The German Left Turns on Obama

Mirroring a similar phenomenon in the U.S., the political Left in Germany has become increasingly strident in it’s criticism of Obama of late. The latest example of the trend appeared at the top of Der Spiegel’s website this morning in the form of an article on the Wikileaks affair entitled, “Obama Hunts the Scandal Hunters.” Written by Marc Pitzke, whose contributions are usually limited to the one-sided hit pieces Spiegel still posts occasionally to keep its legions of Amerika-hating readers happy, the article leads with the byline,

He wanted to do everything completely differently from George W. Bush: Barack Obama promised transparency in dealing with government information. In fact, he persecutes insiders who blab about embarrassing incidents far more severely than his predecessor. The arrest in the Wikileaks Scandal is only the most well known example.

and includes such bits as:

  • The dramatic case shows how quickly a moral pitfall can become a judicial pitfall.  Beyond that, it illustrates a phenomenon that rights activists in the U.S. have been viewing with unease for some time – the increasingly aggressive action Washington has been taking against “whistle blowers,” or government insiders who reveal malfeasance and state scandals.
  • Liberals and leftists in the US are particularly enraged at the fact that, during the 2008 election campaign, it was just in this area that President Barack Obama promised a clean break with the politics of his predecessor, George W. Bush.  M.’s arrest confirms an “increasingly poisonous trend,” writes Jesselyn Radack of the activist group, Government Accountability Project (GAP):  “Bush bullied whistle blowers mercilessly, but Obama sets the law on them and puts them in prison,”  Obama is “much harder than Bush.”
  • One of the most prominent Obama critics in this case is Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the ultimate whistle blower.  Ellsberg passed the “Pentagon Papers” to the press in 1971 – internal memos that revealed that the government had already concluded the Vietnam War was a lost cause.  Ellsberg suffered persecution for years as a result.
  • “Obama is continuing the worst of the Bush Administration,” said Ellsberg in an interview with Spiegel Online about the persecution of whistle blowers.  “This continuing assault on citizen’s rights is inexcusable.”  Obama has “made a 180 degree turn.”

…and so on and so on.  I think we can safely say the honeymoon is over.

Of Glenn Beck, the Washington Post, and the Political Value of Gold Coins

You can always tell when a political message is being delivered effectively.  Instead of debating the message, the ideologues on the other side smear the messenger.  That being the case, it’s obvious Glenn Beck has been hitting some nerves lately.

His latest detractor is Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, who has been shedding crocodile tears because one of Beck’s sponsors, Goldline, Inc., is supposedly overcharging for its gold coins. It’s interesting when you follow the links on this story that you have a very hard time finding exactly which gold coins Weiner is referring to, regardless of whether the source is on the left or the right. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that neither side has a clue what they’re talking about. The dead tree media sites often claim that Goldline’s markup is 90% over bullion value, but, as noted here, that number is meaningless unless you identify which coin you’re talking about. For example, one of the more recently struck U.S. gold coins, the $2.50 Indian head quarter eagle, only contains 0.121 troy ounces of gold, or a little over a tenth of an ounce. Based on the current gold price of $1190 per ounce, its bullion value is, therefore, about $144. However, look at the completed listings for the coin on eBay and you’ll see that high grade coins easily fetch over $300 at the moment, and even coins with significant wear typically sell for over $225.

If one is speaking of strictly bullion coins, it appears that Goldline’s markup over the most competitive dealers is around 25%, varying up to 35% for proof coins, which do have limited numismatic value.  However, that’s hardly out of the ordinary in the coin business.  Shop around on any of the coin cable channels on TV, and you’re unlikely to find markups less than that on similar bullion coins.  That seems rather odd when we learn that Weiner represents himself as perfectly balanced.  Why, to hear him tell it, he would go after liberals like a bulldog if they did the same thing.  For example, from Politico,

But Weiner, a liberal who represents New York City, brushed off allegations that his report was politically motivated. “My message is directed at consumers, telling them to beware that the things that Goldline and Glenn Beck are selling are essentially rip-offs,” he said, adding “if these were all liberal commentators who were promoting a company that has a 200-percent mark-up on its gold, I would like to think that I would be just as hard on them.”

