Friday, December 16, 2005

Blessed are the peacemakers...

for they shall be called the sons of God. --Jesus of Nazareth, c. AD 27/28.

A beautiful morning, full of good news from Iraq and around the world.

1. Grayhawk has a brilliant post on victory and democracy in Iraq. Perfect on a day that highlights the principle that you bring peace to the Middle East by bringing democracy.

2. Grayhawk again with a careful post on the current strategy to reduce American troops to 92,000 next year; conditions permitting.

3. The UK Guardian posts Salaam Pax's blog from Iraq on the elections. It's progress when leading Western journalists will step aside let the Iraqis speak for themselves.

4. McCain and W clinch an agreement on banning torture. McCain has done good work on this issue, and the passing of the agreement will help consolidate support for the mission in Iraq, both domestically and internationally.

5. Rasmussen has the president's job approval up in the mid-40s, and this is consistent throughout December.

6. Sadly, the move toward to democracy in Iraq has come against the bitter opposition of many key Democratic leaders: John Kerry, House leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Murtha. Right now, they have created for themselves the image of a party that has two key goals if they win the Congress in 2006: surrender Iraq to the terrorists, and impeach W. I have been assuming that the GOP would lose seats in the House but retain control in 2006--but with the Democrats running on a surrender platform, the GOP has a shot at increasing its control.

Thanks to Milblogger Citizen Smash for a great post and photo.

Give the Devil her Due

A prominent radical complains:

Why Can't I Get Arrested?

I'm getting a little insulted that no Democratic prosecutor has indicted me. Liberals bring trumped-up criminal charges against all the most dangerous conservatives. Why not me?

Democrat prosecutor Barry Krischer has spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to find some criminal charge to bring against Rush Limbaugh. Political hack Ronnie Earle spent three years and went through six grand juries to indict Tom DeLay. Liberals spent the last two years fantasizing in public about Karl Rove being indicted. Newt Gingrich was under criminal investigation for 3 1/2 years back in the '90s when liberals were afraid of him. Final result: No crime.

And of course, everybody cool in the Reagan administration was indicted. Or at least investigated and persecuted. Reagan's sainted attorney general Ed Meese was criminally investigated for 14 months before the prosecutor announced that he didn't have anything (but denounced Meese as a crook anyway).

I've done a lot for my country. I think I deserve to be indicted, too. What's a girl have to do to become a "person of interest" around here?

These liberals are fanatics about privacy when it comes to man-boy sex and stabbing forks into partially-born children. But a maid alleges that she bought Rush Limbaugh a few Percodans, and suddenly the government has declared a war on prescription painkillers.

Liberals are more optimistic about the charges against Tom DeLay than they are about the charges against Saddam Hussein -- and the only living things Tom DeLay ever exterminated were rats and bugs.

Charges like these are not brought at random. They are brought against people who pose the greatest threat to liberals.

What am I? Miss Congeniality?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Soldiers vs. the Press: Round II

From StrategyPage

Journalism Versus Reality in Iraq
by James Dunnigan
December 3, 2005

American troops are developing a hate-hate relation with journalists. The basic problem is that soldiers and marines in Iraq have access, usually via the Internet, to what the mass media is saying about what they think is happening in Iraq. These news reports, all too often, do not reflect what the troops experience. It gets uglier when the troops realize that reporters are spending most of their time in the Green Zone or some well guarded hotel, leaving it to local Iraqi stringers to collect information and photos for the reporters stories. Relations are a bit better with the few embedded journalists who still travel with the troops out in field. But even the embeds are often mistrusted and disliked, because some of them are blatantly out for dirt, not an accurate story.

