The "social Right" may occasionally overreach, but here it is offering an eirenic compromise, which its liberal and libertarian adversaries reject in favor of heightened conflict. And who gets the blame for stirring up unnecessary "culture wars"?
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
February 27, 2004 Two qualities that the American electorate dislikes in Presidential candidates are indecisiveness and excessive liberalism. John Kerry's tendency toward the former is gradually becoming widely known. The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary [subscription only but well worth the trifling $3.95 a month] today reports that he is also imbued with the latter.
National Journal['s just published Congressional vote ratings] found that Mr. Kerry was the most liberal senator in 2003, with a composite liberal score of 96.5%. Mr. Edwards was right behind him with a composite liberal score of 94.5%. That made him the fourth most liberal senator.
From the point of view of liberals, weathervanish Senator Kerry looks like a guy whom they can count on until they need him, a left-wing counterpart to Orrin "Don't Count Your Hatches Until They've Chickened" of Utah. And perhaps somebody can explain the bizarre appeal of Senator Edwards to the Democratic Party's soi-disant centrists. Essentially, the Democratic contest is between two men who are, in the Diary's words, "both on the extreme ideological end of their party", and the only issue is which of them is more prone to opportunistic flip-flops.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
February 26, 2004 If I were ever so deluded as to become a protectionist, I hope that I at least would not be a stupid protectionist. For example, making it hard for other countries to sell goods and services to Americans tends not to foster feelings of cooperation and good will. Therefore, if I advocated that course of action, I would not simultaneously propose to make American foreign policy contingent on the consent of those whom we deliberately offend. Imagine the fun of trying to obtain the blessing of the United Nations Security Council for the next phase of the War on Terror while enmeshed in trade wars with most of its members.
Today's Best of the Web notes that the two Senator Johns are already drawing fire from the British for supporting new barriers to international trade, and it's doubtful that the Massachusetts John's Francomaniac wife or the Carolina John's garçonique good looks will be enough to make the rest of Europe happy with that stance. The Bush Administration did our nation no good, economically or politically, with its excursion into steel tariffs, but at least the resulting ruckus didn't throw American foreign policy off-course, and the episode was an aberration from the President's general support of economic liberalization. Under President Kerry or President Edwards, constant trade friction will be inevitable and will interfere seriously with our ability to act decisively in the world. Unless one believes that America ought to be, in the famous phrase, "a pitiful, helpless giant", that is not an especially desirable state of affairs.
I hope, too, that my hypothetical protectionism would be skillfully targeted. Non-stupid protectionists want to use trade restrictions to achieve specific aims, e. g., to retain the industrial base needed to fight a major war. The Two Johns, however, favor protection via regulation of the wages and working conditions of those who produce goods to be sold in the U.S. market, a barrier to entry that operates indiscriminately and, from the "industrial policy" point of view, counterproductively. It would be an astonishing coincidence if the industries that it was most vital to protect were those whose foreign counterparts diverged furthest from U.S. labor standards. Actually, the opposite is almost certainly true. The foreign workers who fare worst are those who make simple, low value-added products, the goods to whose production a sensible protectionist is least eager to devote American resources.
The other stupid aspect of "labor law protectionism" is that it invites our trading partners to make the same demands of us – and many of them have "worker protection" regimes that strangle their economies. Unless he wants to import stagnation, not even a haughty, French-looking Democrat who by the way served in Vietnam is going to advocate France's 35-hour week with overtime forbidden. But why, M. Chirac may wonder, should French companies have to compete with firms that are free to assign their employees as many hours of labor as they are willing to undertake?
If you'd like to spend the next four years fighting our allies instead of our enemies, either John is the man for you!
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
February 25, 2004 Kenneth Livingstone, the Mayor of London, better known as "Red Ken", sponsored the recently completed 100 Great Black Britons Contest, a segregationist riposte to the BBC's widely publicized "100 Great British Heroes" survey. What is most fascinating about the Marxist multiculturalist's list is the – umm, let's call them "liberal" – criteria of blackness. Tchikeze Mdewe, a Nigerian teaching in Bristol, furnishes details in a letter to History Today:
St George is included. Why? He was born in Palestine and never came to England. How does he qualify as either ‘black’ or a ‘Briton’?
Likewise Septimius Severus, a Roman emperor born in North Africa who died in Britain while commanding a legion. His statue doesn’t look very African to me. I imagine he was the son of Roman settlers living in North Africa at the time.
It gets worse. The compilers claim that the Black Prince was black, i. e., an African. I was taught he was so-called because he wore a black suit of armour. Also Philippa, wife of Edward III. Does nobody think it strange that a Belgian princess in 14th-century Europe could be a black African?
The list descends into complete farce when we get to Kenneth III, tenth-century king of Scotland; according to the website, ‘The Moors (North Africans) were dominant in Scotland in the tenth century. One of them, was known as King Kenneth, sometimes as Niger Val Dubh, a surname which means the “black man”.’
Actually, moors dominate the Scottish landscape to this day! Perhaps Bonny Prince Charlie and Adam Smith also belong on the Great Black Britons list.
I'm reminded of a "Black History Month" supplement in one of the Cleveland newspapers when I was a lad. Among its "great blacks of history" were Hannibal and St. Augustine. As Mr. Mdewe concludes, "Sadly, all this detracts from the real achievements of black people in this country. Our history is rich enough without resorting to this stupidity and deception." I leave it to others to figure out what the perpetrators really, in their hearts of hearts, think about the Mdewes of the world. [To comment, click here.]
