Archive for the 'Paradigm Shift' Category

Democrats’ most important voting bloc: waiting to be fractured?

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

The Republican establishment has shied away from the issue of illegal immigration, as have the Democrats. Both the D’s and R’s have been on the wrong side of the issue, as these parents’ emotions show. The issue is not race: it is illegality. Indeed, it should not be a partisan issue at all. However, the party that gets with the program on the Illegality Issue will win new voters. The bonus for the GOP is that, were that party to take the lead, it might also win converts in the Democrats’ single most important voting bloc.

From the LAT:

For two hours, members of the audience of blacks, whites and Latinos spoke with a vehemence usually reserved for the dinner table — or late-night talk radio shows. They publicly aired views that are often muttered in L.A. but not spoken out loud. Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who sat on the meeting’s panel, voiced the view of many in the city’s political elite: “We should not pit groups against each other. Why do we have to look at it as blacks lose, Hispanics win? No one wins in this city without a coalition.”

But the audience of about 80, almost evenly divided among the three groups, had already formed a coalition — of anger. People would heckle Parks for the rest of the evening. Terry Anderson, a radio host who has long opposed illegal immigration, was one of several panel members who blamed illegal immigrants for, in their opinion, stealing jobs from blacks and crowding schools and neighborhoods to unbearable limits. “We have been invaded; there’s no other word for it,” Anderson said. The audience clapped and cheered.

Debbie Hernandez, a white member of the audience, said: “Blacks are losing their middle-class status because of illegal aliens. I am willing to go to the streets with my brothers and sisters over this.” Sherrie Johnson, a resident of Torrance, told Parks, “You aren’t taking a stand for the right side of the argument. “I believe the purpose of going through the steps to become a citizen is because it protects the country,” she said…..

Members of the audience repeatedly asked one panel member, Richard Alonzo, a district superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, to reveal the number of students in L.A. schools who are illegal immigrants or to find out. He said the district doesn’t collect that information.

One questioner asked him for budget numbers, insisting they would prove that educating Latinos was more expensive than teaching other students. It’s a premise that Alonzo said was wrong. The numbers matter, Peterson said, because black students attend schools overcrowded by those who have no right to be there. Peterson, who moderated the discussion, is well known in the conservative media, appearing on Fox television talk shows as well as his own syndicated radio program.

“A lot of black boys and girls are dropping out, and it’s because their classes are overwhelmed with illegal Hispanics,” Peterson said. “Black children are mad about that; black parents are mad about that.”

As these citizens make clear, it’s not about race; it’s about Illegality. (HT: Polipundit)

If it’s Al Qaeda’s Tet Offensive, it won’t work this time

Sunday, July 31st, 2005

It appears that the Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq have switched tactics to favor bombings in places like London and, based on some signs, the United States. The bottom line of such a move, if real, is this: you don’t switch tactics if your tactics are working. Jack Kelly has more on al Zarqawi’s and Al Qaeda’s changed tactics:

Car bombings, al-Qaida’s specialty, have fallen from (a record high of) 170 in April to 151 in May to 133 in June, with less than 100 so far in July. (Journalists describe this as a “worsening” trend.) Al-Qaida could be storing up for an offensive when the new Iraqi constitution is unveiled next month. We’ll know soon enough.

The targets have shifted in emphasis from American forces to Iraqi forces to Shiite civilians to, most recently, Sunni Arabs who are cooperating with the government. This does not suggest growing capability or rising support. Nor do the increasing number of gun battles between al-Qaida and its ex-Baathist allies in the insurgency suggest harmony in the resistance. Suicide attacks have been successful in gaining headlines, but have not slowed enlistment in the Iraqi armed forces, or prevented prominent Sunnis from taking part in the writing of the constitution….

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-D.C. -based think tank, has been pessimistic about Iraq. He returned from a recent visit singing a different tune: “If current plans are successfully implemented, the total number of Iraqi military and police units that can honestly be described as trained and equipped should rise from 96,000 in September 2004, and 172,000 today to 230,000 by the end of December and 270,000 by mid-2006,” he said.

Strategic Forecasting, a private American intelligence service, thinks al-Qaida is engaged in the terrorist equivalent of the Tet Offensive: “launching a series of attacks — some significant, others mere psyops — in an effort to turn the tide in a war it has been losing.”

Well, if it is Al Qaeda’s Tet Offensive, it can’t work. First of all, the famous call for retreat from Vietnam was issued by Walter Cronkite on February 27, 1968, and the US didn’t fully engage until seven years later. Too late, Zack.

Second, a remarkable shift has taken place in Western thinking after the London bombings, and it is certainly not the one prayed for by Al Qaeda. A few years ago, connecting terrorism to Islam in any way was completely forbidden in the polite company of the elite media. It was all tortured niceties like the ones still coming from Condi Rice: “They want to kill in the name of a perverted ideology that really is not Islam, but they somehow want to claim that mantle to say that this is about some kind of grievance.” However, now we read over and over and over again in the Mainstream Media about Dar al-Harb, Dar al-Islam and cause and effect. In other words: Al Qaeda’s bet that the West would agree that “this is all about Iraq,” and do a Madrid, isn’t playing out as scripted. There is a lot of inquiry suddenly going on in the West about “root causes,” and that is very bad news for Al Qaeda and its breeding grounds. Great news for the West and bad news for Zack and his Al Qaeda colleagues.

“People are either of Dar Al-Harb or not”

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

We have been struck with a couple of comments over the past month that provided a door into the perspective on the world of some of our enemies and friends in the Islamic world.

The first example is from the enemy side, from Hani Al-Siba’i, head of the London Center for Islamic History, as reported by MEMRI, and previously mentioned here. It is a fascinating discussion of how Muslim radicals see the world, their “pure” version of Islam, and the killing of innocents, and you should read it all. In this passage, he is responding to a comment about some clerical assembly in Saudi Arabia that was engaged in splitting hairs, forbidding some killings of civilians while expressly saying “Jihad in Iraq is allowed against soldiers.” Hani wants nothing to do with half-measures:

The term “civilians” does not exist in Islamic religious law. Dr. Karmi is sitting here, and I am sitting here, and I’m familiar with religious law. There is no such term as “civilians” in the modern Western sense. People are either of Dar Al-Harb or not.

Dar al-Harb, Dar al-Islam. You either live in the house of war or the house of submission to Islam. Ibn Warraq has a brief primer on those nasty things said in the Koran and the Hadith to be permitted to be done to those who reside in the lands ruled by unbelievers. If you begin your thoughts with the understanding that the Koran is literally the word of God as passed from Gabriel to the Prophet, and that the mission of the religion is to conquer and rule the world with a very specific set of laws outlined in the book and sayings of the Prophet and the sharia legal tradition, and that the submission of the world may be accomplished by Jihad or Holy War, then you must come to the conclusion that our enemy is not deranged, but logical. If the means seem barbaric at times, who are you to question the will of God rather than submit to it? If you think that the killing of civilians is wrong, then perhaps that is because you have, consciously or unconsciously, a Judeo-Christian concept of good and evil. That concept is from a worldview totally and utterly different from that of Mr. Hani: your subjective feelings about what is good or bad are irrelevant to submission to the will of God.

The second passage is from The Mesopotamian blog, and it was quoted early this month by Roger Simon. It concerned whether it was theologically correct for the new head of the Iraqi government to than President Bush for the liberation of Iraq. Since Bush is an Infidel, would it not be contrary to the Koran for a believer to abase himself in front of a Kafir?

The occasion for this discourse is the “theological problem” raised by some of the 21st century pious against Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, the Head of the Government, The gist of this problem is this: ‘ It is not permissible for the believer to humiliate himself to the Kafir [the unbeliever in Isalm]; and the thanks that Jaafari has given to President bush is demeaning oneself to the Kafirs, as they believe ‘ ….”

