Ephemerides (April 2002)
April 27, 2002
In one of his frequent polemics in favor of therapeutic cloning, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit
remarks, "I think that the only strong anti-cloning argument is . . . essentially a pro-life argument -- and that argument is only strong if you hold certain essentially religious beliefs that I don't share." He is right, in a way, to drag religion into the argument, wrong about which side is basing its case on faith instead of reason.
Whether the "things" produced by cloning are human beings makes a great deal of difference, as Professor Reynolds certainly would not deny. He agrees with the Declaration of Independence, I think, that human beings have an "unalienable right" to life. That right isn't absolute, just as the accompanying rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not, but it is a strong inhibition against killing. Inter alia, I fancy, Professor Reynolds disapproves of vivisection of human beings, of involuntary organ donation by living subjects and of apportioning the right to life on the basis of popularity.
So the question of whether a blastocyst (the first group of cells that develops from a newly united ovum and sperm) is a very, very young human or just nonhuman tissue cannot be avoided if one wants to think seriously, rationally and morally about cloning. There are two ways to approach that question. One is rationalistic and secular. It looks solely at biological facts and accepts any organism of the species homo sapiens as a human being, without trying to add any spiritual or social overlay to the meaning of "human".
The other approach tries to find some kind of nonbiological "essence of humanity". It asks how people "feel" about blastocysts or to what extent these cell clusters are dependent on others for survival or even whether it is plausible to believe that they have souls (a truly bizarre instance of ignotum per ignotius). This way of thinking can only be called "religious", though it is not an especially elevated or reflective form of religion. Subjective faith imposes moral categories on the world of facts.
Most Christian thinkers, Christianity being in many respects a secular and rationalistic world view, have opted for the first approach. They do not theorize about when the soul enters the body or, indeed, whether it is the presence of a "soul" that makes us human. (Neither Scripture nor Tradition has much to say about souls; most ideas that most people have about that concept derive from pagan speculations.) Christians merely accept what biologists tell them: that a fertilized ovum is not some kind of stage preceding humanity - that is what the separate egg and sperm are - but an early phase of the life of homo sapiens.
That view is not always convenient for larger and older homines sapientes. Humanity brings with it generally acknowledged privileges, and those of us who are comfortably inside the club have motives of self-interest for keeping the membership rolls pared to a minimum. That is why the addition of religious qualifications for enrollment is so attractive. Virtually all of us (Peter Singer and such, ironically labeled "animal rights activists", excepted) have conceded that newborn infants are fellow members, leaving them unavailable for even the most valuable and life saving research. One can understand the desire not to bring in yet more "outsiders".
The subjectivity and irrationality of nonbiological requirements for human status are illustrated in an article written recently by Michael S. Gazzaniga, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. Dr. Gazzaniga has a series of reasons for regarding blastocysts as nonhuman ("Zygotes and People Aren't Quite the Same"
). His principal points are (i) the majority of blastocysts die soon after coming into existence; (ii) people don't hold funerals for them; (iii) a blastocyst that is not implanted in a uterus (as therapeutic cloners have no intention of doing) will inevitably die before developing further; (iv) a single blastocyst can divide into twins, and the twins can recombine into one organism. As a badge of humanity, none of those is remotely rational. The first shows that average human life expectancy is much shorter than we think, the second that grief is linked to familiarity with the decedent rather than to the extent of his humanity (was the Queen Mother more human than an old woman who dies neglected in an East End tenement?), the third that humans are not self-sufficient (until recently, infants could not survive without milk from mothers or wet nurses - were they less than human then?), the fourth that fission, a common form of reproduction elsewhere in nature, occasionally occurs in humans (is a paramecium not a paramecium before it divides?). Only strong faith can sustain such idiosyncratic tests of humanity.
Now, I would not deny that faith can be right and secular reason wrong. A secular government is not, however, supposed to intrude religion into public life to any greater extent than necessary. Where religious beliefs limit the right to life, secular authorities are quite correct to disregard them. Thus, for instance, the United States prohibits human sacrifice and allows medical treatment to be inflicted upon the children of Christian Scientists. If the same principle were applied to therapeutic cloning, the state would accept only secularly based classifications of organisms as human or nonhuman. Reproductive cloning, where the intention is to nurture the new-formed human being rather than kill her, is of course a different issue. The arguments there revolve around the organization of society rather than the right to life.
There is one other way in which advocacy of therapeutic cloning resembles religious faith. Many of the advocates have the vehemence and zeal of primitive apostles. In their minds, cloning is the
key to future medical research, not simply one of many potentially promising avenues. (Cf.
Wesley J. Smith, "Spinning Stem Cells"
for a summary of dramatic, morally unproblematic advances in the medical uses of adult stem cells.) One almost suspects, reading their denunciations of the ungodly, that they regard cloning as more important, in and of itself, than any benefit that it might actually produce. The technique shows signs of becoming semi-sacramental in some quarters, demonstrating once more the accuracy of Chesterton's dictum that those who stop believing in God usually wind up believing not in nothing but in anything.
