Friday, July 21, 2006

Resurrection

Perhaps that was a slightly longer drought than I had anticipated. Nevertheless, back again. No posts for the next few days. . . but soon.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Personal Note

The Austin Review has perished. Although I continued to post a few items from BellerophonChimera to the AR website through the first few weeks of July, the newspaper has been defunct for the past seventy days.
While this fact would appear to have no real-world consequences, it has somewhat complicated my own personal circumstances, necessitating a variety of practical adjustments -- hence, the drought of postings in the recent past. A variety of logistical and pecuniary difficulties have impeded my progress, but these should soon be, if not resolved, at least mitigated -- within a week or, at most, two.
In the meantime, postings will continue to be sporadic, even sparse. Bear with me.
Ad astra per aspera.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Gitmo Letgo

Deroy Murdock’s fundamental point in today’s National Review Online is correct: “The U.S. government is preparing to return 68 percent of enemy fighters from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to their home countries, primarily Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Fraught with shortcomings, this risky scheme reeks of capitulation to Bushophobes.”
Specifically, as he avers, it appears to yield credence to the grotesque lie that the US has been anything other than the most generous combatant nation in the history of mankind in its accommodation of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo. But more importantly it creates a clear and present danger of release or escape by murderous thugs who will seek to do us harm. We have already seen previously released combatants return to the battlefield in Afghanistan, where they sought to kill American soldiers and Afghan civilians (“at least twelve of them already have engaged in terrorism after going home,” Murdock writes.)
Moreover, the risk of escape is hardly hypothetical. “Ten key suspects in al Qaeda’s October 12, 2000, attack on the U. S. S. Cole escaped from Aden’s [Yemen] supposedly well-guarded central-intelligence building on April 11, 2003. These fugitives included Jamal Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi and Fahd Muhammad Ahmad al-Quso, two top organizers of the terrorist operation that killed 17 American sailors and injured 40 more. In May 2003, a Manhattan grand jury slapped al-Badawi and al-Quso with a 50-count federal indictment for their crimes. Fortunately, all of these men were recaptured in March 2004. Who knows how much damage they did while at large for roughly 11 months.
“Also worrisome, in June 2002, Yemeni al Qaeda agent Walid Abdullah Habib fled a prison in Yemen. If American officials insist on repatriating Guantanamo’s Yemeni detainees, they first should send a locksmith there to tighten things up.”
Murdock is also correct in observing that the majority of “Guantanamo’s 510 detainees are worth keeping for their current and prospective intelligence value.
“‘We have and we are today still getting information that is relevant, that is actionable, and is supporting our service members in the field in the global war on terrorism,’ Army general and Southern Command chief Bantz Craddock told the Senate Armed Services Committee July 13.
“While some inmates may seem fresh out of information today, who knows what they could reveal tomorrow? Imagine that the FBI caught a terrorist in March 2006 named Mustafa al-Fissi carrying detailed diagrams of the San Onofre, California, and Seabrook, New Hampshire, atomic energy plants. Today, no Gitmo interrogator could ask detainees about the still-undetected al-Fissi. Next March, however, one or more Gitmoites might be persuaded to sing about al-Fissi, his contacts, his bankers, etc. Sending these intelligence sources beyond U.S. control will, at best, delay our ability to connect these dots. If our foreign friends limit access to transferred Guantanameros, FBI agents might stare at al-Fissi without knowing what some of his terrorist brethren know about him.”
Some might find a certain pleasurable schadenfreude in knowing that the Saudis, Yemenis and Afghanis will certainly not provide the same standards of 5-star care the detainees have received at Guantanamo. But Murdock is right also to suggest that what this really implies is a potential for violation of human rights. “The detainees’ Middle East destinations ‘are not countries with stellar human rights records,’ the Washington Post editorialized August 6. ‘Saudi Arabia’s is absolutely dreadful. Shifting the indefinite detention of enemy fighters from Guantanamo could, therefore, end up meaning worse treatment for the detainees.’
“Indeed, once departed, Gitmo’s current guests probably can kiss goodbye such conveniences as volleyball courts, extensive medical and dental care, and an 800-volume book collection from which, the Washington Times’s Rowan Scarborough reported August 8, ‘a staff of three librarians load up a book cart and go cell to cell.’” It’s difficult to weep over this change of circumstance, but the prospect of real abuse or torture (as opposed to the trivialities heretofore condemned) is real, and remains our moral responsibility.
Murdock makes an excellent prima facie case for opposing the proposed mass release. His editorial is marred by only a single flaw, when he suggests that “Guantanamo is incredibly secure. This Navy base overflows with well-armed guards and well-trained GIs. Any al Qaeda assassin who slithered from his cell soon would be neutralized. If he happened to reach the compound’s periphery, he would be greeted by barbed wire and watchtowers. If he snuck through, he could swim to freedom. Haiti is about 100 miles southeast across the shark-choked Windward Passage. Good luck.” It’s not that Guantanamo is insecure. It’s just that it isn’t some remote island. Swim just a few miles up the beach and you’re well into the home waters of Cuba – long-term sponsor of terrorism and sworn enemy of the American democracy.

Just Desserts

Chalabi

So many of the administration’s real mistakes in prosecuting the war in Iraq – not the moronic litany which constantly appears in the “mainstream” press, few elements of which were even mistakes at all – are intimately bound up with the efforts of anonymous, vindictive, and incompetent State Department and CIA analysts and operatives who tried every way short of assassination to discredit or eliminate Ahmed Chalabi, that you absolutely must read Robert L. Pollock’s “The Chalabi Comeback” in Opinion Journal. His discussion only hints at a few of the most salient errors, often indirectly or implicitly, but highlights just enough to be of significant interest.
One of the most portentous mistakes was the failure to follow through on early plans to invade in conjunction with a substantial trained complement of Iraqi volunteers, a national liberation force, which could have immediately put an Iraqi face on what became instead “the occupation.” (This force did not have to play a role of any more significance than De Gaulle’s Free French did in the liberation of France. Their importance was far more symbolic, and political, than military.) This option was derided by CIA and State Department opponents of the Iraqi exiles who disparaged their competence and hinted darkly that they were corrupted and compromised. The squishes won, with unfortunate consequences which should now be apparent to all. Nevertheless, Chalabi, “the master coalition-builder crafted the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance that shocked our spooks and diplomats by dominating the January election. The other big winners – Shiite religious leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and Kurdish leaders Talabani and Massoud Barzani – turned out to be the very same group Mr. Chalabi had united under the banner of his Iraqi National Congress in the '90s, and which had widely been written off as ‘exiles.’ Mr. Chalabi had enough support to make a credible bid for the prime minister’s post, only to drop out in the face of strong U.S.-Iranian lobbying . . . for the Islamist, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, who has proven to be an ineffectual leader at best.”
As for the question of corruption, “the biggest alleged thieves in post-Saddam Iraq have turned out to be those associated with the CIA’s preferred secular Shiite, Mr. Allawi.
“The Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit recently charged that Mr. Allawi’s defense minister, Hazem Shalaan, presided over the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone towards better-equipped security forces. Virtually everyone I spoke to at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense confirmed this, including the new minister, Saddoun Dulaimi (an honest man by everyone’s account, and a non-Baathist Sunni to boot). But corruption on the scale suggested by the Audit Board should be more difficult now that Mr. Chalabi is chairing a Contracts Committee, which reviews every government expenditure above a certain threshold.”
Pollock is frequently too polite to call a spade a spade. When he characterizes the ludicrous leaks – credulously accepted by the “mainstream” media – asserting that Chalabi had ratted out the NSA to Tehran as having broken key Iranian codes, and further claiming that this fact was discovered when the Iranians used that same broken code to report Chalabi’s information (!), Pollack refers blandly to “improbable allegations that he somehow obtained and then passed sensitive U.S. information to Iran (another anonymously sourced story Newsweek really ought to revisit).” But he strikes home when he succinctly observes that one price of marginalizing Chalabi was that it entailed “the shutdown of an INC operation called the Information Collection Program, which Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers testified before Congress had ‘saved American lives.’ A military review had concluded that the INC provided the U.S. with far more actionable intelligence than any other Iraqi organization, including the Kurdish militias.” How many lives were lost to CIA CYA, stupidity and vindictiveness?
As for the present, Pollock’s summary is on-the-mark. “The more important story, the real determinant of whether Iraq stands or falls, is the political one. And a key player is a man countless powerful people around the world have wished would go away. Of course, there are no ‘indispensable men’ – De Gaulle famously remarked that the graveyards are full of them – but Mr. Chalabi is as close as you come among Iraq’s political class. He sees the powerful Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani regularly; he is trusted by the Kurds, and, to the extent anyone is, by Sadr; and he put forth a constitutional oil-sharing proposal that has a chance of making federalism acceptable to the Sunnis. It is telling that he was one of the last people huddled with Zalmay Khalilzad in the wee hours of Saturday, when the U.S. ambassador finally gave the go-ahead to announce an agreement. Mr. Khalilzad, who has now brokered constitutions for 50 million newly free people in two countries – and who deserves a medal for his efforts – is a man who knows who to have by his side when a deal has to get done.
“The question now is whether his bosses in Washington are mature enough to put aside past mistakes and work with Mr. Chalabi. They certainly no longer have to worry about him being written off as an American puppet.”