February 25, 2004 Two months after Stromata, The Yale Daily News runs an article on John Kerry's "lackluster performance" as chairman of the Liberal Party of the Yale Political Union. It is sanitized just slightly, leaving out one of the "many unpleasant stories" that could be told about the undergraduate Kerry (the one that, as I recall, directly sparked the formation of the anti-Kerry "Dixwell Society"). (Hint: The founders of the Society belonged to an ethnic-religious minority with which the Senator has recently taken to trumpeting his own ancestral connection.)
I'd be inclined to agree with Instapundit that "the statute of limitations has run on these events", except for the fact that Senator Kerry doesn't seem to think that it will ever run on his youthful service in Vietnam. [To comment, click here.]
February 25, 2004 The labor union representing Border Patrol agents has been feeding anti-immigration reporters tales about a great "surge" in illegal immigration since the President announced his reform proposals. The union also claims that illegals have been declaring that they are motivated by eagerness to take advantage of the coming "amnesty". Brandon Crocker ("The Immigration Thing (Part II)") debunks those assertions.
[F]or a variety of reasons, including the seasonality of the agricultural industry, patterns of illegal immigration are also very seasonal. And as it happens, December has always been a very low month, and January has always been a very high month. Hence, the "surge." If you want a true comparison, you have to look at the year-over-year monthly numbers. . . .
Here are the apprehension numbers [the basis for the "surge" claims] along the Mexican border:
January 2001: 125,090
January 2002: 79,793
January 2003: 86,925
January 2004: 92,634
Yes, year-over-year, there was an increase in January 2004 from January 2003. But this "surge" was in reality 6.5%. There was an increase of almost 9%, however, from January 2002 to January 2003. And we still aren't even close to the January 2001 number. If I were as intellectually dishonest as The National Border Patrol Council, I could even argue that the Bush proposal has caused a drop in the year-over-year rate of growth of illegal immigration! But I'm not.
What about the Border Patrol "surveys" supposedly showing that "the vast majority of aliens detained along the border told arresting agents that they had come to the United States seeking amnesty"? Think about that, just for a minute. Year-over-year, January apprehensions increased 6.5%, but "the vast majority" of illegals in January '04 were crossing encouraged by Bush's proposal? Doesn't that sound just a little odd? Are we to believe that if Bush had not made his proposal that instead of a 6.5% increase we would have witnessed an unprecedented drop of 50% or more?
The union's motives for spreading dubious information are transparent: It would like to have more, and better paid, members. What is opaque to me is the driving force behind some conservatives' hysteria over a mild and sensible proposal to deal with a problem that can't be wished away. Maybe some law of conservation of irrationality is at work. [To comment, click here.]
February 24, 2004 Has anyone else noticed that President Bush's endorsement of a constitutional amendment designed to prevent courts from compelling states to recognize same-sex "marriages" took place on the 201st anniversary of Marbury v. Madison? The coincidence is of more than passing interest, because Marbury is the ancestor of the diseased concept of judicial supremacy that makes marriage an issue for constitutional amendments rather than debates in state legislatures.
Chief Justice Marshall naturally bears no responsibility for mutations in his decision's progeny, and later abuses do not negate the beneficial uses of judicial review. Unfortunately, the use is increasingly tainted by abuse, as judges cheerily override elected legislatures on the basis of constitutional readings that could not conceivably have occurred to the writers. That these negations of democracy do not worry, indeed are positively celebrated by, most of the Left says much about the degenerate state of contemporary liberal political thought. To the average liberal, the only drawback to letting an appointed oligarchy enact laws is that some of the lawmakers might be conservatives, and the solution to that problem is to treat judicial nominations as political contests, where the candidate's ideological leanings are far more important than his professional qualifications.
Drawing the line between legitimate interpretation of the law and judicial usurpation is obviously not the easiest of tasks, but liberal jurists seem to have given up trying. Instead, they decry those who do, as when they energetically attacked Robert Bork for allegedly being that most anti-democratic of creatures: a majoritarian.
The imperialism of liberal judges is the proximate cause of the proposal to define "marriage" in the Constitution. There are all sorts of reasons why the amendment is a bad idea, but its single good point is the decisive one: There is no other way to prevent the judiciary from mandating a gigantic social experiment against the will of the overwhelming majority of the experimentees. It would be much, much better to leave the entire matter to normal legislative processes, where the advocates of government recognition of same-sex marriages could make their arguments and try to persuade their countrymen, but the courts have foreclosed that option. Our real-world choices are between (i) permanently denying same-sex couples a right that is of extremely little practical value to them and (ii) redefining one of society's fundamental institutions, with unforeseeable consequences and no realistic way to undo any harm that may result. If there is a third way that will avoid the evils of both paths, it has yet to be revealed, and, between the less than satisfactory alternatives set before us, it is clear which one is less bad. Even if one believes that same-sex marriage is a wonderful concept (which, candidly, I don't), leaping into it irrevocably without the support of a public consensus is rashness and folly. [To comment, click here.]
February 23, 2004 Daniel Henninger has coined the perfect mot for this election year: "the increasingly out-of-body experience that has become politics". And John Kerry is proving to be a most adept out-of-body practitioner.
In a CNN interview last Thursday, the Democratic nominee-presumptive was asked to respond to the charge that, in his famous 1971 Senate testimony [PDF file, 3.1 MB], "you were accusing American troops of war crimes". His answer:
No, I was accusing American leaders of abandoning the troops. And if you read what I said, it is very clearly an indictment of leadership. I said to the Senate, where is the leadership of our country?