April 23, 2002
The rhythm of French politics has scarcely altered since the Revolution. The Left is the naturally dominant force, but its margin of superiority is normally thin, and every once in a while, usually in the wake of crisis or war, the Right sweeps to victory with a chambre incomparable or horizon-bleu. The first round of this year's Presidential election falls well within that pattern (which also includes brief ascents of marginal figures who attract a groundswell of popular support, then fade as rapidly as they rose). Here are the official results, apportioned across the ideological spectrum. Some of these designations are debatable. M. Chevenement, par exemple, has spent his whole career as a fairly advanced gauchiste but is now most prominent as an anti-immigrationist and Euroskeptic. Still, the overall picture cannot be too inaccurate.
The spread between the candidates of the Right and those of the Left - over 2½ million votes - is pretty amazing in French terms. Unless there is a great upheaval during the next two months, it portends an overwhelming victory for the Right in the Assembly elections, a highly demoralizing blow to leftists throughout Europe.
Two other, less happy, facts stands out. One is the combined share of the vote of the candidates of the extremes. Open anti-democrats received 40 percent of the total. That is, alas, another immutable tendency of post-Revolutionary Frenchmen: to turn to force when politics yields an unpalatable regime. The tens of thousands of leftists who have conducted demonstrations against M. Le Pen's presence in the run-off have no serious fear that he will be elected (the first opinion poll showed him behind President Chirac by 56 percentage points). What they oppose is the idea that anyone should be allowed to vote for so unacceptable an alternative. On that point, M. Le Pen and M. Megret probably agree with them, disputing only what is unacceptable.
The other ominous fact is the migration of the Left toward the extreme. A candidate able to unite Trotskyites, Greens and Communists would have outpolled M. Chirac. Happily, there was no such candidate, and none is likely to arise, but the extremists clearly have the momentum on the Left. While M. Le Pen will doubtless fade into obscurity after his drubbing in the second electoral round, Mme. Laguiller could easily be the consensus Left candidate for President seven years from now.
If Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan (neither of them as far out as Laguiller and Le Pen) had combined to poll 40 percent of the vote in 2000, and if Nader had run ahead of Al Gore, all sane Americans would be deeply concerned for the future of our country. For France, however, this condition is no worse than ordinaire. Let us fret about fascism in Austria and Israel, mes amis. La France, c'est bien.
April 21, 2002
Many, many years ago, while imbibing a healthful double bourbon at the Yale Club bar in New York City, I fell into conversation with an older and more florid alumnus, who asked me what I thought of "the new President". To my mind, the newest President was Jimmy Carter, and I made some properly depreciatory remarks about his incapacity for high office; at which the florid alum shook his head and muttered, "I guess all you kids think nobody can replace Kingman Brewster."
To my interlocutor the Presidency that mattered was that of Yale University. Maybe he had a point. Those who share his opinion are now getting excited about the next election at Old Eli, to fill a seat on the Yale Corporation, the university's governing body. Most of the members of the Corporation are chosen by the body itself, but, in a concession to democracy, the alumni are allowed to elect six of the twenty. Typically, these elections are gentlemanly affairs - very, very shoe, in fact. The Association of Yale Alumni nominates a couple of candidates who are well known for being famous, always being sure to limit the field to politically correct soft-core leftists. Neither one campaigns, and the winner emerges more or less at random.
This year is different. A black minister named W. David Lee (Div. '93) has gotten onto the ballot by petition. I have just received an official mailing from the AYA telling us alums why that is a bad, bad thing:
In the past, alumni have learned about their choices, including petition candidates, from a ballot that features a substantive biographical report on each candidate. Rev. Lee has chosen to mount an aggressive campaign soliciting political endorsements and using mass mailings, email [sic] and telephone calls to alumni. Ms. Lin [the official nominee] has followed the customary practice of not conducting a campaign.
You can't be too careful about whence those gullible Yale graduates get their information. They need to have the data sifted and refined into "a substantive biographical report", lest they be misled by some slick talkin' Kingfish.
Not only is the Rev. Dr. Lee conducting himself in a most unshoe manner, but there are Sinister Forces behind his candidacy:
Rev. Lee's campaign has been supported and financed by Yale's Locals 34 and 35 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, a group seeking to unionize Yale graduate students, as well as the Service Employees International Union and its affiliate District 1199, a group seeking to union staff at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, an entity separate from Yale. In addition, Rev. Lee serves as a board member of the advocacy organization Connecticut Center for a New Economy, which has used union researchers to create a series of reports harshly critical of Yale. All of these activities coincide with the launch this spring of collective bargaining at Yale for a new union contract.
Now, that rhetoric would be fine if it truly came from an association of Dink Stovers and Thurston Howells. I'm no great fan of labor unions myself. But the Association of Yale Alumni isn't the voice of reactionary Old Blues. It is an arm of the university administration (about as independent as the Democratic Party is of the American Trial Lawyers Association); that is, it is a spokesgroup for multiculturalism, affirmative action, political correctitude and general contempt for old-fashioned verities. If the Connecticut Center for a New Economy confined itself to railing at multinational corporations and calling for boycotts of companies that don't pay their workers a "living wage", the Yale bureaucrats would be rushing to hand them honorary doctorates. But it's a different matter if their own institution has to deal with employee relations issues that are commonplace in the profit making sector. Then the call goes out to Dink and Thurston to rally behind Mother Yale and keep the stinking barbarians out of Woolsey Hall!
