Monday, March 28, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Jeb's Rebellion

The Terri Schiavo case is a wake-up call to secular people on the right who thought they could cooperate with the religious right to promote the cause of small government, constitutionalism, and the rule of law—only to have Florida governor Jeb Bush send state police to seize Terri Schiavo late last week, backing down only when threatened with resistance from local police.

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Jeb's Rebellion
• Taiwan to China: "We Don't Belong to Them"
• A New Tipping Point in Iraq?
• The Forward Strategy of Capitalism?
• Taking Property Rights Off the Endangered Species List
• Commentary: "Democracy Is Sexy"

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• Human Achievements: X Prize Inspires NASA
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Letters to the Editor
• Mysticism, Skepticism, and Evolution
• Mysticism, Skepticism, and Abortion
• Mysticism, Skepticism, and Social Security

Jeb's Rebellion

Aside from a few major papers, I don't usually send TIA Daily readers to websites that require registration. But this is an extremely important story that has not apparently been covered anywhere else—even though it ought to dominate the headlines. The Miami Herald reports that Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement officials to seize Terry Schiavo from her hospice in defiance of state and federal courts.

This is the clearest indication of the dictatorial urge lurking beneath the surface of the religious right: their willingness to knock the law flat in the pursuit of their religious agenda. In this case, the lawlessness took a stark form: the prospect of a standoff between two groups of armed men, between state police sent to seize Terri Schiavo's body and local police determined to enforce the judge's ruling.

One can only imagine that there was a moment when a bunch of cops sat wordlessly around a table staring at each other, all took a deep breath, and then decided that it was probably best if they didn't start shooting each other. This is America, after all, not some anarchic tin-pot dictatorship, and that was the message implicitly relayed to Governor Bush—who apparently needs to be reminded of this fact.

"Police 'Showdown' Averted," Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, 3/26/05


"Hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo was not to be removed from her hospice, a team of state agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted—but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order, The Herald has learned. Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, on Thursday that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding. For a brief period, local police, who have officers at the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called 'a showdown.' In the end, the squad from the FDLE and the Department of Children & Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice. 'We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in,' said a source with the local police. 'The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene,' said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. 'When the sheriff's department and our department told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off.' ... Participants in the high-stakes test of wills, who spoke with The Herald on the condition of anonymity, said they believed the standoff could ultimately have led to a constitutional crisis and a confrontation between dueling lawmen. 'There were two sets of law enforcement officers facing off, waiting for the other to blink,' said one official with knowledge of Thursday morning's activities. In jest, one official said local police discussed 'whether we had enough officers to hold off the National Guard.' 'It was kind of a showdown on the part of the locals and the state police,' the official said. 'It was not too long after that Jeb Bush was on TV saying that, evidently, he doesn't have as much authority as people think.' "

PS: I am still getting a few e-mails with confusions on the legal and scientific issues in this case, so I thought I should post links to several original sources.

The summary of the Florida state court's finding on Terri Schiavo's medical state and on her previous statements about whether she wanted to be kept alive on artificial life support are available in .pdf form. It demonstrates the rationality of the process behind the original court rulings on this case.

There is an excellent analysis of the science and pseudo-science behind the case, including a link to the CAT-scan showing the atrophy of Schiavo's cerebral cortex on a blog called "Respectful of Otters." Thanks to Cox & Forkum's Allen Forkum for recommending this page, which is better than most science reporting from the big newspapers—a further demonstration of the value of blogs.

Friday, March 25, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Tulip Revolution: An Overnight Success Years in the Making

Seemingly out of nowhere, a mostly peaceful revolution overthrows an authoritarian government in Kyrgyzstan. But below the surface, this victory is the payoff for more than a decade of American investment in "civil society" in the former Soviet Republics.

Top News Stories
• The Tulip Revolution: A Sudden Victory
• The Tulip Revolution: A Decade-Long Project
• Anatomy of an Assassination
• The Slow Political Death of Social Security
• The Slow Political Death of McCain-Feingold?
• Commentary: Mysticism vs. Natural Metaphysics, from a Mystic

Departments

• Human Achievements: History of the Zipper
• Things of Beauty: Beautiful Tools

Feature Article
• Skepticism, Mysticism, and Living Death
by Robert Tracinski
The Terry Schiavo Case Exposes How the Mystics Exploit Secular Skepticism

Mysticism vs. Natural Metaphysics, from a Mystic

This article by conservative columnist John Podhoretz is the most admirably exact, philosophical description I have yet seen of the central issues in the Terry Schiavo case. Podhoretz argues that the central issue is the mystical view that human life is a mysterious gift from God, versus the secular view of human life as "a natural phenomenon." And then Podhoretz takes the side of the mystics.

Since he's on the wrong side, Podhoretz smuggles in a few misleading premises. He equates a "natural," scientific view of life with a mechanistic view of consciousness. Worse, he presents the choice between science and mysticism—between this world and the fantasy world of faith—as if it were arbitrary, reflecting the old conservative saw that "secular humanism" is just as much a religious faith as Christianity.

"The Schiavo Stakes: What the Fight's Really About," John Podhoretz, New York Post, 3/25/05

"The looming death by starvation of Terri Schiavo has exposed yet again the key fault line in American culture. Those who have sided with her parents in seeking the reinsertion of her feeding tube have a view of life that is profoundly different from those who have sided with her husband's quest to have her die. Those who want her to live tend to view life as a gift—a treasure beyond value that has been bestowed upon us and that we therefore have no right to squander. The giver of the gift cannot be seen by the human eye, and the essence of the gift cannot be seen either. We usually call that essence the 'soul.'... Many of those who want her to die, by contrast, view life as a natural phenomenon.... It's a wonder, but it's not a miracle. It's explicable within the laws of nature, and so there isn't anything necessarily transcendent about it....

"What do people on both sides of this divide see when they look at Terri Schiavo? The scientific rationalists see a vegetable in human form, a life only in the strictest sense of the word. They see a human machine that is broken and cannot be repaired.... Then there are those who look at Terri Schiavo and see something else. They see a helpless person, a trapped person, a tragic person. But they do not see a vegetable. They see a human being with a soul. They see a mystery. The rationalists say she will not suffer through her slow starvation because she no longer feels. The soul-believers say there is no way to know that—that science has limits and that it reaches its limits when it tries to define what it means to be human."

Skepticism, Mysticism, and Living Death

The Terri Schiavo Case Exposes How the Mystics Exploit Secular Skepticism

by Robert Tracinski


I have received some compliments from TIA Daily readers on our coverage of the Terri Schiavo case, and I appreciate the expressions of support.

I have also received a few criticisms from TIA Daily readers, and I also appreciate that, too. I don't expect all TIA Daily readers to agree with me, and part of the purpose of this publication is to reach out to people who don't necessarily agree with the Objectivist perspective, but who want to know what we have to say. So I expect to have my arguments challenged, and to have to prove my position right in the face of opposition.