If that’s really true, and we can take the good Congressman at his word, I have a prime candidate for his next investigation; the staunchly liberal Washington Post.  It happens that on page A-17 of today’s issue there’s a quarter page ad for silver dollars by, which refers to itself as “Your one best source for coins worldwide.”   It appears they’re selling Peace silver dollars for the bargain price of $39.95 each.  Now Peace silver dollars contain 0.773 troy ounces of silver, so the bullion value of each coin based on today’s silver price of $17.75 per ounce is only $13.75!  In case you’re bad at math, Congressman Weiner, that’s a markup of not just a paltry 90%, but a whopping 190% plus!  Unleash the hounds!

The WaPo has been running similar ads for years, so one can only wonder at the fact that the “fair and balanced” Congressman hasn’t yet sniffed them out.  Of course, the coins in question are claimed to be uncirculated, and even common Peace dollars have some numismatic value in that condition, so let us be more charitable than the good Congressman, and actually take that into account.  Let us take into account, as well, the fact that, if one buys twenty of the coins, one can get them for the bargain basement price of only $29.50 each.  Turning once again to eBay, we find that, as I write these lines, one can buy a dumptruck full of uncirculated Peace silver dollars for under $20 each.  Putting it all together, we arrive at a markup of a “mere” 50%.     Goldline, with its paltry 25% to 35% for similar material, is a mere piker by comparison.  So much for Congressman Weiner’s “evenhandedness.”

I doubt that Glenn Beck would agree with much of anything I’ve posted on this blog, but I’m glad he’s out there.  Don’t his liberal enemies always tell us that diversity is a good thing?  Well, he represents real diversity.  There’s no such thing as freedom of speech if it’s only the freedom to listen to people who think just like you.

Of Democrats, Republicans, and the Liquidation of Liberty

The values of the Enlightenment can be summed up in one word; Liberty. The term includes freedom of thought and freedom of action, the latter freedom precluding only acts that physically harm others. The American Revolution represented a remarkable and, it would seem, historically anomalous victory of Liberty. Liberty is no more a good in itself than any other human value. I must admit, however, that I have an emotional attachment to it, and will regret its passing for what one might call sentimental reasons. In fact, we may be witnessing its demise.

Both of the great political parties in the United States embrace Liberty as a slogan. Both promote policies that assume its liquidation. The Democrats promote the cancerous expansion of state power. As the greatest and most consistent proponent of Liberty among our founding fathers, Thomas Paine, put it, “That government is best which governs least,” and “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” Today, the Democrats represent the polar opposite of his point of view regarding government. In an earlier post, I quoted Benjamin Franklin’s response to a scornful attack on the American Revolution in a letter from some of our British enemies:

The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

Today, the Democrats are but the latter day incarnation of the evil Franklin and Paine recognized so clearly.

As for the Republicans, never has a party brayed the word “Liberty” so loudly while so actively subverting it in practice. They demand torture, imprisonment without trial, and punishment without due process of law for anyone they choose to call a terrorist, all in the name of “security.” When it comes to freedom of conscience, they have become the mirror images of the British Tories who were the great enemies of our Revolution. As I write this, their demands for the liquidation of that freedom are becoming ever more explicit. Consider, for example, these words in the latest platform of the Republican Party in the state of Maine:

Reassert the principle that “Freedom of Religion” does not mean “freedom from religion.”

As if to punctuate the absurdity of this remarkable version of “Freedom of Religion,” the authors of the Maine platform actually quote Jefferson in the same document.  If ever a man was thoroughly and diametrically opposed to everything today’s Republicans stand for in matters of religion, it was Jefferson. 

It may be that Liberty can only exist in a state of unstable equilibrium in human societies. If so, it had a good run in America.  To the extent that I experienced it, I count myself fortunate.

