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March 10, 2002

Glad to hear it

CNN tells us that Transportation Secretary Mineta pledges 'world-class' airport security that "does not tolerate screening mistakes." Oh, good. Even better, he has everything worked out:

"What we're trying to figure out is what are the best practices that we can employ to ensure that we have world-class security and world-class customer service," Mineta said in an interview last week. Whether it's the airport in Los Angeles, California, or Evansville, Indiana, "it's going to be uniform."
The beauty of the federal government: uniformity. The same setup in Los Angeles and Evansville. From the same people that want to screen Canadians and Saudis as if they posed the same security risk.

Why we're fighting

Just saw the CBS documentary on 9/11. I just hope some of the politicians, American and European, who have begun to waver were watching. Maybe they'll begin to remember why this war is "open-ended," why there's no "exit strategy" now, why the war can't stop at the borders of Afghanistan. This isn't the U.S. "getting even" with the perpetrators. This is the U.S. making sure nobody ever tries to do this again. The cost needs to be made high, not so that we'll feel better about ourselves, but so that the roguest of rogue states rethinks its support for terrorist organizations.


What's most striking about the documentary is the dignity, the calm professionalism of the firefighters. As the events unfold, you can see them getting more and worried, but they never panic. Until the buildings start coming down and they get the order to evacuate, they're headed in to help. The sickening thuds of bodies falling told them how bad it was, and they're startled, but they don't run. They wait to be told where to go and how to help. It's facile, but I can't help but contrast their behavior with those in the West Bank and elsewhere in the Middle East, cheering, dancing, and celebrating as they hear the news. Still, I spent most of the documentary thinking back to my own experience watching 9/11 unfold on television. The fear, the confusion, as wild rumors spread, the realization that some of the rumors were true, and the relief when others weren't. It's hard to believe it has been six months since then, that we identified who did it and responded already. People who thought this country was soft, who boasted that it would be another Vietnam if we tried to strike back, have already lost the battle. But the war's not over, and it's good to be reminded why it needs to continue.

March 11, 2002

Creating news

According to the New York Times, there has been a rash of anti-South Asian hate crimes (Link requires registration.) in the last six months. Interestingly, the story cites a report "to be released on Monday," which raises some questions about the entanglement of advocacy groups and the media. But the big problem is that the report doesn't say anything at all. It has an impressive statistic: 250 incidents in the last 3 months of 2001, four times the typical rate of 400-500 incidents for a year.


Of course, read further and it's clear that there's no there there. The statistic involves incidents which were reported as bias incidents; it's quite logical to assume that reporting would have gone up significantly after 9/11, given all the attention paid to the potential problem. Moreover, it uses the classic advocacy group tactic of lumping together different times of problems and discussing the total number as though they were all the worst type. So in this case, there were 250 incidents, "including racial slurs, threatening phone calls and homicides."


It's the magic of the conjunction. After 9/11, fifty thousand people bought such items as nuclear weapons, mustard gas, and bottled water. Half of all marriages end in ways including divorce, annulment and the murder of a spouse. Two hundred million Americans suffer from such diseases as cancer, AIDS, and the flu.


But I shouldn't minimize the situation. After all, many of the victims cited in the report suffered tremendously: " In many instances, frightened drivers reported being targeted on the road by other drivers who would point fingers at them as if they were carrying guns." Uh oh. Those finger hate crimes.

March 12, 2002

Weird ideas from the editorial

Weird ideas from the editorial staff of the New York Times: America as Nuclear Rogue. (Link requires registration.) Referring, of course, to the supposed Nuclear Posture Review which was leaked to the L.A. Times this past weekend:

If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon and contemplating pre-emptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state. Yet such is the course recommended to President Bush by a new Pentagon planning paper that became public last weekend. Mr. Bush needs to send that document back to its authors and ask for a new version less menacing to the security of future American generations.

Isn't "contemplating" such a great word? Even if Bush is deciding not to enact this plan, that's still "contemplating" it, right? Aren't the editors of the New York Times guilty of contemplating it, too? I know I am. I wonder if I'm a rogue state. I'd like to think so.
The review also calls for the United States to develop a new nuclear warhead designed to blow up deep underground bunkers. Adding a new weapon to America's nuclear arsenal would normally require a resumption of nuclear testing, ending the voluntary moratorium on such tests that now helps restrain the nuclear weapons programs of countries like North Korea and Iran.

Uh, guys? The threat of annihilation is what restrains the nuclear weapons programs of countries like North Korea and Iran. Whether the United States blows up a few square miles of Nevada is of concern only to the punditocracy. Oh, and maybe to people who live in Nevada.

Turnabout is really silly

An intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado is protesting the mascot of a local high school (the "Fightin' Reds") by naming itself the "Fighting Whities." (The Rocky Mountain News reports that there may be a personal agenda behind the protests, unrelated to the politics of mascots; the protest leader's wife had a dispute with the high school.)

Little Owl said, "The Fighting Whities" issue is "to make people understand what it's like to be on the other side of the fence. If people get offended by it, then they know how I feel, and we've made our point."
And if people don't get offended? Will these people admit that the issue is silly and that they have no point? Somehow I doubt it.
Cuny said he, and most other young Indians, are more interested in larger issues, such as health care, tribal treaties with the federal government and mineral rights to their land, but offensive mascots are a starting point to deal with the weightier issues.
Sure. Because all the other schools that changed their names have really helped bring health care to Indians. Maybe they should focus on more important issues, like the ongoing scandals at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency which is supposed to be safeguarding Indian money. Instead, millions of dollars are unaccounted for, and their computers are so insecure that stealing Indian funds is apparently easier than using Napster to steal music. Your government at work.

Getting your priorities straight

The French government apparently can't be bothered to support us in battle, but they do have time to harass innocent citizens (link requires registration). The New York Times reports on the French government's attempts to stop a French doctor from preserving his dead parents in cryonic storage:

But this time, local authorities said, enough is enough. They want both bodies removed and they have charged Rémy Martinot, a civil servant who works in Paris, with disturbing the peace.

"You can't just put a body in a fridge and call it a burial," said Christian Prioux, the lawyer arguing the case for the government. "It's illegal and it can't be allowed.

I believe that last sentence is the motto of the European Union. (Except, of course, when talking to Islamo-fascists, where their motto is, "Go ahead. We won't stop you.")

That was fast.

I can believe that Andrea Yates was convicted of murdering her children. What I can't believe is how quickly the jury made its decision. It took them less than four hours, after a three-week trial. Certainly Texas law made an insanity defense difficult (and Yates' actions made any other defense impossible), but I would have thought that the jury would have debated the issue for longer than it took them to decide what to have for lunch. It will be interesting to see what happens in the penalty phase of the trial, where Yates' mental illness (which both the prosecution and defense agreed existed) can be a mitigating factor.

As Damian Penny points out, there's a huge difference in the approach to defendants who are fathers and defendants who are mothers. There's a presumption that (as Yates' attorney argued), "If drowning five children by a loving mother isn't a gross psychosis, there isn't any such thing as gross psychosis," while a man who does the same is just evil.

March 13, 2002

Grand theft

And no, I'm not talking about Ruben Rivera stealing fellow Yankee Derek Jeter's glove. I'm talking about the election which just took place in Zimbabwe, where incumbent president Robert Mugabe has been declared the winner by incumbent president Robert Mugabe.

If Jesse Jackson wants to complain about oppressed blacks having an election stolen from them, perhaps he ought to start here, instead. But, hey, it's not as good a photo op, right? He wouldn't be able to use it to raise money which he could then avoid reporting to the IRS, so it's not nearly as compelling an issue. Plus, if he actually went there to protest, he might put himself at real risk, instead of the pretend risk of going to Florida. Certainly, though, Jesse Jackson is not the only hypocrite; the South African government, virtually alone among election observers, is claiming that the election was legitimate. When Africans can claim whites are oppressing blacks (or even that they did so centuries ago), as they did at the U.N. Racism Conference, they're eager to do so. But when a story doesn't fit that script, then they're uninterested.

U.N. complains that U.S. skyscrapers keep killing innocent Saudi tourists

Okay, not quite, but the New York Times reports that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has called on Israel to end its "illegal occupation" of Palestine. Generously, he also chided the Palestinians:

"To the Israelis I say: you have the right to live in peace
and security within secure internationally recognized borders. But you must end the illegal occupation," he said. "More urgently, you must stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."
In other words, "Israel has the right to live in peace, if Palestinians generously decide to stop attacking them. But otherwise, no, because Israel doesn't have the right to defend itself.
He continued: "To the Palestinians I say: you have the inalienable right to a viable state within secure internationally recognized borders. But you must stop all acts of terror and all suicide bombings. It is doing immense harm to your cause, by weakening international
support and making Israelis believe that it is their existence as a state, and not the occupation, that is being opposed."
By making Israelis believe that it's their existence as a state? How about because the Palestinians keep saying so?

The other problem? As this link explains (from Smarter Times), the Israeli "Occupation" isn't really an "Occupation" at all, let alone an "illegal" one.

Everyone agrees by now that a Palestinian state is inevitably the only long-term resolution to the conflict; the problem is that Israelis stubbornly insist on retaining a state of their own. And somehow I doubt Kofi Annan's stern lectures are going to make a big difference in whether Arafat et al. decide to blow up some more pizzerias.

Your government at work

The major story floating around the blogosphere, and now in the real world, is the Immigration and Naturalization Service's major screwup. Six months (to the day !) after 9/11, they formally notified a Florida flight school that two aliens, who just happened to be a couple of 9/11 hijackers, had been approved for student visas.

The primary focus of the coverage has been how bad the INS' security has to be that nobody noticed the names on the applications -- it's not as if "Mohamed Atta" is obscure anymore. And that's certainly a valid point. But ignore all that, pretend that these were two legitimate applicants, and this is still a debacle.

The INS notified the school of the visa approvals nineteen months after the visa applications were filed. A year and a half. What the hell good does that do? It's useless for the students, right? Well, not exactly. The INS solves the problem of not processing paperwork promptly, by not actually using the paperwork:

The schools are not required to deny instruction to foreign nationals while the visa applicants wait for an INS decision, officials said.
So, in other words, if the visas were denied, it wouldn't matter because the students would already be done. And how does that nineteen months break down? A year to process the paperwork. A year. And then another seven months after the approvals were granted to actually send the paperwork to the school. I can buy a book from Amazon and get it in two days. I can apply for a mortgage and get approved over the phone. But the INS takes a year to figure out which filing cabinet the forms belong in, and then seven months after that to find stamps?

You could defend the INS by blaming the delay on their outside contractor, except that:

A spokeswoman for ACS Inc., the contractor that runs the London, Ky., processing center that mailed the paperwork to Huffman, said that INS rules allow the company to wait six months before sending approved student visa applications to flight schools. "There was no delay," said Lesley Pool. "We perform our services according to their dictates."

INS and Justice officials said last night that the company's latest contract, announced last fall, reduces the deadline to 30 days, officials said.

Ah. So it's no longer six months. It's thirty days. Thirty days? That's supposed to impress us? How about reducing the deadline to a week? Or how about next day service? Remember, we're not talking about deciding whether to approve the application -- we're talking about mailing it.

What a system. Aren't you glad the government has taken the responsibility for airport security away from the evil private sector? Don't you feel reassured?

March 14, 2002

Culture counts

Iain Murray makes an excellent point as to why economics are not the only thing that matter.

There are plenty of countries that are economically free but god-awful places to live -- Singapore, Bahrein and so on. What makes the Anglosphere a distinct branch of civilization is that the social and economic freedoms are all predicated on an older set of freedoms, freedoms from executive power, a restraint placed on government by the people that makes liberty, not safety or the common good or anything else, the main object of the constitution(s).

She was pining for the fjords

I hate to be judgmental, but I think the doctor who sent the elderly woman to the morgue alive just might not be a good doctor.

The color of her skin led the doctor to declare her dead and send her to the morgue.
I'm not positive, but I think there are better tests.

March 15, 2002

Well, duh?

The Washington Post informs us that Hispanic Lawmakers Defy Categorization, which is good to know, because many of us have been spending our free moments, between stereotyping blacks and Jews, trying to figure out how to "characterize" Hispanics. The rest of the article doesn't really say much of anything, except the usual "Hispanics are growing in numbers and are becoming more influential" banalities we can read anywhere.

Breaking news

Never let it be said that Arthur Schlesinger is behind the times. He has a hard-hitting news story in the current American Prospect which makes the heretofore unreported point that George Bush didn't win the popular vote sixteen months ago. He uses this newsflash as a jumping off point to discuss, in tedious detail, the history of the electoral college. You can't learn this stuff elsewhere -- at least not without staying awake in a high school social studies class. Amazingly, while listing the instances where the popular vote leader lost the election, it never once occurs to him that candidates campaigned, and voters voted, based on an electoral vote strategy, and might have acted differently if a different system were in place. But nevermind.

This all leads up to various proposals to "reform" the presidential election process, but I fell asleep while reading, so I can't summarize them. Mostly because, well, who cares? This is one of those issues of great interest to history professors and Al Gore, and nobody else. As Schlesinger himself notes, with regard to the 2000 election:

I expected an explosion of public outrage over the rejection of the people's choice. But there was surprisingly little in the way of outcry.
Surprisingly? If people were passionate about Al Gore, he would have won the election outright. But they weren't, and he didn't. Surely there must be something more interesting to talk about. I suppose this raises the question of why I did talk about it; the answer, I suppose, is that if I had to suffer reading it, I might as well spend some time mocking it, so that it wasn't a total waste.

Axis of Evil update

Let's see. Today we have Iran prosecuting a journalist, with the New York Times explaining

A state-run newspaper, Iran, unexpectedly announced on Saturday that the trial had begun last Thursday, just before President Mohammad Khatami's trip to Austria and Greece. During his past visits to European countries, hard-liners have arrested reformers back home in order to embarrass him.
Those wacky, fun-loving hard-liners. Always ready to play a practical joke.

And then in North Korean news, we have refugees seeking sanctuary in the Spanish embassy in Beijing, threatening suicide and asserting they face starvation and oppression at home. The refugees explained:

"We are now at the point of such desperation and live in such fear of persecution within North Korea that we have come to the decision to risk our lives for freedom rather than passively await our doom," said the statement by the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees. "Some of us carry poison on our person to commit suicide if the Chinese authorities should choose once again to send us back to North Korea."
You know, it occurs to me that you rarely see Americans risking death to get into North Korea. But let's not get "simplistic." (Anybody think it's an accident that the refugees tried the German and Spanish embassies, but not the French?)

Garbage reporting

Most of the time, when people talk about "media bias," they're talking about partisan bias, the idea that a reporter favors liberals or conservatives (usually liberals). But reporters try to be fair, and the real bias tends to show up in more subtle ways than trashing of politicians. Most of the time. But how about this New York Times story on recycling? Now, this isn't on the Op/Ed pages. This isn't in a column, or one of the "fluff" sections like Arts or House & Home. This isn't even labeled "news analysis," the Times' disclaimer that they're going to editorialize in the news section.

The headline alone gives away the bias: "Bloomberg puts doing well ahead of doing good," setting up the two schools of thought on recycling as the people who want to do good things and the people who want to save money. The Times does cite the mayor saying that some forms of recycling (non-paper) are fiscal negatives for the city, and backhandedly acknowledges -- in a single, throwaway sentence -- that he's correct:

Few people dispute Mr. Bloomberg's assertion that tough times demand tough choices.
But it then goes on to disparage the decision:
But to a great degree, experts in consumer behavior say, the mayor's proposal -- and the anguished reaction that some people have had to it -- says a lot about the long strange trip that recycling has been through over the years.
A reaction "that some people have had?" How many? Is it really "anguish?" Is it more or fewer people than were "anguished" over the departure of David Duchovny from the X-Files? Shouldn't we try to reserve "anguish" for events like plane crashes or terrorist attacks? Do we have any facts here at all, or is this just the reporter's personal opinion?
Psychologists do not have a firm answer why saving and sorting took such root in the American psyche. Some think that it tapped into a frugal frontier impulse that is also behind the phenomenon of swap meets and garage sales, that one person's junk must surely be good for something. Other say it became a crutch, a way for Americans to feel as if they were contributing to the environment without actually changing their consumption driven behavior.
Do psychologists have "firm answers" about anything? Wouldn't it be nice to at least see a citation to something to show that "some" think those things, let alone that these thoughts are accurate or representative? (Remember, the Times isn't letting us know what people think here; it's assuming what people think and then letting us know what psychologists think about what people think.)
In any case, it is often said that more Americans recycle than vote.
I've heard that 72.4% of all statistics are made up. It is often said (to use the Times' passive voice) that reporters are really lazy, and can't be bothered to do any research. Do you think the Times would agree? I'm pretty sure someone, somewhere, must keep records of how many people vote. They may even print the numbers somewhere. About 105 million, in the last presidential election. And someone probably figured out at some point how many people recycle: About 136 million. Wow, that was tough. (The comparison is silly and tells us nothing about the psychology of Americans, since recycling in many places is mandated by law, and voting is not.)

So after setting up this premise, the article goes on to quote an assistant professor of sociology, who denigrates "narrow cost-benefit calculations," the Bronx borough president, who complains that "I think people are sort of in shock," an associate professor of environmental psychology and conservation behavior, who says that he "can imagine people thinking that the city is being hypocritical," and a professor of history (whose book "is considered one of the founding works in the field of eco-psychology"), who gripes that "I'm not sure what the measure is of something working in our society." Lots of experts on recycling, in other words. Oh, it also quotes the president of a company that tracks the waste industry, who says "There will be an increasing incentive to recycle," in support of an assertion by the reporter that "some researchers say that the Bloomberg administration may well have bet on the wrong horse."

There's not a single person quoted who thinks that "cost-benefit analysis" should be the basis for government decisions, let alone someone who agrees with Bloomberg's analysis that cost-benefit analysis comes out on the side of less recycling. There's not a single person quoted who thinks that recycling was a silly idea spread by environmental groups who mistakenly thought that raw materials were running scarce. There's not a single person quoted who thinks that recycling is a great idea but that it should be voluntary rather than government mandated. Is that because nobody thinks these things? I doubt it, since the Times' own columnist John Tierney has written about the bad math behind recycling economics. Couldn't this reporter at least have talked to him?

March 16, 2002

Create a cartoon spokesperson?

A column by David Ignatius in the Washington Post asks How can the United States sell a war against Iraq to skeptical Arabs and Europeans? How, indeed?

A good start would be to level with them and admit there is no solid evidence linking Baghdad to Osama bin Laden's terrorist attacks against America.
Well, as I recall, the "skeptical Arabs" refuse to believe that Osama Bin Laden is linked to Osama Bin Laden's attacks against America, so somehow I don't think the issue is the existence, or lack thereof, of "solid evidence." Here's a novel idea: how about if we don't try to sell a war against Iraq to skeptical Arabs and Europeans? How about defeating the Iraqi military, ousting Saddam Hussein, and then telling the "skeptical Arabs" that if they have any questions or objections, they should ask the French, who never seem to be at a loss for words?

The Bush administration might win more support for its anti-terrorism effort if it offered less rhetoric and more straight talk about the dangers ahead. There has been a kind of bunker mentality in the administration's actions the past few months.
Seems to me that the "straight talk" is exactly what gets Bush in trouble with our "allies." It's too "simplistic," remember?

When you realize that U.S. officials go to sleep at night worrying about nuclear or biological attacks on Washington, you begin to understand their odd decisions: why they planned what amounted to an office of strategic deception in the Pentagon, why they began rewriting U.S. nuclear weapons doctrine, why they created a secret "shadow" government to carry on if the capital were obliterated. Most of these are bad ideas, but at least they become more comprehensible.
Most of these are bad ideas? Ensuring the continuity of government in the event of an attack on Washington is a bad idea? Reviewing -- not "rewriting" -- U.S. nuclear weapons policy is a bad idea? I'm glad Ignatius finally "comprehends" these moves, but I'm not sure he really does, if he thinks they're "bad ideas." What I am sure is that he really doesn't have any answer to the question he poses -- but fortunately, he's just a newspaper columnist, so he doesn't have to.

Qui bono?

James Robbins in the National Review asks the same question I've been wondering about: who leaked the Nuclear Posture Review story, and why? He dismisses the idea that it was the Bush administration, and concludes it was probably disgruntled congressional Democrats. Worth a read.

And I thought garbage recycling was bad

Tipper Gore may run for the Senate, for her husband's old Tennessee seat. Special bonus: if she does, she might be running against Lamar Alexander. Who exactly thinks this is a good idea? Al Gore couldn't win his home state in the 2000 election, and Lamar "Plaid Shirt" Alexander couldn't even buy his mother's vote in the Republican primaries in 1996 or 2000, finishing just below "Let's cancel the whole thing and create a monarchy."

Chomskanalysis

Charles Murtaugh has a good piece on left wing theology:

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the questions that defines human existence, and in every culture, people have looked to religion for an answer.
What I only recently realized was how similar the theology of the far left is to that of the far right. It came to me in a flash last week, when I heard a interview with Noam Chomsky on a local NPR show, "On Point".

Euro-kryptonite?

Megan McArdle analyzes the European Union as a corporate merger, pondering the question, what makes a merger successful?

So let's look at the EU "merger". Is there redundancy? Absolutely. Tons of it. But over half the French population is employed by the government -- think they're going to initiate massive cutbacks? The "merger" is introducing another layer of redundancy, not removing it.
How about transaction costs? Well, here we hit the mother load, in the form of national differences that restrict the flow of capital and labor between countries.
There's a third reason to merge, of course, and that's the hope that you can get rid of competition.
Read the whole piece; it cuts through the consultant-buzzwordization like "synergy" to conclude that
European dreams of becoming a superpower to rival or replace the US remain, for now, castles in the air.

Two is more than one

Britain is isolated from continental Europe in supporting a United States attack on Iraq.

Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, yesterday brought into the open the growing rift between Britain and continental Europe over taking the "war on terror" to Iraq when he signalled he had no intention of participating in any unilateral military action launched against Baghdad by the United States.
Maybe it's just me, but I think that if the United States and the United Kingdom both join in attacking Iraq, it ceases to be "unilateral." Does anybody bother to read the cliches they write?
In a move that highlighted the breach between Tony Blair and his European partners, Mr Schröder's spokeswoman confirmed a report that Germany would only join in a broadening of the US-led "war on terror" if the action were backed by the United Nations. "It's a position of principle of which our American partners are also aware," she said.
Mr Schröder's reported remarks chimed with the sceptical stance adopted by Paris. French government sources said Mr Schröder was "pretty much in line" with their view.
Well, the U.N. Security Council is the body that would be tasked to authorize this; it's made up of Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Syria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Guinea, Ireland and France, and it takes nine votes to authorize an action. Now, which of these countries do Germany and France think should be making these decisions? Should invading Iraq be contingent on whether the United States can convince Cameroon that it's a good idea? Even if the U.S. gets nine votes, it needs to avoid a veto by China and Russia (and France!). Does Germany really have as a "position of principle" that China should govern European/NATO policy? I doubt that even the craven Europeans are that silly. So isn't it more likely that this multilateralism principle is just a way for Schroeder et al. to support Iraq without having to take responsibility for so doing?

March 17, 2002

So sue me

Tony Blair had better watch out, becausean attack on Iraq without UN authorisation would be illegal, according to Saddam Hussein The Guardian.

Pressing ahead against Iraq without council authorisation would be illegal under current international law and would undermine a significant accomplishment. The charter has helped prevent wars by maintaining a delicate balance between the good achieved by collective action and the catastrophic destruction that might result if an intervention conflicted with the vital interests of a major power.
Uh, yeah. Haven't been any wars since that U.N. charter. was formed. That Vietnam thing was just an intellectual debate. The Soviets played chess with Afghanistan. And Syria, Jordan and Egypt, after realizing that attacking Israel would be against the law, merely farted in their general direction.
Only those who have no reason to fear military force can contemplate a world without these protections. It is the possession of a credible nuclear deterrence - and plans for missile defence - that make Bush think he can disregard the UN. The UK, as a middle power, needs international law. The effective use of the UN, not Trident, is what enables the UK to punch above its weight.
I'm no expert in military strategy, but my guess is that if Iraq develops nuclear weapons, a temporary restraining order isn't going to be Britain's most effective defense. I'm no expert in military history, but my recollection is that the United Nations, armed with international law, quickly stopped the Serbian attacks on Croatia and Bosnia.

Correction: that stuff we reported isn't true

Matt Welch dissects the strange story of the San Francisco Chronicle's pseudo-apology for falsifying quotes. That this story hasn't received more notice is disgraceful, but not all that surprising.

March 18, 2002

A little context, please

Charles Johnson takes on the New York Times' "unbelievable" attempt to whitewash the propaganda-spewing Arab News.

Making the world safe for democracy

The Washington Post reports that Tipper Gore has decided not to run for Senate, after "consulting" with her family and other Democrats.

She said that although it "would be such an honor to work for the people of Tennessee," she had decided the time was not right to launch her political career.
Translation: Her staff did a poll and found that Gary Condit was more popular in the Levy household than the Gores are in Tennessee.

The Times also notes that

Tipper Gore's decision brought relief to many of the former vice president's supporters. They feared that if she ran and lost the Senate race, her husband would have a more difficult time mounting another presidential bid in 2004.
On the other hand, if she ran and won the Senate race, her husband would have an even more difficult time mounting another presidential bid. Can you imagine a president married to a sitting senator? It might create a conflict of interest or three. "Honey, how are you going to vote on my Supreme Court nominee?" "Remember when I asked you to take out the garbage and you said no?"

On the third hand, does it really matter? Unless Al's "presidential bid" is for the presidency of Harvard, is there anybody operating under the delusion that he has a chance to defeat George Bush? Certainly, two years is an eternity in politics, where many things can happen, but "Al Gore being elected president" doesn't count as one of them.

March 19, 2002

If only Israel would stop shooting...

Why does the New York Times bury this story on page A11? Palestinians in Ramallah show Support for Attacks, Not a Truce. These "attacks," of course, are not upon the Israeli troops that are supposedly provoking the Palestinians, but are upon Israeli teenagers walking home from school.

Today's attack "boosted the morale of our people," said Iyhab, a Palestinian fighter who would not give his full name, echoing the sentiments of numerous people interviewed here this afternoon.
So if they killed twenty or thirty schoolgirls, their self-esteem would be through the roof. But surely Arafat would prevent that, right?
In fact, Palestinians say that Yasir Arafat, their leader, has issued no order in recent days to stop the terror attacks and probably could not enforce one in any case.
"Internally, we are against any kind of cease-fire," said a fighter named Tasir, who would not give his last name but said he was a security officer for the Palestinian Authority. Several of his armed colleagues stood by nodding as he spoke.

"We are security people, and it is our responsibility to implement orders," he said. "But we are not in a position to implement any kind of cease-fire agreement. It is in our blood, every one of us. We will continue fighting."

"We will fight them in the schools and on the playgrounds, in the pizzerias and the sidewalk cafes. We will never make peace."

Should I add the obligatory OpinionJournal's "Arafat won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994" footnote? Seems like plagiarism, but I guess I should do it at least once in my life.

Iranian government "too simplistic," France says

Apparently Iranian President Mohammad Khatami hasn't heard that using phrases like "Axis of Evil" will set back international relations by centuries.

But Mr. Bush's implied threat against Iran generated a discussion among politicians here about relations with the United States, with many arguing that anti-American oratory no longer serves Iran's interests. Some suggested that direct talks were the only way to avert the threat. The minister of defense, Ali Shamkhani, was summoned to Parliament to answer questions over hostile remarks by one of his commanders.

Davood Hermidas Bavand, an independent political analyst and a professor at Tehran University, said the implied American threat had changed the political situation here.

"Naming Iran part of an evil axis, and categorizing it along with Iraq and North Korea, have created serious concerns and worries which have changed the conditions," he said. "It is natural that under the new conditions, there would be suggestions for constructive dialogue, which is the first step for resolving any matter peacefully."

Whoda thunk it? Letting your opponents know that you're willing to stand up to them might work! Better even than the alternate plan, of surrendering. Quick, someone tell Hubert Vedrine. (Look for him under the table, where he's cowering.) Could it be that George Bush might have known what he was doing?

[By the way, the New York Times buried this story on page A12. If Iran had threatened to attack the U.S. in response, is there any doubt that it would have been on A1?]

How many roads must a man walk down? All of them: cars are evil

Tim Blair points out the bizarre role-reversal by the left since the 1960s:

Which is precisely what our idealistic young anti-globs are fighting to maintain. What do they want? Over-regulated and burdensome taxation regimes, run by hidebound bureaucracies!When do they want it? NOW!

These anti-freedom monkeys are strange inheritors of the 1960s protest tradition. Hippies hated rules (or so they said); the anti-globs want rules for everything. They're a whole different breed of idiot. Witness how protests have changed over the past 25 years:

1967: Give peace a chance
2002: Give police states a chance

1967: LSD is good
2002: Genetically modified food is bad

1967: Ban the bomb!
2002: Ban the burger shops, shoe makers, crop scientists, coffee stores, trade, business, and commerce!

1967: Think global, act local
2002: Think local, act anti-global

1967: Expand your consciousness
2002: Throw rocks

If anything, Tim gives the anti-globos too much credit for having ideas of any sort. They're just anti.

March 20, 2002

That'll show 'em

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard rules out sanctions against Zimbabwe over Mugabe's stolen election. But he did agree, after meeting with South Africa and Nigeria, to support Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth for one year. That's right -- just one year. If Mugabe had stolen a Chevy Cavalier, he'd have gotten a more serious punishment. Next time Mugabe steals an election, Howard has threatened to send him his Christmas card three or four days late.

"Australia would like to see another election held in democratic circumstances as soon as possible," he told ABC Radio.
And I'd like a pony. I think I'll suspend Zimbabwe from the David Commonwealth if they don't give me one.
But Mr Howard said the most important thing was that the three leaders had adopted a consistent approach to anti-democratic action.
The second most important thing was their decision to order the caesar salad instead of the house salad for lunch. Third involved the three leaders reaching agreement that there had been a smear campaign to deny A Beautiful Mind the Academy Award. Somewhere around tenth was actually doing something about Zimbabwe.

You say that like it's a bad thing

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is complaining that Israel's behavior "has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare." Well, it's about time. Unfortunately, Annan couldn't find the time to send a similar letter to Yasir Arafat -- or at least not to leak it to the media.

Maybe if he had, the Palestinians would stop blowing up buses. Or maybe not. It's not as if people generally listen to Annan, after all.

Who's unilateral now?

Remember how the United States is evil because we make decisions without consulting the French first?

Well, our "allies" in France are now saying that they won't cooperate with the United States if Zacarias Moussaoui, the "20th hijacker," gets the death penalty.

[French rights groups] said Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu told them in a letter that she had instructed her officials to contact the U.S. Justice Department to voice concern that information gleaned in France could put Zacarias Moussaoui on death row.
Glad to see the French always have their priorities straight. Too bad we don't; we ought to take Ann Coulter's advice and Attack France!

But at least it's good to know we're not the only ones exasperated by the French.

CLASHES between protesters and riot police threatened to overshadow the European summit in Barcelona last night, as Tony Blair stepped up the pressure on France over its refusal to import British beef.

...

The Prime Minister told Lionel Jospin, his French counterpart, that Britain was becoming increasingly irritated with France’s determination to defy international law and uphold the ban.

Apparently "Multilateral" is actually French for "Go to hell."

Having a tantrum

In yet another campaign finance rant, the New York Times explains that Campaign Reform's Time Has Come. The Times' vision of campaign finance "reform," of course, is that nobody should be allowed to have any say in elections, including candidates themselves. (Except, of course, for newspapers. More on that below.)

The bill aims at shutting down unlimited "soft money" donations to political parties from corporations, unions and rich individuals, and greatly curbing such donations for state and local parties.
It also bans donations from poor and middle-class individuals as well as rich, but it's harder to practice class-warfare unless you throw in gratituitous comments about the rich.
It would also ban corporate and union funds to independent groups for sham issue ads running just before elections, and require disclosure for individual donors to such groups.
As Ira Stoll of Smartertimes has repeatedly pointed out, while the bill may ban "sham issue ads," it also bans "nonsham issue ads," and any other issue ads. The bill simply bans most broadcast ads, just to be sure nobody is corrupted by learning anything about the candidates. Perhaps that's why groups from the ACLU to the National Right to Life Committee to the NRA all agree that this proposal is unconstitutional.

While the Times wants to prevent groups from advertising on television or radio in the months before an election -- on the theory that (gasp) rich people might tell you what they think, and us commoners (definition: everyone who doesn't work for the New York Times editorial staff) are just too darn stupid to see through these ads -- they don't propose limiting the rights of newspapers to accept ads or to editorialize in favor of candidates. While we can't put a precise monetary value on a New York Times endorsement, we can get a general idea. The New York Times accepts advertisements for the bottom right corner of the opinion page. They charge $30-40 thousand for one of these ads. In short, an editorial endorsement by the New York Times is essentially a $30,000 campaign contribution from the corporation which publishes the New York Times. (Yes, newspapers are corporations.) But that doesn't count as a "sham issue ad," in the mind of the Times' editors. Wonder why.

March 21, 2002

Show me the money

The United Nations has figured out how to cure poverty. And you'll be shocked to hear this one: rich countries need to give lots of money to poor countries.

In anticipation of the U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development, the United States and Europe each pledged billions of dollars to poor nations last week. But the United Nations says much more is needed – international development aid must double to $100 billion a year to meet the international goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

"It's a good beginning, but nobody has suggested that's all we need," U.N. spokeswoman Susan Markham said. "The donors have agreed we need to increase aid. The fact that they're even discussing an increase in (overseas development aid) is a breakthrough."

Next, I hear they plan to declare a "War on Poverty," figuring that these policies, which obviously work so well in the international arena, will also be applicable to domestic politics. Soon there will be no more poverty in the United States!

While we're solving that simple problem, the United States thinks that aid should only be given to countries that reform their politics and economies. For some reason, that isn't going over too big.

Many aid recipients say that conditioning aid amounts to meddling in their internal politics.
But apparently just forking over the cash is perfectly acceptable.
Advocates for the poor say some of the neediest live in countries whose governments are corrupt or totalitarian and they shouldn't be punished for the sins of their leaders.
I see. They're too corrupt to reform, so we should just hand them money without any rules. How convenient for them. Because obviously, corrupt, totalitarian governments will rush to use the money in a socially responsible manner. We wouldn't want to see thousands of members of the secret police be put out of work, would we?

Strangely, the U.S. government wants to test this strategy before implementing it on a wider scale.

The Bush administration has said that if its extra $5 billion in aid produces results, it will give more. But many criticized the United States, by far the world's richest country, for doing little to help the poorest.
Where the measure of what a country is "doing" is limited to the amount of cash handed over to those "corrupt, totalitarian governments," of course. The amount of money just spent by the United States to defeat the Taliban will never be included in these sorts of foreign aid calculations. Or the money spent defending South Korea from North Korean aggression. The millions of immigrants accepted by the United States, absorbed into society, taking some pressure off their home countries to reform, will never be factored in. Only welfare payments count. Isn't the term that's normally used for an attitude like that "ungrateful," or perhaps "spoiled brat"?

Big fat idiot

In the blogosphere, Michael Moore-bashing is practically an olympic sport. As such, James Lileks takes the gold medal.

Absolute ego corrupts, absolutely. Mr. Moore, one suspects, will spend ten minutes at the podium denouncing tax cuts, and two hours denouncing his accountant for failing to write off a bottle of Dasani he drank on the book tour as a business expense. He’s a good multimillionaire, you see, but those other guys got their money the old-fashioned way: they snuck into the homes of the Working Poor and stole the golden eggs the exhausted laborers lay during the night.The only guy who earned his millions is Our Man Mike. Perhaps to show his good will, he's instructed his accountants to pay the pre-Bush estate tax rate in the event of his demise, instead of bequeathing it all to his daughter. It's not like she earned it, anyway.
Read the rest.

Feeling smug

Nobody ever accused the New York Times of being good winners. They're so thrilled that McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan passed the Senate -- the "biggest election reform in a generation" -- that they feel the need to resort to name-calling. They label "anonymous White House officials" who described the bill as "flawed and oversold" as "churlish." Two paragraphs later, the Times describes the bill as "not a panacea." See, that's the way the Times' editors are: people who disagree with their views, even if they say the same thing, are evil, intolerant, or narrow-minded. Or in this case, just "churlish."

In an attempt to canonize those who supported this unconstitutional bill, the Times adds, oddly:

Among Democrats, Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin not only helped lead the fight in Washington, but also put his beliefs into practice at home. Mr. Feingold refused soft-money donations for his own re-election struggle in 2000, ignoring supporters who warned it could cost him his seat. His victory was an advertisement for reform.
Leaving aside the fact-checking problem -- Feingold's re-election was in 1998, not 2000 --there are several ways to interpret that statement; none of them seem to parse as "an advertisement for reform."

1. If Feingold could win re-election under the old system, without taking soft money, then doesn't that suggest that the need for "reform" is overstated?

2. If Feingold's victory is supposed to demonstrate that voters favor "reform", then shouldn't his slim 50-49 margin of victory call that into question? Moreover, shouldn't the overwhelming defeats of Bill Bradley, John McCain, and Ralph Nader suggest that voters couldn't care less about "reform"?

3. The Washington Post noted, about Feingold's election that

Fund-raising: Feingold raised more than $3.8 million, spent about $3.5 million and had $351,000 in cash on hand in mid-October. Neumann raised nearly $3.7 million, spent nearly $3.1 million and had about $591,000 in cash on hand.
I'm not sure what this says, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't suggest an "advertisement for reform." But the Times doesn't care, because any outcome would be cited as demonstrating the need for "reform," as long as the Times ends up with more influence and everyone else ends up with less.

March 22, 2002

Guns might cause global warming, too

Susanna Cornett at Cut on the Bias takes on the New York Times' blatant anti-gun bias (and blatantly bad reporting).