Not, of course, that Dink and Thurston are going to be given a candidate of their own ideological stripe to vote for; that would be going too far. The official candidate is not someone like William F. Buckley, Jr. or Clarence Thomas. She is Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam War Memorial and member of the board of directors of the loony left Natural Resources Defense Council. The Memorial has become, of course, a cynosure of patriotic sentiment, but that was not Miss Lin's intention. To this day, she proclaims that its "messages" are the importance of ecology and the need for reconciliation with the inevitability of death. She has never, so far as I can discover, expressed an iota of sympathy for the cause in whose behalf the men and women listed on those half-buried stone slabs gave their lives.
The choice being offered, then, is between a leftist who cares about the wages and working conditions of Yale's employees - and a leftist who doesn't. No doubt the Corporation meetings will pass more comfortably with the latter than the former. The Clintonista propagandists, feminist bishops, hack politicians and other eminenti can sip their white wine spritzers, nibble on their brie and exchange snooty comments about heartless executives who cut wages and lay off workers. Perhaps they'll do their bit for the working man by ordering Yale athletes not to wear Nikes.
April 16, 2002
The terrorist-friendly Council on American-Islamic Relations claims that it has received over 1,700 reports of "anti-Muslim incidents" since September 11th. We now have some insight into how Allah's statisticians handle quantitative data.
Yesterday CAIR put a "poll" up on its Web site asking whether Ariel Sharon should be tried as a war criminal. The first returns were overwhelmingly "yes", as one would expect (94 percent "yes" out of 500 votes). Then Instapundit
and other blogs noticed the poll, and a few thousand of their readers clicked over to CAIR's site to express their opinions. By the morning of April 16th (c. 6:00 a.m. CDT), the tally was 94 percent "no" (with 12,000 votes cast, i. e.
, 700 "yes", 11,300 "no"). Naturally, believers in Islamic democracy couldn't accept that result, so CAIR handled the problem the way Yasser ("one man, one vote - and I'm the one man") Arafat might have: It rolled the count back and tampered with it. By 9:30 a.m., the number of votes cast was down to about 2,100, and 93 percent of those were "yes" (i. e.
, 1,950 "yes", 150 "no"). Not only had over 11,000 "no" votes been discarded, but more than a thousand additional "yeses" had appeared in an improbably short period. Less than an hour later, the "poll" was gone from the Web site, replaced by a complaint about "several nefarious attempts by users trying to manipulate the votes". The only manipulative users that I perceive are CAIR's own staff.
The CAIR Webmaster has sent Instapundit
an "explanation" of what "really" happened. According to Omar T., a user disabled cookies and voted 8,056 times. Having caught this, the Webmaster eliminated those phony votes, plus "a number of other multiple votes (including YES answers)". Nice try, Omar, but one should prepare one's lies more carefully; learn from Bill Clinton. As the figures shown above indicate, over 11,000 "no" votes - not 8,000 - disappeared. And
, of equal significance, over a thousand new "yes" votes showed up in no more than a couple of hours, nearly twice as many as had been cast since the inception of the poll. That somebody cast a bunch of improper "no" votes is quite possible, but CAIR, in its quest for the "right" result did quite a bit more than just eliminate ballot box stuffing.
April 15, 2002
On this financially significant day, here are some statistics to ponder:
Pct. of total income
Pct. of total income taxes
Average tax rate
Income figures are adjusted gross income from federal income tax returns, as reported by the IRS.
Both the snapshot and the trend line are full of interest. Looking just at the 1999 figures, it is obvious that "the rich", however defined, are shouldering their proportionate share of income taxes plus quite a bit. The upper one percent pay almost twice the taxes that they would if rates were strictly scaled to income, while the bottom half pay less than one-third of their aliquot share.
Factoring in other taxes would alter the picture somewhat, but in what direction is not clear. Social Security (FICA) taxes, the next largest contributor to federal revenue after the income tax, are a flat percentage of wages and are not imposed on earnings in excess of an indexed cap ($84,900 in 2002). That structure superficially favors higher wage earners. On the other hand, FICA payments earn entitlement to Social Security benefits following retirement, and those benefits are sharply skewed toward lower earners. In the bottom brackets, Social Security replaces most or all pre-retirement income; in the upper brackets, the replacement ratio is trivial. Thus these taxes are, to a large extent, eventually returned to the least well-off taxpayers, operating as a forced deferral of income rather than a true tax.
The incidence of the corporate income tax, the third biggest source of federal revenue, is controversial. Corporations are legal abstractions that, as Ronald Reagan once said, "don't pay taxes; they collect taxes". Liberal economists tend to believe that they collect mostly from shareholders and that corporate taxes have little impact on lower income individuals. If that view is correct, the distribution of the tax burden falls yet more heavily on the prosperous. If it is wrong, the curve flattens a bit (though not a lot, since the corporate income tax brings in only about a quarter the revenue of the individual income tax).
Other taxes (excise taxes, estate and gift taxes, customs duties, etc.) are not large enough to affect the overall pattern, a pattern that liberals evidently regard as "fair". They stridently portray themselves as advocates of equity in taxation (the most important portside tax lobbying group calls itself "Citizens for Tax Justice") and denounced last year's tax cuts for alleged favoritism of the well-to-do. That belief tells us much about their concept of "fairness".
