I was incorrect yesterday; Congress did complete work on the budget before leaving for their Christmas recess. So it only took them three months into the new fiscal year to pass the budget. I suppose that's better than four, but not by much.
Saturday, December 22, 2001
I was incorrect yesterday; Congress did complete work on the budget before leaving for their Christmas recess. So it only took them three months into the new fiscal year to pass the budget. I suppose that's better than four, but not by much.
The FBI is refusing to allow the relatives of the passengers of Flight 93 listen to the cockpit voice recordings, despite repeated requests. Actions like this make you wonder what exactly they're hiding. I personally don't think there's anything to hide, but any time government officials decide to keep things off the public record in such a manner, they create the impression there is something more sinister they don't want you to know about. Why the government hasn't figured this out yet is beyond me.
Legal action is being brought against Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, for her refusal to remove Victoria Wilson. Wilson's term expired a few months ago, and President Bush names Peter Kirsanow to replace her. Berry is refusing to seat Kirsanow, however, claiming that Wilson's term will not expire until 2006. Her stated rationale is that even though Wilson was appointed to complete another commissioner's term, Wilson should still be permitted to serve a full six-year term. Berry's true reasoning is simply that she can't afford to allow Kirsanow onto the commission. With Wilson, Berry and her minions hold a 5-3 edge in the commission, and she can use the commission to attack President Bush for his alleged racism, which Berry sees literally everywhere. If Kirsanow is seated, the commission will be deadlocked 4-4, styming Berry's attempts to use the commission for her own twisted goals.
But I have a better suggestion for President Bush. Instead of trying to deadlock the commission, just kill it. There is no need for such a commission, it's simply one more waste of government dollars. Even if you don't want to give that money back to the taxpayers, send it to the Justice Department and let them use it to enforce antidiscrimination laws. We would get far more bang for our buck if the government simply enforced those laws, rather than issuing stacks of 'studies' using cooked numbers. And removing people like Berry from government, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they're on, would do wonders for good government.
Friday, December 21, 2001
Inigo Thomas of Slate recommends the creation of a Presidential Medal of Courage to be given to the heroes of September 11. The Medal of Courage would be on an equal footing with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, currently the highest honor the United States can bestow on a civilian. I believe Thomas is on the right track here, and I hope the administration will take some action to acknowledge the heroism of all those who risked, and often lost, their lives on September 11.
The U.S. Government is planning to offer an average of $1.6 million apiece to survivors of victims of the September 11 attacks if they will agree not to sue for damages. Needless to say, this condition is being decried as wholly un-American by the trial lawyers, who, as Don McArthur rightly observes, feel nobody should be compensated before the lawyers take their cut.
But Don rightly questions why the government should be spending our tax dollars to compensate victims of September 11. I don't object to the victims receiving recompense; no amount of money will make up for the lack of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. But is it the government's job to provide that compensation? I know I maintain sufficient life insurance on myself to ensure my family can go on without me, in the event I die unexpectedly. I see no reason for government to mandate everyone do the same, but I also don't think government should cover people who choose not to cover themselves.
The American Red Cross and other charities have taken in billions of dollars since September 11. That money should be directed according to need to take care of the survivors of September 11, and if it's insufficient, I'm confident enough could be raised through further fund raisers. It is not the government's place to provide compensation for terrorist actions.
Thanks to Don McArthur for pointing this out.
Edward H. Crane, President of the libertarian Cato Institute, returns fire on the Left and the Right for their belief increased government powers are the solution to our war on terror. As I've noted previously, it's reasonable to believe September 11 was a result of government trying to do too much, not too little.
From our intelligence agencies to the INS, multiple government agencies dropped the ball repeated to allow September 11 to occur. Much of the blame for this can be placed on Congress and the White House, for asking those agencies to do things that really aren't their job. Congress has federalized countless crimes in the last twenty years, forcing the FBI to spread itself thinner and thinner to cover crimes that weren't originally under their jurisdiction. And most Presidents spend most of their administrations worrying about issues that are not even mentioned in the Constitution, while allowing government's primary duty of protecting citizens to fall by the wayside.
Crane calls for the United States to refocus its government on issues of true importance. I could not agree more. We should trim down the federal government by eliminating some of the ridiculous services it provides, so the President and Congress can focus their limited time on those issues that are most important.