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine

Sedition on the Left and Right

In listening to Carter’s improbable nostrums for bringing peace to the Middle East, or Clinton’s latest attempts to breathe new life into the Alien and Sedition Acts, one can only admire the wisdom of the American people in limiting Presidents to eight years in office.  Do you wonder why the existence of Foxnews, talk radio, and freedom of speech in the blogosphere is a good thing?  Here’s a data point for you.  If it weren’t for them, there would be no counter to the Left’s latest attempts to limit the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances to those who agree with them.  These people need to revise the bumper stickers on their Volvos to “Question the Questioning of Authority.”  As for the Administration’s legacy media poodles, I can only suggest that they go to the next big “peace” demonstration and look around.  If they’re really worried about demonstrators who promote acts of violence, it might occur to them to consider what all those people in black hoods are there for.

The Nuclear Posture Review and the Future of the Arsenal

The right and the left in this country have achieved a state of MAD (Mutually Assured Demonization). The recent attempts by the legacy media to whip up hysteria over threats of violence to those who voted for the health bill is a case in point. There was a time, not that long ago, when these “objective journalists” would have gotten away with it. There was no comparably audible public voice on the right to oppose them. Now there is, in the form of talk radio, powerful blogs, and Foxnews. Result: They only succeeded in, once again, making themselves look silly. The Right was in their face immediately, pointing out, among other things, the gross hypocrisy in the double standard they applied to violence and threats of violence depending on whether they come from the right or the left.

Overall, this form of MAD is a good thing. The sanctimonious, condescending attitude of the journalists of yesteryear was getting very old by the time Rush Limbaugh finally appeared on the scene. However, it does have its drawbacks, in the form of increasing levels of political polarization and the associated pious posing on both the right and the left. Indeed, when it comes to the ostentatious striking of sanctimonious public poses, the right has, at long last, achieved parity with the left. Reasoned debate becomes difficult when both sides are only interested in occupying the moral high ground.

Consider, for example, the right’s overwrought response to the latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The NPR is a document submitted to Congress each year by the Department of Defense setting forth what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be. The latest version contains a watered down “no first use” provision according to which we won’t respond with nuclear weapons even if attacked with chemical and biological weapons, with the caveat that for nations that don’t play according to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, everything is still on the table. Some of the other more significant provisions include:

• The United States will not conduct nuclear testing, and will seek ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

• The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.

• The Administration will study options for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Plan. The full range of LEP approaches will be considered: refurbishment of existing warheads, reuse of nuclear components from different warheads, and replacement of nuclear components.

The response Tunku Daravarajan at The Daily Beast:

I despair of this latest episode of gestural theater designed to make the U.S. look exquisitely reasonable (should we call it “Jimmy-Cartesian”?), but which in truth results in the U.S. looking flaccid, or worse, complacent. After all, who gains from a presidential posture that has, in effect, stigmatized our most potent deterrent? In terms of foreign policy—or, better put, foreign clout—the U.S. is going through a startling period of auto-emasculation.

and from Roger Simon at PajamasMedia:

Like some looney member of Code Pink, our president is abandoning the nuclear deterrent adhered to by every American president since Truman. And he is doing it in a manner that makes absolutely no sense… What are we to make of this and the man who is adopting this policy? Does he hate us? Does he hate this country? What would he do if there was, for example, a massive small pox attack on the U.S.? Send in the infantry? Call in the Marines? Try to reason with whoever did it and recommend they negotiate as the fatal disease spreads to millions of people?… Now I detest nuclear weapons as much as the next person, but this approach seems — I hate to repeat myself, but I will — deranged.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the ultimate reason for having a nuclear arsenal in the first place is to protect our security. What if Tunku and Roger, being human, and therefore not infallible, are wrong? What if, just hypothetically, the policy set forth in the NPR really will make us more safe, and the policy they prefer less safe. They have not limited themselves to a reasoned response to the NPR, setting forth, in their opinions, why they think it will not enhance our safety. Rather, they have villified the people who support it, accusing them, not only of being wrong, but of being crazy. When you demonize people, you make it very difficult for them to respond to your objections in a reasoned manner. Being human, they are more likely to strike back, trading tit for tat. I would even go so far as to say that, in some cases, that is the only rational way to respond. It seems rather obvious that convergence to correct policy decisions is not a likely outcome of this process of mutual demonization.