Few of the troops understand that the news business is driven by dramatic events, not the tedious kind of process the troops go through every day to defeat the terrorists. To the troops, the war is being won. They see bad guys killed in large numbers, and few Americans getting hurt (it’s fairly common for their to be about twenty enemy dead for each American loss). The troops see tangible evidence, every day, of Iraqis having a better life. The troops cannot understand why that is not news, and why journalists always seem to be looking for a negative angle. To the average G.I., the attitude is, “what are these reporters looking for?” They are looking for a story, and bad news is a story. Good news is not. As a result of this clash of cultures, reporters are increasingly seen as a potentially dangerous enemy. For the troops, this is already accepted as true for many Arab journalists. Some of those have been arrested for hostile activity, or later revealed as al Qaeda agents. European journalists are seen as particularly clueless, so wrapped up in their anti-American fantasies, that communication is nearly impossible. But after watching a CNN clip on the net, or viewing an online story from the New York Times or Washington Post, it’s hard to view U.S. journalists as fellow Americans.

1. US journalists are fellow Americans...who just happen to be bad reporters.
2. Dunnigan writes: "They are looking for a story, and bad news is a story. Good news is not." But there's nothing inherent in journalism that mandates this attitude to America's wars. This is a post-Vietnam phenomenon: the reporters of World War II had higher standards than our current generation of celebrity-journalists.
3. The bottom line here is that current journalists are simply poor critical thinkers: skeptical of anything good that comes out of Washington, but ready to believe the crudest propaganda from Middle Eastern terrorists.
4. September 11th was a shock because the leading voices of the American press (ABC/CBS/NBC/NYTimes) failed in their responsibilities to the American public. 4 years later, far too little has changed.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Truth about the War: The Soliders versus the Press

Atlas Shrugs has a great post with a letter from a Marine.
[Family values notice: our Marine occasionally talks like one.]

Hot Quote: "morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see [stuff] like "Are we losing in Iraq" on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there). "