Richard Cohen offers a review, partially of Ali's life and partially of the new movie starring Will Smith. Cohen likes the movie, most of all because he feels it captures the ambiguities of the man. There's something about Ali that bespeaks greatness, even when you closely examine his life and see all the flaws present. Despite his affiliation with the Nation of Islam and his refusal to serve in Vietnam, I've always found Ali fascinating. I look forward to seeing if the movie is as good as Cohen suggests.
The Washington Post gives Congress a poor score for 2001, although it does offer Congressional Democrats kudos for not compromising on the stimulus bill. They pessimisstically close by noting next year may not be much more productive than this year.
I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. Other than the tax relief act, Congress didn't really pass much this year that was good for the country. I don't think they've actually finished the budget yet, one-quarter of the way into FY 2002. The USA Patriot Act was little more than a laundry list of powers the FBI wanted well before September 11, passed without any real questions about which provisions actually would have made a difference on September 11. And the Post's concern that the minimum wage hasn't been increased again and the government's failure to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance speaks volumes about what they consider the government's primary duty. And since Congress seems to agree with the Post's position, believing government should step well beyond the bounds of the Constitution, gridlock is perhaps the best compromise available.
India has cancelled a summit meeting planned with Pakistan for next month. The Indians cite Pakistan's failure to take action against terrorist groups for the cancellation. This is quite understandable, and it underscores the need for American intervention in the conflict. India has shown remarkable restraint in its reaction to last week's terrorist attack on its Parliament. They've done that to help us with our war on terrorism, on the assumption President Bush meant what he said about the war being against all terrorism. Now we need to come through for them by putting increasing pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorism, with the understanding we'll do it if they don't. It's a risky move, because of Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, but it needs to be done.
The widow of one of the people killed on United Airlines flight 175 is suing United for failing to provide adequate security for their passengers. I'm of two minds on this; if the government wasn't already stepping in to take over airline security, perhaps suits like this would be a good way to force the airlines to handle security while keeping the government out of it. Since the government is already involved, however, this strikes me as a lawsuit designed more to line lawyers' pockets, since it won't do anything to improve airline security. And because the hijackers' technique was effectively unknown before September 11, it's hard to argue the airlines could have done much more to prevent what happened. Until September 11 I could carry my Leatherman onto an airplane completely legally, and a Leatherman is a far more dangerous weapon than a box cutter. The hijackers simply took advantage of a hole in our doctrine on September 11--so while I'd prefer to see airlines take responsibility for security from now on, I don't think they're liable for the events of September 11.
A Saudi dissident claims bin Laden said many incriminating things on his videotape that the American translation didn't mention, including stating nine of the hijackers names. While this is vaguely interesting, I don't really understand all the fuss about the tape. We already knew bin Laden was behind the attacks, and that in itself is a pretty good indicator of how evil the man is. Those who don't want to believe bin Laden was behind the attacks aren't going to be convinced by anything, on the other hand. Bin Laden could tell them personally he planned the whole thing, and they'd still blame it on the Mossad. Victory is the only real means of removing bin Laden's reputation, and that's what we should be focused on.
The United States is planning to bring the total number of American troops in Afghanistan above 3,000 to run prisoner camps and continue the search of the caves in the Tora Bora region. Senior American officials have declared the war will not be over until Mullah Omar, bin Laden and their top deputies have all been captured and killed. It's nice to see the administration is in this for the long haul, and understands what victory really means. Let's hope they stick to their guns as international pressure to end the war mounts.
Thursday, December 20, 2001
The International Herald Tribune is reporting on the results of a survey it did recently asking Americans and foreigners about September 11 and the war on terrorism. Unsurprisingly, people outside the US seem to believe we had it coming, and more than two-thirds of those surveyed think it's good that Americans now know what it's like to be vulnerable. Yet they also feel we act unilaterally too much--with friends like these, it seems to me it's not hard to figure out why.
Steven Den Beste does an excellent job of taking apart the poll and asking the key questions, like who precisely the 'opinion leaders' the IHT claims they're quoting are. As he points out, this poll appears to have been done not as an honest attempt to assess world opinion, but in an attempt to dissuade the United States from its current course of action. I suspect they're wasting their time.
Reader Andy Freeman has some more good comments on whether or not we should extend our missile defense umbrella to cover Europe.
WRT WWI and WWII, NMD addresses a different problem, namely an outside nation launching essentially a terrorist attack via a specific means. A closer analogy to NMD in this case is commercial aircraft security. It's hard to argue that the US should take over Greece's airport security, no matter how bad it is. Our interests pretty much stop at securing planes coming into the US.