Islam vs. Dictator

Nicholas Kristoff takes time out from paranoid anti-gun ranting to raise an interesting point: Is democracy our friend or enemy in the Muslim world? The response of much of the Muslim world to American pressure after 9/11 has been to crack down on radical Islam, which has had the side effect of eliminating what shreds of freedom and democracy exist. Kristoff questions whether America should be in the business of promoting authoritarianism, even in the name of suppressing anti-American, pro-terrorist extremists.

Kristoff cites Yemen's experience -- where fundamentalist Islam gained power through democratic means, and then lost public support because of its extremism. And he argues

Egypt has been torturing Islamic fundamentalists for decades. Same with Algeria. Yet the only place where fundamentalists seem to be clearly losing popularity is Iran, where they alienated ordinary people by ruling them.
It's a good point. But Muslim zealots still control Iran, so they're not exactly a powerful data point in favor of democracy. And Kristoff neglects to mention Turkey, a (basically) democratic regime that forcibly suppresses Islamic fundamentalism and which probably not coincidentally is our only true ally in the Muslim world.

It's a tough question, and for a change I don't have a flip, easy answer.

[Update: That doesn't mean other people don't; Stephen Green at Vodkapundit trashes the column. I don't disagree with Green's premises that (1) Kristoff is naive, and (2) Islamo-fascism is extremely dangerous, and that democracy shouldn't be exalted over more fundamental principles like human decency, the rule of law, freedom, etc. If democracy is simply a means for anti-democrats to gain power, it's worse than useless. I'm just not convinced that in the long term, propping up dictators on the lesser-of-two-evils theory that at least they're not Islamic religious fanatics will work. After all, that's the strategy that created the current Iranian regime.]

Terrorist, schmerrorist

A horrifying explanation from the Chicago Tribune about their use -- or lack thereof -- of the word terrorism (from Romenesko via Media Minded. They've chosen to use the word for the attacks of September 11, but to "withhold that designation from other actions in other places (mainly the Middle East) where some people argue it is warranted."

Many readers contend that we've also seen terrorism in the detonations of suicide bombs at pizzerias and bar mitzvah parties in Jerusalem.
Many readers contend?!?!?!?!?!? Are there others who don't?
How to justify the difference? Well--and this is just one journalist's view--the Tribune is an American newspaper written principally for an American audience and owing its existence and independence to the American Constitution. Our perspective is inescapably American (which is not to say it is necessarily the same as that of the U.S. government). Inevitably, as the news of Sept. 11 is reported and interpreted, that perspective is reflected in the product. Indeed, it almost has to be if we are to speak intelligibly on those events to our audience. Our perspective on events in the Middle East also is American, which is to say it is not identical to that of any of the contending parties. To faithfully report and interpret the events there for our American audience, we must refrain from consistently labeling either party as terrorists, because to do so is, in effect, to declare it illegitimate.
Got that? It's okay to have "chosen sides" in discussing 9/11 because we're American. But we wouldn't want to call a spade a spade in the Middle East, because, well, they're not American. We wouldn't want to declare a suicide bombing at a pizzeria to be "illegitimate." Note that this isn't a matter of misplaced "objectivity," because if it were, then 9/11 wouldn't be labelled as terrorist either. No, it's just that Americans might think that people who deliberately blow up civilians are the same as people who use military force to prevent these sorts of acts of terrorism, and it's not our job as a newspaper to show the difference.

March 23, 2002

I don't think that's what "race" is supposed to refer to

Apparently one explanation for why black motorists are more likely to be stopped by police than white motorists is that black people speed more frequently. It seems that someone came up with the crazy idea that if we're going to criticize state troopers for unfairly stopping minorities, we ought to see whether troopers are unfairly stopping minorities. Unfortunately, the results came out wrong.

And the reaction to such a politically incorrect outcome? The Justice Department is refusing to officially release the results. Is there any doubt that had this study "proved" the accepted wisdom -- that racial disparities are inevitably the result of racism rather than behavior -- that it would have been on the front page, just like the study that supposedly "proves" that Minorities Get Inferior Care, Even if Insured? Is there any doubt that the coverup of the results would have resulted in a banner headline, with calls for hearings?

There have been questions raised about this speeding study -- but there are questions raised about every study. And as the Times reports, this study confirms another study which found the same thing

In North Carolina, for example, a professor hired in 2000 by the National Institute of Justice to study whether there are identifiable differences in driving behavior based on race, assigned teams of students to travel roads at the speed limit, record the race of drivers who passed them and use stopwatches to time the drivers' speed. Though the study has not yet been released, civil rights groups have dismissed its methods as "loony science" and called Matthew T. Zingraff, the lead researcher from North Carolina State University, a racist and a police apologist. Mr. Zingraff has said he was merely trying to find new data to quantify racial profiling.
So there you go. We already know the police are guilty, so therefore anybody who finds differently is an apologist, and thus a racist. So say "civil rights groups."

But we meant well

Patrick Basham explains how campaign finance "reform" is really incumbent protection.

Overall, the reformed campaigns of the future will be less competitive, less controlled by candidates, more influenced by the mainstream media, and involve fewer voters. Most Americans support campaign-finance reform but this is not the future promised to them by campaign-finance reformers.

Freeloading 101

Another excellent primer from Megan McArdle, asking if Europe is free-riding on America's growth.

One of the mysteries, after all, for free marketeers, is why Europe’s growth isn’t much lower than it is. History teaches, after all, that excessively regulated societies are generally stagnant, yet Europe has managed respectable, if not stellar, growth.
If you're unfamiliar with economics, read the whole thing and learn something. If you are familiar, it's still a good read.

March 24, 2002

Help! I'm being oppressed!

The New York Times reports on the supposedly new phenomenon that college students nowadays aren't interested in political debate anymore, or are at least unwilling to engage in it. The article talks about an overemphasis on "tolerance" being part of the problem -- the Oprahfication of the world, where feelings are all that count. If you argue with someone, you might make them feel bad.

But I don't think this reluctance to debate has anything to do with the college generation. Look at Eric Alterman's whining about Andrew Sullivan in the latest Nation. Sullivan's criticism of the left is described by Alterman as "the will to censorship." That's right -- criticism of speakers is now considered "censorship." At least if those being criticized are on the left.

I think there's a good reason for it. The left has gotten so used to declaring everyone who disagrees to be racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist, speciesist, or all of the above, that they're afraid of actual debates. The only way to avoid being labelled a bigot is just not to say anything at all.

Racism isn't dead.

Or, at least it isn't dead on some campuses. The Washington Post reports that black colleges are facing racial discrimination lawsuits.

DOVER, Del. –– Kathleen Carter says that when she became chairman of the education department at historically black Delaware State University in 1995, she found herself facing more than the usual administrative hassles.

Carter, who is white, says she was told that she was usurping blacks' right to govern themselves and that whites in the department were trying to make blacks look bad.

One colleague called her "a white bitch," Carter said in a discrimination lawsuit she filed against the school, alleging she was denied tenure because of her race.

That's only one of several such cases.
But Jane Buck, a former Delaware State psychology professor and national president of the AAUP, said a search committee at the school received about 100 applications for an opening a few years ago, and no black candidate turned up. The search was reopened, and the lone black applicant was hired.

"I perceived a great deal of pressure to see to it that we hired a black departmental member," Buck said.

This sounds like a blockbuster -- a college so racist that they rejected 100 job applications and reopened the job search, just to get someone with the right skin color. So why wasn't this story front page headlines, the way the story about blacks supposedly getting inferior healthcare was?

Always go with your first guess?

The FBI is investigating a report that some of the 9/11 hijackers were treated for anthrax.

The two men identified themselves as pilots when they came to the emergency room of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last June. One had an ugly, dark lesion on his leg that he said he developed after bumping into a suitcase two months earlier. Dr. Christos Tsonas thought the injury was curious, but he cleaned it, prescribed an antibiotic for infection and sent the men away with hardly another thought.

But after Sept. 11, when federal investigators found the medicine among the possessions of one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Dr. Tsonas reviewed the case and arrived at a new diagnosis. The lesion, he said in an interview this week, "was consistent with cutaneous anthrax."

Got that? This was in June -- months before 9/11, and months before the other anthrax attacks. So if this story is true -- and I should point out that a retroactive diagnosis is of questionable validity -- it adds a new twist to the story.

Originally, everyone assumed the anthrax attacks were caused by terrorists. Lately, as the proof for that hypothesis has failed to turn up, a revisionist theory has sprung up that a disgruntled former member of the U.S. biodefense program is responsible for the attacks. But if the hijackers got anthrax four months before the other anthrax victims, that would either be one of the biggest coincidences in the history of the planet, or incredibly strong circumstantial evidence that there's a terrorist connection.

Newsflash: water is wet

Islam is a religion of peace, and a Palestinian Group Says It Will Increase Bombings. This is, of course, after Israel pulled back its tanks from the "Occupied" Territories and began negotiating again, as insisted upon by Israel's "allies," including the United States.

This isn't Hamas or Islamic Jihad, by the way. This is the Al Aksa Brigades, affiliated with Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization.

Last fall, the group's leaders said it would target only soldiers and Israeli settlers. But that view changed early this year, in part because Hamas, the militant Islamic group, had raised its standing among Palestinians with its suicide attacks, and Fatah was losing influence.
Hey, it's just a big P.R. campaign. Nothing to get excited about.
The brigades have claimed responsibility for several recent suicide bombings, including one in an ultra-Orthodox religious neighborhood in Jerusalem on March 2 that killed nine Israelis, including six children.

Bashir, a 27-year-old fighter in the Aksa Brigades who would not give his last name, said he agreed with the decision to attack Israeli civilians because "wherever there is an occupier, we should consider them a target. Besides, Israel sees all of us as targets."

If Israel actually saw all Palestinians as targets, they'd all be dead now. Duh. But don't think Palestinains are acting insane, out of frustration or despair:
In talks with many Palestinians across the political and economic spectrum in recent days, most wholeheartedly support the suicide attacks and say they are helping to bring concessions from the Israelis.
The attacks are evil, but they're rational. They're an attempt to win concessions. And they're working. The American government keeps pressuring Israel to negotiate. But here's the problem:
Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, today condemned the latest suicide bombing by the group, on Thursday in Jerusalem, and called for an end to attacks on civilians. But Mr. Badawi said the Aksa Brigades would ignore that.

"He does not support what we are doing," he said with a shrug, sitting on a sofa in his living room with a large-caliber pistol stuffed between the cushions just to his right. "But we believe this is our national responsibility. We respect our leader, but the decisions to carry out attacks remains with the Aksa Brigades leadership."

...

But both Mr. Badawi and Mr. Khader said the group's leaders do not communicate with Mr. Arafat. Mr. Badawi said Mr. Arafat had never approached anyone from the Aksa Brigades to ask them to stop the suicide bombings in Israel — although the leader did make a public statement to that effect on Thursday.

He added that if Mr. Arafat reaches an agreement for a cease-fire, the Aksa Brigades will decide independently whether to abide by it.

So what is Israel to do? Arafat either won't restrain his people, or he can't. Either he's evil or he's useless. Either way, what good is it going to do to negotiate?

March 25, 2002

Reason #4,241,516 to be a libertarian...

The Washington Post reports on Maryland's efforts to make us "safer" by increasing the scope of law enforcement powers.

"I realize that this bill basically says you can tap someone's phone for jaywalking, and normally I would say, 'No way,' " said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow (D-Montgomery). "But after what happened on September 11th, I say screw 'em."
Well, that's principled leadership for you. But surely extreme measures are justified, right? Well, not exactly:
In January, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) formed a task force to pull a wide range of initiatives into one bill. Several of the task force proposals have since been stripped away by uneasy lawmakers, including restrictions that would have prevented foreign nationals from holding driver's licenses if their visas had expired.
Ah. So people who aren't even in the country legally may drive legally in Maryland. They should just avoid jaywalking. Gotcha.

Hey, at least they weren't dead at the time

The INS broke its own rules in giving special visa waivers to some 19 Pakistani crewmen from a ship which arrived last week. Fortunately, they were all responsible, law-abiding individuals. Well, except for the four crewmen who have now disappeared. None of them are actually proven terrorists, though, so there's nothing to be concerned about. And it's not fair to point fingers; the INS certainly can't be expected to identify every individual who might pose a risk. Well, except perhaps for the ones who've done this before.

An inspector also entered an improper birth date for one of the four missing Pakistanis. If the birth date had been entered correctly, INS would have found that the man had committed an immigration violation in Chicago several years ago, the INS official said. The error was not realized until the man disappeared, according to the official.
Better late than never. But I'm not worried, because John Ashcroft says, "I believe we will find these individuals, and I believe we will be able to correct this situation." Aren't you reassured? Certainly, though, the federal government has acted promptly. They've "launched an investigation." And they've dealt harshly with the person responsible:
William Bittner, a longtime INS employee who oversees the agency's Norfolk field office, has been reassigned to the Arlington office, an INS official said.
I'm sure the citizens of Arlington feel safer already. Aren't civil service laws great? You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

But just give them a chance to criticize Israel...

The Washington Post has just come to the shocking conclusion that Europeans don't care about human rights. Well, not exactly; the Post says that Europeans "risk" sending that message.

Apparently now that the United States is no longer a member of the incredibly pointless United Nations Human Rights Commission, having been kicked off by the French, the UNHRC can't even be bothered to make a token effort to criticize Russia, or China, or even Cuba.

Though the U.N. commission has no real authority, Beijing has gone to great lengths to avoid the passage of resolutions in recent years, threatening would-be sponsors with economic and political retaliation. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations pressed resolutions anyway; with the United States gone this year, the European Union released its members to take action if they so choose. But so far none has done so -- not Britain, or Germany, or Italy or Spain -- and not France, or Sweden or Austria, the three countries that combined to muscle the United States off the commission last year. If that passivity continues, the message to China's Communist regime will be clear: Europe has no will to resist its suppression of political freedom, its torture and murder of the Falun Gong and other religious believers, its campaign against independent intellectuals or its crackdowns in Tibet and Muslim-populated Xinjiang province.
Europeans like to think of themselves as superior to the United States. And they like to think of the European Union as a vehicle to create a superpower to balance the United States' influence in the world. But if you want to have influence, you have to be willing to use it. America doesn't always make the right decisions, but at least we're willing to take a stand. The Europeans seem to be more willing to criticize America for it than they are to criticize dictators -- even in a forum where they can act "multilaterally."

March 26, 2002

Close, but no cigar

William Raspbery comes oh so near to revelation, before backing off. He analogizes the perceived corruption in NCAA sports to the perceived corruption in Washington, arguing that the only way to reform the system is to "separate winning and money."

There's some merit there. The corruption in college sports comes from the fact that the stakes are so high. When a winning program can potentially bring in millions of dollars in cash and television exposure, you're always going to have an incentive to cut corners to win. So the way to reform college sports is to eliminate those millions of dollars. Stop signing the television deals and the endorsement deals.

But after working this through, Raspberry adds:

Now suppose it's the case that politics conflict not only with grass-roots citizen involvement but also with the integrity and ideals we like to espouse -- and suppose that conflict is inescapable. What are we to do? Reducing the stakes is not an option. Does it follow from Loughran's analysis that reform is impossible -- that moneyed interests will find a way around the new legislation and that reform will be proved a delusion once again?
But stop and ask why? Why can't we reduce the stakes?

In fact, that's exactly what we need to do. Reduce the stakes. No alumni booster is going to buy an illiterate high school dropout, no college is going to admit him, if there's no reward at the end. Similarly, no corporation, no rich special interest, is going to buy a candidate if there's no reward at the end. In politics, the reward is legislation. A simple truth: if there are no regulations, there can be no loopholes. No loopholes means nothing to be bought. What's the point of bribing a politician if the politician can't give you anything? Developers can't buy zoning board members if there are no zoning boards. Energy companies can't pay to write the government's energy policy if the government doesn't legislate an energy policy. Accounting firms can't buy influence over accounting regulations if the government isn't writing accounting regulations.

Unfortunately, Raspberry botches the argument, turning it into just another call for bigger government. After concluding that you can't reduce the stakes, his proposal is "some combination of private contributions fully disclosed, public funding of campaigns and free TV ads." The worst of all worlds. Legislation,or at least access, being bought, government picking winners and losers, and more political advertising on television.

Fine, but first can we kick out the French?

Romania and Bulgaria are hoping to join NATO, now that the organization looks likely to expand its membership significantly.

Determined to be on that list, Bulgaria and Romania are working closely with the United States in the campaign in Afghanistan to show how valuable they can be as military partners. The two countries "are making the best use of this tragic opportunity," the Bulgarian foreign minister, Solomon Pasi, said in an interview here in the Romanian capital.

...

And in the rush to impress the Bush administration, viewed as the critical voice in determining the final list of countries invited to join NATO, Romania and Bulgaria are refurbishing airstrips and ports with the implicit promise that if the United States wishes to use them in future campaigns, including in strikes against Iraq, they are available for the asking.

"The next time when [the United States] asks for support, or needs support, Bulgaria will be an excellent ally," said Pasi when asked about Iraq. Romanian officials echoed his comments.

What a thought -- to show that they're our allies, countries are cooperating with us. Don't they understand that this isn't how things are done in Europe? But they've got at least one part of the French plan down pat:
The United States had been particularly concerned that the countries' military spending is low and that their armed forces cannot "inter-operate" with NATO's. Both countries have boosted their military budgets above 2 percent of their gross domestic products in an effort to accelerate the restructuring process and modernize equipment. At the same time, Romania is slashing the ranks of its top-heavy military and moving to create a professional, non-conscript army by the end of the decade, officials said.
Incompetent armed forces that can't work with us, but that promise they will be able to, someday. Now that's more like it.

Still, this does little to answer the long term question: what is NATO for? Certainly not to defend against a Warsaw Pact invasion. Does it even have a mission, and does expanding serve that mission? Right now, it seems that expansion is really just a way to avoid having to answer these questions. For NATO to turn down these applicants would require that NATO come up with a reason why. To keep expanding is just inertia. We've already seen that NATO is worthless as a military alliance; after all, even without NATO, the British can cooperate with us and the French can thumb their noses at us.

Reason #4,241,517 to be a libertarian...

Maryland is taking steps towards legalizing medical marijuana. Or, at least, that's the lead in the Washington Post's coverage. Then you read this half-assed idiocy:

Under the measure, if defendants can prove to a judge or jury that they used marijuana exclusively for medical reasons, they would be subject to a $100 fine, instead of the current penalty -- a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Got that? The legislature is going to recognize marijuana as medicine -- but still fine people for using it! Sometimes you really have to wonder what kind of half-wits get elected to state legislatures. (The rest of the time, you don't wonder what kind -- you just wonder how.)

Don't hold back; tell us what you really think

I don't think Victor Davis Hanson is a big fan of Islamofascism.

So we should stop apologizing, prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and accept this animosity -- just as our forefathers once did when faced by similar autocrats and their captive peoples who threatened us in 1941. I don't know about the rest of America, but I am proud that thugs like Khaddafi, murderers like Saddam Hussein, inquisitionists like the mullahs in Iran, criminals in Syria, medieval sheiks in the Gulf, and millions of others who do not vote, do not speak freely, oppress women, and are not tolerant of religious, gender, or ethnic diversity don't like me for being an American. I would find it repugnant if they did.

No, their hatred is a badge of honor, and I would have it no other way. I am tired of the appeasers of the Middle East on our Right who fawn for oil and trade, and those pacifists and multiculturalists on the Left who either do not know, or do not like, what America really is. I'd rather think of all the innocent dead on 9/ 11 than give a moment more of attention to Mr. Arafat and his bombers.

The truth is that there is a great storm on the horizon, one that will pass — or bring upon us a hard rain the likes of which we have not seen in 60 years. Either we shall say "no more," deal with Iraq, and prepare for a long and hard war against murderers and terrorists — or we will have more and more of what happened on 9/11. History teaches us that certain nations, certain peoples, and certain religions at peculiar periods in their history take a momentary, but deadly leave of their senses — Napoleon's France for most of a decade, the southern states in 1861, Japan in 1931, Germany in 1939, and Russia after World War II. And when they do, they cannot be bribed, apologized to, or sweet-talked — only defeated.

Comparisons to the Nazis are always dangerous, but he makes a good case. We're dealing with fanatics who want us dead -- no, not the French -- not merely people who disagree with us. And we need to win, not find a way to get them to like us.

March 27, 2002

Show me the money

Susanna Cornett has a very good discussion of some of the problems with the recently announced slavery reparations lawsuit.

But wait, isn't he benefiting from work done by slaves, for which they weren't paid? Yes, but so are the descendents of the slaves, even if you accept that they are not benefiting as much as other groups. So you would need to look at the relative harm - he has benefited, say, 10% or 25% or 50% more because one half of his ancestry is American of Anglo-European descent. And what about the generalized benefit of living in the United States versus Africa? Would it be reasonable to calculate what the average person in Africa has vs what the average African slave descendent in America has, and use that as a part of the reparation formula?

Another difficulty is identifying which people should benefit and how much. It isn't as if, in the case of the interned Japanese-Americans, it could be tracked that the family owned this property and it was taken so therefore this harm calculates to this amount, and this person is a direct descendent of the person who lost the property, so he/she should receive the money. First we would need to determine which people have no ancestors who were slaves, and whether they suffered specific harm because of the culture resulting from a history of slavery in this country. The next tier are people who have varying degrees of slave ancestry - 10%, 25%, etc. I think it unlikely we would find many if any at all that have 100% ancestry from slaves or slaveholders. Can you imagine the mess it would be to parse these issues? What about a Halle Berry - if her black father was descended from slaves, and her white mother from slaveholders, would that not be a wash?

The issues she raises are valid; the only problem with her analysis is that she works from the faulty premise that people who were injured by slavery -- directly or through their ancestors -- are the intended beneficiaries of this lawsuit. As even the plaintiff's lawyers admit, that's simply not the case:
Any damages won from the lawsuit would be put into a fund to improve health, education and housing opportunities for blacks, said attorney Roger Wareham, one of a group of lawyers who prepared the lawsuits.

''This is not about individuals receiving checks in their mailbox,'' Wareham said.

If it were truly "reparations," of course it would be about individuals receiving checks in their mailbox. So if it doesn't go to individuals, where is it going to go? Well, aside from the plaintiffs' attorneys (which goes without saying), it will go to activist groups, who will then use the money to fund more lobbying efforts and lawsuits for more money. And, of course, to keep activists employed. Jesse Jackson has made a career of this; why shouldn't others?

I wish I could write this well

James Lileks has another hilarious screed, this one dissecting the latest silliness that is Nicholas Kristoff.

That's your best-case scenario. Unless, of course, Mr. Kristoff thinks that the Iraqi Chess Club will storm the palace, disband the Republican Guards, and proclaim an era of peace, democracy, normalization with Israel and Segways for all.

It also turns out that a British organization, Indict, is already pursuing an indictment against Saddam for war crimes.

And the Belgian organization Frown is already drafting plans to mount an international campaign of scowling, which will force his regime to divert precious resources to rubber chickens, joy-buzzers and Singing Telegram Gorillas to improve their standing abroad. Meanwhile, the French organization Surrender is drafting plans to cede Marseilles to whomever wants it, just in case.

Need I mention the plans of an American organization, Depose? They?re known informally as the Armed Services.

I'm not sure which is more depressing: that Lileks is so much funnier than I can ever hope to be, or that Nicholas Kristoff is, unintentionally. Why does The Paper of Record give this guy regular space?

Happy Passover

March 28, 2002

War

I've been holding off on commenting on the latest atrocity in Israel, mostly because it defies comment. I have no idea what one says when someone commits mass murder, picking targets for the crime of being Jewish and trying to eat dinner. Well, I know what some say.

"I am horrified at the level of violence reached. Civilians on both sides are by now the main victims of a conflict situation which they never chose to be part of," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement.
I see. Civilians on both sides. Lots of Palestinian civilians are being blown up by suicide bombers. Sure. Palestinian "civilians" throwing rocks.
"I appeal to the parties to find, at this gravest of times, the courage to pursue last-ditch efforts to reach a ceasefire."
Oh, is that what it's going to take? "Courage?" I bet World War II could have been avoided, if Poland had just had the "courage" to surrender to Germany instead of resisting. That was certainly the French strategy.
In Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. President George W. Bush said "callous cold-blooded...terrorist killing" in the Middle East must be stopped. "I condemn it in the strongest of terms."
Oh, the strongest of terms? Well, then, now we know you're serious about fighting terrorism. And of course:
The Secretary-General strongly condemns today's suicide bomb attack in the city of Netanya in Israel in which at least 15 Israeli citizens were killed and many others wounded. He reiterates his conviction that such terrorist attacks are morally repugnant and immensely harmful to the Palestinian cause. He extends his heartfelt condolences to the Government of Israel and to the families of the victims of this attack.

The Secretary-General urges all sides to exercise maximum restraint

Oh, he does, does he? Does he think that Yasir Arafat is listening?
and not to allow the enemies of peace to derail the current efforts to secure a durable ceasefire and to implement the Tenet and Mitchell plans.
Really? How are those efforts going?

And all this comes on the heels of the new report that Saddam Hussein is paying suicide bombers to kill Israelis (via Ken Layne.) This distribution took place in Tulkarm, where the Netanya bomber lived. I wonder if George Bush and the Europeans will begin to understand that killing Saddam Hussein -- that's right, killing, not deposing or overthrowing -- is part of the resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than the reverse. I wonder if George Bush and the Europeans will begin to understand that the attempt to reach a ceasefire is a cause of, not a solution to, the conflict.

This is not a disagreement, or a dispute. This is war.

March 29, 2002

Sickening, in more ways than one

There are some who think that Saddam Hussein isn't a threat to the United States. There are some who think that he's just some two-bit dictator, no different than other third world tyrants. For them, this New Yorker piece should be required reading.

Chemical weapons had been dropped on Halabja by the Iraqi Air Force, which understood that any underground shelter would become a gas chamber. "My uncle said we should go outside," Nasreen said. "We knew there were chemicals in the air. We were getting red eyes, and some of us had liquid coming out of them. We decided to run." Nasreen and her relatives stepped outside gingerly. "Our cow was lying on its side," she recalled. "It was breathing very fast, as if it had been running. The leaves were falling off the trees, even though it was spring. The partridge was dead. There were smoke clouds around, clinging to the ground. The gas was heavier than the air, and it was finding the wells and going down the wells."

...

Gosden believes it is quite possible that the countries of the West will soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago—that what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning. "For Saddam's scientists, the Kurds were a test population," she said. "They were the human guinea pigs. It was a way of identifying the most effective chemical agents for use on civilian populations, and the most effective means of delivery."

And if that doesn't scare you enough, this should:
The Germans have a special interest in Saddam's intentions. German industry is well represented in the ranks of foreign companies that have aided Saddam's nonconventional-weapons programs, and the German government has been publicly regretful. Hanning told me that his agency had taken the lead in exposing the companies that helped Iraq build a poison-gas factory at Samarra. The Germans also feel, for the most obvious reasons, a special responsibility to Israel's security, and this, too, motivates their desire to expose Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. Hanning is tall, thin, and almost translucently white. He is sparing with words, but he does not equivocate. "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years," he said.
Whether he was specifically complicit in 9/11 is totally beside the point. Saddam Hussein needs to go. Not in a week, or a month, or six months. Now. That his overthrow and the destruction of the Iraqi military could help create a moderate Muslim state run by the historically oppressed Kurds is icing on the cake.

At least they admit it

The censorship campaign finance "reform" law passed, and Bush violated his oath of office to sign it. And special interest groups like Common Cause claimed it would end corruption in politics. But as Robert Samuelson notes, this is about speech, and some politicians are "honest" enough to admit it:

"This bill . . . is about slowing political advertising and making sure the flow of negative ads by outside interest groups does not continue to permeate the airwaves," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). "We must also close off the use of corporate and union treasury money used to fund ads influencing federal elections," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). "I cannot believe the Founding Fathers thought that the right to put the same commercial on 5,112 times was intended to be protected by the First Amendment," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

You might ask: What's wrong with groups -- the National Rifle Association, the Sierra Club -- running ads to praise friends or pillory foes? That's democracy. You might wonder whether the First Amendment makes exceptions for "negative" speech (Cantwell), speech intended to influence elections (Snowe) or repetitive speech (Schumer). It doesn't. Finally, you might rightly suspect a role for incumbent self-protection. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) confessed that she would be well rid of "those vicious attacks" (advertisements) in the final 60 days before an election.

Nobody should be surprised that politicians would be willing to eviscerate the First Amendment in order to protect their own jobs. But what is surprising is that so many are willing to admit it openly.

March 30, 2002

Ooh! Sign me up

The Guardian reports that a new American newspaper, War Times, is being started to provide alternative coverage of the war in Afghanistan. I know it's going to be good:

The venture is supported by a number of academics, including Noam Chomsky, labour organisations and anti-war groups.
Nothing like a newspaper published by anti-war groups to provide objective coverage of a war. And if that doesn't make it sound enticing enough:
The pilot issue carried an interview with the actor Danny Glover, who said: "Bombing Afghanistan and creating the idea that the US is the judge, the jury and the executioner is the wrong way to respond."
Next issue will feature Melanie Griffith discussing superstring theory and its utility for resolving the contradictions between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

A change of heart?

The New York Timeshas suddenly rediscovered the First Amendment. Arguing against laws which restrict campaigning by judicial candidates, the Times notes:

Despite their good intentions, such prohibitions should not survive constitutional scrutiny. It is hard to imagine a more direct infringement on the free-speech rights of candidates.
Well, there's McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan, the law the Times has endorsed, which prohibits even the mention of candidates in ads broadcast before elections.

Today, beer. Tomorrow, the world

Michael Judge writes about the silliness of anti-alcohol groups in the United States.

It gets worse. The American Medical Association is calling for local ordinances against "reckless marketing practices" that target students with ads for boozy events like Barenaked Ladies concerts and spring-break packages to Boca Raton. And college boards are listening. Berkeley is just one of the many campuses where events sponsored by alcohol and tobacco companies are no-nos.

Much of this hysteria has to do with the state of perpetual alarm trumpeted by groups like Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

...

The problem is that many Americans see boozing as somehow immoral and not a salutary part of social mores. Studies by the Berkeley Alcohol Research Group and a host of others find that nations that teach children moderation over abstinence, such as France, Spain and Italy, may have higher overall rates of alcohol consumption, but far lower rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related disease.

This crusade against "sin" is certainly not limited to alcohol (and tobacco), though. It's just the first step, as this article from the L.A. Times notes.
Citing California's huge budget shortfall and its growing number of overweight children, a state lawmaker is proposing a new tax on soda to fight childhood obesity.

...

The California Soda Tax Act by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) is seen as the leading edge of a broader initiative to tax or levy fees on a variety of eating and drinking habits. One lawmaker, in fact, has introduced a bill to study taxing a wider range of junk food to finance health programs for children. Another may try to impose a fee on retail sales of alcoholic beverages to bolster trauma rooms.

Part of this is simply a fundraising measure, of course. But part of it is an attempt to run people's lives, spearheaded by groups like the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which campaigns against food that people want to eat, in favor of exercise, and most importantly, in favor of government intervention. The only common thread that runs through their campaigns on behalf of public health issues is that none of them have anything to do with public health.

The larger problem, though, is that as Steven Milloy has pointed out, repeatedly, there's not much science behind the idea that obesity is increasing, let alone that it's really the serious problem activists claim it is.

Doesn't matter to activists, though:

Nonetheless, lawmakers are not stopping at soda and cigarettes as possible tax targets.

To address concerns that California students are struggling at school because they are sick, lawmakers led by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Alameda) are pushing a package of proposals to improve their health.

Chan has introduced a measure that would require the state to study the feasibility of taxing junk foods to pay for dental and health services for children.

I wonder how much we could raise if we just taxed stupid legislative proposals? That's one thing there never seems to be a shortfall of.

You know the old saying: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of Europe

After months of dithering, the European Union has finally come out decisively on the question of terrorism: they're in favor. The Greeks are the most explicit, arguing not merely that Arafat is necessary, but that he's really a nice guy:

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou condemned the Israeli military action, saying his country had "ties, both friendly and personal, with President Arafat."

"For us Arafat is not an enemy, and beyond this he is also a personal friend," said Papandreou, who also condemned the terror attacks on Israelis.

Maybe George Bush ought to remind the Greeks that the United States has vowed to treat those who support terrorists the same as the terrorists themselves. Who else are the Greeks friends with? Idi Amin? Kim Il Sung? Charles Manson? But that's not an isolated sentiment, as the European Union collectively is worried far more about Arafat's safety than about Arafat's behavior. It's as if they don't think there's any connection between Israel's reactions and the events that caused them.
Spain, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Israel's fight against terrorism and its response to recent attacks must be compatible with safeguarding the Palestinian Authority and its president -- "the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people."
At first, I was shocked to read this -- after all, Arafat hasn't bothered to hold any elections lately, has he? But then I realized where this was coming from: the European Union, which is also run by unelected authoritarians.
In France, President Jacques Chirac said "any attack on (Arafat's) ability to act, or on his person, would be extremely serious."

The French leader also urged Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "immediately take all measures to stop the violence."

He then urged Czechoslovakia to "Just give him the Sudetenland. We wouldn't want to provoke him."
"Nothing can excuse or justify blind terrorism against civilians," Chirac told France-Info radio. "Everyone knows there cannot be a military solution to the conflict in the Middle East."
Well, not if the French military is involved. What he meant, of course, is that nothing can justify terrorism, unless Arafat is your "personal friend," and Jews are the victims.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine accused Israel of obsessing over Arafat and trying to "asphyxiate" him.
The group that insists that Arafat is a legitimate leader is accusing others of "obsessing" over Arafat?
"It's a complete illusion to believe that, even with Arafat elsewhere or replaced by whatever Palestinian chief, the problem would be different," Vedrine told RFI radio.
Then, just to be safe, Vedrine offered to vacate Paris if the PLO demanded that he do so. Meanwhile, just to make sure Israel got the message:
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government asked Israel to guarantee Arafat's security and respect his elected position.

"It is fundamental that deeds are not carried out which can prejudice the prospects for a resumption of dialogue," a government statement said.

So why do the Europeans keep carrying out deeds -- like criticizing Israel -- that make the resumption of dialogue impossible? Are these people that anti-American and that anti-Semitic? Or are they just stupid? Or both? Do they really not understand that terrorism is a tool used by the Palestinians to put pressure on Israel, and that every time the Europeans react to terror by trying to appease Arafat, it emboldens Arafat to escalate the violence?

Oh, really?

George Bush announces that "evil may be present, and it may be strong, but it will not prevail." Then he had the U.S. vote, with beacons of freedom and democracy like China, in favor of a Security Council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from Ramallah. I suppose we should be grateful that the U.S. decided not to side with the Syrians (who also have a seat on the Council), who wanted the resolution to avoid any mention of the terrorist attacks.

Am I the only one seeing the influence of Colin Powell here? Bush 43 is turning into Bush 41, confusing the ends -- defeating terrorism -- with the means -- creating an Arab coalition. And Bush 43 was just slapped in the face for his efforts, as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait publicly reconciled with Saddam Hussein at the Arab summit.

When is Bush going to realize that rewarding terror makes him look weak, which makes it harder, not easier, to accomplish his goals? What Bush needs to realize is that ousting Saddam Hussein, right now, with or without any Arab support, will do far more to win the cooperation of our supposed "allies" than appeasing them will. Diplomats cannot win wars. And this is a war, not a "peace process."

March 31, 2002

Woohoo!

My first InstaPundit link. For anybody visiting for the first time, welcome, and note that I really don't intend to make this an All-Middle East, All-The-Time blog. It's the primary focus of my attention right now, for obvious reasons, but I'd like to get back to domestic politics soon.

Who's running things around here?

A day after backing a U.N. Security Council resolution which was critical of Israel, President Bush put the blame for events on the Palestinians, said that Arafat has to do more, and said that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Palestinian officials had hoped that pressure by Arab nations on the Bush administration would prompt it to restrain Israel. But speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush, who has refused from the beginning of his term even to shake Mr. Arafat's hand, said only that Israel should "make sure there is a path to peace as she secures her homeland."
I have no inside information, but my guess is that this reflects the longstanding State Department/national security split. The U.N. votes are overseen by the diplomats, including Colin Powell, whose first instinct is to smooth things over with our middle eastern "allies." Bush, though, is listening to his national security team - Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Rice - who are a little more pragmatic.

And speaking of media bias...

The New York Times is free, of course, to feel however it wants about the president's middle eastern policy. But shouldn't it keep the blatant editorializing on the editorial page? David Sanger writes a piece about Bush's reaction to the current crisis in Israel:

Breaking a two-day silence on events in the Middle East, Mr. Bush summoned reporters to the gates of his ranch here during a driving rainstorm. He had just received news of yet another deadly bombing, this one in Tel Aviv, he said, and he pointedly made no effort to sound evenhanded about who was to blame for the rising violence.
Whether Bush "sounds evenhanded" is a question for the reader, not for the reporter, to determine. Moreover, Sanger makes clear that he thinks Bush should sound "evenhanded," as opposed, say, to sounding accurate.

Mr. Bush's strong statement went beyond similar comments on Friday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. They were also striking for their clear association of the Palestinian leader with almost daily acts of terrorism, exactly the kind of comments the White House has tried to avoid in recent weeks for fear of further undercutting the chances of resuming peace negotiations.
While it's certainly newsworthy to point out a change in administration strategy, the Times could at least avoid making it sound as if Bush is committing a blunder. Instead, though, they emphasize the point that they don't believe Bush knows what he's doing.
Mr. Bush made a series of other phone calls today to affirm to Arab leaders that he remained committed to the peace process and planned to keep Gen. Anthony C. Zinni in the Middle East in the hope that talks might resume. But administration officials acknowledged that while the president had to keep alive talk of a peace process, his comments were detached from the reality in Jerusalem today. And Mr. Bush, at times drumming his fingers on a conference table, had the demeanor of a man who recognized the limits of his powers of persuasion, and had few illusions that he had the ability to change Mr. Sharon's strategy or Mr. Arafat's use of terror.
What exactly is "the demeanor of a man who recognizes the limits of his powers of persuasion?" I can picture "happy," "confused," or "frightened," but "recognizing the limits of ones powers" is a little too complex for me to imagine.