I say that I appreciate these comments, because they help me to understand why so many people are sympathetic to the religious arguments on the Terri Schiavo case, arguments that seem, to me, to be so obviously wrong as to be not worth answering. Particularly interesting to me has been the response from a few people who I recognized as long-time TIA subscribers and who tried to argue that the philosophy of Objectivism should be "on the side of life" in this case. These responses were very puzzling to me, because I could not understand why people who are secular—or at least intend to be secular—could be taken in by the arguments of the religious right.

I think I may have figured it out, and the answer is enlightening, because it shows how the religious right is cashing in on the subtle consequences of the skepticism and subjectivism promulgated for years by the secular left.

One of those subtle consequences is that many people have no clear grounding in science. It is not just that they lack specific scientific facts. It is that they don't have an appreciation for the methodology and mindset of science. The secular skeptics have argued for years that science has no distinctive methodology or superior claim to truth. This is the view promulgated most loudly by the 20th-century philosopher Thomas Kuhn, who argued that the history of science is characterized by a series of "scientific revolutions" in which one group of scientists proposes a new "paradigm"—a woozy collection of unprovable assumptions—that overthrows an old "paradigm," but that both the old and new theories essentially have the status of just being opinions, only vaguely related to evidence.

This is the outlook that pervades the conservative propaganda on the Terri Schiavo case, and which has come back to me, implicitly, in some comments from TIA Daily readers. Here is just one response (not, alas, one of the more polite ones):


"So, can I summarize from your stance over the past couple of days that you believe Objectivist principles lead you to conclude: provided I can get some like-minded folks (many? a consensus? a majority? one?) to agree with me that another person (on whom I have only hearsay evidence regarding their wishes to live or die under certain circumstances) is not engaging in rational thinking—then I (for my own reasons or for none at all) should expect to be able to get the federal government (in the form of one or a number of usually unelected judges) to direct that that person be killed in cruel and unusual ways; even though the other person has never been charged, tried, convicted, or sentenced for a crime that would merit the death penalty?"

There is a lot to respond to here, but notice the implication that Terri Schiavo's level of mental functioning is just a subjective opinion that can be contradicted by other people's opinions—so who are we to objectively judge that she no longer possesses a consciousness? Shouldn't we (as a few other, less belligerent, readers put it) err on the side of caution when presented with conflicting claims?

The conservative media has gone through a lot of trouble to present the state of Terri Schiavo's consciousness as just a matter of clashing, subjective opinion, about which we cannot be certain. They have cashed in on secular skepticism to create apparent confusion on the issue.

But this is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of science.

One of the surprises to me is the fact that brain-death is a full-fledged scientific sub-specialty. There are physicians who have spent decades studying the differences between various stages of brain damage, identifying a continuum of states from full brain death, to a "persistent vegetative state," to a "miminally conscious state," etc. And that means identifying objective, scientific measures, from monitoring of electrical activity in the brain to CAT scans that show atrophying of certain portions of the brain, etc., that allow doctors to prove which state a patient is in.

You might have noticed that when some of these scientists are interviewed by the press, they seem a bit testy, impatient, even contemptuous. And with good reason: they have spent years developing an advanced body of scientific knowledge—only to see a bunch of grandstanding politicians (including some who have medical degrees, such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist) attempt to overrule that scientific knowledge with crude appeals to emotion.

The point is this: the science of the case indicates that the higher centers of Terri Schiavo's brain are atrophied and nonfunctioning and have been for so long that there is no hope of recovery.

The primary implication of this is not whether Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die or not. It is that there is no longer any such entity as "Terri Schiavo"—not in any meaningful sense. There is a body and brain stem—but as a consciousness and a personality, as someone capable of thinking, having opinions, or even feeling pleasure and pain, she has long ago ceased to exist. So it is provable and scientifically demonstrable that she is, in effect, not a party to the proceedings. She is gone.

In this context, the only people whose rights can be considered are the people who are still living, i.e., the loved ones she has left behind. Terri Schiavo is not horrified by her condition, because that is a conscious reaction, and there is no consciousness remaining to feel it. The person who is horrified, and who has the right to be relieved of his suffering, is her husband, Michael Schiavo, who has live for years haunted by his wife's ghost, in the form of her undead body, kept alive by a feeding tube.

And that brings me to the legal issue: who has a right to make decisions regarding what happens to Terri Schiavo's body?

Here, again, conservatives have tried to sow confusion, making this seem like an arguable "dilemma" between conflicting, subjective claims. Thus, another TIA Daily reader writes:


"If only Ms. Schiavo had executed an advance directive, none of this would be an issue. Either it would be clear that she wants to die given her current circumstances, or else it would be clear that she does not (in which case her parents have made it clear that they are prepared to care for her until she reaches a 'natural' death). But in the absence of a 'living will,' why should my government—acting on my behalf—order the murder of this innocent lady based solely upon the word of her husband?"

First, note the way the word "murder" is tossed around here. But "murder" is a legal concept with a specific meaning—and one would have to establish that this concept could be applied to the court-ordered withholding of hydration and nutrition to a body in a persistent vegetative state could actually rise to any legal criterion that would make it "murder." Moreover, when it says that this is being done "solely upon the word of her husband," this ignores more than the fact that multiple witnesses testified that Terri Schiavo expressed a wish not to be kept alive artificially in these circumstances. It ignores the fact that the common law has developed specific standards for the evaluation of such "hearsay" evidence and its application to these cases--issues that were extensively litigated and settled in years of state court procedures on this case. Even some conservatives have been forced to recognize this issue, as in this concession from Daniel Henninger in today's Wall Street Journal:


"For the record, let us examine the basis for Judge Greer's original decision to withhold artificial life support. Judge Greer decided to pursue what Terri's wishes were and said he was guided by a Florida Supreme Court case called Guardianship of Estelle M. Browning. It set three tests, one of which is that 'the evidence of the patient's oral declaration is reliable.' 'This is the issue before the court,' Judge Greer wrote. 'All of the other collateral issues [such as the beliefs of family concerning end-of-life decisions] truly are not relevant to the issue which the court must decide.' Judge Greer then cited testimony taken from Michael Schiavo's brother and sister-in-law, who said Terri had said, 'I don't want to be kept alive on a machine' and several similar statements. Judge Greer said this 'rises to the level of clear and convincing evidence to this court.' These are the trial court's findings of fact, and in our system all subsequent appeals courts give great deference to these original findings. Several lengthy appeals court rulings also cited Terri's 'oral' declarations. This is the reason we are hearing so much now about living wills and the like."

In the face of this, all Henninger is able to offer is a bit of indirect character assassination designed to impugn Michael Schiavo's motives, plus an emotional appeal to Terri Schiavo's mother's "connection to her child-like daughter" (who is not "childlike," because a child is conscious, while Terri Schiavo only presents the illusion of a child-like consciousness).

Here again the conservatives are trying to make us ignore a whole body of objective knowledge.