That is the reason that, as I have maintained elsewhere, when it comes to policy decisions as weighty as those relating to nuclear policy, moralistic posing, with all the associated pushing of emotional hot buttons, should be set aside in favor of some semblance of rational discussion. The goal here, I assume, is to survive. Let us, then, dispassionately consider what we should best do in order to survive.

According to Steve Schippert ant Liberty Pundits, the NPR not only does not serve that goal but is, in fact, pointless.  In his words:

There is none, really. Not beyond rhetoric and “historic” moments and – dare the Los Angeles Times say it – a “manifesto.”

No point at all – but for one critical aspect lost in all of the arguing back and forth. Clarity is dead. Nuance and the foolish self-assurance of perceived superior intellectual and/or moral capacity have rightly replaced clear understanding.

Admitting in advance my own fallibility, I beg to differ. In the first place, we have kept the nuclear genie in the bottle now for going on 65 years. I am far from believing that an all out nuclear exchange would result in the extinction of humanity, or anything close to it. It is, nevertheless, an understatement to say that it would be extremely destructive. That being the case, it would be well if, to the extent possible, we maintained a taboo on the first use of nuclear weapons.

Any first user of nuclear weapons likely would become and, it seems to me, should become, an international pariah. Roger paints a nightmare scenario in which millions of people are dying in a biological attack while our hands are tied. Given the known effects of the releases of biological and chemical agents to date, the chances of something like that happening are vanishingly small. If it did, the NPR would become a moot point, just as all our loud protestations against unrestricted submarine warfare prior to our entry into WWI became a moot point for our own submarine forces in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. A far more likely first use scenario would be an attempt at eliminating enemy stocks of biological or chemical weapons with a nuclear bunker buster, either preemptively or after an ineffective and very ill-considered attack on the United States with such weapons. This kind of first use would be very attractive to many in the nuclear weapons community. It would, however, do anything but promote our national security. Rather, it would end the taboo on the use of nuclear weapons, greatly increasing the chances that we, in turn, would become the victims of a really devastating attack, not with ineffective chemical or biological agents, but with nuclear weapons.

I also agree with the other sections of the NPR that are major departures from past policy, or, at least, have been represented as such. One of these is the provision that the United States will not conduct nuclear testing. Again, there are many in the weapons community who would love to resume testing, basing their arguments on insuring the reliability of the stockpile. It would also help the national weapons laboratories solve the demographic problem they face with the retirement or impending retirement of most of the physicists and other technical experts who have actually taken part in nuclear tests, and the difficulty of attracting talented scientists to careers as custodians of an aging pile of nuclear weapons. It would also play directly into the hands of our enemies.

The United States has a huge advantage over potential nuclear rivals in its possession of above ground experimental facilities (known in the business as AGEX) second to none in the world. From the massive National Ignition Facility, with its ability to focus 192 powerful laser beams on a tiny point, to the Z pulsed power machine capable of producing bursts of X-rays at levels far beyond those of any comparable facility on the planet, to a host of other smaller but still highly impressive and technologically advanced experimental facilities, we can approach the physical conditions that exist within exploding nuclear devices more closely and for longer periods of time than any other nation can even dream of. To resume nuclear testing would be to stupidly throw away this huge advantage. At the same time, it would give our enemies all the moral authority they needed to resume testing or develop nuclear weapons themselves.

