Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On the Docket: Pending Blockbuster Cases Will Test the Roberts Court

This Los Angeles Times article discusses a handful of the remaining cases the Supreme Court will decide this June. One of the most important is Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case dealing with the administration's constitutional authority to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in military tribunals. For the Washington Post's analysis of the case, as it pertains to presidential power, click here. The remaining cases are expected to test the (thus-far robust) consensus-building skills of Chief Justice John Roberts:

As the Supreme Court heads into the final month of its term, the new chief justice has shown a knack for finding ways to decide cases on narrow issues that have led to unanimous rulings. But June is rarely the time for harmony and unanimity at the high court. The justices tend to put off the most difficult cases to the end of the term, and this one is no different. The court faces major decisions on terrorism tribunals, wetlands protection, lethal injection, domestic violence prosecutions and campaign finance limits. The final cases could test whether Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. can extend his record through his first term on the court, which he acknowledged could be a challenge in a recent talk to Maryland judges." I do feel at this point a bit like the fellow who jumped off the Empire State Building, passed the 50th floor and said, 'So far, so good,' " he joked. " The hard part's coming up." In all, 37 cases remain to be decided by the end of June. Unlike in years past, however, the justices will not face end-of-term decisions on issues that typically divide the court along ideological lines, such as religion, affirmative action, abortion and gay rights. In one highly anticipated case, the court could deal a rebuke to President Bush and the Defense Department for their plans to put some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on trial for war crimes in special military courts. Defense lawyers and civil libertarians say the military courts have not set fair rules and do not adhere to international standards for war crimes trials.

No High School Diploma Required: Open Access in College Admissions

Yesterday's New York Times ran this article on the number of students attending college without having finished high school. For community colleges, the data show 3 percent of students nationally attending without receiving a diploma. California's student population will have higher numbers: As this article indicates,10 percent of this year's high school seniors have not passed the state's exit exam:

It is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland idea. If you do not finish high school, head straight for college. But many colleges — public and private, two-year and four-year — will accept students who have not graduated from high school or earned equivalency degrees. And in an era of stubbornly elevated high school dropout rates, the chance to enter college through the back door is attracting growing interest among students without high school diplomas. That growth is fueling a debate over whether the students should be in college at all and whether state financial aid should pay their way. In New York, the issue flared in a budget battle this spring. They are students like April Pointer, 23, of New City, N.Y., a part-time telemarketer who majors in psychology at Rockland Community College, whose main campus is in Suffern, N.Y. Ms. Pointer failed science her senior year of high school and did not finish summer school. But to her father's amazement, last year she was accepted at Rockland, part of the State University of New York. "He asked, 'Don't you have to have a high school diploma to go to college?' " she said. "I was like, 'No, not anymore.' " There are nearly 400,000 students like Ms. Pointer nationwide, accounting for 2 percent of all college students, 3 percent at community colleges and 4 percent at commercial, or profit-making, colleges, according to a survey by the United States Education Department in 2003-4.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"A War to Be Proud Of": Victor Hanson on Our Achievements in Iraq

Here's Victor Hanson with a timely reminder on our heroic achievements in Iraq, noting that American troops fight and sacrifice to help secure democracy and freedom:

Before they came to Iraq, there was a fascist dictatorship. Now, after three elections, there is an indigenous democratic government for the first time in the history of the Middle East. True, thousands of Iraqis have died publicly in the resulting sectarian mess; but thousands were dying silently each year under Saddam — with no hope that their sacrifice would ever result in the first steps that we have already long passed.

Our soldiers also removed a great threat to the United States. Again, the crisis brewing over Iran reminds us of what Iraq would have reemerged as. Like Iran, Saddam reaped petroprofits, sponsored terror, and sought weapons of mass destruction. But unlike Iran, he had already attacked four of his neighbors, gassed thousands of his own, and violated every agreement he had ever signed. There would have been no nascent new democracy in Iran that might some day have undermined Saddam, and, again unlike Iran, no internal dissident movement that might have come to power through a revolution or peaceful evolution.

No, Saddam’s police state was wounded, but would have recovered, given high oil prices, Chinese and Russian perfidy, and Western exhaustion with enforcement of U.N. sanctions. Moreover, the American military took the war against radical Islam right to its heart in the ancient caliphate. It has not only killed thousands of jihadists, but dismantled the hierarchy of al Qaeda and its networks, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Critics say that we “took our eye off the ball” by going to Iraq and purportedly leaving bin Laden alone in the Hindu Kush. But more likely, al Qaeda took its eye off the American homeland as the promised theater of operations once American ground troops began dealing with Islamic terrorists in Iraq. As we near five years after September 11, note how less common becomes the expression “not if, but when” concerning the next anticipated terror attack in the U.S.

Some believe that the odyssey of jihadists to Iraq means we created terrorists, but again, it is far more likely, as al Qaeda communiqués attest, that we drew those with such propensities into Iraq. Once there, they have finally shown the world that they hate democracy, but love to kill and behead — and that has brought a great deal of moral clarity to the struggle. After Iraq, the reputation of bin Laden and radical Islam has not been enhanced as alleged, but has plummeted. For all the propaganda on al Jazeera, the chattering classes in the Arab coffeehouses still watch Americans fighting to give Arabs the vote, and radical Islamists in turn beheading men and women to stop it.

If many in the Middle East once thought it was cute that 19 killers could burn a 20-acre hole in Manhattan, I am not sure what they think of Americans now in their backyard not living to die, but willing to die so that other Arabs might live freely.

All of our achievements are hard to see right now. The Iraqis are torn by sectarianism, and are not yet willing to show gratitude to America for saving them from Saddam and pledging its youth and billions to give them something better. We are nearing the third national election of the war, and Iraq has become so politicized that our efforts are now beyond caricature. An archivist is needed to remind the American people of the record of all the loud politicians and the national pundits who once were on record in support of the war.

Europeans have demonized our efforts — but not so much lately, as pacifist Europe sits on its simmering volcano of Islamic fundamentalism and unassimilated Muslim immigrants. Our own Left has tossed out “no blood for oil” — that is, until the sky-rocketing prices, the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal, and a new autonomous Iraqi oil ministry cooled that rhetoric. Halliburton is also now not so commonly alleged as the real casus belli, when few contractors of any sort wish to rush into Iraq to profit.“

Bush lied, thousands died” grows stale when the WMD threat was reiterated by Arabs, the U.N., and the Europeans. The “too few troops” debate is not the sort that characterizes imperialism, especially when no American proconsul argues that we must permanently stay in large numbers in Iraq. The new Iraqi-elected president, not Donald Rumsfeld, is more likely to be seen on television, insisting that Americans remain longer.

Does Eva Longoria Symbolize the Future of American Culture?

The Los Angeles Times ran an intriguing piece in Sunday's Calendar on Eva Longoria, who plays Gabrielle Solis on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Langoria is a Texas-born Mexican American who celebrates her mixed identity, and her experience may represent the changing nature of assimilation in the U.S. amid record rates of Mexican immigration:
What Longoria personifies, on screen and off, is cultural duality, the notion that two different things can share an identity without sacrificing their distinct individual properties. For centuries, this has been an essential component of Latin American identity and thought. It is expressed most succinctly in concepts such as mestizaje and syncretism, the mixing of clashing ethnic and cultural attributes, literally through sex and figuratively through the interchange of traditions, customs and beliefs. To Mexicans and other Latins, this type of cultural blending — of pagan and Christian gods, opposing philosophical systems, bloodlines, musical styles, whatever — is as old as the pyramids at Teotihuacan. But north of the border, historically, the idea of cultural mixing has been tainted by fears of miscegenation, more bluntly known as "interracial sex," one of the hobgoblins of the Anglo-Saxon mind. Our popular culture is filled with images of tragic Spanish American or Mexican American "half-breeds" caught between two worlds, from "Ramona" to Jennifer Jones as the doomed, mixed-race Pearl Chavez in King Vidor's nutty, hysteria-laced western "Duel in the Sun" (1946). As America's newly anointed sex goddess, Longoria — not unlike Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson before her — is undermining an old-fashioned racial ideology whose locus is human sexuality and the human body. So is Longoria's paramour Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs' star point guard, who was born in Belgium to an African American father and a European mother and raised in France. Both are part of the massive remixing of hyphenated-American culture underway.
The demographic aspect to the current illegal immigration debate has taken a backseat at times to issues of border security, guest workers, and legalization. Yet, Samuel Huntington raised the cultural issues surrounding Mexican immigration in his 2004 Foreign Policy article (in PDF). On the prospects for House and Senate compromise on the pending immigration reform bill, click here. Also, today's ran a piece on how illegal immigration is affecting a key GOP primary contest in Utah. Finally, Time Magazine has a look at how right-wing extremist organizations have been mobilized by the illegal immigration debate.

