Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

According to CNN’s “All Politics”:

Congressional leaders demanded that the Attorney General resign following recent revelations of missteps. One leading senator said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the Justice Department is "in a shambles" because of poor management. The department "doesn't reply with the requests of Congress" and invokes "phony issues of executive privilege."

"If [the latest revelation] is true," he said, "either the attorney general has ignored the evidence or is incompetent, or ... evidence has been withheld by people within the department."

But on ABC's "This Week," a top minority senator defended the Attorney General and discouraged majority calls for hearings. "I do find there's sort of a little double standard . . . my worry is that congressional investigations will bring up a lot of heat and not much light," he said.

The leading minority member of the House Judiciary Committee also defended the Attorney General, whom "is now being blamed” for what someone else didn't do, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Majority leaders say this is only the latest incident in which the Attorney General has stonewalled congressional inquiries, claiming to be unaware of all the facts. Congress has clashed over two other recent matters involving the Attorney General.

Of course, the CNN report is dated September 5, 1999, the sixth year of the Clinton administration. Chuck Schumer (pictured in 1999 with the then-First Lady) isn’t calling for the Attorney General’s resignation. No, he’s defending Janet Reno against Republican calls for her resignation.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mankind has never been healthier, wealthier or freer. Surprised?

Indur M. Goklany is the author of The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. Here, from an excerpt of his findings:

the 20th century saw the United States’ population multiply by four, income by seven, carbon dioxide emissions by nine, use of materials by 27, and use of chemicals by more than 100. Yet life expectancy increased from 47 years to 77 years. Onset of major disease such as cancer, heart, and respiratory disease has been postponed between eight and eleven years in the past century. . . and total cancer deaths have actually declined the last two years, despite increases in population. Among the very young, infant mortality has declined from 100 deaths per 1,000 births in 1913 to just seven per 1,000 today. . .

Worldwide, life expectancy has more than doubled, from 31 years in 1900 to 67 years today. India’s and China’s infant mortalities exceeded 190 per 1,000 births in the early 1950s; today they are 62 and 26, respectively. In the developing world, the proportion of the population suffering from chronic hunger declined from 37 percent to 17 percent between 1970 and 2001 despite a 83 percent increase in population. Globally average annual incomes in real dollars have tripled since 1950. Consequently, the proportion of the planet's developing-world population living in absolute poverty has halved since 1981, from 40 percent to 20 percent. . .

Why have improvements in well-being stalled in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world? The . . . “cycle of progress” [includes] property rights, free markets, and rule of law. . . science- and technology-based problem-solving . . . Isolation, intolerance, and hostility to the free exchange of knowledge, technology, people, and goods breed stagnation or regression.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Truth about Africa

Did you think Africa is backwards because it started behind? World Bank veteran William Easterly, writing in the Wall Street Journal, chides the West for pushing in Africa “state direction by the states least able to direct.”

Look at modern Africa’s history, Easterly says:

Sub-Saharan Africa. . . this month marks the 50th anniversary of its first nation to gain independence, Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s father, pictured). . . There has been progress in many areas over the last 50 years. . . yet the same poor economics on sale to Ghana in 1957 are still there today. Economists involved in Africa then and now undervalued free markets, instead coming up with one of the worst ideas ever. . .African governments are not the only ones that are bad, but they have ranked low for decades on most international comparisons of corruption, state failure, red tape, lawlessness and dictatorship. . . the results of statist economics by bad states was a near-zero rise in GDP per capita for Ghana, and the same for the average African nation, over the last 50 years.

Why was state intervention considered crucial in 1957? Africa was thought to be in a "poverty trap," since the poor could not save enough to finance investment necessary to growth. Free markets could not get you out of poverty. The response was state-led, aid-financed investment. . .The U.S. in 1776 was at the same level as Africa today, yet it escaped the poverty trap. . . [Also] Western Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Latin America [left] poverty . . . without a state-led, aid-financed "Big Push." In the ensuing 50 years, there have been plenty more examples of poor countries which grew rapidly without much aid -- China and India (who each receive around half a percent of income in foreign aid) being the most famous recent examples. Meanwhile, aid amounted to 14% of total income year in and year out in the average African country since independence.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Something to Watch?

The Madrid Auto da fe of 1680. An auto da fe is literally a “judicial sentence or act of faith,” usually ending with the public burning of heretics.