The lack of appreciation for methods of exact reasoning that is endemic in the modern attitude toward science is even more widespread in politics and the humanities. In the Terri Schiavo case, it manifests itself in a lack of understanding of the complex and highly developed process of reasoning produced by the common law. The British and American common law is one of the great achievements of human history. It consists of a vast set of precedents by which judges have applied the basic legal principles of Western law to every conceivable concrete situation. This is the body of knowledge referred to by Judge Greer in the passages quoted by Daniel Henninger.

That, incidentally, is why it is that the courts in this case have been pushing back so hard and so consistently against the grandstanding politicians. The judiciary is still committed in principle to dealing with these difficult life-and-death cases, not in terms of vague emotional appeals, but in terms of careful arguments based on rational principles.

That is also why this case is so important. In the otherwise perceptive article by John Podhoretz, he writes: "For some reason, the conviction of those who believe in the divine fills the scientific rationalists with unreasoning rage." Here is where Podhoretz's understanding of the secularist position breaks down. Having accepted the premises that the choice between a rational outlook and a mystical one is arbitrary, he cannot really grasp the fundamental distinction between reason and faith—and thus he cannot grasp the crucial distinction in this case. The crucial distinction is: should government decide life-and-death issues in the courts based on scientific evidence and rational legal principles—or based on the feelings of those who declare issues of life and death to be an impenetrable mystery beyond the "limits" of human reason?

The issue here is whether our lives will be legally subjected to the dictates of those who declare themselves outside the reach of rational argument. That is a prospect that ought to enrage us—and that is why I regard the Terri Schiavo case as an ominous attack on the American system.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Dog that Isn't Barking

In the fury surrounding the Terry Schiavo case, it is easy not to notice the most significant fact: the silence of the left. The only conceivable value offered by the left is its opposition to the religious right. So why have Democratic politicians gone mute?

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• The Judiciary Pushes Back
• Faith-Based Science
It Reaches Kyrgyzstan!
• Chirac: Freedom Is Slavery
• British Foxes Hunt Dogs
• Commentary: "Democrats Were Nowhere"

Departments
• Human Achievements: Detecting Planets
• Things of Beauty: Clouds vs. Light Post

It Reaches Kyrgyzstan!

Have you learned how to spell "Kyrgyzstan" yet? Admit it: you haven't even been trying. Well, now's a good time to start. It looks like the "Tulip Revolution" (first mentioned in TIA Daily as an aside on March 3, then again on March 8) has succeeded after all, with President Akayev fleeing the country, protesters seizing control of the seat of government, opposition politicians being sprung from jail, and the prime minister joining the opposition.

What to make of all of this? Many former Soviet republics have been trying to follow Russian President Vladimir Putin's model of "Stalin lite." Leaders have used control of the press and rigged elections (according to US and European monitors) to keep themselves in office. But this is Stalin "lite," so they haven't been willing to use force to impose an outright dictatorship—and so their bids for power are failing.

Note also that while Kyrgyzstan may seem isolated, it is scrunched between three strategically important regions: Russia, the Middle East (just north of Afghanistan), and, most interesting, China. The Daily Telegraph has a fascinating photo slideshow of the protests; you get to it by clicking the link at the top of the story. Who knows what impact these images might have in, say, China?

"Leader of Kyrgyzstan Flees After Protesters Seize Seat of Power," Christopher Pala, New York Times, 3/24/05

"President Askar Akayev and his family fled the Kyrgyz capital today after protesters stormed the presidential compound and seized control following clashes with riot policemen during a large opposition rally.... In a two-hour telephone conversation with Mr. Akayev's daughter, Bermet, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev told this reporter that he had tried to persuade the president to sign a letter of resignation so that there would be an orderly transfer of power. Mr. Tanayev said the message he had asked the daughter to pass on to Mr. Akayev was, 'If you leave the country without signing, you won't be able to come back.'... After the compound was taken over, an opposition leader, former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, vowed to held new elections. 'We will establish order,' Mr. Bakiev said. 'We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule.'... Another leading opposition figure, Felix Kulov, was freed from prison and said on state television: 'It is a revolution made by the people. Tomorrow will come, and we must decide how to live tomorrow.' A former vice president, interior minister, and mayor of Bishkek, Mr. Kulov was arrested after announcing his candidacy to oppose Mr. Akayev in the 2000 presidential election. The opposition said it had taken over the state television, which has not been reporting any news of widespread protests over elections in the former Soviet republic this month that were widely condemned as fraudulent.... At the initial rally, Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebayev addressed the demonstrators and urged them to obey laws. However, in a departure from his warnings of a day before of a possible crackdown that could include 'special means and firearms,' he vowed today that no force would be used against peaceful protesters. 'I promise here that force will not be used against the people,' he said."

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Religious Right Over-Reaches

The Terry Schiavo case is the first attempt by the religious right to flex its muscle—and see how much of the structure of American government it can knock down. But that is making more and more Republicans uneasy, and it looks like the religionists are over-reaching.

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Conservatives Caught in Contradictions
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• Lebanon Occupies Syria
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Departments
• Human Achievements: Sam Walton's Rules
• Things of Beauty: Monticello's South Orchard

Conservatives Caught in Contradictions

The religious right has tried to take credit for President Bush's re-election and has been trying to demand political payback. But I predicted that if they tried to do so, they would be over-reaching. And it looks like that is what is happening, as some Republicans now disavow the unprincipled rush to exploit the Terry Schiavo case while jettisoning political principles like "federalism" that conservatives claim to uphold.

The dilemma for the right is even worse than that, because they claim to be defenders of small government, the rule of law, even individual rights—yet they are now the big-government bullies rushing to impose the will of congress on the courts in order to override the decisions of private individuals. (Cox & Forkum have a terrific cartoon on this theme.)

"GOP Right Is Splintered on Schiavo Intervention," Adam Nagourney, New York Times, 3/23/05

"In interviews over the past two days, conservatives who expressed concern about the turn of events in Congress stopped short of condemning the vote in which overwhelming majorities supported the Schiavo bill, and they generally applauded the goal of trying to keep Ms. Schiavo alive. But they said they were concerned about what precedent had been set and said the vote went against Republicans who were libertarian, advocates of states' rights or supporters of individual rights....

"'This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy,' Mr. Shays said. 'There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.' While the intensity of the dissent appears to be rising—Mr. Warner made a point Tuesday of calling attention to his little-noticed opposition in a nearly empty Senate chamber over the weekend—support for the measure among Republican and conservative leaders still appears strong. In interviews, some conservatives either dismissed the argument that the vote was a federal intrusion on states' rights or argued that their opposition to euthanasia as part of their support of the right-to-life movement trumped any aversion they might have to a dominant federal government....

" 'The libertarian streak in me says, you know, people should have the right to die,' Mr. Moore, of the Free Enterprise Fund, said. 'But as so many conservatives, I'm also very pro-life. Those two philosophies are conflicting with each other.' "

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Of Living Death

The Terry Schiavo case is about only two things: is human life without the potential for reason a hideous living death—and how far are religious conservatives willing to go to impose such a living death on us?

