Thursday, May 30, 2002

No Matter How Hard I Reform, I Just Can't Get Clean…

Have the Democrats screwed themselves over for 2004 by backing McCain-Feingold? The New Republic's Franklin Foer seems concerned. Since Republicans have long had the lead in hard money contributions, Democrats may have to scramble for alternative sources (and destinations) of cash when the new campaign finance law takes effect. Though Foer makes the Republicans' advantage sound more daunting than it probably will be in the '04 cycle, the dodges and strategies for getting around McCain-Feingold that he details are perfect examples of what campaign finance reform opponents told us all would happen: the same money will flow to new groups with new names and organized under different sections of the tax code. "Reform" will not rid politics from the influence of money - big, small, hard, soft, or otherwise:

"There are two main tasks previously accomplished with soft money that McCain-Feingold will require the DNC to hand off, in large part, to new entities: get-out-the-vote efforts--involving everything from direct mail to yard signs--and 'issue ad' campaigns in support of candidates. To deal with the former, the party is likely to revamp a group called the Association of State Democratic Chairs (ASDC). Currently, the ASDC is a little-utilized appendage of the DNC. 'Four to six of the state parties are nothing more than post office boxes,' one operative told me. 'Its only claim to fame is that it's the place the Watergate burglars broke into.' But the DNC hopes that with roughly $10 million in seed money from the AFL-CIO, this group can be transformed. Soon after November 6, party operatives speculate, it will hire refugees from the DNC and become something like a shadow party, opening its own state offices and running most of the party's get-out-the-vote operation. Labor could give the ASDC vast sums because the association would sever its affiliation with the party and reorganize itself under '527' tax status--a loophole in McCain-Feingold that allows political advocacy groups to accept and spend unlimited amounts, provided that they don't 'coordinate' with campaigns and that the money goes into neither party nor candidate coffers."

Breathe easier, good government reformers. Now that those checks are made out to the Association of State Democratic Chairs rather than the Democratic National Committee, we can stop worrying about corruption. In fact, not only is it reform, it's an economic stimulus package. Since the campaign activities that used to be coordinated by one entity now must be legally performed by three or four different groups, the job market for political hacks, fundraisers, and media flaks has never looked better. We DC kids are more recession-proof than ever.

Respond
Rising in Lower Manhattan

Ron Bailey's "Rebuild it Big" today on Reason Online looks down the high road, and considers some of the grander proposals for the World Trade Center site, including an impressive one from the architecture firm Franck Lohsen McCrery called Liberty Square.

Respond
World Trade Center: Act II

With the final beam removed and the cleanup completed, the debate over what to do with the World Trade Center site is set to begin. Doubtless there will be an array of misty-eyed survivors, using their loss as a bludgeon to force a permanent graveyard of a memorial. In the last several months, you have seen their occasional glare on TV news programs - "How dare you disagree with me? I lost my husband!" There will also be developers and politicians hiding behind arguments of necessity that we must rebuild in a certain way and to certain specifications. The answer, to me, seems clear - rebuild and get on with business as soon as possible, in whatever way can be quickly financed. Set aside an area for a memorial, certainly, but allow the engine of commerce to regain its rightful place. We will be told that just putting up more office towers where people will be seeking profit at a hundred different companies will profane the memory of those who died. That despite the fact that gainful employment and profit are what everyone at the World Trade Center was pursuing when they died.

But before things get unpleasant between the Memorial Park and WTC2 camps, let's take a moment to remember the day and review the progress the site has made since September 11.

Final figures:

2,823 people killed
19,500 body parts collected
1,092 victims identified
1,616 death certificates issued without a body at the request of victims' families
105 people still missing

Respond
Counter-Revolutionaries for Capitalism

Tuesday's mock trial of ExxonMobil by environmental activists for "crimes against humanity" has produced an amusing denouement. After finding the oil giant guilty of numerous atrocities around the world, the gathering of anti-globalists, anarchists, and socialists set to work disrupting the annual ExxonMobil shareholders' meeting in Dallas. They were greeted with an impressive opposing force, however - and it wasn't hired corporate security. Members of the Texas chapter of non-profit organization Citizens for a Sound Economy showed up with their own signs and chants, along the lines of "Yankee Rent a Mob Go Home," "Capitalism Rocks" and "Greenpeace Hates America." They managed to scare off the seasoned street-theater veterans of the Left, who vacated the area with a determined chant of "Gone for now, but never forever." I can hardly wait until the two forces meet again.