Ordinary Americans do not seem completely enchanted by fairness of that sort. President Clinton's 1993 tax hike was a political disaster for the Democratic Party, despite nonstop commercials proclaiming that it affected only a minuscule minority. Such appeals would be even less successful, one suspects, if liberals didn't assiduously foster the misconception that the wealthy can easily avoid paying taxes. One would like to see Al Gore holding aloft a set of tax distribution tables and exhorting the proletariat, "The top ten percent pays only 150 percent of its proportionate share of taxes. Elect me, and it will be 200 percent!"
The trend line is also worth noting. Since 1989, there have been two rounds of tax increases (Bush I in 1990, Clinton in 1993). They have succeeded in pushing up average tax rates and shares of total taxes for the upper tier of taxpayers but have, ironically, done nothing to further the "progressive" goal of flattening income distribution. From the left-wing point of view, taxes have become "fairer" just as incomes have become less so. (Conservatives do not have the converse feeling, because they regard as fair any income distribution that results from uncoerced economic activity. In their eyes, the tax distribution has grown less fair, while income distribution has reflected market forces.)
A final point to think about is the old saw that democracies last until 51 percent of the populace discovers that it can vote itself a living at the expense of the other 49 percent. On that point the distribution tables speak for themselves.
April 13, 2002
Isolated sentences in Yasser Arafat's "condemnation" of the latest homicide bombing sound as if they expressed a change of heart on the part of the Palestinian mini-dictator. On closer reading, though, the statement is Clintonesque in its duplicity. Here is CNN's translation of the central portion:
President Arafat and the Palestinian leadership condemn all kinds of terrorist activity, coming from the deep principle against using violence and terrorism against civilians as a means to achieve political gains.
Starting from this principle, which we have upheld since 1988 [sic] when we signed the Oslo agreement at the White House and which we repeated several times, including on the 16th of December, 2001.
We did not receive any Israeli response on the declaration of the 16th of December. Instead what we got was Israeli military escalation, suffocating siege and continued occupation for our people, our refugee camps, our cities, our villages and complete destruction of our infrastructure.
We strongly condemn violent operations that target Israeli civilians, especially the last operation in Jerusalem. We also strongly condemn the massacre and the killing Israel occupation forces have and are still committing against Palestinian civilians and refugees in the city of Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and other Palestinian territories over the past two weeks.
All of this document's statements about the past are palpable lies. The Palestinian Authority has never "upheld", certainly not by its actions, any "deep principle against using violence and terrorism against civilians as a means to achieve political gains". Violence against Israeli civilians has been its constant tactic, lauded in principle and energetically pursued in practice. Palestinian terrorism has increased, not declined, since the signing of the Olso Accords in 1993, and captured documents reveal that "President" himself has personally authorized payments to homicide bombers. The Arafat-controlled Palestinian news media are full of praise for terrorists. (Vide
Michael Kelly, "Promises But Never Peace"
, John Perazzo, "'The Jihad of Holy Death Will Continue'"
, Etgar Lefkovits, "Seized Orient House Documents Link Arafat to Terrorism"
, Fouad Ajami, "Arafat's War"
, Martin Peretz, "Before There Were 'Palestinians', There Was Arafat: The Making of a 'Statesman'"
There are lies about the present, too. While it is possible to argue about whether the Israeli Defense Force could do yet more to avoid civilian casualties, there is no doubt that it has eschewed the use of air strikes and heavy artillery against Palestinian positions, despite the increased risk to its own soldiers. And the accusation of "massacre and killing . . . against Palestinian civilians" at the Church of hte Nativity is grotesque. Palestinian gunmen shot their way into the church and are using priests and nuns as human shields. The Israelis have responded by blockading the building, but they have killed no one inside it.
If Arafat cannot be honest about the past or the present, what meaning can anyone attach to the one-sentence condemnation of "violent operations that target Israeli civilians" that is buried amidst the falsehoods? That sentence is a mere verbal concession, contradicted by the surrounding insistence that what the Palestinian Authority has done in the past is not terrorism. It is as if a desperate Adolf Hitler had attempted to placate the Allies in 1945 by declaring, "I condemn violence against Jews, in accordance with the principles that I have upheld since the Wansee Conference."
Regardless of their manifest insincerity, these words have been enough to gain Arafat a meeting with Secretary of State Powell. If General Powell brokers yet another peace agreement, the course of events is drearily predictable. The Israelis will pull back their forces, terrorists will emerge from hiding to spend a week or two in the PA's revolving door jails; then there will be more bombings, and Israel will be compelled to finish later the job that it ought to be allowed to finish now.
Update, April 14, 2002: Scarcely had General Powell finished his meeting with "President" Arafat than Saeb Erekat, described in news stories as "one of Arafat's top aides", effectively repudiated yesterday's "condemnation" of "violent operations that target Israeli civilians". According to Erekat, the condemnation becomes effective only after Israel withdraws from the West Bank. There is no way to interpret that statement as anything other than a go-ahead for the homicide bombers to continue their work.
It is also possible that Arafat's statement was even weaker than it appeared to be. The Associated Press
translates the key sentence as, "We strongly condemn all attacks targeting civilians from both sides, and especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens yesterday in Jerusalem." Given CNN's long record of pro-PA bias, it wouldn't be surprising if its translators had taken the liberty of "improving" Arafat's remarks.
April 10, 2002
Nelson Ascher (4/9/02):
I live in Paris and write about culture and foreign affairs for Brazil’s main newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo. . . . My own perception of what’s happening in Europe nowadays is not much different from yours, but for the fact that it is somewhat grimmer.
