Ephemerides (January 2002)
January 31, 2002
A couple of months ago (11/6/01), I took note of 21st century liberalism's increasing resistance to the secret ballot, the adoption of which was one of the great accomplishments of 19th century liberals. Today's Wall Street Journal (David Wessel's "Capital" column on the front page) records another sign of this trend. Its subject is the modest success of two labor unions, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees ("HERE") and the Service Employees International Union, in bucking the shrinkage of private sector unionization. (Only 9.1 percent of nongovernment workers are represented by unions, compared to 16.8 percent in 1983.) The president of HERE complains that "workers don't have the right to organize under the present system", so his union has worked to circumvent the chief obstacle erected by that system, which turns out to be the right of workers to vote in secret on whether they desire union representation. Last year four-fifths of HERE's organizing successes were won without elections, with no more evidence of the workers' wishes than authorization cards, a device that HERE has turned into a kind of open ballot. Declarations made in the presence of union organizers are supposedly better barometers of opinion than votes cast with no one watching, the latter being in some strange manner tainted by excessive employer pressure.
We move slowly, but by constant steps, toward a polity in which the cries of the mob will be accepted as the true vox populi.
January 28, 2002
Michael Bellesiles, the once celebrated author of Arming America, is suffering steady attrition in the ranks of his allies. The latest issue of the reliably liberal Chronicle of Higher Education carries an account of the controversy that is only marginally more favorable to the Emory University professor than the polemical articles months ago in The Wall Street Journal and National Review . It looks much like gun control proponents, fearful of tarnishing their cause by association with academic misconduct, are hurrying to proclaim as loudly as they can that they would never, never, never tolerate the slightest shoddiness in historical research.
Unless he can summon scholarly cavalry to stage a last minute rescue, Professor Bellesiles is probably doomed to go the way of Charles Dawson of Piltdown infamy. Many supporters of the right to keep and bear arms will take pleasure in his fate, but, despite my own ideological predilections, I find it sad. Arming America and its author are casualties in a war that they and their erstwhile friends did not have to provoke.
What made Arming America more than a ponderous volume of cliometric analysis was its supposed pertinence to Constitutional law. Professor Bellesiles and his admirers argued that, because he had proven that only a minority of Americans owned firearms in colonial, Revolutionary and antebellum America, the framers of the Second Amendment must not have meant to establish a personal right to the possession of weaponry. Pro-gun advocates (no, wait - I should call them "pro-choice", shouldn't I?) snapped at the bait and denounced the book as if its scholarly acceptance would be a huge defeat for their cause.
But what real bearing do gun ownership statistics have on the interpretation of the Constitution? Those who wish to delve into the original intent behind the Second Amendment have an abundance of evidence to digest: the language of the amendment itself, the historical background of militias and weapons ownership in Britain, the experience of the War for Independence, the debates in Congress and the state legislatures, other expressions of contemporary opinion, comparisons with the polities the influenced the framers, etc. Knowing how many Americans in fact kept and bore arms at that time is, at best, background information, whose usefulness is vitiated by the unlikelihood that any contemporary had more than a fuzzy, impressionistic picture of the data (which is all that most people have in our day, with its endless censuses and surveys).
In any event, any level of colonial gun ownership is compatible with any interpretation of the Second Amendment. If the framers had intended merely to grant states the right to organize militias (the essence of the "collective right" view)1, they would hardly have been discouraged by widespread ownership of guns. A multitude of armed citizens would make the militia more effective and therefore more important to enshrine in the Constitution. Conversely, draftsmen eager to secure an individual right to the possession of firearms in a land where most men did not have them could have regarded Constitutional protection as necessary to foster effective national self-defense. There is no way to reach a useful conclusion by guesswork from demographic facts.
If Professor Bellesiles had eschewed reading into his interesting but limited investigation political implications that it will not reasonably bear, disputes over the quality of his scholarship would find their proper place in specialist journals and would arouse only academic passions (which can, of course, be very passionate; the Chronicle of Higher Education might still run articles, but the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe wouldn't). No doubt the evidence would prove ambivalent and partially irreconcilable, just as happens when historians debate the "rise of the gentry" or the economics of Southern slavery. There would be learned articles pro and con, re-examinations of methodologies and data, reformulated hypotheses. However his initial thesis might have fared, the author of Arming America would, I imagine, be a happier man today.
