Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Lesson of the Tsunami

The Life or Death Value of Industrial Civilization

by Robert Tracinski

The South Asian tsunami is a disaster of historic proportions; I doubt that so many people have ever been killed by a single event during a single day. It is an awesome demonstration of the potential destructive power of nature.

But conservative columnist Peggy Noonan got it exactly wrong when she summed up the meaning of the South Asian tsunami disaster: "Call it the force of nature or the hand of God or both; call it geological inevitability or the oldest story in the world (life is tragic) reasserting itself on a broader-than-usual level—however you see the earthquake and the tsunami, it reminds you that man is not in charge."

The tsunami does not demonstrate that man is helpless before nature; it demonstrates the opposite.

It demonstrates this, tragically, by contrast: the contrast between the resilience of the industrial world in the face of natural disaster—and the prostrate helplessness of a pre-industrial society.

Consider the tsunami warning system in the Pacific, built by the US and other industrialized nations on the Pacific Rim. Had such a system been in place in the Indian Ocean, the people on its shores could have been given an hour or more of advance warning to flee to high ground, and many thousands of lives could have been saved.

The Pacific warning system was made possible by a whole context of Western scientific and technological advances, and more: it is the result of decades of foresight and advance planning—one of the few cases in which a government agency (in this case, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) has actually performed a valuable service.

But protecting humans from natural disasters depends on much more than this warning system.

One of the reasons there was no warning for nations on the Indian Ocean is that there was no one to warn, and no way to warn them. The potential for a tsunami was grasped by monitors in the Pacific warning network, but they had no contact names for officials responsible for disaster planning in most Indian Ocean nations. And even if they had been able to contact someone, the government officials often had no way to contact the potential victims of the tsunamis. Many of them—especially in Indonesia, which was closest to the epicenter and where the vast majority of deaths occurred—lived in primitive coastal fishing villages with little access to televisions, radios, or telephones.

And when disaster strikes, these nations have little infrastructure for restoring electrical power, for delivering food and clean water—and therefore for preventing the spread of disease that now threatens to increase the death toll of this catastrophe.

A more recent report indicates another benefit of Western wealth and technology: a vast financial system that provides for far more effective disaster relief than we could ever hope for from charities or UN aid agencies: the capitalist disaster relief provided by insurance. By one estimate, insurance companies paid out $56 billion last year in claims for hurricanes that struck the relatively well-insured people on the shores of the Atlantic—far more than the aid so far pledged for tsunami victims. It is an impressive safety net that is already bought and paid for—made possible by the long-term planning that is normal in an advanced capitalist financial system.

The underlying lesson is the importance of man's technological and industrial conquest of nature—and of his ever-expanding conquest of nature. It is possible for people to survive for a while in societies with minimal technological and economic development—to "live in harmony with nature," as the environmentalists like to describe it in their utopian fantasies. But as this tsunami has demonstrated, such societies are always living on the edge of the abyss. They can survive—until the next tidal wave, volcanic eruption, flood, draught, or plague comes along to wipe them out. Whether that will happen every ten years or every hundred years is a matter of random chance.

When we see this, we should feel sympathy for the plight of the people who have died. Their societies tragically lacked the reserves of knowledge, technology, and wealth to protect them. And for that reason, we should also say a quiet "thank you" to the centuries of philosophers, scientists, inventors, financiers, and industrialists who have provided us with a far greater degree of security from nature—who allow us, not to scrape by precariously between cataclysms, but to make ourselves ever more secure from nature's capricious power.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

TIA Daily: America's Enemy Number One

Iran beats out China (at the moment, at least) as America's enemy number one. As today's news stories remind us, Iran is openly recruiting anti-American terrorists, vigorously backing the Iraqi insurgency—and, of course, working to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. So why isn't Iran the main target of our foreign policy and military strategy?

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Inside the Orange Revolution
• Commentary: Why Ukraine Matters

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• Best of TIA Daily: The Price of the "Entangling Alliance"
by Robert Tracinski
How the Bosnia Mission Destroyed NATO in order to Save It

Inside the Orange Revolution

This is an interesting first-hand account of the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution" by Dick Morris, whom I used to refer to as "a former Clinton advisor and soulless pragmatist." But Morris has redeemed himself by acting as a political advisor to Ukrainian liberal Viktor Yushchenko, and he has a proper grasp of what the West has at stake in Ukraine: blocking Putin's attempt to resurrect the Soviet Empire.

"Inside Ukraine's Freedom Fight," Dick Morris, New York Post, 12/16/04

"In Ukraine, the first step was to deny Yushchenko any coverage on state-controlled television and other news outlets. Only smear stories ran—and we weren't allowed to buy advertising time to rebut them. It was so impossible to communicate with the voters that the campaign was reduced to printing leaflets which were stuffed, three times each week, under every door in the country. When it became clear that the Ukrainian people would not be fooled by the phony state-controlled media and Yushchenko continued to lead by 15 points in the polls, the ex-KGB types in the opposition campaign resorted to attempted assassination, once running Yushchenko's car off the road and then poisoning him with dioxin....

"The stakes for global liberty couldn't be higher. In Russia's bid to come back as an imperial power, the Ukraine struggle is the equivalent of Hitler's bid to remilitarize the Rhineland. A determined stand here will keep Russia (145 million) and Ukraine (50 million) separate and cripple Putin's imperial ambitions. With Ukraine inevitably drawing closer to the EU and further away from Moscow, its chances for prosperity and freedom will increase."

Why Ukraine Matters

The courage of the "Orange" revolutionaries in Ukraine has been inspiring to watch, and it is clear that the US has a general interest in the spread of liberty throughout the world. But the (somewhat meandering) article below explains why we have a very direct interest in Ukraine: it is the lynch-pin for thwarting Russia's neo-imperial ambitions, denying Vladimir Putin "the resources to regain superpower status."