The article goes on in this vein, making it clear that in David Sanger's view, the formula for peace is for Bush to restrain Ariel Sharon, and disapproving of Bush's decision not to do so. Now, that may or may not be correct, but it seems to go slightly beyond the scope of the news section to determine.

April 1, 2002

Better late than never

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist who helped create the Saudi peace proposal scam, has finally figured out that it's a sham.

Israelis are terrified. And Palestinians, although this strategy has wrecked their society, feel a rising sense of empowerment. They feel they finally have a weapon that creates a balance of power with Israel, and maybe, in their fantasies, can defeat Israel. As Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader, said in The Washington Post, Palestinians have Israelis on the run now because they have found their weak spot. Jews, he said, "love life more than any other people, and they prefer not to die." So Palestinian suicide bombers are ideal for dealing with them. That is really sick.

The world must understand that the Palestinians have not chosen suicide bombing out of "desperation" stemming from the Israeli occupation. That is a huge lie. Why? To begin with, a lot of other people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves. More important, President Clinton offered the Palestinians a peace plan that could have ended their "desperate" occupation, and Yasir Arafat walked away. Still more important, the Palestinians have long had a tactical alternative to suicide: nonviolent resistance, à la Gandhi. A nonviolent Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago, but they have rejected that strategy, too.

The reason the Palestinians have not adopted these alternatives is because they actually want to win their independence in blood and fire. All they can agree on as a community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build. Have you ever heard Mr. Arafat talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer, what sort of constitution he wants? No, because Mr. Arafat is not interested in the content of a Palestinian state, only the contours.

Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice, not out of desperation. This threatens all civilization because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel, then, like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will eventually lead to a bomber strapped with a nuclear device threatening entire nations. That is why the whole world must see this Palestinian suicide strategy defeated.

But how? This kind of terrorism can be curbed only by self-restraint and repudiation by the community itself. No foreign army can stop small groups ready to kill themselves. How do we produce that deterrence among Palestinians? First, Israel needs to deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay. Second, America needs to make clear that suicide bombing is not Israel's problem alone. To that end, the U.S. should declare that while it respects the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no dealings with the Palestinian leadership as long as it tolerates suicide bombings. Further, we should make clear that Arab leaders whose media call suicide bombers "martyrs" aren't welcome in the U.S.

Eloquent, simple, straightforward, and obvious. The only question is, why on earth was this so hard for him to work out before? Was it just because he was in love with the sound of his own cleverness in jumpstarting the Saudi "peace proposal"?

(Well, I shouldn't say that this is "the only question." Another important question is when Europe will figure this out.)

Well, that's rich

Bill Clinton regrets having pardoned Mark Rich. Many people would regret pardoning an indicted tax evader who fled the country to avoid a trial, because, after all, someone should have to face a jury before being absolved of any wrongdoing. But The Man Without Shame doesn't care about any of that. He

regrets a last-minute pardon he gave to fugitive financier Marc Rich because it has tarnished his reputation.
Isn't that a little like causing the Fresh Kills landfill to smell?

Speaking of a stinking mass of garbage, read the whole interview, and try not to retch as Clinton explains that the contributions from Rich's wife were just a coincidence, and that Clinton really did it to advance the mideast peace process (!)

Free speech for me, but not for thee

The New York Times was a key figure in two of the landmark free speech cases in United States history. In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that the freedom to criticize public officials was so important that even mistakes in that criticism didn't justify defamation suits, unless those mistakes were made recklessly or deliberately. And in the Pentagon Papers case, the Court ruled that even claims of dangers to national security couldn't justify prior restraint by the courts -- that is, a judge preventing something from being published. (*)

(*) For all my fellow attorneys out there, I know I'm oversimplifying. The nuances are unimportant here.

Thus, the Times' extremist views on campaign finance censorship are particularly galling. It's not merely their position on the so-called "reform" policy that is so irksome, but their willingness to distort and misrepresent in order to justify the unjustifiable.

Opponents of the law, starting with the National Rifle Association, have rushed into court to argue that it violates the First Amendment. Those arguments should be rejected.
Actually, one would think one should "start with" the American Civil Liberties Union, which is generally identified as being an organization devoted to free speech -- but the Times finds it less satisfying to demonize the ACLU than the NRA, so the misrepresentations begin.
What is being regulated here is not speech but money, and it is being done in ways the Supreme Court has expressly endorsed in its past decisions.
No, what's being regulated here is speech, and the Supreme Court has expressly rejected the idea that such speech can be regulated. In fact, in past decisions, the Supreme Court has held that money is speech. What the Supreme Court has said is that campaign contributions -- that is, money actually given to a candidate -- can be limited. But McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan goes far beyond that, banning many television and radio advertisements by independent parties in the days before an election.
The court has long drawn a distinction between pure issue advocacy, which merits the highest level of First Amendment protection, and campaign ads, the financing of which Congress can regulate to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
Actually, the court has never drawn any such distinction. The Times is -- what's the word? Oh yeah -- lying. What the court has said is that the money spent on a campaign ad which is coordinated with a campaign can be treated as a contribution, and thus regulated. An independent campaign ad, on the other hand, is completely protected free speech, though it may have an impact on an organization's tax-exempt status. All of this is a red herring, though, since McainShaysFeingoldMeehan doesn't limit itself to "campaign ads."
In recent years, special interests have done an end run around contribution and spending rules by running ads in the days leading up to an election that purport to be about an issue but are actually campaign ads intended to help one candidate win. ("Call Congressman Smith," the paradigmatic phony issue ad goes, "and tell him to stop trying to destroy Social Security.")
One would think that if Congressman Smith were trying to destroy Social Security, that this is a very appropriate issue ad to run, particularly right before the election. But not to the Times -- except if you took out a full page ad in The New York Times saying the same thing, in which case they'd take your money happily. The Times, as usual, pretends that the law can, or does, make distinctions between "phony" issue ads and "real" issue ads. In fact, the law simply declares that any ad which mentions a candidate is what the Times would call a "phony" issue ad.
Under the new law, such television ads would fall under the campaign finance limits if they were run within 60 days of an election, or 30 days of a party primary. The law's critics argue that this restriction violates freedom of expression, but they are wrong. Anyone has a right to buy genuine issue ads at any time, and they also have the right, under McCain-Feingold, to spend their quota of campaign donations to finance ads that are intended to help one particular candidate or party. No one is prohibited from speaking.
That's true; they're only prevented from speaking on television or on the radio, and only prevented from speaking about a candidate. If they'd like to talk about the weather, they can do so all day. The Times doesn't think this violates freedom of expression. I would disagree. So would the ACLU.
The only thing the campaign finance reform law prohibits is spending in excess of federal campaign limits to pay for a campaign ad masquerading as something else. The Supreme Court has long recognized that distinction. The McCain-Feingold law simply builds on that reasonable principle and sets out an improved, and updated, definition for when advertising crosses the line.
With that "definition" being "any ad which mentions a candidate." Few would call that "reasonable," unless they stood to profit directly from the law, as the Times does.
Opponents of the reforms protest that in some cases legitimate issue advocacy could be deterred in the final days of an election just because the ads mention the name of a candidate. An example they cite is a recent advertisement that urged House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is up for re-election, to take action on a bill. But it does not unduly burden free expression to require that an ad run in a candidate's district close to Election Day be financed with money that is not illegal under campaign finance law.
The Times here is pulling a bait-and-switch, the equivalent of arguing that it's no big deal to prevent black people from voting because, after all, black people shouldn't be allowed to vote anyway. Since the entire issue is whether the money can be declared "illegal," one can't justify such a declaration by saying that the money is illegal. (Incidentally, the unnamed "opponents" the Times mentions is the ACLU, which used that specific Dennis Hastert example in a press release.)
Besides, bona fide issue ads that mention a specific candidate but are unrelated to a campaign are exceedingly rare in the days leading up to an election, when ad rates are high and everyone's attention is directed at the campaign.
Those not trained as attorneys might squint and twist ones head looking at the Constitution for a "These are exceedingly rare" exception to the first amendment. But the New York Times knows better.

Well, I'd like to run a campaign ad here: call the New York Times, and demand that they stop lying about this law. (If this works, I expect that the TImes will call for the outlawing of Blogger next.)

Quote of the day

From a discussion on Libertarian Samizdata, about the European Union's latest boondoggle, a European global positioning system:

[T]he EU is riven with all the drawbacks of a totalitarian state and none of the advantages.
Does the EU really think that they can government-plan their way back to relevancy?

April 2, 2002

Where are the human rights protesters?

The Guardian reports, in its usual evenhanded fashion, that Palestinians are executing accused "collaborators" en masse. The Guardian at least admits that the treatment of the "collaborators" is brutal, but still manages to blame it on Israel.

Their bodies were dumped in a side street as a gruesome warning to anyone else contemplating spying for Israel against their own people.
Really. Perhaps it's a gruesome warning to anyone else who thinks that the Palestinian Authority is a group that can be dealt with as though it were civilized. And note that to the Guardian, they're not informing on terrorists or criminals, but "spying on their own people."
The police and guards did not try to stop the gunmen, who also belonged to the al-Aqsa martyrs, because they did not want to raise tensions in the city which is surrounded by Israeli tanks, the security sources said.
See? It's not because the so-called "police" are really terrorists. It's all Israel's fault.
The Palestinian attacks on collaborators have been based on well-founded suspicions about the level of penetration by the Israeli intelligence agencies of Palestinian society.

Confessions by arrested collaborators in the last 18 months have revealed the extent of the use of paid informers - often working for no more than a few hundred dollars - who have been recruited either through blackmail after being arrested by the Israelis, or because they were known to have a grudge against key militant figures.

And of course, these "confessions" must be legitimate, because Palestinian "police" wouldn't coerce them. And of course, these people couldn't be working for Israel because they think terrorism is wrong -- it has to be because Israel is blackmailing or bribing them.

At the very end, the Guardian slips in this little factoid:

In the last intifada, from 1987-93, more than 800 suspected collaborators were killed by fellow Palestinians.
I repeat: where are all the protests from human rights groups?

Note to self: learn to write as clearly as this

As usual, Megan McArdle does an excellent job breaking down an issue into straightforward logic. In explaining why Kyoto isn't a good idea, she responds to the suggestion that we consume too much:

Which goes to show that deciding which things we need and which ones are superfluous sounds great – when you’re doing the planning. But they’re not going to just poll Thomas – they’re going to ask the other 270 million people in the country too. And you’d be surprised at how much of the stuff you like the majority might consider superfluous. The internet, for example. Or they might decide that you don’t need the option of not working for 3 years if you lose your job. They might decide that it’s not in society’s best interest to have you taken out of the labor force, what with the looming demographic crisis and all, and seize your “excess” savings. Or they might decide that being single (I’m presuming, from your posts), you’d be more energy efficient in a barracks with other single men, leaving apartments for families who “need” it more. Start imagining all the things that neighbors who don’t particularly like you might find superfluous in your lifestyle, and you begin to see what a world of trouble you might be letting yourself in for by trying to decide what we need and what we don’t.
As always, I say: read the whole thing.

Lovefest

I don't think Susanna Cornett likes David Sanger of the New York Times very much.

SANGER IS AT IT AGAIN: Doesn't this man have a bias-o-meter? On Sunday he wrote a flagrantly biased article about Bush and the response to the bombing at Haifa, which I posted about then. Today, with the collaboration of Michael Gordon, Sanger goes at it again with such outlandish bias that it should be on the editorial page, but isn’t even nominally labeled a “news analysis”. This was so meaty I just had to deconstruct it extensively.

WASHINGTON, April 1 — President Bush, under rising criticism for his handling of the growing violence in the Middle East, expressed frustration today that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has failed to denounce what he called the "constant attacks" of suicide bombers.

Mr. Bush, his voice tinged with resentment during brief comments in the Oval Office this morning, also grew testy about suggestions that he had kept his distance from the conflict. He said those who maintained he was insufficiently engaged "must not have been with me in Crawford when I was on the phone all morning long talking to world leaders."

“Tinged with resentment” and “testy” – who are you, Mr. Sanger, to make those value judgments? Maybe he was just thinking you were stupid. Who are “those who maintain he was insufficiently engaged”? You and the editorial board at the Times?

Sanger is the author of the outrageously biased anti-Bush piece that I discussed a couple of days ago.

Hypocrisy continued

The Washington Post, despite publishing an excellent column the other day by George Will exposing McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan for what it is, joins the ranks of newspapers who see no problem with censoring others who wish to get involved in the election process. Responding to the Will editorial, the Post says:

Mr. Will seems worried that the National Rifle Association might be helpless to respond to a Post editorial.
Note, once again, the reference to the demonized NRA, rather than the more ideologically compatible ACLU, which the editors of the Post would be more uncomfortable silencing.

The worst part is that the Post touts the discriminatory nature of the law as though it were an asset:

It is true that the law treats the press differently from other corporations; the limited restriction McCain-Feingold places on the NRA would not apply to The Post. But this is nothing new.
Oh, so that makes it okay? Picture an editorial which says, "It's true that this law requires blacks to sit at the back of the bus. But this is nothing new." I can't imagine them printing this "argument."
Corporations, after all, have long been banned from direct campaign spending, but the law has also made clear that this restriction does not include spending on "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, [or] magazine." The Supreme Court, ruling on a similar Michigan statute in 1990, upheld the distinction, saying that "the media exception ensures that the Act does not hinder or prevent the institutional press from reporting on, and publishing editorials about, newsworthy events." Importantly, the exemption protects the press only in its role as the press.
See -- it's okay, as far as the Post is concerned, to censor political speech, not in spite of, but because the Post is exempt from that censorship. Most importantly, note that what the Post includes "in its role as the press" is publishing editorials. In other words, the newspaper is free to use so-called unregulated corporate funds to put out an editorial, right before an election, which says, "George Bush is evil, and must be defeated at all costs. We therefore endorse Ralph Nader" But the NRA is not free to buy time on television to put out its own editorial rebutting this Post piece.
But of course a newspaper doesn't have to do that, because a newspaper owns its own soapbox. The Post here also joins the ranks of those who misrepresent the bill by claiming that it only affects ads "supporting or opposing" a particular candidate. But in fact the law bans ads before an election which mention a candidate.

The Post, as well as some other apologists for the campaign finance law, argue that because there are some methods by which the NRA can get around the restrictions, the law is not really censorship and not really unconstitutional. But even if these methods were not extremely restrictive and burdensome, these are exactly the sort of exceptions that later become "loopholes" in the discourse of "reformers." If these methods were not restrictive, there wouldn't be any point to the law. The authors of the law know that. The Post knows that. So the only conceivable explanation for their continued lies is that they know the law will benefit the media at the expense of everyone else.

Following a script

Charles Johnson has a series of Talking Points for Arab Spokesmen:

* First, be sure to "condemn all forms of terror." (Nudge nudge, wink wink.) This is VERY IMPORTANT. It must be the FIRST THING you say. Americans have some kind of silly hangup about this.

* After getting that out of the way, move on to the REALLY IMPORTANT subject: Israeli "terror." Try to avoid using the word "but" in your segue; American interviewers are starting to get sensitive about this. Use the word "occupation" as much as possible.

There are more; check them out, and then watch the news to see how many of them each PLO apologist uses.

April 3, 2002

Alas, poor Hosni

Don't you feel sorry for him? The New York Times wants you to.

After more than 20 years of standing alongside American presidents in building peace in the region, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is feeling undermined by Washington, upstaged by Saudi Arabia and vulnerable before an angry Arab population, officials here say.
Aww. My heart is breaking. Now, remind me exactly what Hosni Mubarak has done for the last twenty years "in building peace"? Last I recall, the United States begged Mubarak to put pressure on Yasir Arafat to go along with the Camp David talks -- and Mubarak refused. The talks collapsed, and here we are. Of course, there's no guarantee that Mubarak could have influenced Arafat, but he didn't even try.
Egypt, an important ally, is the largest recipient of American foreign aid after Israel. One Western diplomat who has been in frequent contact with him says the Egyptian leader fears that with growing numbers of student demonstrators and louder calls for an "Arab response" to Israel's military mobilization, he may be forced to put down the protests violently.
Is there a definition of "ally" of which I am unaware? Why does the Times always seem to think that hostile Arab states that do not cooperate with the U.S. in any aspect of foreign policy are our "allies"?
"They don't want to have to put down their own people," the diplomat said.
They don't? Since when? Has there been a sudden outbreak of freedom and democracy in the Arab world?

You should pity Hosni:

Mr. Mubarak, officials say, is seething over President Bush's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He is working the presidential phone lines to make what a spokesman described as a "forceful" appeal to President Bush to take a more muscular and balanced stance over the violence in the West Bank.
Ah, yes. Mubarak wants the U.S. to take a "more balanced stance." Except that, as the article notes:
Like most Arab leaders, Mr. Mubarak has avoided denouncing in any sustained or forceful manner the Palestinian suicide bombings, which have both fueled Israel's military mobilization and created a convergence between antiterror statements by Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon.
Maybe Mubarak should take a "more balanced stance" if he wants the U.S. to do so.

The Times also includes this howler:

The Arab view that the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians and the cruelties of 50 years of occupation have stirred a virulent new radicalism that will take years to get under control has far less resonance in the Bush administration.
Well, gee -- perhaps that's because if "the Arab view" is that there have been "50 years of occupation," that means they're counting the entire state of Israel -- not just the West Bank and Gaza -- as "occupation." I wonder why that doesn't have "resonance" in the Bush administration.

At least they didn't blame global warming

The New York Times writes a followup to a story about a federal prosecutor who was killed six months ago. Apparently there are no leads. Of course, you couldn't fill a whole article with that, so the Times has to find an angle. So they pick gun control.

There aren't any facts to relate the story to gun control, so the Times uses insinuation. The article starts by describing Mr. Wales as a "prominent advocate of gun control," and then says that "the attack had all the signs of a professional hit." Then we get the obligatory quotes from anti-gun activists:

National gun-control and gun-safety groups are also stepping up calls for progress in the investigation. Mr. Wales, they say, was by far the most prominent gun-control advocate to die from gun violence, and many leaders of those groups fear that his killing may have been tied to that work.

"It's terrifying for anybody working in this field to think there could be a killer out there targeting them," said Matt Bennett, director of public affairs for Americans for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.

And if that doesn't inflame the readers, the Times adds:
He was even singled out in an Internet discussion forum for gun proponents, described as "Tom Wales, yet another arrogant, gun-banning Jew, out in the open, unafraid." (Mr. Wales was not Jewish.)
The Internet forum is the Usenet newsgroup talk.politics.guns, and it is not "for gun proponents," but for a discussion of gun policy, for and against. And one single poster described him that way, but it fits the Times' perspective of gun owners as racist rednecks, so they feel obliged to mention it.

Anyway, after all that, seven paragraphs which set the victim up as a martyr to gun policy, the Times then finally admits that there's no real story there.

There is no firm indication that any opponent of gun control was involved in his death, and many pro-gun groups have expressed great ire at the suggestion. Moreover, Mr. Wales had also prosecuted many people in 18 years here in the United States attorney's office, specializing in fraud and white-collar crime. Investigators have been exhaustively combing over those cases, looking for anyone who could be a suspect.
Yeah, but isn't it far more sexy to insinuate that the killing is the work of a political group the Times hates?

Just brainstorming here

Ariel Sharon is floating the idea of exiling Yasir Arafat from Israel. As expected, Colin Powell is dismissive:

"Sending him into exile will just give him another place from which to conduct the same kinds of activities and give the same messages that he's giving now," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told ABC's "Good Morning America." "So, until he decides that he's going to leave the country, it seems to me we need to work with him where he is."
Sure, Colin. Because that has worked so well so far.

Breaking news: The Berlin Wall is Down

The State Department has apparently just figured out that Israel is a dangerous place to live in or travel to. They've warned Americans in Jerusalem to leave, and issued a travel advisory against visiting Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza. Just in case there were any who hadn't worked this out for themselves by now.

So if we judge the State Department by this standard, Colin Powell ought to figure out that Yasir Arafat is a terrorist by the year 2078 or so. Good luck, Colin. We'll wait for you to catch up.

April 4, 2002

But what about the Eskimos?

The New York Times reports that the New York Fire Department is going to try to recruit more minorities, "addressing a historical problem: its failure to hire enough blacks, Hispanics and women as firefighters." Note that there's no accusation of discriminatory hiring; the mere "failure to hire" them is sufficient to complain about. But the Times notes, disapprovingly:

But some in the department have long resisted any kind of quota, primarily because of a sense that the physical and written tests for firefighters are a form of merit system that should not be eliminated because that could put the safety of firefighters and the public at risk.
The nerve of those racist bastards! Putting safety ahead of diversity! That can't be allowed. But what on earth does the Times mean that there's a "sense" that the tests are "a form of merit system"? Is the Times arguing that they aren't? Might there not also be the "sense" that "any kind of quota" might be constitutionally suspect?

The Times is also upset that the department is going to raise standards, in particular by increasing the educational qualifications required. It will hurt the effort to increase the number of minorities, don't you know:

Sgt. Noel Leader, a co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, criticized the Police Department's current effort to recruit candidates at Ivy League and other elite universities because those places "do not reflect the diversity" of New York City's population.
Yeah, those people are smart. (Okay, except Penn students.) And clearly the goal of the department should be to hire a reflection of the city's diversity. After all, the purpose of a fire department is to be a public relations campaign, right? They don't have some other function, do they?

The shinbone's connected to the kneebone...

William Saletan in Slate explains why the Middle East peace process is a joke:

The Middle East is going to hell. Palestinians are blowing up Israelis. Israelis are shooting Palestinians. What is the United States doing about it? Not much. But don't worry, says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Eventually, the Israelis will pull out of the West Bank, "and Tenet and Mitchell will be waiting for them."

If you don't know what Tenet and Mitchell are, you need a lesson in the three languages of the peace process: Hebrew, Arabic, and bureaucratic bullshit. Officially, Mitchell refers to an April 2001 list of recommendations for conducting peace talks, and Tenet refers to a June 2001 list of security measures each side must take to halt violence so that talks can proceed. Unofficially, Mitchell and Tenet, like Zinni, Oslo, and Madrid, are buzzwords designed to create an impression of progress where none exists.

The theory put forward by Powell, President Bush, the U.N. Security Council, and other peace process exponents is that Zinni will lead to Tenet, which will lead to Mitchell, which will lead to Oslo, which will lead to peace. But the history of the invention of these steps suggests the opposite. Mitchell was created because Oslo failed. Tenet was created because Mitchell failed. Zinni was created because Tenet failed. The peace process is growing ever more complicated not because each stage leads to the next but because it doesn't.

What Mr. Saletan could have added is that the entire concept of a "peace process" is doublespeak. Peace is not a "process." Negotiations are a process. Peace is the result of the process. To speak of the current situation as a "peace process" is to put the cart before the horse. It's a way to pretend that people who are shooting at each other aren't really shooting at each other.

First things first

Michael Ledeen gets it. In the National Review, he writes:

Isn't it amazing how easily policymakers can be deflected from the main mission? Back when we were trying to bring down the Soviet Empire, our diplomats and analysts were forever finding treaties to negotiate, agreements to be reached, embassies, and consulates to open, confidence-building measures to be launched, and peacekeeping units to be dispatched. As if these had anything to do with the price of eggs, if you see what I mean. And yet these epiphenomena ate up enormous chunks of time, when time was at a premium.

So it is with the Middle East. A few years ago when Oslo was in vogue I won quite a number of bets from people who believed that peace was at hand. I took the position that you couldn't have peace without a convincing defeat of one side or the other, and that in any case you couldn't even address the Israel-Palestine issue unless the terror states — Iran, Iraq and Syria — were on board. And they weren't on board.

I don't think those who favor peace are evil; they're well-meaning. They just don't understand that peace is more than the absence of shooting. Talking to dictators can bring about a cease-fire, but it can't bring peace. Peace will come when the dictators are gone, not when they're "engaged" in a "peace process."

True colors

The very sad thing about Middle Eastern politics is not that terrorism against Israel is so vicious, but that people refuse to admit it, even when Palestinians proudly proclaim it.  For instance, Hamas leaders say that "Our spirit is high, our mood is good,"

By their estimation, the organization's two recent attacks — the one at a Seder on Passover night in a Netanya hotel that killed 25 people, and the other in a Haifa cafe that killed 15 — were the most successful they have ever made. That is true partly, Mr. Shanab said, because Hamas is now using weapons-grade explosives instead of home made bombs manufactured using fertilizer, a fact the Israelis have confirmed.

"Forty were killed and 200 injured — in just two operations," another of the leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said with a smile.

Do they sound "desperate" to you? Does it sound as if they acting out of "frustration?" Too many people are operating under the delusion that individual Palestinians get so upset about their mistreatment that they run out and start shooting or bombing -- a sort of Middle Eastern Columbine. But as this article makes clear, these are centrally planned assaults on Israel. Someone gives a specific order to bomb, and provides the material with which to do it. And don't fall for the line that Arafat can't control them. These aren't secret sleeper cells; the leaders of Hamas are widely known.

Moreover, they openly proclaim their goal:

Hamas, the second most popular Palestinian movement, behind Fatah, is directed by a "steering committee," as Dr. Zahar put it, with five principal members. Interviews with four of them — a cleric, an engineer and two medical doctors — showed a leadership unyielding, determined and increasingly confident of achieving their goal, the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state.

...

The goals of Hamas are straightforward. As Sheik Yassin put it, "our equation does not focus on a cease-fire; our equation focuses on an end to the occupation." By that he means an end to the Jewish occupation of historical Palestine.

Hamas wants Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza, the dismantling of all Israeli settlements and full right of return for the four million Palestinians who live in other states. After that, the Jews could remain, living "in an Islamic state with Islamic law," Dr. Zahar said. "From our ideological point of view, it is not allowed to recognize that Israel controls one square meter of historic Palestine."

Mr. Shenab insisted that he was not joking when he said, "There are a lot of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews."

And people want Israel to negotiate with these thugs? They think that the problem is Ariel Sharon? They think the problem is the "occupation?" I'm really reluctant to resort to Nazi analogies, but sometimes they become so overwhelming that you just can't ignore them. When someone openly proclaims his ultimate goal is your elimination, pretending that he has legitimate grievances that can be negotiated away is suicide, not statesmanship. This is Neville Chamberlain all over again -- the idea that if we just give them what they ask for, they'll settle down and stop menacing us, and we can all live happily ever after. But this time, when it goes horribly wrong, nobody can shrug and say, "But we didn't know what he intended."

What the heck is he thinking?

After showing strength for a week, Bush reverses himself in the face of European whining, agreeing to send Colin Powell to Israel and asking Israel to withdraw from the so-called Occupied Territories. Bush did harshly criticize Arafat, saying "The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He has missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of his people," but then he rewarded Arafat by interfering with Israel's efforts to root out terrorists.

The most charitable interpretation of events is that Bush is publicly giving Arafat something -- Powell's visit -- so that Arafat can save face, and then in private Powell is going to deliver an ultimatum to Arafat. But Bush really doesn't have anything to offer Arafat, except the threat that he'll let Israel finish what it started. But Arafat has already seen that escalating the violence can create pressure on Israel. The problem with bluffing is: what if someone calls your bluff? The Arabs have already snubbed George Mitchell, George Tennet, Anthony Zinni, and Dick Cheney. What happens when they don't give Colin Powell the assurances that Bush wants? Or what happens if they do, and then a day later go back on their word? Does Bush finally admit his double standard, the one which insists that Israel act differently towards Arafat than Bush acted towards Bin Laden? Or does he join with the Europeans in selling out Israel?

Mean ol' Israel forces Lebanese peace activists to beat up U.N. peacekeepers

Everything else is the fault of Ariel Sharon, so why not this, from the AP:

Three unarmed U.N. observers and two armed peacekeepers were injured in scuffles with Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon Thursday, the U.N. peacekeeping force commander said.
I'm sure there's some way we can blame Israel. Perhaps Hezbollah was so upset by the battles in Bethlehem that they couldn't control themselves and had to release their anger on the U.N.
The scuffle with Hezbollah forces broke out after an unarmed U.N. observer patrol reached the village of Mari, near the disputed Chebaa Farms area.

The observers - from Ireland, Norway and France - were confronted by Hezbollah gunmen who would not let them pass, a U.N. observer force officer said on condition of anonymity. An argument broke out, resulting in the gunmen beating up the observers.

A separate U.N. peacekeeping patrol - manned by armed Indian officers - was nearby at the time and intervened in the scuffle. This sparked a fist fight in which two Indians were hurt. Two U.N. vehicles were also damaged.

Kofi Anan "strongly condemned" the attack. And Hezbollah promised, cross their hearts and hope to die, that they wouldn't do it again. Oh good. But this is the priceless part (with emphasis added):
Col. Amol Astana, commander of the Indian peacekeeping contingent, said the patrol and the observers were confronted by eight to 10 armed Hezbollah members. Astana said his forces did not respond because their role is to act as peacekeepers. They reported the scuffle to Lebanese authorities.
This is the logic of the United Nations. A fight breaks out -- so the "role" of peacekeepers is to run and hide, as far from the fight as possible. These are the people Israelis are supposed to rely upon to protect them once there's a Palestinian state?

April 5, 2002

Didn't I just say that?

Mickey Kaus, in Slate, analyzes the campaign finance "reform" bill, including the editorial coverage in the Washington Post and New York Times, and comes to the same conclusion I did: McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan is unconstitutional, and the Times and Post are being two-faced in their support of this law. Kaus looks at the role played by Paul Wellstone in passing the most egregiously unconstitutional part of the law:

Then along came Paul Wellstone, the Senate's most liberal member. Wellstone saw McCain-Feingold's protection of "advocacy" groups as a "loophole" allowing "special interests" to run last-minute election ads. (Since corporate and union money was already banished in the bill, Wellstone was presumably worried mainly about money from rich individuals.) Last year, Wellstone pushed an amendment to extend McCain Feingold's ban on last-minute ads to non-profits like "the NRA, the Sierra Club, the Christian Coalition, and others." Under the Wellstone Amendment, these organizations could only advertise using money raised under strict "hard money" limits—no more than $5,000 per individual. So if you wanted to give the Sierra Club $6,000 to denounce some environment-raping legislator, you'd be out of luck.
We can only hope the Supreme Court sees this as clearly.

Hey, it's just like the real United Nations

That Arab nations are anti-Israel is news to absolutely nobody. But the extent of their hatred for Israel, how far they're willing to go, would shock many. Damian Penny reports on a story from Bahrain, where a Model United Nations program condemned the American ambassador to Bahrain for asking for a moment of silence for Israeli civilians killed, after the delegates had already had a moment for the Palestinian dead.

Al Hekma International Model School student Hanan Al Mawla was angry. "I would have never expected that a day will come in this Arab Muslim country where we will be asked to show support for the Israeli citizens, who are killing the Palestinians on a daily basis."
Note: Israeli citizens, not Israel. As Damian notes:
I'm just stunned. As soon as I saw this, I wanted to smash something. This is absolutely unbelievable. Honest to God, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?!?

The message is clear: as far as the people of Bahrain are concerned, there is no such thing as an innocent Israeli. The death of an Israeli citizen, even a child, is something to be ignored, if not celebrated. This is just sick.

But after fifty years of being told by their leaders that Israel is illegitimate, after being forbidden to even hear other views, what would one expect?

Nothing up my sleeve...

Steven Den Beste discusses diversionary tactics in war, noting that these are exactly what Saddam Hussein is using.

Right now, Iraq is trying to do that kind of thing to us. Rightfully fearing a straightforward military campaign by the US to conquer Iraq, the Iraqi government is trying to stir up enough trouble elsewhere to distract us and prevent us making the attempt. The most fruitful result of that has been from Iraq's overt and covert investment in the Palestinian Intifada; it's been extremely cost effective. Their hope is that continuing conflict in Israel will force us to postpone our attack on Iraq by waiting until peace has been imposed on the area. If they can manage to prevent that, they have the possibility of deferring our attack indefinitely.

Unfortunately, Tony Blair has fallen for it. He is reportedly going to ask Bush to postpone any operations against Iraq until the situation in Israel has stabilized.

And that's exactly why I've been saying we need to go after Hussein now, rather than later. The people who really have no enthusiasm for going after Iraq at all are setting up an impossible condition: solve Israeli/Palestinian conflicts first. But that's backwards; when Hussein is gone, the Palestinians, and the other Arab nations, will be much more willing to make peace with Israel.

What he said

I wanted to take down the latest idiocy from Mary McGrory, but Juan Gato got there first. A sample:

He did no such thing. Nobody knows exactly what Arafat wants -- it sure isn't peace -- but he wants above all to bait the brute Ariel Sharon. When he was interviewed in his bunker by cell phone and flashlight, Arafat told the Arabic-language al-Jazeera, "I want to be a martyr, martyr, martyr, martyr." His apologists say that shared death is the only thing he can proffer to the young, who have no homes, jobs or hopes.

Mary..."Nobody knows what Arafat wants"? He wants Israel destroyed! Pay attention here.

But if Arafat is not helping with deranged and despairing Palestinian teenagers, who blew up Jews at their Seder, what reason does anyone have for thinking Sharon's way will work any better?

I have composed a haiku to make her tired point more interesting:

Ariel is bad
Sharon equals terrorist
blah, blah, f-ing blah

Yes, Mary, they are all equally bad. Sure thing.

And Europe wonders why it's irrelevant?

I don't generally link to Glenn Reynolds, because I figure anyone who reads this page also reads him, but I have to, here. He reports that the Nobel Prize Committee has finally started questioning that 1994 Nobel Peace Prize that was given for the Oslo accords. But not Arafat's prize! Rather, these jackasses are questioning Shimon Peres' prize.

April 6, 2002

On Thursday, George Bush made

On Thursday, George Bush made a major speech on the Israeli/Palestinian war, exciting those who felt that Bush "needed to do more" and annoying those who felt that Bush was appeasing terrorists. Everyone agreed, though, that this was a significant speech, signalling a change in direction for the United States. Everyone except Robert Fisk, that is. To Robert Fisk, there's no question of "balance." He doesn't think that Bush needs to condemn Israel as well as the Palestinians; he thinks that Bush should only be condemning Israel.

Ariel Sharon could not have done better. The heaping of blame upon an occupied people, the obsessive use of the word terror – by my rough count there were 50 references in just 10 minutes – and the brief, frightened remarks about "occupation" and (one mention only) to Jewish settlements and the need for Israeli "compassion" at the end were proof enough that President Bush had totally failed to understand the tragedy he is supposedly trying to solve.

The mugger became the victim and the victim became the mugger.

That's how I feel every time I read a Fisk piece -- like I've been mugged. It's as if he thinks the history of Israel starts in 1967, that Jews landed an expeditionary force on the shores of Haifa that year and conquered the country of Palestine, enslaving its people.
But of course, the White House, which according to the Israeli press has repeatedly been asking Mr Sharon how long he intends to reoccupy the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, is to give the Israeli Prime Minister more time to finish his invasion, destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and dismantle the Palestinian Authority.
Bingo! That's what Israel is trying to do -- destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and dismantle the Palestinian Authority. I'm not sure why Fisk thinks this is a bad thing -- except, of course, that he writes as if he's on Yasir Arafat's payroll.
The speech was laced with all the "war on terror'' obsessions: Iraq as a sponsor of terror for donating money to a family of Palestinian "martyrs'', and Syria for not making up its mind if it is "for or against terror''.
What the hell is up with Bush, being "obsessed" with terror? If he were only like a less "simplistic" European leader, who had the time to regulate the lumpiness of vegetable sauce.
The Palestinian suicide bombings, however, were the core of Mr Bush's address. He talked of the 18-year-old Palestinian girl who blew herself up and killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the Jewish state's "dream'' of peace with its neighbours. "Terror must be stopped ... no nation can negotiate with terrorists ... leaderships not terror ... you're either with the civilised world or you're with the terrorists ... all in the Middle East ... must move in word and deed against terrorists ... I call on the Palestinian Authority to do everything in their power to stop terrorist activities.'' Arafat had agreed to control "terrorism'' – "he failed'.' The reoccupation of the West Bank was a "temporary measure'', Mr Bush announced, trusting the word of the Israeli occupiers. "Suicide bombing missions could well blow up the only hope of a Palestinian state.''
A few years ago, there was a Japanese cartoon that induced epileptic seizures in viewers through flashing lights. Fisk appears to have the same problem with the word "terror." Bush uses it, Fisk has a fit.

By the way, Fisk mentions "the reoccupation of the West Bank." Does that mean he's conceding that it wasn't occupied before the recent Israeli moves?

Only a heart of stone could not respond to the suffering of those Israeli families whose loved ones have been so wickedly cut down by the Palestinian suicide bombers. But where was Mr Bush's compassion for the vastly greater number of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israelis over the past 19 months, or his condemnation of Israel's death squads, house demolition and land theft? They simply didn't exist in the Bush speech.
So Fisk joins the "but"-head community: killing Israelis is bad, but there's an occupation. Killing Israelis is bad, but what about suffering Palestinians? And the Fisks of the world love the moral equivalence of totalling the number killed, rather than looking at the reasons why they were killed.

The money for "martyrs" does not, of course, only go to the kin of suicide bombers – it goes to families of all those killed by Israelis, most of whom have been struck down by American-made weapons. Certainly, America has never offered to make reparations for the innocents killed by the air-to-ground missiles and shells it has sold to Israel.
Oh, it doesn't go only to the kin of suicide bombers. It also goes to the kin of suicide gunmen. Well, that makes it okay, then. Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Fisk.

Wet is dry, black is white, and mandatory is voluntary

The New York Times is upset because the Bush administration has announced its new "ergonomic" policy for workplace safety, and that policy is voluntary. You can tell the Times is upset, because they lead their coverage not with the justification for the policy, but with the criticism:

Democratic lawmakers and union leaders were quick to attack the new policy, calling it toothless and far weaker than the Clinton administration regulations that a Republican-dominated Congress repealed 13 months ago, with President Bush's encouragement.