You need to read the whole passage with its theological arguments for and against thanking Bush to understand the depth to which such debates are taken. We’ll give away the punchline here:

“ ….. Thus I was rejoiced and my sad heart filled with happiness when the head of our government pronounced the words of thanks and gratitude towards the noble American people and the magnificent president Bush. I do not reaveal a secret when I say that I was mesmerized in front of the TV screen during the press conference of President Bush and Dr. Jaafari, despite the fact that I knew beforehand the prepared words that Mr. Al Jaafari was to say …… that he has shown to some members of his cabinet before the trip, …….. I was afraid that our man might hesitate to pronounce what has been agreed ….. and that he might improvise something else in the last moment as he has been known to do often …….. Doubt began to creep on me and I feared that he was not going to do it. And I began to ask myself: what if Al Jaafari behaved as a pious islamist, and not as Head of Government, and did not thank those who saved our people and liberated us from the Baathists?

This question of thanking Bush and America is discussed with utter seriousness, and illustrates something very important. Religion has both a role and a reach in Islamic life that it simply does not have in the West, among both our enemies and our friends. The first part of this has to do with what Muslim kids are brought up to believe. Irshad Manji in a piece about the London bombings:

We Muslims, including moderates living here in the West, are routinely raised to believe that the Koran is the final and therefore perfect manifesto of God’s will, untouched and immutable…..I stand with those who insist that certain Koranic passages are being politically exploited. Damn right, they are. The point is, however, that they couldn’t be exploited if they didn’t exist.

Manji discusses what she calles the “superiority complex” of Islam, from the belief in the literal truth of the Koran. We wish to point out here the depth of involvement of the religion in everyday life. If the Judeo-Christian tradition has ten commandments, sharia has a million commandments regulating daily life, marriage and family structure.

For any Muslim who is paying attention, Islam is not the hour-on-Sunday deal that Christianity is for quite a few Christians. The template that we have for religion by living in Dar al-Harb is inappropriate for understanding Dar al-Islam, both that of our friends as well as our enemies.

The infidels will be killed until the infidels develop a spine

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

England is currently living in a warped version of the 1938 movie Angels with Dirty Faces. In the original version, James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, a thug and gangster whose life of crime eventually gets him fried, though he’s a big shot for a while. Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connelly, Sullivan’s friend who tries to turn him from his life of crime before it is too late. Sullivan won’t be turned. At one point he says: ‘Morning, gentlemen. Nice day for a murder.

In England the thugs also kill people, but the plot has been updated and perverted. The crime bosses turn out to be guys dressed up in clerical garb who spout mumbo-jumbo about it being the thugs’ sacred duty to destroy the society they live in. And the plot is further perverted: the cops don’t throw the crime bosses in the hoosegow; instead, otherwise sensible people want to try to be sensitive and understand the feelings of a “lost generation.” They want to explain to the thugs that the thugs own belief that their killing will be rewarded with riches and girls is based on an “outrageous falsehood.” Yeah, fat chance that’ll work when their crime bosses (and spiritual leaders) are telling them just the opposite.

Imagine how great it must be today to be one of these 20 year old punks in England. You get to blow up things and people, and the better classes seek to understand you. Imagine how much greater it is to be one of the crime bosses. Just say “Iraq” or “Afganistan” or “unemployment” or “Palestine” or “right of return” or “discrimination” or “Andalusia” or whatever strikes your fancy, and you’ll get a conference to study your grievance and a government stipend. Sweet!

We have been critical at the silent or cooperative attitude of many Muslims in the face of their neighborhood being taken over by organized crime. But really, what do we have a right to expect when the infidels are so craven themselves?

The deep feeling on the Left of being personally oppressed

Saturday, July 16th, 2005


We believe that many on the Left feel deeply and personally oppressed as they go about their daily lives in America, that they feel there are malign forces behind the scenes which are manipulating events to evil result. To explore this thought, let’s begin with what we are really up against in our war, and the strange fantasy view of the war on the Left. For the latter, we use VDH’s excellent synopsis of the Left’s alternative narrative of the War from NRO.

What we’re up against in reality

Amir Taheri, as quoted here previously:

[T]his enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.

The ideological soil in which alQaeda, and the many groups using its brand name, grow was described by one of its original masterminds, the Pakistani Abul-Ala al-Maudoodi more than 40 years ago. It goes something like this: when God created mankind He made all their bodily needs and movements subject to inescapable biological rules but decided to leave their spiritual, social and political needs and movements largely subject to their will. Soon, however, it became clear that Man cannot run his affairs the way God wants. So God started sending prophets to warn man and try to goad him on to the right path. A total of 128,000 prophets were sent, including Moses and Jesus. They all failed. Finally, God sent Muhammad as the last of His prophets and the bearer of His ultimate message, Islam. With the advent of Islam all previous religions were “abrogated” (mansukh), and their followers regarded as “infidel” (kuffar). The aim of all good Muslims, therefore, is to convert humanity to Islam, which regulates Man’s spiritual, economic, political and social moves to the last detail.

But what if non-Muslims refuse to take the right path? Here answers diverge. Some believe that the answer is dialogue and argument until followers of the “abrogated faiths” recognise their error and agree to be saved by converting to Islam. This is the view of most of the imams preaching in the mosques in the West. But others, including Osama bin Laden, a disciple of al-Maudoodi, believe that the Western-dominated world is too mired in corruption to hear any argument, and must be shocked into conversion through spectacular ghazavat (raids) of the kind we saw in New York and Washington in 2001, in Madrid last year, and now in London.

The Left’s fantasy narrative of the war, by Victor Davis Hanson

Ever since September 11, there has been an alternative narrative about this war embraced by the Left. In this mythology, the attack on September 11 had in some vague way something to do with American culpability. Either we were unfairly tilting toward Israel, or had been unkind to Muslims. Perhaps, as Sen. Patty Murray intoned, we needed to match the good works of bin Laden to capture the hearts and minds of Muslim peoples.

The fable continues that the United States itself was united after the attack even during its preparations to retaliate in Afghanistan. But then George Bush took his eye off the ball. He let bin Laden escape, and worst of all, unilaterally and preemptively, went into secular Iraq — an unnecessary war for oil, hegemony, Israel, or Halliburton, something in Ted Kennedy’s words “cooked up in Texas.” In any case, there was no connection between al Qaeda and Saddam, and thus terrorists only arrived in Iraq after we did.

That tale goes on. The Iraqi fiasco is now a hopeless quagmire. The terrorists are paying us back for it in places like London and Madrid. Still worse, here at home we have lost many of our civil liberties to the Patriot Act and forsaken our values at Guantanamo Bay under the pretext of war. Nancy Pelosi could not understand the continued detentions in Guantanamo since the war in Afghanistan is in her eyes completely finished.

In this fable, we are not safer as a nation. George Bush’s policies have increased the terror threat as we saw recently in the London bombing. We have now been at war longer than World War II. We still have no plan to defeat our enemies, and thus must set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. Islamic terrorism cannot be defeated militarily nor can democracy be “implanted by force.” So it is time to return to seeing the terrorist killing as a criminal justice matter — a tolerable nuisance addressed by writs and indictments, while we give more money to the Middle East and begin paying attention to the “root causes” of terror.

That is the dominant narrative of the Western Left and at times it finds its way into mainstream Democratic-party thinking. Yet every element of it is false.

Part of the explanation is Western Guilt

He then commences a tedious but necessary point-by-point refutation of each element of the Left’s worldview. Hanson says this later in the piece by way of explanation for the strange world these people inhabit, which we might have called on another occasion, the world of the 32% percent:

These articles of faith apparently fill a deep psychological need for millions of Westerners, guilty over their privilege, free to do anything without constraints or repercussions, and convinced that their own culture has made them spectacularly rich and leisured only at the expense of others.