Diyala Valley

In the Diyala valley of central Iraq, bordering on the Sunni triangle, the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade appears well on the way to completing a transition toward independent operations, according to a report filed by the Christian Science Monitor’s Neil MacDonald. Roadside bomb attacks have abated, and almost ceased, down more than 30% in July as compared to the same month one year ago, with an even more substantial decline registered in August. In an area of more than 1,100 square miles, with a population of some 300,000, the unit has the primary responsibility for local security. In fact, American troops recently closed a forward operating base in the region, “since the area was so calm,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cloutier of the US Army. Both Americans and Iraqis, writes MacDonald, declare that “the relative peace in the breadbasket is the result of a carefully managed transition from US to Iraqi security.” Importantly, “the local Sunni Arabs appear inclined to climb aboard the US-backed political process, rather than trying to derail it through violence.”
The Iraqi 2/2 is certainly in front of the curve, but hardly anomalous. More than a dozen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces are largely untroubled by the terrorist “insurgency”, and the three Kurdish provinces are experiencing an economic boom. The Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index reports nearly 80,000 Iraqi Army soldiers and guardsmen a as “operational” as of this month. But progress isn’t what the bulk of the “mainstream” media want to discuss. (For more on this topic, see “The Media Quagmire” at the Weekly Standard, by Power Line’s Scott Johnson.) As Opinion Journal’s Robert L. Pollock reports from Baghdad, “a visit quickly makes plain that the latest ‘quagmire’ panic in Washington is widely off the mark. True, the security situation in Baghdad remains a long way from what it should be; but neither do the insurgents control swaths of territory – think Fallujah – as they used to. What’s more, the heavy lifting is increasingly being done by Iraqis. ‘The Iraqi Brigade that owns Haifa Street has done something that we could never do,’ Gen. Petraeus told me over lunch. Iraqi security forces are far more visible, and with competent Iraqi leadership such success stories will multiply slowly but steadily. It will be, in Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words, ‘a long, hard slog.’ But it should increasingly be an Iraqi slog.”

Monday, August 29, 2005

On Constitutions

On September 17, 1787, the final day of the American Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the work of the delegates completed, Benjamin Franklin arose and handed a written speech to his Pennsylvania colleague James Wilson to read. “Mr. President,” Franklin had written, “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not approve, but I am not sure that I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise . . . . I doubt too whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better constitution . . . . It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies . . . . Thus I consent, Sir, to this constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.” This, of that revered document which, despite its imperfections and blemishes, has endured for two hundred eighteen years and guided us through our nations darkest days, a beacon to ourselves and to the world of shining freedom.

Arrested Development

For those of us impaired by congenital y-chromosome syndrome who find themselves perpetually dis-eased by their failure to comprehend the behavior, perceptions and propensities of those more blessed with double x’s, Daphne Merkin’s “Passion and the Prisoner” is a wonderful temporary palliative, but beyond a moment’s reflection a deeply disturbing confirmation: no matter how wretched we are, guys, we just aren’t wretched enough.

Doom, Gloom, Illumination

Mark Steyn’s irreverent but spot-on commentary (barring only a single too-flippant remark on the consequences of failure) on the Iraqi constitution thoroughly deflates who foresee impending doom, just as they have foreseen impending doom at every other crucial juncture in the war against FascIslam.
A single sample retro: “Remember the Afghan war? On Nov. 7, 2001, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd was sneering at the Northern Alliance for being a lot of useless layabout deadbeats. ‘They smoke and complain more than they fight,’ she scoffed. A couple of days later, Kabul fell so swiftly that on Nov. 14 Dowd switched smoothly – with only the mildest case of columnar whiplash – to whining that the hitherto layabout Northern Alliance had ‘embarrassed’ us with their ‘savage force.’”
That’s Maureen Dowd all right – all the intellectual candlepower of a pyrite filament, all the historical grasp of a mayfly, and all the conscience of . . . a columnist for the New York Times. Sic semper punditus.

The Green Needle

In “The Cult of the Cycads” in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Lauren Kessler relates a fascinating horticultural tale of ardor and lust for the acquisition of specimens of endangered, nearly extinct species of exotic plants which once ruled the floral world, in the millennia when dinosaurs were kings. Quite intriguing, and not to be missed.

Lincoln Rising

“The party of Lincoln will not be whole until more African-Americans come back home,” declares Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman as he pursues an aggressive strategy of recruiting strong black candidates and opening greater opportunities for the one American minority that Democrats, as they did a century and a half ago, want to keep down on the plantation.
“More than a dozen black politicians are running on the Republican ticket in 2006 for Senate and House seats, governorships and other statewide races,” reports the Washington Times’ Brian DeBose. In Ohio, for example, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor, and running a strong campaign implicitly (and at times explicitly) in opposition to the badly tainted administration of incumbent Robert Taft, recently convicted of four misdemeanor campaign finance violations (and consistently given an “F” in fiscal responsibility report cards by the Cato Institute). Blackwell probably represents the GOP’s most significant hope of retaining the Ohio governorship as (thankfully) term-limited Taft steps down.
But there are many others. “More than a dozen black politicians are running on the Republican ticket in 2006 for Senate and House seats, governorships and other statewide races.
“It could turn out to be the most diverse Republican slate since the mid-1990s, said J.C. Watts Jr., chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee. Mr. Watts won a House seat in Oklahoma in 1994, becoming the first black Republican to reach Congress since Sen. Edward W. Brooke III, Massachusetts Republican, who served from 1967 to 1979.
“‘I’ve often said that most black people don’t think alike, most black people just vote alike, and if Republicans understood black people better, you would have 70 to 75 percent of black people voting Republican,’ Mr. Watts said.”
If Republicans succeed in their efforts, it will be the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow. And more, as retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Frances P. Rice, chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association declares, it will ultimately benefit blacks most of all. “‘Blacks after 40 years of Democrat control are complaining about the same things: poorly performing schools, dilapidated public housing,’ Col. Rice said. ‘Socialism has not worked anywhere it has been tried. Why should we do it here?’”
Yet it is precisely Democrats’ insistence that blacks rely upon an antiquated socialist agenda, she affirms, that is “destroying the community.”
All too frequently, though, the response of threatened Democrats to infringements upon their “monopoly rights” is to invoke the most racist of stereotypes. As Republican Richard Holt, running for the now vacant seat of Democratic Congressman Ted Strickland of Ohio, explains, “‘It is difficult because of people like Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory calling us ‘whitey’ and tyrants when all we want to do is make sure that our families are strong, that we own our own businesses and that our children get a good education.’”
This cynical strategy has almost run its course.

Adversarial Proceedings

“In the 2000 election cycle, according to data from the National Election Study produced at the University of Michigan, 34 percent of people with advanced degrees and 44 percent of those earning $95,000 to $200,000 gave exclusively to Democratic candidates. For law professors, the new study finds, it was 78 percent.”
Under the rubric of “Confirmations of What You Already Knew”, a new study to be published in the Georgetown Law Journal this fall “analyzes 11 years of records reflecting federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by US News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contribute to campaigns, but of them, the study finds, 81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.” As the New York Times’ Adam Liptak reports, the bias is even more skewed at the most “elite” levels, with 91 percent of Harvard professors, 92 percent at Yale, and 94 percent at Stanford hewing the leftist line.
As Liptak notes unsurprisingly, “whatever may be said about particular schools and students, professors and deans of all political persuasions agreed that the studies findings are undeniable.”

FascIslamic Family Values

Also beginning a new term at school in September are the haunted children of Beslan, the little Russian village where FascIslamic terrorists from Chechnya and Ingushetia murdered 331 parents, teachers – and among them 186 children – after taking them hostage on the first day of classes this past year.
For the first graders, whose only memories of school are of those three days of fire and slaughter, “school means death,” says Beslan psychologist Fatima Bagayeva, “they have no other memory . . .”
“These children need continued special attention and, without it, I don’t think they will make it,” says Moscow psychologist Elena Morozova. “We are looking at a lost generation.”
At all the schools now in Beslan, armed local men stand guard.
Listening to the Washington Post’s Peter Finn we may measure FascIslamic compassion and mercy by its effects upon a single shattered family. “When the explosions and shooting began Sept. 3,” he writes, “[Alan] Adyrkhayev’s wife, Irina, a nurse, fled the gymnasium to the school canteen with Emilia and their other daughter, Milana, 5. From there, in the middle of a firefight, Milana somehow escaped. Irina was killed. Russian special forces found Emilia, who suffered minor shrapnel wounds and burns, nestling by the body of her 29-year-old mother.
“When Adyrkhayev asks Emilia if she wants to go back to school, the wonderful new one with the swimming pool and the big playground, she nods as if she knows the right response, but her downcast large brown eyes betray her doubts. Emilia never speaks about her experience, relatives said.
“Her father, in turn, is a hollow-eyed, broken man who has refused to return to work. Instead, Adyrkhayev sits at his computer screen scrolling through the faces of the dead. ‘I would be lost without them,’ he said.
“He has also recorded a video of Milana, a bright, smiling child, singing to a picture of her mother, and an audio clip that he plays on his cell phone when he wants to hear her voice.
“‘I know that she lives in the sky,’ the girl says on the clip. ‘They killed my mother. How can they be so cruel? They’re all beasts.’
“Adyrkhayev twirled the cell phone in his hand, smoking a cigarette in the shade of an apple tree. ‘I think I'm losing it,’ he said.
“As with the families of many other victims, relatives are providing care. Adyrkhayev’s sister and parents have moved in with him to help with the children.
“‘The babushkas are holding the town together,’ said Bagayeva, the psychologist.”
But it is to little seven year old Georgy whom Finn grants the final word.
“‘I don’t want to go to school,’ Georgy said. ‘I don’t want to be dead.’”