"The United States Stake in Ukraine," William R. Hawkins, Washington Times, 12/16/04

"For the United States, it is important that the Ukrainian patriots win the redo election set for Dec. 26. Ukraine is as large and populous as France. It was the largest and most developed part of the Soviet empire to break away. In doing so, it insured post-Soviet Russia would lack the resources to regain superpower status. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, Freedom House, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and other American groups have worked in Ukraine in progressive ways helpful to Mr. Yushchenko. These efforts need to be redoubled to ensure a favorable outcome in the next vote and offset what the Kuchma regime and its Russian backers do to reproduce the rigged vote of Nov. 21."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

TIA Daily: The Deficit Pragmatists

If Pragmatism is a philosophy which encourages men to focus on short-range, concrete "practical" issues while ignoring basic principles, then there is no better example of the pragmatists than those who think keeping the deficit low is more important than reducing the individual's dependence on government—precisely the position taken by some opponents of Social Security privatization.

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by Jack Wakeland
Dinesh D'Souza Goes Over to the Enemy, Intellectually

Abbas Tries to Turn Back the Clock

Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to be the best candidate for "progress" in the Middle East, but his actual program consists of turning back the clock. He wants to pretend that the past 15 years did not happen, to return to the tactics of the First Intifada (in which Palestinians only killed Jews through "shootings, lynchings, knife attacks, and stonings") and to a new round of negotiation, presumably leading to a reprise of the Oslo accords.

But the past 15 years do matter, because they reveal the real goal of the Palestinian nationalists—the murder of Israel—and demonstrate why it was a tragic mistake to negotiate with terrorists in the first place.

"Abbas Calls for No Arms Against Israel," Paul Martin, Washington Times, 12/15/04

"In the interview with the newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Mr. Abbas said the intifada should continue, but that it should return to the use of tactics employed in the first such uprising from 1987 to 1993. 'The use of live weaponry has harmed the intifada and it should stop,' he was quoted as saying. 'The intifada is our legitimate right of the Palestinian people, and its purpose is to give expression to our opposition to conquest by popular and social means—as happened in the first intifada,' Mr. Abbas continued. 'We, at this stage, are against the militarization of the intifada because we want to negotiate. And because we want to negotiate, the atmosphere should be calm in preparation for political action,' he said."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

TIA Daily: A Grass-Roots Crusade Against Iran

Our leaders have failed to formulate a coherent policy toward Iran—much less the policy of military confrontation required to keep the mullahs from getting an atomic bomb. What can we do? We can take leadership on this issue, agitating from the "grass roots" up for military action against Iran.

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• Human Achievements: Xerography
• Best of Things of Beauty: Brooklyn Bridge Panorama

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• Best of TIA Daily: Chalabi and the Ayatollahs, by J. Patrick Mullins
Anti-Bush Liberals Make the Case Against Chalabi—and Against Iran

The Return of "Los Chicago Boys"

In the 1980s, a group of Latin American economists influenced by the Chicago School of economics replaced Chile's Social Security program with a system of mandatory private accounts. Now the system created by "Los Chicago Boys" is coming back to the country that inspired it, as Chile's success serves as a model for the privatization of Social Security. The big question: if Chile's system has been so successful—why is most of the American press still refusing to report on it?

"Chilean Pension System a Model for Privatization," Alan Clendenning, AP via Washington Times, 12/14/04

"Chile's pension system is hailed as a model for the world because workers fund their old-age pensions, although critics point out that it doesn't cover the self-employed or the legions of workers who float from job to job and contribute infrequently. Still, about 7 million Chileans in the nation of 15 million are investors in the longest-running government-mandated private pension experiment on the planet. They don't pay the government a single peso to fund their social security, and half regularly funnel 10 percent of their income into retirement accounts they own and decide how to invest. 'The best thing about it is, I didn't give my future to the government,' said retired tax lawyer Juan de Dios de Vergara, while making minor pension changes at an office run by Summa Bansander, owned by Spain's Banco Santander. 'I assumed my own risks, made my own decisions, and the funds belong to me, so I get the earnings.'

"Countries from Mexico to Sweden have adopted the system or elements of it amid concerns that government-based social security benefits will be slashed when retirees outnumber contributors. The Chilean system also helped feed an unprecedented expansion for South America's most market-friendly economy and has drawn attention from President Bush, who has made privatizing part of the US system a top second-term goal."

Monday, December 13, 2004

TIA Daily: The Religious Rights Makes Its Move

What is the religious right's strategy to exploit the political influence they claim they gained from Bush's re-election? No need to speculate: they have begun to lay out their strategy in a series of state-level offensives against abortion, biotechnology, and the teaching of evolution.

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• Forum against the Future
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• The Threat of the Palestinian "Moderate"
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• Commentary: Commentary: Republicans Threaten Social Security Reform

• Human Achievements: Steamboat Museum
• Best of Things of Beauty: Waterhouse Painting

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reviewed by M. Zachary Johnson
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The Religious Right Makes Its Move

The religious right spent the weeks after the election loudly claiming responsibility for Bush's victory. Now they have unveiled their strategy for cashing in on that spurious claim: an assault focused on state legislatures, where they believe their influence is strongest—predicated on the hope that Bush will provide a friendly federal judiciary that will refuse to enforce the separation of church and state on the states.