Let's look at the worst case - we let Euroland make its own decision, they say "no NMD for us", and North Korea decides to take out Bonn. The US can still help Euroland go after NK, which is exactly what we'd do if we draped NMD over Euroland.
Euroland today is not Europe of the 30s or the 10s. In particular, now its threats are external and it is basically equipped to deal with them. Also, the US loyalties are far more certain. You write that the US delayed joining the fight, but, WRT WWI, we delayed until we actually had a dog in the fight. WRT WWII, the US took Germany as seriously as Europe did; it's unreasonable to criticise the US for not caring more about Europe's problems than Europe did.
Vietnam is different than Euroland. I read the Vietnam reference as a "small country that can't afford to defend itself". In that case, maybe we do extend NMD over them, depending on logistics and cost. In that case, the US is being paternalistic in a situation where it arguably makes sense.
However, the patronizing/paternalistic relationship between Euroland and the US doesn't make sense. They're arguably equal, and it's time to start letting them walk the walk.
Andy once again has some excellent points. We're not Europe's parents, and it's not our responsibility to protect them. However, I maintain that it's in our best interests to help protect them. Europe is by no means arguably equal to the United States. They probably will be eventually, but they're not there yet. While we shouldn't treat them paternally, we still should acknowledge that they're not capable of executing military action to the same level we can. Bosnia and Kosovo are execellent examples of this: until the United States agreed to get involved, Europe could (or at least would) do nothing but wring its hands. Therefore, if Europe is attacked, we're going to end up spending American lives either defending them, or attacking those who attacked Europe. So whatever we can do to keep Europe out of war, within reason, seems like a small price to pay to preserve American lives.
FoxNews reports on the reappearance of the Blue Star Service Banner. Common during World War I and II and Korea, the emblems have been rarely seen since. Posting one of the banners shows passersby that one or more members of your family are serving in the United States Armed Forces. Given the sacrifices those soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines are making halfway around the world, I believe it would be a nice symbol of support for their families to start flying the banners again, and for other people to recognize what the banners represent. They can be purchased from the American Legion for $6.95.
It now appears John Walker will only face lesser charges from the Justice Department as punishment for his treason, despite his own insistence he was a member of al Qaeda. The Bush Administration is apparently concerned Walker will become a sympathetic figure if he's tried for treason. If they're so worried, why not just turn Walker back over to the interim Afghan government? That way Walker can face the same justice other foreign Taliban warriors will face, an eminently fair solution. And it's quite likely Walker would receive a more appropriate punishment from Afghan authorities than we're prepared to administer here in the United States. President Bush was right when he observed those people who aren't with us are against us, and John Walker clearly made the choice to stand against the United States. He needs to live with the consequences of his actions, rather than be coddled by an administration seemingly more concerned with public relations than justice.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the stimulus package deal may be off today. The House passed their version yesterday, and it appears the Republicans have given up on cutting a deal with Senate Democrats. As I've noted before, I think a government stimulus bill that does anything but cut taxes is a waste of time and resources, so if the Republicans and Democrats shift gears from passing a bad stimulus package to trying to blame each other for the recession, that's probably the best possible outcome.
The Washington Post makes a sensible call for us to carry the war on terrorism into Pakistan next. Given that most al Qaeda fighters have retreated into Pakistan, its logical for us to follow them there to ensure they're all killed or captured. Just as important, we need to assist our ally, India, in wiping out the Pakistani terrorist groups. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, has given us some valuable aid in destroying the Taliban, but if he cannot or will not destroy terrorists sponsored by his own government, then we should bring him down just as we brought down the Taliban.
Having taken a night to sleep on it, I think Lord of the Rings is one of the better movies I've seen in some time. From the special effects to the acting, the movie does an excellent job of living up to Tolkien's book. The question then remains, is it a good movie on its own? That's a tougher question for me to answer, because I had just read the book prior to watching the film, so my head was filled with comparisons between the two. However, my own opinion is that people who haven't read the book will still enjoy the movie. They may like more than those who have read the book, depending on how great a purist one is. The backstory for the film is quickly explained, then it rolls right into the tale. The story is somewhat streamlined from that in the book, but it does follow the major events remarkably faithfully. The acting was surprisingly good. Elijah Wood is an excellent Frodo, well able to convey the fear and resolve of the ring bearer. Ian McKellen is fabulous as Gandalf, and Ian Holm does yeoman work with limited service as Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who started it all. Sean Bean is perhaps the biggest surprise, with his nuanced portrayal of Boromir, the flawed but noble warrior. As for the cinematography, it's simply inspired. From the massive battles against Sauron to the views of all the terrain of Middle Earth, you truly get the feeling you're viewing another world. All in all, I'd say it's well worth the time to see, although if you're not a huge fan, you might do well to wait until the crowds thin a little.
Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Just got back from watching The Fellowship of the Ring. It's late here, so I'm not going to try and give any comprehensive review tonight. I will say that I really enjoyed it. It follows the book well, although there are some changes I wouldn't have made, but it's a gorgeous film to watch and experience. The end is a little rough, however, as you stand up and realize you've got a year to wait for the next chapter, and two years before you can see the whole thing. But if the next two match the first, they will be worth the wait.
Fredrik Norman posts an intriguing analysis of the relationship between welfare and terrorism. I doubt America is likely to agree with his conclusion, but I'm not so sure he's wrong myself.
Steven Den Beste points out something so obvious, very few people ever think about it. Peace is not a natural condition, it's what you get when there is no war. Because it only takes one side to start (or continue) a war, the introduction of peacekeepers into a region can only work if the region wants to be at peace. Check out the whole piece, it's quite interesting.
Joanne Jacobs points to a study showing children in the Republic of Ireland perform above average to well above average in literacy, science and math. Yet the Republic spends less on education than in many other developed states. A casual examination of this evidence might lead one to believe that perhaps spending on education does not necessarily translate into better education.
But the OECD knows better. Low spending means that Irish children are being forced to work harder to achieve their grades. If it ever occurred to anyone from the OECD that hard work might be far more important in education than money, they were careful to suppress that point of view. The mission of the OECD isn't to help countries educate children better. It's simply to ensure governments spend as much money as possible on education. International organizations like these beg the question, why is the United States wasting its money supporting such blatant political adocacy?
Brian Doherty launches his own attack on the Surgeon General's campaign against obesity, using many of the same arguments I had last week. Doherty adds another issue into the mix, one that suggests we've got far more government than we need.
At a time when five Americans are dead from anthrax and the possibility of additional biological warfare attacks on the United States is quite real, the Surgeon General has decided he needs to take on the most pressing health threat he can find: obesity. Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control lists preventing falls and violence, and convincing people to wear bicycle helmets and use child safety seats as integral parts of its mission. None of these are diseases. Yet the government is spending money on them, requiring higher taxes and a budget deficit to allow it to spend money on something that really matters: going after terrorists.
This problem is by no means restricted to the CDC or the Surgeon General's Office. Throughout the American government there are thousands to people who work on things that the government has no business in. The US Constitution puts strict limits on what the federal government is supposed to do. If we were to take control of our government again perhaps we could trim out all these unnecessary functions, leaving us with a government focused on the issues that really matter.
Thomas Friedman notes we're unlikely to get much help from Russia, and possibly many of our Arab 'allies,' if we choose to go after Iraq next. Friedman makes a good case for why many nations have no interest in seeing us take down Saddam Hussein, but to his credit, Friedman's conclusion is only that we should be prepared to go it alone against Iraq. I believe President Bush is prepared to do just that, although I'm not as certain as Friedman that we won't get more support in eliminating Saddam. But Friedman is absolutely right to think we should be prepared to act alone. Everyone loves a winner, so if we're successful against Iraq, we can expect other nations to support us after the fact, and that's really when we need them more. After the fact other nations can provide peacekeepers and rebuild Iraq. Right now we really don't need anyone else's help to destroy Iraq.
Michael Kelly points to an article in the December 17 issue of Newsweek magazine by a Yale student named Alison Hornstein (link no longer available). Hornstein is confused about how to react to the events of September 11, because she has been taught throughout her schooling not to judge anyone or anything. Yet she seems to instinctively sense that a judgement has to be made, althought the furthest she's willing to go is that "It is less important to me where people choose to draw the line than it is that they are willing to draw it at all."
Kelly urges Ms. Hornstein to take the final step and to actually make a judgement, which she clearly needs to do. What concerns me more is that Ms. Hornstein is part of a larger trend. Our schools teach our children not to judge anyone. To use one of Hornstein's examples, female circumcision (the removal of a woman's clitoris common in some African cultures) isn't wrong--it's just a different culture that we have no right to judge. This is foolish. Mutilating a person like that against their will is unquestionably wrong, and to teach otherwise is both wrong and dangerous.