1. In light of the almost complete power that Article I of the Constitution gives Congress over the militia (no other power is enumerated in such detail), I cannot conceive why anyone would have thought it important to protect such a collective right. Was assuring governors the authority to appoint militia colonels truly on a par with freedom of speech, trial by jury and due process of law?
Letter of Comment from Jim Naso (2/2/02)
January 26, 2002
Quite a few conservative commentators, from "Best of the Web" to Virginia Postrel, have derided Paul Krugman's defense against the micro-scandal stemming from his financial dealings with Enron. (Vide "The Enron Mythos", 1/22/02.) In his column today in The New York Times, Professor Krugman claims that, during the past week, "Conservative newspapers and columnists made a concerted effort to portray me as a guilty party in the Enron scandal." Since the "concerted effort" involved one Web site and a minor buzz among conservative/libertarian bloggers - the controversy went unremarked by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and all other prominent denizens of the right wing - the professor's assertion looks pretty silly. One cannot help wondering what led him to make it.
One possibility is that he believed it to be true. Obviously, he did not get that belief from reading conservative newspapers and columnists, but perhaps he felt no need to. If conservatism is not a bunch of publications and individuals, acting independently to promote their similar but not identical points of view, but rather an ideological monolith that always shouts in unison, it is enough to read one conservative in order to know what all are saying - just as, in the old Soviet Union, reading any newspaper was equivalent to reading them all. Hence, when Professor Krugman learned that Andrew Sullivan had impugned his ethics, he knew that the WSJ editorial page and George Will and William Safire and National Review were doing the same. He knew, too, that this effort was "concerted", like the editor of a paper in Kiev taking his lead from Pravda.
The other possibility, of course, is that he knew that there was no "concerted effort" but said so anyway. For obvious reasons, I should prefer not to pursue that hypothesis.
Professor Krugman is hardly the only liberal to harbor a conspiratorial image of conservatism. Everyone remembers Hillary Clinton's "vast, right wing conspiracy". More significant than that statement itself was the number of liberals who rushed to declare their belief in the conpiracy's reality. The Clinton White House, too, put out charts showing the connections among the conspirators, not unlike those that used to appear in far right tracts "exposing" the Bilderburgers and the Council on Foreign Relations.
There is even an Enron angle here: If conservatism is a vast conspiracy, it isn't absurd to imagine hidden paymasters pulling the strings while avoiding overt involvement. Hence, Enron can exercise pervasive influence over the Bush Administration without that influence being visible. The absence of evidence is the strongest possible proof. Who but master conspirators could so thoroughly cover their tracks?
* * * *
After fulminating for a while about the tactics of the right wing conspiracy, Professor Krugman concludes that "Enron is a problem for conservatives", because corrupt executives made millions of dollars and the private sector proved unable to police itself. Now, there may be a utopian libertarian somewhere who thinks that capitalism eliminates incompetence and greed, but I've never noticed that as a prominent conservative tenet. Enron is hardly the first financial scandal in American history and is far from the most shocking; whatever Enron's auditors didn't do, they weren't as careless as Equity Funding's. More importantly, corruption is not a special problem of free enterprise America. Anyone who follows the news from social democratic Europe is used to endless scandals of a magnitude that would never be tolerated in the U.S. It was scarcely two years ago that the entire executive commission of the European Union resigned in the wake of an investigation into corruption in the EU bureaucracy. There the ill-gotten millions went to bureaucrats rather than corporate executives. Perhaps Professor Krugman would argue that the identity of the crooks mitigated their crimes.