Respond

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

How Evil Can One Company Be?

Pretty evil, according to a collection of activists gathered at the University of Texas at Dallas this week. In an unsurprising verdict, they've found ExxonMobil guilty, in mock-trail, of "crimes against humanity." The charges seem to consist mostly of not remedying human rights abuses by governments of countries where they do business and disputing the state of the climate change science. Lest any observers miss the gravity of these crimes, mock-prosecutor David Keith Cobb made the relevant analogy: "Just as the Nazi party had to take over the democratically elected government in Germany to achieve its goals, so too did ExxonMobil take over aspects of our democratically elected government to achieve its ends." It's good to see the old "my opponent is a Nazi" strategy isn't dead. It makes baseless argument so much easier to identify.

Respond

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Grounded for Life

Japanese culture has always been a curiosity to the west, but the growing phenomenon of young male shut-ins is truly sad. Apparently, the pressures put on young adult males in Japan is so great that failure (or a lack of success) drives them to stay in rooms and never face their parents sometimes for years.
Musharraf in Wonderland

Reading reports about war preparations in Kashmir, I keep asking myself, how can India and Pakistan be so close to nuclear war? It's true the two nations have been fighting over the disputed territory since they came into existence as nation states, but the seeming willingness to hit each other with atomic warheads has begun to take on a through-the-looking glass quality.

What scenario do the two militaries imagine in the event of a first strike by either nation? Does India seriously think Pakistan's nuclear program is that undeveloped? Do the Pakistanis think the Indians won't have the resolve to retaliate? Surely both sides must have seen U.S. intelligence estimates of 12,000,000 deaths and 7,000,000 injuries in the event of a nuclear exchange. While India has ruled out a nuclear first-strike in response to a conventional attack, Pakistan has not.

Respond

Friday, May 24, 2002

State Senate Chicanery?

The Associated Press is running accusations by Michigan Democrats that the GOP is planting "false candidates" in eight state senate races so that incumbent Democrats will be forced to spend time and money on a primary challenge. This would seem to be a reckless strategy, since it would probably involve several state officials committing perjury and could be easily discovered if true. The Democrats are pursuing their complaint, though, with state party chair Mark Brewer alleging: "This outrageous misconduct is reminiscent of Richard Nixon's dirty tricks during the Watergate scandal. Unfortunately, the spirit of the Richard Nixon is alive and well in the Michigan GOP." Chairman Brewer I think showed admirable restraint by using Nixon's name only twice in two sentences. Assumably his apology will be as contrite as his accusations were severe if he's proved wrong. I can hardly wait to see which side ends up having to explain how "mistakes were made."

Respond

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The red's are coming.

Czech Republic still has a communist party. In fact, they're the third largest of all the parties and incredibly, they seem to be gaining momentum. This is because, as a totally unrealistic system, they can make just about any claim they want. For instance, they plan to completely eliminate unemployment in the country by creating 300,000 new government jobs (doing what I can't imagine). They will double funding for science and technology. They will give tax breaks to businesses who create jobs in the high-tech industry while at the same time lowering indirect consumption taxes. They will subsidize the building of 30,000 new flats. Apparently pensioners, blue collar workers and farm labor types just eat this stuff up. And why shouldn't they? The Government can make any dream a reality with the stroke of a legislative pen.

That's what America's politics are missing. That dream of what big government can do.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Dial J for Jihad

Confused about how to be a good Muslim? Fortunately the Internet, as in so many other cases, is ready to come to your aid. Islam-Qa.com will answer your questions about Character and Morals, Inviting Others to Islam, and Killing Non-Muslins. Ready to be surprised?

