Friday, June 16, 2006

Ann the Impaler

It's common for people on both left and right to repudiate Ann Coulter for her rhetoric and largely ignore what she says. The latest example, of course, is her critique, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, of certain unhappy ladies whose husbands were killed in the 9/11 attacks and who have decided to use their personal loss as a credential authorizing them to criticize the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror. Their predictably hysterical reaction to Ms. Coulter's criticism strikes me as ludicrously immature and logically requiring instant dismissal: if you are going to use a personal tragedy as an opportunity to step on the national stage and give your opinions about political matters, you should expect criticism of both your policy proposals and your qualifications to broadcast them. You should thus be prepared to answer such criticisms or quietly step aside. Instead, these ladies act as if questioning their qualifications were unethical. Pah! Anybody who listens to them is a horse's backside, I say.

Personally, I like both Ms. Coulter's rhetoric and her ideas. Yes, she's often too much of a cheerleader for President Bush and the Republicans, but given the only plausible alternative—the Democrats, who continuously strain to prove themselves crazier than bedbugs—I can understand her willingness to accept some of the Republicans' flaws. They're like bad-tasting medicine, but at least they're not toxic and/or psychedelic like their madcap opponents.

Hence it's interesting to see David Klinghoffer, who is a very religious man and a writer of high moral sensitivity, saying nice things about the ferocious Ms. Coulter. Mr. Klinghoffer wisely goes to the heart of the matter, identifying Ms. Coulter's thesis:

Godless is actually about the calcification of liberalism into a form of religion, half-jokingly identified by Coulter with Druidism. What’s religious about secular liberalism? The theologian Paul Tillich defined “religion” as a person’s “ultimate concern.” Whatever matters most to you, whatever tells you what else should matter and why, that is your religion.

Values are by definition religious, whether you believe they come from a God (like Jews or Christians do) or not (like Buddhists). Having turned from God, secularism automatically turns to another religion, by whatever name you call it.

The Secular Church even merits to be capitalized, since it forms a fairly unified ideology. As Coulter puts it, “Everything liberals believe is in elegant opposition to basic Biblical precepts.

Now, that really nails it. If one wants to predict the modern liberal's position on any issue, one could not do better than to think, what would an orthodox Christian think of this?, and take the opposite position.

That is modern left liberalism exactly.

Klinghoffer quotes some of Coulter's examples, to prove the point to any souls benighted enough to doubt it, and for the full argument one should refer to Coulter's book. It's all there in perfectly gory detail.

Klinghoffer concludes that Coulter's great value is that she pours on modern left-liberals the very same level of contempt that they pour on the right:

She exaggerates, but who cares? What is most valuable about Coulter is the trademarked contempt that she breathes forth. It’s why her books sell better than pretty much any other conservative’s do.

Obviously, dispassionate analysis should be expected most of the time, from most of us. But let’s say a word in favor of rollicking disgust poured out upon liberal pieties. There is the constant danger of inhaling too deeply from the fumes of the respect you insist on giving to those you disagree with. The result can be a subtle assimilating of some of their values.

The rhetoric of the left, with its incessant cries of Nazi and fascist and its passion for sanctions against "insensitive" talk, wants to use whatever means it can to limit the amount that its tenets can even be questioned. As noted, Coulter sees this as an open declaration of war on the body of ideas that made the West and that indeed created the modern liberal political-economic order.

Instead of turning the other cheek, Coulter recognizes that she is in a war, and, as Martin Luther suggested, she has no qualms about being a superior warrior.

I'll take that any day over the bowtied TV phonies who gladly sell their civilization down the river just to gain a spot on the panel of Meet the Press and invitations to dinner parties infested by other smug blowhards. Write on, Ann.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Academic Virtue

I'm in the process of putting my classes together for next semester, and for one of my classes (an Introduction to Contemporary Political Thought), we'll spend a week on conservatives. I was going through some of Harvey Mansfield's essays collected in The Spirit of Liberalism (looking for a good article or chapter that's representative of Straussian political thought) and I came across this gem of a quote:

No one is more ridiculous than an angry professor. He stamps his foot and bites his tongue as he tries to articulate his wrathful words, and when they are said, they may somehow suit either his office or his anger but never both. In love, a professor cuts a more acceptable figure, as the legion of former students, now faculty wives, must testify...


Heh.

Peretz and Summers

Marty Peretz takes out the big lumber in support of Larry Summers. He heaps scorn on Nannerl Keohane (she of oh so recently the Presidency at Duke) and basically accuses his enemies of moral cowardice, intelllectual mediocrity, and worse. I'm thinking he won't get quite as many invitations to those soirees in Martha's Vineyard this year...

Striking Against Illegal Immigration

On a Republican Party website, a Deputy County Attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Rachel Alexander, documents an interesting program by her county sheriff's office to use laws currently on the books to fight illegal immigration. Alexander writes,

The top two criminal law enforcement officials in Arizona have teamed up to arrest and prosecute illegal immigrants crossing the border into Arizona using a new state human smuggling law, and the courts agree. Arizona is the first state in the nation to pass a law against human smuggling.