January 25, 2002
Virginia Postrel is a well-known arch-libertarian, a former editor of Reason magazine, an advocate of economic and social dynamism, a scourge of high taxes, stifling regulation and class-warfare politics. Hence, it is beyond startling to see her announce on her Web site that she is rooting for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate in this year's elections. The reason is that she has become a single issue voter. A Democratic Senate may kill tax cuts, impede deregulation, keep anti-statists out of the executive branch and the courts, ensure the passage of unconstitutional campaign finance "reform" and otherwise frustrate or roll back the causes with which Miss Postrel is most closely identified, but it won't support a ban on human cloning. And the last issue overrides all the others.
Other libertarians may be less ready to turn cloning into a litmus test, but their rhetoric is fierce, particularly when directed at Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics and an announced foe of cloning. Commentators who normally show considerable common sense and perspective seem quite convinced that Dr. Kass opposes not just one narrow area of scientific endeavor but science and medicine themselves, going so far in one instance as to insinuate that he would welcome a resurgence of the Black Death.
Leon Kass, M.D.: Friend of Rats, Lice and Plague?
That libertarians would oppose a government ban on cloning is no surprise. What is surprising is their passion. Federal prohibition of cloning is almost certainly beyond Congress' constitutional authority, but it is hardly the worst clear and present danger to liberty or a looming impediment to scientific progress. Not only are there at present a larger number of promising avenues of medical research than scientists have the resources to pursue, but the particular one for which cloning would be most immediately useful (the culturing of stem cells) may well open up without it. (Sylvia Pagán Westphal, "Ultimate Stem Cell Discovered"; Wesley J. Smith, "BioSpin").
There must be a rational explanation for this elevation of a secondary issue that merits reasoned debate to the status of a fanatically held cause, but I cannot divine what it is.
January 21, 2002
Highly recommended on the relationship between religious teachings and terrorism are comments by Norwegian blogger Bjørn Stærk (January 20th, 18:58 CET), who points out the silliness of outsiders' delving into the holy books of religions in which they don't believe. Westerners have lately been picking up the Koran for the first time, thumbing through it and discovering, depending on their inclinations, that it either (i) condemns Osama bin Laden tout court or (ii) endorses terrorism against the infidel.
One should be wary of outsiders selectively quoting to make a point about the true nature of a religion (or ideology). I haven't read the Koran, but I have read most of the Bible, (though it's been a few years), and I recognize this being done by non-Christians all the time. Whether it's anti-Christians digging up obscure passages to prove that Christianity is evil, or tolerant progressives who would very much like to believe that a God they don't believe in is as tolerant and progressive as themselves, what passages actual Christians use to guide their lives with is ignored. To understand a religion, it is important to know what its holy book says, but more important to know how believers interpret it. Only on that basis should outsiders judge.
The point was made long ago by John Henry Newman in an amusing essay ("Lecture on the Protestant View of the Catholic Church" (1851)) portraying a hypothetical Russian's reading of Blackstone's Commentaries, which concluded that England must be a despotism ("The King can do no wrong") whose subjects believed that the monarch was ubiquitous and immortal, among other absurdities. I don't suppose that Mr. Stærk has read Fr. Newman, but he does a good job of stating the same truth in his own way.
January 11, 2002
A good result of the brouhaha between American Airlines and the Secret Service is that it has encouraged a few brave commentators to question the dogma that "racial profiling" in airline security systems is an evil comparable to terrorism itself. (Vide James Q. Wilson & Heather R. Higgins, "It Isn't Easy Being Screened"; Rich Lowry, "Mineta's Folly".) One point still seems to be overlooked, however: the undeniable unfairness of systems that avoid profiling.
The profiling evil that rational critics (I leave aside those who simply don't want effective methods of thwarting crime) point to is the inconvenience visited on persons who cannot reasonably be suspected of wrongdoing but are nonetheless subject to police attention on the basis of outward traits. The classic example is the black doctor who is pulled over while driving his Lexus to a United Way board meeting. One can argue that a middle-aged, well-dressed black man driving a luxury car is very slightly more likely than a similarly situated white man to be a drug dealer or fugitive, but the benefits to law enforcement of making race per se grounds for suspicion in such circumstances are so small, and the burden imposed on law-abiding citizens so disproportionately great, that no rational analyst (I leave aside those who simply like the idea of harassing black people) defends profiling of that kind.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the airline industry have decided that profiling airplane passengers, in the form of giving special attention to young, Moslem, Middle Eastern males, is similarly repugnant and useless. On the other hand, they think that some passengers should be screened more intensively than others. Hence, the targets are now selected at random. A Jewish grandmother from Palm Beach and the next Mohammed Atta face the same likelihood that they will be wanded and patted down and that airline personnel will open and rummage through their carry-on baggage.