In the auto da fes of 2007, people lose their jobs, not their lives. But some modern version of the Salem witch trials is underway in the world of political correctness.

Time columnist Michael Kinsley notes that Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Andres Martinez was driven to resign over the discovery that his girlfriend works for a PR firm used by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Martinez had invited Grazer to be a guest editor for the paper’s opinion supplement called “Current.” Kinsey says part of what’s wrong here is that the LA Times, not Grazer, benefits from Grazer’s free services. Kinsey is also alarmed that the paper’s star political reporter, Ron Brownstein, was removed from reporting duties and exiled to the opinion pages merely because his wife works for John McCain.

The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick has a more sinister story of censorship:

two students at Cambridge University's Clare College . . .dedicated an edition of their satire magazine to the one-year anniversary of the global Muslim riots which followed the publication of caricatures of Muhammad in the Danish Jyllands Posten newspaper. As the students recalled, those riots led to the deaths of more than a hundred people. . .

In their magazine, the students published some of the caricatures and mocked the Muslims for their hypocrisy in accusing British society of racial prejudice while calling for its violent destruction. The Muslim reaction was apparently swift. Fearing for their lives, the students were forced into hiding.

But the Muslims were not alone in their anger. Clare College set up a special disciplinary court to consider action against the students. And the Cambridgeshire police opened a criminal investigation against them in late February.

Meanwhile, from State College where I’m visiting my grand-daughter, comes this story about Penn State’s women’s basketball coach:

Rene Portland resigned Wednesday night, ending a successful, yet sometimes controversial 27-year tenure . . .Portland, who amassed 606 wins and built a perennial Top 25 program at Penn State, also faced allegations that she may have discriminated against lesbian players. She leaves just one month after settling a lawsuit by former player Jennifer Harris, who alleged Portland had a "no-lesbian policy."

Portland, 54, was hired . . . by Penn State football coach Joe Paterno during his short stint as the school's athletic director. Paterno has said on numerous occasions that hiring Portland was the "best decision" he ever made as athletic director. . . Portland also is an outspoken proponent for women's athletics and has championed Title IX, the law which promotes gender equity in sports. She also has donated two scholarships to the university and has raised money for numerous charitable causes.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Islam Takes on the West

Bernard Lewis, “the West’s greatest scholar of Islam”, recently delivered an important lecture on “Europe and Islam”. It would be worthwhile for you to read the entire lecture. In it, Lewis notes that:

two [religions] have claimed that their truths are not only universal--all religions claim that--but also exclusive; that they . . . are the fortunate recipients of God's final message to humanity, which it is their duty . . . to bring to the rest of humanity, removing whatever obstacles there may be on the way. This self-perception, shared between Christendom and Islam, led to the long struggle that has been going on for more than fourteen centuries . . .

Lewis maintains the struggle continues today, because Islam remains determined to prevail. The Muslims, Lewis posits:

have certain clear advantages. They have fervor and conviction, which in most Western countries are either weak or lacking. They are self-assured of the rightness of their cause, whereas we spend most of our time in self-denigration and self-abasement. They have loyalty and discipline, and perhaps most important of all, they have demography, the combination of natural increase and migration producing major population changes, which could lead within the foreseeable future to significant majorities in at least some European cities or even countries.

But we also have some advantages, the most important of which are knowledge and freedom. The appeal of genuine modern knowledge in a society which, in the more distant past, had a long record of scientific and scholarly achievement is obvious. They are keenly and painfully aware of their relative backwardness and welcome the opportunity to rectify it. Less obvious but also powerful is the appeal of freedom. In the . . . Islamic world . . .the idea of freedom in its Western interpretation is making headway. It is becoming more and more understood, more and more appreciated and more and more desired. It is perhaps in the long run our best hope, perhaps even our only hope, of surviving this developing struggle.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Media Leans Left—Just Ask America

The latest Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet/ Zogby Poll reports that the “vast majority of American voters believe media bias is alive and well – 83% of likely voters said the media is biased.” And of those who saw bias, nearly two-thirds (64%) said the media leans left. According to Zogby:

While 97% of Republicans surveyed said the media are liberal, two-thirds of political independents feel the same, but fewer than one in four independents (23%) said they saw a conservative bias. Democrats, while much more likely to perceive a conservative bias than other groups, were not nearly as sure the media was against them as were the Republicans. While Republicans were unified in their perception of a left-wing media, just two-thirds of Democrats were certain the media skewed right – and 17% said the bias favored the left.