"Christian Conservatives Turn to State Houses," Neela Banerjee, New York Times, 12/13/04

"One state where liberals and conservatives expect a bold step is South Dakota, where conservatives were instrumental in unseating the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle. Last year, the State Legislature passed a bill banning abortions, except when a woman's life is in danger or she might suffer irreparable harm. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, because of imprecise language, liberal and conservative advocates said. The wording was changed accordingly, and the bill will probably be reintroduced and signed this time by the governor, they said. Kate Looby, the state director for Planned Parenthood, said conservatives might feel more confident this time because they expect Mr. Bush to appoint Supreme Court justices who will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion. 'If Kerry had won, there would not be the momentum there for this bill,' said Rob Regier, executive director of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, a national evangelical Protestant group."

Friday, December 10, 2004

TIA Daily: A Muslim Renaissance?

A series of reports in recent days indicate the beginnings of a movement to fundamentally reform the culture of the Middle East, in response to the assertion of American military power—and the power of our example.

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Feature Article
A Muslim Renaissance, by Robert Tracinski
Can the Power of the West Fundamentally Alter the Muslim World?

A Muslim Renaissance?

Can the Power of the West Fundamentally Alter the Muslim World?

by Robert Tracinski

I have written before about how the power of the West's example—our wealth, technology, progress, and happiness, compared with the misery and stagnation the prevails in much of the world—can have a powerful impact on the rest of the world, causing them to question the traditional foundations of their society and to adopt something closer to the ideas of the West.

The news reports of the past few days have been filled with stories that suggest this is precisely what is happening. It is a movement still at a very early stage, but the fact that such a nascent movement even exists is the best hope for America's future security—and the only hope for the future of people in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The first report comes from the Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates reports in the Middle Eastern media into English. MEMRI has frequently reported on items in the Kuwaiti newspapers, which seem to be a minor hotbed of "progressive" Arab ideas. Much of what is said there is very intellectually confused, but these writers are at least starting to look in the right direction.

The latest MEMRI report is titled: ""Editor of Kuwaiti Daily: 'Arab Regimes Must Understand the US Administration Supports the Freedom and Rights of the Arabs'."

"The world and relations between different countries have changed beyond recognition. In some cases even the countries have changed and a new order is controlling the world. What's more the United Nations is no longer able to control the relations between different countries. All this is happening in the outside world while nothing has changed for the Arab World. We are still living in the past steeped in our age old traditions. Our traditions are the source of our concepts, however old. This has always led us to conflicts with the outside world invariably ending in defeat for us. Such defeats in turn draw us back from the path of development. If there is anything which we have to do urgently it is to correct and remedy this situation....

"We claimed President Bush will never be able to defeat Iraq and said the resistance will kick the US forces out of that country. We described terrorism, which is killing innocent people in Iraq, as 'jihad ' and expected it to win in the end because it is supported by God. To support our calculations, we recalled how the US troops were sent packing from Lebanon in the Eighties because of the resistance in that country. We fondly remembered how the Americans had to retreat from Somalia because of the resistance put up by Somalia warlords. By this way of thinking we forgot the United States has changed and the world has changed with it. The present circumstances in the world are not the same as they were during the days of the Cold War, when the USSR was a superpower in its own right.

"All of our thoughts have been answered by the second term of President Bush. The mission in Iraq will continue as in Afghanistan. The American administration has stressed it won't pull out of Iraq, unlike in Somalia and Lebanon, until it achieves its objectives and completes its mission in that country. Changing the world, strengthening relations with other countries and bringing democracy and freedom to as many countries as possible is the strategic objective of the current American administration because from the perspective of its internal security, especially the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York, this is more important for the United States."
This fits a theme from previous, similar reports: the growing Arab fear that they are on the wrong side of history, that the rest of the world is progressing, while the Arabs, mired in their backward traditions, are left farther and farther behind.

It also underscores the way in which successful US military action will hasten and deepen this soul-searching. If the infidel Americans are not weak and decadent, but are instead the force that is reshaping the Middle East, then the Arabs definitely have to re-think their fundamental outlook on life.

Even more powerful is the recognition by some Arabs—and it is significant that much of this seems to be happening in Kuwait—that America is reshaping the Middle East for the better.

In this regard, my attention was recently drawn to a rare story—or at least, the kind of story that is rarely reported by the mainstream media—of Iraqi gratitude to the US. This is from a website that specializes in debunking myths circulated over the Internet. But this is a story they confirmed. Here it is:

"Iraqi Memorial Statue,"

"According to an article in ARNEWS, the Army News service, this eRumor is true. ARNEWS says the sculptor's name is Kalat. He was forced to fashion statues of Saddam Hussein including some that were later destroyed by US military explosives. The bronze pieces of the statues were sent to Kalat and he made the memorial using a picture of a US soldier, 1st Sgt. Glen Simpson, kneeling as a model. According to ARNEWS, Kalat worked with another artist on the Saddam Hussein statutes, but designed and fashioned the US model on his own. It's on display in Iraq and is destined to eventually be on display at Fort Hood, where it will become part of a larger memorial project at the 4th Inf. Div. museum."

[Correction: I got scammed. It turns out that the story of the Iraqi sculptor above is an urban legend after all. The sculpture exists, but the sculptor was in fact hostile to the US and worked only for the money paid to him by American soldiers. I'll add a link to the real story in the near future.—RWT]

This is not just an Arab phenomenon. The Iranian student rebellion, despite the best efforts of the Iranian theocracy to jail, torture, and intimidate its leaders, is still alive. Recently, failed pseudo-reformist Iranian president Khatami addressed a hostile student audience at Tehran University. (Cox & Forkum have a good cartoon on this.) MEMRI also carries a transcript of the confrontation, which shows the Iranian leader very much on the defensive.

"Iranian President Khatami Clashes with Reformist Students at Tehran University,", 12/9/04

"Voice: I ask the friends to be more tolerant and patient.