Applying the test of fairness that we used with the doctor in his Lexus, one can argue that it is not impossible that al-Qaeda includes Jewish grandmothers in its ranks. Still, for all practical purposes, searching them brings trivial safety benefits compared to the harassment that they suffer.
Searches without profiling are, in other words, just as unreasonable as those based on profiles constructed by bigots. If the government and the airlines truly believe in the sanctity of individual rights, they will find the practice no less objectionable than looking closely at Arabs and will conduct special examinations of no one. If, on the other hand, they think that weight should be given to the right of passengers to be protected from hijacking and sabotage, they will show greater readiness to employ profiling in a sensible, useful manner, even at the risk of annoying the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
* * * *
At almost the same moment that Senator Daschle was demanding that the government make high-speed access to the Internet "as universal as telephone service", computer columnist John Dvorak was cataloguing the reasons why DSL, cable modems and the like haven't become the rage among consumers. None of those reasons has anything to do with the absence of federal funding. (Vide "The Nine Assassins of Broadband".) Essential as broadband has become for business, it offers ordinary users little that they cannot obtain through dial-up connections and has a few serious drawbacks. In time, it will become more useful, but, at the moment, universal broadband makes no more sense than replacing every automobile in the country with a semi-trailer truck.
It is interesting that this spending proposal was the only one offered by Senator Daschle that had anything to do with science or technology. Liberal Democrats are not the natural champions of the space program or biotechnology or, in general, any project connected with science that isn't located in their home districts. They are, however, fascinated by the Internet. Al Gore may not have invented it, but he would have liked to and apparently regards it as a panacea for most educational, economic and even spiritual ills (as witness his idea that the world would be a better place if one could see continuous satellite photos of it on one's computer screen). The Clinton Administration spent large sums on Internet access for schools. On this particular topic, only the most rabidly pro-science conservatives (such as Newt Gingrich and George Gilder) are half as enthusiastic as normally Luddite liberals.
This liberal aberration is not disconnected, I surmise, from the liberals' general belief that the world ought to be an easy, undemanding, "fun" sort of place. People should not have to risk investment losses (see the item above) or make trade-offs between work and leisure or stick with difficult marriages or deprive themselves of pleasures in order to fulfill duties or, in general, suffer the negative consequences of their actions.
Its most starry-eyed proselytizers see the World Wide Web is a free source of unlimited information and instant gratification. Anything you want to know, you can find on the Web, becoming an ad hoc expert without the bother of getting an education. That picture is 99 percent illusion (vide "Surfin' Their Lives Away"), but, to a particular mentality, it is powerfully attractive. That mentality has much the same shape as contemporary liberalism.
January 5, 2002
Tom Daschle is charming. So is Bertie Wooster. What makes Bertie charming is the inconsequence of his thought, his cheerful inability to reason from A to B. Judging by the "major economic policy address" that he delivered yesterday, Senator Daschle is charming in exactly the same way.
The Senator's remarks were notably free of economic ideas of any kind, good or bad, and his only analytical method was post hoc ergo propter hoc. Congress enacted a tax cut. The country slipped into recession. Therefore, the tax cut was a dreadful mistake that "probably worsened" the recession and is to blame for the renewed deficit in the federal budget.
In true Wooster fashion, this contention - "argument" would be too generous a word - confuses post and ante. According to the National Bureau for Economic Research, the generally accepted arbiter of such matters, the current contraction began in March 2001, that is, less than 2½ months George W. Bush was sworn in as President, three months before his tax cut proposals were enacted into law and nine months before the first significant elements of the new law went into effect. Senator Daschle does not elaborate on his curious concept of the relationship between cause and effect.