"Killing a non-Muslim when he is a mu’aahid (one of those who have a peace treaty with the Muslims) is a sin, one of the major sins.

However…

"But with regard to non-Muslims who are at war with the Muslims and do not have a peace treaty with the Muslims or are not living under Muslim rule, then Muslims are commanded to kill them, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

'Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you' [al-Tawbah 9:123]

"But this should be in the case of jihaad under the leadership of one of the leaders of the Muslims, or his deputy."

So we're safe unless someone's deputy thinks we deserve to die. Thanks be to The Prophet, Praise Be His Name.

Respond
The Population Implosion

Here's another example from Japan of why it's not necessary to worry about overpopulation, as so many activist-types still do. The birth rate is Japan is declining rapidly, and their total population is likely to start shrinking by 2007. Similar trends can be seen in most affluent countries around the world, with total global population predicted to peak as early as 2100. In light of these facts, most opponents of population growth have shifted to predicting a nightmare dystopia along the lines of Soylent Green to talking about the need for "sustainability" and environmental quality. They still seem to start with the premise, however, that people are bad and we need less of them. Better for them that we have fewer humans than we invent better technology to live well with more. I disagree.

Respond

Monday, May 20, 2002

Turning the Other Cheek to Terrorists

The New Republic's "Idiot Watch" takes a look at the tiff between British lefty columnist Robert Fisk and actor John Malkovich. Fisk often writes with self-assured anti-Americanism, which Malkovich took exception to in a recent lecture, saying he'd like to shoot Fisk (and Scottish Labour MP George Galloway). Fisk is extremely upset about this (obviously idle) threat, far more upset than with the severe beating he reportedly received from Afghan refugees while traveling in the area in December. He understands the terrible pressure those anti-Western Afghans were under ("If I was an Afghan I too might have attacked Robert Fisk"), but would like to see Malkovich officially barred from the UK for his inflammatory rhetoric.

Respond
White Collar Criminals

Since September 11, many people have suggested that endemic poverty in parts of the middle east and central Asia are to blame for inspiring terrorism and anti-Americanism particularly. The obvious answer is to increase flows of foreign aid to alleviate the poverty and hence the envy and resentment of America. Alan Krueger of Princeton disagrees, however, having written in a new study that terrorists are overwhelmingly likely to be middle-class and educated. The study is cited by Sebastian Mallaby in today's Washington Post, though Mallaby argues in favor of increased foreign aid for other reasons.

Respond

Thursday, May 16, 2002

This is Your Advertising Budget on Drugs

In a not-at-all astonishing announcement, the polling firm Westat and the University of Pennsylvania reported yesterday that the federal government's anti-drug TV commercials are having no impact on teenage drug use. Children 12-18 are no less likely to use illegal drugs after viewing the commercials than before. As the White House Office of Drug Control Policy has acknowledged, in light of these results the commercials probably serve more to inform otherwise innocent kids about drugs as recreational substances and to normalize the idea of drug use among children with no other exposure to them. As the Wall Street Journal's Collin Levey points out, some of the spots trying hardest to be hip and stylish come off more as ads for drug use. I'm not sure what to be more disappointed about - the fact that millions of dollars have been wasted or that the government will now redouble its effort to propagandize in favor of drug prohibition.

Respond

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Thou Shalt Kill

The Atlantic Monthly has a sober and insightful explanation of the suicide bomber phenomenon in Palestine by David Brooks:

"Suicide bombing is the crack cocaine of warfare. It doesn't just inflict death and terror on its victims; it intoxicates the people who sponsor it. It unleashes the deepest and most addictive human passions—the thirst for vengeance, the desire for religious purity, the longing for earthly glory and eternal salvation. Suicide bombing isn't just a tactic in a larger war; it overwhelms the political goals it is meant to serve. It creates its own logic and transforms the culture of those who employ it. This is what has happened in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Over the past year suicide bombing has dramatically changed the nature of the conflict.