Am I impressed with the 17% of Democrats who owned up to the media’s liberal bias? You bet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

“It Takes a Village”—Another Look

Passionate, well-informed people differ because we are human. We deal with differing interpretations of history, we emphasize different facts, we have differing needs we use public dialog to support and re-enforce. One hesitates, as one should, to swing around absolutes like “truth” and “evil” as clubs against those who think differently. As humans, we can guarantee ourselves to be mistaken, ill-informed, and blindingly biased some of the time. Humility is in order.

My way of looking at the world is the way of Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958):

Pluralism, with the measure of “negative” liberty that it entails, seems to me a truer and more humane ideal than the goals of those who seek in the great disciplined, authoritarian structures the ideal of “positive” self-mastery by classes, or peoples, or the whole of mankind.

“Negative” liberty doesn’t say people are equal. They are different. They should be free to realize their full potential, insofar as one can without taking away from someone else’s full potential. In politics, recognizing “negative” liberty means one person, one vote. In economics, it’s the capitalism that frees each to build one’s own business. Billions with the power to act freely makes the world prosperous and peaceful.

“Positive” liberty begins with wrongs the collective must right on behalf of classes of sufferers. It’s what kings and popes did then. It’s what ruling elites do now. Parents don’t raise children. Villages do. Recognizing the right of outsiders to play a role in raising the next generation—a role possibly outside that which the parents themselves want—is the key first step to collective rule, to elite rule on behalf of us. “Villages” may seem benign. They aren’t always so.

Monday, March 12, 2007

“It Takes a Village”--Not

Different commentators share concerns about political correctness, about hypocrisy, about unrestricted abortion, and about attacks on Christianity. These all relate to the elite's telling us what to do. If “it takes a village” to properly raise a child, then the family has turned over to the state its primary duty. Censorship, hypocrisy, devaluation of human life, and attacks on religious faith may follow.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says that Bill Maher’s wishing for Dick Chaney’s death and Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a faggot are “Tourette's-like” reactions to the pressure people are under to speak politically correctly. Political correctness censorship holds sway not only for public speech, but extends its pressure to everyday, private conversation. Noonan notes, “We are very good at letting people know that if they say something we don't like, we'll shame them and shun them, even ruin them.”

The Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson takes on the hypocrisy of both liberals and conservatives who live the high life while calling for public sacrifice (Gore’s megawatt-eating Nashville mansion comes in for additional attention). To Hanson, “Debt, drink, drugs, gambling, lotteries and sex all happen without much restraint or rebuke - and our most prominent are often the most susceptible to these new appetites. In modern American life, ‘do you own thing’ on a charge card is the new national gospel.” The ruling class, in tune with the national zeitgeist, asks us to watch what we say, not what we do.

Ann Hulbert, in the New York Times, finds “Generation Next” (the ones after Gen X) slightly blurring the sharp cultural divide their Baby Boomer parents drew through American politics. While the younger generation is less religious and more tolerant of homosexuality—views one might expect from today’s youth—the Pew Research Center poll also showed 18-25 year olds slightly less supportive of abortion than their elders. Hulbert suggests that tolerance plus concern for life may mean a generation giving “priority to children’s interests.”

Steven Warshawsky is a Jewish agnostic who writes in defense of Christianity. Warshawsky takes on critics of the religious conservatives who dominate today’s Republican Party. Warshawsky states:

As a Jew, I am deeply grateful for this nation's Christian heritage. No nation on earth treats Jews better. . . Most, if not all, of the values and principles that we hold dear -- the dignity of the individual, freedom of conscience, political and economic liberty, representative government, and so on -- are inextricably intertwined with the Christian culture that produced, developed, and/or sustained them.