There is, actually, a plausible case for the proposition that the long phase-in of tax reductions, extending through 2010, is an incentive to postpone economic activity until later years when tax rates will be lower. The Senator obviously doesn't believe that. If he did, he would call for accelerating the phase-in. In fact, when Republicans last month proposed an extremely limited acceleration, Senator Daschle was noisily opposed.
Blaming future tax cuts for a present budget deficit shows a similarly fuzzy grasp of causality. Tax collections have not fallen below expectations due to some design flaw in the tax bill but because the economy has performed worse than expected. That lower performance, in turn, ratchets down projections of future revenue, leading to predicted deficits for the next several years. Those predictions will not come true, and surpluses will instead return, if economic growth turns out to be slightly better than now anticipated. The real policy question is how best to foster that happy outcome.
Senator Daschle's answer consists of a generality and a bunch of specifics. The generality is that the the federal government should return to "fiscal responsibility", which he evidently defines as a surplus at least equal to the Social Security System's excess of FICA taxes over benefit payments. (He complains about "raiding" the Social Security trust fund; I have commented elsewhere on that illusion.) Whether that flavor of fiscal responsibility is an ideal anti-recessionary policy can be debated among rational men. No debate is needed at this point, however, for the specifics of the Daschle program go in the opposite direction: The Senator urges a flood of new spending plus what he claims is a better set of tax breaks. In short, he proposes to spur the economy with deficit spending in the old-fashioned Keynesian manner, despite his refusal to deploy a single Keynesian principle in defense of that policy and his rhetorical invocation of Hoover-style deficit-phobia.
There's a reason why almost no one these days invokes the authority of Keynes: Japan has been taking the Keynsian cure for 14 years, priming the pump with endless public works programs and pushing interest rates to zero, and its economy is still as sick as it was when George W. Bush's father was Vice President. Keynesian diehards doubtless can explain why this experiment proves nothing, but most American liberals no longer have faith in them.
Without a theoretical grounding in Keynes (or any other economist), Senator Daschle can offer no reasons why his proposals will do the economy any good. The closest that he comes is an assertion that "restor[ing] long-term fiscal integrity to our budget" will "bring long-term interest rates down". Hardly anyone else has suggested recently that interest rates are burdensomely high. A quick look at Bloomberg's summary of key rates shows a downward trend over the past year: the yield on 10-year AAA industrial bonds is 26 basis points lower than in January 2000; 15- and 30-year mortgage rates are down by 21 and 3 basis points, respectively; the spread between industrial bonds and U.S. treasuries, after spiking in the aftermath of September 11th, has declined sharply and is now narrower than two years ago (though still wider than last January).
Supposing, though, that lower interest rates are an immediate desideratum, does the Senator have any suggestions for attaining his goal? No. He leaves that to President Bush. The press release accompanying his speech calls on the President "to submit a one-year budget proposal that includes an effective stimulus plan, and a long-term plan that: restores fiscal discipline; protects the Social Security and Medicare trust funds over the medium and long-term; makes essential investments in critical areas, including defense, homeland security and education; and does not resort to gimmicks and rosy scenarios". Senator Daschle's own ideas are limited to lots more spending, including such immediate needs as "making broadband Internet access as universal as telephone service", and a few minor, very short-term tax breaks.
The Daschle tax program's stated purpose is to "promote economic activity now, when the economy needs it" (as opposed to next year, when economic activity will no longer be needed?). Its principle elements are (i) a one-year freeze on the payroll taxes paid by profitable corporations; (ii) an accelerated depreciation deduction for investments placed in service this year; (iii) an extension of net operating loss carrybacks to earlier years; and (iv) lump sum payments to people who didn't pay income taxes in 2001. None of those is a serious stimulus measure, because none of them affects incentives. A temporary improvement in cash flow is not a rational motive for a business to hire permanent employees or make new investments. Extended loss carrybacks funnel money to corporate losers, thus reinforcing failure rather than success (the opposite of the effect of marginal tax rate reductions). It is universally conceded that last year's tax rebates provided almost no boost to the economy; why should a new round of handouts to different people bring better results?