"Khatami: Sir, this is against the rules of democracy. What are you doing? How many people are booing? Don't make me have you removed. Behave yourselves.

"Crowd: (shouting)

"Khatami: Listen… Be patient. If people not yet in government cannot be tolerant, God forbid, what will happen once they reach the government? I believe that different views are being presented here by different people. I hope that… I hope…

"Crowd: No more lies! No more lies! No more lies! No more lies! No more lies!

"Khatami: All right… Okay, okay… You must be reasonable…"
Finally, to cap it all off, today's New York Times has a long article about a growing reform movement that seeks to alter the way in which the Muslim religion is interpreted.

Philosophically, the problem is with the Muslim religion itself—and with the essence of religion as such, with its appeals to blind, fanatical faith—not just with an "interpretation" of Islam. But remember how change came to the West, as we clawed our way out of the Dark Ages. First, it become possible to have more secular "interpretations" of Christianity—interpretations that allowed the study of such secular sources as the philosophy of Aristotle—and only later did it become possible to sideline religion more completely and to create a secular culture. (For an essentially correct summary of this pattern, see these comments from a Kuwaiti "progressive.")

Here are the beginnings of that process in the Middle East, as reported by the New York Times.

"Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War," New York Times, 12/10/04

"Those in the liberal trend believe that Islam, now entering its 15th century, needs to undergo a wholesale re-examination of its basic principles. Toward that end, the Cairo conference this fall recommended reviewing the roots of Islamic heritage, especially the Prophet's sayings, ending the monopoly that certain religious institutions hold over interpreting such texts and confronting all extremist religious currents. Those taking part were harshly accused of dabbling in a realm that belongs solely to the clergy, with the grand sheik of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, Egypt's most senior religious scholar, labeling them a 'group of outcasts.'

"But Mr. Shahrour says he and an increasing number of intellectuals cannot be deterred by clerical opposition. He describes as ridiculously archaic some Hadith, or sayings, attributed to Muhammad--all assembled in nine bulky volumes some 100 years after his death and now the last word on how the faithful should live. 'It is like this now because for centuries Muslims have been told that Islam was spread by the sword, that all Arab countries and even Spain were captured by the sword and we are proud of that,' he said. 'In the minds of ordinary people, people on the street, the religion of Islam is the religion of the sword. This is the culture, and we have to change it.' "

The most radical idea here is not revamping the Muslim attitude toward physical force. It is the idea of granting secular intellectuals authority to speak on religious issues—which is to say, on moral and philosophical issues. It is the attempt to break the theocratic monopoly over the human spirit.

I do not want to be over-optimistic about this trend. We are still in the very early, embryonic days of any wide secularist movement in the Arab and Muslim worlds. These "progressives" are not well-equipped intellectually, and they are fighting against a culture that has been deeply entrenched for 1500 years. But this is a trend that is beginning—and the more the West can do to assert itself, not only militarily but also intellectually—the more progress the Muslim reformers will make toward inducting their societies into the modern world.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Terrorism and Payment

Our payment for decades of a weak foreign policy: all of the news, from overseas diplomacy, to immigration reforms, to local stories about house fires, revolves around the ubiquitous influence of terrorism.

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• Terrorism and Immigration
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In 2008, Rudy vs. Hillary

I know it's early, but pundits are already calling the 2008 presidential race—or at least, calling the Democratic and Republican primaries. Peggy Noonan explains Hillary Clinton's strategy of posing as a moderate to position herself for a 2008 presidential run, while Hugh Hewitt describes the enthusiastic response for Rudy Giuliani at a meeting of conservative Republican women. I agree that this is the likely match-up for 2008 (to the extent such things can be predicted this far in advance), and I will go one step farther: if it's Rudy vs. Hillary, Rudy will win.

"Where Are They Now?" Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2004

"The base of the party will be with her, for two reasons. First, they know her history and know her. They believe she sees the world as they do but does certain things to survive. She was woven into the left and knew everyone on the left for 25 years. Second and just as important, after the trauma of the Kerry loss, after the morass of doubt and depression in which the party now finds itself, she will seem to be one thing they really want: the person who can win. Because she is a winner. She always has been. The base will make a calculation not unlike the one she has made: We can play moderate to win, no problem.... There is still, always, with Mrs. Clinton, the question of her deepest convictions and beliefs.... She has been finessing all this for decades and will continue to attempt to, but it may not work in a national presidential run.... Americans want to know the deepest beliefs of their president. Mrs. Clinton is no doubt correct that the first woman president will be a conservative or a tough moderate. But maybe the American people would prefer a woman who actually is a conservative or a moderate, such as Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison, as opposed to one who plays one on TV."

"Watching the Signs," Hugh Hewitt, Weekly Standard, December 9

"Giuliani swept more than three-quarters of the votes, with the other three choices receiving smatterings of support. Keep in mind that this isn't an exercise in name identification—these women knew each of the candidates—as well as every possible name in the 'other' category. This was an informed choice. I stopped what I was doing, repelled the audience, and then conducted a focus group. Like many other pundits, I have been wondering whether Giuliani can escape the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008 given that Pat Robertson won the former in 1988 and Pat Buchanan the latter in 1992. Giuliani is too 'moderate' to win the GOP nod, right? Wrong, if these ladies are to be believed. Among the many praises that gushed forth: decisive, experienced, loyal to 'W'—an interesting positive, that—funny and, crucially, tough enough to take on the Clintons. There were many praises for Senator Frist, and some for John McCain, but Giuliani has their hearts—already."