And it's the leaders who are responsible, not the soldiers. I never said that [sc., that American troops were responsible for war crimes]. I've always fought for the soldiers. . . .
I'm proud of the record of fighting for soldiers and veterans. And the fact is if we want to redebate the war in Vietnam in 2004, I'm ready for that. It was a mistake, and I'm proud of having stood up and shared with America my perceptions of what was happening.
Lt. Kerry's "perception", let us not forget, was that American troops in Vietnam carried out atrocities "on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command". If he meant that the rank-and-file soldiers were blameless, he can only think that they were ordered to commit war crimes and were just doing what they were told when, in his words, they "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, [blew] up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam".
Did the lieutentant believe then, and does the Senator believe now, that American leaders directed American soldiers to fight barbarously and that the soldiers then did so? He has had 33 years and many opportunities to recant his accusations. It would be no fatal discredit for a 60-year-old national leader to admit that his 27-year-old self was taken in by conspiracy charlatan Mark Lane's "Winter Soldier" pseudo-investigation. It is no credit at all for him to declare that he is "proud" of having publicized Lane's deceptions.
I wonder, incidentally, how long it will be before some enterprising blogger puts on-line the text of Lt. Kerry's anti-war book, The New Soldier, now out of print and extraordinarily hard to obtain. If it were to become widely available on the Web, the author would have the opportunity to (i) repudiate it as a juvenile misadventure or (ii) proclaim that he continues to believe its allegations or (iii) sue under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to block its dissemination. His choice would tell us much about what kind of man he is. [To comment, click here.]
February 23, 2004 Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., discussing how billionaire-funded "section 527 organizations" will provide the bulk of the Democratic Party's Presidential campaign funding this year, observes [in the subscription-only Political Diary], "Campaign finance laws tend to prove their own craziness in record time, and none more so than McCain-Feingold, which has already begun to actually decrease the accountability and transparency of our campaign system. This year, that works for the benefit of Democrats, offsetting Mr. Bush's prodigious head start in [on-the-books] money raising."
In due time, though, there will be GOP 527's able to equal or surpass the benefactions of George Soros. It wasn't until the independent counsel law took aim at a Democratic President that Democrats decided that it wasn't such a great idea. Perhaps when some eccentric right-winger puts up tens of millions of dollars to elect conservatives, it will be possible to repeal McCain-Feingold and adopt the only sensible approach: Let everybody contribute as much as he wants to any politician or party, subject to prompt disclosure in an Internet database. The success of Dem 527's shows that there is plenty of cash available to support "progressive" political causes. The country, and the Democratic Party, too, will be better off if that money is spent by the Democratic National Committee rather than by shadowy cabals of extremists. [To comment, click here.]
February 21, 2004 Last October Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Moslem with a reputation for moderation (vide, e. g., Daniel Pipes' review of his pre-9/11 book To Be a European Muslim), published an essay entitled "Critique des (nouveaux) intellectuels communautaires" ["Critique of the (New) Parochial Intellectuals"] denouncing various French writers for allegedly putting the interests of Judaism and Israel above their professed universal values. The piece had been rejected by both Le Monde and Libération, much to the author's displeasure. Neither of those organs is exactly a friend of either Israel or the Jews, but neither was willing to give space to the argument that outcries against the increasing level of European antisemitism are simply a reflection of the needs of the Jewish community and "tend à relativiser la défense des principes universels d'égalité ou de justice". In the course of his screed, Dr. Ramadan pushes the leftist/Islamofascist cliché that the real motive behind the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was to further the interests of Israel, complete with claims that Israeli military advisors accompanied the Coalition troops and the identification of "Paul Wolfowitz, sioniste notoire," as "l'architecte de cette opération au sein de l'administration Bush".
That a man of such opinions was shortly thereafter hired by the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University elicits no surprise. Today's Chicago Tribune carries an article about the controversy surrounding the appointment (Geneive Abdo, "Controversy Starts Even Before Professor" ). As one would expect from the Tribune, it emphasizes Dr. Ramadan's departures from Islamic traditionalism and relegates his October ravings (described jejunely as "criticizing French intellectuals for supporting the war in Iraq") to a spot far below the lede.
My main interest here is not to debate whether "Critique" was an aberration rather than an aperçu into the author's true mindset but to look at how neatly the Tribune echoes his opinions about the role of Jewish parochialism in public discourse. The second paragraph identifies Dr. Ramadan's critics as "Jewish leaders". Two of these are later quoted: Hillel Fradkin, identified as the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Daniel Pipes, described as "a campaigner for Jewish rights". Now, it is true that Messrs. Fradkin and Pipes are Jewish, but neither is a "Jewish leader" in any rational sense of that term, and neither has been especially vocal on specifically Jewish issues, except to the extent that anyone who writes about the Middle East inevitably discusses Israel. Both are simply Middle Eastern scholars who happen to be Jewish, and their objections to Dr. Ramadan center on his flirtations with Islamic extremism, which is, one would think, a matter of concern to all Westerners, not just Jews. The impression that the Tribune story leaves, however, is that Jewish interests are central to shaping their views, the same impression that Dr. Ramadan wished to foster in "Critique".
Also worth noting is the insouciant response of Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute, to the possibility that his new faculty member might have links to America's enemies:
Ramadan has denied allegations that he has ties to Al Qaeda. Appleby said the French and Swiss governments have given support to Ramadan and his work and have exonerated him of any accusations of complicity with terrorist groups.