Senator Daschle's view of the economy is merely the latest evidence of the central fact about his headship of the Democratic Party: He is interested in gaining political power not what should be done with it. He offers no principles, no policy, no program - only a heap of poll-tested gestures and shibboleths. Thus he is charming is a Woosterish fashion. Unlike Bertie, however, he has no Jeeves at hand, and the effects of his follies may be felt far beyond his own household.
* * * *
Let us suppose arguendo that the facts of the imbroglio between American Airlines and the Arab-American Secret Service agent who was ejected from Flight 393 on Christmas Day run like this: The agent did his best to comply with the airline's procedures for identifying himself and bringing his revolver on board. The procedures are ambiguous, poorly documented and subject to much pilot discretion. The pilot was an Arab-hating bigot who seized on trivial paperwork errors as an excuse to treat the agent as a potential terrorist.
If those were the facts, the agent would be justified in seeking redress. He would also have an easy way to do so. His direct employer, the Secret Service, has the world's best access to the President of the United States, a figure to whom airline companies pay attention. A Presidential demand for apologies, disciplinary action or rectification of procedures carries vastly more weight than any degree of public agitation. (Where security is concerned, in fact, the airlines seem to take gripes from customers as proof that they're doing things right.)
Instead, the agent -or, more precisely, his lawyers and the Council on American-Islamic Relations - have adopted a strategy of maximum publicity. The lawyers may just be hoping to extract a financial settlement for their client, but CAIR's motives deserve greater scrutiny. Its press releases present no evidence that airline security procedures are unnecessarily strict for passengers who wish to bring guns on board and advance no suggestions for making the process fairer or more effective. CAIR's statements are therefore unlikely to advance the cause of correcting any real problems that may exist. The probable effects are these:
The publicity surrounding the incident places President Bush in a difficult position. If the agent is in the wrong, he now must be either rebuked publicly or falsely vindicated. Unless CAIR has conclusive proof that the agent followed correct procedures and could not reasonably have been suspected of being an impostor (and it cites no such proof), it is engaging, in time of war, in mischief making between the President and his protectors.
While most of the country will pay no attention to CAIR, its outcry may help alienate American Moslems from the rest of the country. The situation in Britain, where Moslems overwhelmingly support the September 11th attacks and their perpetrators, isn't likely to be replicated in the U.S., but CAIR seems to be doing what it can to push in that direction.
For more on CAIR's objectives, particularly its complacent, if not complaisant, attitude toward Islamic radicals, see Daniel Pipes, "How Dare You Defame Islam" and Congressional testimony by journalist Steve Emerson (February 1998), who now lives in hiding due to threats by Islamic extremists.
January 4, 2002
Just like the imaginary architecture on its currency, the European Union is an anti-historical construct. Nothing could be less logical and tidy than the division of a relatively small continent among a couple of dozen sovereign governments. Therefore, the Europhilosophes will amalgamate them. But why do they need to be amalgamated? Do Belgians or Spaniards gain anything from giving Greeks and Finns a say in their affairs? There are good economic reasons why goods manufactured in Brussels should be available for sale in Athens and travel should be unimpeded between Helsinki and Madrid. On the other hand, the average Finn knows almost nothing that would enable him to form a sensible judgement concerning land use regulation in Andalusia or the licensing of Flemish doctors or sales tax collection in Thessalonica. He cannot even learn the local point of view or study conditions elsewhere in detail unless he knows the pertinent languages. Europeans are far more likely than Americans to be multilingual, but not many can read a tenth of the newspapers published on the continent. Giving each of them the ability to influence the governance of all the others is as reasonable as having football fans write the rules of cricket.
There are only two points of view, so far as I can see, from which a United Europe has any political virtues. First, if one is afraid of giving public opinion too much influence over policy, an electorate with little in the way of common language, religion, interests, customs and culture is reassuring. A united governing class can generally prevail over a divided populace.