Believe me: I now think that since 9/11, like the proverbial old generals, we have been fighting the last culture war. It is high time to admit we are in a new one.
The problem is not cultural relativism, moral equivalence, nostalgic leftism, third-worldism, knee-jerk anti-Americanism, residual anti-semitism and so on. Not anymore.
For the last half year or so I have been reading voraciously The Guardian, The Independent, Le Monde, Libération, El País, La Reppublica etc. European Schadenfreude in September amazed me as much as it did most Americans who took notice of it. It seemed pretty stupid, didn’t it? Well, now it is beginning to make sense.
What happened last week, though it did not get a fraction of the attention it deserved, will be considered a central event and will be discussed by historians for many years to come. Some of the highest ranking eurocrats went to Israel, not in search of a truce or a peace agreement, not to talk to the country’s elected government, but expressly to take sides in a war, and to try and save their protegé, Yasser Arafat. And they were immediately sent home.
Now, this is not the way “normal” diplomatic transactions take place: it amounts to a mutual diplomatic declaration of war, with high stakes involved on both sides. But all this was downplayed. Think about what the European press would usually be making of the whole affair. (It is funny, on the other hand, as a kind of sideshow, to see all those journalists and commentators who two weeks ago were absolutely against America’s Iraqi policy telling Bush and Blair they’d better stop Israel’s military campaign for the sake. . . of a successful war against Saddam!) As I see it, Bush’s Thursday intervention was indeed a diplomatic counter-offensive the objective of which was to prevent further similar European steps.
In other words, we are not talking any longer of different opinions on how to achieve the same goals, nor are we talking about disagreement inside the Western Civilization. We are talking about great-power politics. Nato or Shmato aside, it seems quite realistic to say that we are seeing the first open shots in the new clash of civilizations, and the opposing sides in it are the US and Europe. The European Union is clearly taking a Gaullist turn. Equally clearly, the goals of each side in the Middle East (I mean the US and Europe) are divergent. And in a collision route. I would not be absolutely sure by now that Europe is at all commited to the existence of a Jewish state in the region, not if it harms its interests (its growing and developing anti-American alliance with the Arab world) and advances America’s. Britain, obviously, up to the moment, is split in the middle.
Whatever has been said during the American-European Kulturkampf has to be revisited in light of recent events. I think we have been interpreting the European intelligentsia’s standpoints as sorry little differences of opinion within a shared worldview. Now, maybe that’s what is really simplistic. When, for instance, I see the BBC, Le Monde and so on behaving exactly like Pravda, I cannot avoid the strong impression that we are facing a new, coherent and, for all [sc. practical] purposes, official ideology, an ideology that came to fill the vacuum left since the end of the Soviet Union. It may be far-fetched to say it, but a kind of Second Cold War does not sound to me absurd at all.
Michael Cowell (4/10/02):
I am an American expat living in Finland. I read the comments from Nelson Ascher with great interest. He eloquently expressed my own impressions and growing apprehension about the position of the EU in the looming conflict. I would add one more observation which is even more deeply disturbing. This is an article
which I read in the Thursday (4/4/2002) edition of the International Herald Tribune. . . . [T]he essence was this:
The European Union has declared American mediation in the Middle East a failure and demanded that the US step down as primary mediator. The EU representative goes on to demand that an international committee step in to negotiate a fair agreement leading to the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state. The suggested members of this committee would include the EU (of course), Russia (traditional Arab supporter), neighboring Arab states (Jew hating dictators), the UN (Nations United in condemning Israel in Every Resolution), and the US (a bone thrown in to salve our wounded pride). The story then goes on to make quite clear that the EU executive (whoever they may be) believes that the major blame for the current situation in the West Bank falls on the Americans for being too pro-Israeli in the negotiations.
This is a huge development. In one fell swoop, the EU has officially - 1) Blamed the Americans for the failure of Oslo and the Intifada. Remember all of the 'perhaps you should re-examine American foreign policy to prevent further attacks' sentiment we heard after 9/11? The European elites have come down squarely on the side of 'Fanatical suicide bombers don't kill innocents, American policy kills innocents'. 2) Outlined their vision of a peaceful Middle East. One without Jews. The composition of their negotiation committee would make the result a foregone conclusion. The only peace they offer Israel is the peace of the dead. 3) Placed themselves firmly in opposition to United States foreign policy.
Combine the above article with a threat the following day to impose economic sanctions on Israel (no action yet, apparently the Brits and a few others are resisting) if they do not accept an immediate ceasefire (as if the Israelis are the obstacle here), the strident opposition to an Iraqi invasion, the unofficial embargo of military equipment to Israel, and the universal insistence that the US not act anywhere without "international approval" (that is, a Euro veto on our foreign policy). Mix well, let simmer and, Voila, you have full blown appeasement.
It is obvious that the EU, outside of Britain, will do nothing to help us and will actively impede us in many instances. It may, in fact, be the death knell of NATO. There is precious little to justify its existence already. There will be none whatsoever if the leading European nations oppose the US in a matter so important to us. Especially considering that Russia, opposition to which was its reason for existing, has been far more supportive than has been NATO (excluding Britain). We may be on the verge of a major realignment. Europe has no need of American defenses against Russia, and are blind to the threat from the south. America no longer has any need for European solidarity, they are, in fact, a burden. Russia, on the other hand, roughly agrees with the US on it's single most important foreign policy objective. You do the math.