[…]

"For many Israelis and Westerners, the strangest aspect of the phenomenon is the televised interview with a bomber's parents after a massacre. These people have just been told that their child has killed himself and others, and yet they seem happy, proud, and—should the opportunity present itself—ready to send another child off to the afterlife. There are two ways to look at this: One, the parents feel so wronged and humiliated by the Israelis that they would rather sacrifice their children than continue passively to endure. Two, the cult of suicide bombing has infected the broader culture to the point where large parts of society, including the bombers' parents, are addicted to the adrenaline rush of vengeance and murder. Both explanations may be true."

[…]

Activities in support of the bombings are increasingly widespread. Last year the BBC shot a segment about so-called Paradise Camps—summer camps in which children as young as eight are trained in military drills and taught about suicide bombers. Rallies commonly feature children wearing bombers' belts. Fifth- and sixth-graders have studied poems that celebrate the bombers. At Al Najah University, in the West Bank, a student exhibition last September included a re-created scene of the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem after the suicide bombing there last August: "blood" was splattered everywhere, and mock body parts hung from the ceiling as if blown through the air.

Thus suicide bombing has become phenomenally popular. According to polls, 70 to 80 percent of Palestinians now support it—making the act more popular than Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, or any of the other groups that sponsor it, and far more popular than the peace process ever was. In addition to satisfying visceral emotions, suicide bombing gives average Palestinians, not just PLO elites, a chance to play a glorified role in the fight against Israel.

[…]

Respond
Don't Need to Know Much About History

Bob Samuelson makes an interesting point in today's Washington Post - Americans are woefully ignorant of history, but it doesn't really matter. He argues that despite low test scores in history most Americans intuitively understand the principles of American life - even if they don't know when the Bill of Rights was signed or what party Franklin Roosevelt was a member of. Perhaps even more interesting is his point that this lack of historical leaning isn't anything new: "In 1943, a Gallup poll found that about 30 percent had never heard of the Bill of Rights and fewer than 23 percent could identify it as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution; the rest were confused about what it was." Take that Golden Age education reformers. The average has always been an ignorant creature.

Respond

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Ill-Fitting Labels

More on the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn's mis-categorization in the press from Charles Paul Freund:

"Pim Fortuyn, the assassinated Dutch politician who was highly critical of Muslim immigration, is being universally described in the major media as 'right wing,' 'far right wing,' 'extreme right wing,' etc. Most accounts lump him and his political movement, which was expected to do well in the national elections scheduled for next week, with various anti-immigrant movements elsewhere in Europe. The New York Times, for example, wrote on its front page Tuesday that Fortuyn 'carried the same strong anti-immigrant message that has helped propel a resurgent far right to political triumphs in Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and, through Jean-Marie Le Pen, France.'

"This is a pretty lazy way to tell Fortuyn's story, and fails entirely to take into account his own rhetoric. It illustrates how the process of straining political events through the standard journalistic narrative templates - especially the right-vs.-left narrative -- can simplify a story so greatly that it emerges as a different story, perhaps even the wrong story."

Respond
A New Wave of Big-Government Conservatives?

Political philosophy professor Charles Kesler (once one of my professors at CMC) writes in today's NRO about the reports of an ideological demise. According to such op-ed page luminaries as Francis Fukuyama and George Will, the conservative/libertarian coalition that has so long opposed big government is fading as a political force. According to Fukuyama, "The great free-market revolution that began with… Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan… has finally reached its… point of reversal." George Will joins in, observing that "We are seeing the beginnings of big-government conservatism."

Kesler himself writes the obituary for the alliance of traditional values conservatives and libertarians:
"Fukuyama and Will are correct that the conservatives' and especially the Republicans' fight against Big Government was faltering long before September 11. Nonetheless, this doesn't prove that conservatives lack a cogent criticism of the modern state, much less that they don't need one. It proves only that the common libertarian critique, rooted in amoral freedom and the economist's view of human nature, has run its course. Libertarianism of this sort may continue to offer conservatives useful arguments but can no longer set the tone and agenda for our criticism of the modern state."