In fact, said Appleby, contact with all Islamists is part of Ramadan's work. "I would add that I, at least, would not object to Ramadan having conversations or dialogue with Muslims who embrace violence," he said. "Part of his mission, after all, is to foster dialogue, even with extremists."
Conversations and dialogue have not so far been high on the list of activities of "Muslims who embrace violence". Or is blowing up civilians now just a mode of intellectual discourse? [To comment, click here.]
February 21, 2004 Yesterday, while riding the El home from the opera, I noticed an advertisement of a kind that I had never before seen outside of Las Vegas: for a brothel – diaphanously disguised as a "club", but the line "over 216 virgins, ready to be touched for the first time" rather gives it away, albeit without adherence to truth-in-advertising laws.
February 19, 2004 Here's an unexpected decrier of media bias. "I think that what's happened is that we got networks that are almost providing a single point of view, and I don't think that is wise," says – John Kerry! (In an interview with The Reporter, quoted by the On-line Wall Street Journal's (subscription only) Political Diary.) But – no surprise – the Senator isn't concerned about ABC, NBC, CBS and the other Big Media outlets that have been so vigorously plugging Anybody But Bush. His target is Fox News, and he is lamenting the demise, nearly 20 years ago, of the FCC's "Fairness Doctrine", under which broadcasters were required to balance political discussion, more or less, or else forgo it altogether. As Political Diary observes, a revival of the Fairness Doctrine by a Kerry-appointed FCC would have little impact on Fox, which "gives plenty of airtime to liberals and has several on the payroll", but could be used to hamstring the Left's greater bête noir, talk radio.
In his book, The Good Guys, the Bad Guys and the First Amendment, former CBS president Fred Friendly documented how the Democratic Party organized efforts in the 1960s to harass conservative radio shows by using the Fairness Doctrine. . . . In other words, when it comes to news programs they don't like, liberals prefer the slogan: "They Report, We Decide to Silence Them."
The Angry Left, which forms a large part of Senator Kerry's base, firmly believes in the malignity of the small portion of the national media that expounds right-wing views. It also has only a faint, residual respect for freedom of speech (except for itself, of course). Left to his own instincts, President Kerry would probably do little to restrict his opponents' avenues of expression, but a Kerry Administration will be full of people, perhaps including FCC members, with less libertarian instincts. Just something to keep in mind the next time you hear a leftist raving about how John Ashcroft is "crushing dissent". [To comment, click here.]
February 16, 2004 The New Republic, trying out what will doubtless become a standard Kerry defense in the coming months, seeks to palliate his 1971 Senate testimony on alleged American war crimes in Vietnam. Kerry, says TNR, did not accuse U.S. soldiers of murder, rape and other atrocities. He "was simply repeating what other veterans themselves had admitted" in an "investigation" conducted by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. What this attempted excuse omits is that much, very likely all, of the testimony elicited by the VVAW was false, in some cases delivered by witnesses using fake names, and that Kerry did not merely repeat the slanders but endorsed their truthfulness. It was his own conclusion that war crimes were "committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command", despite the fact that he himself had served as an officer in Vietnam and must have known that his claim was false. Furthermore, he has never repudiated the VVAW smears. To this day his Senate biography proudly proclaims that he was a co-founder of and leading spokesman for the organization.
TNR accuses The Washington Times and National Review, which ran articles critical of Kerry's testimony, of "deliberately misconstru[ing]" it and "omit[ting] critical elements". Talk about projecting one's own sins onto others! [To comment, click here.]
Update, 2/18/04: For those who want to judge for themselves, the complete transcript of the 1971 testimony is available as a PDF file [3.1 MB].
February 16, 2004 Just a reminder: There is no such day as Presidents' Day. The holiday celebrated today is George Washington's Birthday. And long may our first President have it all to himself (at least until it can be renamed Washington-Reagan Day). Those of you who labor under the "Presidents' Day" delusion are directed to "By George" by Matthew Spalding, which reveals the truth. [To comment, click here.]
February 16, 2004 The "Bush AWOL" and "Kerry adultery" stories, fortuitously colliding, tell us only one thing of interest: that this election year will see a great experiment. The hypothesis to be tested is that the mainstream news media have a massive impact on the Presidential outcome. History hasn't previously provided laboratory conditions necessary for a decisive test, viz., a vigorous media preference for a candidate who, in the absence of favorable interference, would have little chance to win. This year, extraneous factors have been stripped away.
Senator Kerry faces what ought, barring some spectacular intervention of fortune, to be a hopeless effort. He is running against a majority party incumbent who has successfully conducted two popular wars. The economy is robust. The country has suffered no major terrorist attacks since 9/11, contrary to early fears. The most visible social issue, same-sex marriage, breaks heavily in his opponent's favor. Finally, he is a wooden campaigner who does little to excite even the most partisan Democrats, has no record of legislative or other accomplishment and has consistently voted well to the left of general public opinion.
All that the Senator from Massachusetts has going for him is media bias on stilts, as shown by the scornful dismissal of reports of his infidelity, contrasted with the relentless pursuit of discreditable facts about President Bush's military service. Reporters are not wrong to pay little attention to the former, but the latter is just as diaphanous and has no greater relationship to fitness for office today. George W. Bush is not the man that he was over half his lifetime ago.