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Revisionism Revised

The new Iraqi school year begins in September. When children return for the new term, they will be provided with new history textbooks and taught according to new curricula. The Middle East Media Research Institute offers an interesting discussion of a report by Huda Jasim published recently in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat regarding those changes.

What’s Not News

The vast preponderance of the American media wishes to ignore the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Kabul, the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Afghanistan in more than thirty years, and of considerable strategic importance to the evolution of Central Asian (and South Asian) politics. The media also appear to view Pakistan’s local elections as unworthy of attention, though they, too, are of great significance for the future of that vital nation. At least the lamentable BBC attends.

2020 Foresight

Jacques-Henri David, President of the Deutsche Bank Group in France, assesses the world’s economy and power relations among leading nations in the year 2020 pursuant to DBG’s recent analysis of “the macroeconomic evolution of the major continents over the next fifteen years” (as transcribed by Watching America, courtesy of Power Line’s John Hinderaker).
David and DBG project that “in 2020, the United States will remain the world superpower, with a total GNP of approximately $17 trillion to $18 trillion. Thanks to its dynamic demographics (1% annual population growth), a productivity and a competitiveness amongst the best in the world (currently second in the world and far out in front of Germany (13th) or France (26th) according to statistics from the World Economic Forum), and thanks also to its constant drive to create and innovate, and with flexibility due to the mobility of its labor force, the United States will maintain a clear advantage over China and India and will widen the gap with Europe. With average per capita salaries of approximately $55,000, the income of the average American in 2020 will be 1.5 to 2 times greater than that of a European; five times higher than that of a Chinese and nine times more than that of an Indian (approximately $6,000 per capita).
“China will indisputably be the world’s second greatest economic power, with a GNP of some $14 trillion, or three times higher than today. . . . Even more than today, China in 2020 will be the industrial workshop of the world.” This assumes, of course, that “no major social crisis interrupts the long-term dynamics.” Even then, “paradoxically, one of its handicaps will be an aging population, due to the delayed impact of its ‘one child policy.’ By 2020, the median age in China will be approximately 40 years, which will be higher than in the United States.”
In third place, India. “The world’s third greatest economic power will be India, but far behind the first two, with a GNP of about $7 trillion.
“India should be the uncontested champion in terms of growth, due its demographics, its highly qualified labor force, the ease with which it can be integrated into the global economic system thanks to the wide use of English throughout its population, and thanks also to its mastery of communications technologies, especially the Internet. If China can be held out as the world’s future industrial workshop, India will undoubtedly be one of the great service societies.”
As for our European allies, the prognosis is less sanguine. “In Europe, Germany, France, along with Italy and the United Kingdom, should lose ground in the world competition with a GNP per country of about $2 to 2.5 trillion.
“While European countries will remain rich in terms of per capita income (about $32,500), their relative weight will decline with their demographics and weaker growth (on average, almost half as much as the United States). Countries like Spain or Ireland will experience a higher level of development than the European average, thanks to a wider opening of their economies to the outside, the dynamism of their investments, good population growth forecasts and effective immigration policies.
“Ireland, for example, in 2020 will have the second highest GNP per capita in the world, just behind the U.S. The increased weight of these new stars on the European landscape will not, however, be sufficient to compensate for the retreat of its historic champions [Britain, France, Germany] who will feel the full weight of their society’s declining demographics [aging populations].”
Though David doesn’t expound it, the message seems irrefragably clear: Europe must abandon its propensity toward quasi-socialist centralism and state capitalism and adopt the only viable alternative dynamic: truly free enterprise.

Love My Rifle More Than You

“Chick-lit meets battlefield memoir in Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army, the title taken from a marching song,” writes Phillip Sherwell in today’s London Telegraph, reviewing (ever so briefly) former US Army Sergeant Kayla Williams new book on her experiences in Iraq. A five year veteran in military intelligence, an Arabic linguist, Williams begins by observing that “Sex is the key to any woman soldier’s experiences in the American military. No one likes to acknowledge it, but there’s a strange sexual allure to being a woman and a soldier.”
“Love My Rifle” looks as though it’s worth a read.

State of War

Christopher Hitchens has penned a strikingly perspicacious and stunningly brilliant analysis of the single most frustrating dimension of our global war against FascIslam to date for all those who perceive our present engagement in Iraq as both a moral imperative and a strategic necessity. (I must hasten to add that Hitchens emphasizes the former, and barely broaches the latter). In his essay for the Weekly Standard “A War to be Proud Of” he continues, as he has so constantly, even relentlessly, to make the irrefutable case for the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war, a case which the administration itself so regrettably has yet to make with sufficient coherence and consistency. (This is one reason that history is most likely to perceive George Bush as more akin to Harry Truman than to Winston Churchill.)
“I am one of those,” writes Hitchens, “who believe, uncynically, that Osama bin Laden did us all a service (and holy war a great disservice) by his mad decision to assault the American homeland four years ago. Had he not made this world-historical mistake, we would have been able to add a Talibanized and nuclear-armed Pakistan to our list of the threats we failed to recognize in time. (This threat still exists, but it is no longer so casually overlooked.)
“The subsequent liberation of Pakistan’s theocratic colony in Afghanistan, and the so-far decisive eviction and defeat of its bin Ladenist guests, was only a reprisal. It took care of the last attack. But what about the next one? For anyone with eyes to see, there was only one other state that combined the latent and the blatant definitions of both ‘rogue’ and ‘failed.’ This state – Saddam’s ruined and tortured and collapsing Iraq – had also met all the conditions under which a country may be deemed to have sacrificed its own legal sovereignty. To recapitulate: It had invaded its neighbors, committed genocide on its own soil, harbored and nurtured international thugs and killers, and flouted every provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United Nations, in this crisis, faced with regular insult to its own resolutions and its own character, had managed to set up a system of sanctions-based mutual corruption. In May 2003, had things gone on as they had been going, Saddam Hussein would have been due to fill Iraq’s slot as chair of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. Meanwhile, every species of gangster from the hero of the Achille Lauro hijacking to Abu Musab al Zarqawi was finding hospitality under Saddam’s crumbling roof.
“One might have thought, therefore, that Bush and Blair’s decision to put an end at last to this intolerable state of affairs would be hailed, not just as a belated vindication of long-ignored U.N. resolutions but as some corrective to the decade of shame and inaction that had just passed in Bosnia and Rwanda. But such is not the case. An apparent consensus exists, among millions of people in Europe and America, that the whole operation for the demilitarization of Iraq, and the salvage of its traumatized society, was at best a false pretense and at worst an unprovoked aggression. How can this possibly be?”
How, indeed? Hitchens readily dispenses with the simple-minded and frequently disingenuous “no WMD” mantra incompletely but effectively when he relates that “It takes ten seconds to intone the said mantra. It would take me, on my most eloquent C-SPAN day, at the very least five minutes to say that Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals for the World Trade Center attack in 1993, subsequently sought and found refuge in Baghdad; that Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, Saddam’s senior physicist, was able to lead American soldiers to nuclear centrifuge parts and a blueprint for a complete centrifuge (the crown jewel of nuclear physics) buried on the orders of Qusay Hussein; that Saddam’s agents were in Damascus as late as February 2003, negotiating to purchase missiles off the shelf from North Korea; or that Rolf Ekeus, the great Swedish socialist who founded the inspection process in Iraq after 1991, has told me for the record that he was offered a $2 million bribe in a face-to-face meeting with Tariq Aziz. And these eye-catching examples would by no means exhaust my repertoire, or empty my quiver. Yes, it must be admitted that Bush and Blair made a hash of a good case, largely because they preferred to scare people rather than enlighten them or reason with them. Still, the only real strategy of deception has come from those who believe, or pretend, that Saddam Hussein was no problem.”
Moreover, Hitchens further avers, “anyone with the smallest knowledge of Iraq knows that its society and infrastructure and institutions have been appallingly maimed and beggared by three decades of war and fascism (and the ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics by which Saddam maintained his own tribal minority of the Sunni minority in power). In logic and morality, one must therefore compare the current state of the country with the likely or probable state of it had Saddam and his sons been allowed to go on ruling.
“At once, one sees that all the alternatives would have been infinitely worse, and would most likely have led to an implosion – as well as opportunistic invasions from Iran and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on behalf of their respective interests or confessional clienteles. This would in turn have necessitated a more costly and bloody intervention by some kind of coalition, much too late and on even worse terms and conditions. This is the lesson of Bosnia and Rwanda yesterday, and of Darfur today. When I have made this point in public, I have never had anyone offer an answer to it. A broken Iraq was in our future no matter what, and was a responsibility (somewhat conditioned by our past blunders) that no decent person could shirk. The only unthinkable policy was one of abstention.”
It is more an intuitive or even visceral than a conscious understanding of this reality which has kept so many Americans determinedly resilient in the face of the massive antiwar propaganda campaign in which the mainline media are gleefully complicit. “Faced with a constant drizzle of bad news and purposely demoralizing commentary, millions of people stick out their jaws and hang tight. I am no fan of populism, but I surmise that these citizens are clear on the main point: It is out of the question – plainly and absolutely out of the question – that we should surrender the keystone state of the Middle East to a rotten, murderous alliance between Baathists and bin Ladenists. When they hear the fatuous insinuation that this alliance has only been created by the resistance to it, voters know in their intestines that those who say so are soft on crime and soft on fascism.”
The reality, despite all adversities and the misfortunes attendant to war, is that we have already achieved much, and laid the foundation for much more. Hitchen’s list of the “positive accounting” substantially matches my own:
“(1) The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention, has even gone to the trouble of naming his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
“(2) The subsequent capitulation of Qaddafi’s Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction – a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.
“(3) The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.
“(4) The agreement by the United Nations that its own reform is necessary and overdue, and the unmasking of a quasi-criminal network within its elite.
“(5) The craven admission by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of cheating and concealment, respecting solemn treaties, on the part of Iran, that not even this will alter their commitment to neutralism. (One had already suspected as much in the Iraqi case.)
“(6) The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.
“(7) The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region – the Kurds – and the spread of this example to other states.
“(8) The related encouragement of democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Lebanon, which has regained a version of its autonomy.
“(9) The violent and ignominious death of thousands of bin Ladenist infiltrators into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real prospect of greatly enlarging this number.
“(10) The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.
“It would be admirable if the president could manage to make such a presentation. It would also be welcome if he and his deputies adopted a clear attitude toward the war within the war: in other words, stated plainly, that the secular and pluralist forces within Afghan and Iraqi society, while they are not our clients, can in no circumstance be allowed to wonder which outcome we favor.”
America is making profound progress in the war against FascIslam – a war in which we represent the one great force for freedom, democracy and hope for all mankind against a brutal, murderous tyranny. To believe otherwise is delusion or depravity. If only its advocates and expositors were more eloquent . . .