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Judge Whittemore Gets It Right
• Of Living Death
• The Campaign Finance Fraud
• Europe Shrinks from China's Embrace
• New Deck Chairs at Turtle Bay
• Commentary: America's Secular Heritage

Departments
• Human Achievements: Victoria Cross
• Things of Beauty: Ode to My iPod

Judge Whittemore Gets It Right

After trying to use the power of the legislature to overrule a specific ruling in the state courts, Congress received the rebuke it was asking for: Judge Whittemore ruled, properly, that the case had already been "exhaustively litigated" by state courts and that there were no rational grounds for subjecting it to a new review by the federal courts.

Remember that the legal issue here is not the condition of Terry Schiavo's brain or whether her parents have a right to keep her alive: those issue have already been argued and settled over many years in Florida state courts. The issue, at this point, is whether Congress can create for itself the power to exercise an ad hoc veto over judicial rulings—the motive behind Monday's late-night legislative gimmicks.

"Federal Judge Denies Request to Reinsert Schiavo's Feeding Tube," Abby Goodnough, New York Times, 3/22/05

"The Schindlers' appeal was filed just hours after Judge James D. Whittemore of Federal District Court in Tampa ruled against them on an emergency request that had been made possible only by the intervention of Congress and President Bush. The judge said that Ms. Schiavo's case had already been 'exhaustively litigated' in the state courts and that the parents of the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman had not established a 'substantial likelihood of success' at a new, federal trial on the merits of their arguments.... Judge Whittemore issued his 13-page [ruling] around 6:30 am, after an afternoon hearing in Tampa that resulted from the special legislation Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation in the wee hours of Monday permitting Ms. Schiavo's parents to seek the review of a federal court. 'This court appreciates the gravity of the consequences of denying injunctive relief,' Judge Whittemore wrote. But he also found that Ms. Schiavo's 'life and liberty interests' had been adequately protected by the Florida courts, and that despite 'these difficult and time-strained circumstances,' his court was obliged 'to apply the law to the issue before it' and deny the parents' request to restore nutrition and hydration to their
daughter."

Monday, March 21, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Who Is Ayatollah Sistani?

Is Ayatollah Sistani a clone of the Ayatollah Khomeini—or an advocate of separation of church and state? Our research indicates that two of Sistani's distinctive doctrines may constitute a transition from Islamic fundamentalism to a more liberal outlook.

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The Conservative Dictators
• Tide May Be Turning at New York Times
• Campaign Control Cancer Spreads
• The Final Fall of the Soviet Empire?
• Commentary: "Brussels and Blue America"
• Commentary: Shakespeare vs. Bin Laden

Departments
• Human Achievements: Smell 101

Feature Article
• Who Is Ayatollah Sistani?
by Jack Wakeland
The Missing Link in the Reform of the Muslim World

The Conservative Dictators

I have been skeptical at just how committed the religious right is to imposing its agenda by government force, undermining a free society for the sake of a theocratic agenda. Well, here's a case that shows how easily the religious right is willing to take on the role of a lawless dictator, overthrowing the entire structure and procedure of American government at a moment's notice.

In its crazed campaign to keep a brain-dead woman alive against the will of her husband, Congress has now passed a law violating the separation of power between the legislative and judiciary and between federal and state governments by arbitrarily altering the jurisdiction of the Terry Schiavo case—and doing so ad hoc, not as part of any general rule affecting all such cases universally.

If leftists did this sort of thing, conservatives would scream (correctly) that this is a step toward dictatorship. Yet the most committed religious conservatives will not hesitate for a moment to wipe out the entire mechanics of a free society in their lust to use government power to impose religious restriction on the individual. Even worse: not a single Senate Democrat was willing to stand up and stop them.

"Federal Court Hears Schiavo Case," Charles Babington and Mike Allen, Washington Post, 3/21/05

"A dispute over the fate of a brain-damaged Florida woman moved into federal court today after President Bush signed into law a bill, approved after midnight, that transfers jurisdiction in the case away from state courts.... Congress gave jurisdiction over the case to federal courts early today, an extraordinary legislative move that could empower a US judge to effectively reverse years of state court rulings. Voting 203 to 58 at 12:42 am, the House joined the Senate in approving the measure and rushing it to Bush. He signed the bill into law at 1:11 am, saying, 'I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities.'... The Senate, operating under unanimous-consent rules, passed the legislation yesterday afternoon with no debate and with only three members present.... Frist called the measure 'a unique bill' that 'should not serve as a precedent for future legislation.' Some Democrats objected to an earlier, broader version that might have applied to many cases of incapacitated patients.... Although numerous lawmakers, especially Democrats, expressed unease over interfering with a state court's rulings and Michael Schiavo's assertion that he knows his brain-damaged wife's desires, they generally have been quieter than the conservative activists and right-to-life groups campaigning vociferously to keep Schiavo alive. A single senator could have postponed yesterday's action but none did so, even though some criticized Congress's actions."

The Final Fall of the Soviet Empire?

It looks like we're all going to have to learn how to spell "Kyrgyzstan" now. A "Tulip Revolution" is endangering the remote nation's Moscow-aligned authoritarian government after it attempted to rig parliamentary elections. It looks like this will be a bumpier ride than in Ukraine, and the reports on this obscure conflict are even less informative in describing what the opposition stands for.

But the wider context is easier to figure out. Russian president Vladimir Putin's dream, pursued over the past five years, has been to reconstruct the old Soviet empire by supporting like-minded authoritarian leaders in the former Soviet Republics—yet his ambitions have been consistently thwarted, with the people rebelling against his pawns in Georgia, Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan.

"Kyrgyzstan Orders Review of Election," Kadyr Toktogulov, AP via Washington Times, 3/21/05

"More than 17,000 people rallied Monday against Akayev, calling for his resignation, and some of them took over government buildings in at least four cities.... The unrest began early this month to protest alleged election breaches in the Feb. 27 parliamentary polls. It intensified after the subsequent March 13 run-offs that the opposition, European countries, and the United States said were seriously flawed, a charge denied by the government.... 'This is a new day in our history,' said Omurbek Tekebayev, an official of the opposition, which he said would create alternative government bodies throughout the country. Tekebayev said the deputy regional police chief had joined the opposition and would be in charge of police under the region's new government.... Otunbayeva said the opposition would guarantee the security of Akayev and other government officials if they go, 'like it was in Georgia and Ukraine.'... Akayev was long regarded as the most reform-minded leader in ex-Soviet Central Asia and the country won praise for its comparative openness. But he has recently shown increasing signs of cracking down. In 2002, his reputation was tarnished after police killed six people protesting the arrest of an opposition lawmaker."

Friday, March 18, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Six Unarmed Women Wipe Out the IRA

In a testament to the power of morality, six unarmed women have dealt a stronger blow to the Irish Republican Army than decades of action by the British police and military.