The decision to set in concrete in the NPR the decision not to develop new nuclear weapons is also a good one. The idea that the United States would do such a thing is anything but implausible. On the contrary, the National Nuclear Security Administration has been agitating for years to get the go-ahead to build the Reliable Replacement Warhead. When Congress wisely told them, not only no, but hell no, they kept up the pressure regardless. Congress has taken a lot of bad raps lately. They deserve a lot of credit for derailing NNSA’s determination to go ahead with the RRW. In the first place, the weapons in our stockpile are not fragile and unreliable. Any enemy that assumed so would be making a very grave mistake. In the second, if we developed the RRW, the pressure to test it would likely become irresistible. The idea of developing a nuclear weapon without testing it would never have passed the “ho-ho” test at the weapons labs back in the 70’s and 80’s. The claim that we wouldn’t need to test the RRW is likely wishful thinking. Again, all the objections to a resumption of nuclear testing I have cited above would apply. Finally, by building a new type of nuclear weapon we would once again sacrifice the moral high ground, handing our enemies all the justification they needed for building new weapons themselves. Again, we would sacrifice major advantages, simply to acquire a weapon that would be somewhat cheaper to maintain than those in the existing stockpile. For obvious reasons, the weapons designers at the labs would love it. For the rest of us, it would make no sense at all.

I am hardly in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament. On the contrary, I am in favor of maintaining a powerful arsenal and assuring that the resources we need to keep it safe and reliable will always be available. However, the latest NPR is a reasoned response to the nuclear myopia that would have us sacrifice real advantages in return for extremely dubious returns. As such, it deserves our support.


Ben Franklin on Nationalized Health Care

In 1778, while serving as Minister of the Continental Congress to the French government, Benjamin Franklin received an insulting anonymous letter from some British “gentlemen,” expressing contempt for the American Revolution and the scorn felt by ruling elites in all ages for the common people. His answer was interesting in the context of the current debate over nationalized health care. An excerpt:

The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

We’ve wandered far from the vision of our Founding Fathers, haven’t we? They valued Liberty. Today the sine qua non is Security, not Liberty, whether for “liberals” or “conservatives.” The left would secure Security with state power. The right would secure it with torture, indefinite detention without trial, and the assumption that “terrorists” are guilty until proven innocent.


Michael Zantovsky and The End of The End of History

Hattip to Matt Welch at Hit and Run for linking this brilliant essay, entitled “Resumption:  The Gears of 1989,” by Michael Zantovsky, Czech ambassador to the UK.  Matt’s introductory paragraph:

Writing in the World Affairs Journal, Michael Zantovsky, the former Czech ambassador to the U.S. and longtime former wingman to Vaclav Havel, has an interesting and hard-to-define essay that ruminates on the collapse of communism, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, evolutionary biology, Sept. 11, Hayek, and much else besides. Any excerpt will be an injustice; here’s the closing paragraph:

I suggest you take the time to read the whole essay, and not just the closing paragraph.  It will be worth your while.  I agree with Matt’s caution about excerpts, but, just in case you’re too lazy to follow the link, here’s a nugget to whet your appetite.  It refers back to a previous paragraph about the failed theories of Communism:

Based on the known record, history is more likely a complex stochastic process in which each event is to a larger, smaller, or infinitesimal extent the result of everything that has happened before combined with a healthy dose of randomness. As such, it carries forward and perpetuates, at least for a time, not only human growth and human achievements but also our weaknesses, fallacies, inconsistencies, and failures. That is why it comes back to haunt us so often. One can only ask whether the post–Cold War world would be any different if Communism was smashed to dust and eradicated the way Nazism was. In the event, to the vast relief of people in the West and East alike, it imploded peacefully. But perhaps in doing so, it was also allowed to scatter tiny bits of its tyrannical self, its messianic arrogance, its ignorance of human nature, and its fundamental immorality to the ends of the earth. It is gone but not dead. In any case, democracies seem to have been much more aware of their fundamental values and the price of liberty when the totalitarian threat was still around.

Can you imagine an American ambassador writing anything like that?  Neither can I.  Sad, isn’t it?

Of Howard Kurtz, Media Narratives, and Historical Myths

In a recent column, Wapo media guru Howard Kurtz commemorated the high- and lowlights of news reporting in the first decade the 21st century.  It contained some commonplace observations about the development of the Internet, the obligatory journalistic self-adulation, and ended on a sour note about the decline of the legacy media and their rather dim prospects in the decade to come.  There were some entertaining bits, however, not the least of which was a paragraph citing what Kurtz called “the two biggest disasters of early-21st-century coverage” which “remain a permanent stain on journalism.”  The first of these was unexceptional:

…the media did far too little to spotlight a shadow banking system built on preposterously exotic risks and federal regulators who blithely looked the other way.