Hanson is undoubtedly correct in his laying some blame on irrational Western guilt for our freedom and luxuries; as we have said, that is one reason for the religion of Global Warming — secular man wants to propitiate his gods, even if he is an atheist. But guilt only goes so far as an explanation of the Left’s obsession with America as bad. Guilt maight cause you to give to charity, to support increased foreign aid, to adopt a child, to make a burnt, or in the case of Global Warming, unburnt offering. Guilt doesn’t want to make you try to burn down the house while you are inside. That is a different phenomenon at work.

Many on the Left feel personally oppressed in America

That phenomenon in our view is the feeling of being oppressed by life itself. It is in part a feeling of powerlessness, being a cog in the machine, dragged along without many real choices in life — and it matters not if you are a janitor or a partner in a big law firm. We are not going to attempt a diagnosis in this piece, but, rather, offer an observation or two.

Note the pervasiveness of the phenomenon of feeling oppressed by a malign power structure. The narrative begins in our public school educations, and gets worse in college. Adults who should know better — Kennedy, Pelosi, Durbin, Dean, etc — fail to act like adults by condemning lives of perpetual narcissistic adolescence. And the popular culture has embraced and fostered the idea that there is a secret power elite in America controlling lives and ruling with unchecked evil power.

Often the malign power structure is hidden, but sometimes it is out in the open. Think of virtually every movie about the US military in the last 30 years: Platoon, Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket — the military and the government behind it are evil. Why do you think Dick Durbin’s comments came so trippingly off the tongue? It’s in the fabric of our culture. And the portrayals of the military are just the most obvious and focused example of this. Much of popular drama is all about finding the sinister secret behind the scenes, and then fighting the power (The Matrix, All the President’s Men, etc).

The seriousness of the problem: 32% of Democrats see the US as a bad country

Things have reached a very low point, after these decades of indoctrination by the madrassas of the Left and the popular culture. The figures tell the tale:

82% of Republicans see the USA as a generally “fair and decent” country; shockingly, only half — 50% exactly — of Democrats think America is generally fair and decent. Need we give the most basic history lesson about our country, its progress over just the last century or so. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:

Here is the signal fact of our progress in the last century. If you were born in 1900, your life expectancy was in the forties, and GNP per capita was about $4000. If you are born today, your life expectancy in about eighty, and statistically, as an average American, you are ten times richer. In reality you are a hundred or a thousand times richer, if you factor in your ability to be in Paris tomorrow for $500, your ability to watch events from fifty years ago as they actually happened, etc. – not to mention that your toddler’s severe pneumonia can be reliably cured in 48 hours or so. Only a little of this has to do with government.

Needless to say, knowledge of such basic facts — let alone the stirring words of our forefathers — are not required for a high school diploma, and are in fact probably disqualifications for tenure at our elite universities.

Where are we heading?

The signs are pretty good on balance, are they not? A major co-incident indicator, control of the elective branches of government — has been trending conservative and pro-American for over a decade. A major leading indicator of popular culture — Hollywood — is currently in decline. Hollywood’s first cousins in the MSM have been in decline for a generation; nothing indicates better the loss of their power than their hysterical coverage of the “Rove is Watergate” non-story.

Much remains to be done of course. Unless the public education system overcomes its structural impediments to change, it will continue to lose market share. Reform is to be much preferred. Hollywood, which thinks it is anti-Bush but is actually anti-American, is a much tougher situation. The country needs its media to support it. There is a huge unfulfilled market demand for a pro-America Hollywood, similar to the market opportunity afforded Fox News by the tunnel vision of the nets.

The lagging indicators are none too good — the courts and the universities. But they are lagging indicators precisely because they employ a system of tenure, so they really measure the status quo of a generation or more ago. They change slowly, but they change.

Democratic leaders project their feelings onto the nation to the good of no one

The most serious situation seems to us to be that of the Democratic Party itself. A party that has a third of its members thinking the country is unfair and indecent has no future, unless the country is itself in the process of committing suicide. Moreover, the party has only itself to blame for this. Are there no adults whatsoever in positions of authority in the Democratic Party? Here’s the nub: going through life feeling oppressed, seeing yourself as a victim, is a choice. It is a narcissistic, adolescent, non-grown-up choice, but it is a choice. It is a ridiculous, irrational choice in the richest, freest country on the planet, with immigrants literally dying to get in — but it is a choice. Senior Democrats — Kennedy, Pelosi, Durbin, Dean, etc — empower this choice through their words endorsing victimhood as a legitimate way of thinking. They are projecting their feelings about the loss of their power in Washington onto the country writ large, and it is doing them, their party, and their country no good. We’re waiting for them to hit bottom.

Seeing the evils of the causes they loved

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Our favorite, Marty Peretz, on the new Radosh book:

To be sure, Radosh grasps that greater forces have been at play in the disintegration of the left in the United States and in the world. There are the basic facts that socialism doesn’t explain intrinsic social and economic behavior and that, as a blueprint for the organization of polity and society, it has literally everywhere been a dismal failure and, in many of these places, unbelievably cruel besides. Alas, one cannot argue with much of this….

Here is what Stalinists (no, a Leninist was no better) lied about: the police state, the show trials, the deliberate famines, the repression of the peasantry, the massive ethnic transfers, the executions, the great terror, the Gulag, the systematic and murderous anti-Semitism, the squelching of free thought, the Trotsky plot against the revolution (no, a Trotskyite was no better, either), the perversion of the judiciary, the Hitler-Stalin pact. According to them there were no “widows of the revolution,” in David Remnick’s affecting phrase. And, if circumstance happened to catch them in flagrante, they would lapse into that hoariest of justifications, “historical necessity.” These are the atrocities which the blacklisted denied or defended or asserted were forced on the Kremlin by the West, the flabbiest of excuses. These men and women lived by a tissue of fabrication, and they passed that tissue–like a genotype–on to their children. Instead of being an apologist for Stalin, Richard Dreyfuss shilled for Arafat.

The “alas” speaks volumes.

Then Jonathon Mirsky, formerly a great admirer of Mao, according to Scott Johnson, who knew him at Dartmouth:

Not long ago I wrote an enthusiastic review of “Mao: The Untold Story,” the new biography by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. The June issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, in which my review appeared, was promptly barred from China…..Mao Zedong died in 1976. Why is it that almost 30 years later, in a China where freedom of speech is said to be on the rise, attacking the Chairman remains taboo?

Chang’s and Halliday’s biography is a nothing-is-sacred act of demolition. Chang says of Mao, “He was as evil as Hitler or Stalin, and did as much damage to mankind as they did.” The authors assert that Mao was responsible for upwards of 70 million peacetime deaths, including at least 37 million in the 1959-1961 famine that arose from Mao’s harebrained economic policies.

On one level, recognizing evil as evil, and shucking off the romantic and sentimental attachments of youth, ought not to be that big a deal. Yet we see that time and again it is. Therefore, we continue to admire those who do it.

Two countries — and it’s not just 9/11

Friday, July 1st, 2005

We referred to a Rasmussen pdf called The GOP Generation in a previous post. That piece focused on the 32% of Democrats who see the United States as a bad country. We return once again to that subject. Daniel Henninger says that the Bush administration is to blame for a poor homefront strategy:

We’ve watched September 11 drift from unity of purpose to unhinged vituperation. The partisanship is easy to dismiss, but I believe the Bush team’s deep disdain of a hostile opposition media has caused it to miss–until now–the need to organize a home front to support the remarkable sacrifice in Iraq. This failure may prove to be the one unforgivable thing.

EJ Dionne says that Democrats have tuned out the President, no matter what he might say:

The most striking poll findings after the president’s speech to the nation on Tuesday concerned who watched Bush in the first place. According to a Gallup Poll for CNN and USA Today, 50 percent of those who chose to listen to Bush were Republican, 27 percent were independents and only 23 percent were Democrats….

In recent weeks, administration loyalists have repeatedly expressed alarm that Americans are forgetting “the lessons of 9/11.” That is not the case. It is the administration that has forgotten those lessons. They had to do with the country’s capacity to come together in the face of a common threat and Bush’s choice for several months afterward to act as a national leader rather than a party leader.