I don't believe schools should be indoctrinating children to believe a party line. They should be helping children learn to become critical thinkers, however, and an important part of critical thinking is the ability to make judgements based on the available evidence. In the interests of multiculturalism we teach children not to pass judgement, that anything goes. This is the last thing children should be learning--schools should teach children how to evaluate ideas, while their parents teach them the difference between right and wrong.
Rational people can differ on precisely where the line should be drawn between right and wrong. I would have no difficulty with a child of mine choosing to follow a different religious path than my own, while other parents would find that abhorrent. But I believe almost all people can agree that flying planes full of civilian passengers into buildings filled with more civilians is wrong. And we should have no qualms about standing up and saying that. It's great for people to be open-minded enough to look for areas where they may be wrong, but at some point we have to make judgements. If our schools aren't helping children do that, they are doing more harm than good.
Senator Joe Biden attacks President Bush for his 'serious mistake' of withdrawing the United States from the ABM Treaty. Biden argues the ABM Treaty kept the United States safe over the last thirty years, therefore withdrawal was wrong. Biden provides no evidence the treaty actually did keep us safe. It's just a given that it did, according to him. Yet even if we concede that argument, it doesn't necessarily follow that adhering to the treaty is still a good idea today. Biden is correct that an ICBM launch is a less dangerous threat than terrorism, but Biden implies we live in a world of either/or choices. We can't defend against both, he argues, so we'd better defend against the more dangerous threat.
If this were true, the Senator would be absolutely right. But the fact is, we can defend against both, and we should. More resources should be devoted to anti-terrorism measures than to missile defense, but we should press forward with research to try and determine the most efficient and cost-effective means for protecting ourselves and our allies from missiles. Senator Biden fears this will trigger an arms race in Asia. It may, but given the Chinese have already been working hard to modernize their nuclear force, it seems unlikely they would stop if we agreed to keep the ABM Treaty in force.
Biden is also concerned we're not doing enough for non-proliferation. He's absolutely right we should help the Russians keep control of their nuclear warheads, but beyond that the Senator has far too much faith in the concept of non-proliferation. President Clinton was in favor of non-proliferation, yet somehow India and Pakistan developed nuclear weapons on his watch. It is unrealistic to believe non-proliferation treaties will keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of other nations in the future; the technology is too well-known at this point.
Since Senator Biden's arguments hold little water, we're left with the argument the Senator simply wants the US to remain in the ABM Treaty because he's more comfortable that way. Stepping into the future can be very uncomfortable. But the United States can't afford to keep its head in the sand and pretend nothing has changed since the Cold War. The world is a more dangerous place now, and the government's primary duty should be to do what is necessary to protect the American people.
The President continues to try and push Congress to pass a stimulus bill, probably because he's afraid he'll end up like his father did if he fails to do something about the economy. He ought to see this problem as an opportunity instead of a danger. The recession is unlikely to last three years, so by the time he runs for reelection the economy should be on track again. So he should pull his stimulus package and use the Democrats recalcitrance as his primary selling point for electing Republicans next fall. If President Bush were to start using the bully pulpit to tell the American people there won't be any stimulus package because the Democrats won't compromise, so he needs the people to elect some Republicans to help him help America, he'd get a great deal of support. It might not be sufficient to regain control of the Senate, but it would be a far better alternative than signing whatever stimulus package Congress sends up just so he doesn't look like he doesn't care.
I installed a counter yesterday morning, and this morning it sent me a report. 56 visitors yesterday, a few of whom had multiple visits. Not Instapundit, but not bad.
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
Jonah Goldberg gamely returns fire in the war of words he initiated last Wednesday with, apparently, just about every libertarian who reads his column. This is the kind of thing that makes the Internet a fascinating and wonderful place.
Wednesday, Jonah took a few shots at Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel while addressing the thorny question of what John Walker says about what Jonah calls 'cultural libertarians.' The next day Perry de Haviland of Samizdata was taking Jonah to task for his interpretation of libertarianism, and Perry continued the onslaught the next day with some additional comments and some reader feedback. I added my comments Friday morning. Later on Friday both Andrew and Virginia had posted responses to Jonah's column. And I'm certain there were dozens of other notes posted on blogs that I missed.
Yesterday Jonah posted his response to Andrew Sullivan, and followed it up with a response to Virginia and Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine. Jonah even mentioned Samizdata, but chose not to respond to my comments. Much as I'd like to think so, I suspect that wasn't because I'd floored him with my remarks. Anyhow, now that we're all up to date:
Jonah begins today's column with an excellent aside; "I know that many readers are uninterested by these doctrinal squabbles. But others are, and I think they're worthwhile." I think he's precisely right there, and that brings me back to why I like the Internet. I doubt such a discussion could have happened prior to the Internet, and I think this discussion is invaluable. Many of us never really articulate our political beliefs: not because we don't have them, not because we don't think about them, not because they're not important to us, but because it's very difficult to really explain your political beliefs.