Top News Stories
• What Is Wrong with the Budget
• Judge Dismisses Conservatives' Crusade for Living Death
• Six Unarmed Women Wipe Out the IRA
• The Rule of Lawyers
• Commentary: The Iron Curtain Lifting in Lebanon

Departments
• Human Achievements: The Invention of the Ethernet
• Things of Beauty: "Spring" Up North

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: "This Will Not Last Forever"

In the war between Islam and the West, the enemy has problems of his own. Today's Washington Post reports on the problem faced by the Saudis: a new literary movement among young, educated, Westernized Arabs who chafe at the nation's strict religious censorship.

Top News Stories
• Senate Reverses ANWR Suicide
• Bad News on Social Security Privatization
• Good News on Social Security Privatization
• "This Will Not Last Forever"
• Religious Conservatives for Religious Freedom?
• Commentary: A Liberal Rebels Against Affirmative Action

Departments
• Human Achievements: Seven Wonders of the Modern World
• Things of Beauty: The Clouds

Human Achievements: Seven Wonders of the Modern World

selection and editing by Shrikant Rangnekar

"As a tribute to modern society's ability to achieve the unachievable, reach unreachable heights, and scorn the notion of 'it can't be done,' in 1994 ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) sought nominations from across the globe for the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The chosen projects pay tribute to the greatest civil engineering achievements of the 20th century."

ASCE's list includes the Channel Tunnel, CN Tower, Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Itaipu Dam, Netherlands North Sea Protection Works, and the Panama Canal—with a brief description of each achievement.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: What Are We Prepared to Do?

The potential of recent events in the Middle East poses a dilemma. Since our leaders have chosen not to wage war against the remaining terrorist regimes and their lackeys, what can we do—and what are we prepared to do?

Top News Stories
• America's New Iran Strategy
• Syria on the Retreat
• Mr. Mowen, Call Your Office
• The North Korean Information Revolution
Democratic Party Death Watch
• Commentary: Is Social Security Privatization Dead?

Departments

• Human Achievements: John Barron
• Things of Beauty: "New-Vintage" Advertising

Feature Article
• Next Steps in Lebanon
by Robert Tracinski
What Are We Prepared To Do About Hezbollah?

Democratic Party Death Watch

Just when you think the greatest threat to free speech come from the religious right, along comes John Kerry to articulate what many on the left have been edging toward. Traumatized by the fading power of the left-leaning "mainstream media" in the face of competition from right-leaning cable news, talk radio, and totally unregulated "blogs," Kerry proposes that government serve as an "arbitrator" of speech.

Thus, the former 1970s "radical" explicitly rallies his supporters to the defense of the entrenched "mainstream." This is yet another example of how the left is lapsing into its own brand of "reactionary" conservatism. Giving up their pretense of being forward-looking populists who represent the rising tide of history, they are becoming reflexive, pessimistic defenders of a decaying old establishment.

Kerry advocates a return to regulating political speech by way of the "Fairness Doctrine," which suppressed discussion of controversial issues on radio and television. Another Weekly Standard article outlines the history and meaning of that regulation—and gives Dan Rather his due for testifying against the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

"Kerry Loves the Mainstream Media," P.J. O'Roarke, Weekly Standard, dated 3/21/05, posted 3/15/05

"John Kerry effectively ended his political career on February 28, 2005, during a little-noticed event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.... Addressing the audience of tame Democrats, Kerry explained his defeat. 'There has been' he said, 'a profound and negative change in the relationship of America's media with the American people.... When fear is dominating the discussion and when there are false choices presented and there is no arbitrator, we have a problem.'...

"America is not doctrinaire. It's hard for an American politician to come up with an ideological position that is permanently unforgivable.... But Kerry's done it. American free speech needs to be submitted to arbitration because Americans aren't smart enough to have a First Amendment, and you can tell this is so, because Americans weren't smart enough to vote for John Kerry.

" 'We learned,' Kerry continued, 'that the mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning. But there's a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profound impact and undermines what we call the mainstream media of the country. And so the decision-making ability of the American electorate has been profoundly impacted as a consequence of that. The question is, what are we going to do about it?' "

Monday, March 14, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Extinction of Environmentalism?

The top debate among environmentalists today: why their movement is dying. They need only consult an op-ed by one of their own supporters, who enumerates their long, dismal record of verifiably false doomsday predictions.

Top News Stories
• Lebanon's Answer to Hezbollah
• "A Competition That Is Not Cosmetic"
• James Madison Keeps Up the Good Work
• The Extinction of Environmentalism?
The Real Ideal of the "Reformers"
• Commentary: Don't Forget China

Departments
• Human Achievements: Yahoo's "Netrospective"
• Things of Beauty: Signs of Spring

Feature Article
• The Rebirth of Lebanon
by Robert Tracinski
Are We Seeing a Generational Change in the Middle East?

The Real Ideal of the "Reformers"

The mainstream media propagandized for campaign controls before for McCain-Feingold was passed—and back before Internet "bloggers" were a force to be reckoned with. Now that the bloggers have been targeted by campaign controls, they are reopening the issue, digging into the law's real meaning and justifications—and what they are finding is that McCain-Feingold's real goal is the suppression of political speech.

"Dream Palace of the Goo-Goos," Scott Johnson, Weekly Standard, 3/14/05

"Every reform implies an ideal state or condition to which the reformer aspires. The ideal embedded in the First Amendment is that of unrestrained speech keyed to the constitutional system of self-government. What is the ideal state suggested by the logic of campaign-finance reform? Perhaps the most revealing passage in the hundreds of pages generated by the Supreme Court justices in their opinions on McCain-Feingold comes in Justice Scalia's dissent. Scalia notes the usual good-government rhetoric regarding 'the prevention of corruption or the appearance of corruption' in which campaign-finance reform always comes wrapped. He also takes a look under the wrapping: '[L]et us not be deceived. While the Government's briefs and arguments before this Court focused on the horrible "appearance of corruption," the most passionate floor statements during the debates on this legislation pertained to so-called attack ads, which the Constitution surely protects, but which Members of Congress analogized to "crack cocaine," ..."drive-by shooting[s]," ...and "air pollution."… There is good reason to believe that the ending of negative campaign ads was the principal attraction of the legislation....' The ideal of incumbent officeholders promoting campaign-finance reform is freedom from criticism, especially at election time."

Friday, March 11, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Carrots for Sticks

The Bush administration agrees to go along with European "carrots" for Iran—just when we need to be providing more "sticks" to keep the momentum rolling against the Axis of Evil.

Top News Stories
• Carrots for Sticks
• Opposition Comes to Damascus
• A Government for Iraq
• Situation Better than Normal?
• Rebellion Against Campaign Controls?
• Rather's Reputation
• Commentary: Ledeen: Faster Still

Departments
• Things of Beauty: Visual Detail

Thursday, March 10, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Legislative Muddling Through

While events overseas have dominated the news, Congress has been moving on a relatively good legislative agenda, with reform of lenient class-action and bankruptcy rules and a budget that backs oil drilling and limits domestic discretionary spending. It's modest progress, but it's not bad.