This instance is far from the only one. The litany grows tedious, but it is foolish, as well as tiresome, to complain. The major networks, the leading wire services and the great majority of prestige journalists obviously believe that removing President Bush from office is a vital imperative and won't be deflected by criticism from his supporters. Therefore, we may as well stifle our lamentations and try to learn from the great experiment. My hope is that overwhelmingly one-sided coverage of the campaign will turn out not to make much difference. My benchmark for that conclusion is less than 45 percent of the two-party vote for Kerry. In that case, we can stop worrying about whether the media play fair, as it will be evident that other factors offset their bias. Knowing that will be good for America and better for conservatives' blood pressure.
If, on the other hand, Senator Kerry wins or comes very close, we will know that modern democracy is indeed open to manipulation by the "chattering classes". That will not be a good reason to overturn our system of government, but it may be reason to fear that it has a built-in suicide switch and that the happiest days of the Republic lie behind us. [To comment, click here.]
February 15, 2004 Intellectual decay is not confined to the Left. The February 16th issue of The Weekly Standard carries, quite incredibly, an article devoted to doubting, in an only mildly covert fashion, that William Shakespeare wrote the works that pass under his name. The charitable explanation is that the editors somehow overlooked the message that Peter W. Dickson, a vocal Internet "anti-Stratfordian", slipped into their magazine under cover of reviewing Michael Wood's television special "In Search of Shakespeare". My comments on his performance appear in the Querulous Notes section. [To comment, click here.]
February 14, 2004 Some foolish ideas spring eternal. When I was a lad, economic dirigistes lamented that automation was going to destroy millions of jobs and leave half of America impoverished. Though barely remembered now, the debate over whether machines should be allowed to replace men raged furiously in the 1950's and '60's. Millions of jobs really did disappear: elevator attendants, telephone operators, stock exchange back office clerks, a large share of assembly line workers, about four-fifths of all typists, and so on. But the debate dwindled, as it became obvious that automation freed scarce resources for more productive uses. Instead of massive unemployment, as many people as ever found work in a richer economy that rewarded their labor more handsomely than ever before.
Today's repeat of the automation controversy is over "outsourcing", that is, the hiring of foreign workers to fill service positions that don't require their presence at a particular location. The most publicized example is the farming out of computer programming and technical support to personnel in India, which has a large stock of well-educated English speakers and the supplementary advantage of being on the other side of the world, so that operations can run round-the-clock without putting anyone on a graveyard shift.
If somebody devised an automated response system that could deal efficiently with software users' queries, the benefits would be unquestionable, even though a whole layer of tech support would vanish. The benefits are exactly the same when such tasks are taken over by kids in Bombay. The whole system becomes more efficient, the U.S. becomes wealthier, and all of us, including those who have to find different jobs, wind up better off. That India is better off too is no bad thing, but it is not the aim or the principal effect of the exercise.
For drawing attention to these elementary economic truths, the President's Council of Economic Advisors has, over the past several days, been pummeled by liberals in general and the Democratic Party's prospective Presidential nominee in particular. Their puerile complaints would have applied just as cogently to the "outsourcing" of telephone call routing to automatic switchboards. Hmm, I'd better hope that Senator Kerry doesn't read these remarks, or "Bring Back Lily Tomlin" could be his next campaign slogan. [To comment, click here.]
February 12, 2004 Maybe, from some perspective, it is very important to know exactly when and where George W. Bush performed his National Guard service. There's no rational doubt that the charges of being a "deserter" or "going AWOL" are slanders, but suppose that they were within hailing distance of the truth. The President doesn't claim that his youth was admirable. A major feature of his biography is repentance and conversion, Prince Hal growing up to be Henry V.
John Kerry, by contrast, assures us that, in his case, "the child is father to the man", that there is seamless continuity from the Vietnam war hero to the Presidential candidate. That is why this bumper sticker
is not in any way an unfair commentary. Senator Kerry is proud of his youth. He wants voters to look on it as a credential. If that youth includes pretending to throw away his Silver Star and charging that Vietnam war atrocities were "committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command", an accusation that he, as a serving officer in the theater of war, must have known was a lie, those facts need to be weighed in the balance against heroism in battle. Physical courage is not to be sneered at, but it is scarcely the most important qualification for high office. Judgement, competence and honesty count, too, and a man who was commander-in-chief in two brilliantly victorious wars conceivably has a more pertinent record than a 20-year do-nothing legislator.
Update, 2/14/04: You can't buy irony like this. The Harvard Crimson quotes a Kerry campaign spokesman as saying, "The G.O.P. must be terrified of John Kerry if they're obsessing over statements of a 26-year-old Vietnam veteran angry at the Nixon White House's indifference to soldiers dying in the frontlines thousands of miles away."
Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign obsesses over the military records of a pair of 25-year-old lieutenants.
It's a step forward, though, for Senator Kerry to shift, albeit through a surrogate, from "I was right about Vietnam" to "I was angry and irrational". If he would forthrightly repudiate the lies that he told on behalf of the anti-war movement, they would become as irrelevant as George W. Bush's youthful drinking sprees.
February 11, 2004 Few statements made by someone not named Ted Rall or Michael Moore have roused such scathing scorn from the Bloggish Right as Duke Professor Robert Brandon's claim that conservatives are underrepresented in the academic world because "We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too." (For representative reactions, vide Instapundit, The Volokh Conspiracy, The Right Coast, Best of the Web (scroll down) and The NRO Corner.) There is one interesting observation, however, that I haven't yet seen made. At the time when Mill called British Conservatives "the stupidest party", university professors in England were overwhelmingly Conservative. Oxford University was perhaps the safest Tory borough in the land. So, either members of academia don't always "tend to be a bit smarter than average" or the smarter-than-average crowd has not always shunned conservatism. Either way, Professor Brandon's argument, which rests on the premise that liberalism is an inevitable consequence of superior intelligence, is absurd.