Making Terror Sponsors Pay

The press has largely refused to report on the extent of sympathy with terrorism among American Muslims, but the extent of this support is revealed in a court ruling holding a Chicago Muslim group responsible for providing funds to the terrorist group Hamas, whose suicide bombers caused the death of an American in Israel.

"$156 Million Award in Terrorist Killing," Matt O'Connor, Chicago Tribune, December 9

"In a landmark ruling in 2002, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in
Chicago said Islamic groups could be held liable if the Boims could establish that they aided and abetted David Boim's killing. In his ruling last month, Keys ruled that the Boims presented ample evidence that three of the defendants
knowingly supported Hamas and its terrorist activities. On Wednesday, the jury concluded the same about the fourth defendant, the Quranic Literacy Institute. Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said the case marks 'a watershed in the war on terrorism
and demonstrates that there have been significant links to international terrorist operations right here in Chicago.'... Haleem...contended that the
Boims and their lawyers had used 'their lobbying capacity' to get prosecutors to indict Salah and the Holy Land Foundation. 'They have taken this anti-Muslim hysteria and they've just played to it,' Haleem said. 'They've taken it and put it in front of the jury knowing there was a predisposition against us. It is religious persecution.' "

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Regional War

The biggest problem we face in Iraq is that we have not fought this as a regional war—that is, we have focused on defeating the Baathists in Iraq, but we have done nothing about their supporters and sympathizers in Syria and Iran. Now Syria is serving as a staging ground for terrorism in Iraq, while Iran is trying to buy the Iraqi election for Shiite theocrats.

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Defending the "Right to Offend"

If the supporters of a new bill in the British parliament get their way, the Iranians will no longer have to issue fatwas against "blasphemous" Western authors; they will simply be able to prosecute them in court for the crime of criticizing Islam. Rowan Atkinson (of Mr. Bean and Blackadder fame) is getting a lot of press for opposing the bill, though the most serious argument is offered by a Christian group, which points out that the effect of the law will be to quash criticism of the brutal practices of Muslims.

"Atkinson Defends Right to Offend," Toby Helm, Daily Telegraph, December 7

"There was a 'fundamental difference' between cracking a joke about someone's religion and being offensive about their race which was, rightly, already an offence, he said. 'To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion--that is a right. That is a freedom,' he said. 'The freedom to criticise ideas--any ideas even if they are sincerely held beliefs--is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. And the law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness--and the other
represents oppression.' He was joined by the newspaper columnist Joan Smith, officials from Christian groups, the Barnabas Fund, the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship and politicians from the three main parties. Paul Cook, the advocate manager of the Barnabas Fund, said: 'There is a real danger that this law could be used by extremists to silence organisations like ourselves from highlighting the persecution of Christians and other human rights abuses which occur within some religious communities.' "

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

TIA Daily: "What Are We Electing?"

The Iraqi elections are not going to be pretty. The biggest danger: the election of anti-American Shiite religious parties who seek to emulate the theocracy in neighboring Iran.

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Don't Do Me No More Favors

In our July 2003 print issue, TIA published an in-depth analysis of the field of "bioethics," showing that one school seeks to rationalize religious restrictions on biotechnology—while the opposing school of bioethics wants to impose socialist controls. That's the story playing out in California, whose citizens passed a ballot initiative to provide massive state funding for stem-cell research, in defiance of religious conservatives—but where state lawmakers are now trying to impose socialist controls on the recipients of those funds. Scientists and biotech firms may end up saying, as crusty Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko used to put it, "Don't do me no more favors."

Outside of TIA, unfortunately, there is no school of thought that advocates no restrictions on medical innovation.

"Stem Cell Spending Fight Builds," Megan Garvey, LA Times, 12/7/04

"Although she campaigned for Proposition 71's passage, she said from the start that she felt it did not provide adequate specifics on key matters such as guaranteeing that Californians can afford the treatments they paid to develop, providing profit sharing for the state and ensuring transparency in how the billions are spent. Klein, a Palo Alto real estate developer who headed the multimillion-dollar campaign to pass the initiative, said such interference from politicians was exactly what he intended to prevent when he drew up the legislation. 'One of the vital goals was to provide stability in rule-making,' Klein said Monday at a National Academies of Science seminar on practices for the new agency. Klein cited President Bush's decision three years ago to restrict funding for embryonic stem cell research because of ethical objections as an example of how politics can 'destabilize and discourage' scientists from pursuing a controversial field."

Monday, December 06, 2004

No War, No Justice

The Left Opposes Both War and Criminal Prosecution against the Enemies of Western Civilization

by Jack Wakeland

To prepare America's cultural battlefield for the possible release of top Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, the New York Times dispatched a correspondent to interview prominent Israelis who know and "admire" him and think he should be released from prison.

The Times lined up prominent leftist Yossi Beilin, professional peace-process policy wonk Ron Pundak, and political science professor Hillel Frisch. All agreed that, in the words of the New York Times, "nearly any young Palestinian leader of the period of armed intifada could have been convicted on similar charges, and that choosing to arrest Mr. Barghouti, who never pulled a trigger, was as much a political decision as a legal one."

To Palestinians, Marwan Barghouti is their most recognizable, most popular leader. According to Yossi Beilin, Barghouti instigated the al Aqsa Mosque "protests" in November 2000 because his faction, the Tanzim Militia, was jealous of the power held by Yassir Arafat and the old PLO leadership. Tanzim, the armed wing of Fatah, had been the undisputed top dog in the West Bank before the signing of the Oslo accord brought Arafat back from exile.

But Barghouti's young militants and the old men of the PLO agreed on one thing. They worried about Hamas's growing influence. To counter the Oslo Accord, Hamas had reached from the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip inside Israel to kill scores of Jews in a new and unprecedented wave of suicide bomb attacks. Their Islamic movement was becoming as popular among Palestinians as the PLO.