No politics here, just a Marine with a bird's eye view's opinions:
1) The M-16 rifle: Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder like sand over there. The sand is everywhere. Jordan says you feel filthy 2 minutes after coming out of the shower. The M-4 carbine version is more popular because it's lighter and shorter, but it has jamming problems also. They like the ability to mount the various optical gun sights and weapons lights on the picanttiny rails, but the weapon itself is not great in a desert environment. They all hate the 5.56mm (.223) round. Poor penetration on the cinderblock structure common over there and even torso hits can't be reliably counted on to put the enemy down. Fun fact: Random autopsies on dead insurgents show a high level of opiate use.
2) The M243 SAW (squad assault weapon): .223 cal. Drum fed light machine gun. Big thumbs down. Universally considered a piece of shit. Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly. (that's fun in the middle of a firefight).
3) The M9 Beretta 9mm: Mixed bag. Good gun, performs well in desert environment; but they all hate the 9mm cartridge. The use of handguns for
self-defense is actually fairly common. Same old story on the 9mm: Bad guys hit multiple times and still in the fight.
4) Mossberg 12ga. Military shotgun: Works well, used frequently for clearing houses to good effect.
5) The M240 Machine Gun: 7.62 Nato (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun, developed to replace the old M-60 (what a beautiful weapon that was!!). Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts them down. Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there.
6) The M2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. "Ma deuce" is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight stopper, puts their dicks in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater.
7) The .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there. Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one. With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put 'em down with a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it. The old government model .45's are being re-issued en masse.
8) The M-14: Thumbs up. They are being re-issued in bulk, mostly in a modified version to special ops guys. Modifications include lightweight Kevlar stocks and low power red dot or ACOG sights. Very reliable in the sandy environment and they love the 7.62 round.
9) The Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle: Thumbs way up. Spectacular range and accuracy and hits like a freight train. Used frequently to take out vehicle suicide bombers (we actually stop a lot of them) and barricaded enemy. Definitely here to stay.
10) The M24 sniper rifle: Thumbs up. Mostly in .308 but some in 300 win mag. Heavily modified Remington 700's. Great performance. Snipers have been used heavily to great effect. Rumor has it that a marine sniper on his third tour in Anbar province has actually exceeded Carlos Hathcock's record for confirmed kills with OVER 100.
11) The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approx. 6 lbs. and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even will stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as shit to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat (which averages over 120 degrees). Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the bullshit about the "old" body armor making our guys vulnerable to the IED's was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn't make any difference at all in most cases.
12) Night Vision and Infrared Equipment: Thumbs way up. Spectacular performance. Our guys see in the dark and own the night, period. Very little enemy action after evening prayers. More and more enemy being whacked at night during movement by our hunter-killer teams. We've all seen the videos.
13) Lights: Thumbs up. Most of the weapon mounted and personal lights are Surefire's, and the troops love 'em. Invaluable for night urban operations. Jordan carried a $34 Surefire G2 on a neck lanyard and loved it. I can't help but notice that most of the good fighting weapons and ordnance are 50 or more years old!!!!!!!!! With all our technology, it's the WWII and Vietnam era weapons that everybody wants!!!! The infantry fighting is frequent, up close and brutal. No quarter is given or shown.
Bad guy weapons:
1) Mostly AK47's The entire country is an arsenal. Works better in the desert than the M16 and the .308 Russian round kills reliably. PKM belt fed light machine guns are also common and effective. Luckily, the enemy mostly shoots like shit. Undisciplined "spray and pray" type fire. However, they are seeing more and more precision weapons, especially sniper rifles. (Iran, again)
Fun fact: Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in Jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let's just say they know better now.
2) The RPG: Probably the infantry weapon most feared by our guys. Simple, reliable and as common as dog shit. The enemy responded to our up-armored humvees by aiming at the windshields, often at point blank range. Still killing a lot of our guys.
3) The IED: The biggest killer of all. Can be anything from old Soviet anti-armor mines to jury rigged artillery shells. A lot found in Jordan's area were in abandoned cars. The enemy would take 2 or 3 155mm artillery shells and wire them together. Most were detonated by cell phone, and the explosions are enormous. You're not safe in any vehicle, even an M1 tank. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there. Lately, they are much more sophisticated "shape charges" (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready made IED's are supplied by Iran, who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That's why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shape charges in Styrofoam containers spray painted to look like the cinderblocks that litter all Iraqi roads. We find about 40% before they detonate, and the bomb disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war.
4) Mortars and rockets: Very prevalent. The soviet era 122mm rockets (with an 18km range) are becoming more prevalent. One of Jordan's NCO's lost a leg to one. These weapons cause a lot of damage "inside the wire". Jordan's base was hit almost daily his entire time there by mortar and rocket fire, often at night to disrupt sleep patterns and cause fatigue (It did). More of a psychological weapon than anything else. The enemy mortar teams would jump out of vehicles, fire a few rounds, and then haul ass in a matter of seconds.
5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Google earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.
Who are the bad guys?: Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi Al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province (Fallujah and Ramadi). These are mostly "foreigners", non-Iraqi Sunni Arab Jihadists from all over the Muslim world (and Europe). Most enter Iraq through Syria (with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian govt.) , and then travel down the "rat line" which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we've been hitting hard for the last few months. Some are virtually untrained young Jihadists that often end up as suicide bombers or in "sacrifice squads".Most, however, are hard core terrorists from all the usual suspects (Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.) These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian), are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. (they have been fighting the Russians for years). In the Baghdad area and south, most of the insurgents are Iranian inspired (and led) Iraqi Shiites. The Iranian Shiia have been very adept at infiltrating the Iraqi local govt.'s, the police forces and the Army. The have had a massive spy and agitator network there since the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80's. Most of the Saddam loyalists were killed, captured or gave up long ago. Bad Guy Tactics: When they are engaged on an infantry level they get their asses kicked every time. Brave, but stupid. Suicidal Banzai-type charges were very common earlier in the war and still occur. They will literally sacrifice 8-10 man teams in suicide squads by sending them screaming and firing Ak's andRPG's directly at our bases just to probe the defenses. They get mowed down like grass every time. (see the M2 and M240 above). Jordan's base was hit like this often. When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeo's (Allah's Waiting Room). We have the laser guided ground-air thing down to a science. The fast mover's, mostly Marine F-18's, are taking an ever increasing toll on the enemy. When caught out in the open, the helicopter gunships and AC-130 Spectre gunships cut them to ribbons with cannon and rocket fire, especially at night. Interestingly, artillery is hardly used at all. Fun fact: The enemy death toll is supposedly between 45-50 thousand. That is why we're seeing less and less infantry attacks and more IED, suicide bomber shit.The new strategy is simple: attrition. The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties and therefore schools, hospitals and (especially) Mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi govt. Kidnapping of family members (especially children) is common to influence people they are trying to influence but cant reach, such as local govt. officials, clerics, tribal leaders, etc.). The first thing our guys are told is "don't get captured". They know that if captured they will be tortured and beheaded on the internet. Zarqawi openly offers bounties for anyone who brings him a live American serviceman. This motivates the criminal element who otherwise don't give a shit about the war. A lot of the beheading victims were actually kidnapped by common criminals and sold to Zarqawi. As such, for our guys, every fight is to the death. Surrender is not an option. The Iraqi's are a mixed bag. Some fight well, others aren't worth a shit. Most do okay with American support. Finding leaders is hard, but they are getting better. It is widely viewed that Zarqawi's use of suicide bombers, en masse, against the civilian population was a serious tactical mistake. Many Iraqi's were galvanized and the caliber of recruits in the Army and the police forces went up, along with their motivation. It also led to an exponential increase in good intel because the Iraqi's are sick of the insurgent attacks against civilians. The Kurds are solidly pro-Americanand fearless fighters. According to Jordan, morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see shit like "Are we losing in Iraq" on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Press is too liberal? Reality and the New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books has recently published an article with the disturbing title, "The Press: the enemy within". There's more than a whiff of McCarthyism in a title like that, but as one might guess, this is not a McCarthyism of the Right. The burden of the article is to paint the key institutions of the news media as pawns of the Establishment in general and the Pentagon in particular.