However, there is a silver lining to this depressingly gray cloud. The European intelligentsia who run the EU (don't think for a minute that this is a democracy) are as far to the left of the European masses as the American intelligentsia are to the left of Joe Sixpack. As the situation develops and worsens, I expect European voters to start taking a hard look at what their national governments are doing in their name via the EU. Note that individual governments are fully supportive, yet collectively act in opposition. Thereby preserving the convenient fiction that they have no choice but to follow the wishes of the majority of Europeans. This is their usual modus operandi when inflicting absurd regulations on their people. The only question is whether the resulting voter swings will be enough to endanger the elites, forcing a change in policy. It will be interesting to watch, they do not have a good track record here. European democracies are surprisingly immune to the wishes of the voters.
Americans grumbled about lukewarm European support for the Afghan phase of the War on Terror, yet it was support. Military and naval contingents from all of the principal EU countries participated in the campaign, and disagreements about strategy and tactics could reasonably be interpreted as "sorry little differences of opinion within a shared worldview". It was only when the conflict moved in the direction of Iraq that the "Gaullist turn" began and only with the outbreak of open warfare between Israel and the Palestinians that it headed off in a direction opposite to that of the U.S.
This kind of split between America and Europe over the fate of a small democracy is not unprecedented. It also occurred during the Vietnam War, muted a bit by the older generation of anti-communist European statesmen. Today the kids who were throwing rocks in the streets to protest the defense of South Vietnam hold foreign affairs and defense portfolios, and their youthful conviction that any country backed by the "hyperpower" must be undemocratic and oppressive is enjoying a recrudescence. They can indulge it all the more freely, because it is risk-free. Nations that tiptoe softly lest they offend a third-rate power like Red China have no fear of American retaliation - not even if they send large sums of money to a Palestinian Authority that applauded the September 11th murderers.
To the sheer pleasure of pummeling an American "client state" is added, I suspect, a clever political calculus. The current form of the European Union is very much the creation of the Left, designed to cement its control over political and social life without regard to what goes on in elections. In the long run, a self-perpetuating Brussels elite will majestically dictate policy, undisturbed by hoi polloi. The long run is not quite yet here, however, and the current political climate on the continent cannot be reassuring to the mandarins. There is a substantial possibility that, by this time next year, all of the major EU governments (with the oddball exception of Britain) will be in the hands of the Right, which could lead either to an erosion of Brussels centralism or, at least, to the replacement of Leftist mandarins by Rightist ones, which, if one aspires to be a mandarin, is perhaps a more important matter than all abstract issues of principle.
Crying havoc against the Jewish state offers great potential rewards to the Left. Part of the reason for Europe's rightward swing is apprehension about immigrants, who are predominantly Moslem and look more threatening after September 11th than ever before. One doesn't have to be a xenophobe to be nervous about a large, unassimilated, violent minority whose articulate elements vocally embrace terrorism. The counter to anti-Moslem sentiment is to whip up antisemitism through relentless denunciation of the state of Israel. Forced to choose between the Moslems and the Jews, many on the Right follow atavistic impulses. Witness Jörg Haider, head of Austria's Freedom Party, who has lately turned into an apologist for Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. Concentration on the purported sins of Ariel Sharon drains away the passion that would otherwise be directed against left-of-center officeholders. If the effect is sufficient to enable the Left to squeak through the next series of polls, what the voters think after that won't matter too much.
If the foregoing interpretation of European politicians' motives is roughly correct, Cold War II is nothing to worry about. Instead of a "new, coherent and, for all practical purposes, official ideology", what motivates the mandarins is a scramble for the best positions at the trough. After securing those, they are likely to lapse into swinish solipsism, leaving it to the "hyperpower" to chase the wolves away and occasionally oinking their displeasure at its having done so.
April 9, 2002
Both Chicago papers, like many others around the country, today carried headlines that were slight variants on "Israel Defies the U.S." When one thinks about it, isn't that a rather odd formulation?
Israel certainly disagrees with the U.S. on how to proceed against the criminal elements that dominate the Palestinian Authority. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the European Union and other countries disagree with the U.S., too. President Bush has, let it be remembered, called on the Palestinian Authority to exert its police power to interfere with terrorist attacks on Israelis and has strongly suggested that Yasser Arafat should be replaced as the Authority's chief executive. The Authority refuses to take those steps, and countries like Saudi Arabia fully support its refusal. The Saudi ambassador to this country has written publicly in support of Arafat's tactics. (Vide
Rich Lowry, "Being Prince Abdullah"
.) Egyptian representatives have reportedly taken the same line in discussions with American diplomats. The EU has favored the Palestinians with major subventions even as suicide bombings increased. Why don't those actions count as "defiance" of the U.S.? Why is only Israel to be labeled "defiant"?
The facile answer is that Israel is an "American client" and therefore, by inference, duty bound to do Washington's bidding. Yet Egypt receives more American aid than Israel. More American soldiers have died to defend Saudi Arabia than in Israel's defense. The U.S. protected Europe for forty years from an enemy that could otherwise have overwhelmed it easily. American favor has been spread widely throughout the world. We don't think that it earns us the right to dictate to our beneficiaries (though some of them seem to think that it gives them the right to dictate to us). Why make an exception by denying Israel alone the right to make decisions about its own best interests?