This dispute has required Andrew, Jonah, Nick and Virginia to expound upon their political beliefs and to address what they disagree with in the others' beliefs. Those of us on the outside can use this opportunity to assess those beliefs critically and further our own understanding of their beliefs and ours. And, human nature being what it is, all of the principals in this dispute want to win the argument, so their arguments improve as the debate continues. This means better ideas will come to the fore as the argument progresses.
The Internet not only allows the four named parties to argue their points; anyone who reads their work and wants to can throw his or her two cents into the mix, and some of it ends up in the primary discussion. Jonah apparently visited Samizdata, even if he wasn’t overly impressed by their arguments, while Virginia referenced an excellent comment sent to Samizdata that she noticed on my site. This allows other ideas to enter the argument, albeit chaotically, which improves the debate incrementally. And that's good news for all of us who are interested in the debate, regardless of which side we're on.
President Bush signed a waiver today delaying the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem for six months. Such a move would no doubt anger Palestinians and Arabs alike, the reporter notes. To which I ask, so what? The Palestinians are killing Israelis as quickly as they can, with the implicit and sometimes explicit endorsement of most of the Arab world. Maybe such a move would send a message that terrorism doesn't work.
Inigo Thomas reports on the deployment of Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, head of the U.S. 3rd Army, to Camp Doha, Kuwait earlier this month. General Mikolashek has served, among other things, as Chief of the Office of Military Co-operation in Kuwait, and the 3rd Army was the unit tasked to destroy the Iraqi Republican Guard during Desert Storm. This could all be a precaution, it could be the Army hedging its bets, or it could be the beginnings of a military campaign against Iraq. My money is on the latter. Given President Bush's veiled threat that Saddam Hussein would 'find out' what the consequences are for failing to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq and the changing views in the Arab world regarding Hussein, it seems likely the United States is taking the first steps towards removal of Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.
Glenn Reynolds, creator of Instapundit and newly dubbed Web Titan, recommended paying the $12 to have the ad removed from people's blogs yesterday, an idea that's obviously taking off, given the number of blogs that no longer have the ad. And, obviously, I agreed with his reasoning and went along with it. Now the page looks a little odd to me, so I'd like some feedback; what do you all think of the page? Should I change anything, or leave it as is? Your thoughts are welcome and anticipated.
A federal judge just threw out Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence, commuting it to life imprisonment unless Pennsylvania holds a new sentencing hearing in the next 180 days. My personal view on this is it's the best possible outcome in this messy case. I suspect Abu-Jamal is guilty; he was convicted, and despite twenty years of appeals, no evidence has surfaced that would exonerate him. But there's always a little doubt, particularly when this much time has gone by. So not killing him preserves the possibility, however remote, he could be exonerated while still requiring him to pay for the crime.
Thanks to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for spotting this.
Perry de Havilland of Samizdata reports on a Swede who has been banned from travelling in fourteen European countries after helping put up an anti-EU poster in Brussels. This sort of suppression of dissent raises some interesting and disturbing questions about the European Union; after defeating Communism and Fascism, is Europe planning to adopt some of their methods? Has Europe already adopted some of their methods? Although we view Europe as being very close to us ideologically, reports like this and commentaries like Glenn Reynolds' earlier this morning suggest Europe has embarked on a dangerous journey en route to their union. Will the people of Europe continue to put up with this sort of abuse of power in the name of the EU, or will they start taking power back from the bureaucrats? I'd suggest it's in America's best interests to help the European people stand up to this sort of thing.
Richard Cohen proves there's more to him than I had previously conceded with a top notch piece on anger. An important reminder you can never really pigeonhole anyone with any accuracy.
Virginia Postrel has some great new stuff up on her site, including the latest victim of ludicrous airport security measures and a very interesting discussion of the reality behind the upcoming movie "A Beautiful Mind." As always, her site is well worth a visit.
Cass Sunstein, a law professor from the University of Chicago and author of a plan to deny President Bush the right to name any new Supreme Court justices, is concerned the Internet is going to damage our democracy. His argument is that the Internet allows people to customize their news, so they can hear only the opinions they want to hear. This creates, according to him, and self-reinforcing cycle that causes people's opinions to become more and more extreme. Sunstein claims democracy depends on chance encounters between different ideas and a common frame of reference, but the Internet can destroy that by ensuring people aren't exposed to ideas they don't already agree with.