Business groups, on the other hand, were mostly pleased. They had vigorously fought against mandatory ergonomic measures, contending that they could cost American companies $100 billion or more.

Note that the Times doesn't mention the jobs that will be lost; only the money. That way they can frame it as injured workers vs. greedy corporations. But then they add this puzzling statement:
At a news conference at the Labor Department, Mr. Henshaw promised to put some teeth behind the voluntary guidelines, warning that OSHA would bring enforcement actions against industries that had high injury rates and took few steps to reduce them. He declined to identify the industries that government safety officials might focus on, saying only that the government would concentrate on industries with the highest rates of injuries.
Huh? "Teeth" behind "voluntary" guidelines? "Enforcement actions"? To paraphrase Sesame Street: one of these words is not like the others. And knowing that government only gets bigger, never smaller (no matter who's in charge), I can guess which word will turn out to be applicable. After all, whatever the ideology of the Bush administration, regulators themselves only have jobs if they have regulations to enforce.

Still, the Times has to give voice to the usual suspects to complain, from union lobbyists to Teddy Kennedy:

"Once again, the administration handed a win to big business at the expense of millions of average workers — especially women — who risk workplace injuries every single day," Mr. Kennedy said. "Today's announcement rejects substantive protections for America's workers in favor of small symbolic gestures."
See, the administration isn't just being anti-worker; they're also anti-women. The Times doesn't challenge this -- of course -- and it's not clear to me that Kennedy isn't just pulling it out of thin air. More importantly, the Times never begins to address the notion that there's any argument against such regulations except money. You're either pro-regulation or you're anti-worker, in the Times' worldview There's simply no acknowledgement that increasing business costs can cost jobs, which obviously hurts workers. Of course, one could argue that the tradeoff is worth it -- but the Times doesn't even try. (Let alone the thought of broaching the idea that workers should decide on their own whether the tradeoff is worth it.)

Hey, Dad? I've got some good news for you,...

An Italian court has ruled that parents have to provide child support, even if their "children" are adults, rich, and highly educated. This case involved a 30-year old lawyer with a several hundred thousand dollar trust fund who had turned down job offers that didn't interest him. But that didn't matter to the court:

The judges said a parent's duty of maintenance did not expire when their children reached adulthood, but continued unchanged until they were able to prove either that their children had reached economic independence or had failed to do so through culpable inertia. An adult son who refused work that did not reflect his training, abilities and personal interests could not be held to blame.

"You cannot blame a young person, particularly from a well-off family, who refuses a job that does not fit his aspirations," the judges said.

I can't? Why not? What do his "aspirations" have to do with anything?
Commentators warned the decision could depress Italy's already low birth rate and discourage people from leaving home, getting married and having children.
Did anybody warn that the decision is simply insane?
Not everyone saw the ruling as a loafer's charter, however. "The verdict is innovative because of its precision," said lawyer Cesare Rimini. "The time limit must be reasonable, as must the aspirations of the young person."
Oh. Well, I take it back. That is precise. I bet it won't lead to further litigation. And people wonder why the European economies continue to stagnate.

But what's instructive is that all the news coverage of this ruling, including the people (for and against) chosen by the media to be quoted, focuses on the wisdom of this ruling as social policy. The idea that it's just wrong to be confiscating property from adults to be given to other, able bodied, adults is never even broached.

April 7, 2002

I vote neigh

Shenanigans in Massachusetts: organizers of a ballot initiative drive to ban horse-slaughtering claim that their supporters were tricked into signing a petition against gay marriage. Of course, there are similarities between the two: both involve banning activities because of the "Ugh" factor, rather than for any real reason.

April 8, 2002

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to

How do you define terrorism? Well, if you're William Raspberry, you don't bother. You just declare yourself confused, everyone bad, wash your hands of the whole thing, and go have dinner.

Here's where I get in trouble: Does it make sense to see the crisis in the Middle East as primarily the work of Palestinian terrorists driven by anti-Israeli hatred?
Uh, yes? Is this a trick question? Actually, I shouldn't be flip; it's far more than that. It's primarily the work of Arab regimes driven by anti-Western hatred, of which anti-Semitism (let's call it what it is) is only part. Saddam Hussein isn't paying terrorists because he hates Israel; he's paying terrorists because it distracts the United States from going after him, and because it distracts the people of Iraq from going after him.
I certainly do not intend to praise the Palestinian suicide bombers who were, for a while during Passover, blowing themselves up on a daily basis. But to think of them as violence-prone cowards -- even to call them terrorists -- is to miss the most salient fact of their behavior: utter desperation.
Haven't we gotten past this silliness by now? As Jonah Goldberg noted, it's brainwashing, not hopelessness, that describes these bombers. Raspberry continues:
I don't dispute that the suicide bombings constitute terrorism (even while the United Nations struggles to define the term). A good-enough working definition is violence, particularly against civilians and innocents, in furtherance of political ends.

But isn't it reasonable to examine those political ends? Isn't it reasonable also to ask what moral distinctions there are between what the suicide bombers (and those who dispatch them) are doing and what the Israeli forces have been doing?

No, it's not "reasonable to examine those political ends." Not as long as the terrorist attacks continue, it isn't. Otherwise, you're rewarding terrorism, and thus encouraging future terrorism. And as for your second question, if you have to ask, Mr. Raspberry, the answer is beyond you.
President Bush has described the latter as justified in retaliating for the suicide bombings. Those who see the suicide bombers as heroes naturally view their actions as retaliation for the latest humiliation visited upon them by the Israelis. What seems obvious to me is that every act of violence, by both sides, is both aggression and retaliation -- and that it does no good to try to separate one from the other. One might just as well hope to settle claims on the land variously called Israel and Palestine by hiring a title-search company to look it up.
Sure. Why bother making moral distinctions? That might involve thought. It's so much easier to throw up your hands and declare policeman and criminal, England and Germany, Sharon and Arafat to be exactly the same. By the way, Sharon's actions are not "retaliation" for the suicide bombings. They're an attempt to stop future suicide bombings by getting the people responsible.
Just as Sept. 11 has changed the way we think of our security, so should the wave of suicide bombers change the way Israelis think of theirs. What's the point in making clear to those who would attack you that they do so at peril of their lives if they knowingly do so by giving their lives?
This is the fuzzy thinking that comes from the belief that Palestinians are acting because they're "desperate," instead of understanding that this is part of a coherent strategy. You don't see Yasir Arafat strapping bombs to his own chest, do you? The point, Mr. Raspberry, is to make it clear to the people directing the suicide bombers that these actions will cost them their lives. Yasir Arafat may publicly proclaim his desire to be a martyr, but he sure doesn't seem to be in any big hurry to die -- at the same time he was saying he was willing to be killed, he was begging for help from world leaders.
Are they terrorists? Certainly. But is Israeli President Ariel Sharon any less a terrorist because he does his thing through a uniformed military, with tanks and machine guns? There's terror -- and intransigence and duplicity -- on both sides, and precious little value in trying to determine which side owns the preponderance of guilt.
Well, no. He's any less a terrorist because he doesn't deliberately blow up pizzerias and discos and supermarkets. How on earth did Raspberry get so confused that he thought the weapons, rather than the targets, determined whether it was terrorism?
Or the preponderance of virtue, for that matter. Much is made of the concessions the Israelis offered -- and that the Palestinians (in the person of Yasser Arafat) rejected about 18 months ago. And hardly anything is made, in the United States, at least, of the Palestinians' earlier concessions -- particularly of Israel's right to exist within secure borders and the abandonment of the Israel-is-Palestine contention in favor of a Palestinian state made up of only the West Bank and Gaza.
Perhaps because those of us who are paying attention don't believe that any such concessions have been made? Perhaps we've been listening to Hamas when they've told us that they don't support any "two-state solution"? Perhaps we were paying attention as Yasir Arafat walked out at Camp David? Perhaps we've seen Arafat's refusal to stop terrorist attacks?
But, as I say, there's not much point in reviewing the bidding now. What strikes me as essential is the recognition by each side of what the other side requires and a search for ways these requirements can be had without unacceptable peril.
Great! Got any suggestions for us? No, of course you don't.
For a long time, it seems to me, Israel preferred a stable strife to what it considered unpalatable concessions. The intifada, at first, and the suicide bombers now seem calculated to force serious negotiations and concessions by rendering the status quo intolerable.

Why is it so much easier for us in America to see Sharon's actions as in Israel's legitimate interest than to see the suicide bombers' as serving theirs?

Because the suicide bombers' "interest" is in killing Israelis. And by the way, how awful of Israel to consider the death of all its citizens to be "unpalatable."

This is one of the most muddled arguments I've read in a long time; at least the Europeans know what they want, even if it's wrong. Raspberry seems to have just turned on his television, seen a bunch of people getting killed, and decided it was too much trouble to figure out what was happening. But "a pox on both your houses" is literature, not foreign policy.

There must have been a Wal-Mart opening to oppose...

When Israel kills Palestinians, Israel gets denounced. (Of course, when Palestinians kill Israelis, Israel also gets denounced.) When the U.S. announces it will try Al Qaeda members in military tribunals, the U.S. gets denounced. So you'd think that Palestinians secretly sentencing other Palestinians to death would be major news, sparking international protests. But if it is, I've missed it. And it's not because the story is too new:

Killings of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel have become almost a daily occurrence as the fighting with Israel has intensified in recent weeks. Last week, Palestinian militants killed 10 Palestinians on one day for allegedly cooperating with Israel. In the West Bank city of Ramallah last month, the corpse of an accused collaborator was strung up from a monument in the center of town.
So where are the human rights protestors? Where are the "human shields" to protect these people? Why isn't the European Union threatening sanctions against the Palestinian Authority for this? Why isn't the United Nations passing resolutions condemning the Palestinians?

Can we try this for Yasir Arafat?

File this tidbit from the Baltimore Sun under Big Time Oops:

Correction


Originally published April 2, 2002

An obituary in Saturday's editions of The Sun reported the death of Ralph D. Chester of Millers Island. Mr. Chester is not dead.

Mr. Chester was reported to have died by a family member, who called The Sun to provide material for the obituary. The Sun later determined that the family member who called has been estranged from Mr. Chester for several years.

The Sun regrets the error.

I don't remember my criminal law class very well; is it legal to kill someone if the newspaper has already reported that he's dead?

Required reading

Did I ever mention that I love Mark Steyn? Not only does he see the Middle Eastern situation more clearly than more prestigious columnists like Tom Friedman, but he manages to avoid Friedman's pompous ignore-what-your-eyes-tell-you-because-I'm-an-expert approach to commenting on the situation. In describing the results of Dick Cheney's failed field trip through the Mideast:

Aside from the grim body-count, the whole period was a deranged exercise in unrealpolitik, with all parties negotiating fictions. The vice-president wanted Saudi Arabia to pretend to be his friend, the Arab League to pretend that the peace plan is for real, Ariel Sharon to pretend that Yasser Arafat is cracking down on terrorism, and Arafat to pretend that he wants to crack down on terrorism. Why? What’s the point? Where’s it get you? The only consolation is that Saddam’s rapprochements with his neighbours are also illusory. The Arab armies make Belgium look butch: when the Marines go into Iraq, they won’t be running into any Egyptian or Syrian units. Nor is it worth fretting over Saddam’s call to use the oil supply as a weapon: right now, those guys need to sell the stuff more than the West needs to buy it. On the other hand, if the old monster’s wheeze was to postpone the US invasion by whipping up the West Bank into full-scale war, everything’s going to plan.
And on the futility of negotiations:
That’s not how the rest of the world sees it, of course, no matter how many suicide-bomber belts and printing plates in assorted currencies are stacked in the counterfeit king’s corridors of power. The UN has long treated Arafat as the leader of a sovereign nation, as if to underline his inevitability: he’s already a head of state; all he needs is for those ‘intransigent’ Israelis to give him a state to be head of. The Australians and Canadians still deplore the violence ‘on both sides’, but the EU has pretty much given up on Israel: the famously ‘shitty little country’ is more trouble than it’s worth. Even in America, the airwaves are clogged with experts urging a withdrawal by Israel, as that will encourage Arafat to get ‘Oslo’ back on track, not to mention ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mitchell’, as if this Beltway-speak means anything when you’re all wired up and ready to blow.
It’s very difficult to negotiate a ‘two-state solution’ when one side sees the two-state solution as an intermediate stage to a one-state solution: ending the ‘Israeli occupation’ of the West Bank is a tactical prelude to ending the Israeli occupation of Israel. The divide among the Palestinians isn’t between those who want to make peace with Israel and those who want to destroy her, but between those who want to destroy Israel one suicide bomb at a time and those who want to destroy her through artful ‘peace processes’. Ayat Mohammed al-Akhras, the straight-A high-school student who blew herself up in a supermarket last week, devoted her farewell video to castigating the Arab League big shots for pussying around with peace plans and leaving the real work to Palestinian schoolgirl bombers. Her view would appear, from the polls, to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority. It’s useless to pretend there’s anything to negotiate.
Tom Friedman should be sentenced to read Mark Steyn 100 times, and summarize Steyn's observations in his own words. Only then should he be allowed to comment on the situation.

April 9, 2002

Much ado about who gives a damn?

ABC has announced that Nightline will stay on the air for two more years, in its current timeslot. Yawn. Does it really matter anymore? I was a big fan and regular watcher of Nightline years ago, but in an age when I can turn on at least 4 different channels and get news 24 hours a day -- including satellite interviews with people from around the world, Nightline just isn't all that exciting. I still think Ted Koppel is a better interviewer, and a more serious journalist, than the "personalities" which infest television news today. But it's a half-hour show, which means 22 minutes of broadcasting. It's just not that significant.

Good enough for you?

Israel has begun pulling its forces out of two West Bank towns. Does anybody think that this will satisfy anybody? Certainly not the Palestinians, who have finally admitted what we've always known -- that the so-called "peace process" is dead:

Yasir Abed Rabbo, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said: "Sharon will not find local leaders who will be quislings for him. He has destroyed any future possibility of peace talks even before Secretary Powell arrives." In a written statement approved by Mr. Arafat, the Palestinian leadership said, "The Israeli prime minister has, de facto, declared the end of the peace agreements signed between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
Well, this trip by Powell is sure to be productive. I just hope Bush has a fallback plan.

Maybe there are reasons not to shop at Amazon

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that both the federal and Colorado constitutions limit the powers of law enforcement to obtain bookstore records. The ruling wasn't, as some news outlets erroneously reported, that bookstore records must remain anonymous; the court merely held that law-enforcement must demonstrate a compelling government need for the records, and that the bookstore is entitled to a hearing before turning over the records. It applies only in Colorado, unfortunately.

This ruling provides an interesting contrast to last fall's USA Patriot Act, which (among many other things) explicitly empowers the FBI to obtain records from bookstores and libraries. Is this new ruling a sign that hysteria over the 9/11 tragedy -- the hysteria which led Congress to rush to enact the USA Patriot Act into law with minimal debate -- has evaporated? Let's hope so. I certainly don't want Americans to become complacent about dealing with Islamofascist terrorism, but I do hope it shows that Americans are realizing that restricting our own civil liberties isn't the answer.

Pay attention, please

The New York Times is annoyed at Ariel Sharon because he won't buy into their vision of Middle East peace, and because he's putting the interests of Israel ahead of those of President Bush.

It is increasingly clear that the costs to broader Israeli interests far outweigh whatever short-term security benefits this military operation may be yielding. Mr. Sharon's actions may be netting some terrorists and some of the terrible tools they employ, but they are inflaming the fury of thousands more Palestinians and millions of Arabs whose governments are being asked by Mr. Bush to press for more responsible Palestinian leadership. The prestige of the United States is on the line in an effort to help Israel, and the Israeli government is doing nothing to make the job easier.
An effort to help Israel? I don't think so. It's an effort to help the United States line up Arab support to attack Iraq. As for the Times' delusion that all was peaceful and copacetic in the region for Israel before the "invasion," little need be said.
The military operations, Israel's largest in the West Bank since it first occupied the area nearly 35 years ago, came in response to the attack by a suicide bomber on a Passover Seder in Netanya last month. Israel's declared objective is to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, but Mr. Sharon has also targeted leaders and offices of the Palestinian Authority.
What do you mean "but" and "also?" The Palestinian Authority is the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. Why does the Times persist in acting as if attacks on Israel were the work of "lone gunmen" who had suddenly snapped and attacked Israel? As the documents seized by Israel from Arafat's headquarters show, the attacks were planned and financed by the Palestinian "leadership."

More to the point, why does everyone get collective amnesia whenever they discuss Israel's actions? The wave of terrorist attacks on Israel were the reason for, not the result of, the Israeli "invasion" of the West Bank. Israel's "invasion" is not "inflaming" Palestinians; they were already inflamed. Israel's "invasion" is not "inflaming" the Arab world and preventing Arab states from cooperating in American peace efforts; the Arab world's refusal to condemn even the Netanya Pesach attack predates the Israeli "invasion" of the West Bank. We're not talking about full-fledged peace here, but the minimum standard of human decency and civilized behavior. If you can't condemn a murderous terrorist attack on a seder, you're not a potential ally or partner for peace. And nothing Israel does can change that.

Everything you thought you knew... is wrong

Who is responsible for attacking several public figures with anthrax last year? We had the "terrorists did it" theory. We had the "Iraq did it" theory. We had the "rogue American scientists did it" theory. And now the Washington Post reports that everyone is baffled because the anthrax "recipe" used was very different than any known source of anthrax, domestic or foreign. The FBI is apparently sticking with the "domestic nutcase" theory, but that's complicated by the fact that the anthrax sample sent to Senator Leahy was ground more finely than even U.S. government laboratories had ever managed, which seems to point to someone with more resources than a single individual. This story isn't over yet.

And if that doesn't work, we'll hold our breaths until we turn blue

It would be funny, if it weren't sad. The European Union -- the same group that just gave $44 million to Yasir Arafat last week is now threatening trade sanctions against Israel if they don't pull out of the West Bank immediately.

"The Israeli military operation must be halted, not in stages, not town by town. It must stop, and stop immediately," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the parliament.

He argued that Israel was jeopardizing its own security because the destruction of the Palestinian Authority could leave no one to implement a peace plan negotiated last year by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet.

Hello! Is anybody home in Europe! There is no peace plan! Nobody is implementing anything. Arafat doesn't want peace! Hello!

But, see, this time it will be different. Because now Arafat will eagerly talk to Powell to work with Zinni to sign on to Tenet which will lead to Mitchell and then, sometime around when Ralph Nader becomes president of the U.S., we'll be back to Oslo.

April 10, 2002

Let's wait for the European Union to denounce this

Well, the Israeli offensive brought them more than a week of safety, but now the Palestinians have struck back, courageously blowing up a bus filled with commuters, killing at least 8 and wounding more than a dozen others. I'm sure, in some way, this is all Israel's fault -- because, after all, these sorts of things didn't happen before last week, when the Israeli "invasion" began.

Sure, just pick on the attorneys

Although in this case, it might be justified. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced on Monday that four associates of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman's have been indicted for passing messages to Rahman's terrorist organization in Egypt. At least three of the people indicted worked on Rahman's defense team during previous terrorism trials in New York, including his attorney, Lynne Stewart.

The facts of the case shouldn't be too difficult to establish; a few years ago, it was openly noted in the Egyptian media that this was going on:

Last Thursday, the spiritual leader of the militant Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, affirmed from his US prison that he has withdrawn his support for the group's unilaterally declared truce. However, the statement was not exactly a call to revive the armed struggle against the government. Abdel-Rahman said he would leave the final verdict on the fate of the cease-fire to the Gama'a leadership in Egypt. Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence for conspiring to blow up the World Trade Centre in New York.

[...]

Originally, Abdel-Rahman had formally declared his support for the cease-fire. However, on 14 June Abdel-Rahman through his American lawyer, Lynne Stewart, stated that he had withdrawn his support because he believed the government had failed to reciprocate. This statement left Gama'a leaders divided on whether Abdel-Rahman was actually advocating a new wave of violence or merely calling for a re-evaluation of political strategy.

Still, it's a troubling case. It's built on wiretaps of conversations between attorney and client, and could give ammunition to Ashcroft's attempt to limit attorney-client privilege in alleged terrorism cases. It's a dangerous precedent, even if Ashcroft insists that this effort will be limited to terrorism cases.

Stewart, incidentally, has a rather, uh, interesting career, hanging out with the likes of nutcase Ramsey Clark. She has built a practice on defending the radical and unpopular, including mobster Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, Rahman, Larry Davis (an accused drug dealer who shot several members of the NYPD who came to his apartment to arrest him, claiming (successfully) self defense, and members of the "Ohio 7," a domestic terrorist group responsible for the murder of a New Jersey police officer, She also pled guilty once before to contempt charges for refusing to disclose the source of her fees in a drug case.

Plus, they all talk funny over there

Everyone else has probably already linked to this, but it's such a good piece that I felt the need to do so, too. David Brooks explains why they hate us, where "they" is Europe and the Arabs, and "us" is the United States and Israel.

AROUND 1830, a group of French artists and intellectuals looked around and noticed that people who were their spiritual inferiors were running the world. Suddenly a large crowd of merchants, managers, and traders were making lots of money, living in the big houses, and holding the key posts. They had none of the high style of the aristocracy, or even the earthy integrity of the peasants. Instead, they were gross. They were vulgar materialists, shallow conformists, and self-absorbed philistines, who half the time failed even to acknowledge their moral and spiritual inferiority to the artists and intellectuals. What's more, it was their very mediocrity that accounted for their success. Through some screw-up in the great scheme of the universe, their narrow-minded greed had brought them vast wealth, unstoppable power, and growing social prestige.

Naturally, the artists and intellectuals were outraged. Hatred of the bourgeoisie became the official emotion of the French intelligentsia. Stendhal said traders and merchants made him want to "weep and vomit at the same time." Flaubert thought they were "plodding and avaricious." Hatred of the bourgeoisie, he wrote, "is the beginning of all virtue." He signed his letters "Bourgeoisophobus" to show how much he despised "stupid grocers and their ilk."

Of all the great creeds of the 19th century, pretty much the only one still thriving is this one, bourgeoisophobia. Marxism is dead. Freudianism is dead. Social Darwinism is dead, along with all those theories about racial purity that grew up around it. But the emotions and reactions that Flaubert, Stendhal, and all the others articulated in the 1830s are still with us, bigger than ever. In fact, bourgeoisophobia, which has flowered variously and spread to places as diverse as Baghdad, Ramallah, and Beijing, is the major reactionary creed of our age.

This is because today, in much of the world's eyes, two peoples--the Americans and the Jews--have emerged as the great exemplars of undeserved success. Americans and Israelis, in this view, are the money-mad molochs of the earth, the vulgarizers of morals, corrupters of culture, and proselytizers of idolatrous values. These two nations, it is said, practice conquest capitalism, overrunning poorer nations and exploiting weaker neighbors in their endless desire for more and more. These two peoples, the Americans and the Jews, in the view of the bourgeoisophobes, thrive precisely because they are spiritually stunted. It is their obliviousness to the holy things in life, their feverish energy, their injustice, their shallow pursuit of power and gain, that allow them to build fortunes, construct weapons, and play the role of hyperpower.

Right after 9/11, George Bush said that it was because "they" hated our way of life. "Intellectuals" sneered at this -- it was just more of Bush's "simplistic" thinking. The elite all "knew" that it was a reaction to our foreign policy, because, after all, our "way of life" wasn't something worth thinking about. Brooks explains why it is.

April 11, 2002

Not a surprise

The Daily Californian, Berkeley's student newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the Deputy Mayor of San Diego is calling for a boycott of the Padres because their owner held a fund-raiser in favor of a ballot initiative which would ban racial profiling. (Via OpinionJournal's Best of the Web.) This is the "good" kind of racial profiling, as far as liberals are concerned -- the kind where the state collects racial data on job and college applicants -- and therefore opposition to it is racist. The article makes a faint attempt to be evenhanded, but can't quite manage it:

The recent census data, which demonstrates that California is a state without an ethnic majority, may have scared whites and provided the impetus for the initiative.
This is a news story, remember, and that wasn't a quote, but rather the reporter's analysis. Now, finding liberal bias in the Berkeley student newspaper is approximately as shocking as finding sand in Northern Africa, but that seemed pretty egregious to me -- particularly given that the article notes that the initiative is the brainchild of activist Ward Connerly (who is black).

More campaign finance hyperbole from the Times

The New York Times is again upset about a campaign finance issue before Congress, but Jason Rylander tears their argument to shreds.

If you're in favor of burdensome, redundent reporting requirements, then join the NY Times in their sanctimony. But even if you truly care about regulating campaign spending, the bill before the House this week to eliminate duplicate filing requirements on state and local candidates and PACs is no Trojan horse. It doesn't weeken McCain-Feingold. It's a needed reform that restores some sense to the campaign finance system.
Jason explains what the laws actually say, instead of what the Times claims they say.

It only counts when we do it

Hezbollah is stepping up its attacks from Lebanon on Israel's northern border. You'd think this would be big news, but it isn't. The Post headlines it, "Lebanese Border Skirmishes Could Spark Regional War." Could? What the heck do they think is going on now? Why are attacks on Israel seen as part of normal, everyday life in the Middle East, while Israel defending itself would be "war"?

"We thought that when the Israeli army withdrew, we'd finally get peace," said Valency Ahoun, the mayor of several Israeli villages along the northern border. "I cannot understand what Hezbollah is doing."
I believe that's what Europe calls the "peace process."

Maybe Arafat can get a European trademark on terrorism

People often mock the federal government, and correctly so, for having dozens of pages of regulations to control the size of holes in swiss cheese or to define chocolate chip cookies. But at least Washington doesn't do these sorts of things by multinational committee, as the European Union does:

On Tuesday, the 15-member union’s regulatory committee discussed a proposal by the EU Commission to include the Feta cheese on its list of appellation of origin products. These products can only be marketed as such if made in a specific geographical area traditionally linked with the product. However since no votes where taken after the discussion, the vote would have to be postponed for the next committee meeting in the following months.
If the proposal passes, anybody will be allowed to make Feta cheese, but only Greece will be able to call it Feta cheese. Oh, but it gets more bureaucratic, the longer it goes on:
The Commission's proposal envisages a transitional period of 5 years, which would help the cheese producers to adapt.

[...]

This proposal will be discussed and voted upon in the next meeting of the member states’ regulatory committee, which is set to be in the next 2 or 3 months. In the absence of an agreement in the committee's next meeting, the question will be referred to the Council of Ministers. If no agreement is reached, the matter will be judged by the Commission, which had already come out in favour of the Greece proposal.

The punchline, such as it is: they came up with this proposal years ago, but it was overruled by the European Court, who ordered them to reconsider whether or not Feta cheese was a generic term.

And these people expect to be taken seriously as an international political, economic, and military force?

April 12, 2002

Good news, bad news?

Venezuelan President/Dictator Hugo Chavez has been removed from office in a coup, according to the Venezuelan military. He lost the support of the military after his supporters fired into a crowd of marchers who were protesting his attempt to install his cronies in charge of the state oil company, killing at least twelve.

Venezuela is a key source of oil for the United States, and Chavez's actions had prompted a strike which was threatening to disrupt the nation's oil supply. So while this might create a short term disruption, it's probably beneficial in the long run.

On the one hand, a military coup is hardly something to be glad about. On the other, the military ousted a pro-Castro, pro-Saddam demagogue who was becoming more and more authoritarian -- with one of his final acts being to shut down the television stations that were broadcasting the protest march.

I guess we'll have to see how this plays out -- and whether Europe gives even a fraction of the amount of attention to these events as they do to Israel.

In his spare time, he did Michael Bellesiles' research

The Washington Post reports that the resume of D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few had a few minor mistakes on it, such as claiming a degree from a college which he only attended briefly. The error has been blamed on "staff," as if some secretary just decided to inflate his credentials on her own. Then again, some Europeans keep putting "elected leader" on Yasir Arafat's resume, so I guess anything is possible.

Pounding the table

There's an old legal aphorism that goes, "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table." Paul Krugman does a lot of pounding the table. Today, since he has run out of things to make up about President Bush's social security or energy plans, he decides to slur Bush over Thomas White. White's the secretary of the army, and a former Enron executive who presided over one of the more questionable Enron subsidiaries, which makes him an easy target. But Krugman doesn't care about Thomas White; he wants to go after Bush.

I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious that the Bush administration has appointed a record number of corporate executives to high-level positions, often regulating or doing business with their former employers.
I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious that Paul Krugman has set a record for the fewest factual columns in a newspaper career. Also, I don't know if anyone has done a calculation, but it's obvious I won the lottery last night. Fork over the money.
The administration clearly doesn't worry about conflicts of interest, but you don't have to posit outright corruption to wonder. For example: The secretaries of the Navy and Air Force are both lifelong defense-contractor executives. Won't they tend in the nature of things to believe that what's good for General Dynamics is good for America? Indeed, defense stocks have soared, partly because Wall Street analysts predict that profit margins on future contracts will be far higher than was considered appropriate in the past.
Oh. I see. Nothing else has happened in, say, the last six months that might affect the future profitability of the defense industry, has it? Wait, don't tell me... it's on the tip of my tongue. Nope, sorry, I can't think of anything. It must be corruption. By the way, who exactly would Krugman like to see as secretaries of the armed forces? Greenpeace activists?
But there's a further question. Many of the business executives recently appointed to government positions first entered the private sector after prior careers in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. As Sebastian Mallaby put it in The Washington Post, they are "political types dressed up in corporate clothing: people who got hired by business because they knew government, then hired by government on the theory that they knew business." (Dick Cheney is the quintessential example.) So are they really good businessmen, or are they just crony capitalists, men who have lived by their connections?
So wait, are they "lifelong defense-contractor executives," or are they "political types"? I can't keep all this innuendo straight. Paul, help me out here!
Consider the case of Thomas White, secretary of the Army, a former general who became a top Enron executive in 1990.

[...]

Stories about Mr. White's questionable behavior at his current job have emerged only recently, but it has been apparent for months that he was a Potemkin executive: all facade, with nothing behind it. Given that he was hired for his supposed business skills, this means that he is like a surgeon general who turns out never to have finished medical school.

So why does this administration, which is waving the flag so hard its arms must hurt, leave the Army — the Army! — in the hands of a man who is, at best, a poseur?

But I thought he was "a former general." Sheesh. Am I the only one reading these columns? Does Krugman ever look at them after he churns them out?
One theory I've heard is that Mr. White can't be fired: that there are facts about the administration's relationship with Enron that it doesn't want to come out, and that Mr. White knows where the bodies are buried.
One theory I've heard is that Paul Krugman personally organized the anthrax attacks last fall. Okay, it's probably not true, but as long as "theories I've heard" can substitute for facts, you might as well make them interesting.
My preferred explanation, however, is that Mr. White has been protected by the administration's infallibility complex. In case you haven't noticed, this administration never, ever admits making a mistake; even when it makes a policy U-turn, it tries to rewrite history to pretend that everything is still going according to plan.
Speaking of which, I wonder when Krugman is going to admit he was wrong about last year's tax rebate. I expect about the same time Condoleezza Rice is serving her second term as president, after Krugman finally gets over his sulking about his lack of influence in Washington.

Why, you thought they'd solve something?

Is there any group other than the staff of the New York Times editorial board that could get excited enough about the World Assembly on Aging to write an editorial about what the delegates are discussing? It's a United Nations conference! They'll sit around for a week arguing that the United States should give away lots of money, write a report blaming Israel for something-or-other, and go home.

Thanks for nothing, Larry

So Harvard's new president, Lawrence Summers, gets into a feud with Cornel West, so now we're stuck with him at Princeton? For someone who is so concerned with "respect," Princeton is actually somewhat of an odd choice for West (though he spent six years here earlier in his career) because African American Studies is a non-degree granting program, rather than a full department.

Coincidently, a devastating review of West's behavior during the Summers incident was just published by John McWhorter in City Journal. McWhorter takes West to task for playing the victim card when confronted by Summers with valid criticisms.

April 13, 2002

Slightly one-sided

It's not hard to see why the rest of the world is so much less supportive of Israel than the United States is. Blame the media. The Reuter's headline for Saturday's recap of Middle Eastern events:Israel launches new raids in defiance of U.S. Last I checked, the U.S. asked Israel to withdraw and asked Arafat to condemn terror attacks, and to stop them. Neither side has complied. So why is the sole focus on Israel's behavior? How come the headline isn't: Palestinians blow up pedestrians in defiance of U.S.? Or, at least, Arafat refuses to denounce terror attacks in defiance of U.S.? After all, even today, President Bush reiterated his demands for Arafat:

"The president expects Yasser Arafat to denounce this morning's attack, to step up and show leadership," Fleischer said. "This is murder and Yasser Arafat needs to renounce it and renounce it soon, if not today."
"Expects" may not be the right word here; why on earth would anybody "expect" Arafat to renounce murder? What would make today any different than any time over the last six months? (Let alone the last four decades?)

What exactly do these people do for their government paychecks?

The IRS employs approximately 100,000 people. Apparently none of them are paid to actually look at the tax returns we're all forced to file. According to the Washington Post, over the last two years, the IRS has mistakenly paid about $30 million to people claiming a tax credit for slavery reparations. There is, of course, no such credit allowed under the tax code. The Post tries to portray the recipients of these credits as innocent dupes of scam artists and urban legends, but it's a little hard to believe that they couldn't figure out that the credit didn't exist when they looked at their tax return and couldn't find a line to put it on.

Then again, Paul Krugman is a nationally prominent economist, and he sees imaginary line items on the 1040, so maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental.

I expect we'll see human rights protesters rushing here any day now

Fighting between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government have claimed at least 160 lives so far in a single battle.

"They are so ferocious that they killed officers ... even after they surrendered," Vohra said. "They were stripped naked, then paraded, and finally beheaded with khukris, he said, referring to the traditional Nepali knives.
But only when the Israeli government kills someone is it worthy of Security Council resolutions.

April 14, 2002

This time, he really means it

Under intense pressure from the United States, Yasser Arafat vigorously denounced terrorism. Well, he kinda, sorta disagreed with terrorism. Actually, he didn't say anything; instead, he issued a press release. An eleven paragraph press release, of which one mentions yesterday's homicide bombing. Even then, it was carefully worded:

On this basis, we strongly condemn the violent operations that target Israeli civilians, especially the recent operation in Jerusalem.
The catch here is, many Palestinians do not view Israelis living in the West Bank or Gaza as "civilians," regardless of their jobs. Arafat was careful not to spell that out, though. He went on to spend most of his statement condemning Israel, as if anybody needed a reminder of his opinions on that subject.

But what was extremely conspicuous by its absence was anything stronger than a "condemnation." For instance, an order to his forces not to engage in terrorism. Or, heaven forbid, an order to his forces to arrest others engaging in terrorism. Not that even the most starry-eyed optimist expected that. Still, Colin Powell, desperate to pretend that diplomacy still has relevance here, seized on this statement as sufficient to justify a meeting on Sunday.

At this meeting, Yasser can pretend that he's really truly sorry and won't do it anymore, and Powell can pretend to believe him, and then Bush can pretend to be hopeful, and Sharon can pretend he cares, and then Arafat can get back to the business of terrorism and Europeans can get back to deploring the "cycle of violence" and condemning Israel, and Saddam Hussein can get back to encouraging attacks on Israel to distract Bush from attacking him.

Spoke too soon?

Apparently, the people of Venezuela may still have Hugo Chavez to kick around anymore. The militarily-appointed interim president, Pedro Carmona, has stepped down. Large counterprotests against the coup have occurred, and Chavez is vigorously denying that he resigned.

The anti-Chavez forces apparently overplayed their hand; instead of forcing out Chavez and sticking with the constitutional order of succession, they decided to dissolve the government and promise elections down the road. Venezuela's neighbors weren't happy with this, and Chavez supporters weren't, either. Unfortunately, it could get ugly, depending on whether or not the military splinters, and how far they're willing to go to advance whatever agenda they decide upon. Just as I said the other day, I guess we'll have to see how this plays out.

Arafat renounces violence, orders Palestinians to lay down their arms; Powell elected Pope

Well, almost. Actually, Secretary of State Colin Powell accomplished exactly nothing by meeting with Arafat, who refused to renounce violence, or conduct any negotiations, until after Israel "withdraws" from the territory it "occupies."

A senior aide, Saeb Erekat, said Arafat stood by his commitments, including an end to violence. But, Erekat said after the three-hour meeting, that meant "once the Israelis complete the withdrawal we will, as Palestinians, then carry out our obligations."
Powell, of course, called the meeting "useful and constructive," because what else is he going to say? "Arafat told me to go to hell, Sharon told me to go to hell, and I don't even know why I'm stuck here. Does anybody know who got voted off on Survivor?"

Too little is still too much

Yasser Arafat's "condemnation of violence" was a feeble, perfunctory excuse for statesmanship, a face-saving gesture for Colin Powell to allow the Secretary of State to meet Arafat without looking like he was (too) soft on terrorism. As I noted the press release barely mentioned the terrorist attack of Friday, and spent most of its language condemning Israel. Still, even that was too much for our supposed "allies", who complained about Arafat being forced to make the statement.

``Once again, President Arafat yields to pressure, especially American pressure,'' said an unsigned column in the Saudi Al Watan daily.

[...]

``Wouldn't it have been better for President Arafat to change the rules of the game by taking a courageous decision to refuse to receive Powell before Israel pulls out of the Palestinian areas?''

That's Saudi Arabia. Then there's a Jordanian reaction:
But [Jordanian newspaper columnist] al-Majali called the U.S. demand for a statement from Arafat ``American political terrorism,'' saying, ``It is illogical to ask the victim to denounce terrorism and not to ask the butcher to stop his terrorism.''
Even ignoring the twisted interpretation of which side is the victim, Powell did ask Israel to pull back its troops. Do these people just reprint the same anti-Israel cliches every week, regardless of what has happened that week?