President Bush's Memorial Day Speech at Arlington National Cemetery

President Bush honored the memories of the fallen yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. For the full transcript of the speech click here. Here's part of the conclusion:

Our nation is free because of brave Americans like these, who volunteer to confront our adversaries abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. Our nation mourns the loss of our men and women in uniform; we will honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives -- by defeating the terrorists, by advancing the cause of liberty, and by laying the foundation of peace for a generation of young Americans. (Applause.) Today we pray that those who lie here have found peace with their Creator, and we resolve that their sacrifice will always be remembered by a grateful nation.
ABC News' "Nightline" has a site dedicated to service members who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the video of last night's "Nigthline" broadcast on "Section 60" at Arlington click here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Freedom is Not Just a Word": A Memorial Day Essay at the Washington Post

Today's Washington Post has got a moving essay from Sarah Elizabeth Kreps on Memorial Day, military service, and the preservation of freedom. Here's an excerpt:

One of the early scenes of Michael Shaara's book about the Civil War, "The Killer Angels," presents the commander of the 20th Maine Regiment, Col. Joshua Chamberlain, with 120 mutineers from the 2nd Maine. Chamberlain is informed that the mutineers had accidentally signed up for three years while the rest of their regiment had signed up for two and had since gone home. As the Battle of Gettysburg nears, Chamberlain must advance his regiment and determine how to handle the mutineers. In a great display of leadership, he delivers a rousing speech:

"Some of us volunteered to fight for Union. Some came in mainly because we were bored at home and this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many of us came . . . because it was the right thing to do. All of us have seen men die. Most of us never saw a black man back at home. We think on that, too. But freedom . . . is not just a word. We're an army going out to set other men free."

Afterward, 114 of the 120 mutineers join his regiment and proceed to fight at Gettysburg, the turning point in the Civil War.

On Memorial Day, this passage offers two important reminders. First, at many moments in its history the United States could have taken a dramatically different course without the commitment of the military. Second, we tend to romanticize the causes for which soldiers have fought in the past: for independence in the Revolutionary War, abolition in the Civil War, against aggression in World Wars I and II. But it is instructive that even the soldiers in these wars were at times unclear as to their immediate purpose. They were ultimately driven by the hope that they were part of an army that was helping perpetuate the freedoms they had been given and passing along those freedoms to others. Even amid the political acrimony that sometimes surrounded decisions about war, soldiers rose above the chaff and performed their duty with integrity.

So it is today with the service men and women fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and fronts on the war against terrorism, both at home and abroad. They have volunteered to serve their country, driven less by a tangible antagonism to a particular adversary than by a fundamental sense of the long term and the freedoms they are seeking to preserve.

Kreps' last line provides some perspective for this Memorial Day holiday: "Whether or not one agrees with the politics of the military, it's important to consider the path the United States would have taken without the dedication of its armed forces. We would certainly lack many of the liberties we now take for granted. Fortunately, this question is merely a thought exercise."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

How Will History View the G.W. Bush Presidency?

It's no surprise that Bush's speechwriters harkened to the Truman era for the historical backdrop to the president's commencement address yesterday. Not only was the reference to Truman's early leadership in that long twilight struggle most germaine to today's security challenges, President Truman, like Bush today, was also unpopular during the Korean War, though his historical legacy has been rising in the rankings of America's great presidents. Perhaps for President Bush what matters for his administrtion is not so much what happens with the midterms in November, but what history will have to say on his legacy. U.S. News wrote about this last week:

Even though he doesn't like to admit it, Bush is privately giving considerable thought to his legacy. He tells friends he defines himself as "an idealist about goals and a realist about means." He wants to be remembered, says a senior adviser, as "a champion of freedom abroad and ownership at home"--freedom particularly in Iraq and ownership by everyday Americans of their houses, small businesses, and personal accounts for education, healthcare, and retirement. Bush aims to leave behind a series of institutional changes, aides say, that cannot be easily "unraveled" by his successors or future Congresses, such as massive tax cuts, the new prescription-drug benefit under Medicare, and a commitment to stable democracy in Iraq. Last week, Bush entered the fray over immigration, another big issue, with a well-received address to the nation in which he called for strengthened border security, a large "temporary worker" program, and a system to give millions of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Long after Bush leaves office, as democracy continues its march across the Middle East and elsewhere, I believe that President Bush will be looked back on favorably. Whether he'll crack the top ten, like Truman, is anybody's guess?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

President Bush's Commencement Address at West Point

President Bush delivered the 2006 commencement address today at the United States Military Academy, West Point. For the transcript of the speech, click here. Bush looked back to earlier existential threats to American national security to highlight previous challenges graduates of the Academy have met. The speech draws on Cold War history, and especially the experience of President Truman in combatting Soviet expansionism. Here's an excerpt:

Today, at the start of a new century, we are again engaged in a war unlike any our nation has fought before -- and like Americans in Truman's day, we are laying the foundations for victory. (Applause.) The enemies we face today are different in many ways from the enemy we faced in the Cold War. In the Cold War, we deterred Soviet aggression through a policy of mutually assured destruction. Unlike the Soviet Union, the terrorist enemies we face today hide in caves and shadows -- and emerge to attack free nations from within. The terrorists have no borders to protect, or capital to defend. They cannot be deterred -- but they will be defeated. (Applause.) America will fight the terrorists on every battlefront, and we will not rest until this threat to our country has been removed. (Applause.)

While there are real differences between today's war and the Cold War, there are also many important similarities. Like the Cold War, we are fighting the followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom, crushes all dissent, has territorial ambitions, and pursues totalitarian aims. Like the Cold War, our enemies are dismissive of free peoples, claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and lack the resolve to defend our way of life. Like the Cold War, our enemies believe that the innocent can be murdered to serve a political vision. And like the Cold War, they're seeking weapons of mass murder that would allow them to deliver catastrophic destruction to our country. If our enemies succeed in acquiring such weapons, they will not hesitate to use them, which means they would pose a threat to America as great as the Soviet Union.

Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)
Like previous generations, history has once again called America to great responsibilities, and we're answering history's call with confidence. We're confronting new dangers with new determination, and laying the foundations for victory in the war on terror.

In this new war, we have set a clear doctrine. After the attacks of September the 11th, I told a joint session of Congress: America makes no distinction between the terrorists and the countries that harbor them. If you harbor a terrorist, you are just as guilty as the terrorists and you're an enemy of the United States of America. (Applause.) In the months that followed, I also made clear the principles that will guide us in this new war: America will not wait to be attacked again. We will confront threats before they fully materialize. We will stay on the offense against the terrorists, fighting them abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

In this new war, we have acted boldly to confront new adversaries. When the Taliban regime in Afghanistan tested America's resolve, refusing our just demands to turn over the terrorists who attacked America, we responded with determination. Coalition forces drove the Taliban from power, liberated Afghanistan, and brought freedom to 25 million people. (Applause.) In Iraq, another tyrant chose to test America's resolve. Saddam Hussein was a dictator who had pursued and used weapons of mass destruction, he sponsored terrorists, invaded his neighbors, abused his people, deceived international inspectors, and refused to comply with more than a dozen United Nations resolutions. (Applause.) When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity. So coalition forces went into Iraq and removed his cruel regime. And today, Iraq's former dictator is on trial for his crimes -- and America and the world are better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. (Applause.)