Nonsense: the current disunity in the country has nothing to do with squandering the good will of 9-11. There is simply no way of uniting the country right now, no matter what Bush might say or how he might say it. In what way could the Bush administration reach out to people who say that Republicans are evil, have never worked a day in their life, and call them all white Christians. There are two completely different perceptual frameworks operating. Just take a look at attitudes toward the MSM:

61% of Democrats think that Dan Rather is giving them the straight, unbiased story, and 65% of the GOP thinks he is not. Or how about this: 62% of GOP members think that national security is the number one issue, and an equivalent amount — 62% — of Democrats think it is not.

63% of Democrats — including that 32% who think that the USA is evil or bad — appear to be defeatists, according to the next question on Iraq. They do not believe that America can succeed, and many of them think America deserves defeat. 63% of Democrats think Iraq is doomed to failure, even though the conquered and occupied Germany and Japan were huge beacons of success:

Finally, we’d point out that the Democratic pessimism runs deep and is not subject to rational argument. One half of Democrats thought that the January 2005 Iraq elections would not take place or did not know what would happen — a scant four months before the elections took place:


Acording to the polling data, a significant number of Democrats don’t believe in the ability of America to succeed, or only believe in the America painted by the MSM. A third of them believe America is bad, and a majority of them think the war is not that big a deal, and in any event, America can’t win. The pessimism of these Democrats runs so deep that half of them were incapable of believing what was long-promised (the Iraq election) and was only a few months away; they couldn’t believe in something right under their nose that was a success for America.

EJ says these Democrats have tuned out from President Bush, and our attitude is: thank goodness. We prefer mindless apathy to mindless opposition. The opposition is losing “their” country, and it’s about time.

Let’s hasten their demise: Janice Rogers Brown for the Supreme Court, and Condi Rice for President! As Howard Dean would say, yeeeaaaghhhh!!!

Krauthammer on Neoconservatism in power and practice

Friday, July 1st, 2005

From Commentary. It is a very thoughtful piece, and doesn’t leave out the acid as well:

Leon Trotsky is said to have remarked of the New York intellectual Dwight Macdonald, “Everyone has a right to be stupid, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.” During its seven-and-a-half year Oslo folly, the Clinton administration abused the privilege consistently.

The War Between the States II

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

One of these days we shall write a little piece on today’s Civil War. One side thinks the Republican President is surpassingly evil, a conniver, that he invades Sovereign States, that under the color of the war-flag he violates habeas corpus and abuses prisoners of war, that his cause is the mission of religious fanatics, and that it is he who tears the country asunder into North and South. The other side thinks the President frees slaves, fights to preserve the Union, understands that human rights are God’s gift to man and man’s responsibility to uphold, and, whatever his faults, is as decent and honorable a man who has ever held the Office. But nobody is talking about Abraham Lincoln.

This comparison to Lincoln and the Civil War is no joke. Take a look at this chart from Pat Sanity, and tell us that perceptions of reality today, from Left and Right, are not as violently incompatible as were those of North and South a century and a half ago:

In our view, the divisions today are as serious as almost any in the history of the Republic. In arriving at this opinion, we take it as given that the statements of Dr. Dean and others are meant literally, and are not a figurative gesture, based on the Democrats’ frustration at their decade long loss of power.

The funeral of a dream of the elites

Sunday, June 5th, 2005

Simon Jenkins on The Peasant Revolt in France and the Netherlands:

I remember a French embassy official during Britain’s last referendum on the EU in 1975 (when only the Shetlands voted no). He warned me that “France will be European as long as Europe is French”. When that ceased to apply, “France will dispense with Europe. It will destroy it”. Last week he was proved right. France embodies the nation as saboteur.

The Netherlands result seemed to require a different reading. At an informal seminar in a Concertgebouw cafe on Thursday, I heard a group of Dutch writers gasp at what their countrymen had done. A loyal European state that once viewed the EU as a bulwark of prosperity and security in a hostile world had voted a massive “nee”.

This outcome once seemed inconceivable. Every political party, every newspaper, every trade union, the entire Dutch establishment, had campaigned for yes. Over Amsterdam’s central square, the Dam, towers a royal palace filled with the emblems of world trade. Yet Holland had gone for what was in truth a chauvinist rebellion. Nor were there any fancy excuses. The pundits agreed that the people were voting not just against an unpopular prime minister but against the euro, immigration, the loss of the Dutch veto and Europe in general. This was new.

The Dutch government had tried to scare them into a yes. It used television footage of Auschwitz and Srebrenica to imply that a no vote meant war. It said that electricity would fail and lights would go out. The economics minister, Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, took leave of his democratic senses and declared the referendum stupid because the Dutch people “are being allowed to vote on an issue they know nothing about”. The prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, pleaded with the electorate not to “humiliate me when I go to Brussels”, an invitation no red-blooded democrat could refuse.

Three years ago the Dutch gave their leaders a warning by flirting with the gay anti-establishment politician Pim Fortuyn, since dead. Now they let rip. As the columnist Leon de Winter remarked: “The Dutch people looked at what was on offer and immediately smelt a rat.” The referendum was “Pim Fortuyn part two”.

The Who’s Who of the Netherlands voted, pleaded, cajoled, and entreated unanimously for the EU Constitution. In response, the Dutch people turned out in a record 63%, and voted 62% against the Dutch elite from every walk of life. And they weren’t just the Crazy Dutch who voted no, since they were ratifying the stunning ten point defeat of the Constitution in France a few days earlier. The Constitution died on a Sunday; the funeral was held on Wednesday.

The metaphor is apt. The Euro-politicos are in a state of shock, proposing tinkering with this or that element of the document and its approval process (Economist); the Telegraph has put forward a proposal for a charter for an EU Commonwealth. Slow down. There will be plenty of time for those steps. As for now, it is important to get past denial. Doesn’t the Euro-budget fund grief counselors?

Boy Assad: the real Chimpy McBushitler

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Whose invasion of a Middle East country, killing a revered leader, and pretending to have local support for the liberation and protection of that country, have sparked a spotaneous and overwhelming uprising of the Arab Street? Whose catastrophic miscalculation brought about such a ruinous result? Was it President Chimpy’s invasion of Iraq?

Uh, no. Chimpy is regarded rather differently. Former Timesman Youssef M. Ibrahim, writing in the WaPo, via Taranto:

“His talk about democracy is good,” an Egyptian-born woman was telling companions at the Fatafeet (or “Crumbs”) restaurant the other night, exuberant enough for her voice to carry to neighboring tables. “He keeps hitting this nail. That’s good, by God, isn’t it?” At another table, a Lebanese man was waxing enthusiastic over Bush’s blunt and irreverent manner toward Arab autocrats. “It is good to light a fire under their feet,” he said.

From Casablanca to Kuwait City, the writings of newspaper columnists and the chatter of pundits on Arabic language satellite television suggest a change in climate for advocates of human rights, constitutional reforms, business transparency, women’s rights and limits on power.

Chimpy done good. As for Boy Assad, here’s the thanks he’s gotten (via Captain Ed):

God bless the pro-war lefties

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

They are being rewarded for standing up for freedom against some awful opposition — maybe there is some sort of real marginalization of the anti-war crowd in the making. Via Roger Simon, actually Michael J. Totten, the Australian and Polipundit.

They must be mightily heartened by recent events — the Beirut demonstration yesterday drew 1-2 million people, for example, in a country with a population of 3.8 million. How unbelievable is that?

Real Demonstration trumps puppet demonstration in Beirut

Monday, March 14th, 2005

Al-Jazeera (of all places):

Calls for a protest were made in every town and village in the country on Sunday, urging people to descend on Beirut on Monday to demand the truth about who killed al-Hariri along with 17 others in the bombing on a Beirut seafront street.