This is unfortunate, if true. Moreover, if conservative Republicans think they can get along without the social moderates from their libertarian faction they're in for a rude surprise. Opponents on the Left might not like the libertarians' impulse to cut any tax they can get their hands on, but they're really frightened by re-criminalizing abortion. Swing voters will be scared off infinitely faster by John Ashcroft than by any socially moderate small-government politician. When conservatives start disavowing their alliances to limited government and individual liberty their public face will, no matter how they might try to avoid it, come to be dominated by sanctimonious scolds like William Bennett and offensive sermonizers like Pat Robertson. And that is not the image that fosters national political victories.

Respond

Monday, May 13, 2002

Old MacDonald, You May Already Be a Millionaire...

President Bush signed the farm bill especially early this morning. He said the early hour of the signing ceremony was to pay tribute to the nation's early rising farmers, though it could just as likely have been to avoid media attention. The final bill was unfortunately not an improvement on the bloated, counterproductive drafts that made their way through the respective houses of Congress. It ended up being nothing more than welfare for farmers, many of them far from charity cases. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation writes in NRO:

"Worse, two-thirds of all farm subsidies go to large farms and wealthy agri-businesses, most of which earn more than $250,000 a year. Among the landed gentry on the agriculture dole are 14 members of Congress, 15 Fortune 500 companies, and celebrities such as Sam Donaldson and Ted Turner. These mega-corporations and multi-millionaires will rake in as much as 160 times the median annual farm subsidy of $935."

But even assuming all the money did go to small-time producers...

"Advocates of the current farm bill say they're just trying to help struggling family farmers. But they could do that far more cheaply. Congress could guarantee every full-time farmer a minimum income of 185% of the federal poverty line ($32,652 for a family of four) for "only" $4 billion per year — one-fifth the cost of direct subsidies in the new bill."

And even if the price tag doesn't make you gag, there's the problem of overproduction:

"Why have farm subsides grown so much — from $6 billion in 1996 to $30 billion in 2000? Because of how they were designed. Farm subsidies are supposed to compensate farmers for low prices caused by overproduction, but to receive more subsidies, farmers must plant more crops. This leads to more overproduction, which drives prices down further and induces calls for even larger subsidies.

"Then, while paying these farmers to grow more crops, the federal government turns around and pays other farmers not to farm 40 million acres — the equivalent of idling every farm in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin."

Disgraceful. See also Michael Lynch's take at Reason ("...the bill’s true purpose: to harvest money from taxpayers and plant it in places where political flowers will bloom.") and Brendan Miniter's column at OpinionJournal ("...the list of special breaks to agribusiness [already in force] is numbing in length and in complexity.")


Respond
Pointing a Blood-Stained Finger

According to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, foreign powers have been supporting the suicide bombing campaign. This is being reported as a troubling new development. While the reality of it is certainly troubling, it is hardly new. Did anyone think that Iran, Iraq, and/or Saudi Arabia weren't intimately involved in the Palestinian terror campaign? Saddam Hussein has been cutting checks to the families of suicide bombers for months. Saudi TV broadcast a telethon to benefit the Intifada that raised $150 million. Of course other nations were and are involved - what is important is not to let Arafat use that fact to weasel out of own responsibility for his own role.

Respond

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Man is Also an Animal

In a disorienting twist, it seems that the man who murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn might have a had a narrower agenda than anyone suspected. Fortuyn, an anti-immigrant conservative whose popularity alarmed the usual claque of tired socialists around European politics, was gunned down in broad daylight Monday after a radio interview. The man Dutch police now have in custody, Volkert van der Graaf, is described by Agence France Presse as an animal rights activist and a member of a group suspected of murdering another Dutch government official. The suspected reason for the attack? Fortuyn's position against a ban on fur farming in the Netherlands. Not the broad reach of all of his party's many policies; just fur. The most disappointing part is how unsurprising it is. In fact, I've always wondered when animal rights activists would trade up from spray painting mink coats and start shooting people. It's a wonder it took this long.