Contrary to the developing myth of the "hyperpower", the United States has been more reticent about imposing its will than any other nation in history with comparable relative strength. Our preference is to persuade others and to resort to force only when persuasion is hopeless. For that reason, we can be "defied" by Israel - and by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Europe.
The difference is that Israel disagrees with us on the best way to defeat implacable enemies. The others dispute our idea of who the enemy is and want us to do nothing to prevent countries whose governments declare their hatred of us from obtaining the means to kill millions of our people. Of those two forms of disagreement, Israel's is by far the more benign. The term "defiance" should be applied elsewhere.
April 7, 2002
Last week the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report that proved, if one merely glanced at headlines and listened to sound bites, that oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would devastate the local caribou herd. Now a follow-up report, summarized in The Washington Post
, employs the same model and data to analyze two development scenarios omitted from the earlier study. Under those scenarios, which happen to resemble closely the drilling proposals presented by the Bush Administration (the five scenarios in the first report were hypotheticals devised by the research team), the impact on the caribou is negligible (at most a 1.2 percent decrease in the survival rate of newborn calves).
What is most interesting about the Post story is not controversy about the new report (predictably denounced by environmentalists as politically motivated) but what it says about the old one:
The original report documented the importance of the coastal plain to caribou and other wildlife but also argued that the effects of drilling could be minimal if conducted in a sensitive manner over a limited area. Two of its five scenarios for caribou showed negligible effects. Even the worst-case scenario of a fully developed coastal plain produced a mere 8 percent drop in calf survival rates for the 123,000-member Porcupine herd.
"The point is that oil development is not the end of the world for any of the species in the report," said William Seitz, USGS deputy Alaska regional director, who approved the initial and supplemental reports. "We've documented the importance of these habitats at critical times, so you can work out a development scenario that avoids and protects them."
In other words, the original report was, by any objective standard, favorable to drilling proposals and is being misrepresented, carelessly or deliberately, by headline writers and hysterical Congresscritters. (Senator Lieberman, quoted by the Post in full-outrage mode, continues his slide to intellectual oblivion.)
The Bush Administration has shown itself willing to modify policies in response to unwelcome scientific evidence, as it did in the case of arsenic standards for drinking water. The environmentalist mainstream, by constrast, seems unwilling even to read the evidence before trumpeting ideologically driven conclusons.
* * * *
Americans believe in spies and counterspies only in movies and novels. In the real world, we tend to think, such people don't exist, and we are correspondingly lax about security. Today's Daily Telegraph
reports a stunning example of how foolish and dangerous that attitude can be (Kevin Myers, "'The War Is Over, and the IRA Has Won It'"
). Last March 17th, three men - almost certainly agents of the Irish Republican Army - slipped into a police station and stole computer disks containing a wealth of vital intelligence about IRA activities, including data that will enable the terrorists, if they are so inclined, to identify and kill Irish Catholics who have assisted law enforcement efforts. The theft was easy: no Mission Impossible
scenario but a simple matter of walking in with forged passes and overpowering a lone guard.
There are rumors of similar follies, thankfully none so damaging, that have hampered the U.S. war effort against al-Qaeda. According to one report, perhaps just an urban legend, Osama bin-Laden for a long time kept in touch with his underlings by means of an Iridium cell phone, all traffic from which was being intercepted by American intelligence. A Congressman learned this fact in a briefing, thought it too delightful to hide and blabbed it to his friends. Shortly thereafter, bin-Laden's phone fell silent.
Loose lips sink ships. It isn't just a slogan.
* * * *
I was struck by the reports
that Israeli soldiers going through the occupied parts of Arafat's HQ found stores of counterfeit U.S. and Israeli currency. This seems to me very shocking. The counterfeiting of currency is done for two purposes: crime, or the subverting of an enemy's economy in wartime. So either the "Palestinian Authority" is a criminal enterprise, or it has been considering itself at war with Israel all this time. If the first is the case, the leaders of the "Palestinian Authority" ought to be arrested and handed over to INTERPOL, or to some law-enforcement agency that can deal with international counterfeiting rings. If the second, then the present Israeli acts of war against the PA are entirely justified and ought not be impeded.
-- John Derbyshire
Mr. Derbyshire might have added a comment on the implications of the Israelis' discovery of counterfeit American currency in the offices of the Palestinian Authority. That fact either lends further support to the "criminal enterprise" theory or indicates that the Arafat gang regards itself as at war with the U.S.
In the first case, we shouldn't be treating a mafia ring as if it were a quasi-government. In the second, we should follow the sound rule of taking other people seriously. If they say that they're our enemies, we should treat them like enemies. When Manuel Noriega's regime declared war on the United States, we let it have its war. Sr. Noriega now occupies fine, government-subsidized accommodations not far from where my parents live. Room could surely be found for Mr. Arafat.
April 6, 2002
Just like Alger Hiss, Silly Billy Clinton will be defended to the death - and beyond - by a certain breed of purblind liberal. The devotion of these defenders is shown by their hair-trigger reflexes. Last Thursday, President Bush told a British television interviewer, "Well, we've tried summits in the past, as you may remember. There wasn't one all that long ago where a summit was called [note the current prez's inimitable syntax - Eisenhower could have taken his course] and nothing happened. And as a result we had a significant intefadeh in the area. The only time that's appropriate for a U.S. president to call a summit, when it looks like something can get done."