In this new war, we have helped transform old adversaries into democratic allies. Just as an earlier generation of Americans helped change Germany and Japan from conquered adversaries into democratic allies, today a new generation of Americans is helping Iraq and Afghanistan recover from the ruins of tyranny. In Afghanistan, the terror camps have been shut down, women are working, boys and girls are going to school, and Afghans have chosen a president and a new parliament in free elections. In Iraq, the people defied the terrorists and cast their ballots in three free elections last year. And last week, Iraqis made history when they inaugurated the leaders of a new government of their choosing, under a constitution that they drafted and they approved. When the formation of this unity -- with the formation of this unity government, the world has seen the beginning of something new: a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East. (Applause.) Difficult challenges remain in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But America is safer, and the world is more secure, because these two countries are now democracies -- and they are allies in the cause of freedom and peace. (Applause.)

In this new war, we have forged new alliances, and transformed old ones, for the challenges of a new century. After our nation was attacked, we formed the largest coalition in history to fight the war on terror. More than 90 nations are cooperating in a global campaign to dry up terrorist financing, to hunt down terrorist operatives, and bring terrorist leaders to justice. Nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that once turned a blind eye to terror are now helping lead the fight against it. And since September the 11th, 2001, our coalition has captured or killed al Qaeda managers and operatives in over two dozen countries, and disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots, including plots to attack targets inside the United States. Our nation is more secure because we have rallied the world to confront this threat to civilization. (Applause.)
President Bush's also spoke at West Point's 2002 commencement ceremony. That speech forms one of the founding documents of the Bush Doctrine, the administation's foreign policy program advocating preventive action toward potential aggressors against the United States.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What Explains the Drop in This Year's SAT Scores?

David Kahn runs a private tutoring company in New York. He's published a ticklish piece today on the drop-off in this year's SAT scores. The test has been revised a number of times, and the most recent update has made the exam tougher. What's behind the decline? There's less stress on vocabulary (and thus less useful are vocabulary drills) and more stress on analytical reading (the main culprit). There's more challenging mathematics as well. Plus, Kahn hypothesizes, since the cost of taking the exam has gone up, perhaps the number of those giving it a second shot has declined (so no boost in average scores from the repeaters), though he's not convinced by that argument, considering that student spending on university applications has risen at the same time. So what is it? Aha! Maybe kids aren't learning:

The explanation is much more straightforward. The average American receives a pretty mediocre education. The average SAT score drifted down from 1000 in the 1960s to 880 in 1993. Education activists attributed this plummet to cultural factors, a change in the testing pool and other matters. The blame was placed everywhere but on schools. That the quality of education in America declined from the 1960s to the 1990s was hardly noted in debates over the SAT.

And then the test was "recentered." Thanks to the change in the SAT scale and the change in the kinds of questions that were asked on the test, scores went up and people were able to ignore the fact that most students are not well-educated. Indeed, parents compared their children's scores with their own and concluded that their children were brilliant. Now ETS has made it a little harder to get away with not knowing your three R's.

People complain that the SAT is biased and that the bias explains why students don't do well. That's true--it is biased. It's biased against people who aren't well-educated. The test isn't causing people to have bad educations, it's merely reflecting the reality. And if you don't like your reflection, that doesn't mean that you should smash the mirror.

That the new SAT tests more reading comprehension than the old test did is a good thing. Colleges complain that their incoming students don't have sufficient skills to read and analyze the kind of material that their professors will assign them. I hope that the new SAT's emphasis will make students realize that you can't get much of an education if you can't read.

Maybe the decline in SAT scores will force people to notice that their children are not getting good educations. If your children don't read or do math, why would you think that they would do well on the SAT? I would love to get into a time machine and go back to 1960 and give this new SAT to high-school students back then. I suspect that they would do much better than today's students. If we want people to get good scores on the SAT, I have a suggestion. Stop complaining about how unfair the test is and do your homework.

"X-Men: The Last Stand": The Triumph of the Femme Fatale?

I'm taking my 10-year old son to see the new "X-Men' flick tonight. I was never a comic buff as a kid, so the franchise was basically new to me when the first "X-Men" came out a few years back. Apparenty, according to this Los Angeles Time movie review, the most intriguing aspect of the new film is the dynamic theme surrounding the "terrifying trio of angry, undomesticated women who all but run away with the movie":

Rogue is as moody and tortured as ever, still trying to figure out a way to have a relationship with nonthreatening Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) without killing him (her dewy skin has the unfortunate power to leech the life force from anybody it touches), helplessly watching as Bobby gets closer to the fetching young Kitty. Jean has gone flat-out bonkers, a premenstrual demon with an ax to grind. And the mesmerizing, slithery Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), Magneto's shape-shifting sidekick, learns a hard lesson in shifting political allegiances. With this trio, "X3" enters new-ish territory, diving headfirst into the mythos of the femme fatale. Together, they're the Furies for the Hollywood age.
Interesting as this is, and as attractive as the franchise's women are (especially Famke Janssen, whose character is resurrected in "X-3"), my favorite character is Hugh Jackman's "Wolverine." He's gruff, tough, sarcastic -- what a guy!

Review of "American Idol": The Classic Rock Tradition Triumphs

I didn't watch "American Idol" this season, mostly because of the time I spend reading and blogging, but also because my family's viewing habits were different this year, compared to last season. Yet, I got a kick out of this Los Angeles Times analysis of this season's winner, Taylor Hicks. Basically, the classical rock and roll tradition prevailed over "Idol's" alternative social diversity sensibilities. Here's the scoop:

America, order has been restored. A white man with the canonical tastes of the classic-rock generation has won "American Idol." Never mind that he was born in 1976, more than a decade after the British Invasion bands took Elvis' cue and made amped-up rhythm and blues rock's musical template. Taylor Hicks is, in his heart and well-patrolled soul, a baby boomer — a believer in old-fashioned artistic authenticity, who spent years playing oldies at frat parties before charming America with a style untouched by his own generation's hip-hop and alternative rock. For all the judges' yammering about Hicks' originality, he's a throwback, the most traditionalist winner in the contest's history. Yet in the "Idol" world, Hicks does break the mold. That's because the show is virtually the only mainstream public space where women and people of color set the norm. (One major parallel is "Idol's" daytime mirror, "Oprah.") It took five seasons for a white guy to win; compare this to media moments like Halle Berry's tearful 2002 best actress Oscar speech, or young Michelle Wie's current encroachment on the paternalistic world of professional golf....

Call it a new paradigm or a mishmash, but "Idol" is telling us something about pop's future beyond classic rock. Its structure is designed to help people learn how to assess music within that future's rules. The program's greatest pleasure comes in putting oneself in the judge's chair and trying to figure out what makes a pop performance great. Old standards — the ones that made icons of the Beatles, Dylan, even Pearl Jam — don't apply. Simon, Paula and even old-fashioned, instrument-playing rock-soul dude Randy teach us to appreciate polish, charm and, yes, corniness, as much as originality and emotional honesty. These new pop values are also old values, recalling the pre-rock world of Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. That's why "Idol" has a strange out-of-time feeling, and why, though their albums sell in the millions, the winners never seem exactly like stars. It's hard to give up classic rock's romance with the beautiful freak; we want our artists to stand out, to be as daring as their music can make us feel. The Idols are more like America's Pop Models; just as Tyra Banks tells her future cover girls to restrain their quirks and serve the fashion paradigm, so Cowell does with his pliant ingénues. Taylor Hicks stood out because he found a way to play Simon's game without sacrificing himself. Not a great performer beyond his beloved blues and soul oldies, Hicks stayed within that realm through gesture and inflection even when singing contemporary songs. And because his references were so different — so unusually classic — he came off as unique.
I appreciate interesting, penetrating analysis no matter what the topic. Should any "Idol" experts happen along here today at Burkean Reflections, your additional analyses would be greatly respected.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Boeing Aircraft in Southern California: The End of an Era