Since proferring absurd arguments is a sign of stupidity, we have some evidence that Professor Brandon is himself stupid. That he holds an eminent academic position, chairman of his institution's Department of Philosophy, supports the hypothesis that stupid people can flourish in contemporary academia. This one instance doesn't constitute proof, of course, but Professor Brandon, if he wishes to defend the academic intellect of the present era, must denigrate that of the 19th Century. In one era or the other, by his lights, intelligence lost its hold at the universities. The question is, which one? [To comment, click here.]
February 10, 2004 OpinionJournal Political Diary, The Wall Street Journal's subscription-only political newsletter, today has one of the most succinct analyses of the Iraqi WMD kerfuffle that I've read anywhere. Praying that I'm not engaging in egregious violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I quote Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.:
Not that a reasoned perspective is much in demand in the middle of a presidential election year, but the media should recall that the question of "stockpiles" of banned weapons in Iraq has a distinct provenance. It began with Iraqis themselves in the early '90s surrendering documents that testified to large inventories of chemical and bioweapons, including 117 gallons of botulinum toxin, 2,265 gallons of anthrax, 1,400 gallons of gangrene and 500 gallons of brucella, as well as unspecified quantities of aflatoxin and nerve gases. In addition, Iraqi documents testified to the receipt of many tons of imported growth medium for cultivating large quantities of bacteria.
Thereupon followed a multi-year chase while UN inspectors sought these weapons or evidence of their destruction. The Iraqis were notoriously uncooperative on either score, especially in the area of biological weapons, though presumably they had an interest in convincing the world that the weapons no longer existed. Gathering intelligence in dictatorial societies is never easy. Proving a negative, such as the absence of weapons known to have existed at some point in the past, is downright improbable. Much debate surrounded whether inspectors should even expect to find the inventoried weapons. Rolf Ekeus, who headed up UN efforts from 1991 to 1997, maintained that stockpiles were unlikely to be found simply because Iraq never acquired the skills to produce agents pure enough and stable enough to enjoy prolonged shelf life. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam's regime was reduced to deploying chemical weapons on a just-in-time basis for this reason.
President Bush should perhaps hand the ball to Tony Blair, who has been much better at placing the immediate WMD problem in Iraq in a bigger context. Disarming Iraq was important not because of any near-term threat to Americans, but because containment was unraveling. It was important because, after Sept. 11, if the U.S. and Britain had failed to make Iraq comply with their zero tolerance for regimes that traffic in terrorism and WMD, making anyone else comply would have been nearly impossible.
February 10, 2004 The NRO Corner notes that National Public Radio has been dusting off spavined conspiracy theorist Kevin Phillips to denounce President Bush from a "Republican" point of view. Such credibility as Phillips has derives from the fact that he once wrote a book called The Emerging Republican Majority and was touted as a conservative political strategist. Not everybody was fooled. I remember once making a mildly admiring comment about Phillips' book within earshot of the late Frank S. Meyer, who snapped, "Phillips is a Marxist, and not even a sophisticated Marxist." Frank Meyer knew a lot more a Marxism than I did, and it turned out that he was right. [To comment, click here.]
February 9, 2004 Though I am no fan of John F. Kerry, let me go on record as saying that The Tehran Times has, not too startlingly, distorted the Senator's campaign boilerplate, which does not promise better relations with the Iranian mullahs if he wins the Presidency. It is, on the other hand, worth paying attention to how America's enemies interpret candidates' words. A President who has heaped scorn on reliable allies like Britain, Australia and Poland while expressing an urgent desire to apologize to fair-weather friends may not enter office in the strongest of positions. [To comment, click here.]
February 9, 2004 Although this site won't be running BlogAds (click on the Sitemeter icon at the bottom of the page if you wonder whether anybody would pay for them), I applaud the ones carried by Instapundit. Not only did the plug for the Democratic candidate in Tennessee's special Congressional election on February 17th prompt me to find the Web site of, and send a small donation to, Republican nominee Alice Forgy Kerr, but I learned from another ad about The Chicago Report, an informative, non-leftist source of local political and cultural news. The Report has an interesting piece on why John Kerry may not be as electable as many Democrats hope and Republicans fear, one paragraph of which reminded me of an interesting point about "best case" versus "worst case" intelligence estimates.
In congress [Kennedy] was known as a Cold Warrior and during the 1960 election he even accused the Eisenhower administration of allowing a missile gap to develop, insinuating that Ike and Nixon had let the US fall behind the USSR in the burgeoning arms race.
The "missile gap" was indeed a major theme of the 1960 campaign. There were disagreements among intelligence analysts about the size and capabilities of the Soviet arsenal. The Eisenhower Administration, determined to restrain government spending in a period of economic weakness, believed the optimists, who said that the USSR remained years behind America and could not credibly undermine the strategy of nuclear deterrence. Kennedy and other Democrats believed the pessimists, who warned that the enemy was nearing first-strike capability and the U.S. was in danger of being reduced to a second-class power.