Back to our "allies" the Saudis, who not only whined about it, but threatened the United States:

In the Saudi-owned, London-based Al Hayat daily, Saudi columnist Dawood al-Shirian also accused the United States of supporting Israel's West Bank offensive and warned it would prompt terrorist attacks against the United States.

Israel's incursion in the West Bank ``is more of a threat to American interests than the New York and Washington attacks and it will create a terror that is fiercer than al-Qaida's terror,'' al-Shirian wrote.

Why not let us worry about "American interests?" You stick to worrying about Islamo-fascist interests, okay?

They're not anti-Semites; they're just pro-Soccer.

Add the Ukraine to the list of countries where Jews are being attacked by mobs shouting "Kill the Jews!" Ukrainian authorities are blaming it on "soccer hooliganism," saying it has no connection to anti-semitism.

Meanwhile, back in Tunisia, funeral services were held for the 13 dead as the result of a synagogue explosion that everyone except Tunis believes to be an attack.

I wonder how many other synagogues will be coincidentally, accidentally attacked while world leaders continue to blame all the problems of the world on Israel?

Slightly one sided II

Damian Penny reports that the leftist British media (i.e., the Independent) don't even pretend to be objective in their coverage of the Arab-Israeli war, treating every secondhand Palestinian allegation as fact.

April 15, 2002

Slippery slopes

The folks at Libertarian Samizdata provide an argument why the International Criminal Court is a bad idea, even if its founders start with the best of intentions.

Bureaucracies, once established, tend not only to grow but also actively seek reasons for their continued existance and expansion. Just now, it is only the above-mentioned type of activities which are under the ICC's remit but how long will it be thus circumscribed? A brief to tackle 'crimes against humanity' can be interpreted in all manner of ways to cover all manner of policy decisions. A tough anti-immigration policy? A lack of welfare benefits? No nationalised 'free' health care? No state education programme? There are no end of people who earnestly believe that such things constitute 'crimes'.. The ICC may be benign but how long will it stay that way?
It has happened before -- and it will happen again.

Life imitates blogging

Last week, I wrote sarcastically about the World Conference on aging blaming Israel. Apparently, my only mistake was that I didn't provide hysterical quotes of outrage from Arab diplomats, because, as it turns out, the conference decided that everything really is Israel's fault.

Good news, bad news?

Israel is now saying that rather than the "massacres" reported by people who weren't even there, rather than the "hundreds" rumored to have been killed (including by Israel's own army), only 45 Palestinians were killed during the fighting in Jenin. That number has not yet been independently verified, but since the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli Army could not bury the bodies without any oversight, it will be. (Dare you to try to get a court ruling in Iraq, or the Palestinian Authority, which goes against army policy.)

In some ways, the entire discussion is perverse, as if tallying the number of dead changed the moral equation. If Israel is legitimately defending itself (and it is), then 20 dead or 200 is all the same. If Israel's actions were illegitimate, then 2 dead would be too many. But since public relations matters more than logic or morality, the lower the death toll, the better for Israel. More importantly, of course, is whether the dead are civilians or combatants -- though that may never be known to any degree of certainty. Still, the fewer the total dead, the fewer civilian casualties there could be. Either way, all supporters of Israel will breathe a sigh of relief if this lower total turns out to be the case, and those who cavalierly charged "genocide" will be even more thoroughly discredited than they already are.

Still, there was major destruction to the camp's infrastructure; let's see if Saudi Arabia holds a telethon to build new homes in Jenin, or if they're too busy giving money to homicide bombers and Yasser Arafat's corrupt, terrorist Palestinian Authority.

Puzzling analogies

I'm sure about four people reading this site care about Cornel West leaving Harvard and coming to Princeton, but it's my site. West elaborated on why he left:

On Monday, West discussed the meeting with Summers that reportedly kindled their dispute.

He called Summers "the Ariel Sharon of American higher education" and a "bully."

So does that make West the Yasser Arafat of higher education?

April 16, 2002

Also, there's ice in Antarctica

According to the Washington Post, there's drinking going on in college. And apparently, some students drink too much.

The Post's spin: those students must not realize that drinking too much is dangerous. Unfortunately, there really isn't much in the way of evidence for this:

About 1,400 students a year succumb to drinking-related deaths, though fewer than 300 of those result from alcohol poisoning or choking in their sleep, a recent study showed.
As Steven Milloy points out, this "study" essentially made up the statistics. So what is the Post to do? Simple -- invent more "facts":
For every such fatality, many college officials believe, there are 10 to 20 close calls where students end up in the emergency room just a drink or two away from death.
Who are these people? Where do they get their information from? Is there any reason to believe they're credible? Has the reporter surveyed "many college officials," or is he just reporting hearsay because it makes the story sound dramatic? After all, a mere 300 deaths a year is hardly an epidemic.

Irony, thy name is EU

The European Union is worried about the money they're sending to Afghanistan:

THE European Union is losing patience with the Afghan interim government of Hamid Karzai, fearing that hundreds of millions of pounds in aid are being frittered away by stubborn officials with no understanding of economics.
European officials were furious, saying, "Hey! We're the experts on frittering away money! Why are we letting Afghanistan do it, when we could have all the fun?"
There are fears that aid is vanishing into a bureaucratic maze where few records are kept. "There has to be some sort of transparency, otherwise our dollars will end up in somebody's Swiss bank account," said one official.
They then adjourned the meeting, after voting to send a few hundred million to Yasser Arafat, who promised to stop by Geneva on his private jet as soon as Israel let him leave.

Victory for free speech

The Supreme Court has just voted to strike down a ban on child pornography that didn't involve actual children. The law proscribed pornography involving adults that looked like children, pornography involving computer-generated images that looked like children, and pornography marketed in such a way that it "conveys the impression" that children are involved. A surprisingly strong 6-3 first amendment vote -- which was actually even stronger, as all nine justices expressed concern about elements of the law. Only the section of the law forbidding "virtual child pornography" had any support, with three justices voting in favor and a fourth, Clarence Thomas, suggesting that if evidence arose that this hindered the prosecution of real child pornography cases, that he'd rethink his vote.

It's extremely encouraging that the court did not buy into the For The Children rhetoric of the law's proponents; politicians, after all, have a tendency to insist that everything from highway construction to farm support payments are necessary because of the welfare of children. One of the arguments made by proponents of the law was that this non-child-child-pornography could be used by pedophiles to seduce children; the Court didn't buy into this speculative causal link between speech and child abuse.

My initial impression of such a strong pro-free speech vote on such an unpopular subject, is that it suggests that other litigation which threatens free speech is in trouble. That includes lawsuits against Hollywood over Columbine-like tragedies, and McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan's campaign finance censorship law.

Congressional budget cuts fail to cure cancer and create world peace

A new study was released showing that the overall condition of welfare children, since the 1996 national welfare reform, hasn't changed significantly. That's very good news; despite all the predictions of disaster from activists, there have been no catastrophes. Welfare rolls have been reduced substantially, and yet the horror stories of children starving to death just haven't materialized.

But that's not good news if you're pro-welfare, and evidently the media is. So how do they spin it? With the headline "Study: Welfare reform hasn't helped kids." That's not exactly inaccurate -- but as a friend pointed out, the headline could just as easily have been "Children not harmed by welfare reform," or it could have been "Taxpayers save money without affecting children."

Mothers facing new welfare rules are finding jobs and earning more money. But they haven't improved their parenting skills, they still have trouble paying rent, and they spend less time with their kids, according to a three-state study that examined details of family life.
So they're working more. They're making more money. They're spending less time with their kids -- but that's hardly a negative, since much of the time they were previously spending with their children was time when they should have been working.

So how can this not be good news?

A top welfare official in the Bush administration agreed that the system is not doing much to improve the lives of children. That's why the administration wants to add improving child well-being to the list of goals for the welfare law, which is being renewed this year, said Wade Horn, who heads the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"The current goal of welfare is not to improve the well-being of children," Horn said. "It's not an explicit goal."

I thought the goal of welfare was to provide a safety net so that people didn't starve to death. I thought it was the job of parents, not the government, to worry about the well-being of children, especially when the "well-being" is measured so arbitrarily as "time watching television," which this study measured. Silly me.

April 17, 2002

I stubbed my toe; I blame Microsoft

Not that they had anything to do with it, but apparently that makes no difference. The mother of Charles Bishop, the idiot teenager who stole an airplane and crashed it into a Tampa building in January has sued the maker of the acne drug Accutane for causing her son's suicide. As Michael Fumento notes, there's no evidence whatsoever that Accutane causes depression or suicide. Moreover, there's no evidence, other than the mother's claims, that the kid even took Accutane; the autopsy found none in his system. And given that the kid left a note praising Osama Bin Laden, it's a little difficult to see how depression was even a factor.

But, hey, if you can profit off your son's death, why not?

Why do they hate us, part XXVII

Muslimpundit's back after an absence, and it was worth the wait, as he explains why Israel is so hated in the Arab world:

And traditionally, the place that Islamic theology, as well as those Muslim civilisations, accorded to Jews in this ecumenical outlook is that of a powerless, contemptible and weak people. Despite referring to Jews as the "People of the Book" in the Qur'an, Muslim scholars have, in their works, by and large emphasised Jews as an example of an inferior people. An examination of the ancient stories in the Qur'an that talk at length about God, Moses and the “transgressions” of the Children of Israel, provides a religious basis for this Muslim view. This is why, in traditional Islamic theology, as well as in history, Jews have by and large been accorded much tolerance by Muslims, but not necessarily respect.

And herein lies a very important point. This is yet another problem being faced by many Muslims, and especially Muslim opinion leaders (many of which ascribe to some sort of Islamism). When one hears about them pontificating on how Muslims should grant respect to others, there is, more often than not, a distinct difference in their usage of the word “respect”. It does not signify respect per se, as an Anglosphere resident would have it, but approximates only tolerance, almost always used in a sense of forced patience (e.g. see this previous post). In this manner, Muslim clerical views of non-Muslims, but especially where Jews and Christians are concerned, do not preclude Muslim feelings of superiority over them. This is how it has been in the centuries past, and unfortunately remains to this day. Many other religions have seen fit to dispense with, or at least significantly tone down, this believer/non-believer dichotomy; with some religions it did not constitute a bastion pillar of belief. Not so with Islam. Jews were by and large accorded tolerance in past Islamic civilisations, but the state only conferred upon them then what would now be considered as second class status. They were universally regarded as weak, cowardly and contemptible, and such stories emphasising such supposed attributes were commonly fed to the new generations of Muslims at the time.

There's lots more. I don't know if it's right, but it would explain why one Palestinian being killed in Israel prompts Muslim outrage, while hundreds of Muslims being killed in India is virtually ignored.

Now if they could just implement the same technology for politicians and our tax dollars

The Washington Post reports on a relatively new development in crime control. ("Crime control" is their phrase, not mine. I guess they thought "crimefighting" sounded too much like a comic book.)

Jose Gonzalez was charged by Arlington police over the weekend with auto theft.

He had no clue it was the car that turned him in.

The late-model sedan he was driving was the Arlington County Police Department's new "bait car," wired to alert police when someone tries to steal it.

When the car called police, a map of Arlington flashed on a computer screen in the Emergency Communications Center, pinpointing the vehicle's location. Because the car was linked to a global positioning device, dispatchers tracked its movements on the computer screen and knew where to send two police cars.

Maybe they could catch Osama Bin Laden this way.

Don't just sit there, Do Something

The Washington Post reports that Congress has begun considering legislation to create a national ID card. The proposal being considered would turn the driver's license into a de facto national ID, by setting federal standards for the design and content of driver's licenses, and creating some unspecified sort of national database for sharing the information.

The problem is, nobody -- at least nobody involved in actually writing the laws -- has exactly thought through what this is supposed to accomplish. Such a proposal could be very effective at stopping underage drinking, but is unlikely to be a significant obstacle for terrorists. There are many separate issues:

  1. Ensuring that the card is not a forgery.
  2. Ensuring that the information on the card is accurate.
  3. Ensuring that person with the card is the true owner of the card.
  4. Ensuring that the true owner of the card is "reliable."
Unless all of those are accomplished, "reforming" the system will solve nothing about terrorism.

Let's look at a situation like September 11th: Mohammed Atta presents an identification card at the airport in order to be allowed to board the plane. The airline check-in counter employee first has to verify that the card is genuine, by checking a nationwide database (just as merchants do with credit cards). Then the employee has to verify that the card belongs to Atta, by comparing his biometric identification to that on the card. (This means that his fingerprints or retina or the like will have to be scanned at the check-in counter. Further, this means that every location which will require identification will require this scanning equipment. Every police car will require it, for traffic stops.)

That seems to be as far as legislators have thought. But there's more: none of that will help unless the information provided at the time Atta obtained the ID card is accurate. What if, when Atta applied for his driver's license, he did so under the name Bubba Jones? The airline counter employee will verify that he's Bubba Jones, the owner of the valid ID card. Of course, it could be mandated that Atta provide proof of identify at the time he applies for the card -- but that simply shifts the problem one level. How do we ensure that this proof of identity is valid? Couldn't that be forged?

But suppose you find a way around that problem, somehow. Your whole expensive, high-tech system is still worthless, because Mohammed Atta could apply under his real name, using valid documents, obtain a valid ID card, and then go hijack the airplane. Unless you have reason to suspect him in advance, and a national database listing everyone suspicious, it doesn't do any good to identify him. And unfortunately, that last step, the hard part, has nothing to do with a national ID system at all. It has to do with foreign intelligence.

And of course, all that assumes that a civil servant can't be bribed. How much do people think Department of Motor Vehicle employees get paid, anyway? For a small (by international conspiracy standards) $50,000 payment, don't you think one could be persuaded to look the other way as an inaccurate license is issued?

It wasn't me

If I had won $110,333,333, you wouldn't be seeing any updates here for quite a long while. Sigh.

April 18, 2002

Hey, it couldn't hurt

Forty-two failing schools in Philadelphia will now be managed by Edison Schools, two universities, and four smaller private management companies. The New York Times calls this "privatization," but it's not, really -- it's subcontracting. It's not a trivial distinction; the schools are still public, funded with tax dollars. They're just run by private companies. Still, it's a step.

This was supposed to happen months ago, but opposition by the Philadelphia mayor, parents, and (who else?) the teacher's union stalled the decision; this happened only because the governor had the authority to push it through in spite of the mayor. The union was particularly upset:

After the meeting, Jerry Jordan, a vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he regretted that the panel had said so little about how the schools would be redesigned by the outsiders.

"They didn't spell anything out," Mr. Jordan said. "It's like, `Let's see what works.' It shows a total lack of respect."

Yes, Mr. Jordan, it is like "Let's see what works." Imagine that. We know what doesn't work, and that's continuing with the existing approach, which has resulted in a "system in which more than half of the nearly 200,000 students had failed to achieve minimum proficiency on state reading and math tests." Why exactly should a union which has presided over that be "respected?"

And as further evidence that the schools desperately needed to be taken over:

After the roll was called, several dozen student protesters, who have long argued that it was undemocratic for a for-profit company to operate a public school, chanted, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and "I am not for sale!"
Undemocratic? Huh? Do they even know what the word means, or do they just think it's something that sounds bad?

Okay, he visited, but he didn't enjoy it

Newark Mayor Sharpe James, who had been criticizing his opponent in the mayoral race for having an aide who visited a stripclub, actually had been there himself.

Mayor Sharpe James said today that he had visited a nightclub that investigators say offered sex on the side, but he said he had done so only in an official capacity to see that it was shut down.
He then turned to his mother and told her that the marijuana she had found in his dresser drawer wasn't his, and that he was "just holding it for a friend."

Beirut redux -- or maybe Mogadishu. Either way, a bad idea

In Wednesday's New York Times, Tom Friedman proposed that U.S. or NATO forces police a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It sounds superficially like a good idea: if they can't live together peacefully, then we'll just make them do it. They really want to live in peace, and if it weren't for their leaders, they'd do so. So we'll just impose it on them, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Not quite. Robert Kagan explains in the Washington Post why that will never work. First of all, the United States is the only third party that Israel would ever trust, which means that the financial and personnel burden would fall entirely on us. And our troops would be targets, just as they were in Lebanon in the 1980s, when an earlier round of homicide-bombers killed 240 Marines. And even if, by some miracle, our troops didn't start as targets, they'd end up that way as soon as they took sides -- just as in Somalia.

Is there another option I'm missing? If not, the proposal for an international peacekeeping force looks less like a real plan than a desperate if noble attempt to solve the insoluble in the Middle East -- a deus ex America summoned to provide a miracle when all roads to peace have reached a dead end. Even Ehud Barak's idea of building a very, very big fence between Israel and the Palestinians looks better. Help us out, Tom.
The problem is, Friedman is so wrapped up in intervention and peace proposals and peace processes, that he just doesn't see that when two parties are at war over a fundamental issue -- like the existence of one of the parties -- the only way to end the war is for one side to win. Or maybe he does see that, but just doesn't want to admit it.

Role reversal

What if the U.S. were planning to attack Iraq, and Israel were demanding that the United States show restraint? Victor Davis Hanson examines the Middle East from this opposite perspective.

Mr. Sharon: We know that. But the perception lingers that the present American administration is full of hawks, obsessed with Saddam — and wants to punish an old nemesis rather than deal with more fundamental social issues.

Mr. Powell: Mr. Bush was elected. There is no such thing as a "Bush-Saddam" grudge. We don't implement policy that way.

Mr. Sharon: But if you go into Iraq, won't you just raise another Saddam and more suicide bombing like 9/11? There will be an entire generation of Arabs who will hate you for attacking Baghdad — especially in such a one-sided, asymmetrical war, when the tanks and planes are all on your side. Aren't you worried that ten Arabs will die for every lost American — how will that play in Europe and the Middle East?

Mr. Powell: What would you have us do? Lose more of our kids to bombers for public relations? There are no easy solutions. Do you think we like going in where we are not wanted?

Mr. Sharon: Still, how can your planes separate the good from bad? Surely there are Iraqis who don't like Saddam. Must they suffer when your tanks crush houses and your planes shoot up streets? We already saw some of that collateral damage in Afghanistan and Mogadishu. We didn't want to say anything, but you guys killed more Somalis in 24 hours than our IDF killed Palestinians in an entire decade.

People won't want to accept the role reversal, but it points out how hypocritical those who counsel that Israel show "restraint" really are.

Breaking news

A small plane has just hit (11:45, EDT) the tallest building in Milan, Italy. It's 30 stories high, housing local government offices, and the plane hit around the 26th floor. Smoke is coming from the building, and an Italian legislator has already declared that it was a terrorist attack, though that's an unofficial announcement.

[Update: it seems that the legislator may have been jumping the gun to get himself on television; it now appears as if it may have been an accident. Only two people have been confirmed killed, but dozens have been hospitalized. Still, we're all jumpy, for obvious reasons.]

April 19, 2002

Slanted perspective

Bob Kuttner argues in The American Prospect that American politics may be close to a "tipping point" in favor of conservatism. His argument is that conservative media, think tanks, foundations, and the like are growing stronger, while liberal ones are growing weaker.

All of this has caused the ideological center of gravity in America to shift steadily to the right, even though polls show most Americans remain fairly liberal on the policy particulars. That is, most Americans say they would pay higher taxes to support things like universal health insurance, high-quality child care, and prescription drugs for all. Most Americans overwhelmingly support the present Social Security system. Most do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most think workers should be paid a living wage and have the right to join unions. So, in a sense, elite opinion is far to the right of mass opinion and the political system is just not offering voters the menu they'd like to see. Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham termed this a "politics of excluded alternatives."

But elite opinion matters immensely, because it sets agendas and contours what politicians think is "mainstream." (So abstinence-only birth control is considered mainstream -- your tax dollars are supporting it -- but universal health insurance, which most Americans want, is considered utopian.)

I wish. Unfortunately, I think this theory says more about Bob Kuttner's politics than it does about America's. Liberals have already won; the reason that conservatives are so much more vocal is because they have more to complain about.

Think about it: what's the last government program that was actually threatened by this supposed conservative dominance Kuttner sees? Is there a single government agency that is in danger of being closed? (The potential reorganization of the INS doesn't count; that's shuffling bureaucracies around, not eliminating them.) What was the recent response to 9/11? It was to federalize airport security personnel, as if making them government workers is going to improve them. The "prescription drug" benefit that Kuttner discusses as though it were a pipe dream was promised by both major party candidates in the last election. There's a debate over how to pay for it, and about whether to provide direct subsidies to individuals or to negotiate reduced costs through Medicare, and whether it can be afforded -- but nobody in the mainstream is saying that it's simply not the government's job to pay for drugs.

What kind of strange political world do we live in where a longshot proposal to privatize two percent of wages in social security is seen as a conservative "tipping point"?

Why does Paul Krugman hate America?

Juan Gato dissects yet another idiotic column from Paul Krugman. Krugman has been ranting for months about Bush's tax cut, pretending there's a real "lockbox."

Caribou 1, People 0

So Robert Kuttner thinks that the U.S. is becoming more conservative? Then perhaps he can explain a big defeat in the Senate for President Bush's ANWR drilling plan. The plan needed 60 votes to defeat a filibuster; it only got 46. It's hard to know precisely what to make of this one. For whatever reason, environmental lobbyists pulled out all the stops to defeat this one; the League of Conservation Voters threatened Congress that they'd count this vote double in their annual environmental rating of each congressman. I guess they've run out of fundraising issues to flog.

Of course, the New York Times showed more of its unbiased objective reporting, describing this as "an issue that has pitted Democrats and environmentalists against Republicans and petroleum interests," as if the only people who would benefit from drilling were oil companies, and as if their opponents were all altruists who cared about making the world a better place.

Someone forgot the script

The Arab propaganda line has been that Israel has been massacring poor innocent civilians in Jenin, that without provocation Israel just decided to destroy the town (or "refugee camp," whichever sounds worse). This has been repeated so frequently that many members of the media were convinced that massive war crimes had taken place -- admittedly, aided by the fact that Israel wasn't letting independent observers into the town -- and any story to the contrary was described as pro-Israel bias.

So how do people explain this article in the Egyptian based Al-Ahram Weekly? It describes the Palestinian behavior in Jenin, approvingly, perhaps not realizing the significance:

Omar admits he is one of only a few dozen fighters not to emerge either dead or in plastic handcuffs from the fiercest battle waged by the Palestinians during the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank.

Of his group of 30 gunmen, only four escaped from the camp on Wednesday, after the Palestinian arsenal ran dry. Most of the others were shot dead.

"Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared," he says. "We started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month."

Omar and other "engineers" made hundreds of explosive devices and carefully chose their locations.

"We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp. We chose old and empty buildings and the houses of men who were wanted by Israel because we knew the soldiers would search for them," he said.

"We cut off lengths of mains water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four metres apart throughout the houses -- in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas."

The fighters hoped to disable the Israeli army's tanks with much more powerful bombs placed inside rubbish bins on the street. More explosives were hidden inside the cars of Jenin's most wanted men.

Connected by wires, the bombs were set off remotely, triggered by the current from a car battery.

This was not the Israeli army vs. Palestinian civilians, with Israel deliberately knocking down buildings for no reason; it was Israel fighting against a Palestinian militia, which the Palestinians creating the "booby traps" that Israel accused them of placing, thus forcing the IDF to knock down buildings in self-defense.

I'll wait to see the "international community" retract the claims of Israeli war crimes. But I won't hold my breath.

Not taking sides

President Bush calls Ariel Sharon a "man of peace." Either Bush has stopped wobbling, or he really has adopted the "rope-a-dope" strategy. Perhaps he really didn't intend for Colin Powell to accomplish anything on his journey through the Middle East, and it was just a way to pretend he was doing something while really allowing Israel to continue its efforts to root out terror.

Certainly the statement didn't thrill Bush critics like David Sanger, who once again editorialized against Bush in the news section of the New York Times.

But even some members of Mr. Bush's administration seemed confused today about whether Mr. Bush had simply misspoken, or whether he was returning to the kind of statements he made at his Texas ranch over Easter weekend, which Israel took as a green light to press ahead with its military action.
Perhaps the point is to be ambiguous? Sanger doesn't even consider the possibility, because it doesn't fit into his agenda of pushing Bush to force Israel to surrender.

April 20, 2002

Some of us hate children

The Washington Post reports on a dispute over the Bush administration's ideas about Head Start, and as usual, reports in a completely unbiased fashion. The paper's sub-headline?

Child Advocates Alarmed by Stress On Accountability
Child advocates? Are there people who root against children?  This is one of those media cliches: rather than framing a policy dispute as a disagreement about how to help a particular cause (e.g. children/women/minorities/the environment), the dispute is between those who want to help the cause and those who have another agenda.

The really odd thing is that the dispute, as portrayed in the Post, is "play vs. learn." Which side of that debate should "child advocates" be on, if such an animal existed?

Pants on fire

This is good news for civil libertarians: a police informant who lied when he implicated another was found liable for malicious prosecution after being sued by his "victim." All too frequently, prosecutors rely on questionable informants because they're convenient and helpful, whether or not they're honest. And once a prosecutor does use an informant, there's no incentive to prosecute him for perjury, so the informant has little to lose by lying. This isn't likely to set a significant precedent, because

  1. In order to prevail in such a suit, a plaintiff has to prove to a jury that the defendant knowingly or recklessly lied.
  2. People working as informants are often going to be judgment-proof
Still, it does provide an additional deterrent to lying by informants, and that's a good thing.

Do as we say, not as we do

Mark Steyn proves once again that he has a clearer view of the Middle East than Colin Powell and his European fellow-travellers.

Odd, isn't it? The Americans are routinely accused of being (in Pat Buchanan's phrase) Israel's amen corner. But Washington is at least prepared to offer the odd, qualified criticism of Sharon. The rest of the world, by contrast, is happy to parrot Yasser's talking points without modifying a single semi-colon. In the last month, I've found as many Jew-haters on the Continent as in the Middle East, but the difference is that the Arabs are fierce in their hatred, no matter how contorted their arguments, while the Europeans are lazy, off-hand Jew-haters -- they don't need arguments, they're happy to let the Arabs supply the script. Thus, the extraordinary resolution this week by the UN Human Rights Commission which accuses Israel of many and varied human rights violations, makes no mention of suicide bombers, and endorses the movement for a Palestinian state by "all available means, including armed struggle" -- i.e., terrorism. The resolution could have been drafted by the Arab League or the PLO. Forty of the 53 nations on the Commission approved it, including six EU members: Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Only five countries could summon the will to vote against: Britain, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic and Guatemala. (The U.S. is not a member of the HRC, having been kicked off by a coalition of Euro-Arab schemers.)

This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that "Chairman" Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back -- and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. "The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews," wrote America's great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. "Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem ... But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab ... Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world." Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren't going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

April 21, 2002

Pointing fingers

The Dutch government resigned recently after a report blamed it for the Serbian massacres of Bosnians in U.N. designated "safe areas" in the mid-1990s. The Dutch sin wasn't action, but inaction. But Samantha Power says that the Clinton Administration was guilty of the same sin.

Once Mladic seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, American policymakers were keenly aware that the men and boys were being separated from the women and children, that Dutch soldiers were barred from supervising the "evacuation," and that the Muslims' fate lay in the hands of Mladic, the local embodiment of "evil."

U.S. officials received hysterical phone calls from leading members of the Bosnian government who pleaded with Washington to use NATO air power to save those in Mladic's custody. One July 13 classified cable related the "alarming news" that Serb forces were committing "all sorts" of atrocities. On July 17 the CIA's Bosnia Task Force wrote in its classified daily report that refugee reports of mass murder "provide details that appear credible." In a July 19 confidential memorandum, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck described "credible reports of summary executions and the kidnapping and rape of Bosnian women."

Yet, despite this knowledge, neither President Clinton nor his top advisers made the fate of the men and boys an American priority. The president issued no public threats and ordered no contingency military planning. Spokesman Nick Burns told the Washington press corps that the United States was "not a decisive actor" in the debate over how to respond. The most powerful superpower in the history of mankind had influence only "on the margins," in Burns's words.

Admittedly, that was on the watch of Bill Clinton, whose foreign policy involved lurching from crisis to crisis trying to win Nobel Prizes. But Clinton was only one of many world leaders that stood by and did nothing as the massacres were going on. That's why Israeli governments continually reject the superficially reasonable suggestion that they should leave the West Bank and let the U.N. keep the peace. It's a joke, and everyone who doesn't work for certain newspaper editorial boards knows it.

April 22, 2002

Dewey defeats Truman

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French nationalist/racist/anti-Semite/insert-media-synonym-for-far-right-wing-here, scores a big upset, coming in second in France's national elections, ahead of socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin. This gives Le Pen the right to participate in the runoff election with incumbent president Jacques Chirac. That's, I gather, approximately the equivalent of Pat Buchanan beating out George Bush a few years ago for the Republican nomination.

Now, I admit I don't know enough about French politics to comment intelligently on them -- insert punchline here -- but a few thoughts:

  • This is more of a rejection of France's mainstream parties than it is an embracing of Le Pen. At 17 percent, he didn't do that well -- just a few points higher than he was polling, or than he had received in the past. The big surprise was how poorly Chirac and especially Jospin did.
  • Chirac will probably crush Le Pen in the general election. Jospin's socialist base isn't going to go to Le Pen.
  • Although Le Pen's total wasn't that much higher than in previous elections, in politics appearance matters much more than reality. This is going to be seen as a big rejection for European integration and for immigration.
  • The politics of European elites and the politics of European citizens don't seem to be quite in alignment.
I don't know what this means, if anything, for Europe-U.S. relations, but perhaps it will humble the French a little.

If it's not the government, it doesn't count

Headline in the New York Times: Era of Uncontrolled Growth Is Ending at a California Lake.

The lake, 120 miles east of San Francisco, is one of the few in California with private houses on its shores, and therein lies a problem with which residents and local officials are only beginning to grapple.

In the last few years, with little planning and without a single environmental impact review, hundreds of houses and piers have been built on Lake Tulloch, and developers are eyeing more territory.

Oh, my god! Developers! And this is being done without planning! Actually, developers presumably do plan before they build. Or, at least the ones who want to stay in business do. What the Times means, of course, is that there hasn't been much centralized planning by the government. And you can just see the horror on the Times' editors' faces at the thought of that.

April 23, 2002

There oughta be a law

If there's a tragedy, the New York Times insists that legislation would have prevented it. If there's a tragedy and there's existing legislation, then the New York Times insists that enforcement would have prevented it. If there's a tragedy and there's existing legislation and enforcement, then the New York Times insists that more legislation and better enforcement would have prevented it.

And if some kids die while in daycare, then it must be the fault of "lax oversight." Nevermind that the deaths were the result of (1) kids being left unattended in hot cars in the summertime, and (2) a car accident. Apparently the Times thinks that the state of Tennessee should employ people to follow around daycare center employees 24/7.

I'm thinking of a number between one and a gazillion... I'll give you three guesses

It's more budget follies at the New York Times -- this one care of the editorial board, rather than Paul Krugman. (Count your blessings: at least this way we're spared talk of the mythical "lockbox.")

President Bush has been asserting lately that the budget is so tight there is barely enough money to pay for anything new besides the war on terrorism. He has begun issuing veto threats if Congress tries to defy his spending priorities. How bizarre it is, then, for him to contend at the same time that the nation needs another tax cut. Last week, the House went along, making permanent the ill-advised 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax reduction enacted last year. The Bush proposal would drain nearly $400 billion more over the next 10 years and cost at least $4 trillion in the decade after that. A more irresponsible position would be hard to imagine.
I can imagine one: pretending that there's any such thing as a 10-year budget projection. Politicians do the same thing -- but nobody expects them to tell the truth. We expect -- in the sense of "want," not in the sense of "think it will happen" -- that newspapers will avoid making things up. And yet, that's what they're doing. (Actually, this piece is unclear, but it appears to me that they're projecting twenty years into the future to come up with that $4 trillion number. It's hard to say, since there's no real basis for any of these numbers anyway.)

When they're discussing the "cost" of tax cuts, the problem is compounded. First, they have to guess how much money would be raised in the next decade under the old tax code. Then, they have to guess about the effects of a tax cut on the economy -- or, in Timesworld, simply pretend that there won't be any. Then they subtract fictional number B from fictional number A, and declare that the difference of two guesses is a real number.

The sad truth about budget politics this year is that Congress and the Bush administration have gotten themselves into such a box that irresponsible posturing becomes the easiest recourse. The tax cut of last year, along with the recent mild economic downturn, vaporized the revenues needed to deal with anything outside military and homeland defenses.
Vaporized? Only in a world where taxes create money. Tax cuts don't "vaporize" money; they simply leave money in the hands of the people who earned it in the first place. By the way, the 2003 budget will be about $2 trillion. Military and homeland spending amount to about $400 billion. Apparently, to the Times, the $1.6 trillion difference doesn't even count as "anything outside military and homeland defenses."

Oh, the rest of the editorial? I'll save you the trouble of going to the link: Republicans evil. Give money to rich people. Should take it away. Spend it on bureaucrats. Help poor.

April 25, 2002

Two heads are better than one

Well, that may be true, but two bureaucracies are not better than one. And yet, the House of Representatives is set to turn the Immigration and Naturalization Service from one agency into two, and George Bush appears to be willing to support this approach. The theory is that the two functions of the INS -- providing services to immigrants and enforcing immigration law -- are in conflict, and that they should be handled by different agencies. Great. But how is that going to help solve the problem that the people working at the agency are incompetent civil servants who can't get fired, even if they give student visas to dead hijackers? How is that going to help solve the problem that the agency is using 30 year old computer systems that can't talk to each other?

It's not as if new people are going to be hired at the new and improved INS. The same employees will be there; they'll just be reporting to different people. And this is the brilliant idea our government has come up with to protect the country from terrorism? (Answer: no. This is the brilliant idea our government has come up with to protect incumbent Congressmen's jobs in the November elections. Once this law is passed, expect a spate of campaign ads from candidates explaining how they helped "reform" the INS.)

April 26, 2002

Calling a spade a tool of some sort, maybe

Glenn Reynolds pointed out this Associated Press story about the investigation of Michael Bellesiles. But what I noted was this ridiculously wimpy version of events:

But scholars and critics also became skeptical. Bellesiles has been accused of ideological bias, selective scholarship and misleading statements. Some corrections already have been made in the paperback edition, and Bellesiles' editor at Knopf, Jane Garrett, has said that "other corrections will be made in subsequent printings."
Actually, Bellesiles has been accused of fraud, of making up numbers from sources that don't exist and then lying about it. That's not quite the same as "misleading statements."

Still wobbly after all these years

While researching a minor point, I happened to come across this account of Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech. Guess who was opposed to Reagan including the powerful line in his speech? (Besides the French, I mean.) The usual suspects at the State Department, of course -- the same naysayers who thought that Dubya's "Axis of Evil" was too provocative. But also our current Secretary of State -- then-National Security Advisor Colin Powell, the man who later let Saddam get away, the man who now refuses to call Arafat a terrorist. Anybody seeing a pattern here?

Are they crazy?

President Bush is likely to endorse a bill currently making its way through Congress that mandates so-called mental health parity in insurance coverage. The Washington Post, as is typical, frames this as a debate between Republicans and business on the one hand and Democrats and "mental health advocates" on the other. (Because, after all, anybody who objects to big government hates mental health, as well.)

The main opposition has come from key GOP lawmakers in the House, who object to the higher cost the requirement would impose on employers.
Actually, the requirement wouldn't impose a higher cost on employers. It would impose a higher cost on employees. Employers aren't going to absorb the costs out of the goodness of their hearts; if the non-salary costs of employees increase, then employers will reduce salaries to compensate. Or they'll hire fewer employees. Either way, it's hardly a victory for employees.

The Post describes the primary debate as being over the increased cost of such additional insurance coverage. Is there nobody in Congress who actually thinks it's a bad idea to be micromanaging health insurance, regardless of the costs? If employers and insurers want to offer mental health coverage, let them. But why should Congress tell an employer what sort of insurance to offer? Whatever happened to letting people choose for themselves?

One can predict the chain of events to follow: Insurance costs will rise. Fewer Americans will have insurance. More and more politicians will campaign on the "Government needs to provide welfare insurance to those who don't have it" platform. And we'll all have to suffer through the agony of watching more Harry-and-Louise commercials.

And the worst part is, the people who really need mental health treatment the most are likely to be unemployed, so this proposed law would do little for them.

Contrasting attitudes

A Palestinian man was accused of threatening the use of anthrax, after being seen apparently throwing white powder into a mailbox during the height of the anthrax attacks last fall. An Arab immigrant accused of anthrax attacks -- I wouldn't have given good odds on the outcome. But on Thursday he was acquitted of all charges. It just shows how out of date the worldview of the left -- the assumption that the United States is a violent, racist, knee-jerk country -- really is. Even President Bush bought into this, at least a little, rushing to warn us after 9/11 not to overreact to the attacks and take out our anger on Middle Easterners. But maybe Americans are just a little more tolerant than that. Unlike, say, Palestinians, who lynch suspected collaborators without trial.

April 27, 2002

Send in the United Nations "investigators"

Palestinian terrorists (or, as the AP calls them, "gunmen") killed five Israelis and wounded more than a dozen others in an attack on the West Bank town of Adora. I expect that the "international community" will condemn the Adora killings as quickly and as forcefully as they condemned the Israeli incursion into Jenin. I also expect Ed McMahon to show up at my door with a check.

April 28, 2002

Who would have guessed it?

Somehow, I missed this story this week -- perhaps because it was buried in the paper -- but Tunisian authorities have finally admitted that the explosion at the Djerba synogogue two weeks ago was a terrorist attack, after initially claiming, implausibly, that it was a routine accident.

After the attack, a group directly linked in the past to al Qaeda, the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites, asserted responsibility. Authorities are taking the claim seriously because a faxed statement by the group to two London-based Arabic newspapers contained the name of the truck driver before authorities had released it.