More Reefer Madness

In “Marijuana Pipe Dreams” the New York Times’ John Tierney relates yet more of the perverse institutional stupidity which underlies our nation’s “War” on drugs. In this case, he attends to the question of securing adequate supplies of marijuana to perform essential medical research, so that we might actually make rational decisions about drug policies on the basis of evidence. But evidence and reason are scorned by our defenders of the faith at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
At present, medical researchers have access to but one legal source of marijuana: a government monopoly crop grown in Mississippi and distributed exclusively by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But, as Tierney writes, “Scientists say they need an alternative partly because the government’s marijuana is of such poor quality – too many seeds and stems – and partly because the federal officials are so loath to give it out for research into its medical benefits.
“Discovering benefits, after all, would undermine the great anti-marijuana campaign that has taken hold in Washington. Marijuana is deemed to be such a powerful ‘gateway’ to other drugs that it’s become the top priority in the federal drug war, much to the puzzlement of many scientists, not to mention the police officers who see a lot of worse drugs on the streets.
“People with glaucoma and AIDS have sworn by the efficacy of marijuana, and there have been studies by state health departments showing that smoking marijuana is especially good at controlling nausea. Scientists would like to test these effects, but they can’t do good studies until they get good marijuana.
“Critics of medical marijuana say that it’s unnecessary because patients can obtain the benefits of its active ingredient, THC, through a drug that’s already available, Marinol. But many patients say it doesn’t work as well. They point to the case of the writer Peter McWilliams, who said smoking marijuana was the only way to control the nausea brought on by the mix of drugs he took for AIDS and cancer.
“He was forced to switch to Marinol after a D.E.A. investigation led to his conviction for violating federal laws against marijuana. In 2000, several weeks before he was to be sentenced, he was found dead in his bathroom. He had choked on his own vomit.”
A perfect metaphor for the “War” on drugs itself.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Out Damned Spot

Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? Shakespeare, of course.

The eternal recurrence and historical persistence of even the most ludicrous and untenable of conspiracy theories (Holocaust denial, Apollo lunar landing disavowal, certain currently popular books sold by the millions to credulous readers with abysmal taste, ad infinitum) is best explained in religious or mythological terms. For conspiracy theorists, belief is an act of faith, not a question of evidence or of reasoned analysis. This faith “rejects the most obvious explanation of an event, and reinterprets evidence to fit a preconceived idea . . . . Facts that contradict the theory are explained by conspiracy, but this ploy means that ‘conspiracy theories are really not theories at all’, but faiths, which cannot be proved false.”
Writing in the London Times Literary Supplement, Brian Vickers reviews various contemporary regurgitations of the “theories” that Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford, rather than William Shakespeare, were the authors of his immortal plays (and one contemporary refutation of the “hypotheses”) and asks “Why Not Shakespeare?”. Why not, indeed? His brief essay is an excellent summary refutation.

Friday, August 26, 2005

War Measures

Weekly Standard contributor Christian Lowe describes the efforts of a group organized within the Department of Defense office of Advanced Systems and Concepts to develop a cluster of objective measurements determining the relative success of American strategies in the war against FascIslam. Under the auspices of this group, former Marine Colonel Gary Anderson’s “team came up with a series of broader trends that would allow U.S. policy-makers to see how well their strategies are working to defeat terrorism:
* Terrorist attacks that take place on U.S. territory show a continuous decline.
* The number of states in the Arab and Islamic worlds with representative or inclusive governments that oppose terrorism is increasing.
* Roughly 90 percent of Islamic clergy are preaching against terrorism.
* The majority of Arab language media are editorializing against the use of terrorism and giving negative reportage to acts of terrorism.
* Polling index of Arab/Muslim opinion polls are increasingly favorable.
* Groups previously identified as terrorists but have chosen to adopt non-violent means are increasing.”
As Lowe elaborates, “With the elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq; municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, parliamentary elections in Lebanon, and upcoming presidential elections in Egypt a trend toward ‘representative’ governments in a region associated with terrorist movements – a key measurement of success – could be taking hold.
“The nonpartisan Freedom House, a Washington-based democratic advocacy and research group, wrote in its latest ‘Freedom in the World’ survey that there has been an overall gain in freedom around the globe since the attacks of September 11, 2001. East-Central Europe, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have posted the most gains, while key countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, have had overall setbacks.
“The number and effectiveness of terrorist strikes worldwide as a measure of success is equally mixed. Though there have been no attacks in the United States since 9/11, the U.S. State Department’s latest statistics show worldwide terrorist incidents rose from 198 in 2002 to 208 in 2003.
“Terrorism caused 725 deaths in 2003, 100 fewer than in the previous year – but wounded 3,546, up nearly 45 percent.”
Lowe also notes Michael Barone’s discussion of the extremely illuminating polls of public opinion in a number of islamic-majority countries and others which we referenced in “Breeding Gound 1”.
Indeed, by virtually any other measure than the crucial variable of domestic political opinion within the United States, we are making progress, and slowly winning, the War On Terror. For the American public, it’s time to wake up.

Beslan

Slaughter of the Innocents

As we approach the first anniversary of the siege of Beslan, amid all the rhetorical excess of those who would compromise or surrender the values which animate our civilization to the dark forces of FascIslam, and who equate us with their evil acts and essence – as if there were utterly no difference between our actions and motivations and those of these malevolent enemies of humankind – it is of vital importance that we remind ourselves just who it is that we confront in this epic struggle for the soul of all humanity.
On the first of September last year, more than thirty FascIslamic terrorists attacked an elementary school on the very first day of classes, taking more than a thousand two hundred children, teachers and parents hostage. Within three days more than 300 were slaughtered – bombed, burned or shot to death – including more than eight score innocent children. More than 700 others were maimed or wounded, the last comatose victim dying but a few short weeks ago. The FascIslamists proudly proclaimed responsibility for their actions. The little ones were, after all, the children of infidels.
Certainly, the grotesque incompetence of the Russian authorities contributed to the enormity of this human tragedy. But it isn’t Vladimir Putin and his neo-tsarism that is responsible for the pain and suffering and death, however negligent, ill-conceived and hazardous the Russian response: it is the terrorists themselves who perpetrated this act of evil.
Ten days after the anniversary of this mass murder of innocent children, an act of which our enemies boast with pride, we here in America will mark the fourth anniversary of another mass murder on our own soil, the maleficent and intentional slaughter of ten times the number who died at Beslan. As we do, we must remind ourselves that our greatest enemy in this global conflict is not our adversary, but ourselves – our own complacency, inertia, division and doubt. All too many Americans, thoughtless, ignorant and unreflecting, blame their own country for the evils wrought by our depraved jihadist enemies. Such myopia is not limited to the political left or right, but appears across the spectrum, from the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons who blame our tolerance and social liberality and the Pat Buchanans who blame, implicitly, the Jews, to the far greater number of leftist apologists from Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore to Noam Chomsky, who despise the very society which assures their liberty to speak.
Two and a quarter centuries ago, the greatest orator of what was truly America’s greatest generation – the first American generation – Patrick Henry proclaimed “Give me liberty or give me death.” These were not mere words. They posed instead the stark reality of the situation for that American minority whose courageous acts and enormous sacrifice gave to us this great land, which even today remains the world’s beacon of freedom. Those same words resonate today, for the present generation, not as rhetoric but as reality. Our choice, however much we wish to deny it, is a simple one – liberty or death.
For the sake of humankind, America must choose liberty, not death.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Crucifiction

The hands-down winner of the contest for this week’s “Headline of the Week” is Marvin Olasky, for World Magazine’s “Who Would Jesus Assassinate?”
As the University of Texas Professor avers, “the Bible offers no warrant for Pat Robertson’s fatwa.” (Just in case you’ve been on a Rip van Winkle, I’ll allow Olasky to explain: “Pat Robertson last week, on his long-running TV show The 700 Club . . . suggested that U.S. operatives assassinate Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez: ‘We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. . . . I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but . . . I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.’”)
From Jerry Rubin to Pat Robertson . . . ‘I don’t know . . . Just Do It!’