In this instance, the optimists were right. Soviet nuclear strength was at that time mostly bluff, exposed as such by the Cuban missile crisis. So, do historians of the Kennedy Administration declare that "Kennedy lied"? The case for saying so is much stronger than any "Bush lied" claim. The evidence of the "missile gap" was more tenuous than that of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Yet nobody really blames JFK for his alarmism. If President Eisenhower's sanguine estimates had been wrong, the Cold War might have ended a quarter century earlier in an American defeat. Then as now, secretive, tyrannical, implacably hostile regimes deserved no benefit of the doubt.
February 6, 2004 He may not be able to remember us today, but we will never forget him. Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan! (Right Wing News has links to memorable Reagan speeches and quotes.) [To comment, click here.]
February 5, 2004 To continue the immigration debate, a friend who has written extensively about the issue and opposes the Bush Administration's reform proposals offers this rejoinder to my favorable reaction (my responses in blue):
I noticed you attempted to explain away what is happening along the US-Mexico border. However, no immigration reform or attempt to regulate the border or implement a "guest workers program" will work if the borders are not sealed so that the only way into the country is through the regulated system. However, there was been nothing said by President Bush about doing this. Which is why the National Border Patrol Council has called Bush's proposal a "slap in the face" to its 9,000 thinly spread and overworked Border Patrol agents. Already [name withheld] reports that Border Patrol agents have told her that apprehended illegals are already asking for what they perceive is Bush's amnesty (she has been back in AZ for a week scouting out the situation).
Since the proposed "amnesty" is contingent upon already having a job in this country, the apprehendees seem to be sadly misinformed. Where would they have gotten the idea that they can now enter the country freely? The most vocal source of that error is, ironically, immigration restrictionists who find it convenient to exaggerate the effect of the Bush proposal.
This neglect of the Mexican border is in marked contrast to the effort being made to close the other large hole in U.S. border security.
About 40 percent of illegal aliens enter the United States using temporary "non-immigrant" visas. The United States has experienced explosive growth in the number of such visas issued annually, from seven million in 1980 to nearly 33 million in 2001. Most of these visas go to tourists, visiting relatives or business travelers who do return home. However, in 2001, more than 715,000 foreigners were issued employment visas and another 110,000 non-immigrants received permission to work after they arrived. Thus the United States already has a sizeable "guest workers" program. Many of these temporary immigrants will eventually be upgraded to permanent status. Many others will simply overstay their visas and join the illegal alien population.
Because the September 11 terrorists also entered the country using the temporary visa method, the Department of Homeland Security launched "US-VISIT" a program to track incoming foreign visitors at 115 airports and 14 seaports. US-VISIT requires that most foreign visa holders have their fingerprints and a digital photograph recorded to verify their identity, which can then be checked with terrorist and criminal databases. Congress mandated in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that an automated entry-exit program be implemented at all land ports by December 31, 2005.
These measures demonstrate, I should think, that the Administration has no ideological predisposition to "open borders". Even those of us who do recognize (except for irrational fringes) that restrictions are needed in time of war.
Nothing comparable is being considered for the southern land border where terrorists can still just walk across, along with the regular flow of illegal aliens and drug smugglers, without ID checks or registration. Indeed, there has been an increase in the number of illegal crossings by people from the Middle East disguised as Hispanics They manage to get into South or Central America where security is weak, then move north. The main smuggling route though Cochise County, Arizona has earned the nickname "the Arab road."
You mentioned your continued opposition to the legalization of narcotics, but we cannot selectively close the border. We need to stop all illegal border crossings, which would also help cut the drug trade.
The obvious differences between the holes in the visa system and those in border security are, first, the fact that the former has actually been used by terrorists, making dealing with it more urgent, and, second, the extreme difficulty of policing 5,000 miles of border (terrorists can cross from Canada, too, after all), compared to the relative ease of reforming State Department procedures.
Note, too, that one of the Bush proposal's goals is to take the profit out of alien smuggling and dry up the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants, into which potential terrorists can blend. Undermining the current "alien industry", with its ancillary document forging and other trades, will make it easier to concentrate on keeping out narcotics and enemy combatants.
Failure to address the Mexican border security problem dooms President Bush's plan to failure. It will no more "solve" the mass illegal immigration problem than have past "reform" efforts, the most notable of which was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. This legislation granted a general amnesty for illegal aliens who had been living in the United States prior to January 1, 1982. A second form of amnesty was granted to undocumented agricultural workers who could prove they had worked for 90 days during the year ending May 1, 1986. In all, the amnesty program created 2.7 million new legal immigrants directly. The spouses and children of amnesty recipients were then also granted legal temporary resident status which could be upgraded with that of the amnesty recipient to permanent resident status.
Yet, millions of illegal aliens refused to come forward to claim their 1986 amnesty. Whether it was fear of being caught up in "the system" if amnesty was sought, or a lack of fear of being caught and deported if they ignored the system, many aliens chose to stay in the shadows. President Bush's plan, which he again said in the State of the Union was not an amnesty, is not as attractive as the 1986 offer. A three to six year grant of "guest worker" status, after which the immigrant is expected to leave the country, is not going to pull people into "the system" who do not want to risk ever having to leave.
Is it true the "millions of illegal aliens refused to come forward"? Eligibility was far from universal. The amnesty filing period began on May 5, 1987, more than five years after the January 1, 1982, eligibility date. The conditions for the agricultural program were yet more stringent; it was estimated that only about 300,000 workers satisfied them. The total number of eligibles is hard to determine, but it seems clear that a very high percentage of them applied, and the program also attracted a high percentage of fraudulent applications. (Vide Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, "Do amnesty programs encourage illegal immigration? Evidence from the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)".) Illegals may, of course, refuse this offer, in which case we'll have to try something else but won't be measurable worse off.