Top News Stories
• Anti-Man Alliance
Democratic Party Death Watch
• Legislative Muddling Through
• Big Band Is Back?
• Backing Up the "Forward Strategy of Freedom"
• Commentary: "It Was Our Boston Tea Party"

Departments
• Human Achievements: History of Staplers

Democratic Party Death Watch

In its loyalty to the Marxist outlook that man's values and interests are determined by his economic "class interests"—eventually expanded to the trinity of "race, class, and gender"—the Democratic Party long ago ceased to be a party of universal principles, depending instead on the loyalty of a few narrow interest groups: unions, single women (who want to preserve abortion rights), and blacks and Hispanics.

Now, the Democrats are beginning to lose their stranglehold on the black vote, partly for bad reasons—the appeal of religious conservatism—and partly for good reasons: a more positive view of entrepreneurship and Bush's "ownership society." If this trend continues, the Party's past obsession with pandering to "minorities" will make the Democrats themselves into a permanent legislative minority.

"Lost Supporter Syndrome," Donald Lambro, Washington Times, 3/10/05

"In Florida, Mr. Bush's support jumped from 7 percent to 13 percent. In Ohio, a pivotal state that won him the election, his share of the black vote went from 9 percent to 16 percent. Pennsylvania fell into John Kerry's column, but Mr. Bush still polled 16 percent of the state's black voters.... That was good news to Ken Mehlman, who managed Mr. Bush's re-election campaign and is now the Republican national chairman. Mr. Mehlman is leading a stepped-up drive to reach out to black voters, often with the help of influential black religious leaders attracted by the GOP's emphasis on religious values usually missing in the Democrats' message.... Black voters remain the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc, but they find a number of Republican issues appealing.... Polls show 60 percent of African-Americans support school choice vouchers to get their kids out of failing public schools. Mr. Bush's emphasis on small-business ownership also resonates very strongly among upwardly mobile blacks, as does the chance to build a bigger retirement nest egg in Social Security personal investment accounts.... [I]f their [Democratic] party loses 15 percent or so of the black vote, it will be in the minority for years to come."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: "The Universal Claim of Individual Rights"

In a speech yesterday, President Bush invoked "the universal claim of individual rights." That moral claim is indeed universal—which is why American action in Iraq is having an impact far beyond the Middle East, from Saigon to Belfast.

Top News Stories
• Backsliding in Beirut
• Bush: I Told You So
• Democrats: Yeah, We Guess You Did
"Will Vietnam Be the Next Iraq?"
• Iraq and the IRA
• Commentary: Italy Goes Over to the Enemy

Departments
• Human Achievements: Hans Bethe

Feature Article
• A Tale of Four Cities—and Their Domes
by Sherri Tracinski
The Race for the Biggest Dome and the Race for the Tallest Skyscraper

"Will Vietnam Be the Next Iraq?"

President Bush's speech yesterday made a prominent reference to "the universal claim of individual rights." The principle of individual rights is indeed universal—which means that a policy engineered to support freedom in the Middle East cannot help but to have effects elsewhere, a point made in this column on a pro-freedom dissident in Vietnam. And if the "forward strategy of freedom" effects Vietnam, why not China?

"Saigon's Sharansky," Claudia Rosett, Wall Street Journal, 3/9/05

"Already, Mr. Bush has been answered by the breathtaking election turnout in Iraq, the uprising in Lebanon, the tremors in Syria and Iran, the stirrings in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But the effects hardly stop with the Middle East. In many places, people trapped under tyrannies are now watching. Ballots cast in Baghdad echo way east of Suez. So it happens that a message reached me last weekend from within one of the world's most repressive states: Vietnam. Word came that the Sharansky of Saigon, democratic dissident Nguyen Dan Que, had been released from his latest stretch in Vietnam's prisons.... Dr. Que does not have access to the daily diet of news that feeds the free world. But given the feats of modern technology to spread information, he knows enough about what is now happening in the Middle East so that he wished to share his views on how America's intervention in Iraq is like the war in Vietnam, and how it isn't. The similarity, he says, 'is the same fighting spirit for freedom.' The difference, he adds, is that in the fight for freedom, the side America is on 'will triumph this time.' "

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Syria's "Me-Too" Demonstrations

A decade or two ago, Syria would have answered dissent with mass murder. Today, it answers protests in Lebanon by having its Hezbollah proxies stage a copycat protest—but one that cedes the basic premises of the Lebanese opposition.

Top News Stories
Syria's "Me-Too" Demonstrations
• It Reaches Kyrgyzstan
• It Reaches Moldova
• The Enemy Retreats to the Far East
• The Democrats' Social Security Defector?
• Commentary: Leftist "Gluckschmerz"

Departments
• Human Achievements: Sony's New CEO
• Things of Beauty: Michelangelo Model

Syria's "Me-Too" Demonstrations

The Axis of Evil strikes back, though in a tame, weakened form. A decade or two ago, anti-Syrian demonstrations would have been put down by brute force. Now, the Syrians try to play by the rules of a whole new game, trying to show that they have broad popular support by getting their Hezbollah lackeys to stage a pro-Syria street rally—in awkward, self-conscious imitation of the recent anti-Syria demonstrations.

The Hezbollah rally is big, but don't let that fool you: it is the product of an entrenched organization practiced at the old ruse of staging "spontaneous" mass demonstrations. The anti-Syria rallies are far more significant precisely because they are, in fact, spontaneous. Most important, the pro-freedom demonstrators are the ones setting the agenda, not just on the style of the demonstrations, but on the substance.

Hezbollah is a factional militia—yet its supporters wave the Lebanese flag, a symbol of anti-factional "national unity." It is in favor of perpetuating Syrian tyranny—yet its rent-a-mob holds up pictures of pro-independence leader Rafik Hariri, whom even they must know was assassinated by Syria. And Hezbollah is funded and controlled by Syria and Iran—yet it steals the slogan of "no foreign interference."

Most of all, the Syrian-staged "me-too" demonstrations, by the very fact that they copy the style of the opposition's peaceful demonstrations, grant the premise that the desires of the Lebanese people ought to be consulted—a premise no dictatorship or terrorist organization can accept if it wants to survive.

"Thousands Answer Hezbollah Call in Beirut," Tanalee Smith, AP via Washington Times, 3/8/05

"Nearly 200,000 pro-Syrian protesters waved flags, chanted, and whistled in a central Beirut square Tuesday, answering a nationwide call by the militant Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group for a demonstration to counter weeks of massive rallies demanding Syrian forces leave Lebanon. Loudspeakers blared songs of resistance and organizers handed out Lebanese flags and directed the men and women to separate sections of the square. Demonstrators held up pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and signs saying, 'Syria & Lebanon brothers forever.' Black-clad Hezbollah guards handled security, lining the perimeter of the square and taking position on rooftops....

"Large cranes hoisted two giant red-and-white flags bearing Lebanon's cedar tree. On one, the words, 'Thank you Syria,' were written in English; on the other, 'No to foreign interference.'... Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group, has been mobilizing its followers from across the country for the protest, also meant to denounce the UN resolution that also called for dismantling militias—a point Hezbollah sees as aimed at its well-armed military wing.... In the outlying heavily Shiite regions of the Bekaa and the south, loudspeakers urged followers to travel to Beirut for the protest. A newspaper reported that convoys of Syrians were being brought across the border in buses to participate, but that could not be confirmed."