However, the second one brought a smile to my face:

The failure to challenge the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — and an accompanying tendency to dismiss antiwar voices — is now regretted by the news organizations themselves.

It’s a remarkable example of a “sharashka” as defined by Solzhenitsyn in “The First Circle:” A lie so big that, in the end, even those who invented it believe it. This yarn about how the U.S. media were too “pro-war” has always been absurd on the face of it to anyone not suffering from the flavor of cognitive dissonance peculiar to journalists.  Since the days it was first invented it has passed from being a useful lie to a constituent element of the legacy media’s ideological narrative to its current status of historical myth, believed by the journalistic faithful as what Stalin referred to as “a well known fact,” something like the “well known fact” that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery taught in southern schools in the 1920’s.  One might call it the Jingoistic Media Myth (JMM).

I’m not quite sure when the JMM made its first appearance.  It was, of course, necessary to allow a decent interval to elapse so memories could dull before legacy journalists could “repent” for having “dismissed anti-war voices” with a straight face without drawing peels of laughter from their listeners.  Eventually, however, it became possible to recite it to the proper audiences without the least embarrassment, shedding crocodile tears about the “shame” of it in the process.  Among other things, it fit right in with the fairy tales the European media were peddling to their clientele about the evil American’s “yellow press” at the time.  Of course, as anyone who didn’t fall off the pumpkin wagon yesterday is aware, the legacy media was never, in any way, shape, or form “pro-war” in the case of Iraq.  Why, then, invent the JMM?  Among other things, it provided ideological camouflage.  Assuming one swallowed the myth, it became the “duty” of the legacy media to “atone for their sin.”  One did this by giving prominent coverage to any expression of anti-war sentiment and to any story that could be given an anti-war spin.  In other words, one did it by making the news fit neatly in the ideological box the legacy media has occupied since at least the time of the War in Vietnam.  Any mutterings about “defeatist propaganda” could be faced down with a fine show of virtuous indignation, and pious remarks about the need to re-establish “balanced reporting” after the shameful, jingoistic lapses following the first days of the invasion.  

In the upshot, this “balanced reporting” was turned on full blast.  The upper right hand column on the Wapo’s front page became the preferred venue for any story that could be given an anti-war spin or reinforced the assumption that defeat in Iraq was inevitable.  When it became obvious, even to the Wapo’s editors, that defeat wasn’t imminent after all, and Iraq might not actually be another Vietnam in spite of all previous mutual assurances to the contrary, they tired of the game.  The upper right hand column was devoted to promoting more plausible yarns, and the Wapo became all but silent about the war.

I don’t mean to pick on Kurtz. He’s an “honest man” in the context of modern journalism, and I suspect he firmly believes the JMM mantra he recited in his recent article.  I can only suggest that he take advantage of Google and, perhaps take a look through the Wapo’s archives.  If he does, he may stumble across a few facts that don’t quite conform to the JMM.  Unfortunately, I don’t have convenient access to the archives, so I will have to rely mainly on second hand accounts. 

Take, for example, an article attributed to the Washington Post on the website of  Published on March 3, 2003, the article describes the “stunning success” of worldwide anti-war protests on the previous February 15 in glowing terms.  Journalists typically use the last sentence of ideologically loaded articles as a “zinger” to make sure their readers don’t fail to see the “moral of the story.  In this case it is:

“This was caused by social forces, and it’s not something that organizations produced,” said Andrew Burgin, a member of the coalition’s British steering committee. “They’re not in our control. . . . You don’t lead a movement like this, the movement leads you.”