This Los Angeles Times story on Boeing's last commercial jetliner to be built at its Long Beach plant hits close to home, literally. Boeing's Southern California commmerical manufacturing facility is next door to my college. I've had considerable interest in Boeing's Long Beach plant. It's an awesome facility housing one of the world's best known firms, and I can see the Stars and Stripes waving over the headquarters from one of my classrooms. Not only that, the Long Beach site was the original home of Douglas Aviation, which later merged into McDonnell-Douglas, and then McDonnell-Douglas with Boeing in 1998. I have no relation to my namesake, Donald W. Douglas, the founder of Douglas Aircraft, although people often ask otherwise, and I get a kick out of seeing my name up on the local street signs, directing drivers to "Donald Douglas Drive." I also feel and understand the sadness surrounding the plant's closing. For the photo of the 717's last flyover at Long Beach Airport, click here. Here's some background from the article:

Boeing announced last year that it would close the 717 line because of slow sales of the single-aisle jetliner. It was a plane that Boeing inherited when it acquired McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997, but the 717, originally called the MD-95, never caught on with major airlines. The Long Beach complex was part of Southern California's golden era of aviation as pioneers took advantage of the temperate climate and lots of open space to test their new flying machines. In 1916, the Loughhead brothers formed a firm that became Lockheed Aircraft and two decades later built planes for Amelia Earhart. In the '20s, Donald Douglas set up his firm behind a Los Angeles barber shop. A few years later a small San Diego firm started by Claude Ryan built the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Other Southland aviation pioneers included Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes, who built companies that bore their names and flourished. At its peak during World War II, the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach employed 50,000 people and a new plane was completed every two hours. Its prosperity spawned new communities, such as Lakewood, to house workers. Among the early residents were couples such as Billy and Evelyn Dewees, who attended Tuesday's ceremony wearing their old McDonnell Douglas employee badges. Evelyn started working at the Long Beach plant in 1954 building the C-133 and then the C-124 military cargo planes. Billy was hired three years later. Evelyn's starting pay was $1.24 an hour, plus a bonus of 8 cents an hour for working the swing shift. That beat the going rate of 80 cents an hour for an office job, she recalled." They treated us well," she said, noting how aerospace helped spawn a middle class in the area. "And we got good pensions, better than most." The Deweeses retired in 1989, walking out of the factory holding hands. Aerospace manufacturing in the Southland peaked in the late 1980s before the end of the Cold War triggered a major retrenchment that led to consolidation of the industry as competition from overseas grew.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quick Post on Power Line's Defense of the Neoconservatives' Iraq Policy

Here a quick link to Power Line's analysis of Harold Meyerson's attack on the neoconservative's foreign policy. Check it out:
Even taking into account the intellectual inferiority complex that seems to plague certain leftists in relation to the neo-conservatives, it's difficult to explain the absurd triumphalism of today's column by Harold Meyerson. The burden of Meyerson's piece is that neo-conservatives made their names by showing how the well-intentioned projects of 1960s-era liberals had, through their unintended consequences, made matters worse. But now, in a bit of cosmic irony, the neo-cons by championing the war in Iraq have "come to embody everything they once mocked and despised in '60s liberals."

To sustain this claim, Meyerson would have to show that, in the tradition of the liberals of yore, the neo-cons actually have made things worse in Iraq. Yet Meyerson not only doesn't show this, he fails even to assert it. And it's easy to understand why. As a result of our military action, Iraq is
more free and probably more prosperous than before. And it has a pro-American government that lacks both the capability and the desire to export terrorism.

Commendably unwilling to argue that things in Iraq were better under Saddam Hussein, Meyerson resorts to symbolism. The symbolism that sparked the original neo-conservatives (according to Meyerson) was the flight of the middle class from our cities. Now, says Meyerson, middle-class Iraqis are fleeing Baghdad. He relies mainly on reports that lots of Iraqis have been issued foreign passports.

But symbolism is not an argument. If Meyerson wants to discredit the neo-conservatives on their own terms, he must show that, on balance, things are worse today in Iraq than they were before we went to war. Showing that violence plagues parts of Bagdhad and that lots of people have foreign passports doesn't accomplish this. Indeed, while presenting anecdotal evidence of people leaving their homes, Meyerson ignores
Amir Taheri's point that 1.2 million Iraqis have returned since the overthrow of Saddam.
Power Line goes on to say that: "This is not to deny that that the Bush administration and certain neo-conservatives made some miscalculations in the run-up to the Iraq war and subsequently. Miscalculation usually goes hand-in-hand with warfare. But to claim that neo-conservatism therefore now stands in the shoes of 1960s liberalism says more about Meyerson's desire to settle old intellectual scores than its does about the intellectual landscape or conditions in Iraq."

The Los Angeles Times on the Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting

The Los Angeles Times had a really neat story yesterday on Andre Cataluna, a local boy from neighboring Carson, California, who recently won a national handwriting contest. For a closer look at the photo of his masterful writing click here. As the story indicates, good handwriting is not only a lost art, but penmanship is a gateway to academic performance:
Andre previously was named a national handwriting champion in his grade level and a California contest winner. He and other students like him represent a conundrum in American education: They love writing in script, even as many forces push formal penmanship out of schools and daily life. The emphasis on standardized testing and such basic skills as math and reading has diminished classroom time spent on penmanship. At the same time, the dominance of computers has focused attention on the use of keyboards for e-mailing, text messaging and other forms of communication. But there is also strong evidence that links good handwriting with improved grammar, composition and reading. More practically, many state and national tests, including the SAT, require handwritten essays, and legibility of papers vastly eases the job of reading and scoring. And there are kids like Andre, who believes that handwriting is a reflection of his character and personality:" If you're neat in life, your handwriting is going to be neat," he said after a recent class. "If you're sloppy in life, your handwriting will be too." By all accounts, Andre has always been a bit of a perfectionist and partial to neatness."Since Day 1, he was very meticulous and everything had to be just so," said his grandmother, Marie Bermudez. " He collects watches, and they're lined up just so, ever since he was young." But Andre points to his mother, Maria Cataluna, as the catalyst of his award-winning writing." When I was little," he said, "if the handwriting on my school papers was sloppy, she'd tear it up and make me do it again." When it comes to technique, he says, look to the instrument." To me, the pen matters the most," Andre said. " Especially the weight and whether the ink is thinner or thicker. Thinner ink makes my writing flow better." But the elegant stylist who likes to draw cartoons and one day wants to play professional volleyball admitted being seduced by the dark side: "I like using computers," he said. That is the trend for much of Andre's generation: Schools often teach students to use a keyboard in third grade, the same time they teach cursive writing. Some schools have dropped penmanship as a class or insist on instruction that can be accomplished in 10 or 15 minutes a day.
Andre's cursive is beautiful. The reason I appreciate it so is because of my Dad, who had the best handwriting of anyone's I've ever seen. Dad used the Palmer method, which was taught in school when he was a child. My own handwriting wasn't that great until my late-twenties or so. Dad had once said he was appalled with my cursive, and he wrote out each letter of the alphabet for me, upper and lower case, on a piece of legal paper. I keep that paper tucked inside my copy of "The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States" (1992). My writing continues to improve. Interestingly, one of the main times when I write longhand is when I'm grading papers; this is the one moment in the semester when I'm really able to comment on each student's work. My plain cursive lacks the big looping flourishes some of the kids in this article mention, but occasionally I'll get an e-mail back from a student after the return of grades thanking me for the feedback I've provided. I try to take pride in my penmanship now, for myself, and my Dad, who passed away in December 2004. I would have loved to have mailed Dad a copy of this article, with a little handwritten note, noting how the type of penmanship he championed was alive and well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Peter Wehner on the Antiwar Left's "Revisionist History" of the Case for War

Peter Wehner is the Director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, and his analysis of the antiwar left's revisionist take on the Iraq war appears in today's Wall Street Journal. He lays it out like this:

Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations--the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn't possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so--and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them.
He rebuts these claims piece by piece. On the first issue of President Bush misleading the country to sell the war, Wehner notes that top Democrats had access to similar intelligence data -- and that Senators John Kerry, Edward Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton all made statements confirming Saddam's growing weapons capabilities during the run-up to the war. Wehner goes on, saying: "Beyond that, intelligence agencies from around the globe believed Saddam had WMD. Even foreign governments that opposed his removal from power believed Iraq had WMD: Just a few weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador to the U.S., said, '"I think all of our governments believe that Iraq has produced weapons of mass destruction and that we have to assume that they continue to have weapons of mass destruction."'