According to German media reports, Nawar, 25, who had lived in Lyon, in southern France, called a contact in Germany immediately before the blast. During the call, which was intercepted by German intelligence, the driver, when asked if he needed anything, replied, "I only need the command."

While this is hardly an unexpected development, it's much more significant than the limited coverage makes it seem. Not just because, as the paper says, "it would be the first completed by [Al Qaeda] outside Central Asia since Sept. 11." But because it exposes, more clearly than any words could, the lie about terrorism being the fault of the victims.

There are so many, particularly on the left, who claim that Muslim terrorism is caused by American foreign policy, or Israeli occupation, or both. Some of those who say this are motivated by anti-Semitism, and some by reflexive anti-Americanism. And some are just naive. These people want to justify homicide bombers by saying that the poor Palestinians just don't have any choice because they don't have F-15s and tanks. But this Tunisian atrocity wasn't an attack on Israel or the United States. This wasn't an attack by a poor starving refugee. This was a premeditated, well-financed attack on a Jewish target.

This is what Israel is fighting. This is what America is fighting. And these fights won't be won by negotiation or appeasement. They'll be won only when Islamo-fascism is so discredited by defeat that liberal democracy is seen as the only viable alternative.

I know you are, but what am I?

Charles Johnson provides a sampling of what it would sound like if American diplomats talked to Arab countries the way Arab diplomats talk to us.

Multilateral is French for America-bashing

Some diplomats are annoyed at the United States because we keep using our influence in international affairs. The United States successfully pushed to have Jose Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Warfare, removed from his post. This comes a week after the United States' successful effort to replace the head of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, thus "prompting concern among some countries about the way Washington is able to influence the fate of international officials who fall foul of its policies." Uh, isn't that the way it's supposed to work? Is the United States supposed to support international officials who don't act in our interests? Well, if you believe the French, the answer is apparently yes:

Some delegates shared Bustani's disquiet. "Multilateralism is based on the independence of international organizations and their leaders," says Anne Gazeau-Secret, the ambassador of France, which abstained in Monday's vote.

If other governments followed the US lead and sought to remove United Nations officials whom they disliked, she worried, "a chain reaction risks leading to the destruction of the multilateral system."

Doesn't that just sum up the attitude of the French so perfectly? Bureaucrats are supposed to be "independent." They're not supposed to be responsive to their constituents. Trying to get them to be accountable would destroy multilateralism.

Incidentally, reading complaints such as the one above, one might get the impression that the United States sent in Navy Seals to arrest Bustani and remove him from office. In fact, the OPCW held a vote, which Bustani lost, 48-7. Uh, that sounds like multilateralism to me. (And the seven who voted in favor of Bustani? In addition to his home country of Brazil, the freedom-loving states of Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, and Russia. Is the United States supposed to be apologetic for disagreeing with this bunch?)

But it gets even more hypocritical: some complained because they alleged that the United States was using money to sway the outcome of the vote. (The U.S. hasn't yet paid half of its 20% share of the organization's $60 million budget.) So, according to the multilaterists, the United States should pay far more than its share but not have any special influence over the workings of the organization. Say, whatever happened to no taxation without representation, anyway?

April 29, 2002

So now what?

Both the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders agreed to a U.S. proposal to end the siege of Arafat. Arafat wouldn't agree to hand over prisoners to Israel, and, given his history, Israel wouldn't trust Arafat to keep people in prison. So now the prisoners will stay in Arafat's custody, but American and British observers will monitor the situation to make sure they stay in prison. In exchange for allowing this, Arafat gets freedom of movement within the West Bank and Gaza.

The conventional wisdom is that this is supposed to provide Israel with some breathing room in its attempt to hold off the U.N. inquisition over the Jenin massacre hoax. Maybe it will. But since the U.N. has shown itself ready, willing, and able to blame Israel no matter what the situation, that seems a weak approach. Maybe it's just a way to hold Arafat more accountable for terrorist attacks like the one at Adora on Saturday. The Palestinian-apologist argument has been that Arafat can't be blamed for terrorist attacks because he was impotent as long as Israel was isolating him. Well, now he won't be isolated, and won't have that excuse.

That's certainly how President Bush sees it:

President Bush said yesterday he expects Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "condemn and thwart terrorist activities" within the next 72 hours. Top Stories

     The president sent that message shortly after he personally negotiated a deal to end the Israeli siege that has trapped Mr. Arafat at his West Bank compound since March 29.

     Mr. Bush said the next few days will prove how serious the Palestinian chairman is about ending the violence.

     "His responsibility is just what I said — to renounce, to help detect and stop terrorist killings. And the message can't be more clear, and we're going to continue to hold people accountable for results," Mr. Bush said.

     Saying "much hard work remains" to reach peace in the Middle East, Mr. Bush focused on the role Mr. Arafat will play.

     "Chairman Arafat should now seize this opportunity to act decisively in word and in deed against terror directed at Israeli citizens," he said.

     Mr. Arafat "hasn't earned my respect," the president said. "He must earn my respect by leading."

[...]

     Having arranged the deal to free Mr. Arafat from his monthlong captivity in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Mr. Bush said: "Chairman Arafat is now free to move around and free to lead, and we expect him to do so. One of the things he must do is condemn and thwart terrorist activities."

Yeah, and then he'll cure cancer and land a manned spaceflight on Mars.

It's hard to see what Israel has gained from this exchange. If history shows us anything, it's that Arafat never keeps his promises -- but that this failure by Arafat never helps Israel win the support of the so-called international community. So now Israel doesn't have the prisoners they want (unless Britain and the U.S. plan to keep their monitors there indefinitely), and Israel doesn't have Arafat. All Israel has is the quixotic hope that Arafat will suddenly turn into a statesman. When that doesn't happen, Sharon will be able to say, "I told you so" -- but that's not going to be much consolation.

Cry me a river

Bill Clinton is having trouble raising money for his presidential library. He's short of his goal and hasn't yet collected the money that was already pledged. Or maybe he isn't having any trouble at all:

A spokeswoman for Mr. Clinton, Julia Payne, said that despite the concerns about the pace of the campaign, the former president has not had any trouble raising money or getting commitments for his library. Instead, he has devoted very little time in the last 15 months to the pursuit, focusing instead on raising money for dozens of other causes. Ms. Payne also predicted that Mr. Clinton would ultimately have no trouble raising the entire sum.
This is worth reporting? "All the News That's Fit to Print" is getting sillier and sillier. Either way -- whether Clinton's having trouble or not -- who cares? Why is the New York Times giving Bill Clinton's fundraising efforts free advertising?

Paul Krugman, eat your heart out

Stephanie Salter, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a genius. She points out that the Bush Administration keeps publicizing captured Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah's warnings/rumors about future terrorist plans, even though those threats may not be credible. Some might think that the Bush administration was just being cautious, or that Tom Ridge was being self-aggrandizing (a la Gray Davis last year), or that individual administration employees were participating in the great Washington sport of leaking to the press. But not Stephanie Salter. Salter has figured out the Secret Bush Plot. (We know it's a Secret Bush Plot, because Salter is careful to mention the "hijacked presidential election.")

So why, given who Zubaydah is -- al Qaeda's chief of operations and a sworn enemy of the United States -- is the Bush administration so eager to leak his every utterance? And to the hated U.S. news media, no less?

It couldn't possibly be to stir up confusion and insecurity, could it? To keep much of America where it's been since the horrors of Sept. 11: scared and buying anything the White House sells?

Good thinking, Stephanie. Clearly, publicizing rumors that are quickly revealed to be false is a way for the Bush administration to get people to believe "anything the White House sells." (Next: Salter reveals that the Ford Explorer rollover problem is just a scheme by Ford to get free publicity.)

April 30, 2002

Can I just get some Flintstones vitamins?

Another victory for free speech, as the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote overturned a ban on advertising certain types of drugs. The government's seemingly indefensible position was that by keeping information about "compounded drugs" -- essentially, drugs custom-made for an individual customer -- from the public, that this would protect the public health. The logic, in part, was that if customers didn't know about the drugs, then customers couldn't ask about the drugs, and thus customers who didn't need the drugs wouldn't get them. But as the court held:

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that regulating speech must be a last — not first — resort. Yet here it seems to have been the first strategy the government thought to try.
Given that the law already restricted the sale of compounded drugs to people who needed them, it would seem difficult to argue that keeping them ignorant serves any additional useful function.

Kudos to Eugene Volokh, whose analysis of the free speech proclivities of the Justices continues to hold true. "Liberal" Justice Steven Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, in favor of restricting speech, just as Volokh's work suggests would be likely.

This ruling, while relatively insigificant itself, is yet another strong signal that the court is unlikely to look favorably on the advertising prohibitions contained in the McCainShaysFeingoldMeehan campaign finance "reform" bill. Historically, pornography and commercial speech have been the least-protected, first amendment-wise, and yet this court has now ruled, in the space of a month's time, in favor of freedom in each of these areas. Doesn't look too good for McCain.

Sounds good? It isn't.

Last week, the Washington Times carried an op/ed piece by Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kyl, promoting their Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment. (Or, rather, the "Feinstein-Kyl Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment." I know Washington is all about promoting oneself, but isn't it a little unseemly to name a proposal for a constitutional amendment eponymously?)

We need a victims' rights constitutional amendment because of people such as Roberta Roper, Sharon Christian, Ross and Betty Parks and Virginia Bell. Ms. Roper was denied the opportunity to watch the trial of her daughter's murderer; Ms. Christian was not informed of her rapist's release from custody and ran into him two weeks after the attack; Mr. and Mrs. Parks were never consulted regarding a seven-year delay in the trial of their daughter's killer; and Ms. Bell suffered debilitating and expensive injuries from a mugging but received only $387 in restitution.
All those sound like unpleasant experiences for the people involved, but it trivializes the constitution to suggest that it be amended to prevent them. To suggest that it's a good policy to notify victims when their attackers are being released is one thing; to suggest that someone should have a constitutional right to be so notified is quite another. The Constitution is a document to establish and limit the authority of government, not to hand out goodies. To say that criminal defendants have constitutional rights, but "crime victims have absolutely none" is just demagoguery. Crime victims have the same rights that criminal defendants do.

Indeed, it's not even clear what a constitutional amendment would accomplish in the instances described by the senators; most of them sound like bureaucratic failures, not constitutional ones. Indeed, as Feinstein and Kyl indicate, laws guaranteeing victims many "rights" already exist.

Moreover, mere state law has proven inadequate to protect victims' rights. For example, a U.S. Justice Department-sponsored report found that, even in states with strong legal protections for victims' rights, many victims are denied those rights. This report concluded that state safeguards are insufficient to guarantee victims' rights, and that only a federal constitutional amendment can ensure that crime victims receive the rights they are due.
See? If "victims are denied those rights," it's because someone isn't doing his job, isn't enforcing the law.  A constitutional amendment isn't magic; it still needs to be enforced just like any other law. If the Feinstein/Kyl logic is that the states ignore the law, then doesn't that suggest bigger problems with the government than whether there are victims' rights bills? And don't think that the government is incapable of ignoring constitutional amendments; from racial preferences to gun control, politicians treat the constitution as a mere suggestion when it suits them to do so.

So is there any real point here, other than pandering?

May 1, 2002

Also, the Pacific Ocean is "really big."

The New York Times discovers that international law isn't clear, and can't be enforced. Is this news to anybody except Noam Chomsky?

Study shows nuclear war would hurt minorities

The New York Times loves this stuff: black and hispanic people pay higher interest rates for their mortgages than white people do. Or at least a new study being released today by the Center for Community Change claims that this is true. (According to the Times; I failed to find the study on the organization's badly-organized website.)

A far greater share of black and Hispanic homeowners with above-average incomes still have mortgages with higher interest rates than whites with comparable incomes, according to a study to be released today. The research suggests that conventional banks, despite recent progress, have failed to reach many minority borrowers who would qualify for good mortgages based on their salary and credit history, housing experts said.

In its most surprising finding, the study said that the racial disparities increased as homeowners' salaries rose. Among households that made at least 120 percent of the typical income in their metropolitan area, 32 percent of blacks held high-interest, or subprime, loans while only 11 percent of whites did. Among households that made 80 percent or less of the typical local salary, 56 percent of blacks had subprime loans and 25 percent of whites did.

"The market isn't working as it should," said Allen J. Fishbein, general counsel at the Center for Community Change, a housing advocacy group in Washington that conducted the study. "It's pretty striking."

The market isn't working as it should. Groups that produce absolutely no value for society, like the Center for Community Change, somehow manage to stay in "business". They can produce "research" with absolutely zero value, and yet somehow never get discredited. They can study the granting of credit by lenders without actually looking at the factors that lenders use in granting credit, and the Paper of Record still thinks they're worthy of receiving press coverage:
The study's authors acknowledged that their findings did not prove that minority borrowers unfairly pay high mortgage rates, because applicants' credit histories were not considered. But the authors said the gaps between subprime lending to whites and minority borrowers were probably too big to reflect only credit differences.
"Probably?" Ah. I believe that's the method lenders use for granting credit: "Well, you didn't put this information on the application, but you'll 'probably' pay it back. Have some money." Wouldn't science be so much easier if we could use the "probably" standard?

Maybe they'll even stop blaming Jews for the 9/11 attacks

Palestinian officials now admit that there was no Jenin massacre.

Palestinian officials yesterday put the death toll at 56 in the two-week Israeli assault on Jenin, dropping claims of a massacre of 500 that had sparked demands for a U.N. investigation.

The official Palestinian body count, which is not disproportionate to the 33 Israeli soldiers killed in the incursion, was disclosed by Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, the director of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement for the northern West Bank, after a team of four Palestinian-appointed investigators reported to him in his Jenin office.

So when does the apology arrive from the United Nations?

By the way, I think they call this "denial":

He no longer used the ubiquitous Palestinian charge of "massacre" and instead portrayed the battle as a "victory" for Palestinians in resisting Israeli forces. "Here the Israelis, who tried to break the Palestinian willpower, have been taught a lesson," Mr. Kadoura said.
I wonder if the Palestinians have ever heard of Pyrrhus?

Putting the "vice" in vice principal

I don't think any commentary I could provide would add anything to this story about school officials:

Angry parents demanded the resignation of a California high school vice principal Tuesday because she lifted the skirts of teenage girls at a dance in front of men and male classmates to make sure they were wearing "appropriate" underwear.

Parents at Rancho Bernardo High School in suburban San Diego say the vice principal, Rita Wilson, made the girls prove that they were not wearing thong underwear before they were allowed into the dance on Friday.

In some cases, said Rancho Bernardo parent Kim Teal, girls also were made to partially undress if Wilson or another teacher suspected that they weren't wearing bras.

Has anybody tried drug testing the vice principal?

Update: Having read the local coverage of the story, there's an even more horrifying element:

San Diego city police Officer Greg Bisesto said that while patrolling the dance, which was attended by about 725 students, he watched Wilson force dozens of girls to lift their skirts. He said he heard Wilson ask the questions: "Are you wearing underwear? If so, is it a thong? . . . Then let me check."

"I just thought, 'Oh, my God, what is she doing?' " Bisesto said. "This is totally out of line."

[...]

Bisesto, the police officer, said he approached Assistant Principal Michael Mosgrove and asked him to talk to Wilson about her behavior. Bisesto said he does not know if Mosgrove spoke with Wilson, but he said the examinations did not stop.

So a police officer watched what was happening and didn't do anything???!??!?!?

May 2, 2002

What's a few months -- or years -- between friends?

The Washington D.C. Department of Corrections apparently flips a coin to decide who to keep in jail.

A homeless man was mistakenly imprisoned at the D.C. jail and an adjacent correctional treatment facility for five months because Department of Corrections workers failed to update computer records to indicate that a court had ordered his release within two days of his arrest.

[...]

The District is facing a $440 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Joseph S. Heard, a deaf, mute and mentally ill man who was wrongfully kept behind bars at the jail for nearly two years after a misdemeanor trespassing charge against him was dismissed. Heard was freed in August when corrections officials discovered that files authorizing his release never arrived -- and that no one at the jail had bothered to check.

But they don't always keep people in jail wrongfully; sometimes they let them out wrongfully:
Another recent case of records mismanagement involved Michael D. Hamilton, 42, a convicted bank robber who is being held at the jail on a one- to three-year sentence for parole violation after serving more than 15 years in the Virginia prison system. On March 2, a Saturday, he was erroneously released from jail.

That night, a corrections records supervisor phoned the home of Hamilton's mother in Southeast Washington to say that the jail had made a mistake and that he had to return to the facility. Hamilton did so, but not until Monday morning. Relatives said he was granted permission by the records supervisor to finish out the weekend with his family, a claim the supervisor disputes.

Hey, isn't that how Yasser Arafat runs his prisons?

But I bet Saudi students were thrilled

How much money do you think the New York City Board of Education wasted to learn that some students are still upset about the attacks on 9/11? Which students are most affected?

Children who live or attend school near ground zero were most likely to experience mental health problems, but they were not so heavily affected as children from around the city who had relatives or acquaintances injured or killed in the attack. Symptoms included thinking obsessively about the attack; trying not to think, hear or talk about it; trouble sleeping; chronic nightmares; and shortened attention spans.
So, people who knew victims were most upset, and people who lived nearby were also very upset. And the people who died weren't too happy about the whole thing, either.

Our kind of lizard

Josh Chafetz over at OxBlog explains why Pervez Musharraf's (probably) corrupt election victory wasn't such a bad thing:

And he's our Lizard, too. Sure, we're being hypocritical when we support a dictatorship anywhere. It is of such hypocrisies that international relations is made. And sure, we should support a return to a real democracy, with freely contested elections, as soon as possible. But right now, Central Asia is in crisis, and in times of crisis, even democracies have turned to temporary dictatorships. Ancient Greek and Roman republics had provisions allowing for the appointment of an absolute dictator during wartime, and even American presidents -- including Lincoln and FDR -- have assumed extraordinary powers during times of war. The ancient democracies understood that there was a crucial distinction between a dictatorship, which may sometimes be necessary temporarily to save the republic, and a tyranny, which is always antithetical to democracy. In modern times, we have found that stable democracies can dispense with dictatorships, even in times of crisis (although they may have to increase the power of the elected executive somewhat). But Pakistan has never been a stable democracy, and, in a time of crisis such as this, perhaps the best we can do is to make sure that its dictatorship does not degenerate into a tyranny. That is, we should make sure that Musharraf remains the best Lizard for the job, and we should seek to get lizards out of office entirely as soon as possible.
P.S. If you want to know about the lizards, you have to go to Josh's page.

May 3, 2002

If planes are hijacked, only hijackers will have planes

Airline pilots want to be armed. Twenty thousand of them signed a petition to Congress demanding that they be allowed to keep guns in the cockpit. Showing that they don't really understand the issue, flight attendants disagreed:

Responding angrily, the union for flight attendants declared that it would fight the proposal unless the pilots agreed to use their guns not only to defend themselves, but also to ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the airplane.
So let me get this straight: the flight attendants (nee stewardesses) would rather have the plane hijacked than have pilots be the only ones not defenseless?

Besides, that response misses the point entirely; pilots wouldn't be using the guns to defend "themselves." They'd be using the guns to defend the cockpit. And defending the cockpit does "ensure the safety of passengers and crew throughout the plane." But most importantly, defending the cockpit protects us on the ground. If potential hijackers (nee Saudis) know that the pilots are armed, they may think twice about trying to hijack the plane in the first place, making everyone safer. 

Predictably, the disarm-Americans crowd was opposed, listing all the things that could go wrong, but ignoring the reasons why pilots would want to be armed.

Although a number of House members spoke in favor of arming pilots, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opposed the effort.

Oberstar said arming pilots would give "new meaning to the flying shotgun in the days of the Wild West." Oberstar called the bill "impatient" because it would distract the TSA from the larger tasks ahead, such as using machines to screen all checked luggage for explosives by year's end.

But the award for mindless cliche of the day goes to the nonvoting delegate from the nation's gun-free crime capital:
Another Democrat, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, said a gun in the cockpit could harm innocent bystanders. "We know guns in the homes are more likely to be used for killing relatives and for suicide," she said. "We have to consider guns in the cockpit might be used for more than the purpose intended."
We know that statistics in the Congress are more likely to be used for killing the truth, and for demagoguery. Perhaps we should ban Eleanor Holmes Norton, just to be safe.

May 4, 2002

Gee, maybe the sky isn't falling.

It's a fundamental tenet of journalism that good news gets buried ("Plane didn't crash") and bad news gets front page headlines. Perhaps that's why the New York Times hides their story about reduced carbon monoxide in New York City's air deep within the paper.

While the city violated the federal standard more than 150 times in 1978 alone, it has met the standard for nearly 10 years, according to the E.P.A., in part because of pollution controls on cars, and cleaner fuels.
Still, it's refreshing to at least see it reported. Too often the only news coverage of the environment is generated by environmental lobbyists' scare tactics.

May 5, 2002

Ultimately they're both French

The big French election is tomorrow. Everyone seems convinced that Le Pen is going to be slaughtered. Le Pen certainly seems resigned to it now; he has started with claims of "fraud" before the polls even open. But he has made an attempt to appear more moderate:

Mr Le Pen appeared to play down his extremist reputation on the eve of polling, telling Israeli TV that French Jews had nothing to fear from his election.

The National Front leader once referred to the Nazi genocide of the Jews as a "detail of history".

But he assured Israelis that he had condemned recent anti-Semitic violence in France and said he would be happy to visit Israel.

(And actually, come to think of it, that's more than Chirac has done.)

Still, I'm with Glenn Reynolds on this one: my rational side says that Le Pen is repugnant, so no, I don't want him to win. But there's a bit of schadenfreude here. The French are fond of being so superior, so fond of telling us how "simplistic" we are compared to them, and yet someone far more extreme than any major American candidate is a finalist. Maybe if he does well, without winning, it will be a lesson to them.

May 6, 2002

Has anybody checked the chads?

Well, Jacques Chirac smashed his opponent, Jean Le Pen, in today's runoff presidential election in France. There was no hidden base of support for Le Pen, as he got only a slightly higher percentage of the vote (18%) than he did in the initial round of the election. Voters really did prefer the corrupt to the extremist.

But not quite as strongly as the media would like us to believe:

Turnout was estimated at about 80 percent, higher than in the first round April 21, when about 28 percent of voters stayed home. That high abstention rate, and the large number of votes going to minor candidates of the far left and far right, led to Le Pen's strong finish.
If there was higher turnout and Le Pen got essentially the same percentage of the vote this time as he did last time, then obviously the high abstention rate did not play a significant role. And moreover, higher turnout and the same percentage means that Le Pen got a million more votes in this election than the last.

So, there's a half-full/half-empty glass here: on the one hand, Le Pen was overwhelmingly rejected, with 82% of the population voting against him. On the other hand, Le Pen got 18% of the vote. One-fifth of the population of France supported a candidate widely considered to be extremist, if not fascist. What does that say about the French electorate?

And of course, the French wouldn't be the French without controversy:

The idea that Chirac, having won with many votes from the left, is now set to roll back much of the left's legislation implemented during its five years in power, has Socialists and their labor union allies fuming. No sooner were the results announced than leftists began taking to the streets, protesting not against Le Pen, as they had for the last two weeks, but against Chirac.
Don't these people have anything better to do with their time?

May 7, 2002

Palestinians score major military victory over pool hall!

At least 15 people killed, and 60 more wounded, in a homicide bombing on a pool hall near Tel Aviv. Is it just a coincidence that there was a major terrorist bombing soon after Arafat was let out of isolation? Is it just a coincidence that this happened while Sharon was in Washington meeting with President Bush? Yeah, right.

This happened soon after a deal to end the Bethlehem siege fell apart, a deal which would send some of the terrorists wanted by Israel to Italy, since nobody bothered to ask Italy and Italy doesn't really want them. And apparently the Palestinians, other than Yasser Arafat, don't like the idea either. Hey, I have an idea -- maybe Israel and the U.S. should insist that Arafat be replaced with someone who actually represents Palestinians.

May 8, 2002

Guns are bad. The New York Times says so.

The Justice Department submitted briefs to the Supreme Court on Monday that said that the Second Amendment protected an individual right, not just a collective right, to bear arms. That the current administration believes this isn't news, of course, but the Times felt the need to mention that John Ashcroft had previously announced his position to the National Rifle Association. Actually, mentioning the NRA wasn't quite enough, so the Times had to elaborate: he wrote a "letter to the rifle association's chief lobbyist."

And then the Times had to try to prove that this is a novel theory, that John Ashcroft was going against established law. Unfortunately, since he wasn't, the Times had to make something up:

The Supreme Court's view has been that the the Second Amendment protected only those rights that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation of efficiency of a well regulated militia," as the court put it in United States v. Miller, a 1939 decision that remains the court's latest word on the subject.
Actually, this cleverly clips the Supreme Court quote in just the right part so that she can paraphrase it incorrectly. The Supreme Court's view in Miller is that the Second Amendment protected only those weapons that have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia. (The actual quote:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.
One is free to agree or disagree with the Supreme Court's interpretation -- though not in a news article -- but one should at least make an attempt to describe it accurately.

Media bias demonstrated

A recently-introduced feature of the search engine Google is a news search engine. Google gathers the most prominent headlines from around the web, sorting them by story, so you get several choices for most prominent events. Since Google displays them by headline, one of the cute features is that you get to see how different sources describe the same story. It struck me as worthy of comment today, as I happened to see the following headlines relating to a study about pesticides on organic food:


(Note that this is a snapshot at a given moment; the google page and/or the stories themselves may change by the time you read this.)

Note the different slants that different sources choose. The Globe and Times choose the most pro-organic spin, describing the food as having "far less" pesticides. The Mercury declines to editorialize, saying merely that the organic food has "less." And the Tribune takes the opposite approach, focusing on the negative side of organic food, that it isn't pesticide "free".

I don't know what was going through the minds of the editors who wrote those headlines, but it's hard to imagine that it's just a coincidence.

May 9, 2002

A second marriage

In Slate, Warren Bass argues that the popular new idea of building a fence around the West Bank won't solve Israel's security problem. He makes a three part argument: first, that it's technically too difficult to build an effective fence, partly because the border is too long and the terrain is rough, and partly because organized groups can always find ways around it. Second, that an effective fence will do more to stop trade, and thus destroy the Palestinian economy (sic), than it will do to stop terrorism.

And third, he argues that it isn't a diplomatic solution:

And that, ultimately, is the biggest reason to worry about the enthusiasm for a fence: It reinforces unilateralism and helps defer indefinitely the only possible solution—negotiated partition—that has any reasonable chance of bringing peace. Unilateral disengagement by Israel would replace the land-for-peace premise of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 with land-for-violence; gut the long-standing Israeli insistence that negotiations are the lone legitimate way to resolve Arab-Israeli tensions; encourage Palestinian militance; reinforce Hezbollah's crowing insistence that force works and talks don't; and make Jerusalem and the rest of the new frontier into a new front line.
Someone once described a second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. What on earth would lead anybody to believe, at this point, that a negotiated solution has any chance of bringing peace? Land-for-peace is a fraud. What that formula always meant was land for the promise of peace. But there isn't anybody Israel can negotiate with for peace; there's nobody whose promises are worth anything to Israel.

Of course, Israel will still need to decide how to handle the settlements, but to argue that a fence won't work because it will "encourage Palestinian militance" is insane. Is the Middle East suffering from a lack of militance right now?

Not taking it lying down

William Safire goes on the offensive, insisting that the Iraq-Mohammed Atta connection is still valid. He says that Atta did meet an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, and that the CIA is covering it up in order to cover their own asses over their screwups and their "inability to conduct covert operations."

Now, I don't have any way of knowing who's correct, but, as Safire says, the people saying the meeting did take place -- i.e., the Czech government -- have no apparent reason to lie, while the CIA does. Moreover, the fact that nobody in the Administration will deny it on the record speaks volumes.

Of course, in the end it shouldn't matter; Saddam needs to go, as soon as possible. Whether he was specifically involved in 9/11 is beside the point. He's an aggressive expansionist tyrant actively searching for weapons of mass destruction. So the only thing that this information can be used to accomplish is to quiet the Europeans down when they explain why we can't and shouldn't invade. But there's no possible way to shut them up, anyway, and even if we had absolute proof of Iraq's involvement, there would be plenty of European objections to our actions.

Insult to injury

What is it with the anti-Israel Los Angeles Times? Everything that goes wrong in the Middle East is the fault of Ariel Sharon:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke off his visit to Washington by essentially saying "forget it" to diplomacy after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 Israelis near Tel Aviv. No matter how reprehensible such bombings are--and they are terrorism--the Bush administration cannot allow itself Sharon's spiteful luxury.
Self-defense is a "spiteful luxury"? There we have it: sure, the bombings are "reprehensible," but. There's always that "but."
Only a sustained effort by other nations will force Israelis and Palestinians to the conference table.Los Angeles Times will again call the attacks "reprehensible. Which will be great comfort to the families of the victims.

Throwing tantrums

Silly me; I thought that the idea of a pro-Second Amendment administration supporting the Second Amendment would be a big yawner of a story. But the New York Times and the Washington Post treated it as big news, and today, the Times' Bob Herbert froths at the mouth in his rush to condemn John Ashcroft. That's easy for Herbert, because Ashcroft represents everything Herbert hates.

The first rule of bashing politicians for supporting the Second Amendment is to mention the National Rifle Association as much as possible (six times in one column, for those of you scoring at home). If you gave Herbert a choice between the NRA and NAMBLA (which promotes sex between men and boys), he wouldn't have to think very long before choosing the latter. So not only does Herbert mention the NRA, but he argues, quite ludicrously, that Ashcroft only took the "transparently political" position because the NRA "just happened to have been a major Ashcroft campaign contributor." As if there were something wrong with taking political positions, and as if there were no supporters of the Second Amendment until the NRA came along. And this exemplifies Herbert's biggest failing as a pundit: he simply cannot accept -- in fact, cannot comprehend -- the idea of honest policy disagreement. Politicians who disagree with his views are not just wrong, but venal, greedy, stupid, selfish, and/or racist.

The N.R.A. has seldom had a better friend in government than Mr. Ashcroft. That was proved again on Monday when the Justice Department, in a pair of briefs filed with the court, rejected the long-held view of the court, the Justice Department itself and most legal scholars that the Second Amendment protects only the right of state-organized militias to own firearms. Under that interpretation, anchored by a Supreme Court ruling in 1939, Congress and local governmental authorities have great freedom to regulate the possession and use of firearms by individuals.
Leaving aside Herbert's misrepresentation of the 1939 Miller ruling, I don't know how Herbert knows what "most legal scholars" think on the subject; it's certainly not a universal view, and there are very prominent legal scholars, including liberals like Lawrence Tribe, who would disagree.

But even that isn't enough for Herbert, so he goes on to become the latest person to play politics with the war on terrorism:

How weird is it that in this post-Sept.-11 atmosphere, when the Justice Department itself is in the forefront of the effort to narrow potential threats to security, the attorney general decides it would be a good idea to throw open the doors to a wholesale increase in gun ownership?
How weird is it, Bob? Perhaps that's because the Second Amendment is not a threat to security, but a guarantee of security?  It was despicable when Ashcroft accused Democratic critics of Bush of being treasonous, and it's despicable of Herbert to insinuate that protecting the Second Amendment is somehow promoting terrorism.

But guns are evil, and Ashcroft is evil, and Herbert doesn't want to let anybody forget that.

May 10, 2002

Second prize is two seats on the commission

The Bush administration, won a legal victory on Thursday, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled unanimously that President Bush gets to appoint a member to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission has exactly zero authority, and slightly less importance than that. They issued a disputed report on the 2000 presidential election in Florida, which nobody cared about (probably because the result was preordained: "Republicans racist. Republicans bad. Democrats good.") And if you can name one other thing they've done, you need to get out of the house more. They issue reports from time to time, always finding racism. (Samples: "Racism's Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska" and "BRIEFING ON BIOTERRORISM AND HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES ")

As it happens, the Commission has another vacancy, but there appears to be some confusion about this one, as well. The Washington Post says:

With one seat open, to be filled by the Senate president pro tempore, Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Republicans have gained an additional voice in Kirsanow but are still unlikely to tip the balance of the commission.
But the New York Times says:
The four Congressional appointments to the panel rotate between Democrats and Republicans, meaning Trent Lott, the Senate Republican leader, will select Mr. Redenbaugh's successor.
Lott, Byrd, whatever. One of those guys.

That explains Noam Chomsky

The Department of Education released the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, this one in history. And American students, particularly high school seniors, don't really know much of anything about it.

Only one in 10 high school seniors scored well enough on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to be considered proficient in American history, while 17 percent of eighth graders and 18 percent of fourth graders reached that level.
Diane Ravitch suggested one possible explanation -- that teachers don't know history:
Officials also were hard-pressed to explain why the overall results were so poor. Ravitch said they could reflect the fact that 54 percent of public high school students have history teachers who did not major or minor in the subject in college. In many schools, "the way they spell history teacher is c-o-a-c-h," she said.
Still, I have another theory: a culture which refuses to judge people honestly. If you read the study, the testers graded the short answer questions using the terms "Inappropriate," "Partial," "Essential," or "Complete." The worst one can do, if one completely screws up the question, is to give an "inappropriate" response. Whatever happened to "Incorrect"?

Or, on the other hand, maybe Americans are just stupid.

May 11, 2002

Never surrender

Eugene Volokh argues that if the Supreme Court fully supports the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, that this could help proponents of gun control:

And the right, if firmly accepted by the courts, may actually facilitate the enactment of modest gun controls. Today, many proposals, such as gun registration, are opposed largely because of a quite reasonable fear that they'll lead to D.C.-like gun prohibition.

But if the courts can make clear that the Constitution takes such a prohibition off the table, this slippery slope concern may become less serious. And some people may thus become willing to support compromise legislation, precisely because the core of the right will be protected--just as the radical and alarming Bill of Rights commands.

It's an interesting theory, but Rand Simberg disagrees...
While this may be true for "modest gun controls" in general, I don't think that it will have much effect in terms of resistance to registration. Even with a formally-recognized right to own guns, many will still view registration as a potential prelude to a rapid and preemptive confiscation, because any government that contemplates consfiscating guns is likely to be indifferent to Constitutional concerns.
...and I think he has the stronger point. In fact, I'd go further, arguing that even the "modest gun controls in general" would lead to furious fights.

We have an empirical data point to work with: abortion. Abortion has been constitutionally protected for three decades, through the terms of five Republican and two Democratic presidents. The right has been upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court, even though almost the entire Court has turned over since Roe v. Wade was decided (with only Chief Justice Rehnquist remaining). In sum, it's about as settled as a controversial Supreme Court ruling can possibly be.

And yet, this has not led to the end of the abortion debate. It has not led to the acceptance of "modest abortion controls." Every restriction, no matter how small, is treated as the camel's nose in the tent. Whether the issue is parental notification or "partial birth abortions" or a waiting period or mandatory counselling, the fight over abortion rights is as vicious as it ever was.

Why hasn't the Supreme Court's definitive stance ended the acrimony? Maybe it's because the abortion debate -- not just abortion itself -- is an industry. There are too many people, too many groups whose existence depends on the fight. The first rule of bureaucracies is that they're self-perpetuating. The National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, the Pro-Life Action League, the National Right to Life Committee -- these groups all have employees and vast fund-raising apparatuses. Sure, the 24-hour waiting period may be a relatively trivial issue, but if NARAL didn't make a mountain out of the molehill, what else would it have to do?

Similarly, on the gun control debate, you have the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, the Violence Policy Center, the Brady Campaign, Americans for Gun Safety, and others. If the Supreme Court "settled" the gun control debate, and if both sides accepted it, what would these groups do to raise money? What incentive would the Violence Policy Center have for supporting only the "modest gun controls" Eugene Volokh mentions? How would the NRA stay in business unless it kept a high profile by fighting the "compromise legislation?"

We shall see.

May 12, 2002

If the astronauts get bored, they can play Pong

NASA doesn't exactly keep up with the times, technologywise:

NASA needs parts no one makes anymore.

So to keep the shuttles flying, the space agency has begun trolling the Internet — including Yahoo and eBay — to find replacement parts for electronic gear that would strike a home computer user as primitive.

Officials say the agency recently bought a load of outdated medical equipment so it could scavenge Intel 8086 chips — a variant of those chips powered I.B.M.'s first personal computer, in 1981.

When the first shuttle roared into space that year, the 8086 played a critical role, at the heart of diagnostic equipment that made sure the shuttle's twin booster rockets were safe for blastoff.

Today, more than two decades later, booster testing still uses 8086 chips, which are increasingly scarce. NASA plans to create a $20 million automated checking system, with all new hardware and software. In the meantime, it is hoarding 8086's so that a failed one does not ground the nation's fleet of aging spaceships.

And you thought Ebay was only good for collecting Star Wars action figures.

Of course, in a few decades, you'll probably be able to buy a whole shuttle on Ebay.

May 13, 2002

Gasp: Bush's advisors are advising Bush

David Sanger, the New York Times' official hatchet man on the Bush Administration, now turns his sights on Karl Rove.

Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, is expanding his White House portfolio by inserting himself into the debate over how to deal with the Middle East, trade, terrorism, Latin America and other foreign policy matters, say outside advisers and administration officials, including some who are rankled by his growing involvement.

Mr. Rove's influence beyond domestic affairs has developed gradually and is hard to measure. As one of the president's closest advisers, he offers his counsel in private, usually only for the president's ears.

Yet increasingly, officials in the administration see or imagine his influence, citing the political significance of such instances as the president's turning his back on free trade to offer protection to farmers or steelworkers.

If that seems like underwhelming evidence to you, the rest of the article won't change your mind. Sanger cites not a single person by name who's willing to criticize Rove. All we have are unnamed "administration officials." And Sanger admits that Condoleezza Rice doesn't seem to have any problem with Rove.

So where does this come from? Aha:

Increasingly, administration officials say, Mr. Rove's involvement has put off Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is described by associates as questioning why someone with a background in domestic politics should be an important voice in foreign policy. They said Secretary Powell was not happy in January when Mr. Rove told the Republican Party's winter assembly in Austin, Tex., that the party should use Mr. Bush's handling of the war in Afghanistan for political advantage.