Constitutional Conventions

“Iraq wasn’t created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill,” the smarmy and frequently unperceptive Peter W. Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia, explains to the New York Times’ David Brooks in “Divided They Stand”. This time, the proverbial stopped clock is right. Speaking of the newly forged Iraqi constitution, Galbraith says that “this is the only possible deal that can bring stability. . . . I do believe it might save the country.” Why? As Brooks explains concisely, “this constitution gives each group what it wants. It will create a very loose federation in which only things like fiscal and foreign policy are controlled in the center (even tax policy is decentralized). Oil revenues are supposed to be distributed on a per capita basis, and no group will feel inordinately oppressed by the others.
“The Kurds and Shiites understand what a good deal this is. The Sunni leaders selected to attend the convention are howling because they are former Baathists who dream of a return to centralized power. But ordinary Sunnis, Galbraith says, will come to realize this deal protects them, too.”
As Brooks relates in his brief essay, the far more perspicacious Raul Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute (and formerly of the CIA) concurs with Galbraith. “What’s important, Gerecht has emphasized, is the democratic process: setting up a system in which the different groups, secular and clerical, will have to bargain with one another, campaign and deal with the real-world consequences of their ideas. This is what’s going to moderate them and lead to progress. This constitution does that. Shutting them out would lead to war.
“The constitution also exposes the canard that America is some imperial power trying to impose its values on the world.”
Much more about the Iraqi constitution later today or tomorrow. In the interim, be sure to see Brooks’ article.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Slough

This much is certain: as long as the Democratic party continues to delude itself into believing that chimerical “voter suppression” and an elusive magical “message” are what preclude them from winning elections, they will sink ever deeper into their slough of despond. New ideas and new policies regenerated a moribund Republican party a quarter of a century ago. Even today, at least in a comparative sense, the Republicans remain the party of new ideas and innovative policies.
“To err is human, to repent divine – to persist, devilish.”

Necromancy

I assume that, as I’ve been lolling about in my dog days desuetude, you’ve been following the late summer blogospheric storm over yet another egregious lie penned by the New York Times’ resident Pinocchio, Paul Krugman. If not, National Review Online’s Donald Luskin summarizes the facts quite generously in “It’s the Truth that Counts”.
In a nutshell (the most appropriate of metaphors for Krugman’s little world), the Times’ columnist asserted (last Friday), in the context of a more voluminous and deranged rant, that in the aftermath of the 2000 election, “two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida’s ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.” As usual for Mr. Krugman, this is a lie of both commission and omission.
Consider what the member papers of the two consortia reported themselves:
On May 15, 2001, the USA Today’s Dennis Cauchon in “Newspapers’ Recount Shows Bush Prevailed” reported that “George W. Bush would have won a hand count of Florida’s disputed ballots if the standard advocated by Al Gore had been used, the first full study of the ballots reveals. Bush would have won by 1,665 votes — more than triple his official 537-vote margin — if every dimple, hanging chad and mark on the ballots had been counted as votes, a USA TODAY/Miami Herald/Knight Ridder study shows. The study is the first comprehensive review of the 61,195 ‘undervote’ ballots that were at the center of Florida’s disputed presidential election.”
Similarly, on April 4, 2001 in “Bush Still Wins Florida in Newspaper Recount” CNN revealed that “if a recount of Florida’s disputed votes in last year’s close presidential election had been allowed to proceed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican George W. Bush still would have won the White House, two newspapers reported Wednesday.
“The Miami Herald and USA Today conducted a comprehensive review of 64,248 ‘undercounted’ ballots in Florida’s 67 counties that ended last month.
“Their count showed that Bush’s razor-thin margin of 537 votes — certified in December by the Florida Secretary of State’s office — would have tripled to 1,665 votes if counted according to standards advocated by his Democratic rival, former Vice President Al Gore.”
With respect to the second consortium, the New York Times itself declared that “a comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots from last year’s presidential election reveals that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward. Contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have charged [my italics], the United States Supreme Court did not award an election to Mr. Bush that otherwise would have been won by Mr. Gore. A close examination of the ballots found that Mr. Bush would have retained a slender margin over Mr. Gore if the Florida court’s order to recount more than 43,000 ballots had not been reversed by the United States Supreme Court.
“Even under the strategy that Mr. Gore pursued at the beginning of the Florida standoff — filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties — Mr. Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted for a consortium of news organizations.”
Also reporting on this second conortium, CNN, in “Florida Recount Study: Bush Still Wins”, avowed that “a comprehensive study of the 2000 presidential election in Florida suggests that if the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed a statewide vote recount to proceed, Republican candidate George W. Bush would still have been elected president.” In particular, they observed, “suppose that Gore got what he originally wanted — a hand recount in heavily Democratic Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties. The study indicates that Gore would have picked up some additional support but still would have lost the election — by a 225-vote margin statewide.”
If you missed their analysis, Power Line’s John Hinderaker and American Thinker’s Richard Baer each have excellent and extensive commentaries on Krugman’s latest prevarications. Far more terse, but entertainingly wry, is Evan Coyne Maloney’s quick summary at Brain Terminal.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lipstick

If you’re planning on being in Berlin this Friday the 26th, be sure to catch the performance of Lipstick at 11 p.m. at the Geburtstagsklub (Birthday Club) at 33 Friedrichshain, 10407 Berlin. For further information (auf Deutsch) see the Birthday Club’s website.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Last Word

“The Sheehan Family lost our beloved Casey in the Iraq War and we have been silently, respectfully grieving. We do not agree with the political motivations and publicity tactics of Cindy Sheehan. She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son’s good name and reputation. The rest of the Sheehan Family supports the troops, our country, and our President, silently, with prayer and respect.”

Friday, August 19, 2005

Hot News

The flame of liberty burns bright in Britain.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Danger Undisabled

Mark Steyn aptly distills the essence of recent revelations about Mohammed Atta and their implications for the politicized 9/11 Commission. “A body intended to reassure Americans that the lessons of that terrible day had been learned instead engaged in what at best was transparent politicking and collusion in posterior-covering and at worst was something a whole lot darker and more disturbing.
“The problem pre-9/11 was always political: that’s to say, no matter how savvy individual operatives in various agencies may have been, the political culture of the day meant that nothing would happen except a memo would get typed up and shoveled into a filing cabinet. Together with other never fully explained episodes – like Sandy Berger’s pants-stuffing at the national archives – the Able Danger story makes one thing plain: The problem is still political.”
Jack Kelly at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recapitulates the facts and draws even more explicit conclusions: “Able Danger was a military intelligence unit set up by Special Operations Command in 1999. A year before the 9/11 attacks, Able Danger identified hijack leader Mohamed Atta and the other members of his cell. But Clinton administration officials stopped them – three times – from sharing this information with the FBI.
“The problem was the order Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick made forbidding intelligence operatives from sharing information with criminal investigators. (Gorelick later served as a 9/11 commission member.)
“‘They were stopped because the lawyers at that time in 2000 told them Mohamed Atta had a green card’ – he didn’t – ‘and they could not go after someone with a green card,’ said Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who brought the existence of Able Danger to light.
“The military spooks knew only that Atta and his confederates had links to al-Qaida. They hadn’t unearthed their mission. But if the FBI had kept tabs on them (a big if, given the nature of the FBI at the time), 9/11 almost certainly could have been prevented.
“What may be a bigger scandal is that the staff of the 9/11 commission knew of Able Danger and what it had found, but made no mention of it in its report. This is as if the commission which investigated the attack on Pearl Harbor had written its final report without mentioning the Japanese.”
But in fact it is even worse than that. As Kelly continues, “When the story broke, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana, co-chairman of the 9/11 commission, at first denied the commission had ever been informed of what Able Danger had found, and took a swipe at Weldon’s credibility:
“‘The Sept. 11th commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of the surveillance of Mohamed Atta or his cell,’ Hamilton said. ‘Had we learned of it obviously it would have been a major focus of our investigation.’
“Hamilton changed his tune after the New York Times reported Thursday, and the Associated Press confirmed, that commission staff had been briefed on Able Danger in October 2003 and again in July 2004.
“It was in October 2003 that Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stole classified documents from the National Archives and destroyed some. Berger allegedly was studying documents in the archives to help prepare Clinton officials to testify before the 9/11 commission. Was he removing references to Able Danger? Someone should ask him before he is sentenced next month.” So they should. But even this distinct possibility of collusion and coverup on a scale that would exceed Watergate pales beside the further implications.
“After having first denied that staff had been briefed on Able Danger, commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said no reference was made to it in the final report because ‘it was not consistent with what the commission knew about Atta’s whereabouts before the attacks,’ the AP reported.
“The only dispute over Atta’s whereabouts is whether he was in Prague on April 9, 2001, to meet with Samir al Ani, an Iraqi intelligence officer. Czech intelligence insists he was. Able Danger, apparently, had information supporting the Czechs.
“The CIA, and the 9/11 commission, say Atta wasn’t in Prague April 9, 2001, because his cell phone was used in Florida that day. But there is no evidence of who used the phone. Atta could have lent it to a confederate. (It wouldn’t have worked in Europe anyway.)
“But acknowledging that possibility would leave open the likelihood that Saddam’s regime was involved in, or at least had foreknowledge of, the 9/11 attacks. And that would have been as uncomfortable for Democrats as the revelation that 9/11 could have been prevented if it hadn’t been for the Clinton administration’s wall of separation.”
Let’s be explicit about this last point. Czech Intelligence has long had far greater competence and credibility than the hapless, gutted vestige CIA. And CIA’s tissue-thin arguments against the Czech reports have always read more like CIA CYA than considered analysis. In other words, there has always been a smoking gun to link Saddam Hussein to the events of 9/11 – not necessarily, to borrow the Commission’s phrase from another context, in an “operational control” relationship, but certainly at least in terms of knowledge, aiding and abetting. If further Able Danger revelations follow, there is a great deal more than a smoking gun.
Powerful people continue to play politics as usual (and worse) while America is at war – a war in which our freedom and our democracy are at stake. Even those whom we have trusted to learn the truth have obfuscated and prevaricated. As Kelly writes, “the 9/11 commission wrote history as it wanted it to be, not as it was.” But more than history is at risk. Our lives and freedoms are in peril. We must know the truth.