Michael Barone on the Benefits of Markets and Democracy

Michael Barone's latest U.S. News commentary lays out some positive indicators on global trends and America's world leadership:

After our victory in the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that we had reached "the end of history," by which he meant the end of any serious argument over what constitutes the best kind of society. That is disputed by the Islamist fascists who have made it clear that they will do whatever they can to inflict harm on our civilization; as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in his recent letter to President Bush, "Liberalism and western-style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today those two concepts have failed." That's obviously nonsense, of course. Free markets and democracy are chalking up one ringing achievement after another--as we can see from the surge in world economic growth and the reduction of armed conflict--while the Islamists can achieve their goals only through oppression and slaughter. Yes, they can inflict severe damage on us by asymmetric warfare, as they did on September 11, and we must continue to take determined action to prevent them from doing so again. Yes, a nuclear Iran is a severe threat. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, in most important respects, our civilization is performing splendidly.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Senator John McCain's Commencement Speech at the New School in New York

U.S. Senator John McCain was heckled during his delivery of the commencement address at the New School University in New York this last weekend. For copies of the speech click here and here. McCain's address is a magnificent statement of America's enduring principles and values. It is also a fair and humble speech, that places America's faults within the context of the opportunities afforded to make such mistakes. My favorite passage is in the first paragraph highlighted below, which suggests that argument and debate about our security and values are both rights and obligations of our citizenship and heritage:
We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Our country doesn't depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to serve it, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.

I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq. Many Americans did not. My patriotism and my conscience required me to support it and to engage in the debate over whether and how to fight it. I stand that ground not to chase vainglorious dreams of empire; not for a noxious sense of racial superiority over a subject people; not for cheap oil--we could have purchased oil from the former dictator at a price far less expensive than the blood and treasure we've paid to secure those resources for the people of that nation; not for the allure of chauvinism, to wreak destruction in the world in order to feel superior to it; not for a foolishly romantic conception of war. I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it.

War is an awful business. The lives of the nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer. Commerce is disrupted, economies damaged. Strategic interests shielded by years of statecraft are endangered as the demands of war and diplomacy conflict. Whether the cause was necessary or not, whether it was just or not, we should all shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. However just or false the cause, however proud and noble the service, it is loss--the loss of friends, the loss of innocent life, the loss of innocence--that the veteran feels most keenly forever more. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes war.
Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2,500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It is your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. I would not respect you if you chose to ignore such an important responsibility. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.
The Wall Street Journal criticized the hecklers in an editorial, warning that to the extent that McCain's antiwar critics represent core elements of the Democratic Party, a Democratic victory in upcoming elections would not bode well for American national security:

The left's larger goal is to turn the Democratic Party solidly against the war on terror, and especially against its Iraq and Iran fronts. Mr. Lamont's performance will be noticed by Democratic Presidential hopefuls, some of whom (Al Gore, John Kerry) are already maneuvering to get to Hillary Rodham Clinton's antiwar left. Well before 2008, this passion will also drive sentiment among Democrats on Capitol Hill. If they recapture either the House or the Senate this fall, a legislative drive to withdraw from Iraq cannot be ruled out. We doubt all of this will help Democrats with the larger electorate, which whatever its doubts about Iraq does not want a precipitous surrender. Americans haven't trusted a liberal Democrat with the White House during wartime since Vietnam, which is when the seeds of the current antiwar rage were planted. The great mistake that leading Democrats and anti-Communist liberals made during Vietnam was not speaking up against a left that was demanding retreat and sneering at our war heroes. Will any Democrat speak up now?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Can the United States Secure its Borders?

Less than 100 miles east of San Diego, just across from American soil, lies the Mexican border town of Jacume, a village way-station that is one of the main entry points into the U.S. for human migration, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Today's Los Angeles Times has an investigative report on Jacume, an eye-opening expose on the nature and challenge of border security during a time when controlling illegal immigration tops the policy agenda in American politics. Check this out:

Jacume is a "black hole," an enclave largely beyond the control of authorities on either side of the border because of its remote location, complicit residents and corrupt Mexican police. Jacume has flourished as a launch pad for smuggling of drugs and people since U.S. authorities stiffened border defenses near San Diego a decade ago. Traffickers simply moved their operations east, into the forbidding valleys and mountain passes surrounding the village. As President Bush prepares to use National Guard troops to help seal the border, Jacume and places like it represent a formidable challenge and illustrate why the U.S., as Bush noted, "has not been in complete control of its borders" — and may never be. Mile-for-mile, more drugs are seized in this area than almost anywhere else along the California line. In the last fiscal year, federal agents captured an average of 400 pounds of marijuana and 660 migrants each month. In the first eight months of this fiscal year, drug seizures are nearly triple last year's total. Jacume residents have become beholden to smugglers whose activities pump cash into the community. Mexican federal agents have been taken hostage here. Police won't enter the town without heavily armed backup, so entrenched are the traffickers and their supporters." They own the place," said Armando Vale Saldate, civilian director of the Tecate Police Department, which oversees Jacume. Little is known publicly about the inner workings of Jacume's smuggling economy. But confidential law enforcement documents, as well as interviews with residents, smugglers and U.S. and Mexican officials, reveal layers of corruption extending from the traffickers to top police officials and the ruthless Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
The article continues with additional, disturbing details of the nature of this drug smuggling activity, a scene most people don't appreciate when they extoll the "peaceful" illegal immigration protests that have swept across America's cities in recent weeks:

Smuggling is an economic mainstay. Residents pocket up to $50 a day — about 10 times the minimum day's wage in Mexico — for each northbound migrant they harbor in their homes or farms. Storing drugs can earn them hundreds of dollars more. Merchants cater to the migrants' needs." It's good business for everybody around here," said Mario Ramirez, who operates Jacume's main restaurant. " People need to eat and need water." Government authority has long been tenuous here. In 1998, residents took two Mexican federal agents hostage for extorting money from smugglers, according to Mexican authorities. The captives were freed after an agreement was reached: The agents would return the money, and the smugglers would not file complaints against them. A few years later, unarmed Mexican immigration agents who chased a suspected smuggler's car into Jacume were greeted by bat-wielding residents. The agents retreated without making an arrest and now rarely enter the town, said immigration officer Felipe Flores. The alleged smuggler said to use the A-frame is Israel Martinez, 37, according to confidential law enforcement records and sources. He came to the attention of U.S. investigators in 1995, when officers stopped two pickup trucks on the U.S. side of the fence across from Jacume and found 450 pounds of marijuana inside, according to San Diego Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Walter. Martinez and another man were arrested. Martinez pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and was sentenced to two years in California state prison. He was later deported. U.S. authorities, working with Mexican agents, have launched a new investigation of Martinez and his suspected smuggling network. Martinez's organization employs guides on foot, drivers and lookouts to shepherd drugs and people across the frontier, according to law enforcement records and sources. Mexican and U.S. sources who have interviewed traffickers in custody, including alleged members of Martinez's group, say his organization is suspected of moving large quantities of marijuana across the border for the Arellano-Felix cartel, a Tijuana-based syndicate that controls drug trafficking across Baja California.
I hope this article gets the widest possible distribution. The story's illustrations of hard-core migratory lawlessness raise ultimate questions of national sovereignty. Can the U.S. ever hope to secure its southern front from this onslaught? Will we have to build a "Jecume Wall" to do it, our own post-Cold War, southwestern version of the Berlin Wall?

Can the Democrats Take Back the House in November?