Not exactly the stuff of jingoistic saber rattling, is it?  What about the anti-war left’s own assessment of Wapo’s coverage at the time?  If the JMM is true, one would expect to find them fairly frothing at the mouth.  However, based on contemporary comments posted on the website of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), their actual reaction was somewhat more positive in response to the Wapo’s coverage of anti-war demonstrations:

The Washington Post (1/28/07) distinguished itself by assigning six staff writers and a researcher to the (anti-war) protest. Its page-one story conveyed the upbeat mood of the crowd and its diversity. It gave prominence to protesters with relatives in Iraq, let us hear a mother explaining the protest to her son as an exercise in free speech, and reported the crowd chanting for impeachment of George W. Bush.

But the paper went beyond human interest, explaining the protesters’ political goal of prodding Congress into action. By naming 10 of the organizations that have come together under the umbrella of United for Peace & Justice, which coordinated the event, it showed the political blending of the agendas of feminists, religious organizations, farmers, active and retired military members and others.

The Post’s coverage also included two sidebars, one about college student protesters and the other a collection of pictures and quotes from a variety of protesters.

Is this the “dismissal of antiwar voices” Kurtz was referring to.  Here’s another puff piece on antiwar demonstrations that appeared on January 20, 2003.  Zinger at the end of the article:  “‘War is not the answer,’ said Mary Appelhof, 66, of Kalamazoo, Mich.”  I could go on and on.

Perhaps it would jar Kurtz memory if he went back and looked at the stuff he was writing himself in the first days of the war. In an article published on March 24, 2003 containing a series of question and answer responses he replies to one “Howard” of New York, who is griping about what he considers an implication in news coverage that anti-war demonstrators don’t “support the troops:

… I do think it’s a canard to say that those who oppose this war don’t support the troops. At the same time, there has understandably been more focus on the antiwar demonstrations because there have been far more of them, drawing bigger numbers, than the pro-war rallies.

Is this the sort of “dismissal of antiwar voices” he’s talking about? 

No matter, the JMM will live on, in spite of the facts.  Historical myths eventually take on a life of their own.  The truth is always elusive, and historical truth is the most elusive kind.  Those who seek it will need a skeptical attitude and lots of source material.

“The New Republic” and the Pitfalls of Historical Prophecy

“The New Republic” has had its ups and downs. Not too long ago its editors were almost unique in their willingness to honestly and thoroughly set forth the arguments for opposing points of view, and in their ability to address them convincingly, although lately they’ve shown a lamentable tendency to sink to the level of the rest of the pack. In common with many American journals of opinion that have survived for any length of time, its content has run from the ridiculous to the sublime, from essays by some of the most brilliant pundits this country has produced to the excrescences of Communist ideologues during the “red period” it passed through in common with many other journals in the aftermath of the Great Depression. It was launched in the opening months of that great watershed event in modern history, the first World War, and lately I’ve been looking through some of those inaugural issues.

It’s very useful to occasionally read through a few articles in the journals and magazines of days gone by. It puts things that are happening today in perspective. Back in 1914, for example, The New Republic devoted a great deal of ink to discussion of the ramifications of the U.S. military intervention in Mexico. The first page of the third issue was entirely taken up with ruminations concerning what should be done about the U.S. troops in Vera Cruz. Today the number of us who are even aware that U.S. troops were in Vera Cruz in 1914 is vanishingly small. Will the matters that raise such passions and seem of such overwhelming importance to us today assume a similar insignificance for later generations?

Perhaps the most important thing one gains from reading old journals is a sense of humility. One finds many predictions about the future, but few of them that were accurate. The problem isn’t that the authors making those predictions were fools. The problem is that we lack the intellectual capacity to assimilate all the facts that will have a bearing on the outcome of history, and correctly connect the dots between them. We must learn to appreciate our limitations. It’s unwise to overestimate our ability to predict future events that have no historical precedent. For example, how many of us back in 1988 predicted the manner in which Communism and the Soviet Union would collapse, or when the momentous events culminating in those results would occur?