Respond

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Secret Agent Bobo

The Los Angeles Times editorializes today about the medical privacy of dead zoo animals, a privilege recently asserted by keepers at Washington's National Zoo: "Thank goodness we have real professionals to protect the privacy of dead giraffes who spent their lives on public display, while saving ignorant citizens from potentially confusing medical information." It's there way to scold institutions inclined to hide "behind a curtain of secrecy."

At first I assumed the Zoo's refusal to turn over notes based on the idea of an animal's right to medical privacy was simply a wacky application of standard animal rights ideology. But as one of Declan McCullagh's Politech list subscribers pointed out, there a much more compelling explanation:

"One wonders if the zoo wasn't just having a little bit of fun with the reporter. But since the zoo is as much a research installation as it is a tourist attraction, they might well have refused to turn over the medical records on the grounds that they constitute the private notes of academics engaged in ongoing research. Few self-respecting academicians I know would be willing to turn over their raw notes prior to an opportunity to publish their findings, and many would still be reticent to turn them over in a raw form even after that. The privacy issue might be amusing, but I think it's not the whole story."

Respond

Ohio Shocker

An incumbent defeated! It doesn't happen often, but it happened yesterday in Ohio's 17th congressional district where 28-year old state legislator (and former Traficant staffer) Timothy Ryan took out the eight-tern veteran Rep. Tom Sawyer in the Democratic primary. The demographic trends of the Buckeye State snatched a seat away from the delegation, and Sawyer was forced to run in a new district where many of the residents considered him something of an outsider. So now it's up and comer Tim Ryan who will be running against Jim Traficant and Republican candidate Ann Womer Benjamin. Let the circus begin!

Respond

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Blue State Blues

Normally I find the New York Times' Paul Krugman insufferable, but his column today makes a useful point. He disputes the common idea that the people who live in rural states are superior to urban residents when it comes to honesty, lawfulness, "family values," etc. Among other things, he disputes the American farmer's reputation for self-reliance by pointing out the massive subsidies pumped into rural America through agricultural subsidies:

"Remember how hard New York's elected representatives had to fight to get $20 billion in aid for the stricken city — aid that had already been promised? Well, recently Congress agreed to give farmers $180 billion in subsidies over the next decade. By the way, the population of New York City is about twice as large as America's total farm population.

[…]

"But what's really outrageous is the claim that the heartland is self-reliant. That grotesque farm bill, by itself, should put an end to all such assertions; but it only adds to the immense subsidies the heartland already receives from the rest of the country. As a group, red [majority pro-Bush] states pay considerably less in taxes than the federal government spends within their borders; blue [majority pro-Gore] states pay considerably more. Over all, blue America subsidizes red America to the tune of $90 billion or so each year."

Of course, being Krugman, he has to use his analysis to bash the President by characterizing all Bush states as rural welfare cases and all Gore states as full of productive urbanites, but his point is still valid. The age of the stalwart yeoman, the truly independent American farmer, died at least by the time of the New Deal, if not before. The state of "The Heartland," however you might define it, has no more right to consider itself the Real America as does Krugman's New Jersey or any other state.

Some of this prejudice comes from the idea contained in Thomas Jefferson's famous quotation: "The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body" (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787). And it hardly started with Jefferson. Cities have always been a disturbing influence, regarded as the incubators of strange, new ideas. As Virginia Postrel might say, cities are for Dynamists and rural areas are for Stasists. It's not surprising which of the two produces the more wealth and which limps by on decades-old subsidies.