It is explicitly not going to pull into the open those who have been engaged in criminal activity or who have links to terrorist cells. Thus the people who pose the greatest risks to homeland security and American society are not going to be reached by anything that has been proposed – even though the first mention of the initiative came from Tom Ridge. The DHS wants to know who is here and what they are doing, a much needed objective.
I grant that many problems will be left unsolved, but the question is whether reform will improve the present intolerable solution, not whether it will bring about Utopia.
The only way to convert the Bush immigration reform proposal into a measure that would enhance homeland security and deal with those illegals already here would be to commit the resources needed to seal the nation's borders and then credibly threaten to deport all those who do not come forward to enroll in the "guest worker" program. Only after the securing of the borders and the deportations could Secretary Ridge claim that his department knew which foreign nationals were here and what they were doing.
Given the threats to national security, "seal[ing] the nation's borders" is a desirable objective, but I doubt that it an attainable one. It is made harder, not easier, by laws that encourage a substantial flow of illicit human traffic.
February 3, 2004 Whiling away my time awaiting primary election results (nine months of hearing about how John Kerry served in Vietnam – what a prospect!), I polished and posted a new installment of my examination of the world's only Ph.D. dissertation purporting to prove that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works of Shakespeare. [To comment, click here.]
February 2, 2004 All that I can think of to say about the Superbowl halftime "show" is this: Popular culture is inevitably laced with vulgarity. In my parents' generation, "vulgarity" meant Frank Sinatra; in mine, Elvis Presley; in the present one, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. If that progression is a sign of cultural health, then Robert Mapplethorpe is Michelangelo. [To comment, click here.]
February 2, 2004 In all of the kerfuffle over the accuracy vel non of pre-war intelligence about Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal, many commentators are forgetting why we ever cared whether the Ba'athist regime possessed such weapons.
The view implicit in much recent analysis is that possession of "weapons of mass destruction" was the Ba'athists' key violation of international law and the principal, if not sole, source of whatever legal right the United States and its allies had to overthrow them. If it now turns out that there were no stockpiles of mustard gas and anthrax spores, military action becomes retroactively illegitimate (though I haven't yet seen any serious call for following through by restoring Saddam Hussein to power).
That position, now trending toward the status of established fact, is a serious distortion. The legal basis for the invasion of Iraq was Saddam's continuing and flagrant violation of the terms of the Gulf War cease fire. Aside from failing to cooperate fully and unconditionally with U.N. weapons inspectors, he misapplied the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales, fired on American and British planes enforcing the "no-fly" zone, brutally suppressed domestic opponents, gave financial aid to terrorists and in other ways broke the pledges that he had made as the price of avoiding ouster in 1991. President Bush recounted those broken promises in his speech to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, and set forth the conditions that Iraq would have to meet if it wished to avoid war. None of those conditions, of which disclosing and destroying all weapons of mass destruction was only one, was satisfied.
The concern about WMD's was not legal but prudential. While chemical and biological weapons in Iraqi hands did not pose much of a purely military threat, they could be devastating if transferred to terrorists. The extent of Saddam's cooperation with al-Qa'eda might be unknown, but he had been giving regular subventions to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Why not a few vials of anthrax, too?
Thus it is not at all reassuring to hear from David Kay that Saddam deemphasized producing currently available weapons (perhaps unwittingly, as his subordinates siphoned off the funds earmarked to pay for them) in favor of research aimed at developing more effective ones. Mr. Kay's interim report demonstrated that the R&D effort was far more extensive and sophisticated than anyone had imagined. There, if anywhere, was the "pre-war intelligence failure" that deserves investigation.
Yet prospective Presidential candidate Kerry thinks (this week) that strenuous striving by a close ally of anti-American terrorists to develop deadlier chemical and biological agents was no proper cause for American action, at least not until and unless Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin gave their okay. Let's suppose that President Bush had been similarly insouciant, that Saddam Hussein remained in power to this day and that his scientists' research had continued. Perhaps we would not be reading this afternoon about 40,000 dead from a sarin attack in Tel-Aviv or Chicago, but how many lives would it have been prudent to bet on the Ba'athist tyranny's incompetence or forbearance? And isn't it "deceptive" – more so than anything that George W. Bush ever said or did – to proclaim that there was no problem that couldn't wait for the Greek kalends attention of the U.N.?
Update, 2/3/04: George Melloan, in today's Wall Street Journal [subscribers only], succinctly sums up the case for the getting rid of Saddam:
By giving the impression that he could put anthrax or other lethal poisons into the hands of terrorists, he left George Bush and Tony Blair little choice but to either put him out of commission or risk the security of many thousands of people. In the end, he became the chief victim of his own duplicity. Stupid.
The critics of the Bush and Blair Administrations contend, in effect, that Western leaders should have counted on that stupidity, which would have been stupider yet.
February 2, 2004 The NRO Corner has been amusing itself with stories about John Forbes Kerry's penchant for demanding of luckless clerks, "Do you know who I am?" I'm reminded of the best anecdote of that kind that I've ever heard, which doesn't involve Senator Kerry and whose truth is vouched for by an earwitness.
A former head of the small federal agency where I once worked had occasion to call the legal department about a client's problem. He was put through to a recently hired lawyer, and the conversation did not go swimmingly. Annoyed, the caller exclaimed, "Young man, do you know who I am?"
February 2, 2004 Forget that overpublicized rodent in Pennsylvania. Did Alan Greenspan see his shadow? [To comment, click here.]