Reagan said, “Our country was built [on] belief in God, love of family, neighborhood, and good, hard work.” In defending Christian America, Warshawsky adds:

One of the hallmarks of American conservatism is that we reject . . . elitist, top-down interference in the daily lives of our citizens. Unlike liberals -- who claim to know how the rest of us should live -- conservatives respect the rights of individuals and communities to govern themselves.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Good Week for the Post

The Washington Post has written an editorial about the Plame affair that is so on-target, it reminds all conservatives just how great newspapers can be. Much like Victoria Toensing mentioned here earlier,whose commentaries the Post published, the Post distributed criticism to all parties involved. Regarding Joseph Wilson, the Post said:

A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of [Wilson’s] claims were false -- and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife. When this fact, along with Ms. Plame's name, was disclosed in a column by Robert D. Novak, Mr. Wilson advanced yet another sensational charge: that his wife was a covert CIA operative and that senior White House officials had orchestrated the leak of her name to destroy her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson. . . The trial has provided convincing evidence that there was no conspiracy to punish Mr. Wilson by leaking Ms. Plame's identity -- and no evidence that she was, in fact, covert.

More importantly, the Post reminded us what outstanding investigative journalism looks like. The Post’s exposure of conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital’s outpatient treatment center was so thorough and damning that Bush had no choice but to fire almost everyone involved, right up to Army Secretary (his Defense Secretary had already departed).

Journalism should not be about going left, it should be about getting it right.

Early Stage Iraq Surge Brings Little Change

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 70
February: 66

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.10 (Revised downward, 1/07)
actual: 2.08 (2/07)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 3,600 (2/07)

Since our last monthly report, the American KIA total dropped from January's 73. Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which includes deaths from all causes, hostile and non-hostile. Our figures for Iraq and Vietnam are KIA only.

Oil production in February nearly reached the recently-lowered target of 2.1 million barrels a day. More important, the Iraqi cabinet in February approved an oil revenue sharing agreement that may provide Sunnis a reason to support a unified Iraq.

Electricity output remains low, having risen slightly from January's 3,560 megawatts.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Libby Lied, Clinton Lied, Media is Consistent

Victoria Toensing, who blasted media treatment of the Valerie Plame affair, post-Libby verdict has updated her comments. Since Toensing helped write the law that determined Plame wasn’t “outable”, her continued criticism of Fitzgerald’s prosecution is worth reading.

Why does the media that protected Clinton when Kenneth Starr was attempting to impeach him for perjury and obstruction of justice now glory in a guilty verdict for Scooter Libby on the same charges? Do they have no shame? Aren’t they just monuments to hypocricy?

I say no. The media is being perfectly consistent. Lying doesn’t matter. Obstruction of justice doesn’t matter. What matters are the underlying motivations. In Clinton’s case, the motivation was benign. The sex he had with Monica Lewinsky was consensual, and his lying to protect the parties involved was understandable.

Libby, on the other hand, was part of a White House smear operation designed to exploit the media’s desire for leak-fueled inside information, one that put a leading reporter in jail, disrupted the lives, and raised the legal costs of, several others. Libby along with his bosses deserved to be punished. Fitzgerald is as good as Starr was bad. Justice prevails.

I too am consistent. Perjury and obstruction of justice do matter. They matter in and of themselves. Both Starr and Fitzgerald did the jobs they were paid to do, and both Clinton and Libby, who lied under oath, should have paid for their crimes.

Friday, March 02, 2007

What Would JFK Have Done?

Harvard’s Graham Allison is telling us what President Kennedy would say to “his successor” (I guess we don’t say Bush, because nobody takes Bush seriously any more, so he would really be talking to Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton) about how to handle Iran:

Lesson One: . . .the use of military muscle should be a last resort. . .For JFK, force was the hand inside the glove of diplomacy. . . Kennedy . . . orchestrated . . . options short of war. . .

Lesson Two: President Kennedy famously said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

Lesson Three
: The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. . . small steps that avoided confrontations that could lead to a nuclear war neither country would survive. . .

Kennedy did a great job with the Cuban Missile Crisis. But we were fortunate to escape without a nuclear exchange that would have been civilization’s greatest disaster. Khrushchev lost his job within a year because of the humiliation the USSR suffered at Kennedy’s hands. For most Democrats, Kennedy’s muscular liberalism is best remembered for defending, then overturning the Roman Catholic Diem regime in non-Catholic South Vietnam. The experience taught liberals to avoid most foreign wars.

Allison’s analysis currently seems a bit outdated as a critique of Bush administration foreign policy. Bush may have achieved a major success in Korea through multilateral negotiations and an agreement based upon “small steps.” Iran may be next.