Second, if one fears a menacing superpower, it is prudent to unite against it. It's no secret that lots of European intellectuals and politicians see the United States, the "hyperpower", as just such a menace. (A couple of good explorations of this phobia are Mark Steyn, "War Between America and Europe" and Victor Davis Hanson, "It Really Is Your Father's Europe".) If its current expansion plans are carried out, the EU will soon have more people and a larger gross domestic product than the U.S. The barely disguised hope is that the world will then see a restoration of the bipolarity that vanished with the Soviet Union. Brussels will counterbalance Washington and ward off --
Well, it's not clear what will be warded. Unless Europe becomes a police state, it won't keep out the much-deplored symptoms of American cultural barbarity. Nor will it be able to compel the United States to sign the Kyoto Treaty or subordinate its policies to the whims of Kofi Annan or abolish capital punishment or limit free speech on the Internet or otherwise act like a socialist's idea of a "good citizen of the world".
The most that a staunchly anti-American EU can hope to accomplish is to hinder U.S. foreign policy objectives by supporting our enemies. It can, for instance (as it is already doing), try to prop us Yassir Arafat's floundering Palestinian Authority or refuse to cooperate in measures against the Hezbollah terrorist organization. That strategy will certainly antagonize America but will not threaten central American interests. It is, on the other hand, extremely risky for Europe. A vigorous foreign policy, especially one that seeks to bridle a "hyperpower", depends upon guns, money and morale. The EU currently has no means of translating its wealth into any of those.
Right now the United States outspends the EU on defense by a margin of about three-to-one. Closing that gap would necessitate major tax increases or retrenchment of the European welfare state. The former would be ruinous, while the latter is unacceptable to those Europeans who are most eager to pursue an ideological vendetta against America. For the foreseeable future, the EU will parade toy soldiers and will rely upon America for serious military work.
More significantly, the European political class shows no sign of possessing the steadfastness and courage that a superpower must have. If al-Qaeda had attacked Paris rather than New York, does anyone doubt that the French government would have opened negotiations with Osama bin Laden? Third world thugs have learned that, if they kick Europe, Europe will smile in reply - except on those occasions when the United States insists on retaliation.
If the U.S. really were an imperialist power, the unification of most of its potential rivals under a high tax, high welfare, uninnovative, mildly repressive, mildly corrupt regime would not be a bad thing. So long as nerveless socialists maintain power over the EU, they can suppress any surges of political, spiritual or economic dynamism. There won't be any more Margaret Thatchers; eventually, there won't even be any more Tony Blairs. Now that one thinks about it, perhaps the EU is a subtle creation of the CIA, designed to keep the European Gulliver forever bound by chains of his own making.
January 2, 2002
Arrests for arson in the Sydney area have topped 20, mostly of juveniles, leading some Australian officials to conclude that the massive bush fires - now said to be visible as far away as New Zealand - are the work of bored teenagers, whose mischief has been aggravated by freakish weather. A tragedy, but an ordinary one.
Except for speculations by Australian blogger Tim Blair, I have seen no suggestions that the fires may be acts of terrorism. Yet the the theory of "adolescent pranks gone wrong" is not fully consistent with the reported facts. While the London branch of the Daily Telegraph repeats it without skepticism (Peter Shadbolt & Geoffrey Lee Martin, "'Bored Kids' Blamed for Sydney Fires"), the publication's Australian affiliate reveals that (i) none of the people arrested so far has been connected with major fires - they are at worst would-be arsonists caught in the act and in some cases careless users of matches with no incendiary intent - and (ii) several of the serious fires were ignited by bombs. The devices are crude, but building them would be a lot of work for a mere prankster. (Charles Miranda & Rachel Morris, "21 Lucifers").
As noted earlier (Ephemerides, 12/27/01), Islamic terrorists have motives for targeting Australia. Extremists of Indonesian background would have a double motive: to harm an American ally and avenge the 1999 intervention in East Timor.
Even if the blazes turn out to have no links to the war, they do point a moral: Australia is not the only place where pyrotechnic terrorism is a possibility. One hopes that authorities in areas like California are thinking ahead to next summer.