These kinds of articles need to be taken with some seriousness, in part because they reflect what many American liberals think about the press, and in part because they reflect what many reporters think about themselves.

The central proof of the press's conservative bias is the failure of the press to realize that Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs. But the article goes on to run through several criticisms that pretty much anybody would agree with: the search for ratings, the cult of celebrity, and the willingness of the press to invest much energy in puffing things like Time's 100 most influential people at the expense of real news.

But the article seems most exercised about the failure of the press to give sufficient print to civilian casualties in Iraq, and allegations of American atrocities: "When NBC cameraman Kevin Sites filmed a US soldier fatally shooting a wounded Iraqi man in Fallujah, he was harassed, denounced as an antiwar activist, and sent death threats. Such incidents feed the deep-seated fear that many US journalists have of being accused of being anti-American, of not supporting the troops in the field. "

Of course, Sites was harrassed in this way for very good reasons. The "Iraqi man" was an armed terrorist whom the soldier believed was pretending to be dead--a tactic that terrorists had been using to kill numerous American soldiers. After the Sites video was used to whip up much anti-American hysteria all across the world, a careful review vindicated the soldier. But not before much damage had been done to the reputation of the country.

More to the point, the press coverage of Fallujah highlighted the exact opposite problem: the basically complete indifference of the press to American victories and successes, and a single-minded focus on casualties and atrocity allegations. The end of 1984 battle of Fallujah was a brilliant piece of soldiering: the Americans cleared a major city of terrorists in a short period of time with exceptionally few American casualties. Yet the press basically ignored the tremendous success of the battle, the skill and bravery of the American soldiers--and invested a vast amount of coverage instead in the Sites video. In football terms, this was like winning a major playoff game, and finding that the headline the next day focussed on a sportwriter's claim that the hometeam should have been called offsides.