Many people answering the calls have been particularly offended by the reinstatement of Karami, who resigned amid opposition protests on 28 February but was brought back to office 10 days later by President Emile Lahud after the pro-Syrian, pro-government camp flexed its muscles. Karami last week said his supporters had the majority in parliament and with the people, a reference to last Tuesday’s “Thank you Syria” rally organised by the Shia Muslim group Hizb Allah in which hundreds of thousands participated. “It was a massive demonstration that asserted our legitimacy in the Lebanese street,” Karami said on 10 March in accepting the invitation to form the next government.

So people were urged by email and mobile phone messages to turn out on Monday to prove Karami wrong, show loyalty to al-Hariri and to Lebanon.

Here’s what it looked like:

Reuters adds: “Unlike previous anti-Syrian opposition protests since a bomb blast killed Hariri on Feb. 14, many Sunni Muslims joined Druze and Christians in taking to the streets. Hariri was a Sunni.” The AP on crowd size: “There was no official count of Monday’s crowd, but it appeared to reporters on the scene to be easily bigger than last week’s pro-government, anti-U.S. rally called by Hezbollah, which was estimated by The Associated Press at 500,000 people.” Publius, who covers democracy movements, has lots more.

If Christianity’s history is a guide, the Islamic Reformation will be a slow, painful affair

Saturday, March 12th, 2005


Reforms in religious doctrines and institutions take a long time and are very painful. Christianity took centuries to accommodate scientific truths, and it has not yet fully accommodated economic truths — and Christianity’s view of the role of reason and conscience is more theologically helpful to a Humanist perspective than, arguably, is Islam’s. Therefore, don’t expect a quick transformation.

Christianity, science and capitalism

Philosophy retreats along the border advanced by science. So does theology, as Copernicus and Galileo have shown. This is not a knock on theology; it is merely to state that religion accommodates to many of the realities of the world, and among these, the least compromising are scientific realities. This didn’t bother religious men like Newton and Einstein, and it shouldn’t bother you.

A more recent reality than the rise of the scientific mind and the Enlightenment is Capitalism’s creation of unprecedented longevity and wealth in the last century. As we have outlined in various posts, if you were born at the beginning of the last century, your life expectancy was in the forties and GNP per capita was $4000; if you were born today, you live twice as long and are numerically ten times richer, and in communications and mobility, thousands of times richer.

Christianity adapted to Copernicus and Galileo, though the Catholic Church first rejected them. Indeed, Galileo’s book on the Copernican system was published in 1632, but was banned by the Church and not removed from Rome’s notorious Index until 1822. The Catholic Church, which still toys with nonsense like Liberation Theology from time to time, still hasn’t quite gotten around to accepting Capitalism as the astounding, er, miracle that it is, but in a few hundred years no doubt Holy Mother Church will do so; we would like to see Communism officially a sin.

Our point it this: religious reform takes centuries, even for relatively straightforward matters. Moreover, it take centuries even if the intellectual groundwork has been carefully laid, as the following example shows.

The Scholastic tradition

The greatest of all Christian refrorms was the eponymous Reformation, for which the date 1517 will serve. That was the year that the severe Augustinian monk Martin Luther got mad as hell, and indicated he wasn’t going to take it any more by nailing his 95 theses of indictment of the Catholic Church to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. That act had been centuries in the making.

We contend that the revival of learning of the ancient Greek philosophers, which reached its theological zenith with Thomas Aquinas and Scholasticism around 1250, was critical to the empowerment of the individual conscience over the Church, as manifest by Luther. One early step on the journey was Aquinas’ claim that there was not necessarily a conflict between the observations of the ancient philosophers and Church teaching:

… it should be noted that different ways of knowing (ratio cognoscibilis) give us different sciences. The astronomer and the natural philosopher both conclude that the earth is round, but the astronomer does this through a mathematical middle that is abstracted from matter, whereas the natural philosopher considers a middle lodged in matter. Thus there is nothing to prevent another science from treating in the light of divine revelation what the philosophical disciplines treat as knowable in the light of human reason. (Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a., ad 2)

The idea that man’s observations and logic can discern God’s rational and mathematical design of the universe, as does revelation, is ultimately very subversive: what happens when the two disagree? Appeals to authority over observation and ratiocination are ultimately bound to fail, which is what happened with Galileo and Luther. We are very well aware that we are doing no justice to the Augustinian tradition, Scholasticism, and the rich, complex changes from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, but we believe this simple model we are sketching has some heuristic value.

So what of Islam?

We have said previously that Islam began its Reformation on January 30, 2005, with the Iraq vote. No less an authority than AQ chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi agrees with us that the exercising of the Humanist impulse in democratic elections is anathema to Islamist fundamentalism:

“We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,” the speaker said. “Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it” – a clear warning to both candidates and those who choose to vote. The speaker warned Iraqis to be careful of “the enemy’s plan to implement so-called democracy in your country.” He said the Americans have engineered the election to install Shiite Muslims in power…..

“Four million Shiites were brought from Iran to take part in the elections to achieve their aim of winning” most of the positions, the speaker in the tape said. He railed against democracy for supplanting the rule of God with the rule of man and the majority, saying it was based on un-Islamic beliefs and behaviors such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression, separation of religion and state and forming political parties.

Arab Islam has started this great or odious Humanist journey without the support structure that Christianity had at its time of Reformation. Reinterpreting submission to the will of God as presented in the Koran in an allegorical or anagogical way is a task of Reformation quite a bit more difficult than the ones faced by Christianity — and the Christian Reformation was itself a long and bloody affair.

We should expect no better of the Islamic Reformation.

Praying that they remove “under God” and the Ten Commandments

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

We have not written a lot about judicial appointments by the Bush Administration or on court decisions. Basically we find ourselves in agreement with the center-right legal folks like Hugh Hewitt and Powerline, and we have a a whole lot less expertise, so, like you, we just read them. And Captain Ed has the hilarious k-k-k-krazy klansman Robert “Sheets” Byrd covered, so there is not much to add there.

However, there are two little points we’d like to add.

First, note this piece in the WSJ by Quin Hillyer from the Mobile Register, which states that Bill Pryor has a lot of broadbased bipartisan support in his home state of Alabama. Contrast that with this hysterical Action Alert from the NAACP or the hysterical threat by Chuck Shumer to block all Bush judicial nominations. Now, we understand of course that Pryor is a particular bete noire because of his clear and outspoken condemnation (York) of Roe v. Wade. But what is interesting to us is this: if you are a moderate Democrat in Alabama, you count for nothing. The national party couldn’t care less about your opinion. So don’t look for a Democratic resurgence in the South any time soon.

Second, we think that hysteria is a perfectly appropriate reaction to developments in the judiciary. The Democrats have been on a ten-year losing streak in electoral politics, and nothing points to that ending soon. The monopoly of the Old Media, with its powerful megaphone, to reinforce Democratic voting preferences, is destroyed: it lies in the ruins of SwiftBoatVets and Rathergate. The losing streaks of the Party and its media wing are about to be extended to the judiciary.

The leading indicator of political change was the Gingrich revolution in 1994, as we have written. The coincident indicator of change was the loss of 3-4 million Democrats to Bush in 2004. The lagging indicator of change is the rear-guard actions taking place in those institutions shielded by tenure from popular opinion, namely the universities and the federal judiciary. Ward Churchill is going down hard, and he will take a lot of other frauds with him. Similarly, we hope for a Democratic filibuster, and for the Supremes to modify the Pledge of Allegiance and take the jackhammers to the Ten Commandments — these would make the coming changes happen a little faster.

Masaccio, the rediscovery of perspective in the Renaissance, and the possibilities of Islamic Reformation

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

One of the great early masterpieces of the Renaissance is the series of frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, executed by Masaccio and Masolino in around 1425.