Monday, March 07, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: "There Are a Lot of Good People Out Here"

The most surprising story to emerge from recent events in the Middle East—especially the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon—is that the best people in the region seem to have been emboldened, as they throng into the streets of Beirut and assume some of the positions of power in Iraq.

Top News Stories
• "Truth, Liberty, and National Unity"
• Bush's Diplomatic Priorities
• "There Are a Lot of Good People Out Here"
• The Base New Democratic "Base"
• Martha Stewart's Return
• Commentary: Iraq's Inspirational Smoke-Filled Rooms

Departments
• Human Achievements: Iditarod Coverage

Friday, March 04, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Opening Up the Syrian Front

The crisis in Lebanon has opened new possibilities—and so our leaders are looking at ways to open a new front to destabilize the terrorist regime in Syria.

Top News Stories
• Iraq's Shiite Coalition Crumbles
• Opening Up the Syrian Front
• Opening Up the Iranian Front?
• Dutch Jihad Update
• China's Dangers
• Commentary: Who Killed Atheism?

Departments
• Things of Beauty: Martha's Flowers

Letter to the Editor

Who Killed Atheism?

This article is presented by the Washington Times as a piece of news reporting, but it is so horribly slanted that it really qualifies as an editorial. (It is also proof that the conservatives are willing to commit the same journalistic crimes as the liberal mainstream press.) But it is indisputable that atheism is losing influence today, and this article does touch (though inaccurately) on the real cause: atheism was killed by the atheists.

The greatest enemy of secularism has been the pseudo-secularism of the Marxists and the moral nihilism of the secular subjectivists who gleefully declared that "If God is dead all things are permitted." These philosophies answer the irrationalism of religion with new variants of irrationalism, and they answer religion's worship of sacrifice and death with new versions of the worship of sacrifice and death.

But this does not mean that religion is strong. Notice that the theologians quoted in this article say that the best hope for religion is that it can provide a basis for "truth and freedom." But religion, by its very nature as an otherworldly philosophy, has no such foundation to offer. That can only be provided by the truly secular, atheistic philosophy of Objectivism—which will be the real beneficiary, in the long term, of the collapse of modern pseudo-secularism.

"Science, 'Frauds' Trigger a Decline in Atheism," Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI via Washington Times, 3/4/05

"Godlessness is in trouble, according to a growing consensus among philosophers, intellectuals and scholars. 'Atheism as a theoretical position is in decline worldwide,' Munich theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg said in an interview.... British philosopher Anthony Flew, once as hard-nosed a humanist as any, has turned his back on atheism, saying it is impossible for evolution to account for the fact that one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Mr. Flew still does not accept the God of the Bible. But he has embraced the concept of intelligent design—a stunning desertion of a former intellectual ambassador of secular humanism to the belief in some form of intelligence behind the design of the universe....

"Atheism's other Achilles' heels are the acts on inhumanity and lunacy committed in its name. 'With time, [atheism] turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does.... With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively,' Mr. McGrath wrote in Christianity Today.... Mr. Zulehner cautioned, however, that the decline of atheism in Europe does not mean that re-Christianization is taking place. 'What we are observing instead is a re-paganization,' he said.... 'The rise of all sorts of paganism is creating a false spirituality that proves to be a more dangerous rival to the Christian faith than atheism,' [Rev. Gerald McDermott] said....

"Mr. Zulehner, a Catholic, sees Christianity's greatest opportunity when its message addresses two seemingly irreconcilable quests of contemporary humanity—the quest for freedom and truth. 'Christianity alone affirms that truth and God's dependability are inseparable properties to which freedom is linked.' "

Thursday, March 03, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Why We're Winning

The past two weeks' events in the Middle East have startled even the optimists. But why is the enemy collapsing so quickly?

Top News Stories
• Iran's "Pink Revolution"
• More Pressure on Syria
• Tipping Point for the Daily Show
The Spirit of Israel
• Another Triumph for Aerospace Capitalism
• Commentary: How Bush Sabotaged Social Security Privatization

Departments
• Things of Beauty: Enchanted Forest

Feature Article
• Why We're Winning, by Robert Tracinski
Why the Enemies of Freedom Are Always Weak

The Spirit of Israel

This article sums up all of things I've always admired about the Israelis. The life of legendary Israeli secret agent Peter Z. Malkin—the man who captured Adolf Eichmann and brought him back to Israel for trial—highlights the best aspects of the Israeli character: a bold, enterprising, intelligent, can-do spirit.

"Better than Bond," Eric Fettman, New York Post, March 3

"Zvi Malchin was not only the single greatest secret agent the state of Israel was lucky enough to produce, he was one of the most extraordinary people one could ever hope to meet. The world knew him as Peter Z. Malkin, the man who on a cold night in 1960 kidnapped a factory worker named Riccardo Klement outside his ramshackle Buenos Aires home and brought him to Israel—where he stood public trial as Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who saw to it that 6 million Jews were murdered efficiently. Yet that was just one of hundreds of exploits undertaken by Malchin—who died here Tuesday night at age 75—during more than a quarter-century with Israeli intelligence, first as an agent and, ultimately, as chief of operations.... And though he saw more than his share of genuine dramatic action, Zvika had little regard for popular fiction's idea of a spy. 'In 28 years, I never killed anyone,' he said. 'My most important weapon wasn't a gun—it was my brain.' "

Why We're Winning

Why the Enemies of Freedom Are Always Weak

by Robert Tracinski


The events of the past month—the Iraqi elections (with a non-victory by Islamist parties), followed by the uprising in Lebanon, Syria's continuing retreat under domestic and international pressure, and the first glimmers of a new political freedom in Egypt—do not yet constitute the collapse of America's enemy in the War on Terrorism. But they represent a clear indication—which is becoming increasingly obvious even to the Bush administration's harshest critics—that such a victory is possible.

Indeed, with reports of newly emboldened criticism of the Baathist regime within Syria and universal contempt for Iran's theocracy by its own subjects (see item #1 in today's TIA Daily), it seems that the only remaining questions are: how long before these two regimes fall, and which one will go first?

I am naturally a bit giddy with excitement at recent developments—who expected change to come so soon, so dramatically, and in such an unexpected place as Beirut?—so let me add the required cautions. A lot could still go wrong, and although the positive developments are beginning sooner than even the more optimistic commentators (such as myself) believed, they may ultimately take longer than we hope.