[...]

State Department officials are less charitable, perhaps because Mr. Rove is considered far more hawkish than Secretary Powell, and far more attuned to domestic politics.

A light dawns. Sanger's repeated attacks on the Bush Administration in the past have revolved around Bush's unwillingness to support Colin Powell's mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian war. Now we see Karl Rove being attacked for not falling into line behind Colin Powell. So that's it. David Sanger is simply Colin Powell's mouthpiece, and the Times is happy to provide space in the news section for Sanger's editorials.

Media code words

When you read the word "controversial" in the newspaper, just remember that what it really means is that the reporter disagrees with the idea:

During the 2000 election campaign, pro-Israel groups were among the biggest contributors to U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida. The Fort Lauderdale Democrat got $23,400, more than he received from groups representing education and health care interests.

But Deutsch says the pro-Israel money had nothing to do with his May 2 vote for a controversial House resolution expressing unequivocal support for Israel.

Controversial? The resolution passed, 352-21.

Bad news, good news

In Israel, Likud has voted against the establishment of any Palestinian state, and this is being portrayed as a major step backwards for Ariel Sharon and for peace. Perhaps I'm an eternal optimist, but I don't think this is a big deal.

First, this was not a Knesset vote. It was merely a party resolution with no force of law, allowing the party members to politically posture for their constituents without doing any real harm. This isn't even anything new, since Likud has never endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state.

Second, this seems like just another good cop-bad cop routine. Many in Europe, and some in the U.S., consider Sharon an extremist, an obstacle to peace. Now Sharon gets to point to this resolution and say, "See, I didn't support this. I'm a moderate." All those EUrocrats who fantasize about Shimon Peres coming back and making everything better now see what the consequences of ousting Sharon would really be. This strengthens Sharon's hand in dealing with the world, which strengthens his hand in dealing with the Palestinians.

May 14, 2002

All the news that's fit to rewrite...

Susanna Cornett catches the Newspaper of Record lying about Cuba's bioweapons program:

Another point of interest - compare this excerpt from the Associated Press article on iWon:

Bush administration officials stood by Undersecretary of State John Bolton's earlier remarks that he believed Cuba had "provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states."

Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that it was not a new statement by the Bush administration.

To this excerpt from the NY Times:

His comments came as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cast some doubt on assertions last week by a senior State Department official that Cuba was making such weapons.

Huh?

She also quotes CNN, FoxNews, and the Washington Post -- all of which agree with the Associated Press, rather than the New York Times, in saying that Powell stood by Bolton's accusation. More demonstration of the power of the internet: not only are we not beholden to one publication's spin on the news, but we can quickly compare the different sources and see which one is taking liberties with the truth.

May 15, 2002

In case you were wondering

When Israelis break the law, the government does something about it:

Right-wing extremist Noam Federman was arrested Monday on suspicion of being involved in the plot to detonate a powerful bomb in the courtyard of a school for Arab girls in the A-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem two weeks ago.

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court extended Federman's remand Tuesday for a further eight days. Federman is a long-time supporter of assassinated Kach leader, Meir Kahane, and lives in the Jewish enclave of Hebron.

And I bet these (alleged) sickos won't be let out of prison as soon as everyone's back is turned. Maybe Arafat should take notes.

By the way, the paper describes those arrested as "suspected Jewish terrorists." Calling a terrorist a terrorist? Maybe Reuters should take notes.

May 16, 2002

I know I'm shocked

Apparently there's a big federal government spending program somewhere that doesn't have the desired effect. A new study shows that the government's anti-drug advertisements don't work. In fact, the study showed that there might have been an increase in drug use among people who saw the ads, though "it noted that further analysis was necessary before the ads could be directly tied to the increase."

Of course, you have to wonder about the quality of the results when you read:

The survey revealed no decline in the rate of drug use among those surveyed. But 80 percent of the parents who viewed the ads aimed at them were positively influenced to ask their child questions about their social lives and become more involved.
Gee, do you think parents are going to answer "No" to that question, regardless of what they actually did?

Certainly, the anti-drug commercials are the most benign element of the country's national drug policy. Trying to convince people not to use drugs is infinitely better than forcibly drug-testing them, kicking them out of school and/or their jobs, giving them criminal records, possibly locking them up, and otherwise invading their privacy and destroying their lives. But why would anybody who was rational think that kids (or adults, for that matter) choose to use drugs, or not, based on obvious, heavy-handed propaganda?

The anti-drug ads are designed to approach teen-agers on their own turf, offering electric guitar and skateboarding as cool alternatives to a generation too complex for "Just Say No."
Sure. Because the government is so good at promoting "cool."

Time to retire

I happened to run across this idiotic piece by Helen Thomas, who can't figure out why the United States might want to act against Iraq. Her argument is a combination of every logical fallacy one can imagine.

She starts with moral equivalence:

Yes, it violated U.N. resolutions in 1998 by ousting international weapons inspectors who were trying to make sure that it was not secretly producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

But other nations, including Israel, have violated U.N. resolutions, and we have not tried to oust their leaders.

Well, clearly Saddam Hussein is on the same level as the Israeli leadership. After all, Israel engaged in a large-scale military operation in Jenin and killed fifty people; Saddam engaged in a large-scale military operation in Halajba and killed fifty-thousand people. Surely there's no real difference there. Let's not even mention that Israel's leaders can be "ousted" peacefully; Iraq's cannot.

Then we get projection:

One explanation for Bush's fixation on ousting Saddam Hussein is that he wants to avenge his father, who was victorious against Iraq in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 but failed to unseat its ruler. Conservatives have long accused the elder Bush of not finishing the job in Baghdad.

However, considering the human cost, surely personal vengeance is not a valid reason to start a Middle East conflagration. Such a drastic move would anger even more the already alienated Arab world against America.

Bush, of course, has never given that "explanation," and has never cited that as a "reason." (And if this were a position of which Thomas approved, such as campaign finance "reform," would she describe it as "fixation?" Or would it be, say, a "commitment?")

Then we get "everyone else is doing it":

Another of the administration's arguments for an attack is that Iraq is a brutal dictatorship. It is, absolutely. But so are other nations -- Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Burma, Libya, for example. And Bush isn't trying to take them down.
And if Bush were trying to take them down, wouldn't Thomas be complaining about that?? (And aren't two of those the other members of the Axis of Evil, anyway?) Does the United States need to overthrow every evil government to justify overthrowing one evil government?

Iraq may be making doomsday chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. But wouldn't the United States make a more persuasive case if it would publicly lay out whatever evidence it has, such as satellite photos?
Persuasive to whom? I wasn't aware that American foreign policy was supposed to be determined by whether Helen Thomas liked the idea. And I don't think anybody else around the world is confused on this point. Some don't care, and some are too timid to act even if they do -- but either way, they're not waiting for proof.
Assuming that Iraq has those weapons, it is not alone. There are many nations, including the United States, that have nuclear arsenals.
And? We're hardly worried about France bombing us. More to the point, does Thomas not understand that the whole idea is to oust Hussein before he develops the weapons? It would be an incredibly stupid policy to sit there twiddling our thumbs while Hussein is building an atomic bomb, and then attack him after he has succeeded.

And finally, we get to the Rodney King approach: can't we all just get along?

It would be better to keep international pressure on the Iraqi regime for unrestrained U.N.-conducted weapons inspections that might lead to a peaceful solution. A second round of negotiations on the subject resumed at the United Nations last week with Iraq hoping to extract some concessions -- lifting economic sanctions against the country and eliminating the no-fly zones overhead -- in exchange for its permitting the return of the inspectors.
No, Helen. We've tried the "international pressure" approach. Now we want to try the real pressure approach. Note that what Thomas wants is to try the "no pressure" approach -- to have us remove sanctions in exchange for "inspections." Thomas again confuses means and ends: the goal isn't inspections; the goal is to eliminate the Iraqi threat. Inspections are a means to that end.

What I can't figure out is why this editorial is coming out now (well, actually a week ago, but I just saw it.) It's a rehash of arguments that have been made for months.

Uh, nevermind?

A less-reported side of the DNA-testing-in-the-criminal-justice-system debate: convicts who fight for DNA testing which then confirms their guilt. I knew it happened sometimes, but not this much:

Harvey's guilt did not surprise experts in DNA testing, including his attorney, Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York. About half of all conclusive post-conviction tests inculpate the inmate, rather than prove his innocence.
Wow. I guess when you're in prison for the long haul, you have little to lose. That makes it even harder to understand why some prosecutors fight so hard against the tests. In the particular case profiled here:
"We always knew Harvey was a rapist. Now we know this man who claimed to be innocent is a liar," Horan said. "I was satisfied [with Harvey's guilt] from the beginning. That's why I opposed the waste of resources. . . . [The lab] could have spent the time on cases where the victims haven't had their day in court."
The logic there's a little lacking; the prosecutor's appeals wasted far more resources than the test itself did.

Of course, DNA testing isn't a panacea; there are many cases in which it's inapplicable. But given the level of accuracy compared with other evidence, it's hard to justify not using it whenever the results could be exculpatory.

Not necessarily the news

Good piece from Rob Walker in The New Republic on how bad the evening network news shows really are.

Having recently spent three weeks as one of the 25 million or so Americans who watch the networks' flagship broadcasts (a habit that, like many millions of other Americans, I gave up long ago), I have a news flash for both sides: If the network news divisions think they are producing an evening broadcast so noble that it deserves to be defended from the corporate huns, they're kidding themselves. And if the evening news isn't dramatic enough for those corporate honchos, it's not for lack of trying. It's not just the much-noted increase in "soft" news features that now eats up a large portion of each broadcast; even the hard news now comes with a hard sell in which emotional impact trumps intellectual content with appalling consistency. The evening anchors may still look and talk like paragons of wisdom and integrity right out of our nostalgia-clouded memory of The Good Old Days, but their broadcasts are something else. Or as they might put it, "Shameless hype. Trumped-up melodrama. It pretends. To be a public service. But just how dumb is your evening news?"

[...]

One of television's advantages over print is, of course, the power of actual footage. But often this seems to be the tail that wags the dog. One evening Jennings introduced the post-headlines segment by saying, "The Senate Judiciary Committee today agreed to delay the vote on a controversial White House nomination to a federal court." He showed a clip of Senators Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy quietly bickering at the hearing. "The question is," Jennings said, "do they or do they not know their microphones are not open?" The back-and-forth between Leahy and Hatch lasted about a minute, and then Jennings repeated his question: "Did they or did they not know their microphones were open?" Here are some other questions: Who was the nominee? For what court? What's the controversy? The clip shed no light on any of this, and neither did Jennings. (It was Thomas Pickering, nominated for the Fifth Circuit, who was at the center of a tussle over his civil rights record.) This segment, too, seemed designed to elicit a kind of content-free outrage: Viewers should be angry at all this pointless bickering between senators--and it must be pointless, given that the broadcast never explained what it was about.

It goes on.

I happened to catch Peter Jennings as a guest on Bill O'Reilly yesterday. For some reason, O'Reilly's argument was that the networks need to present more opinion, more commentary. But Jennings sensibly wondered why anybody should care what he thinks about various stories. And given how little news they actually show, to provide commentary wouldn't leave time for anything else other than commercials. Besides, Glenn Reynolds provides all the punditry this country needs.

May 18, 2002

He's not a mob hitman -- he just takes money from people and then kills other people

Nicholas Kristoff comes to the conclusion that it's not all Arafat's fault that there's no peace between Israel and Palestinians. His argument?

  1. Arafat was right not to negotiate at Camp David, because, after all, President Clinton and Ehud Barak were so desperate for peace that they made even more concessions to Arafat later on.

  2. After these extra concessions were made,
    This is the moment when Mr. Arafat should have leaped. Instead he dithered, and then went to the White House on Jan. 2, 2001, to deliver a final answer — which was so murky with reservations that when the Palestinians had left the room, Mr. Clinton and his advisers huddled to try to figure out what Mr. Arafat had said.
    I think Arafat said something like, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."

  3. Arafat stalled until the Israeli elections forced a halt to negotiations, and then Palestinian violence led to Ariel Sharon's victory.
Kristoff sums up his thinking:
All in all, it is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth.
"Your honor, sure, my client was friends with the people who robbed the bank, and sure, he was in the room when they planned the bank robbery, and sure, he let them borrow his guns, and sure, he provided the bank's blueprints to them, and sure, he was in the car waiting with the engine running while they went in and held up the bank, and sure, he drove them away before the police arrived. But that doesn't mean he was part of a conspiracy to rob the bank."

Remind me, if I'm ever on trial, not to hire Kristoff to deliver my closing argument to the jury.

 

Did it ever occur to Kristoff that Arafat's problem wasn't a lack of "courage," but a lack of will? Showing he doesn't get it, Kristoff quotes:

"Arafat was the way he always was — you can't pin him down — but he wanted to continue negotiating," recalled Robert Malley, a Clinton aide in the room.
Well of course he wanted to continue negotiating. Negotiating was (and is) great for Arafat. He continually got more and more promised to him without him having to actually do anything, and it prevented Israel from taking action against him. It was a no-lose situation for Arafat. Negotiations are fine. It's compromising that Arafat has trouble with. The peace "process" is wonderful for Arafat; it's peace he doesn't want.

May 19, 2002

Wolf! Wolf!

Oh, great. Now that the "revelations" that the Bush administration was "warned" about 9/11 have become public, be prepared for a whole lot more of this:

American intelligence agencies have intercepted a vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives over the last few months indicating that the terrorist organization is trying to carry out an operation as big as the Sept. 11 attacks or bigger, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.
But what sort of operation is it going to be?
"It's again not specific — not specific as to time, not specific as to place," one senior administration official said.

[...]

The intercepted communications do not point to any detailed plans for an attack, and even the messages mentioning mass casualties do not refer specifically to the use of weapons of mass destruction like chemical, biological or nuclear devices.

So, in short, something might happen somewhere, sometime.

Do we pay people to gather this sort of "information"? No, I shouldn't say that. It's tempting to make fun of it, but in fact it's the direct, foreseeable end result of the partisan criticism coming from Tom Daschle and his ilk. If you attack people for not revealing the information they have, then they're going to respond by revealing all the information they have, whether it's useful or whether it's something someone read in a fortune cookie.

Where's the harm in that? Simple: there's an unlimited amount of data that can be gathered. That's the (relatively) easy part. The government employs people to sift through it and separate the wheat from the chaff -- the difficult part. In the scapegoating environment which surrounds congressional hearings, people are going to be afraid to do that. Nobody in his right mind would want to be the person with an unconnected dot on his desk (or worse yet, in his trash can) when the next attack comes. So the wheat stays mixed in with the chaff, the hard work never gets done, and the real information is never identified as such.

And then there's the boy-who-cried-wolf atmosphere which is going to be created. The public -- and even law enforcement -- is going to stop taking warnings seriously when they come every week and never pan out. When the true warning comes, people won't know the difference.

May 20, 2002

Getting desperate?

I was just watching television, and happened to catch the latest War on Drugs commercial. Throwing out the bad acting and boiling it down to its essence:

Don't do drugs, or your parents might ground you.
Aren't you glad the brightest minds in the country are working on the drug problem? If we put them to work on the war on terrorism, we'll end up with commercials on Al-Jazeera saying, "Don't crash planes into buildings, or you'll never get your luggage back from the airline."

May 22, 2002

Sure, they want peace

If there's anybody who's still foolish enough to believe that Israel's neighbors are really interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel, nothing will convince them. For the rest of us, this story -- of continued attempts to delegitimize Israel's existence, won't really come as a surprise: Iran and other Muslim states are trying to get Israel expelled from the International Olympic Committee.

The dispute over the status of Israel emerged Wednesday as the world's 199 national Olympic committees opened their general assembly in the predominantly Muslim country of Malaysia.

Despite pressure from Iran and some Arab countries, Israeli delegates were granted visas and allowed to attend the meetings.

However, in a sign of the political sensitivities here, no high-ranking Malaysian government official attended the opening ceremony, and the Israeli flag was not displayed with the other national flags.

There are 199 countries with Olympic committees; 198 of them were allowed to fly their flags. This is the community of nations that Israel is supposed to trust?

But the real obscenity was the argument made:

Iranian Olympic chief Mostafa Hashemi, who sent the letter to Rogge, said the IOC should abide by its own charter.

"The Olympic Charter talks about peace and cooperation and says there should be no discrimination," he said. "The Israelis are committing genocide. With genocide, it's not possible to make peace."

Genocide, by the standards of the Jenin "massacre," I suppose. But which side of this war, exactly, refuses to abide by the Olympic Charter? Do these people think we've all forgotten the Munich Olympics?

May 29, 2002

Well, duh

Headline in the Washington Post: Chandra Levy Ruled A Homicide Victim . Glad we cleared that up, for the three or four people who thought she was killed by a swarm of killer squirrels.

And blind people probably shouldn't fly planes

The Supreme Court sensibly refused to hear the appeal of a dental hygienist who was removed from his job after his dentist-boss discovered he was HIV-positive. The Eleventh Circuit had held that the risk of passing the disease to patients justified the dentist's decision.

Waddell's lawyers argued that the appeals court ignored a previous Supreme Court decision and conflicts with rulings from other federal appeals courts. They asked the high court to use the case to underscore that an employer must have objective medical evidence to claim that an employee poses a risk to the health or safety of others.

Otherwise, ``a host of imaginable disasters could be hypothesized to exclude virtually any individual with a disability,'' Waddell's lawyers wrote.

Hmm. Fatal, communicable disease. Wheelchair. No, sorry, I don't see the slippery slope there.
``If left uncorrected, the 11th Circuit's decision threatens to undermine the public's confidence in the safety of dental treatment and the nation's health care system,'' the American Dental Association said in a friend of the court brief filed in Waddell's case.
So letting someone with AIDS treat patients won't cause problems, but banning this person from treating patients will "undermine the public's confidence." Uh, yeah.

There might be reasonable arguments against the dentist's decision -- but if that's the best one people can come up with, there obviously aren't. In fact, come to think of it, any political position justified on arguments about "undermining the public's confidence" is clearly a losing position. It doesn't really mean anything. Why can't people own cell phones? It might undermine public confidence in the nation's communications infrastructure. (See how easy it is?)

Sure, you have to feel sorry for the poor dental hygienist -- but it's easy for advocacy groups who will never be treated by this guy to insist that other members of the public ought to be guinea pigs to see how safe it really is. These are the same people, ideologically speaking, who endorse the "precautionary principle" in government regulation, which says that new technologies (genetically modified food, for instance) ought not to be allowed until they're proven safe. But when it comes to someone in a protected class, all of the sudden the principle gets reversed.

Not to sound all Pat Buchanany here, but...

The Justice Department is accusing at least three Florida counties of violating the Voting Rights Act, as part of the 2000 election fiasco fallout.

Also in the third county, the Civil Rights Division's investigation "indicated that a lack of bilingual poll workers resulted in considerable confusion at the polls, and that some poll workers were hostile to Hispanic voters."

In previous documents, the government has said that Orange and Osceola counties failed to have enough Spanish-speaking poll workers and did not provide election information in both Spanish and English.

The government alleges that Miami-Dade officials did not do enough to help Haitian American voters understand the ballot, according to a copy of a proposed agreement between the county and the Justice Department.

Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you have to be a citizen to vote? Why are we letting people become citizens if they aren't proficient in English? And when I say "proficient," I mean minimal competence, really. After all, how hard is it to translate "Ralph Nader" into Spanish? (Though apparently plenty of English speakers had trouble with the instructions, which said, "Don't vote for Pat Buchanan, stupid.")

Fat chance

Last week, the New York Times wrote a story about schools that are removing, or considering removing, so-called "junk food" from their cafeterias and/or vending machines. Then, in response, they printed six letters to the editor. What were those six?


  1. Junk food is bad, and schools need to provide recess for children.
  2. We must teach nutrition in schools. (by a professor of nutrition).
  3. The content of junk foods need to be regulated more by the government.
  4. Kids need to be taught about nutrition.
  5. Junk food needs to be banned from society.
  6. Junk food needs to be banned. Commercials for junk food should be, also.

Not a single letter saying, "This isn't the concern of schools, or the government. This is the concern of parents." No letters saying, "What someone chooses to eat is a private matter, not the business of anybody else." Of course, letters to the editor aren't the views of the editors -- but the choice of which letters to print does reflect their biases.

May 30, 2002

Bad government employee. Don't assist terrorists. Well, don't do it again.

Opinionjournal linked to the story of an FAA whistleblower who got his job back. He had warned his supervisors, and later the FBI, "that an airport security trainee might be linked to a Sept 11. hijacker." For doing so, he was fired(!)

That's absurd enough. But the part that didn't get emphasized:

"We concluded that his whistle-blowing activity was a contributing factor in the decision to fire him," said special counsel spokeswoman Jane McFarland. "The supervisors are going to get a letter of caution into their personnel file. When you reasonably believe that you're raising a matter of national concern or public health and safety, you should be protected."
A letter of caution?!?!?!?!? How about a demotion? Or immediate termination? Or better yet, how about if they're taken out and executed for treason? Remember, this is after 9/11. Just two days after. And these people are obstructing attempts to check for airline security problems? And nothing happens to them? Ain't civil service protection grand?

No good deed goes unpunished

The United Nations is finally doing something right, and some people are complaining about it.

U.N. war crimes prosecutors have been providing the United States with evidence of international terrorist activities they come across during their investigations, according to senior U.S. and U.N. officials.

Officials declined to characterize the nature or quality of the evidence. But the assistance underscores the deepening cooperation between U.N. agencies and the United States on anti-terrorism matters since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The assistance has alarmed some U.N. officials, who fear it may feed a perception that the United Nations is an instrument of U.S. military and foreign policy. They voiced concern that the assistance may compromise the United Nations' efforts to establish democracy in such places as Bosnia and endanger the lives of U.N. employees, particularly in the Middle East, where they would make an easy target for Islamic militants.

Well, certainly, we wouldn't want U.N. employees to be targets. That's what Israelis and Americans are for, right?

I didn't realize, incidentally, that fighting terrorism was merely "U.S. military and foreign policy." I thought it was pretty well accepted that it was a worldwide priority -- at least outside the Muslim world. And if providing information about terrorism compromises other U.N. efforts, then perhaps those other efforts ought to be reconsidered.

Better than the Weather Channel?

Just in case you had far too much free time:

First Ozzy. Now Anna Nicole Smith.

The former stripper who married a millionaire and posed nude for Playboy magazine is about to get her own reality TV show.

The daily life of Smith, 33, will be televised on E! Entertainment Television's new "The Anna Nicole Smith Show," network officials said Wednesday. The show is scheduled to debut in August.

Its creators promise the half-hour program will provide an inside look at the woman who in March was awarded $88 million from the estate of her late husband.

Okay, I know what Smith's appeal is. But after the first two episodes, what would you focus on?

Opening shots

Public defenders in Washington D.C. are challenging the city's virtually-complete ban on handguns on behalf of two of their clients who are charged with carrying guns without a license. This is the result of the Attorney General's recent pronouncement that he considered the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Of course, we get the obligatory whining from the anti-gun crowd:

Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy group, said it was inevitable that criminal defendants would use Ashcroft's arguments to challenge gun laws.

"People have been thinking about this as an abstract legal theory when it's been clear that Ashcroft's interpretation would have real-world consequences," Nosanchuk said.

I don't know which people were thinking of this "as an abstract legal theory"; I think most people who have thought about the issue at all realized that this was about the real-world right to own guns. Note the slanted description of the issue as "criminal defendants" challenging gun laws, as opposed to "citizens" challenging them.

Still, you should expect slanting; what you shouldn't expect are blatant lies:

The Second Amendment -- "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" -- was interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939 to apply only to militias and not to individuals.
It's one thing to disagree with a particular policy, or a particular Supreme Court decision. It's quite another to rewrite these decisions. The Miller case (the 1939 case that newspapers never seem to identify, perhaps so that readers can't fact-check them) does not say that the second amendment applies "only to militias and not to individuals." Rather, it clearly discusses the right as an individual one, because the individual rights interpretation does not conflict with the militia interpretation.

Given the Bush Administration's position, as well as the increasing acceptance in the legal community of the individual rights interpretation, the District's ban looks extremely vulnerable. That won't necessarily help the particular defendants involved in these cases, both of whom have criminal records which might justify restrictions of their second amendment rights. But it would be a major victory for the gun rights community. And if crime decreases in Washington as a result -- as John Lott's research suggests that it should -- it could turn out to be the gun control industry's Waterloo.

Central air, central planning

The New York Times is annoyed (what else is new?) at the Bush Administration.

An administration staffed with aggressive corporate executives might normally be expected to embrace cutting-edge solutions to the country's energy problems — especially when those solutions are accessible and affordable.
So what's a "cutting-edge solution," from the viewpoint of the editors of the New York Times? Why, federal regulation. What could be more cutting-edge than that? Aside maybe from a papal edict, I mean.

The Times is upset because the Bush Administration committed the unforgivable sin of proposing a mandatory 20% increase in fuel efficiency for central air conditioners. Why is that cause for alarm? Because one of Bill Clinton's eleventh hour decisions was to require a 30% increase. And thus, somehow, to the New York Times, a requirement that manufacturers increase efficiency by 20% reflects an "ideological suspicion of anything resembling top-down government." And ideology is always bad. Unless it's a liberal ideology.

And one of the main tenets of liberal ideology, incidentally, is that no cost is ever too high, as long as someone else is paying:

Most manufacturers have the ability to produce the more efficient units. But except for the second-largest maker, Goodman Manufacturing, none of the big companies wanted to proceed with the Clinton rule. They argued, and the Bush administration agreed, that the Clinton standard would make air-conditioners too expensive for low-income families and discourage others from replacing older systems. In actual fact, the up-front cost difference between the 20 and 30 percent standards is about $100 per unit — an amount that could be recovered through electricity savings in three to five years.
Well, no big deal then. I wonder if the editors of the New York Times are willing to front me $100 now. I promise to pay them back in three to five years.

A matter of perspective

While everyone else is holding up FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley as a hero for exposing the Bureau's incompetent failure to follow through in investigating Zacarias Moussaoui, law professor Jonathan Turley holds a different point of view:

What is astonishing is how little of her memo actually has been read or quoted beyond its most sensational suggestions, like the notion that Rowley and her colleagues might have been able to prevent one or more of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rowley's criticism of the FBI largely turns on disagreement over the meaning of probable cause. Rowley insists that there was probable cause to secure a search warrant for Moussaoui's computer and personal effects. The FBI headquarters disagreed, and it was right.

On Aug. 15, 2001, Moussaoui was arrested by the Immigration and Nationalization Service on a charge of overstaying his visa. At that time, the Minnesota office only had an "overstay" prisoner and a suspicion from an agent that he might be a terrorist because of his religious beliefs and flight training. If this hunch amounted to probable cause, it is hard to imagine what would not satisfy such a standard.

[...]

Rowley also places importance on a French report that "confirmed [Moussaoui's] radical fundamentalist Islamic" affiliations. This report was extremely vague and discounted by the FBI and other intelligence and foreign agencies.

Turley argues that the 9/11 attacks provided the probable cause which was lacking before. Of course, unless Turley knows far more about the French information than he's saying, I don't see how he can possibly come to a conclusion about the existence of probable cause. Moreover, Turley ignores the complaint by Rowley that the FBI didn't even try to get a warrant.


Note: the memo in question, written by Rowley, is here.

May 31, 2002

Coining a new term

I just wanted to give credit to Damian Penny for his important contribution to political theory:

Allow me to announce the discovery of Penny's Law: no matter how crazy a person may appear, there's always someone crazier.
And if you read some of his other entries, you'll see what he's talking about.

June 2, 2002

It's nothing personal

Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviewed the fugitive accused planner of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who is hiding in Iraq. According to the suspect, Abdul Rahman Yasin the World Trade Center wasn't the original target.

In an interview to be broadcast tomorrow on "60 Minutes," Mr. Yasin, 42, said that Mr. Yousef had told him, "I want to blow up Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn," but that after scouting Crown Heights and Williamsburg, Mr. Yousef had a new idea.

"Ramzi Yousef told us to go to the World Trade Center," Mr. Yasin said in the interview, recalling that Mr. Yousef had said: "I have an idea we should do one big explosion rather than do small ones in Jewish neighborhoods."

"The majority of the people who work in the World Trade Center are Jews," Mr. Yasin told Ms. Stahl.

But Islam is a religion of peace, right?

I wonder how the apologists for terrorism, who claim that Islamofacists just hate Zionists, not Jews, will spin this one.

[Update: my father wanted me to point out that the word "hiding," above, should be in quotation marks, and noted that this is yet another good reason to oust Saddam Hussein.]

June 6, 2002

Would you buy a used blog from this man?

I think Max Power has it right about collaborative blogs. Even though blogging is s'posed to be just for fun, I feel guilty whenever I miss a day or two. And it would be nice if some of those who have something to say and who regularly email me offline could contribute to discussions.

Plus, someone else could assist in coming up with those witty titles for each entry.

Maybe the Cliff's Notes version isn't enough


Earlier this week, the New York Times portrayed George Bush's position on global warming as having undergone a "stark shift".

In the report, the administration for the first time mostly blames human actions for recent global warming. It says the main culprit is the burning of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Too bad that the report doesn't really say anything of the kind. As a skeptical reader (let's call him "Dad") points out, the report's overview demonstrates the continued ambiguity of the administration's position. (Italics are his comments):
Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise. While the changes observed over the last several decades are likely due mostly to human activities, we cannot rule out that some significant part is also a reflection of natural variability.

The first sentence states that human activities ARE causing greenhouse gases to accumulate with no qualifications. The very next sentence then states that (1) "it is LIKELY due" which clearly weakens the first sentence, and (2) "We CANNOT RULE OUT natural variability" which again weakens the first sentence.

Reducing the wide range of uncertainty inherent in current model predictions will require major advances in understanding and modeling of the factors that determine atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and the feedback processes that deter-mine the sensitivity of the climate system.

This is exactly the point I have been making that we need "advances in understanding and modeling of the factors that determine atmospheric concentrations". What could be clearer than that statement that we currently lack the knowledge to make valid predictions?

Specifically, this will involve reducing uncertainty regarding:

  • the future use of fossil fuels and future emissions of methane,
  • the fraction of the future fossil fuel carbon that will remain in the atmosphere and provide radiative forcing versus exchange with the oceans or net exchange with the land biosphere,
  • the feedbacks in the climate system that determine both the magnitude of the change and the rate of energy uptake by the oceans,
  • the impacts of climate change on regional and local levels,
  • the nature and causes of the natural variability of climate and its interactions with forced changes, and
  • the direct and indirect effects of the changing distributions of aerosols.

The list states that we neither know the future amount of emissions nor the basic science on how these emissions affect the climate. Besides that we got the problem licked!

Knowledge of the climate system and of projections about the future climate is derived from fundamental physics, chemistry, and observations. Data are then incorporated in global circulation models. However, model projections are limited by the paucity of data available to evaluate the ability of coupled models to simulate important aspects of climate. To overcome these limitations, it is essential to ensure the existence of a long-term observing system and to make more comprehensive regional measurements of greenhouse gases.

And besides the lack of fundamental understanding of the science, we don't even have enough data for the models!

Evidence is also emerging that black carbon aerosols (soot), which are formed by incomplete combustion, may be a significant contributor to global warming, although their relative importance is difficult to quantify at this point. These aerosols have significant negative health impacts, particularly in developing countries.

Well, we are not sure of the effect of black carbon aerosols - "its relative importance is difficult to quantify" - i.e., we DO NOT KNOW how to model it, however it is bad for our health. I agree, breathing soot is bad for our health.

While current analyses are unable to predict with confidence the timing, magnitude, or regional distribution of climate change,

This sentence states that we currently are not able to make accurate predictions of when it will happen, where it will happen, and how much it will be. Do people really think we should take any action without this knowledge?

the best scientific information indicates that if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, changes are likely to occur.

"changes are likely to occur. " - What a forceful statement. I don't think any one expects otherwise. However, it would be nice it we knew what these changes are, before we cripple our economy.

The U.S. National Research Council has cautioned, however, that "because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warmings should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)."

"The US National research Council has cautioned that the magnitude of future warmings should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)!" That is exactly what I have been trying to explain. What about this statement can't people understand? We need to do more research. We do not currently have a fundamental understanding of the problem!

Moreover, there is perhaps even greater uncertainty regarding the social, environmental, and economic consequences of changes in climate.

And if the last statement was not bad enough, there is a GREATER uncertainty as to the "social, environmental, and economic consequences of changes in climate."

I agree 100% with this assessment. Now let's take the politics out of global warming and get back to doing the necessary research to understand the problem.

Of course, this doesn't constitute proof of anything, as far as the science goes. But it does show that as far as the New York Times is concerned, they'll seize on anything to try to prove that Bush flip-flopped.

Environmental politics, with a patented Law & Order Twist™

The administration knows no shame. Almost every other industrialized country is ratifying the Kyoto treaty, and yet the reactionary government simply refuses to go along with them.

The reason, according to reports? Well, the head of the country says, "For us to ratify the protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry." And the "government has also opposed the protocol because it does not order developing countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming." And of course "industries that emit the gases will be forced out of business while similar producers will continue operating in developing nations."

What other decent nation would ever use these as excuses? How disgusting is George Bush?

Well, The Rest Of The Story (as Paul Harvey would say), is that this announcement was made, not by President Bush, but by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Could it be that these arguments aren't just used by puppets of American corporate interests? Perhaps there's some merit to the position?

(The New York Times, incidentally, thought this was barely worth a mention. Gee, I'm shocked.)

June 7, 2002

Shocked to find there's gambling here

Dave Itzkoff, a former editor at Maxim magazine, just discovered, after two and a half years working there, that its editorial standards aren't quite those of, say, the New Yorker. Hey Dave, to save you some time pondering, I'll let you in on another well-kept secret: pro wrestling ain't real.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is Chinese?

The Beijing Evening News reported that Congress is threatening to move from Washington if they don't get a brand new Capitol building. Unfortunately, they copied the story from The Onion, which isn't known for its fact-checking. Or fact-reporting. Fortunately, despite the lack of a tradition of a free press, the Chinese have learned the American approach to media criticism, which is simply to deny that there's a problem:

Yu Bin, the editor in charge of international news, acknowledged Thursday that he had no idea where the writer, Huang Ke, originally got the story. Yu said he would tell Huang to "be more careful next time."

But he adamantly ruled out a correction and grew slightly obstreperous when pressed to comment on the article's total lack of truth.

"How do you know whether or not we checked the source before we published the story?" Yu demanded in a phone interview. "How can you prove it's not correct? Is it incorrect just because you say it is?"

The New York Times responded by making Yu a full-time columnist for the paper, saying, "Hey, it works for Kristoff and Krugman."

Adventures in set theory

A California judge fined R.J. Reynolds $20 million for advertising that he said targeted teens.

''Over time, one of two things is going to happen,'' Sugarman said. ''One, they're going to reach a reasonable standard around the country.'' Or, he said, there could be a ''splintering'' of opinion. ''It's not beyond the realm of possibility that as a practical matter you'll have different standards in different places,'' he said.
You don't say.

That '80s Show

In case you were upset that Fox had cancelled it, The Nation is bringing it back, issuing an "urgent call" to "End the nuclear danger." How are we going to do it? Well, sign a petition, of course:

WE THEREFORE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES AND RUSSIA TO FULFILL THEIR COMMITMENTS UNDER THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY TO MOVE TOGETHER WITH THE OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS, STEP BY CAREFULLY INSPECTED AND VERIFIED STEP, TO THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AS KEY STEPS TOWARD THIS GOAL, WE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES TO:

§  RENOUNCE the first use of nuclear weapons.

§  Permanently END the development, testing and production of nuclear warheads.

§  SEEK AGREEMENT with Russia on the mutual and verified destruction of nuclear weapons withdrawn under treaties, and increase the resources available here and in the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear warheads and material and to implement destruction.

§  STRENGTHEN nonproliferation efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, finalizing a missile ban in North Korea, supporting UN inspections in Iraq, locating and reducing fissile material worldwide and negotiating a ban on its production.

§  TAKE nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert in concert with the other nuclear powers (the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel) in order to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.

§  INITIATE talks on further nuclear cuts, beginning with US and Russian reductions to 1,000 warheads each.

Tell you what: let the Nation readers go over to Pakistan and present them with this petition. Let us know how it turns out.

June 9, 2002

Something's missing...

New York City agencies are helping to train landlords as to what to look for in identifying potential terrorists. Or at least, that's the theory.

Landlords should be suspicious of tenants who insist on first-floor apartments, have little furniture, use cash, prefer pay phones and try to hide their identities, New York Police Department officials said yesterday at a briefing on fighting terrorism.
Somehow I think there's an even more important element in identifying terrorists, though. What's the most obvious thing that the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the Cole bombers and the embassy bombers, had in common? Hint: it wasn't a lack of furniture. Either the New York Times is being politically correct in not reporting the obvious, or law enforcement is still not being serious in fighting this war on terrorism.

Nobody is suggesting rounding up all Arabs and Arab-Americans into internment camps. But as long as the government continues to pretend that the single most important identifying characteristic isn't religion/ethnicity, we're going to be faced with the spectacle of 90-year old grandmothers and 5-year old kids being randomly screened at airports, while civil servants ignore Arab immigrants who talk about blowing up American cities.

June 10, 2002

And speaking of politically correct

When an appeals court ruled last month in Grutter v. Bollinger that the University of Michigan's affirmative action/quota policy was constitutional, a basic rationale was the need to promote diversity. But as the dissent noted, "diversity," as used by the university, simply meant that more black people were needed to fill a quota.

Unfortunately, if predictably, that's what the word "diversity" seems to have evolved to mean, in public as well as in legal contexts. In an otherwise bland story about my hometown, the Baltimore Sun provided this little gem:

Diversity is lacking at River Hill High School, where 78 percent of the students are white, 6 percent are black, 15 percent are Asian and 1 percent are Hispanic.
Twenty-two percent non-white doesn't constitute "diversity?" Well, clearly it does, unless diversity is simply defined to mean "many black people." (Asians simply do not count, in this calculus.)