Today we forget that the use of perspective in art was lost for more than a millenium, possibly rediscovered around the time of Giotto, a century before Masoccio, by artists trying to display the Euclidean structure of God’s creative process (Edgerton). So Masaccio created, not the flat paintings of the middle ages, but ones in which the solidity of Adam and Eve was unprecedented.

Many writings on the Renaissance deal with either the artistic or geopolitical sides. The artistic side traces the Renaissance’s stirrings to the classical interests of Dante and Petrarch, to the rediscovery of ancient Greek texts, and a desire to return ad fontes in learning and in art. Geopolitically, the Renaissance got a great boost from a great defeat, the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims in 1453, which resulted in a significant number of Greek scholars relocating to Florence, where in 1462 the Platonic Academy was opened in Florence under the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici.

The rediscovery of perspective is perhaps the best metaphor for the Renaissance. Masaccio used math given in ancient Greek texts to create the perspective of human vision in his frescoes. Nor was the power to create limited to art. The innovations of Florentine banking, the spread of knowledge through the invention of the printing press, and the fall of Christian Constantiople to Muslims with superior technology of cannon and gunpowder — these all empowered the Humanist persepctive, for good and for ill.

When we speak of the possibility of an Islamic Reformation today, we see parallels to the time of Reformation in the West. Martin Luther did not consider himself a Humanist, but rather sought to restore a more ideal Christianity from the past. Yet his legacy is one where the individual conscience is declared more important than a great institution.

Likewise, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, millions wish only to vote as good Muslims. Yet, as the head-choppers correctly say, the very act of voting recognizes and validates the Humanist impulse. Ultimately, however, democracy is impossible before the Islamic Reformation.

Radicalized by the Radicals

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

San Francisco writer and resident Cinnamon Stillwell recounts her conversion to our way of seeing the world. Her starting point is instructive:

Having been indoctrinated in the postcolonialist, self-loathing school of multiculturalism, I thought America was the root of all evil in the world. Its democratic form of government and capitalist economic system was nothing more than a machine in which citizens were forced to be cogs.

Cinnamon came a long way in a short time because of 9-11. The strange nature of her former allies became jarring:

The pro-Palestinian sympathies of the left had led to a bizarre commingling of pacifism, Communism and Arab nationalism. So it was not uncommon to see kaffiyeh-clad college students chanting Hamas slogans, graying hippies wearing “Intifada” T-shirts, Che Guevera backpacks, and signs equating Zionism with Nazism, all against a backdrop of peace, patchouli and tie-dye.

It is a very nice piece, and it stands in for many others as an expression of wonderment at how the world has been turned on its head, with the Left as today’s reactionaries, and conservatives as radicals. Here’s another article of hers; this piece is on a speech by Daniel Pipes at Berkeley last year:

— When Pipes brought up the need to support moderate Muslims over those who subscribe to militant Islam, they booed.
— When he brought up the need to improve the status of women in Islamic countries, they booed.
— When he warned that peace in the Middle East would never be achieved as long as the Palestinians continued to subscribe to a ”cult of death,” they booed.
— When he mentioned Middle East Studies professors who have been arrested under terrorism charges, they booed.
— When he discussed the need to combat Islamic terrorism, they booed.
— When he referred to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks as subscribers to militant Islam, they booed and shouted ”Zionism”–no doubt a reference to the myth that Jews were behind the attacks.
— When Pipes brought up, the website he founded to provide a voice for students feeling oppressed by their leftist professors, they shouted out ”McCarthyism” and of course ”racist” yet again.
— And when he mentioned Iraqis’ ”liberation” from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, they booed even louder.

Hard times for the Old Left after January 30.

Do New York liberals think they are of a different species? Kurt Andersen says yes, and coins a neologism

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

We were going to poke a little fun at Kurt Andersen today. In his piece in New York Magazine, the founder of Spy Magazine examined the exquisite consciences of the NYC liberals who were haing trouble dealing with their cognitive dissonance over the Iraqi elections (if they experienced any dissonance at all). You know the routine: musn’t we feel that the Iraqis have come to a possibly good place, even if it was the knuckle-draggers and the “cunning” neo-cons who accomplished it? In the course of his commentary, he said this:

New Yorkers think we are smarter than other Americans, that the richness and difficulty of life here give our intelligence a kind of hard-won depth and nuance and sensitivity to contradictions and ambiguity. We feel we are practically French. Most New Yorkers are also liberals. And most liberals, wherever they live, believe that they are smarter than most conservatives (particularly George W. Bush)…..

Like most New Yorkers, I disagree with the Bush administration politically, temperamentally, and ontologically most of the time.

Huh? How can you “disagree ontologically?” Only, we reasoned, if you are of a different species. Google says we’ve stumbled on a neologism, apparently created by Andersen. (The only prior use of the phrase appears to be here, and we can’t figure out what Herder has to do with it.)

But could Andersen be serious? We consulted another of his pieces, People Like Us, and the answer appears to be yes. Andersen:

For me, the equivalence between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism seems plain. For me, both are unfathomable and scary. But, of course, to Evangelical Christians in South Dakota or Tennessee, my own New York godlessness and casual acceptance of wholesale perversion (homosexuality, pornography) as well as mass murder (abortion) are equally unfathomable and scary.

Which is to say, our great bright-blue metropolis has more in common with red America than we would probably prefer to think. They march in lockstep, close-minded and self-righteous? Us too, dudes.

We mean this piece to be light-hearted, so we are not going to drag it down by too much philosophizing. But Andersen really has a point. A significant number of the red-blue arguments today are precisely ontological arguments, if not the original ontological argument. Our own views on this subject have been well-summarized in a couple of posts.

Strange gods before me: the delusional religions of Eason Jordan, the Global Warming crowd, and the Islamists

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

Eason Jordan, the Global Warming crowd, and the Islamists live in a fantasy world in which they are righteous victims of an evil god. They are not all in agreement about who the true God is — except maybe on the deep level where it is their narcissistic egos — but they sure know who the evil god is.


The sphere is abuzz with the Eason Jordan claim that American soldiers are killing journalists. Try LGF for a taste. I’ve commented on it previously (adding Bill Moyers and Sy Hersh to the mix), and have a post from April 2003 with excerpts of Jordan’s NYT op-ed. The justaposition of these two sets of statements is startling and revealing. Jordan fantasizes a thing — American oppression and murder — and complains about it, and meanwhile, he permitted real people to be killed for many years by Saddam Hussein, and said nothing about it until Saddam had been dispatched by the US military.

Jordan was perfectly to contented to be a real victim of a dictator (though he could have stopped it by removing his people from Iraq), and, when not a real victim, makes up outlandish tales that portray him as a victim.

The GW crowd

Global warming is real. But then again, so is global cooling. That is why you have, in the space of 30 years, both a greenhouse! crisis and an ice age! crisis. In the last forty years, carbon dioxide has increased dramatically from 316 parts per million to 376 ppm, because of America! — how dare you say that’s not a crisis? Um, just why am I supposed to believe that the almost undetectable increase of 60 parts per million in CO2 has any meaning in an atmosphere with 780,000 parts per million of nitrogen and oxygen is 210,000 parts per million. Go read The Skeptical Environmentalist or the popular State of Fear and let’s talk.

The GW crowd are, in their minds, victims of some inchoate oppression of the great and evil god of America who is going to do something really bad to them in a future in which the cataclysm is always conveniently thirty or fifty years down the road. They are victims in Volvos.

The Islamists

the Islamists are victims of modernity itself and all the fabulous wealth being spread across the globe by American capitalism. Here’s what the Wahhabi losers are printing up at San Diego mosques (from the New York Sun via LGF):

The mosques maintain libraries or racks of literature for parishioners, and often run religious schools for Muslims. The doctrine they teach is one of unending conflict. “It is basic Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever and must be called an unbeliever, and that they are enemies to Allah, his Prophet, and the believers,” reads one document published by the Saudi government and available to worshippers at a San Diego mosque. “That is why the one who does not call the Jews and the Christians unbelievers is himself an unbeliever.”