He Gets Knocked Down, But He Gets Up Again

James Traficant doesn't give up, that much you can rely on. He's still running for re-election, despite being convicted of several felonies and losing his district to some very personal redistricting. His former district, Ohio's 17th, is now presided over by fellow Democrat Rep. Tom Sawyer [insert whitewashing joke here]. Voters in Ohio will today decide if Rep. Sawyer gets to move on to the general election and past his five primary opponents. Given that he's an incumbent and spent almost three times as much money as his nearest challenger, it seems likely. He will then face Traficant, running as an independent, and whatever sacrificial creature the Republicans decide to put up, at this point probably Ann Womer Benjamin, an Ohio state representative. I'm looking forward to an exciting three-way race. Both party candidates will no doubt try to ignore Traficant completely, obliging the Congressman from Youngstown to be even more outlandish than usual. And don't forget he's still got some big backers - the Albanian American Public Affairs Committee gave him $1,000.
Fly Me to the Moon

British pilots Colin Prescot and Andy Elson are attempting to fly higher than ever before - about 132,000 feet, to be approximate. They envision constructing the largest ever helium balloon and soaring up to where the air is thin, and in fact almost nonexistent. It could be an important precursor to greater exploration of Mars, since according to the BBC, "The environment that Andy and Colin will encounter will be similar in terms of atmosphere, temperature and pressure to the surface of Mars."

Thanks to Megan McLaughlin for sending me the story.

A Role Model for TV Success

Not everyone was charmed by the Osbournes' visit to Washington, according to the wet blanket Washington Times. Vice Presidential wife Lynne Cheney was, according to Matt Drudge, fuming over the attention focused on the likes of Ozzy.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Assassination in Holland

In the wake of the Pim Fortuyn assassination, it will be important to remember just who he was. As Rod Dreher reminds us in National Review Online, Fortuyn was no a "hard-right" politician, despite reports to that effect. He was, by American standards, barely a conservative.

According to Dreher:
Pim Fortuyn is dead, and the Netherlands are in shock. I've been on the phone with Dutch friends and colleagues, and they are absolutely stricken by this violent act. It's not that they were Fortuyn supporters (though some were); it's that they cannot believe that famously tolerant and liberal Holland has become a place where a man can be shot dead for voicing his opinion. They warn not to believe the inevitable press accounts that Fortuyn is "hard-right"; he is, but only by Dutch standards ("I don't think he would have been considered on the right at all in America," said one Dutch colleague, who knows American politics). Fortuyn was not remotely a Le Pen figure, and was in fact an Andrew Sullivan-style gay libertarian. And he did much good for the moribund Dutch political system, if only by blasting away the taboo from the discussion of Holland's immigration problem.
A Dutch Rub

It is truly a shame that the European left is so intimidated by any group that expresses political opinions anywhere right of socialist that they feel the need to murder rightist political leaders. Dutch party leader Pim Fortuyn was gunned down after a radio interview today. The coincident timing of the shooting (nine days before the Dutch election) and the French election to defeat Le Pen begs the conclusion that some leftist Dutchman feared the political right coming to his own country so much he committed murder. The self-congratulatory socialist left in Europe, that spends so much time blathering witlessly about the importance of human rights and tolerance, obviously makes an exception for their nascent political opposition from the right.
So Sue Me

The Bush Adminstration made a difficult but wholly correct decision to pull out from the horrible Eurocrat "International Criminal Court" treaty. It came at the expense of outraging Russ Feingold, but now the opportunity for the international community to force American citizens into show trials is over. Obligating American citizens to submit to some ill-defined foreign justice system should scare the wits out of anyone who is even slightly familiar with international relations.
New Frontiers in Journalistic Ethics

Peter Singer and Ingrid Newkirk have reason to celebrate - the National Zoo here in D.C. has set a new precedent in animal rights. When Washington Post reporter D'Vera Cohn asked for veterinary records pertaining to a recently deceased giraffe named Ryma, zoo officials declined. Keepers at the zoo, operated by the Smithsonian Institution, are asserting that their animals have privacy rights similar to those extended to human medical patients. This is a little surprising since zoo animals are considered property, and a privacy relationship between an institution and it's moveable property has generally gone unrecognized by U.S. courts. The Smithsonian zookeepers are standing by their rationale, however. Could the animals' handlers one day begin objecting to captive breeding programs that require artificial insemination on the basis of their rights against unlawful search and seizure?
DC Kneels at LA's Feet