Barghouti didn't think that the PLO could trump this appeal by exploring "final status" talks with Israel. The PLO might become less popular than Hamas even after achieving their this-worldly goal of establishing a Palestinian state. Ignoring Arafat's efforts in US-mediated talks at Camp David, Barghouti pushed for armed confrontation.

In the months leading up to the first street fighting of 2000, Mr. Beilin recalled that Barghouti, "didn't call it intifada.... [H]e said that to fight Hamas on the ground [the Palestinians] need to use violence against Israel to control the streets." Beilin met Barghouti at a Jersulem hotel in May 2000 where the Tanzim leader told him, "that he wanted to continue the use of violence, and that if there were no peace agreement by September, he would use violence." "[H]ere I saw a different Barghouti," Mr. Beilin said. "It was not only cynical but frightening. It was, 'We have a target and we'll get there by diplomacy or violence, and both are legitimate.' "

In November 2000, a mob of Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem near the al Asqa Mosque. The rage they expressed was the product of a cold-bloodedly orchestrated plan. Then-opposition-leader Ariel Sharon's visit to
the Temple Mount was the pretext. One thousand riot police accompanying Mr. Sharon had apparently strayed too close to the al Asqa shrine, "menacing" it. Palestinian thugs vandalized the Tomb of Joseph in Bethlehem in reprisal for Sharon's "desecration" of the holy mosque.

The next several weeks were marked by more sustained and far bloodier riots. In the Tanzim Militia strongholds of Ramallah and Nablus, Palestinian authority police, armed by Israel under the Oslo agreement, turned their rifles on Israeli patrols. According to Professor Hillel Frisch, "The revolutionaries adopted the Lebanese model that terror and guerrilla warfare would push Israel out, and Marwan was the head of the revolutionaries."

In the early months of the al Aqsa Intifada Yossi Beilin believes that Yassir Arafat employed Marwan Barghouti to create Fatah's answer to Hamas: their own Islamist suicide squads, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

From then on Arafat and Barghouti struggled to reign in the Islamic rebirth of the Tanzim Militia. Again and again they tried to get their Islamic jihadists to attack only in the West Bank and Gaza, hitting Israelis engaged in "acts of occupation"—like patrolling the streets, manning security checkpoints, and living in Jewish settlements. But again and again the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades struck Israeli civilians where they lived and worked inside Israel, "de-legitimizing" the Palestinian resistance in the eyes of the Israeli left and in the eyes of much of the post-9/11 world.

Ron Pundak, director of the Peres Center for Peace, concluded that Barghouti "was carried away with the intifada, almost against his own judgement." He "saw the tiger running, and sometimes he rode the tiger and sometimes the tiger rode him." Mr. Beilin echoed this assessment and concluded that Barghouti's compulsion to compete with Hamas ended up making the PLO weaker, not stronger. Condemning Barghouti for injuring the "legitimate aspirations" of the Palestinian people, Beilin said, "today Hamas is stronger than Fatah, and Barghouti is to blame—because Fatah started this intifada, and not Hamas."

After stipulating that Barghouti is "not innocent at all," Professor Frisch attempted to excuse the Tanzim terrorist leader. "Barghouti became more radical when he and the insiders were left out of the Oslo process," he said.

Ron Pundak went even further in siding with the West Bank killer. In a statement that must have stretched the interviewer's credulity, he told the New York Times that for many years "I had an open line with him, and in my mind, he's wholeheartedly a man of peace who accepts Israel. The vision he has of a Palestinian state is one the majority of Israelis could accept."

The facts the three Israeli leftists brought forward about Marwan Barghouti could not be more damning. He was the chief instigator of the al Aqsa Intifada and probably the founder and head of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Marwan Barghouti is responsible for setting in motion and then attempting to steer the entire series of events that led to the murder of over one thousand Israelis (and the deaths of hundreds of innocent Palestinians). He is responsible for initiating aggressive war—worse: he initiated a war that was made up of a series of mass murders.

Israel could have—and should have—taken care of Barghouti the same way they took care of Yassin, the "spiritual leader" of Hamas. One well-placed bullet from a sniper's rifle or one well-placed rocket from a helicopter gunship and Barghouti would be where he sent so many others. In war, no due process and no death warrants are required for one to have the moral right to kill.

Instead, the Israelis chose the "civilized" option. They arrested Barghouti. They held him under comfortable and humane conditions of confinement. They followed objective legal procedures for the submission of testimony and evidence. They allowed him the advice of legal council. They gave him the opportunity to confront all the claims of his accusers (who had to put their lives on the line to testify) in an orderly and objective hearing. They gave Marwan Barghouti all the benefits Western Civilization affords an accused killer. They gave him a fair trial.

And Israeli prosecutors proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Marwan Barghouti was guilty of 5 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and one count of membership in a terrorist organization (Barghouti was found not guilty on 20 other counts of murder).

The New York Times article—informative as it is regarding the mechanisms of and guilt for the al Aqsa Intifada—promotes the view of the Israeli left that Barghouti's imprisonment is a political act by Israel, an act of war. The Israeli leftists were uniform in their assessment that Barghouti's trial was foreign policy, not justice. And the news editors of the New York Times presented this perspective, unoppposed, as if it were fact. In the case of Marwan Barghouti, the Israeli left and leftists at the New York Times are taking their premises to the next logical step.

The left has constantly complained that in America's war on terrorism it is wrong for the US armed forces to drop bombs, fire artillery, or attack in armored vehicles those who are not directly responsible for 9/11. Such acts are "wars of choice," not "wars of necessity"; they are tantamount to military aggression—almost murder.