As we’ve pointed out, this fantasy ideology is almost meaningless in today’s world, even if the United States ceased to exist. The pathetic Arab countries (soon not to include Iraq in the pathetic catergory — yay!) have 500 million people and a non-oil GDP less than Finland. Yet they think they are going to impose a 7th century caliphate (Singapore’s PM Goh Chok Tong) around the world. As we’ve written previously: what are they going to do when all the infidels are rich? Americans, with our $11 trillion GDP don’t want any of their nonsense, the billion plus Chinese with their $6.5 trillion GDP aren’t buying it, nor the billion Hindus in India, and so on. No wonder they focus on a sliver of the world’s 13 million Jews; it keeps their challenges bite-sized.

The uniting factor

What unites these men is a religious belief, but it is not a positive religion. They believe rather in their own sacred victimhood. The world isn’t going their way, and therefore the world is wrong. Imagine how sick your soul must be to allow actual murders but fantasize made-up murders to elevate your moral view of yourself. Imagine spending your life masochistically fantasizing about cataclysms and disasters a century down the road during the time in which American capitalism has produced the greatest prosperity, longevity and cleanest environment in human history. Imagine the sick satisfaction of the motorcycle gangs of Islamism when they see their bloodlust and head-chopping televised by Jordan’s network.

Choosing to see yourself as a victim is profoundly wrong, both psychologically and morally. You abdicate moral responsibility by doing so, and are able to justify any abuse you inflict on others. Further, you can never grow up to be a man, or woman, if you insist that unseen forces, such as America, capitalism or the Jews and infidels, are the cause of all your problems. Finally, you can never be happy in such a life. In the end, happiness is a choice. It is a choice that begins with gratitude toward God for your life and its many blessings.

Making a golden calf of yourself and your victimhood is enormously destructive. Maybe that’s why it appeared in number one on Moses’ list.

The New Media, the Fairness Doctrine, and deregulation

Thursday, January 13th, 2005

Deregulation: Good for the Innovators at the Expense of the Older, Legacy Companies

Deregulation inevitably results in lower costs, higher quality and more choices for the consumer, when it is properly done, in industry after industry, not just in the media, and its track record is long and successful.

— The airline industry, deregulated in 1978 through the work of Alfred Kahn, has seen accident rates halved and prices dramatically lowered through new entrants like Southwest, Jet Blue, WestJet, and others.

— The telecommunications industry deregulation began on January 1, 1984 as the result of the Judge Harold Greene’s settlement of a government lawsuit against AT&T, and led to the reduction of long distance rates by 80% and the dramatic growth of the RBOC’s, MCI, Sprint, and other choices for consumers.

— The express delivery inustry was potentiated through Senator Thomas Eagleton’s 1979 creation of an “urgent letter” exemption to the USPS’s (Post Office’s) monopoly on mail delivery. Today, FedEx alone, which barely existed in 1979, has sales of over $25 Billion.

Deregulation is not a friend to the former monopolies or oligopolies once protected by government fiat. Once they are subject to the creative destruction of capitalism and competition, they generally suffer long and painful declines. TWA, United, Continental, US Air, PanAm, Eastern all filed bankruptcy, some twice. AT&T, a shadow if its former self, was booted from the Dow Industrials this year, and replaced by one of its former subsidiaries, Baby Bell Verizon Communications. The US Postal Service is a perennial story of cost-bloat and revenue squeeze.

Note that the legacy players in each industry have had decades to get their acts together to compete in the deregulated environment, but in case after case, they fail to do so. The reason for this is primarily cultural: heavily regulated and monopolistic companies become risk-averse, slow moving, complacent, arrogant and insular, and over a long period of time, they attract and promote managements who are comfortable in this atmosphere. When faced with a radically new and competitive environment, they have little way to implement an institutional response to the upstart competition, and they are often dismissive of the upstarts. I have written at length on this topic here.

Deregulation of Conservative Political Speech

The deregulation of conservative political speech occurred in 1987 with the FCC’s repeal of the so-called “fairness doctrine,” which required that controversial viewpoints on one side of an issue be balanced with an opposing perspective. The fairness doctrine’s constitutionality had been tested and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 1969 case, Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC (395 U.S. 367), but was fairly consistenly weakened in subsequent rulings prior to 1987.

As a result of deregulation, on August 1, 1988, Rush Limbaugh began the creation of the modern talk radio industry, when he debuted on over 300 radio stations in his syndicated program. Today, Limbaugh estimates that his audience comprises over 20 million listeners a week on over 600 stations. More importantly for the spread of conservative discussion, there are now over a dozen large synidicated conservative programs, as well as many more local ones, spanning the hours of 6am Eastern through 9pm Pacific. I have estimated the audience for conservative political talk radio at over 80 million listeners, though the primitive data collection methods of Arbitron make estimates very difficult.

Whether the number is more or less than 80 million does not matter; in any event the number is very large compared to the previous outlets for conservative thought such as National Review, whose circulation is 150,000. Moreover, talk radio is a participatory environment, with much agreement but also much debate, and this is the key to Limbaugh’s accomplishment. Conservative talk radio is a national, virtual community of certain ideas and values, for people who had often previously felt themselves to be disenfranchised from the national debate as it was framed on the network news programs.

Telecommunication deregulation has sparked all sorts of innovations, which increase the power, intelligence, coverage areas and portability of communications devices. So it has been with the deregulation of conservative talk radio. It is no accident that that talk radio is often discussed as part of a larger network including Fox news and the internet. The center-right blogosphere is an extension of the community created 16 years ago, though of course it is not co-terminous. However, if I said that some “environmentalist wacko” called a politician a “racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe” or if I used the phrase “talent on loan from God,” the blogosphere would know the source. For the purpose of our discussion here, a community began to grow a decade an a half ago who knew just what to expect from spokesmen for the Democratic Party “and their willing accomplices in the media.”

Deregulation of political speech has been a boon to Republicans and conservatives over the last decade, gaining majorities at every level of government, as I have noted elsewhere. By contrast the legacy elite broadsheets have seen their circulations decline in the 10-15% range over that period. As with other industries like airlines and telecommunications, the legacy media are mad about their loss of power and efficacy, but they find it impossible to understand that their competition is simply delivering a product in greater demand than theirs.

The Blogosphere and the Acceleration of the Legacy Media Meltdown

The political influence of the blogosphere emerged in the Trent Lott affair in December 2002, which, even the New York Times noted, was driven by bloggers like Andrew Sullivan as well as the conservative punditocracy. The blogosphere came of age as a political force a year and a half later with John O’Neill’s Unfit for Command and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In a brilliant marketing campaign that will be a business school case study in years to come, O’Neill created enormous buzz for his book among an audience of millions for practically zero dollars. First, O’Neill got Drudge to send out a “red alert” on August 3, and posted a devastating ad on August 4, as well as making a limited buy for the spot in three markets. O’Neill was on Hannity and Colmes that night, as Jonathon Last notes, and the ad was viewed and discussed at Polipundit, Instapundit, Powerline, Tom McGuire, and other sites. By August 5, the Kerry campaign was adding fuel to the fire with a campaign of legal intimidation, against which distinguished plaintiff’s counsel O’Neill had pre-emptively acted. Importantly too, Rush Limbaugh devoted his entire hour two monologue and caller discussions to the book on August 5. On August 6, the Christmas in Cambodia chapter was made available for download, and within a few days Glenn Reynolds posted the “seared…..seared” portion of the 1986 Congressional Record on his site. The revelations, comparisons with Tour of Duty and past press articles, and speculations increased exponentially thereafter.