Does that sound to you like anything other than ordinary common sense? If so, you lack the sensitive instincts of a Clintonista. To the ex-president's admirers, that remark was a criticism for which Mr. Bush had a duty "to make amends". They were vocal enough that the President went to the trouble, in a joint press conference with Tony Blair, to insist that he wasn't blaming Clinton for anything. "I appreciate what President Clinton tried to do. He tried to bring peace to the Middle East." Hmm, isn't that statement also a veiled criticism? Clinton tried to make peace. There isn't peace now. I suppose, though, that good intentions are all-sufficient and that we ought to be praising Clinton as if he had been successful.
In sober fact, President Clinton's Middle Eastern diplomacy was an abject failure. The "peace process" that he sponsored never led to peace. It probably fostered war by instilling in Palestinian extremists the notion that the U.S. was ultimately on their side and would never punish them for any misconduct, however egregious. Palestinian cheers for Saddam Hussein were swiftly forgotten. The U.S. responded feebly to terrorist attacks on its own embassies and naval vessels, not to mention the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The Clinton Administration badgered Israel to meet Yasser Arafat's intransigence with concessions. Is it any wonder that, during his watch, our enemies lost their fear of America, but not their hate?
President Bush is too much a gentleman to speak candidly about his predecessor. The rest of us have no duty to be so reticent.
April 5, 2002
So the government has abandoned its third experiment with inflicting a dollar coin on the populace: To the regret of almost no one outside the ranks of millennarian monetary theorists, the U.S. Mint has discontinued production of the Sacajawea dollar, which now joins the ugly Susan B. Anthony and dignified but impracticable Eisenhower in oblivion.
To the best of my recollection, I never received a Sacajawea in any transaction, and, though the coin was heavily promoted, my experience was evidently typical. The theorists put the unpopularity of dollar coins down to the so far incorrigible backwardness of the American people, compounded by a lack of true patriotism. If the federal government could stop printing dollar bills, it would save millions of dollars a year, perhaps enough money to fund another bird sanctuary in West Virginia or a bigger and better office for Silly Billy Clinton.
To see why the dollar coin doesn't work, count the number of dollar bills in your wallet right now, then translate that number into Eisenhowers, Anthonys or Sacajaweas. Notice how your pocket starts to sag. To keep the coins from rattling around, you need a change purse - a capacious one - in addition to your wallet. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters can accumulate, too, but they are trifling enough to be tossed into a convenient drawer. (A friend of mine throws pennies away.) Dollars are still worth enough that one can't treat them so lightly.
Australia and Canada imposed dollar coins by making dollar bills illegal, a step that the more advanced theorists greatly admire but that is as likely to win a majority in Congress as, say, a motion to erect a statue in honor of Osama bin-Laden.
If the feds want to cut the cost of currency printing, might I suggest putting more two dollar bills into circulation. The only reason for the unpopularity of that denomination is an old race track superstition. It is conceivable (not certain, I'll admit) that the jinx has fallen off with the declining fortunes of the track. At least, the experiment would have more chance of success than another dollar coin.
Afterthought: One of the semi-spoken rules about dollar coins is that they must feature a female. I might be willing to give the things another chance if the mint would issue one honoring Margaret Thatcher!
April 1, 2002
Far be it from me to attempt to carve out a place in the blogosphere's April foolery. Mirth abounds today, e. g.
, news of AOL's acquisition of 200 blogs
(not including Stromata
- I held out for an all-cash deal, while dupes like Instapundit
accepted stock) and Bjørn Stærk's People's Blog
, but nothing will top Newsweek
's satiric masterpiece, a self-pitying interview with Bill Clinton, in which the incredible shrinking ex-President bemoans all the horrible people who, failing to grasp his nobility of purpose, persisted in nitpicking about the kind of petty offenses that every red-blooded he-man commits. Worse, they impugned his motives. As he says about criticisms of the way in which he granted pardons on his last day in office: "I was just angry that after I worked so hard and after all that money had been spent proving that I never did anything wrong for money, that I’d get mugged one more time on the way out the door." Yup, he didn't do anything wrong for money
: Monica and Juanita and Paula and Gennifer and the rest never paid him a dime. And the people who did pay - the Chinese communists, the Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers, the corporate executives who bought seats on trade missions, the buddies who wanted to take over the White House travel business, the felons lined up seeking pardons - didn't pay Bill Clinton personally
. The cash went to the Democratic Party or to members of the Clinton family.
What he most "didn't do wrong for money" was turn a blind eye to terrorist threats, encourage Islamofascist dictators to believe that America was too decadent to meet force with force, and strip our armed forces of much of the capability that they would need to fight future wars. And let's not forget that he worked hard for those accomplishments. No amount of money can buy the fecklessness that America's enemies got for free.
Mr. Clinton is now part of our nation's history, just as Neville Chamberlain is part of Britain's. Chamberlain had the grace and dignity to fade into the past. Mr. Clinton obviously is not going to shut up, and the civilized world faces too many real challenges to make it worthwhile to react indignantly to every new layer of Clintonian lies. So let us follow Newsweek's subtle lead and affix the cap and bells permanently this mountebank. Let him rail as he thinks fit; the rational response is to laugh and, as he used to keep saying he wanted us to do, "move on".