June 11, 2002

I'm not dead yet

With all due respect to Max Power, his evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent seems awfully unconvincing to me.

In my mind, the proof that it does deter (at the margins) is the habeas litigation levels in the United States. The ratio of convicted murderers on death row who litigate like the dickens to have a death penalty commuted to a life sentence to the convicted murderers who give up appeals and accept their execution must be at least 100:1. Even if you include suicides and indirect suicides by murderers who get into shootouts with police rather than surrender (though if you include death row and jailhouse suicides, you should also include the thousands of life-without-parole prisoners who don't commit suicide in the ratio), and discount some to account for the costlessness of death sentence appeals thanks to tireless "pro bono" efforts by attorneys to nullify the death penalty through litigation, the ratio is sufficiently huge to suggest that the vast majority of murderers prefer life imprisonment to an execution.
Of course most people prefer life imprisonment to an execution. But that's answering a question that wasn't asked. That's the choice faced by someone who has already been caught, not the choice faced by a potential murderer (with the exception, perhaps, of those who are already in prison for life.)

That doesn't mean that I don't think that the death penalty can have a deterrent effect; I just don't think that the behavior of those already facing guaranteed punishment tells us much about the behavior of those who haven't committed a crime yet.

What war?

Having defeated terrorism, eliminated poverty, cured AIDS and cancer, and eliminated illegal narcotics, Congress is ready to tackle the pressing national issue of steroids and Major League Baseball.

Congress is going to look into steroid use in baseball, following the recent disclosure that two former most valuable players used the muscle-building drugs.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday he plans to hold a hearing that also will look at steroid use in the Olympics and among college athletes. Dorgan is chairman of the consumer affairs, foreign commerce and tourism subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee.

And people wonder why libertarians complain that the government is too big and has too much money? For a libertarian, these sorts of stories epitomize ambivalence. On the one hand, Congress has no business getting involved here; it's a private matter between employer and employee, not an issue of federal concern. On the other hand, maybe it will keep Congress busy, and slow down the pace of government growth. I'd rather have them legislating over steroid use in sports than trying to nationalize the entire health care system.

On balance, this will probably turn out to be harmless -- a politician trying to get his name in the headlines by jumping on a safe, noncontroversial issue which is already in the news. And yet, the mere fact that the government has the time and taxpayer money to waste on such hearings, and that nobody is upset about that, is extremely depressing.

June 12, 2002

It depends on what the meaning of "is" is

A federal judge threw out one of the charges against the Alleged Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, on the grounds that the judge is absolutely senile.

A judge threw out one of nine charges Tuesday against a man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner with explosives in his shoes, ruling that an airplane is not a vehicle under a new anti-terrorism law.

The charge — attempting to wreck a mass transportation vehicle — was filed under the USA Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge William Young said that although an airplane was engaged in mass transportation it is not a vehicle as defined by the new law.

That ought to provide fodder for standup comics and television talking heads for a few weeks. It's true that the statute doesn't explicitly state that an airplane is a vehicle. But it doesn't say otherwise, and given the context in which the law was passed -- i.e., in response to the 9/11 attacks -- it would take an awfully strange interpretation to argue that Congress didn't mean to include attacks on airplanes.

Axis of Evil update

Either it's just getting more press coverage than it used to, or it's actually happening more frequently: North Koreans are seeking asylum in South Korea, by way of various western embassies in Beijing. Now, nine more North Koreans managed to evade the Chinese police and reach the South Korean embassy.

Because of economic policies and bad weather, North Korea has suffered a famine since 1995, during which as many as 2 million people, or 10 percent of its population, have died from hunger-related problems, according to Western aid organization estimates. Western countries, including North Korea's biggest donor, the United States, have provided thousands of tons of food. But much of the aid, distributed by the World Food Program, UNICEF and other agencies, is believed to go to members of the ruling Workers Party, soldiers, and workers and families deemed useful to the government.

Several Western aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders and Medecins du Monde, have pulled out of North Korea because they said the North Korean government did not allow them to serve North Korea's most vulnerable citizens.

[...]

The North Korean government punishes illegal emigration harshly, sometimes with execution or incarceration in brutal labor camps. Refugees have described harsh conditions, beatings, starvation and hopelessness in the camps.

It's a shame that human rights groups waste time with phony issues like the Jenin "massacre" or the treatment of Al Qaeada prisoners at Guantanamo, or a potential death sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, when they could deal with a real tragedy. The thing is, it's difficult for them to monitor North Korea,and they have no influence over the North Korean government -- and no influence means no victories, which means that donors might question their effectiveness. So they focus on easy, Western targets.

Peace for our time

Apparently it's not quite as easy to win the drug war as some might have you believe:

Mexico's attorney general said today that the country's largest drug gang remained strong despite the arrests of more than 2,000 of its members, including its operations chief, and the death of its fearsome enforcer.

Speaking at the 12th annual National Attorney Generals meeting, which is attended by top state prosecutors, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said the Arellano Félix organization's business holdings also appeared intact.

I wonder if there's any level of objective evidence that will convince committed drug warriors that a violent solution -- police or military -- to the (so-called) "drug problem" simply won't work?

June 13, 2002

Being specific

Colin Powell announced that the United States was considering the idea of supporting an interim Palestinian state. I've read the story three times, though, and I can't figure out how this differs in any substantial way from current U.S. policy. Perhaps the problem isn't my reading skills, but the fact that Powell doesn't really know what he's talking about.

He repeatedly said it was premature to talk about who would lead such a state, what its borders or capital would be, or whether it would be viable on land already under Palestinian control. All are questions that could lead to a breakdown in negotiations, as ultimately happened when the parties reached agreement on broad outlines for peace in the 1993 Oslo accords, then foundered on details
But it will definitely be in the Middle East, right?

I shouldn't mock him too much; he does have some thoughts on the matter:

But he noted: "If it's going to be a state, it will have to have some structure. It will have to have something that looks like territory, even though it may not be perfectly defined forever. And it will have to have institutions within it to be a state."
Yeah. Plus, they need to come up with a state flower, a state fish, and a state motto.

Stop me before I bomb... again?

Richard Cohen doesn't like John Ashcroft. At least he's open and honest about that. Still, it might be nice if he tried something resembling objectivity.

First, he explains that John Ashcroft is just like J. Edgar Hoover. (Which is, of course, one of the worst insults a liberal can throw.) How is John Ashcroft just like J. Edgar Hoover? Well, they both like publicity. This clearly sets these two apart from all other denizens of Washington, D.C. -- including, of course, Richard Cohen, who shuns publicity, keeping his name out of the paper as much as possible.

But the conspiracy theorizing is the best:

But Ashcroft's incessant grandstanding makes me wonder if sometimes some of what goes on is more about politics than national security. He personifies the suspicion that terrorism alerts, even arrests, are being timed and manipulated for the nightly news. It seems every revelation of some FBI or CIA screw-up is followed by yet another terrorism alert of one color or another.
So when the government is criticized for not revealing information, they respond by revealing information? Alert the media! (Oh, wait.)
It was supposedly sheer coincidence that the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley was virtually obscured by the announcement that the new homeland security Cabinet post was being proposed. Maybe so, but the announcement was clearly rushed and made with insufficient consultation.
Virtually obscured? So it being televised, and on the front page of every newspaper, doesn't count?
I wonder, too, why al Muhajir was busted at O'Hare International Airport and not followed to see what he did and whom he talked to. (He was a long way from getting a bomb of any kind.)
How close, exactly, is the FBI supposed to allow him to get before they arrest him? Perhaps it would make Cohen happy if he actually detonated it before they arrested him?

What exactly is Cohen's real complaint here? Oh yeah: nothing John Ashcroft does could possibly be correct. Hey, there are plenty of things to criticize the government over so far -- but arresting someone before he gets a bomb?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

An airplane dispatcher who works for American Airlines is claiming that she was ordered not to report the Shoe Bomber.

The American Airlines dispatcher who was monitoring a trans-Atlantic flight when the captain reported that a passenger had a shoe bomb said today that her supervisor tried to prevent her from notifying the authorities.

The supervisor worried that law enforcement officials would delay the plane on the ground, the dispatcher said. In a complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, the dispatcher said her supervisor "instructed me to hold off informing the authorities because the flight would be remotely parked, and `it would be forever before we could get the plane out of there.' "

It seems that the airline may be trying to fire her, so it's possible she's making this accusation to save her job. But if it's true, it's horrifying -- and it's not entirely implausible. I've run into bureaucrats who really do think that way.

Death and Taxes

The Senate voted down President Bush's proposal to make the estate tax repeal permanent. The vote was 54-44 in favor of repeal. Of course, the vote isn't very important right now, since it wouldn't have any effect until 2011, but the Republican plan is to lock in the repeal now, in case the Democrats are back in power then. And failing that, to be able to use this as a campaign weapon.

But what I want to know is, when did this sort of "virtual filibuster" come into existence? A bill, of course, needs 50 votes to pass, which this one had; it needed 60 votes only because that's the total needed to end a filibuster. But what happened to the Good Old Days, when a Senator who wanted to block a particular bill had to actually stand up on the Senate floor and read from a phone book for hours, until 60 Senators voted for cloture or until supporters of the bill gave up? Now, they don't even bother going through the motions; if the proponents can't get the 60 votes, they simply stop trying. What happened to accountability, where the public could see who was being obstructionist?

Can you imagine Mr. Smith Goes To Washington being shot today? Jimmy Stewart would just say, "Oh yeah? Where's your 60 percent?" and sit down. It might not have been quite as dramatic.

June 14, 2002

Is that how it works?

From a Letter to the Editor in the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re "Global Warming Follies" (editorial, June 8):

The main reason President Bush rejects the Kyoto Protocol is based on faulty reasoning; he believes that it would hurt the American economy. In fact, the opposite is true.

What is bad for Exxon is not necessarily bad for the United States economy. Ratifying Kyoto would spur new technologies and create millions of new jobs. This is just what our economy needs.

I see. So really, what Bush ought to do to end the present economic slowdown is just start banning industries right and left. If shutting down factories and increasing the cost of cars creates "millions" of jobs, then I wonder what outlawing computers would do. Or farming. Think of all the new technologies that would spring up.

Denial is a river in Holland

From the Washington Post:

"Obviously, we cannot envisage circumstances under which the United States would need to resort to military action against the Netherlands or another ally," the statement said.
Sure, keep telling yourselves that, if it makes you feel better.

Let's start by drug testing legislators

Hoping to cash in on the recent publicity, a jackassCalifornia state senator plans to introduce a bill which would mandate that Major League Baseball test its players for steroids.

"We will use the powers of the state to notify any professional sport -- we're not singling out baseball -- that they must have policy and they must show evidence that their athletes are tested once a year," Perata said.

Teams would be required to file a steroid-testing plan with the state Athletics Commission. Athletes would be tested for the presence of steroids, which are illegal without a doctor's prescription.

The Athletics Commission was founded in 1924 to look out for the welfare of boxers and has expanded to include martial arts but has no role over baseball.

The bill states that professional athletic associations could not hold events in the state without an approved steroid plan, but details on how that provision would be enforced are still be developed.

Words fail me. California has a huge deficit, the legislature has screwed up energy regulation beyond repair, and their governor is corrupt. And yet this moron, who has apparently never worked in private industry in his life, feels the need to "solve" MLB's "problems."

Aside from the sheer stupidity, it seems to me that there's a constitutional problem here; if the state can't drug test people without probable cause -- and in general, that's the case under the fourth amendment -- then can they mandate that it be done by a sports league? This is framed as a regulation of an industry, but I don't know that the state should be able to circumvent the constitution by so doing.


I don't generally go in for promoting specific action on this site, but in this case, I'll make an exception. Go to this moron's website and fill in his feedback form to tell him what you think of him and his idea (which you can track here).


And since I'm being critical, I suppose I ought to give kudos where they're appropriate:

Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, called the idea "clearly bad public policy."

"I would go for it if also all public officials -- including the Legislature, the attorney general and the governor -- were required to submit to drug testing," Oller said. "This is a tremendous overreach. These people are not even California citizens. There is a certain arrogance to not only regulate every aspect of California citizens' lives, but also to regulate those who are not citizens of the state."

Wow, a legislator who actually sounds sane.

June 20, 2002

Those who can't, teach...

The Rancho Bernardo High School vice principal who forcibly checked the underwear of students at a dance has been disciplined. They solved the problem by making her a teacher. That's what passes for accountability in the public school system. And why did the school district take two months to mete out this non-punishment?

The district had few options for disciplining Wilson because she is tenured, Phillips said. Removing her credential or firing her could open the district to the threat of a wrongful termination lawsuit and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tenure guarantees Wilson a teaching position within the district until she retires.
So apparently it would have been cheaper to have her killed. (Maybe a few decisions like that and unions would push less vigorously for tenure.)

June 21, 2002

Don't change that channel!

I'll be out of town for a few days, and blogging will be very intermittent. (Yeah, yeah, I know: what else is new. Shaddup.)

July 23, 2002

Some things never change

I leave, come back, and The New York Times is still on its rabid anti-gun crusade. (Oops. I said "crusade." Maybe someone will get offended.) Sometimes I think Andrew Sullivan is a little paranoid when he discusses theextreme bias of the new New York Times regime. Then I read stories like this one, and the paper's agenda becomes too blindingly obvious to ignore: The Times doesn't like guns. The Times doesn't like John Ashcroft. John Ashcroft said that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to own a gun. The Times simply can't resist. They're going to milk that for all it's worth, regardless of whether there's any news to report.

The current "story" is that some criminal defendants ("scores," according to the Times, though the story manages to mention only one, and he in the twenty-third paragraph of the story) are citing Ashcroft's position as a defense to gun charges. Not a single person has succeeded by using this argument, but the Times gives space to their favorite group to rant hyperbolically:

"The Justice Department has created a very dangerous situation that is endangering public safety and forcing Justice Department prosecutors to litigate with one hand tied behind their backs," said Mathew S. Nosanchuk, litigation director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group in Washington. "Criminals are using the department's own Second Amendment language to challenge the gun laws."
Wow. If you got all your news from the Times, you'd think that John Ashcroft was personally travelling the country, breaking murderers out of prison.

And so the Times frames the debate as being between those who criticize John Ashcroft for saying that people have the right to bear arms, and those who criticize John Ashcroft for not following through after saying that people have the right to bear arms. Surely there was someone out there who would defend Ashcroft, or who would at least explain his department's "narrow and cryptic" views. But if so, the Times couldn't find him. Or didn't look. And thus, one-sidedly reported a non-story as if it were big news.

"I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple."

Andrew Sullivan links to the website of the San Francisco Rent Board Commission. The site contains a chart showing the makeup of the board. Take a look at the last column of the chart: each board member is identified -- the only information provided about the member -- by race. And if race isn't enough, the chart helpfully identifies the board's gay member.

It seems to me that James Watt was fired for just this sort of behavior. Worse, he was permanently branded as "insensitive."

Why is the government telling us the race of board members? How is this appropriate in any way? The College Board, which administers the SAT and other standardized tests, will no longer even tell colleges that disabled people are disabled, on the theory that ability is no longer relevant to college admissions. And yet San Francisco's government is telling us the ethnic backgrounds, and sexual habits, of board members? Are they trying to say that a person's Hispanic heritage is relevant to the issue of whether a rent increase is "excessive?"

Is this the best advertisement possible for Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative?

July 24, 2002

Why gridlock is a good thing

The Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are competing with each other to see how much of our money they can hand over to the elderly. Fortunately, so far, the two parties haven't been able to agree on an approach, and so nothing may get passed at all.

The Democratic proposal cost more than the Republican plan — $594 billion from 2005 to 2012, compared with $370 billion. But even the Republican plan would have been the biggest expansion of Medicare since the program was created in 1965, after the landslide election of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Predictably, Republicans propose to funnel the money through insurance companies, while Democrats want to hand over the money directly to the elderly, with Ted Kennedy going on record as opposing any sort of means testing.
Democrats said they were exploring a possible compromise under which the government and private insurers would share the responsibility and the financial risks of providing drug benefits to the elderly. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, is promoting such a deal.
Gee, I wonder if the elderly should have any role in providing drug benefits to the elderly?

One of my maxims is that "Sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking." When we speak circuitously or use euphemisms, we start to forget what reality is. As such, one of my top ten pet peeves is when people talk about what "the government" will provide. The government doesn't have money; all the government has is the ability to take money from other people. There is no compromise under which the government and private insurers will do anything. The proposal is for taxpayers to provide drug benefits to the elderly. I wonder if such programs would have nearly so much support if they were phrased this way.

The Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, said he was not optimistic about the chances for a hybrid blending the Democratic and Republican approaches.

Mr. Lott said he was eager to "help the elderly poor" who have no insurance for drug expenses. But, he said, $370 billion is "unequivocally the upper limit" on what most Republicans would be willing to spend.

Well, that's certainly a "conservative" position. There's an old, mostly worn-out joke:

Man: would you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Woman: Yes.
Man: Well, would you sleep with me for ten dollars?
Woman: What kind of woman do you think I am?
Man: We've already established that; we're just haggling over the price.

We've established what kind of politician Trent Lott is. We're just haggling now. Admittedly, this price tag is no worse than that of the obscene agriculture subsidy law Bush signed weeks ago. But does anybody think it will stay this "cheap"? The elderly population isn't going to shrink. Drugs aren't going to magically get cheaper. The list of ailments treatable with drugs is going to keep growing. If the line isn't drawn now -- and I'm not optimistic -- this will turn into yet another rapidly-growing entitlement line-item, a la Social Security and Medicare, untouchable in the federal budget.

Hey, it's purely medicinal

San Francisco has officially proposed a ballot initiative that, if passed, could allow the city to grow its own marijuana. The proposal is an attempt to get around the federal government's strategy of subverting California's medical marijuana law by shutting marijuana clubs.

It's creative, anyway. And if Republicans really respected federalism, this would work. But it seems unlikely:

Federal authorities were not amused. "Unless Congress changes the law and makes marijuana a legal substance, then we have to do our job and enforce the law," said a spokesman for the regional office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
That's literally true, but it's what's known colloquially as horse manure. Every government agency has limited resources, and exercises discretion. The only reason they'd use those limited resources on such harmless endeavors as medical marijuana clubs is to send a message.

California, and San Francisco specifically, may come up with plenty of wacky ideas, but on this one they're dead on.

You have the right to remain silent

The blogosphere is abuzz with the story of an American University student, Ben Wetmore, being persecuted by school officials because he was a "gadfly" (generally, a euphemism for "jerk"). He had been critical of the university's administration, and then when they found an excuse to punish him -- for videotaping a speech by Tipper Gore -- they jumped on the opportunity.

A ridiculous abuse of authority by the school, of course. But what caught my eye was this quote, from the university's director of Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services:

Kurita said she could not discuss the specifics of Wetmore's case due to confidentiality requirements.
Rules on privacy were ostensibly intended to protect the weak. Schools and government agencies shouldn't release "customer" records without their consent. Children shouldn't have their names splashed across the front page when they're involved in a legal matter.

But in a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, these laws are used every day, not to protect citizens, but rather to shield bureaucrats from accountability. Child Welfare does nothing to prevent an abused child from being killed. Child Welfare's excuse? None; they "can't discuss it" because of confidentiality rules. Accountability? None; we don't find out who was responsible and what actions they took. A school railroads a student? The student complains. The school's explanation? None. They "can't discuss it."

Does it sound as if Wetmore wants the details of his case to be private? He approached the media. He told the story publicly. Once he does that, the school shouldn't be able to hide behind "confidentiality." These laws are supposed to keep personal data private, not to keep government actions secret. If they're being used to avoid accountability, they need to be rewritten.

July 26, 2002

You can count on it

Jason Rylander is fat. So am I. Unfortunately, I can't claim that it's because of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's new definition of "obesity," which ignores any distinction between muscle and flab. Mine really is all flab.

Still, it raises an important issue. The media is saturated with stories replete with numbers. Obesity is up X%. Teenage pregnancies are down Y%. Test scores are unchanged. Four out of five dentists recommend Trident sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum. Occasionally, we think about the implications of those statistics; more frequently, we let the pundits do it for us. But what we -- and the pundits -- virtually never do is ask what the numbers mean. What definitions were chosen? What methodology was used to gather the data?

Sometimes, the topic is trivial, as in this New York Times story which discusses the disputed methods of measuring movie box office data.

[W]eekend box-office figures released on Sunday and printed in many newspapers on Monday, including The New York Times, are based on actual box-office figures for Friday and Saturday plus each studio's guess about how its films will perform on Sunday. It is this wiggle room that has led many over the years to be overly optimistic about Sunday grosses in order to make their films No. 1 or to achieve some other goal.

[...]

Sunday guessing is not the only way that the system can be manipulated. Weekend box-office numbers also indicate the number of theaters in which a movie opens, but not the number of screens. A studio can release a movie on four or five screens at one multiplex and claim it as only one theater, raising the per-theater average for a film. Studios have often resisted, for this and other reasons, releasing the actual number of screens on which a movie opens.

But in other situations, the issue can be more serious. The supposedly rising obesity rate is leading to calls for public policy changes from all the usual suspects. (Coincidentally, all these policy changes will result in higher taxes and fewer freedoms for everyone.)

Economic policy, or at least punditry, is based on the Consumer Confidence Index. And yet, as the New Republic pointed out last year, the CCI is seriously flawed.

Although it's routinely described as a survey of 5,000 households, only about 3,500 generally return the form. The form essentially asks for a positive, negative, or neutral response to five questions about current and future business conditions.

So it's a poll.

Polls have their place, of course, but simply reporting that "x" percent of Americans surveyed feel "positive" about business conditions doesn't really seem like the kind of news that should be dominating business coverage and roiling the stock market. After all, polls from Harris and Gallup also address basic consumer confidence issues, and they never make the same splash that the confidence indexes do. Which goes to show that when you're trying to numberize a slippery idea like sentiment, an "index" trumps a "poll" every time.

How does the Conference Board convert its poll into an index? By combining the responses to its five questions and converting the resulting figure into a composite number "relative" to a benchmark score of 100.0 for 1985. (Why does 1985 equal 100 on this scale? Because it was "a basic, noneventful year," explains Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, offering some insight into the formal science of consumer confidence.)

So you've got a survey. And yet, the number is treated as if it provides deep understanding about the state of the economy.

And how about the all-important Consumer Price Index, which measures the crucial inflation rate? Well, some of its flaws have been recognized and corrected in recent years, but there are still significant problems with both the construction of the statistic and the collection of the data.

In theory, the calculation of the index is simple. It is based on a marketbasket of 211 goods and services — medicine, education, entertainment and so on — bought by the average family. The prices are tracked over time.

But the task of calculation is daunting. As the bureau chooses among millions of products, it is constrained by budget limitations and saddled with old technology. Bureau agents roam stores, looking at price tags and writing prices on pieces of paper. They interview store executives, visit homeowners to determine housing prices and ask consumers to keep daily diaries of purchases.

All kinds of variables, including new products, mean that the bureau has a tough time keeping up.

These aren't esoteric concerns. They have real implications for all of us. The budget projections which drive taxing and spending in Washington rely upon statistics like these. Whether our taxes are cut (or hiked), whether interest rates will be reduced, whether social security will be reformed so that it can stay solvent longer -- these are all dependent on this sort of data. And that data is questionable.

And yet journalists generally treats this sort of data as holy writ. There's no acknowledgement that maybe everyone in the country didn't suddenly get fat. instead, the media jumps right to the question of "What should be done to solve this crisis?"

July 28, 2002

One track mind

The New York Times runs yet another story by David Cay Johnston on a method for reducing taxes. This one involves the purchase of high-priced life insurance to avoid the estate tax. Quick, without reading the article -- three guesses for Johnston's opinion on the method.

While you're pondering that, here's a question for those of you with a good memory, or enough (too much) free time on your hands to go through the Times' archives: has David Cay Johnston ever met a tax he didn't like? Because (in case you couldn't guess), Johnston sure doesn't like this one. And, as usual, he lets us know it, despite (ostensibly) writing a news story:

The technique is legal, blessed by the I.R.S. in 1996. But some leading tax lawyers, as well as some accountants and insurance agents, say it shouldn't be. They say it effectively disguises a gift to one's heirs that should be taxed like any other gift. They also say it is but one example of how a tax exemption on life insurance that was approved by Congress in 1913 to help widows and orphans has been stretched to benefit the very richest Americans.

[...]

Sanford J. Schlesinger of the law firm Kaye Scholer said he passed up a chance to collect a six-figure fee for advising on one of these deals because he thinks the deals should not pass muster with the I.R.S. "My mother taught me that if something seems too good to be true, it isn't true," he said.

Other leading estate tax lawyers, as well as some accountants and insurance agents, say Mr. Blattmachr's insurance technique should fail because it is wholly outside the intent of Congress in giving tax breaks for life insurance, the I.R.S. ruling on the plan notwithstanding.

"If the I.R.S. understood this they would say that it relies on a disguised gift — and if you have to pay gift taxes, then Jonathan's insurance deal does not work," said an estate partner at a tax firm in New York, who like others, said they could not be identified because they have signed confidentiality agreements that are part of all such insurance deals.

Another legal expert said paying 10 times too much for insurance in a plan like this reminds him of a matriarch selling the family business to her granddaughter for $10 million when it was actually worth 10 times that amount. "The I.R.S. wouldn't let a family get away with selling the business for a dime on the dollar," this lawyer said, "and they should not allow it to work in reverse through insurance."

Certainly, that's an unbiased selection of quotes there. Now, don't get me wrong; it's okay for Johnston to want to raise everyone's taxes, particularly those of the wealthy -- but shouldn't he put that opinion on the op/ed page, rather than the front page?

Putting context into events

My collaborator Partha notes that the Princeton-Yale hullabaloo wouldn't have made such a media splash if it had been Kansas-Kansas State instead of two Ivy League schools. I agree, and I think the reason is simple: reporters enjoy storytelling rather than reporting. The latter is boring; any third rate hack can compile a list of events in article form. But if you can write about the big picture, you're a Journalist, not just a reporter. And Kansas-Kansas State is just an amusing anecdote. It happened; it was strange; the end.

But Princeton-Yale? That combination allows for "insights" like these, from the New York Times:

"This report reflects the heightened craziness about admissions decisions," said James O. Freedman, a legal scholar and the former president of Dartmouth. "It probably wouldn't subvert the Constitution, but it is competitiveness taken to a dastardly length."

Robert Schaeffer, the public education officer for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who follows college admissions closely, said this case illustrated how the competition by selective colleges for a handful of top students had become "an arms race in which each side tries to one-up the other."

and from the Washington Post:
But education experts say the larger lesson may be that the fierce competition between elite Ivy League universities for top students has finally gone too far, sparking the kind of lapse in judgment that is certain to bring renewed scrutiny to the college admission process.

"In this game, the top colleges all want to land the same students right now -- they want to win," said Alvin Sanoff, former managing editor of U.S. News and World Report's annual guide to colleges. "It has never been more competitive on either end, for students competing to get in and schools trying to land the best students."

Nowhere is that competition more strenuous than at Yale and Princeton, two of the nation's wealthiest universities. For years, they have battled over many of the same high school seniors, using financial aid and admissions reforms to lure the most attractive applicants.

Now, about five seconds' worth of thought will make clear that "fierce competition" for students and "heightened craziness" have absolutely nothing to do with this incident. It happened after both schools had already made their decisions, and provided Princeton with absolutely nothing in the way of useful information.

But if this is just a stupid, but essentially harmless, lapse in judgment, then there wouldn't be a story to tell. So both papers have to "put the events into context." Even if they have to invent the context.

"Fear and greed are built into" The New York Times

Well, Thomas Friedman is consistent, anyway. If you're going to be wrong, be wrong in style. By that standard, today's bizarre column, In oversight we trust, is certainly stylish.

Friedman's argument is -- well, actually his argument is "George Bush is evil. Enron, Worldcom, Harken. At the New York Times, we try to say these words as many times as possible next to George Bush's name." But once you get past that, his theory is that bureaucrats are good. Or, rather, some bureaucrats are good. That's right: America is better than other countries because we have better bureaucrats. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we have an SEC -- not run by corporate crony George Bush and his sinister henchman Harvey Pitt, but by the saintly Bill Clinton and his trusty sidekick Arthur Levitt -- when these (alleged) frauds were actually being perpetrated? And correct me again if I'm wrong, but was it the crusading investigators of the SEC who uncovered the Enron fraud? That's just not quite how I remember it.

What Friedman doesn't understand, apparently, is that all the bureaucrats in the world don't prevent crimes from occurring. They can create new crimes by requiring lots of paperwork to be filled out in triplicate, but they can't prevent crimes from taking place. Certainly, vigorous prosecution of people who are caught committing fraud is necessary and desirable -- and should serve to deter future would-be con artists. But all the SEC reports, rules, and regulations in the world aren't going to do a thing to stop those already willing to break the law and cheat others.

I could go on, but I'd like to quote a different Friedman -- Milton -- in rebuttal. (From Jacob Sullum's column this week in Reason.) He was talking about the war on drugs, but his observations apply more generally:

Friedman said "the war on drugs and the harm which it does are simply manifestations of a much broader problem: the substitution of political mechanisms for market mechanisms in a wide variety of areas." He estimated that "the United States today is a little over fifty percent socialist," as measured by the resources the government commands through taxes and regulation.

Friedman emphasized that "the problem is not the kind of people who run our governmental institutions versus those who run our private institutions. The trouble, as the Marxists used to say, is in the system."

In particular, he explained, the ability to spend other people's money at will means that government programs do not face the discipline that private businesses do. "When a private enterprise fails, it is closed down," he noted. "When a government enterprise fails, it is expanded."

Friedman cautioned reformers against trying "to cure a problem created by socialism [with] some more socialism" by putting the government in charge of drug distribution. He urged them to "recognize that repealing drug prohibition is part of the broader problem of cutting down the scope and power of the government and restoring power to the people."

(Emphasis added.) It's as if Milton Friedman was reading Tom Friedman's mind. The SEC didn't work? This proves the need for the SEC! In fact, more SEC! It never even occurs to Tom to try a different approach.

July 29, 2002

Alexander Haig is in charge here?

Imagine that Bill Clinton had appointed an extremely conservative Democrat to be Secretary of State, someone who didn't share many of Clinton's views. (Hey, use your imagination; I know Clinton "triangulated" so much that it was hard to find someone whose views he didn't claim to share.) Someone, say, who didn't believe in multilateralism, someone who felt the U.S. should act quickly and decisively, with force if necessary, whenever the country's interests were threatened, regardless of how others around the world felt. Further, imagine that this individual's disagreements with Clinton were made widely known in the media by his supporters. Sometimes he would go to a press conference and make a statement which directly contradicted Clinton's position on an issue.

Here's a quick quiz for you: How do you think the editorial board of the New York Times would feel about this hypothetical person? Would they celebrate his principled stands? Would they urge him to "throw a tantrum or two" in order to get his way? Would they argue that his job as Secretary of State was to conduct his own foreign policy, regardless of the wishes of the president?

I can't be certain, but I doubt it. I suspect they would be calling for this individual's resignation, at a minimum for failing to be a team player, and at worst for undermining the president. And yet, maybe I'm wrong. Because they see nothing wrong with suggesting that Colin Powell should be disloyal to the president of the United States:

If Mr. Powell were on a winning streak, his conciliatory style might look more appealing. The measure of success for secretaries of state is not whether they loyally follow the lead of the president, but whether they guide foreign policy in directions that advance American interests abroad. Mr. Powell has the convictions and seasoning to be a great secretary of state, but he will not achieve that stature if he fails to stand his ground.
Got that? According to the Times, Powell's job isn't to serve the president, but to run the country's foreign policy on his own. And note the part about Powell's "conciliatory style". As if the president and the secretary of state were equals, and Powell was acting magnanimously by agreeing to do things Bush's way.

I know the editors of the Times are upset that George Bush is president, and think that they could do a better job running the country. But at some point they need to get over it, and realize that they'll have to wait until 2004 if they want our foreign policy to resemble Belgium's.

So what's that wacky Axis of Evil up to, now?

Some have complained about the president's inclusion of Iran on Bush's list, saying that Iran is reforming. That it's moderate. Maybe they should read more about what's actually happening in Iran:

A court dissolved one of Iran's oldest opposition parties on Saturday, sentencing some members to jail and banning others from political activity for as long as 10 years.

The action was part of a new wave of repression that has included the closing of two newspapers and the interrogation of several Iranian intellectuals this month.

This isn't some extremist group, either; the party was religious, had supported the Islamic revolution, and supported the current president, Mohammed Khatami. And what was their "crime"?
The dissidents were charged with a series of crimes, including seeking to topple the country's Islamic government, spreading rumors and lies by giving lectures and interviews, and having links with foreigners. Members said they would appeal the sentences.
Maybe they could appeal to those Europeans who thought Bush was being too "simplistic."

July 30, 2002

When is a problem not a problem?

When the New York Times makes it up. According to the Times' headline writers, "Wife Killings at Fort Reflect Growing Problem in Military". The article, of course, discusses the killings of four women at Fort Bragg by their military spouses over the last six weeks. It's certainly shocking, and worth reporting. So why do I criticize the Times? Because not one fact in the article substantiates in any way the Times' claim that the problem is "growing." Some data is cited, but that data is unrelated to the claim, and moreover, as even the Times admits:

The numbers have been sharply debated by experts and are difficult to calculate, because the military counts only married couples in incidents of domestic violence, not former spouses or girlfriends.
I'm sensing a pattern; on Monday, OpinionJournal noted (Scroll down) another example of the New York Times making up a headline that fit nicely with their editorial biases, but not with the facts in the story.

These are both examples of ideological bias, but they're also an example of a phenomenon I noted the other day: the Times' desperate need to "put events into context." Why write about four individual murders when you can write about a societal problem which is "reflected" by those four murders?

New York Times signs treaty with Iraq, declares war on U.S.

Okay, perhaps the editors haven't quite gone that far. Yet. But they're doing everything short of shipping weapons to Baghdad in an attempt to undermine the Bush administration's supposed intention to invade Iraq. (I think this would be Ann Coulter's cue to accuse them of treason and suggest they be deported to Guantanamo.)

First, they reported possible U.S. plans to invade Iraq from three sides simultaneously, describing the size of the U.S. force and the directions from which the attacks would come. Then they followed up by describing an alternative plan, in which the U.S. would seize Baghdad quickly and attack from the "inside out".

And to follow up on revealing Pentagon plans to Saddam Hussein, the Times is propagandizing against war, attempting to convince the American public that attacking Iraq isn't economically feasible. Except, once again, the Times writes a headline that their story can't back up: "Profound Effect on U.S. Economy Seen in a War on Iraq."

The article primarily focuses on the cost of the conflict, but without explaining what the "profound effects" of those costs might be. Moreover, it's all guesswork, as the Times admits:

Senior administration officials said Mr. Bush and his top advisers had not begun to consider the cost of a war because they had yet to decide what kind of military operation might be necessary. Whatever choice is made, experts say, the costs are likely to be significant and therefore may ultimately influence the size, scale and tactics of any military operation.
(Emphasis added.) The article also discusses the potential disruption of the oil supply, but admits that Bush has thought ahead:
Last Nov. 13, a month after the United States began bombing Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the president's advisers debated whether Iraq should be the focus of phase two of the campaign against terrorism. Mr. Bush directed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to add more than 100 million barrels to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Since Jan. 1, oil shipments into the reserve have reached record levels, about 150,000 barrels a day. One oil strategist in London noted that United States government acquisitions for the reserve were accounting for more than half of the growth in demand for oil this year.

With a capacity of 700 million barrels, the reserve could be used to disperse 4.2 million barrels of oil a day to jittery markets — more than enough to make up for the 1 million barrels a day of Iraqi crude lost because of military operations.

So what's the "profound effect?" The article doesn't say. It hints, I suppose, that a recession is possible, but certainly doesn't provide the certainty that the headline does.

Also, eating less helps you lose weight

From the Science section of The New York Times:

Changing physical education classes so that students spend more class time in motion can yield measurable improvements in fitness, a new study reports.
From The Onion's Center For Figuring Out Really Obvious Things.

July 31, 2002

Waffles = terrorism?

The FBI might not be able to figure out that people who train at flight schools and associate with known terrorists are worth watching, but they've come up with another way to "connect the dots." Okay, so they may not be useful dots, but Foxnews is reporting that the FBI has collected data from supermarkets as part of its intelligence-gathering process:

According to one privacy expert, at least one national grocery chain voluntarily handed over to the government records from its customer loyalty card database in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
And apparently, other companies in other industries did the same.

American law, unlike European law, generally treats this information as property of the vendor rather than the consumer, which means that unless the company has contractually agreed not to divulge the information, it is free to do so. (And of course, law enforcement can subpoena the information, but that's a little more work than just asking for it.) While certain information -- travel or financial records, for instance -- could clearly be useful for law enforcement purposes, I can't even begin to conceive of what uses they would have for grocery records. Stopping Al Qaeda surely wouldn't be one of those uses.

August 2, 2002

What would we do without them?

The United Nations has figured out that there was no massacre in Jenin. The technical response is "Duh." The best part of the story, though?

The United Nations report, attributed to Secretary General Kofi Annan, was largely based on published accounts and descriptions by humanitarian groups and other organizations, because Israel blocked the United Nations from conducting a first-hand inquiry unanimously sought by the Security Council. Israeli officials said they had feared an investigation by the United Nations would be biased.
So it took them months to photocopy newspaper articles and human rights groups' press releases? (Aren't you glad that the United Nations always badgers the United States for more money?) Yet another demonstration of the spectacular irrelevance of the organization.

But don't hold your breath waiting for an apology or retraction from those who claimed that there was a massacre. Perhaps there's a lesson here about not jumping to conclusions (that's my job) based on rumors and unverified assertions. The real question is why people were so quick to believe the accusations against Israel. (Need I ask?)