On August 19, two weeks into the story, Kerry came out to condemn the SwiftBoatVets, though not to challenge their factual assertions. As Last noted:

[S]uddenly the story was news. The numbers are fairly striking: Before August 19, the New York Times and Washington Post had each mentioned Swift Boat Veterans for Truth just 8 times; the Los Angeles Times 7 times; the Boston Globe 4 times. The broadcast networks did far less. According to the indefatigable Media Research Center, before Kerry went public, ABC, CBS, and NBC together had done a total of 9 stories on the Swifties. For comparison, as of August 19 these networks had done 75 stories on the accusation that Bush had been AWOL from the National Guard.

After Kerry, the deluge. On August 24, the Washington Post ran three op-eds and an editorial on the Swifties; other papers expanded their coverage as well. But, curiously, they didn’t try to play catch-up with the new media in ascertaining the veracity of the Swifties’ claims. Instead, they pursued (or rather, repeated) the charge Kerry made: that Bush was behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. It was a touch surreal–as it would have been if Democratic national chairman Terry McAuliffe’s criticism of Bush’s National Guard record had prompted the media to investigate Terry McAuliffe.

As of this writing, it has been over five weeks since John Kerry gave a press briefing regarding these matters. He has not responded personally and on the record to the charges levelled by the SwiftBoatVets.

Trying to Change the Subject, but Failing

This writer believes that the CBS News 60 Minutes II interview of Ben Barnes and the production of the Killian memos that are negative towards Bush are the essence of the Kerry campaign’s reposnse to the SwiftBoatVets. (We discuss in other posts Ben Barnes’ scandal-plagued past, and Rather’s possible conflict of interest problems in his interview of Barnes.) The idea was to change the subject back to the preferred Bush-AWOL line, or at least provide a parallelism in Bush and Kerry scandals so that Kerry would have the trump card of saying that at least he had been in harm’s way.

The media are as much as 12 to 1 for Kerry and Evan Thomas boasted of the 15 point advantage they could give the candidate. CBS has previously featured Richard Clarke, Bob Woodward, Paul O’Neill and Joe Wilson taking shots at Bush. Dan Rather has a long history of ideological and financial support for Democrats. So, as reported by the Spectator, the DNC or the Kerry campaign gave the Killian memos to Rather to use against Bush. In the old days this might have worked, but not today.

CBS’s Strategic Errors stem from its Blindness as an Elite, Legacy Media Corporation

In adopting the strategy of trying to change the subect, CBS has committed two critical errors that arise from its status as an elite legacy media company. It has utterly failed to grasp the changes that have come about through the technological innovations of its conservative competitors. Here is what CBS fails to see:

(1) the legacy elite media no longer solely control the news agenda
(2) falsehoods are often easily exposed within a single news cycle, so they don’t work as well anymore.

In the old days, the news agenda has been set by the New York Times, and to lesser extent the Washington Post and the networks. NYT stories in the morning would form the template for evening network news reports. Sometimes stories would migrate from TV to the elite broadsheets, like the Bush memos. Conservative talk radio for the most part consisted of commentary on what the papers said this morning or what the TV news said last night. Hence, despite their declining power, insititutions like the New York Times , the Washington Post, or CBS could still set the agenda for a day’s news cycle — with appropriate caveats for breaking news, storms, crises, etc.

The SwiftBoatVets v. Kerry saga shattered this paradigm. Over the course of two weeks, a story that the legacy media absolutely did not want to cover became the #1 political story in the US, until the NYT and WaPo were forced to cover it. The elite legacy media still has not figured out how this happened. (One excellent example of how the migration occured is shown in the Powerline/Star-Tribune controversy.)

Moreover, the legacy media’s trick of falsely reporting a story on page one or in prime time, and then printing a retraction later, has been blown away by the incredibly short cycle time of the blogosphere. (60 Minutes has done it in the past, the AP tried it with the “boos” story, among others, and the Boston Globe tried it without success yesterday.)

The Blogosphere had the story deconstructed by dinner time of the first day

The phony Bush TANG memos are perhaps not the best example for figuring out the cycle time of the blogosphere, because they are such flagrantly inept forgeries, but they are instructive just the same. Within 49 minutes of the posting of the NYT story at 8:10 PDT on 9/8/04 on Free Republic, they were exposed as probable frauds based on the proportional fonts they used. When Powerline began anew in the morning with a 5:51am PDT 9/9/04 post, the blogosphere went wild.

Within a few hours of the initial Powerline post, a dozen new issues had been raised by citizen-editors for new investigations, and had been appended to that initial post. These included: the miniature superscripts, wrong paper size, wrong Air Force procedures, wrong Air Force formatting, incompatability with other 1970’s documents, wrong signatures, costliness and unavailability of potentially suitable IBM machines, the issue of kerning, the retirement date of General Staudt. The story matured fast enough for Stephen Hayes to have produced a Weekly Standard piece on it by 4pm, and for Fred Barnes to use that summary on Special Report.

Initially the blogosphere acted as reporters, investigating and fact checking the allegations as made by CBS. While doing so, the blogosphere noted other inconsistencies and problems with the documents, and put in process their investigation. In other words, while CBS was sleeping, unaware that it had to deal with credibility problems #1, proportional spacing and the raised “th,” Powerline’s editors and reporters had already moved on to phase two stories about kerning, paper size, etc.

Meanwhile, within the same 24 hours of the first Powerline story, phase three investigations were begun. These included Killian’s relatives, how CBS got the phony memos, and pretty serious forensic investigations by people with decades of experience in the desktop publishing industry. Meanwhile, CBS was still in phase one, focusing on miniature superscripts, and hypothetical composing machines from the 1970’s, as well as misleading use of a handwriting expert, and misuse of a Boston Globe interview, among many others (Hugh Hewitt has posted a list of 19 problems, many of which are individually lethal for the memos).

As of this writing, it appears to be only a matter of time before CBS has to make a retraction of its use of the memos, or face continuing and mounting controversy. Indeed, CBS seems alredy to be doing so, but in stages. This is the main link to the documents story on the CBS website, and the story date continues to be 9/6/04, but the story keeps changing and weakening regarding the documents. So CBS may be pioneering something new, after all: the non-retraction retraction, the process of saying you stand behind your story, while backing away from many of its most important details.

Where do we go from here?

First, the little picture: (1) Dan Rather is unlikely to apologize, though there may be some concession ultimately that some document or other was questionable; (2) CBS is already cleverly both standing by “its overall story”, while constantly revising the story within the same url with the 9/6/04 dateline; (3) the Bush-AWOL story is in its 5th telling now and has no legs, since, as Mark Steyn said, no one cares “whether George W. Bush failed to show up for his physical in the War of 1812;” (4) it is unclear whether John Kerry can get away with not answering questions about his Magic Hat and VC the Wonder dog, just because he tells Karen Tumulty, regarding Vietnam, that, “I’ve answered all the questions I’ll answer.”

Regarding the bigger picture, the futures of the elite legacy media companies, past business history may be instructive. AT&T tried to deal with upstart competition by introducing a low-cost long distance service under a different brand name. It failed. The legacy airlines have tried restructuring, with only limited success. They tried to create low-cost airlines within their corporations, like CALite, the United Shuttle, and others. To date, they have failed. The Postal Service tried to set up an operation to rival FedEx. It failed.

It is notable that the airlines’ restructurings, the only limited success story above, began with a frank admission by those companies that they had serious problems. There is no apparent acknowledgement of serious problems at CBS, nor at the other elite legacy media companies. While we can probably expect a few cosmetic changes — a little better fact checking, fewer misleading quotes from sources — to prevent the corrections page from working overtime under the yoke of the blogosphere, substantive changes are unlikely, based on the experiences of companies in other industries. Based on history, we would expect long, ugly declines in the fortunes of the legacy media companies.

A word of caution to CBS is in order, however, because of its particularly egregious dishonesty in the matter of the phony Bush memos. Haydn’s Symphony “La Reine” got its name from Marie Antoinette in 1787, but it was only a few years later that she was in no position to listen to it. Downfalls can sometimes be abrupt and painful.