The year's congressional elections are shaping up to be the most volatile since 1994, when the GOP took control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in forty years. Now the GOP, and especially President Bush, are reeling from war weariness in Iraq, corruption scandals, administrative incompetence, and economic instabilities. As reported by Mark Barabak in the Los Angeles Times, in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, a bellwether race has surfaced between Representative Heather Wilson, an 8-year GOP House veteran and backer of Bush, and Patricia Madrid, the state's Democratic Attorney General, an Iraq opponent who's got the backing of General Wesley Clark, the prominent Iraq critic who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Here's some background:

The debate over Iraq, here in Albuquerque and in other competitive congressional races across the country, shows how much the political dynamic around the war has shifted — and how heavily the issue weighs in the minds of voters. In more than two dozen random interviews across New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, an overwhelming majority said they believed the country was headed in the wrong direction, a finding consistent with repeated national surveys. And virtually all of those who expressed discontent volunteered the same reason: the war in Iraq." It's a disaster," said Democrat Richard Williams, 75, a retired electrical engineering professor at the University of New Mexico, who wore a T-shirt covered with mathematical formulas. "We were lied to to go into it, and I don't know how we're going to extract ourselves." David Houliston, a 45-year-old Republican attorney, agreed. " There's just too much emphasis on the war," he said during a stop at a Borders bookstore in the city's vibrant Uptown area. " We're not able to respond to national disasters such as Katrina on time. We're overextended." Brad Sims, a 49-year-old engineer and Republican who twice voted for Bush, said he initially supported the war as "a liberation of the folks from a ruthless dictator." But "they aren't stepping up to the plate for the things that they need to do," Sims said, pausing on his way into a showing of the new "Mission: Impossible" movie. " And we can't be there forever…. How do you win something like that if it's without end?" Back in 2002, with Bush soaring in the polls, Democrats were eager to take Iraq off the table. So the party's congressional leaders backed an October resolution giving Bush authority to wage war, hoping to change the subject to the economy or other issues they hoped might play better in the midterm election. It didn't work. Republicans made national security the centerpiece of the campaign despite the bipartisan congressional vote, and gained seats in the House and Senate, a midterm rarity for the party in the White House. Now, with Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low and with a majority of Americans opposing the war, Democrats hope to make this November a referendum on Bush, and the war in Iraq an albatross for every Republican on the ballot. The war "is like a fog that just envelops the entire political atmosphere," said Amy Walter, who tracks congressional races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a handicapper's guide to elections nationwide. " It's one of those issues that leaves a lingering bad taste." That said, Walter continued, Democrats have to be careful they don't play into old stereotypes and remind voters why they usually prefer Republicans when it comes to defense and national security matters. The promise and political perils of the war issue are amply illustrated in this high-desert congressional district, a perennial host to hard-fought campaigns and a top target on both parties' November list. Although 45% of its voters are registered Democrat compared with 35% Republican, the GOP has held the seat throughout its 40-year history. No incumbent has ever lost, but Madrid looks to be Wilson's toughest opponent since she first won election in 1998.
The Barabak piece is one in a continuing series on New Mexico's 1st District, and it'll be interesting to see how the race turns out. National Journal has Wilson's seat ranked as the 8th hottest race nationally. A Democratic House takeover still looks like a long-shot, in any case. Political Scientist Larry Sabato projects a 5-to-10 seat pickup for the Dems, a serious erosion for the Republicans, but enough for the party to remain in power. Charlie Cook, at the Cook Political Report, focuses on the structural impediments to a Democratic takeover, particularly the small number of open-seat elections and the lack of high-quality Democratic challengers facing the few vulnerable House GOP incumbents.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What's the Remedy to the Global Reaction Against American Power and Policy?

Here's Victor Hanson on the global hypocrisies surrounding America's projection of power and policy internationally:

How does the United States deal with a corrupt world in which we are blamed even for the good we do, while others are praised when they do wrong or remain indifferent to suffering? We are accused of unilateral and preemptory bullying of the madman Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose reactors that will be used to “wipe out” the “one-bomb” state of Israel were supplied by Swiss, German, and Russian profit-minded businessmen. No one thinks to chastise those who sold Iran the capability of destroying Israel. Here in the United States we worry whether we are tough enough with the Gulf sheikdoms in promoting human rights and democratic reform. Meanwhile China simply offers them cash for oil, no questions asked. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez pose as anti-Western zealots to Western naifs. The one has never held an election; the other tries his best to end the democracy that brought him to power. Meanwhile our fretting elites, back from Europe or South America, write ever more books on why George Bush and the Americans are not liked. Hamas screams that we are mean for our logical suggestion that free American taxpayers will not subsidize such killers and terrorists. Those in the Middle East whine about Islamophobia, but keep silent that there is not allowed a Sunni mosque in Iran or a Christian church in Saudi Arabia. An entire book could be written about the imams and theocrats — in Iran, Egypt, the West Bank, Pakistan, and the Gulf States — who in safety issue fatwas and death pronouncements against Americans in Iraq and any who deal with the “infidel,” and yet send their spoiled children to private schools in Britain and the United States, paid for by their own blackmail money from corrupt governments. You get the overall roundup: the Europeans have simply absorbed as their own the key elements of ossified French foreign policy — utopian rhetoric and anti-Americanism can pretty much give you a global pass to sell anything you wish to anyone at anytime. China is more savvy. It discards every disastrous economic policy Mao ever enacted, but keeps two cornerstones of Maoist dogma: imply force to bully, and keep the veneer of revolutionary egalitarianism to mask cutthroat capitalism and diplomacy, from copyright theft and intellectual piracy to smiling at rogue clients like North Korea and disputing the territorial claims of almost every neighbor in sight. Oil cuts a lot of idealism in the Middle East. The cynicism is summed up simply as “Those who sell lecture, and those who buy listen.” American efforts in Iraq — the largest aid program since the Marshall Plan, where American blood and treasure go to birth democracy — are libeled as “no blood for oil.” Yet a profiteering Saudi Arabia or Kuwait does more to impoverish poor oil-importing African and Asian nations than any regime on earth. But this sick, corrupt world keeps mum.

Hanson notes that we can't stop world anti-Americanism, yet...