Sunstein's argument would be more convincing if he wasn't a professor; given the marked slant of the academic world, where admitting you voted for George Bush might be sufficient to blackball you, seems precisely the kind of environment Sunstein deplores in the Internet. Based on Sunstein's prior writings, the only diversity he seems truly interested in is a narrow band on the left of the spectrum. However, that doesn't mean his point is wrong. It is better for our country, for any country, if people are continually bombarded by new ideas. This environment, what Virginia Postrel labels the 'verge' in her excellent book, The Future and Its Enemies, is where new ideas can develop and be tested, continually evolving into better and more efficient forms.
But Sunstein really doesn't make his case that this verge is being snuffed out on the Internet. While I'm sure there are many sites that cater primarily to a particular point of view, the beauty of the Internet is that you don't have to stop there. Most blogs, in particular, link to the source they're discussing. So if someone questions my opinion on Mr. Sunstein's article, they merely have to click on that link to see the source document. The potential is there for us to balkanize, to focus solely on what interests us and avoiding new ideas. The potential is also there for the Internet to expose us to a much wider field of ideas. Like most tools, the Internet has potential for good and bad things. If Sunstein is truly concerned about the potential for the Internet to balkanize us, perhaps he should start by bringing some new ideas to his place of work.
Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing this article out.
The New York Times reports the Bush Administration is now developing plans for removing Saddam Hussein from power. Turkey has reportedly offered the use of its bases, on the condition we are committed to removing Hussein from power. Apparently, our military success in Afghanistan is changing some minds in the Middle East. As Machiavelli once observed, it is much more important for a nation to be feared than loved, and our operation in Afghanistan is instilling some fear in a number of foreign governments. Now the question remains, will we act? Iraq continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, and they are probably sponsoring terrorism against the United States. As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, they will continue to do so. We have a golden opportunity to resolve this particular problem once Afghanistan is secure; we can't afford to waste it.
The New York Times has a good analysis of the limits of using Afghan proxies in our war on terror. While the US wants to hunt down al Qaeda and remaining Taliban strongmen, the Afghans are more concerned with getting their country back in working order again. This is leading to some friction between Washington and Kabul, as our war aims are now diverging from theirs. This is natural and to be expected. We need to accept the fact the Afghans have done the hard work we needed them to do, and move on to either find another proxy, or begin using a few more of our own forces to continue hunting al Qaeda. Pakistan certainly appears to be a logic next partner in this war, if reports about where the al Qaeda survivors have gone are accurate.
At the same time, we should not punish Afghanistan for their view. They've been at war, on and off, for over two decades. It's hardly surprising they're not eager to continue fighting now that the job is done, from their perspective. We should thank them for their assistance by helping them implement their new government and providing a sizable share of the economic aid they'll require for the next few years to get back on track. Doing this will only help us in finding new allies, both now and years from now.
EJ Dionne pens a dishonest op-ed defending multilateralism, claiming unilateralism is an an illusion and that forging alliances is a sign of strength. Dionne's subtext is President Bush's decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, a move Dionne labels a utopian scheme. Dionne ignores the real question of unilateralism vs. multilateralism: what's in America's best interests? Throughout our current war on terror, President Bush has worked hard to develop alliances to support our attacks on al Qaeda and Afghanistan. Before he withdrew from the ABM Treaty, the President tried to convince Russia to amend the treaty instead. In both cases, the President has done the right thing. Multilateralism is a valuable tool, but what Dionne fails to understand is that it's not an end in itself. If we can use alliances and agreements to do things in our best interest, that's all to the good. But if nations are opposing us in something we need to do, like withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, then we can't allow their objections to stymie our needs.
Many nations which opposed our war on terror are now coming around to our side. Why? Because people respect a winner. By the same token, neither China nor Russia has raised any fuss over President Bush's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Only in the American press has there been a great deal of concern. While unilateralism isn't always the best method for accomplishing our foreign policy goals, it's not the curse word columnists like Dionne think either.