(For further background see also this post and this post from Captain’s Quarters, and this Dan Eggen article from the Friday Washington Post.)

Solidarity

Twenty five years ago today, Polish trade union advocate and self-professed revolutionary Lech Walensa scaled the walls of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to lead the striking workers of Solidarity against the repressive Marxist-Leninist Polish government. Ten years later, Walensa became the first freely elected president of Poland in half a century.
What advice does Walensa have for aspiring democrats and the advocates of freedom today? In an interview reported by the BBC, “the former leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland has said he would support a people’s revolution in neighbouring Belarus.”
Belarus, the last European refuge of unreconstructed Communist repression, ruled with an iron fist by Alexander Lukashenko, cries out for change. “Walesa says he would support a revolution there, similar to those which have taken place in Ukraine and Georgia.” So should we.

Great Raid

Scott Johnson at Power Line has an interesting discussion of the film “The Great Raid” and the reviews of that movie appearing in the “mainstream” media, in particular, the New York Times. The latter opens with Stephen Holden’s comment “about the only thing to be said on behalf of ‘The Great Raid,’ a tedious World War II epic that slogs across the screen like a forced march in quicksand, is that it illustrates a depressing similarity between reckless war-mongering and grandiose moviemaking. Historical films with vainglorious ambitions, like ill-fated imperial ventures, often overlook the human factor, a miscalculation that usually results in a rout.” What seems especially to have offended Holden’s sensibilities is that “its scenes of torture and murder also unapologetically revive the uncomfortable stereotype of the Japanese soldier as a sadistic, slant-eyed fiend.” Or, more likely, they are merely accurate historical representations of wartime bestiality which is almost unparalleled. Such factuality and accuracy fails the first test of liberal ideology. (This point is more fully discussed in Johnson’s post.)
I haven’t seen “The Great Raid,” but having read Holden’s review I strongly suspect that Judge William at Righteous Indignation propounds a more accurate view when he writes “this is not a story of ‘characters’ but of unusual courage, audacity and fidelity. It is the story of warriors, not of individual nuances or of those seeking their own glory. And that makes it absolutely glorious. This the story of honorable men, who conducted themselves in the best tradition of the United States military. And that makes it anathema to the libs.”

Uber Alles

No less pathetic is the French puppet-Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schroeder, who ever so predictably sacrifices all pretense of alliance with America and even his own nation’s vital interests in pursuit of his own selfish interest. His seven years of rule have been an unmitigated failure. Yet just as he did in 2002, he serves, protects and defends FascIslamists (then in Iraq, now in Iran) solely because he believes it will assure his re-election. Are the people of Germany awake yet?

Cindy Sheehan

The vast preponderance of the American media prefers street theater, circuses and cartoons to substantive news. It is shameful that they exploit this poor, ignorant woman as they do. She shames herself and the memory of her son with her witless commentary and aberrant conduct. She would otherwise deserve our deepest sympathy for her grief in loss, but instead she invites only pity. We wish so much to empathize, but her lack of knowledge and wisdom, coupled with her harsh and mendacious rhetoric render her only pathetic. How sad.

Update:

Paul Geary at the New Editor adds this similar take on poor Cindy Sheehan.

I missed this earlier grotesquely repugnant post from Little Green Footballs. There really are people who have no conscience, no sense of shame, no honor. (Courtesy of Tom Elia at the New Editor)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Iraq Compact

“The purpose of the political compact is to weld all the factions to the idea of a united Iraq committed to the principles of pluralism and democracy. If successful, this compact hopefully will split and weaken the insurgency, allow Iraq to fend off interference from neighboring states, provide an opportunity to resurrect and restructure the oil industry, and provide a blueprint for the operation of governing structures.”
In an excellent short essay entitled “Iraq’s Political Compact”, Paul Williams of American University and William Spencer of the Public International Law & Policy Group, both recently returned from a month-long consultancy with the Iraqi Constitutional Drafting Committee, explain the crucial aspects and implications of Iraq’s emerging new Constitution on the eve of the deadline for its adoption by the Iraqi national assembly. Their analysis, however compact, is cogent and on the mark. Strange that it should first appear in the New York Times’ Boston puppet paper.

Meanwhile, at the puppeteer paper, Dexter Filkins explores the tentative compromise on oil revenue and then expatiates on as many negative aspects of the continuing bargaining session as he can condense into a brief overview. As he argues, “Under the agreement, oil revenue would be shared by the central government and Iraq’s 18 provinces, and split roughly according to their populations. It was unclear which entity would control the money, though one Iraqi leader said it would be the central government . . . .
“If it holds, the deal will constitute a major advance in the effort to complete a constitution. The control of oil revenue, which provides the bulk of Iraq’s income, could significantly strengthen the hand of the central government over the regions, like Kurdistan and southern Iraq, that are pushing for greater self-rule.”
But this assessment really evades the most significant aspects of the prospective compromise. Iraq has always heretofore been dominated by a strong, if not omnipotent, central government. That government has usurped all control of Iraqi oil revenue. And globally, oil wealth more often than not has proven a curse, not a blessing, rewarding corrupt elites who divert the revenue to their own enrichment and to the consolidation and perpetuation of their power.
The point isn’t that the compromise strengthens the central government, but that it guarantees, in the basic law itself, that the central government does not have the right to unilaterally divert all oil revenue to its own ends. Instead, this compromise implicitly signals a commitment to a federal rather than a monolithic state – but also a single state, not secession and fission. It further implies greater autonomy for local and provincial governments, empowered with their own assured source of revenue. And finally, since the formula for distribution appears to be population-based, it implies that the ultimate ownership of the national resources reside not with the state, but with the people. All of these implications, however inexplicit, are to the good.

Update:

For a more pessimistic view of the question of federalism and decentralization – one which does not address the question of oil revenue-sharing -- see the Washington Post’s “US Steps Up Role in Iraq Charter Talks”.

Malice Toward None

Revisionist critics of both left and right have assailed Abraham Lincoln in recent years, condemning him as malignant, incompetent and evil. Writing in the Hoover Digest, Dinesh D’Souza offers an excellent brief refutation of their specious charges in “Lincoln: Hypocrite or Statesman?”

Huffman Prairie

Nearly everyone knows that Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew a heavier-than-air powered craft over the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But the engaging and fascinating tale of how they perfected their aircraft, simultaneously inventing the art of piloting and the science of aeronautical engineering, at Huffman Prairie, just a little northeast of Dayton, Ohio, is far less familiar. It shouldn’t be.

Friday, August 12, 2005

For Morarji Desai

Nasa's new beverage has a real tang to it.