...we can adopt a wiser stance that puts the onus of responsibility more on our critics. We have a window of 1 to 3 years in Iran before it deploys nuclear weapons. Let Ahmadinejad talk and write — the loonier and longer, the better, as we smile and ignore him and his monstrous ilk. Let also the Europeans and Arabs come to us to ask our help, as sphinx-like we express “concern” for their security needs. Meanwhile we should continue to try to appeal to Iranian dissidents, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and resolve that at the eleventh hour this nut with his head in a well will not obtain the methods to destroy what we once knew as the West. Ditto with Hamas. Don’t demonize it — just don’t give it any money. Praise democracy, but not what was elected.We should curtail money to Mr. Mubarak as well. No need for any more sermons on democracy — been there, done that. Now we should accept with quiet resignation that if an aggregate $50 billion in give-aways have earned us the most anti-American voices in the Middle East, then a big fat zero for Egypt might be an improvement. After all, there must be something wrong with a country that gave us both Mohammad Atta and Dr. Zawahiri. The international Left loves to champion humanitarian causes that do not involve the immediate security needs of the United States, damning us for inaction even as they are the first to slander us for being military interventionists. We know the script of Haiti, Mogadishu, and the Balkans, where Americans are invited in, and then harped at both for using and not using force. Where successful, the credit goes elsewhere; failure is always ours alone. Still, we should organize multinational efforts to save those in Darfur — but only after privately insisting that every American soldier must be matched by a European, Chinese, and Russian peacekeeper. There are other ways to curb our exposure to irrational hatred that seems so to demoralize the American public. First, we should cease our Olympian indifference to hypocrisy, instead pointing out politely inconsistencies in European, Middle Eastern, and Chinese morality. Why not express more concern about the inexplicable death of Balkan kingpin prisoners at The Hague or European sales of nuclear technology to madmen or institutionalized Chinese theft of intellectual property? We need to reexamine the nature of our overseas American bases, elevating the political to the strategic, which, it turns out, are inseparable after all. To take one small example: When Greeks pour out on their streets to rage at a visiting American secretary of State, we should ask ourselves, do we really need a base in Crete that is so costly in rent and yet ensures Greeks security without responsibility or maturity? Surely once we leave, those brave opportunistic souls in the streets of Athens can talk peace with the newly Islamist Turkish government, solve Cyprus on their own, or fend off terrorists from across the Mediterranean. The point is not to be gratuitously punitive or devolve into isolationism, but to continue to apply to Europe the model that was so successful in the Philippines and now South Korea — ongoing redeployment of Americans to where we can still strike in emergencies, but without empowering hypocritical hosts in time of peace.We must also sound in international fora as friendly and cooperative as possible with the Russians, Chinese, and the lunatic Latin American populists — even as we firm up our contingency plans and strengthen military ties of convenience with concerned states like Australia, Japan, India, and Brazil. The United States must control our borders, for reasons that transcend even terrorism and national security. One way to cool the populist hatred emanating from Latin America is to ensure that it becomes a privilege, not a birthright, to enter the United States. In traveling the Middle East, I notice the greatest private complaint is not Israel or even Iraq, but the inability to enter the United States as freely as in the past. And that, oddly, is not necessarily a bad thing, as those who damn us are slowly learning that their cheap hatred has had real consequences. Then there is, of course, oil. It is the great distorter, one that punishes the hard-working poor states who need fuel to power their reforming economies while rewarding failed regimes for their mischief, by the simple accident that someone else discovered it, developed it, and then must purchase it from under their dictatorial feet. We must drill, conserve, invent, and substitute our way out of this crisis to ensure the integrity of our foreign policy, to stop the subsidy of crazies like Chavez and Ahmadinejad, and to lower the world price of petroleum that taxes those who can least afford it. There is a reason, after all, why the al-Ghamdis are popular icons in Saudi Arabia rather than on the receiving end of a cruise missile. So we need more firm explanation, less loud assertion, more quiet with our enemies, more lectures to neutrals and friends — and always the very subtle message that cheap anti-Americanism will eventually have consequences.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Roger Scruton at on J.S. Mill

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was one of the leading philosophers of political liberalism, and his classic work "On Liberty," contains the foremost statement of freedom of speech in Western thought. For Mill, freedom of speech -- and particularly the free expression of ideas -- was vital to human development, and words or ideas should never be censored or suppressed, as even the most unpopular or flawed belief might contain a nugget of truth or wisdom, and that through the competition of countervailing ideas truth would emerge. Roger Scruton, in today's Wall Street Journal, has an informative piece on some contradictions found in Mill's thought, and especially his statist inclinations revealed in "The Principles of Political Economy." Here's Scruton on Mill's rebellion against Utilitarianism, the cost/benefit philosophy identified with Mill's father, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham:

In response to his own wavering discipleship, therefore, he wrote "On Liberty," perhaps his most influential, though by no means his best, production. At the time, Benthamite ways of thinking were influencing jurisprudence, and arguments based on the "general good" and the "good of society" appealed to the conservative imagination of the Victorian middle classes. It seemed right to control the forms of public worship, to forbid the expression of heretical opinions, or to criminalize adultery, for the sake of a "public morality" which exists for the general good. If individual freedom suffers, then that, according to the utilitarians, is the price we must pay.

According to Mill's argument, that way of thinking has everything upside down. The law does not exist to uphold majority morality against the individual, but to protect the individual against tyranny--including the "tyranny of the majority." Of course, if the exercise of individual freedom threatens harm to others, it is legitimate to curtail it--for in such circumstances one person's gain in freedom is another person's loss of it. But when there is no proof of harm to another, the law must protect the individual's right to act and speak as he chooses.

This principle has a profound significance: It is saying that the purpose of law is not to uphold the will of the majority, or to impose the will of the sovereign, but to protect the will of the individual. It is the legal expression of the "sovereignty of the individual." The problem lies in the concept of harm. How can I prove that one person's action does not harm another? How can I prove, for example, that other people are not harmed by my public criticism of their religious beliefs--beliefs on which they depend for their peace of mind and emotional stability? How can I prove that consensual sex between two adults leaves the rest of us unaffected, when so much of life's meaning seems to rest on the assumption of shared sexual norms? These questions are as significant for us as they were for Mill; the difference is that radical Islam has now replaced Scottish puritanism as the enemy of liberal values.
Scruton goes on to note that the marriage of the ideas in "On Liberty" and the more statist connotations in "Principles" has provided the basis for modern (rather than classical) liberalism, and its interventionist propensities, which often conflict with traditional moral prohibitions. This is interesting food for thought and may cause a weekend divergence here at Burkean Reflections for some refreshment in the Western philosophical classics.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Myth of the Iraqi Quagmire: Amir Taheri in Commentary Magazine on Iraq's Progress

The June issue of Commentary Magazine has a compelling piece by a Amir Taheri, an Iraqi writer and former journalist, on the political and strategic reality on the ground in Iraq. Here's a key passage:

Critics of the democratic project in Iraq also claim that, because it is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state, the country is doomed to despotism, civil war, or disintegration. But the same could be said of virtually all Middle Eastern states, most of which are neither multi-ethnic nor multi-confessional. More important, all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic, linguistic, and sectarian differences, share a sense of national identityuruqa (Iraqi-ness)that has developed over the past eight decades. A unified, federal state may still come to grief in Iraqhistory is not written in advancebut even should a divorce become inevitable at some point, a democratic Iraq would be in a better position to manage it.

What all of this demonstrates is that, contrary to received opinion, Operation Iraqi Freedom was not an attempt to impose democracy by force. Rather, it was an effort to use force to remove impediments to democratization, primarily by deposing a tyrant who had utterly suppressed a well-established aspect of the countrys identity. It may take years before we know for certain whether or not post-liberation Iraq has definitely chosen democracy. But one thing is certain: without the use of force to remove the Baathist regime, the people of Iraq would not have had the opportunity even to contemplate a democratic future.

Assessing the progress of that democratic project is no simple matter. But, by any reasonable standard, Iraqis have made extraordinary strides. In a series of municipal polls and two general elections in the past three years, up to 70 percent of eligible Iraqis have voted. This new orientation is supported by more than 60 political parties and organizations, the first genuinely free-trade unions in the Arab world, a growing number of professional associations acting independently of the state, and more than 400 nongovernmental organizations representing diverse segments of civil society. A new constitution, written by Iraqis representing the full spectrum of political, ethnic, and religious sensibilities was overwhelmingly approved by the electorate in a referendum last October.

Iraqs new democratic reality is also reflected in the vocabulary of politics used at every level of society. Many new words -- accountability, transparency, pluralism, dissent --have entered political discourse in Iraq for the first time. More remarkably, perhaps, all parties and personalities currently engaged in the democratic process have committed themselves to the principle that power should be sought, won, and lost only through free and fair elections.

These democratic achievements are especially impressive when set side by side with the declared aims of the enemies of the new Iraq, who have put up a determined fight against it. Since the countrys liberation, the jihadists and residual Baathists have killed an estimated 23,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, in scores of random attacks and suicide operations. Indirectly, they have caused the death of thousands more, by sabotaging water and electricity services and by provoking sectarian revenge attacks.