Wendy McElroy, editor of Ifeminists.com, has another excellent piece on the FoxNews site this morning. She argues that equity feminism is making a comeback, basing this on the vicious attacks equity feminists have lately undergone by gender feminists. One of the more egregious examples happened only recently, when Christina Hoff Summers, author of Who Stole Feminism and The War Against American Boys, was told to "shut the f— up, b—ch!" at a government-sponsored conference. We shouldn't be celebrating such attacks, but their existence does suggest the gender feminists have realized their arguments may no longer simply be lapped up by the government and the media without anyone asking any questions. The gender feminists still have many allies in government and the media, but people like Summers and McElroy are doing a great job of forcing other perspectives into the public eye.
Monday, December 17, 2001
Great Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, has an interesting plan to 'win the peace,' as he puts it. He recommends a $50 billion investment annually for the foreseeable future to the developing world. He wants to also attach three conditions to this money: that all countries adopt uniform fiscal and monetary policy standards, development of strong legal systems to protect contracts, and full trade liberalization. Although I think Mr. Brown's plan has certain merits, his next to last paragraph makes me a little curious as to his motives:
Some say the issue is whether we have globalization or not. In fact, the issue is whether we manage globalization well or badly, fairly or unfairly.
That sounds suspiciously like a technocratic argument for seizing control of everyone's economy in the interests of ensuring social justice. I believe the best hope for developing countries is trade liberalization, and I'm not averse to spending some government money to help them take advantage of it. Especially if that money comes out of the pork-barrel projects Congress sticks us with every year. But the tone of this article suggests Mr. Brown doesn't just want to establish a solid infrastructure for trade liberalization. When it comes to fiscal and monetary policy, for example, does he just want countries to lower tariffs and eliminate subsidies, or is this a clever way for him to slip in uniform tax standards, to level the marketplace for high-tax nations by forcing low-tax nations to raise theirs? Mr. Brown's ideas are intriguing, but I think he needs to flesh them out significantly before there can be any real assessment of their merit.
Sebastian Mallory calls for President Bush to resist the steel lobby, a call we can only hope the President heeds. The President is already warning he'll impose massive tariffs on steel imports if world production isn't trimmed, which is the wrong way to go. International talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organization might be valuable in eliminating global subsidies for steel manufacturers around the world, but not under threat of tariffs. Protecting the American steel industry is not necessary. Many American mills have consistently refused to adapt to changing economic positions, and they've gotten away with it because the government continues to subsidize them. These subsidies only ensure our steel mills won't adapt to become competitive, while raising the price of steel for every American. It's time for that cycle to end; steel mills that can't adapt successfully without government intervention deserve to fail. The pain caused by their failures in the short run won't be pleasant, but in the long run the industry will be far better off for it.
The Washington Post fires a well-deserved shot across Tom Daschle's bow about Senate gridlock. Despite Daschle's assurances on Meet the Press yesterday, he is obstructing and delaying all legislation he doesn't like with a skill Trent Lott can only envy. The government is designed to promote obstructionism in hopes of ensuring legislation can only pass after appropriate discussion and review. But Daschle and the Senate Democrats are abusing that power, and their take no prisoners approach is only going to damage the country.
So what can we do? President Bush needs to go after Daschle from the bully pulpit. The facts are on the President's side, but if he doesn't press the issue, people won't know that. Kudos to the Post for pointing out at least a few instances of Daschle's stalling tactics. President Bush needs to build on that, and the sooner, the better.
Andrew Sullivan questions whether or not Islamic nations are capable of adopting democratic institutions. He's pessimistic, citing an 80-year old article about Islam at the time. Sullivan asks, "Do we really think this part of the world is much different today?"
Well, yes. Turkey has maintained its democracy, albeit without all of the institutions we take for granted here in the United States. India, Bangladesh and Indonesia are democracies, although none are as stable as here in the United States. But their experiences demonstrate it's certainly possible for muslims to adapt their religion to democratic institutions over time. I won't suggest it will be easy, but then I doubt anyone would. But assuming muslims are simply incapable of handling democracy is ridiculous. The seeds of democracy will need a great deal of help to take root in many muslim countries, but they can do it. We should do everything we can to help.
It's looking more and more like Glenn Reynolds was correct when he guessed bin Laden already made a run for the border. Although the Tora Bora region is now generally under allied control, we have no sign of bin Laden as yet. The big question now is, what if he's made it to Pakistan?
My opinion on that is simple: Pakistan is already in a questionable position regarding terrorism, given their support of the Taliban and anti-India terrorist groups. If they're hiding bin Laden, they can either find him on their own, they can authorize us to find him, or President Musharraf had better find himself a bunker to hide in. I don't believe it would come to that, but he needs to understand it could, if he doesn't remain squarely on our side.