Data Hot and Cold

Yesterday’s Economist featured quite an interesting discussion of three studies which have important implications, if borne out, for skeptics of global warming through human agency.
As even most casual observers of the controversy know, while computer models consistently predict warming of greater or lesser extent, the actual data have been in disagreement. While measurements of surface temperatures have seemed to confirm some models’ predictions of rising heat, at least in part, measurements of temperature collected by balloons and satellites for the troposphere – the lower layer of Earth’s atmosphere – have been contradictory, even showing somewhat of a cooling trend, particularly in the tropics.
Of the three papers discussed, the third appears least significant. Authored by a group from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, it simply points to the agreement of 19 different computer models, which all predict warming in the troposphere, and at the anomalous data, then argues that there must be something wrong with the data. Well, maybe. But the other two studies have something more interesting to say.
The first, conducted by Steven Sherwood of Yale University and colleagues, evaluates the data collected by weather balloons. The balloons are launched simultaneously twice each day from sites around the globe, once at midnight and once at noon Greenwich Mean Time. The raw data collected by these balloons is corrected to eliminate any solar heating of the thermometers so that all temperatures recorded will reflect readings taken in the shade. As the Economist explains, “because weather stations around the world release their balloons simultaneously, some of the measurements are taken in daylight and some in darkness. By comparing the raw data, the team was able to identify a trend: recorded night-time temperatures in the troposphere (night being the ultimate form of shade) have indeed risen. It is only daytime temperatures that seem to have dropped. Previous work, which has concentrated on average values, failed to highlight this distinction, which seems to have been caused by over-correction of the daytime figures. When the team corrected the erroneous corrections, the result agreed with the models of the troposphere and with records of the surface temperature. The improvement was particularly noticeable in the tropics, an area that had previously appeared to have high surface temperatures but far cooler tropospheric temperatures than had been expected.”
In a similar fashion, temperature data collected by satellites are also adjusted for the effect of intermediary layer of the atmosphere (the stratosphere) upon the measurements taken of the troposphere. In a second study, these data are also challenged. “Carl Mears and Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing Systems, a firm based in Santa Rosa, California, think that this trend [the cooling of the troposphere relative to surface temperature readings], too, is an artefact. It is caused, they believe, because the orbital period of a satellite changes slowly over that satellite’s lifetime, as its orbit decays due to friction with the outer reaches of the atmosphere. If due allowance is not made for such changes, spurious long-term trends can appear in the data. Dr Mears and Dr Wentz plugged this observation into a model, and the model suggested that the apparent cooling the satellites had observed is indeed such a spurious trend. Correct for orbital decay and you see not cooling, but warming.”
To be sure, none of these three studies address themselves to the question of human agency. But they do raise serious questions about the data which skeptics have emphasized most in their challenge to the reigning orthodoxy of global warming. The debate goes on.

Update:

Here’s the quick reaction of the Cato Institute’s senior fellow for environmental studies, Patrick J. Michaels: “The newly published research indicates that satellite, weather balloon and surface temperature trends in recent years are all nearly the same, placing much greater confidence in the amount of global warming that is occurring. These three different ways of measuring temperature have all converged on a warming rate that is at or near the low limit for warming given by scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These results reassure the arguments of those who say that global warming is likely to be modest and they argue strongly against the alarmist point of view on climate change.”

Improvisation & Innovation

As usual, the Belmont Club’s Wretchard yesterday offered an intriguing discussion of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as used by the FascIslamic forces in Iraq.
He notes that “Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Task Force said that while the incident rate of IED attacks has gone up, the probability of death per attack has declined from 50% in 2003 to about 18% in early 2005. The Iraqi insurgency may be detonating more IEDs than ever but their yield per attack is not what it used to be. USA Today reported: ‘While IED attacks have increased, U.S. casualties from them have gone down. From April 2004 to April 2005, task force spokesman Dick Bridges said, the number of casualties from IED attacks had decreased 45%.’”
To some degree , this decreasing effectiveness results from specific countermeasures brought to bear against IEDs. As USA Today reports, “the Pentagon now has about 4,200 portable electronic jamming devices in Iraq and more are on the way, Bridges said. The military is about to test a new device at its Yuma, Ariz., proving ground that is capable of exploding bombs by sending an electrical charge through the ground. That device, called a Joint Improvised Explosive Device Neutralizer (JIN), could be deployed to Iraq sometime this year if tests prove successful, Bridges said.” Wretchard elaborates, “Many bomb jammers work by preventing the triggerman from sending his detonation signal to the explosive device. Other equipment relies on detecting the electronic components of bombs, which echo a signal from a sniffer. The JIN neutralizer, now being test fielded to Iraq is an interesting application of directed energy weaponry. It works by using lasers to create a momentary pathway through which an electrical charge can travel and sending a literal bolt of lightning along the channel. A link to a Fox News video report on the manufacturer's website shows a vehicle equipped with a strange-looking rod detonating hidden charges at varying distances, some out to quite a ways.”
There are two interesting aspects to this dyadic relationship between measure and countermeasure. First, “it seems clear that the IED, like the submarine and bombing airplane before it, is not some mystically invincible device, but simply a weapon like any other caught up in a technological race with countermeasures arrayed against it. One consequence of this development is that while the enemy may employ larger numbers of IEDs against Americans, the number of effective IEDs – the bigger and better ones – available to them may actually have declined. The penalty for raising weaponry to a higher standard is making existing stock somewhat obsolete.”
But even more specifically, and perhaps ominously for the terrorists, “by engaging America in a technological arms race of sorts they are playing to its strengths. The relative decline in IED effectivity suggests the enemy, while improving, has not kept up. The move to bigger bombs may temporarily restore his lost combat power, but the advent of new American countermeasures plus increasing pressure on the bombmakers, means he must improve yet again. It is far from clear whether the insurgents can stay in the battle for innovation indefinitely.” (In this context, it is worthwhile reading today’s Belmont Club post on X-ray backscatter technology in “Unintended Consequences”.)
Wretchard concludes that “the logic of asymmetric warfare suggests the enemy will at some point abandon the direct technological weapons race and find a new paradigm of attack entirely. That is essentially what they did when they abandoned the Republican Guard tank formation in favor of the roadside bomb in the first place.
“One way to achieve this (and they have been perfecting their skills by attacks against Iraqi civilians) is to switch to other targets. In this way, they can find employment for weapons and skills which are no longer effective against American combat forces. The other is to invent some other surpassingly vicious method of attack; to create the successor to the IED.”
There are, of course, other alternatives as well: to surrender, to die, or to fade away.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