Toughest prosecutor Andrew ThomasToughest Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Following the legal advice of Maricopa County’s tough on crime prosecutor Andrew Thomas, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio began arresting illegal immigrants under the new law and referring them for prosecution. Since the enforcement began, 272 illegal immigrants have been arrested and charged. Twenty-three illegal immigrants and one coyote have pled guilty, and will serve jail-time before being deported. With a felony on their record, they will have a slim chance at ever entering the U.S. legally or obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Under Arizona’s statutes, the crime of conspiracy automatically applies to felonies unless specifically exempted by statute. After thorough legally researching the issue, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas provided a legal opinion to Sheriff Arpaio confirming that illegal immigrants caught using the services of a coyote to sneak across the border could be arrested along with the coyotes for conspiracy to commit human smuggling.

The County Superior Court has upheld the program, Alexander notes:

Judge Thomas O’Toole of Maricopa County Superior Court issued an opinion on June 9, 2006, dismissing defense arguments that federal law preempted the state law, and noting that the states are only preempted from making law where specifically prohibited in federal law. O’Toole cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision De Canas v. Bica (1976), which held that California law penalizing employers for hiring illegal immigrants was not preempted by the exclusive federal law to regulate immigration. The Supreme Court opinion stated, “[This court] has never held that every state enactment which in any way deals with aliens is a regulation of immigration and thus per se preempted by this constitutional power, whether latent or exercised.”

The federal government has not made any law or regulation preempting the states from passing laws regulating human smuggling. Although preemption is an excuse frequently referred to by politicians, it is a red herring used to avoid debate on the merits of enforcing laws against illegal immigration.

Judge O’Toole was equally dismissive of arguments that conspiracy doesn’t apply to the crime of human smuggling. The defense argued that the legislature didn’t intend to apply conspiracy law to the new statute. O’Toole said this wasn’t true, and that the legislative history and plain language of the statute clearly supported application of the conspiracy law.

Defense attorneys and allied groups intend to appeal the decision. I think the county's policy is a very good one, and I hope that it will contine to pass muster as it moves through the courts.

Inspiring Europe (?)

The St. Gallen Symposium in St. Gallen Switzerland brings together university students, global business leaders and scholars in an effort to limn Europe’s future. This year’s program was entitled “Inspiring Europe.” The title has intentional double entendre: Does Europe need inspiration or is Europe a source of inspiration?

Europe today is rich, somewhat complacent, peaceful and, considering its history, remarkably stable. In an historical sense, Europe is an uncontested success.

Yet the Europe that emerged from World War II as a bulwark against communism and as a model of economic recovery is now in a different stage of development.

European spokesmen at this conference readily admitted that the continental economy is lagging and the unfunded liability for prospective retirees is an enormous potential drag on the economy.

Moreover, affluence has bred complacency. It is widely believed that Europeans deserve six week vacations each year and retirement at 55. My suggestion that these conditions are not sustainable was greeted with derision.

There was much discussion about reinventing the continental economy. A spokesman for Bayer, for example, mentioned his belief in “a core business strategy,” but it was difficult to determine whether this was an idiosyncratic example or a systemic recommendation.

The Japanese president of E-Mobile introduced the constrants of reality by noting “99 percent of the electronic products in Switzerland were produced in China.” When asked if there is an alternative, he merely shrugged his shoulders.

Those who assumed the recent Japanese economic recovery has lessons for Europe were also disappointed. Japanese spokesmen noted that social security and employee benefits are not as generous as those in Europe and, as a consequence, do not serve as anti-competitive factors. Moreover, the Japanese put a greater stock in research and development and the resultant innovation than their European counterparts.

Perhaps the most serious oversight at the conference was a seeming unwillingness to consider the rise of radical Islam in European capitals and its chilling effect on economic competitiveness. When I made reference to the totalistic impulses of the jihadists and the rising secularism among Christians, my comment was greeted with blank stares. There appears to be a common belief that this cultural tension will sort itself out with Muslims ultimately integrating into European societies.

This “what me worry?” attitude is, to some degree, understandable. Looking over the horizon to a time when European prosperity cannot be taken for granted is difficult, if not impossible. Even the demographic nightmare of declining populations all over western Europe did not evoke alarm.

When a spokesman from the International Monetary Fund pointed out that Europeans work fewer hours per annum than North Americans and Asians, this was viewed as an indication of superior European work habits rather than uncompetitive productivity rates.

Considering relative satisfaction with the cradle to grave welfare arrangements and a belief in the natural order of social reconciliation, it is hard to understand what Europeans mean by reinvention. As I see it, European societies need inspiration, a catalyst for social reform. But, after all, they are democracies that depend for change on the will of their people.