The left complains when we invade countries allied with the anti-American terrorist cause, we do not treat captured terrorists and the criminal militamen who fight alongside them as if they are lawfully uniformed combatants of a hostile nation at war with the United States. Likewise, when police and intelligence operatives capture terrorists in Islamabad or Kabul or Baghdad, the left insists that the men be put on trial, proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and sentenced in accordance with the law, like any other criminal—or released immediately for lack of evidence. The left has attempted to apply the rule of law out of context, as a fig leaf to cover their general rejection of national defense.

With Barghouti, Israel has done exactly as the left specifies. And the instigator of a dirty terrorist war responsible for the loss of well over a thousand innocent lives is slated to rot in prison for the rest of his life.

Does the left celebrate this successful use of their policy? No. They have dropped the fig leaf.

Today they claim Barghouti's case is too deeply enmeshed in foreign policy and security issues to be the proper object of the criminal justice system. Sure, he is guilty, but he is an important representative of the Palestinian people, they inform us. Sure the man got a fair trial, but his imprisonment is an act of war.

As the January 9 date for Palestinian elections draws near, the left will complain more and more urgently that no "meaningful dialog" can be conducted and no "lasting peace" can be achieved if the man who the Palestinian people see as their legitimate leader is being kept behind bars. Soon they will join a chorus of anti-Western voices demanding his release. This is why Marwan Barghouti refused to participate in his trial and why he waved away all of the prosecutors' charges in the strutting manner of Al Capone, saying, "I'll be out soon enough."

The left's policy towards Islamist terrorism remains: no war, no justice.

In the eyes of the left, Western civilization is too stained to justify any defense on its behalf. Guilty of violations of the moral-political code of altruism-collectivism, they want their own civilization sentenced to be flailed and tormented and bitten and bloodied and slowly chiseled down to size by any enemy who will step forward to try to kill it.

TIA Daily: The Left's New Arafat

In a grim repeat of the career of Yasser Arafat, terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti is emerging as a top candidate for the Palestinian presidency—with the full support of American and Israeli leftists, who have already begun manufacturing excuses for his killing spree.

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Feature Article
No War, No Justice
The Left Opposes Both War and Criminal Prosecution
Against the Enemies of Western Civilization

Friday, December 03, 2004

TIA Daily Headlines: Freedom on the March

While the "Orange Revolution" celebrates a victory for representative government in Ukraine, China continues its internal ideological collapse, and an Arab columnist shows that a more profound revolution might be possible in the Middle East. Is President Bush right when he declares that "freedom is on the march" across the world?

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• Another Victory for the Orange Revolution
How the West Staged the Orange Revolution
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An Arab Solves the Problem of the Middle East

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• Milestones of Musical Romanticism: Sergei Rachmaninoff, by M. Zachary Johnson

An Arab Solves the Problem of the Middle East

As if to answer the question of whether fundamental reform is really possible in the Middle East, a Kuwaiti "progressive" has published a series of newspaper articles giving an essentially accurate account of the cause of progress in the West--the sidelining of religious authority that ended the Middle Ages--and calls upon the Arab world to pursue a secular future.

"Kuwaiti Progressive Scholar: 'All the Good Is in Secular Thought, All the Evil in Religious Thought',", December 3

"The Kuwaiti progressive scholar Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, a political science lecturer at Kuwait University, recently published several articles in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, denouncing religious thought and praising secularism.
The following are excerpts from the articles: '...Secularism as a [world] view and as a way of life was not formed in a vacuum, but is the outcome of the painful life experience of human beings which has continued for close to a
millennium and in the course of which the religious thought of the Church, devised by the religious clergy, was abolished.... During this experience, Western man lived in intellectual darkness and [endured] devastating wars in a
period called 'the Dark Middle Ages.' For the person educated in sciences, industry, finances, politics, and culture there was only one solution, which constitutes a refuge for the poor societies. That [solution] is: distancing the man of the cloth from life.... From that moment on, the Western world became the only world to develop, progress, and flourish in all spheres
of life."

How the West Staged the Orange Revolution

Wacky Western leftists (most notoriously The Guardian) have been hatching conspiracy theories ascribing the Orange Revolution to the machinations of the CIA. But the West _did_ cause the rebellion against authoritarianism--by the power of our example. An op-ed by Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in today's Wall Street Journal revealls a nation desperate to demonstrate--to themselves and to the world--that they can live up to Western standards of liberty and "civil society," i.e., the flourishing of social institutions independent of the government.

"Our Ukraine," Viktor Yushchenko, Wall Street Journal, December 3

"Thanks to television, the world today has seen a genuinely different Ukraine. Observers will no longer associate Ukraine with just Chernobyl, or
corrupt regimes, or another scandal involving high-ranking officials. The world is witnessing a noble European nation, one that embraces genuine democratic values and, even more importantly, one that will stand up to defend these values with dignity. The world has seen how millions of people took to the streets and
squares. For nearly two weeks, in biting cold, hundreds of thousands bravely, steadfastly and at the same time gracefully demonstrated their unwavering opposition to a corrupt, authoritarian regime. The world has looked into the eyes of millions of good people of various ages, confessions, different ethnic
backgrounds--all peacefully, as is their right under their own Constitution--fighting for their rights. All without unrest, violence, andd
blood: This is what the world community has seen. The people of Ukraine have shown the world that we are much more ready to integrate into the European community than the ruling regime. Our path to Europe is not obstructed
by formalities--the absence of a formal application or a joint-action plan. No one saw a civil society in Ukraine and the desire to live acccording to EU standards and values. Now--you've seen."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

TIA Daily Headlines: The Pork-Barrel Diversion

"Fiscal conservatives" are spending a lot of time right now condemning a few billion dollars in pork-barrel spending. But those who care about federal spending ought to focus on the real bulk of the budget: the middle-class welfare programs of Social Security and Medicare.