Nevertheless, now that we can sense that the enemy's collapse is possible, we need to ask: why?
As with the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s, the answer is not that America pursued an overwhelmingly strong and unwavering foreign policy. President Bush's foreign policy, like President Reagan's, has frequently been strong in its rhetoric and it has certainly been stronger than what was demanded by critics on the left (who demanded unilateral disarmament against the Soviet threat in the 1980s and unilateral retreat from Iraq in 2004). But the Bush policy has not been nearly as strong, either in its rhetoric or in its execution, as it should have been. Readers will remember Bush's frequent declarations that Islam is a "religion of peace" and his refusal to name the Middle East's largest sponsor of terrorism, Iran, as our main enemy in this war. And those who have been reading TIA Daily from its launch will remember my despair at America's shameful surrender in Fallujah last April.

So given the many weaknesses of America's war strategy, the only reason we can be winning is that our enemy is much, much weaker.

Why?

Here, again, the lessons of the Fall of Communism are important. In that conflict, the enemy's anti-mind philosophy made him materially weak, unable to match the economic and technological development of the West. But it also made him spiritually weak—that is, unconfident in the intellectual and moral superiority of his own doctrines. This was masked for many years by the strident bluster of the Soviet propaganda apparatus—a false front that obscured the real views of the people and even the leaders of the Communist countries, making the Soviet collapse seem that much more sudden and dramatic.

That our enemy in the current war is materially weak has been clear from the beginning: terrorism is by its nature a weapon employed by the weak, by those who are unable to fight with tanks, warships, and missiles. But this enemy has also put up a wall of strident-sounding propaganda that has obscured his profound spiritual weakness.

There are many causes of that weakness, including the failure of certain secular collectivist dogmas that have long influenced the Middle East, such as the great fantasy of fascist Arab Nationalism. But today I want to focus on the spiritual weakness of Islamic fundamentalism.

The intellectual weakness of Communism is easier to diagnose. Communism was a materialist creed that promised to make men rich on this earth, creating a paradise for workers in the Communist world while their counterparts starved in misery in the capitalist countries. When precisely the opposite result occurred in reality—and, by the 1980s, became too obvious for even the most doctrinaire Communist to evade—they no longer had the moral confidence to forcibly suppress dissent.

But religious dogmas seem not to have the same weakness. They promise spiritual, not material rewards, and the victory they promise over the infidels is a victory not in this world but in the afterlife. What I think we are learning from recent events, however, is that no ideology can seal itself off from comparison to reality. Even religious dogmas make statements about the nature of this world—statements whose falsity can be definitively demonstrated by the course of history.

To begin with, Islamic fundamentalism makes one major material promise that can be measured: it promises victory in battle, a promise it seemed to fulfill in its early centuries. For the past several centuries, however, it has disastrously failed to deliver. The scientific, technological, and industrial revolution of the Western world so increased the military power of the West that the Arab and Muslim lands became Western colonies in the early 20th century. Still, the Islamists clung to a fallback position. The West may be technologically superior, they argued, but they are so spiritually weak and decadent that they can be defeated over the long term by a determined guerilla resistance—just as the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan and the Americans were defeated in Beirut (in the early 1980s) and Somalia (in the early 1990s). That is why I think we are starting to see results so soon after the re-election of George W. Bush. It sent a signal that Americans were not going to withdraw in retreat from Iraq, that we were authorizing our leaders to stay as long as it takes to finish the job there. It is a blow to the Bin Laden myth that the West is spiritually weak.

But the problems of Islamic fundamentalism don't just relate to their interaction with the West. The Islamists also make another claim that can be tested in this world. They claim that theocratic rule will guarantee the rule of virtue on this earth. The religious police in these countries always have comical names like the "Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue." Yet in one country after another, and most especially in Afghanistan and Iran, Muslims have been able to observe that theocracy actually leads to rule by the most evil, vicious, and corrupt men. The Taliban are global synonyms for sadistic brutality, and the mullahs in Iran are notorious for running a literal mafia devoted to the looting of the country's wealth. And in Iraq, as the insurgency has increasingly targeted Iraqi civilians, Muslims can observe that the "holy warriors" they are supposed to admire have degraded into plain, brutal, senseless mass murderers.

(This can be compared, incidentally, to the state of the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance—an institution infamous for the greed, debauchery, and corruption of its priests, its cardinals, even its popes.)

Finally, there is one myth that is crucial to the perpetuation of any theocracy—a myth without which no creed of religious sacrifice can long survive. If a religious creed promises no advantages in this world, only an unverifiable paradise in the afterlife—then it must convince its adherents that paradise is not achievable in this world. Every religious viewpoint has held to some variation of the notion that this world is a "vale of tears," a malevolent realm in which enjoyment is rare and fleeting, always to be followed or balanced out by suffering and guilt. And every theocratic system does its best to make this prophecy come true, by making this world a living hell for its victims.

And such a society might be able to survive for many centuries, as it did in Europe during the Middle Ages, if its unfortunate subjects never see any indication that a better life is possible.

But what if they do see that a better life is possible? What if they see that people in other nations—people who are infidels—are prosperous, self-confident, guiltless. What if they see that these others seem to live in a paradise on earth—a paradise that can be observed every day through the signals being beamed to the Middle East's satellite TV dishes, or in movies smuggled in on bootleg video tapes? That is the significance of the famously avid Iranian viewers of "Baywatch," or the stories of young Afghans furtively watching smuggled copies of "Titanic."

The people who see this will not know how such a life is possible or why it is impossible under Islam. A great deal more will be required for them to identify the secular philosophy at the root of Western life or to understand how the doctrines of Islam necessarily lead to misery. But they will be able to grasp that life in this world is not a vale of tears and that a benevolent, prosperous, happy life on this earth is possible.

That is the one basic truth that no code of religious sacrifice can survive.

Now add one more element. What if the subjects of the theocracy also see that other people are free to speak their minds, to change their government, and even to rise up in bloodless revolutions against a tyrannical government, as they did just months ago in Ukraine?

The result, I submit, is precisely what we are seeing today in the Middle East. And I suspect that what we have seen so far is just the beginning of a process that will ultimately see all of the region's worst dictatorships consigned, like their Communist predecessors, to the ash heap of history.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Syria's Crisis of Confidence

The protests in Lebanon and new demands by dissidents in Damascus indicate a crisis of confidence within the Syrian dictatorship. Are the Syrian Baathists unwilling to launch the bloody crackdown required to preserve their regime?

Top News Stories
• Syria's Crisis of Confidence
• The Real Significance of Saudi Elections
• What Happened to the "Arab Street"?
• "Winds of Change" Stir at the LA Times
• Social Security Case Crumbling?
• Commentary: The Age of "Democratic Revolution"

Departments
• Things of Beauty: Hyacinths

Letter to the Editor

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Tipping Point

It's too early to say that Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" is the "tipping point" for (relative) freedom in the Middle East—but it seems to be the tipping point among mainstream commentators at home, with the New York Times extending praise and credit to President Bush and his "forward strategy of freedom."

Top News Stories
• A Palestinian Civil War?
• Bin Laden's Desperation
• Putin's Brownshirts
• Tipping Point for the New York Times?
• What Is Wrong with the World: Collectivist Conservatism
• Commentary: The European Con on Iran

Departments
• Human Achievements: Dr. Ignatz Semmelweis
• Things of Beauty: Sled Dogs