There is much to be gained from the reading of history. One learns how human beings are likely to react in given situations. Occasionally, history really does repeat itself, and, to the extent that future events fit the familiar patterns of the past, they are predictable. However, once in a while she jumps her tracks completely. World War I was such an event. Reflecting on the possible outcomes of that conflict in the second issue of The New Republic, one Simon N. Patten wrote:

Progress has ever been a ruthless crushing, whether we regard it as indistrial or view it in its political aspects. Growth has meant a centralization which eliminates the weak to the advantage of the strong. Belgium and Servia are today where hundreds of small nations have found themselves in the past. Belgium is racially and socially a part of France. Economically she is a part of Germany. One or the other fate she must in the end meet. Servia must also be either Russian or Austrian.

In fact, in the aftermath of the war, the historical context on which Mr. Patten based his assumptions ceased to exist. Serbia did not become a part of Austria because the great empire that went by that name disintegrated. She did not become a part of Russia because she, too, ceased to exist in any form recognizable from the past. Belgium is still with us, and belongs to a European Union that would have been incomprehensible to the combatants of 1914. The lesson here isn’t that Mr. Patten was a fool. I’m sure he was a very intelligent man. Nor is it that we should cease speculating about the future. However, in doing so we should recall that we are not omniscient, and that the truth isn’t always obvious.

Climategate and Scientific Credibility

I think this article at by Cathy Young about the global warming debate is spot on (hattip Instapundit). Her conclusions:

There is no doubt that refusal to accept human-made climate change is often self-serving. But the other side has blinders and selfish motives of its own. “Going green” has turned into a vast industry in its own right—as well as a religion with its own brand of zealotry. For many, global warming is the secular equivalent of a biblical disaster sent by God to punish humankind for its errant (capitalist) ways. Those who embrace environmentalism as a faith have no interest in scientific and technological solutions to climate change—such as nuclear power—that do not include imposing drastic regulations on markets and curbs on consumption.

In theory, science should be above such motives. Yet, at the very least, the scientists who back strong measures against global warming have not objected to the alarmism, the political fanaticism, or the pseudo-spiritual drivel promoted by many of the crusaders in this cause.

Public trust is something scientists must work hard to maintain. When it comes to science and public policy, the average citizen usually has to trust scientists—whose word he or she has to take on faith almost as much as a religious believer takes the word of a priest. Once that trust is undermined, as it has been in recent years, science becomes a casualty of politics.

It was obvious to me that environmental scientists had a major credibility problem when I read Byorn Lomborg’s “Skeptical Environmentalist.” This impression was greatly stengthened when a gang of scientific hacks set up a kangaroo court known as the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, and “convicted” Lomborg of “scientific dishonesty,” noting, however, with supreme condescension that Lomborg was “not guilty” because of his “lack of expertise” in the fields in question. How this arrogant, scientific pond scum could have come to such a conclusion when they were unable to cite a single substantial example of factual error in Lomborg’s book is beyond me. Their abject betrayal of science spoke for itself. Needless to say, the credibility of environmental scientists has not improved in the interim, as Young notes in her article.

This is unfortunate, as it seems to me that the evidence is strong that we may be facing a serious problem with artificially induced global warming. However, because, as Young points out, “…the scientists who back strong measures against global warming have not objected to the alarmism, the political fanaticism, or the pseudo-spiritual drivel promoted by many of the crusaders in this cause,” the issue has become politicized to such an extent that the chances that we will be able to do anything more effective than ideological grandstanding to address the problem are almost nil. As usual, the politicians, who rejoice whenever a crisis comes along for them to “save” us from, will promote any number of very expensive but useless nostrums that present us with the pleasant illusion that we are doing something about the problem, perhaps reducing greenhouse emissions by some insignificant fraction in the process, but accomplishing nothing in the way of really solving the problem. In the meantime, the rest of us must keep our fingers crossed that some fortuitous technological advance will allow us to dodge the bullet, perhaps in the form of the discovery of a way to tame fusion or a transformational improvement in the efficiency of solar collectors. For those of us who possess the means, it is, perhaps, not too soon to begin looking for attractive tracts of land in Alaska, preferably on high ground.