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Social Security Privatization Gains Steam
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The Pork-Barrel Diversion

Fiscal conservatives are in high dudgeon about "pork-barrel spending" that amounts to less than $16 billion in a $2.4 trillion federal budget—i.e., about six-tenths of one percent of the budget. Note also that non-defense, "discretionary" spending has only risen by one percent. So where is federal money really going? Non-defense, non-discretionary spending, which means: Medicare and Social Security. There is only one long-term way to reign in federal spending: privatize Social Security.

"Glutted on Pork," Donald Lambro, Washington Times, 12/2/04

"President Bush will hold his nose and sign this outrageously wasteful, 14-pound, pork-stuffed bill anyway. Why? Because it reduces discretionary spending increases overall to about 4 percent. If Pentagon and homeland defense spending is removed, the rate of spending growth is cut to about 1 percent. (This does not include so-called "emergency" funding for Afghanistan, Iraq and hurricane damage assistance that are outside the spending caps).... Budget watchers say this year's 11,000–12,000 earmark items that will cost taxpayers an added $15.8 billion are the most ever in a single bill, several thousand provisions more than earlier appropriations bills passed in the last several years."

Social Security Privatization Gains Steam

Fortunately, privatizing Social Security is precisely what the Bush administration is trying to do, and if this report is correct, Bush will push for it soon, and with a more ambitious plan than expected. One senator quoted here says that he sees a "six-month window" for reform—and the Bush administration is considering shifting up to 4 percentage points of payroll tax into private accounts. But will those accounts be government controlled?

"Social Security Reform Mulled," Donald Lambro, Washington Times, 12/2/04

"Participants in these closed-door policy-making briefings say that Vice President Dick Cheney's office has become a player in the meetings and that senior officials are considering plans that would allow investments of up to 4 percent of payroll taxes, one of the three options proposed by the president's Social Security reform commission in 2001.... Both Derrick Max, executive director of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, a broad-based business coalition that has been lobbying for Mr. Bush's plan and whose members also have participated in administration briefings, and another White House adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, predicted the accounts would be larger than 2 percent but less than 4 percent. One participant in the White House meetings said that the emerging plan 'will be similar to the federal retirement system' which allows government employees, including members of Congress, to invest their pension contributions in mutual stock and bond funds among other investment vehicles."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

TIA Daily Headlines: The Dead Enders

In May of 2003, I predicted that the invasion of Iraq would turn many of the world's bad guys into "dead enders" (borrowing a phrase from Rumsfeld). A series of bad decisions by the Bush administration delayed their demise, but the dead-enders are still creeping toward a reckoning. In today's news, Kofi Annan, the Palestinians, and the American left all face exposure and destruction.

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Feature Article
• A Referendum on Self-Destruction, by Jack Wakeland
Marwan Barghouti's Campaign Will Show the Strength of the Palestinian's Pro-Self-Destruction Faction

A Liberal Discovers that the Left "Hates Freedom"

An old-fashioned liberal, the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum, is shocked to find that the left's anti-Americanism has made them indifferent or even hostile to the cause of liberty, both in Ukraine and Iraq. But what should she expect? The defining characteristic of the left is its demand for the expansion of government control over everything, from economics to "hate speech" to campaign finance—and the same people showed a similar hostility toward global liberty during the five decades of the Cold War.

"The Freedom Haters," Anne Applebaum, Washington Post, December 1

"The larger point, though, is that the 'it's-all-an-American-plot' arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time: At least a part of the Western left—or rather the Western far left—is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States. I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere 'hates freedom.' That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do."

Dead End for Kofi Annan

Senator Norm Coleman has been taking the lead in a crusade to uncover the full story behind the "Oil for Fraud" fiasco at the UN. In today's Wall Street Journal, he issues a hard-hitting demand for Kofi Annan's head on a plate. (By the way, Cox & Forkum have a great cartoon on this topic.) Yet Coleman still pulls one important punch, saying that his goal is to restore the credibility of the UN. He concludes by asking: "If this widespread corruption had occurred in any legitimate organization around the world, its CEO would have been ousted long ago, in disgrace. Why is the UN different?" It is a question that answers itself: because the UN is not—and never has been—a legitimate organization.

"Kofi Annan Must Go," Norm Coleman, Wall Street Journal, December 1

"Our Investigative Subcommittee has gathered overwhelming evidence that Saddam turned this program on its head. Rather than erode his grip on power, the program was manipulated by Saddam to line his own pockets and actually strengthen his position at the expense of the Iraqi people. At our hearing on Nov. 15, we presented evidence that Saddam accumulated more than $21 billion through abuses of the Oil-for-Food program and UN sanctions. We continue to amass evidence that he used the overt support of prominent members of the UN, such as France and Russia, along with numerous foreign officials, companies and possibly even senior U.N. officials, to exploit the program to his advantage. We have obtained evidence that indicates that Saddam doled out lucrative oil allotments to foreign officials, sympathetic journalists and even one senior UN official, in order to undermine international support for sanctions. In addition, we are gathering evidence that Saddam gave hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of Oil-for-Food dollars to terrorists and terrorist organizations.

"All of this occurred under the supposedly vigilant eye of the UN. While many questions concerning Oil-for-Food remain unanswered, one conclusion has become abundantly clear: Kofi Annan should resign. The decision to call for his resignation does not come easily, but I have arrived at this conclusion because the most extensive fraud in the history of the UN occurred on his watch."