The Osbournes came to Washington, and as could be expected, upstaged everyone in sight. The annual White House Correspondents' Dinner is always an occasion for entertainment celebrities to mix with journalists and powerful politicians (though the difference between the first two categories is ever waning), and this year the man of the hour just happens to be a Birmingham lad who made it big.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Still Reaching for the Stars

The President's approval ratings are staying unusually high, disappointing Democrats who have been expecting his popularity to decline significantly from its post-September 11 high of over 90%. According to USA Today, only Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy have sustained approval ratings higher than 70% for longer than Bush.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Congress Sows Its Subsidized Oats

The farm bill passed recently by the House and Senate is bad, bad, bad. Unfortunately, since it's not a very compelling news topic it's gotten very little coverage. Those news outlets that have taken notice, however, have managed to see it for the stinking pile that it is. The Washington Post called it "shockingly awful" and the New York Times opined that it "is a regrettable reversion to some of the worst policies of the past."

It's full of lavish and counterproductive subsidies for one. From the Times:
"The basic flaw of the bill is that the lion's share of its money goes to subsidize farm output, a policy that stimulates supply, drives down prices and hurts the farmers it is meant to help. According to the Congressional Budget Office's 10-year estimates, the bill gives producers $50 billion, a sum that supplements the $80 billion or so 'baseline' that farmers will get anyway. To put this in perspective, the bill envisages total farm handouts worth around a third more per year than the current foreign aid budget."
Disciplining the Dole

Britain is considering an interesting move in welfare reform - tying benefits to what Prime Minister Tony Blair called "social behaviour." If tenants in government housing make their neighbors' lives hell or mothers receiving benefits don't keep their kids in school, they could lose their welfare privileges.

From the London Telegraph:
"Speaking in the Commons on the eve of the local elections in England, the Prime Minister confirmed that he wanted to introduce a new principle of 'conditionality' into the payments of a range of benefits.

"He said that most people would support the idea that 'if people get benefits from the state, they owe some responsibility in return'.

"Mr Blair made clear that he had no intention of backing down over the proposal to withhold child benefit payments from parents who refused to take action to stop their children playing truant."
The Secrets of Kuwait's Abusive Step-Father

Mark Bowden has an excellent profile of Saddam Hussein in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. He recounts some stories that have been told many times before - such as the day when Hussein seized power in Iraq and had dozens of senior government officials dragged out of the auditorium where he was speaking. He also fills in a lot of the strange details of the dictator's paranoid private life. Most interestingly, though, he tracks Hussein's public persona from earnest young reformer and social democrat to brutal tribal autocrat. Bowden suggests that what many observers viewed as a shocking change was in fact a carefully calculated pose maintained by Hussein, followed by a dropping of the pretense once he had consolidated his power. Who knew that Hussein once received an award from UNESCO for his aggressive funding of rural literacy training?


Bowden also had an interesting prediction for interviewer Scott Cannon in yesterday's Kansas City Star:

Cannon: Having written a recent article for Atlantic Monthly on the daily life of Saddam Hussein, do you think the U.S. military could easily depose him?

Bowden: It could happen in a matter of days. The United States military force is so overpowering that Iraq wouldn't be able to put up any serious resistance. The sophistication of American weapons and tactics would cut through any Iraqi resistance with hardly a problem. There is no question about who'd come out on top. You'd encounter fighting, I suppose, but nothing that would be a serious threat. We're talking about something that's over almost before it starts.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

This is Your Brain.
This is Your Brain on Government Propaganda.


The Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy - the nation's "Drug Czar" - writes in the Washington Post today about the terribly harmful effects of marijuana. According to him, "Research has now established that marijuana is in fact addictive." It has? I must have missed that announcement. In an effort to get his audience to take the demon weed seriously, he informs us flatly that "Marijuana directly affects the brain." That it does, and a good thing too. Drugs that work only through the power of persuasion generally have little recreational value.