But they have failed to translate their talent for mayhem and murder into political success. Their campaign has not succeeded in appreciably slowing down, let alone stopping, the countrys democratization. Indeed, at each step along the way, the jihadists and Baathists have seen their self-declared objectives thwarted.
It's nice to see a knowledgable and independent source of appraisal and analysis of the consolidation of the Iraqi democracy. Thanks go to the guys at Power Line Blog for the reference.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

FrontPageMag on Radical Islam's Illegal Immigrant Recruitment Campaign

Today's top article at exposes some disturbing political developments in Virginia, where an Islamic radical group has launched a drive to recruit illegal aliens into the organization's terror-support network:

This month's defeat of local politicians who built the equivalent of a day-care center for illegal Hispanic immigrants in a leafy Washington, D.C., suburb was a victory not just for immigration reformers but also anti-terror watchdogs. Angry voters in Herndon, Va., swept out their bleeding-heart mayor and two of his allies on the town council and replaced them with candidates who are not expected to renew the lease of a controversial hiring site set up to help illegal aliens find work. Lost in all the controvery, however, is the more disturbing fact that the site -- a covered building featuring picnic tables and bathrooms -- was founded by a Muslim charity with ties to suspected Saudi-backed terror front groups. Its town operating permit won't expire until the fall of 2007, allowing the group not only time to aid and abet hundreds more illegal immigrants, but possibly recruit them. The hiring center -- called the Herndon Official Workers Center -- is a charitable front for da'awa, or Islamic outreach to non-Muslims. Local law enforcement officials say the Saudis see new Hispanic arrivals to America as particularly ripe for conversion to Islam, and have even added an annex to their madrassa in another Washington suburb to help indoctrinate the beholden immigrants. Years ago the Saudis and their Wahhabi lobby set up a terror-support network in Northern Virginia, right across the Potomac from the White House. Not coincidentally, Northern Virginia now boasts the fastest-growing Muslim population in the nation. Immigrants from the Middle East are flocking there, along with immigrants from Mexico and Central America attracted by a local construction boom. Authorities fear the demographic convergence is facilitating the religious conversion of possible future Jose Padillas.
The news in this article coincides with the developments surrounding the May 1 national illegal immigrant boycott, in which organizational activities were infiltrated by International ANSWER, the hardline communist front group. For my earlier post on the radical takeover of the open-borders movement, which includes a Lou Dobbs commentary piece on the topic, click here. Also, my letter to the editor in my college's campus newspaper is now available online. For my previous post with the original letter rebutting the pro-reconquista viewpoint click here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gas Crisis? What Gas Crisis? Newsweek Magazine on America's Counterintuitive Fuel Consumption Patterns

Newsweek's got an intriguing article on the American consumer's incredible demand for gasoline, complete with some counterintuitive statistics. It turns out that while sales for some hybrids are falling, some big SUV models are flying off the lots:

Grousing about gas prices has become our new national pastime. As it turns out, we're griping while we guzzle. Since Katrina gave us our first $3 pump prices last fall, gasoline consumption in this country has actually risen, confounding the energy experts who recall how much we throttled back on our gas usage following the '70s oil shocks. Where are we burning all this gas? In big, powerful cruisers. One in four new models today comes equipped with a gas-thirsty V-8 engine—which is unchanged from last summer, before gas prices spiked, according to new data from J.D. Power. And some of the best-selling rides on the road today are GM's trio of beefy new SUVs—the Chevy Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and that blingy 'Slade, which saw its sales surge 127 percent last month. Meanwhile, last year's "it" car, the hybrid, is becoming a harder sell. Sure, dealers are still selling out of the Prius, but sales of the Honda Accord hybrid plunged 69 percent last month and Ford had to resort to a zero percent financing deal to jump-start its Escape hybrid. For all their megawatt buzz, hybrids still account for just 1 percent of U.S. auto sales and are outsold by SUVs 23-1. "Not a lot of people are jumping up to pay $3,000 extra for a hybrid," says Memphis Toyota dealer Kent Ritchey. "For $3,000, you can buy a lot of gas." Detroit once thought $3 gas would be our ultimate pain threshold, forcing us to finally give up the keys to our big rigs. But it turns out our oil addiction is harder to kick than anyone expected. Although pump prices have nearly doubled in the last three years, we're driving more than ever. Today's cars average 12,190 miles on the road annually, up 24 percent from 1980, according to federal statistics. And the models we buy now have more horsepower and heft than those of a generation ago, which explains why gas mileage is headed in reverse. Today's new cars and SUVs average just 21mpg, down from 22.1mpg in 1987. When it comes to paying up at the pump, Americans have proved they can rationalize just about anything. "When prices are lower in June," says energy analyst Tom Kloza, "people will brag, 'I got my gas for only $2.75'." Now Detroit is recalibrating its threshold. The new CW: "Prices have to get to $4 and maybe even higher—and stay there for at least a year—before we'll see a substantial shift in what we drive," says J.D. Power's Tom Libby.
Oh boy, $4.00 a gallon! We've been hearing about how strong this economy is, with strong productivity keeping the expansion alive, and so forth. Perhaps people drive and drive until they literally can't drive any more, financially. Or perhaps, the cost/benefit advantage of driving those hybrids isn't that compelling yet? Who knows? While you got to love the American consumer, I'm looking forward to a drop-off in this profligate petroleum purchasing -- then maybe my family's gas bill will go down!

President Bush's National Address on Immigration Reform

President Bush, as most everyone knows, gave his national address on immigration reform last night. I'll be blogging more about the address later, as part of my ongoing series on illegal immigration. For now, check out the Los Angeles Times's front page story on the speech. Here's an excerpt:

In a rare prime-time address from the Oval Office, Bush sought to build momentum behind a broad overhaul of immigration laws now before Congress. His proposals to tighten border security were aimed at winning support from conservative lawmakers who say the nation's top concern must be to stop illegal border crossings. But Bush said that legislation must also "meet the needs of our economy" for immigrant labor by including a temporary worker program, and that it must include a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country. He said this path should be open to illegal immigrants who had "deep roots" in the U.S. and who were willing to learn English, pay back taxes and pay a penalty for having entered the country illegally. He called these conditions "a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation…. What I have just described is not amnesty. It is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen." The 17-minute address, coming after weeks of nationwide protests by immigrants and their advocates, was the president's clearest statement of his position on immigration. Bush also made a passionate plea for greater recognition of the contributions that immigrants make to American society, even as he acknowledged the burdens that illegal immigration imposes on local communities." Immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities," he said. " These are real problems, yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith and lead responsible lives."
A second Los Angeles Times article on the front page analyzed the impact of the reform proposal on the national guard. Here's part of the introduction:

President Bush on Monday infused his proposal for using the National Guard to combat illegal immigration with all the drama of an Oval Office address, but the military and civilian officials who will carry out the plan have deep misgivings about a real show of military force on the border. As a result, the president's big initiative is heavy on symbolism but will be small in scale — and largely invisible on the ground. Though about 6,000 guardsmen at a time will be assigned to the southern U.S. border in two-week stints, they will be limited to supporting roles behind the scenes.
Finally, correspondent Peter Wallsten's analysis of the effect the speech might have on the GOP's immigration rift is here. Bush is obviously worried about the conservative and restrictionist base of the party:

The main goal of Bush's address was to win back these voters by emphasizing his proposals to beef up border security. Although he echoed his long-held support for a "comprehensive" revamping of immigration laws, Bush admitted that the government "has not been in complete control of its borders." He devoted the bulk of his speech — his first on a domestic policy issue delivered from the Oval Office — to discuss using National Guard troops to help secure the border, erecting "high-tech fences" in certain areas and enacting other tough-sounding solutions. The address was only one example Monday of the White House's recognition that it must court conservatives with just six months to go before voters decide who will control Congress. Just hours before Bush spoke, Karl Rove, his senior political advisor, made a rare public appearance to assure listeners at a conservative think tank that the administration was remaining true to their ideology — despite sharp criticism from the right that Bush has allowed government spending to spiral out of control." They're missing the facts," Rove said of conservative critics during his appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. He argued that by issuing about 39 veto threats, Bush had been able to cut the growth of spending. But that may be a tough case to make, with the federal budget having gone from a surplus when Bush took office to a deficit of $319 billion in the 2005 fiscal year.And the immigration debate — much like the surprise challenge to the president earlier this year over the deal to let a Dubai firm manage operations at some U.S. ports — has some conservatives questioning whether Bush has lost touch with the base that once swooned over him. One of Bush's most impressive political feats in his 2004 reelection campaign was that he managed to maintain his strong support among conservatives and receive about 44% of the Latino vote — a far better showing than usual for a Republican candidate. The dispute over rewriting immigration laws, however, clearly has disrupted that balancing act.
For some analysis of the speech, check out this National Review immigration reform symposium, which includes some remarks from Victor Davis Hanson.