Surely there are many Europeans who appreciate the anti-competitive impulse of lassitude. Yet they don’t know how to change. Tightly contested elections throughout the continent make it difficult to conceive of consensus for modification in the welfare system. The overhang of social expenditures makes it extremely hard for industries to reduce the price of products or for capital to be raised for innovation.

Is this scenario a dead-end? Is Europe necessarily on the road to marginality?

While the St. Gallen conference didn’t offer immediate answers, history does possess surprises. The resiliency Europe displayed after the war may reemerge. A generation of college educated students is eager to plot a new course for the future and European broadband developments indicate that there are some bright flourishes in a generally gray background.

What we know about Europe today is surely a guide to the next act in continental history, but it isn’t an inevitable guide. Realism dictates skepticism; hope suggests possibility. An inspired Europe needs some of both as a compass for the path ahead.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work

AP reports that the GAO has found that a huge amount of the federal tax money spent for victims of last year's hurricanes was misspent, or as we normal people say, stolen:

Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he can't recall anyone paying for his services with a FEMA debit card, but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.

The $1,000 payment was just one example cited in an audit that concluded that up to $1.4 billion -- perhaps as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in assistance expended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- was spent for bogus reasons.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also was hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and a sex change operation, the audit found. Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation's disaster relief agency.

Some of the thievery was amazingly frivolous and appalling, according to the audit, the
AP story reported:

* An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

* Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

* Adult erotica products in Houston and "Girls Gone Wild" videos in Santa Monica, Calif.

* Dom Perignon champagne and other alcoholic beverages in San Antonio.

If you are at all surprised at this, I can direct you to some oceanfront land in Alabama you can have for a bargain price.

They ARE Soldiers

In an excellent article in the June 19 issue of the Weekly Standard, Mike Fumento has documented the extraordinary courage, wisdom, decoency, and fortitude of our troops in Iraq. Fumento's article, also available on his website, is particularly valuable in documenting that our current-day soldiers are just as fine as those who fought in World War II, as the latter have been honored by a string of books, movies, television programs, and the like during recent years. Whereas our WWII troops were mostly draftees responding impressively to a situation they did not choose to be in, our current day troops are all volunteers, whose extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice should be h0nored by all, regardless of one's opinion on the merits of the war.

Fumento went to " [t]errorist-infested Ramadi in the wild west of Iraq[,] . . . for U.S. troops the meanest place in the country, 'the graveyard of the Americans' as graffiti around town boast," to live among these soldiers and tell their story. This brings out a tale rather more revealing than most reports from Iraq. As Fumento notes (entirely without rancor),

The Iraq war is covered mostly by reporters who hole up in Baghdad hotels and send out Iraqi stringers to collect what the reporters deem news, as an article in the April 6, 2006, New York Review of Books described in great detail. The reporters convert these accounts into prose and put them on the wire. Except for that all-powerful "Baghdad" dateline, they might just as well be writing from Podunk.

The piece is not a slam against the press, however, but instead an up-close view of the on-ground realities:

[H]ere in this hellhole, I found men who would have made their famous World War II forerunners proud. They are no longer paratroopers but are brave, bold, and elite in every sense of the word. The actions of these men in fighting an enemy less skilled than the Germans yet far more vicious and fanatical tell a story that has remained largely ignored.

Fumento, at some serious risk of his own life and limb, has gone right to the source to report on this story that has indeed been insufficiently reported on. Read it here.

Admissions Revolution?

I'm not unsympathetic to the kinds of worries expressed here about the ways in which colleges and universities conduct their admissions (though my worries are more directed to the ways in which financial considerations play a role). But four things strike me about the article. First, the fact that a few highly selective and already very wealthy liberal arts schools are thinking about changing how they do admissions doesn't seem all that important to me. Because students are more willing to travel across the country and have access to better information about schools, these sorts of colleges, whose incoming classes probably number no more than a thousand (and likely a good bit less), don't have to worry about filling their slots with qualified students. Big state universities don't have that kind of luxury. Second, nowhere does the article mention what I would take to be a big motivator in dropping things like the SAT: finding ways to increase "diversity." That is, these schools are trying to get more black students on campus and they can't do it without watering down entrance requirements or changing them significantly - hence, the drive to get rid of the SAT. Third, I worry significantly about the push to get rid of merit-based scholarships. Maybe because that's how I was able to afford to go to school, I'm a bit sensitive on the point, but if you get rid of or seriously limit merit-based scholarships, what you are doing is pushing middle-class kids out of elite colleges. If your family makes, say, $70,000 a year, you aren't going to get much financial aid (and what you get will be mostly loans). And families that make that kind of money can't afford $30-$40,000 a year schools. Finally, I should say that I think this article is more hope than reality. There is a certain segment of the population that firmly believes that if their child does not attend an elite college or university, they will be severely limited in what they can do with their lives. I've seen parents stress over preschools (even preparing 3-yr old CVs "Participation in Play Circles; Date of Potty Training; Number of Vocabulary Words" - I'm not kidding at all) because which preschool the child gets into determines which elementary school which...determines whether one has a happy and flourishing life. That's not going away.