New Puritanism Triumphant

The spirit of the New Puritanism runs amok throughout America, destroying liberty in the name of social conformity – and making you do ‘what’s good for you.’ It’s not the Patriot Act that is the greatest threat to our freedom – it’s the Acts of Nannies.
Austinites are familiar with the new universal smoking ban scheduled to take effect at midnight on the first of September. As I observed just prior to the referendum in “Smoke & Mirrors”, there were 46,000 private businesses in Austin, of which 211 permitted smoking. In other words, more than 99% of all businesses were ‘smoke free,’ and the 23% of the populace (a little less than 1 in 4) that smoke could do so in .004% of all public places. As for restaurants, more than 2,000 were ‘smoke free,’ while 6 permitted smoking. So the 23% of the populace that smoke could do so in .003% of all restaurants. But the problem for ‘smoke free’ vigilantes was that with over 400 ‘smoke free’ bars, there were still nearly half as many (200) where smoking was permitted. Unsatisfied with a ratio in their favor of 2 to 1, the prohibitionists wanted 100%, mandated by law, enforced by fines and incarcerations. Of special significance were the live music venues on Austin’s Sixth Street and elsewhere, of which 63 allowed smoking. More than 150 did not, yielding a ratio approaching 3 to 1 in favor of non-smoking music venues. But the new prohibitionists didn’t care about the facts. For them the preference of 1 in 4 Texans wasn’t germane. ‘Screw them, I don’t like smoke.’ So they passed a law. Nannies win, 52%-48%.
As William L. Anderson of the Mises Institute indicated in the June 2003 issue of the Austin Review (not available online), “anti-tobacco activists most likely will not stop until we have something akin to the 1920s version of Prohibition, this time tobacco being the target, the failures of alcohol and drug bans not affecting them in the least.”
Similarly, as “Reefer Madness” discussed in early June, our long national experiment in marijuana prohibition has been an unmitigated disaster. It subsidizes terrorism here and abroad. It wastes as much as $40 billion every year that could be better spent on our national defense, on homeland security, on competing and far more pressing domestic priorities. The ‘War on Drugs’ has greatly accelerated the militarization of our police forces and federal agencies, and given a strong impetus to the development of a pervasive and intrusive surveillance state. It devastates civil liberties. It increases crime. (More than sixty percent of our federal prison berths are filled with drug offenders, most of whom have been convicted of possession, not trafficking.) It enhances the untaxed cash flow of organized crime in our own and other nations. It benefits no one.
But worse, as “Nanny Bobo” declared later that month, “the ultimate effect of criminalizing everything is not universal conformity to the law, but universal contempt for the law – growing disrespect and disdain for a legal regime that is contemptuous of human freedom.”
As the New York Times’ John Tierney notes in “Debunking the Drug War”, “Drug warriors point to the dangers of home-cooked meth labs, which start fires and create toxic waste. But those labs and the burn victims are a result of the drug war itself.
“Amphetamine pills were easily available, sold over the counter until the 1950s, then routinely prescribed by doctors to patients who wanted to lose weight or stay awake. It was only after the authorities cracked down in the 1970s that many people turned to home labs, criminal gangs and more dangerous ways of ingesting the drug.
“It’s the same pattern observed during Prohibition, when illicit stills would blow up, and there was a rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning. Far from instilling virtue in Americans, Prohibition caused them to switch from beer and wine to hard liquor. Overall consumption of alcohol might even have increased.
“Today we tolerate alcohol, even though it causes far more harm than illegal drugs, because we realize a ban would be futile, create more problems than it cured and deprive too many people of something they value.”
Now the Cato Institute’s Radley Balko, author of the study “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking”, describes another insanity. In “Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense”, Balko describes the arrests in Rhode Island and Virginia of parents who sought to supervise and control the otherwise erratic and dangerous drinking of underage minors.
After noting the government’s own statistics – “47 percent of high school students tell researchers they’ve had a drink of alcohol in the previous 30 days . . . thirty percent have had at least five drinks in a row in the past month . . . thirteen percent admitted to having driven in the previous month after drinking alcohol” – he considers the cases of parents who sought to deal with the problem rationally, only to end up jailed.
“When they learned that their son planned to celebrate the prom with a booze bash at a beach 40 miles away, William and Patricia Anderson instead threw a supervised party for him and his friends at their home. They served alcohol, but William Anderson stationed himself at the party’s entrance and collected keys from every teen who showed. No one who came to the party could leave until the next morning.
“For this the Andersons found themselves arrested and charged with supplying alcohol to minors. The case ignited a fiery debate that eventually spilled onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving oddly decided to make an example of William Anderson, a man who probably did more to keep drunk teens off the road that night than most Providence-area parents.
“In fact, the Andersons were lucky. A couple in Virginia was recently sentenced to 27 months in jail for throwing a supervised party for their son’s 16th birthday, at which beer was made available. That was reduced on appeal from the eight-year sentenced imposed by the trial judge. The local MADD president said she was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at the original eight-year verdict, and ‘applauded’ the judge’s efforts.
“In the Washington area, several civic groups, public health organizations and government agencies have teamed up for a campaign called Party Safe 2005. You may have heard the ads on local radio stations in prom season, warning parents that law enforcement would be taking a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking. The commercials explicitly said that even supervised parties – such as those where parents collect the keys of partygoers – wouldn’t be spared. Parents would risk jail time and a fine of $1,000 per underage drinker.
“Not only do such uncompromising approaches do little to make our roads safer, they often make them worse. The data don’t lie. High school kids drink, particularly during prom season. We might not be comfortable with that, but it’s going to happen. It always has. The question, then, is do we want them drinking in their cars, in parking lots, in vacant lots and in rented motel rooms? Or do we want them drinking at parties with adult supervision, where they’re denied access to the roads once they enter?” Zero tolerance, zero sense.
In his earlier “Drunk Driving Laws Are Out of Control” (July 27, 2004) and “Thank You for Not Drinking . . . In the Bar”(December 12, 2003), Balko documented the reality that America’s drunk driving laws have careened out of control.
He analyzed the advent of the new prohibitionism and its concerted efforts at social repression:
“In the last two years,” he wrote, “29 states have either passed or are now attempting to pass bills to increase excise taxes on alcohol. The cities of Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore, and Chicago have either banned or restricted alcohol manufacturers from advertising on city billboards. Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Albuquerque are considering similar controls.
“Since 2002, over 100 new pieces of legislation have been introduced in 31 states aimed at reducing drinking and driving. All but a handful of states have adopted the new, lower legal blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving (.08 on a breath test), despite studies showing that drivers aren’t significantly impaired at that level, that the overwhelming majority of drunk driving fatalities occur at levels twice that high, and that drunk driving deaths have dropped by 40 percent since the early 1980s, and stabilized over the last several years.
“Twenty-two states have imposed restrictions on ‘happy hour’ drink specials. A spokesman for the Fairfax County police department recently defended police raids on local taverns by telling the Washington Post, ‘You can’t be drunk in a bar.’ In Bloomington, Indiana, cops began arresting of-age college students for walking home from off-campus bars while intoxicated. When asked if he’d rather drive students home, a Bloomington cop told the Indiana Daily Student, ‘Alcohol abuse is the problem, not whether or not you’re going to be driving.’
“Forty-four states now have laws that hold bar owners liable for any damages caused by their alcohol-consuming customers, after they leave the bar. Another 31 states apply those same liability standards to private residences. In Chicago – a town rich with the lessons of Prohibition – 400 of the city’s 2,705 precincts are now dry, and each election adds a few more.
“None of this happened by accident. A well-funded, well-organized campaign is afoot to make it as difficult to drink a beer as it is becoming to smoke a cigarette. This ‘neo-prohibition’ has advocates in the news media, academia, and most certainly in government. Sandy Golden, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Kids has said, ‘We’re 10 to 15 years behind the tobacco people, and we want to close the gap.’
“You thought it was absurd when city and state officials told you that you could no longer smoke in a bar. Just wait until they tell you that you can’t drink in one, either.”

For those interested in earlier controversies concerning Austin’s smoking prohibitionism, here’s my “Up in Smoke” from the May 2003 Austin Review:

“You don’t understand,” said Jack S. last Friday night in a Sixth Street bar while Austin’s best blues band ripped through an original cut.
“I’m from Boston. We don’t have anything like this there. Nothing. There isn’t anything like this anywhere, unless you pay the big bucks. It just blows me away.”
Jack may not be the only thing blown away like smoke in the wind if the Austin City Council has its way. The politicians are huffing and puffing at that very live music scene that astonished him, and preparing yet another attempt to blow it, too, away.
The pols have long touted the city as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’. And for just as long they’ve done the very best they could to destroy live music. Now four neo-prohibitionists on the city council, including lame duck Mayor Gus Garcia, have determined to give it yet another try.
Their chosen instrument of destruction this time? A new smoking ordinance that coerces all restaurants and bars to ban smoking by force of law, rather than creating carefully crafted and intelligently designed incentives to persuade more venues to welcome non- and anti-smokers by forbidding smoking.
Why is the city council choosing compulsion over incentives? All available evidence says that, in the absence of either, the public demand for non-smoking music venues simply isn’t there.
When Acoustic Café opened last year on Sixth Street, they offered live music similar to that available up and down the street, and in some respects decidedly superior to many. The atmosphere and decor were appealing. They did not permit smoking, in the belief that this would give them a competitive advantage. Within 60 days they were out of business. Clearly, not enough members of the general public found a nonsmoking environment sufficiently enticing to persuade them to spend their dollars there rather than elsewhere.
But if the council were convinced, in the absence of all available evidence, that the demand was there, why not coax businesses along with, say, tax abatements that would change the economic incentives for owners?
Instead, their decision is to outlaw freedom of choice, divert limited law enforcement resources from serious crimes to yet another attempt to force people to do ‘what’s good for them’ whether they want to or not, and in the process place another crushing burden on Austin’s already beleaguered live music scene.
In the past two years, the number of clubs on Sixth Street has fallen by almost half, from more than 40 to 24. Many of those that have remained in business have experienced a serious decline in revenue. They’re hanging on. The last thing they need in their weakened state is to face another crushing burden.
As Wickham and Edmonson point out in “Smoke and Mirrors” (page 3), “based on other cities’ experiences, this is what we can expect: Sales will drop 20-30% at bars and live music venues. After two months, 20-25% of bars and live music venues will close down. Bars and live music venues will continue to close down at a rate of 2-5% per month for 6 months . . . . A conservative figure is to expect 30% of bars and live music venues to close within a year.”
Without coercion, a number of restaurants have made a success of operating smoke-free establishments in Austin. It makes good business sense for Roy’s, PF Chang’s, Jeffries’ and many others. Only about 1 in 4 Austinites smokes, and for a certain percentage of the nonsmoking population it makes a crucial difference whether or not an establishment has any environmental smoke whatsoever. But for most, it’s just one of many factors that they consider when making entertainment and dining choices.
And because live music venues are almost invariably far more dependent on alcohol sales than the average restaurant, their habitual clientele has a substantially higher concentration of smokers than does the population at large.
In an informal survey on four separate nights over a two week period in one club, my observation was that an average of 40 to 45% of the crowd consisted of smokers. The percentage appeared to be even higher on weeknights than on weekends, presumably because Friday and Saturday nights attract a broader segment of the public.
The implication is that a smoking ban is likely to do more harm to venues providing live music than to traditional restaurants. (Incidentally, I also made a special point of checking out the staff and musicians, and found that among them the percentage of smokers was higher still.)
Given the serious cultural and economic consequences of a coercive policy, you would imagine that even if the city council and staff were too indolent to explore policy alternatives, they would at least have a compelling reason for adopting the new rule—other than their own personal preferences and prejudices. In the present case, the proponents claim that they do. It’s a public health issue, they say. The problem is that it just doesn’t wash.
As Jacob Sullum notes in “Second Hand Smoke” (page 25), the latest study appearing in the British Medical Journal summarizes a point made time and time again by those who haven’t wanted to use the evidence for polemical reasons: “No significant associations were found for current or former exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality . . . .”
For more than a decade it has been clear to those who examined them skeptically that the claims of deaths due to second hand smoke aren’t just exaggerated, or hyperbolic. They are simply made up out of whole cloth. Those who use the claims for political purposes may believe that they are justified because they are doing such good works for the benefit of mankind.
But when crusaders threaten to damage our cultural institutions and economic well-being in order to achieve ends that a substantial fraction of the populace doesn’t want—because ‘it’s for their own good’—those of us who care about freedom, or about live music, ought to draw the line. The nannies aren’t going to stop unless we make them stop.