The real problems of the press are much different, and they transcend any standard liberal/conservative divide:

1. The press sends reporters who with few exceptions are simply unqualified to cover the war. In order to cover the war, a reporter should be expert in three areas: a) they should be fluent in Arabic; b) they should experts in Iraq and Islamic culture; c) they should know something about war. But few American reporters have any expertise in any of these three areas. The NY Review rightly notes part of the problem with the war reporters: "The simple lack of language skills is one reason. Captain Zachary Miller, who commanded a company of US troops in eastern Baghdad in 2004 and who is now studying at the Kennedy School of Government, told me that of the fifty or so Western journalists who went out on patrol with his troops, hardly any spoke Arabic, and few bothered to bring interpreters."

2. The press doesn't understand strategy: this again is related to the fact that the reporters basically lack a military background, and don't know an M-1 from an M-16. It's not an exaggeration to say that Americans get better covervage of the Super Bowl than they get of the war in Iraq. The team that does the Super Bowl coverage will mostly be composed of ex-NFL pros, often hall-of-famers. The contrast with the military ignorance of American war reporters is striking. By contrast, the NY Review is easily impressed: "The nation's principal news organizations deserve praise for remaining committed to covering the war in the face of lethal risks, huge costs, and public apathy. Normally The Washington Post has four correspondents in the country, backed by more than two dozen Iraqis, as well as three armored cars costing $100,000." Pathetic. That's substantially less than any network will invest in covering a Washington Redskins football game. But I suppose the Redskins have higher television ratings.

3. The press doesn't know how to prioritize coverage. Related again to #1 and #2. Decisions about what to emphasize depend on understanding the flow and progress of the war. But in the absence of any real understanding of war, the press finds it easier to simply hype the casualties to the exclusion of anything else. So in a study of the coverage by ABC/CBS/NBC from January through September of 2005:

Few stories focused on the heroism or generous actions of American soldiers. Just eight stories were devoted to recounting episodes of heroism or valor by U.S. troops, and another nine stories featured instances when soldiers reached out to help the Iraqi people. In contrast, 79 stories focused on allegations of combat mistakes or outright misconduct on the part of U.S. military personnel.

8 vs. 79. But the NYReview of Books thinks that the press isn't focussing enough on atrocities and civilian casualties.

Conclusion: in the most important war of our generation, the major news media simply cannot be relied on to cover the war in an accurate and informed way. The real coverage is now on-line: StrategyPage, AustinBay, Juan Cole, and the milblogs are the only place where anything like serious coverage is going on. And that is at a certain level good news: the soldiers actually fighting in Iraq report that morale is high and that we're winning. One can hope that at some point the press will cover the story.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thomas Jefferson's forgotten legacy

Andrew at ConfirmThem gives us this classic quotation:

Thomas Jefferson to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823:
On every question of construction, carry yourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

This is original intent jurisprudence in terms as clear and plain as the Jefferson Memorial or the dome of Monticello.

Of course, stuff like that would today get you drummed out of the party Jefferson founded: namely, the Democrats.

In the place of the real Thomas Jefferson of history, we get the politically correct Thomas Jefferson, remembered only for his "wall of separation" between church and state: Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. (Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT. (Jan. 1, 1802))

But despite what some moderns imagine based on the Danbury letter, Jefferson's political philosophy always rooted human liberty in the existence of God:
Jefferson's reputation began to reach beyond Virginia in 1774, when he wrote a political pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Arguing on the basis of natural rights theory, Jefferson claimed that colonial allegiance to the king was voluntary. "The God who gave us life," he wrote, "gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."

Indeed, as the above citation from the Danbury letter makes clear, in Jefferson's eyes, it was precisely the existence of God that created the network of liberties that separation of church and state was designed to protect. Jefferson's God was the classic Enlightenment God, proven to exist by the clear force of reason itself, acknowledged by the great philosophers from Aristotle to Newton, and not necessarily to be identified with any tradition of established religion.

Jefferson would be given the privilege of enshrining this view of the God of natural reason in American history two years later when he wrote the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights...

This did not conflict in the slightest with Jefferson's view on the wall of separation: for Jefferson, the existence of God was a matter of philosophy; while church was a matter of religion. Hence for Jefferson there was no contradiction whatever in rooting human freedom in God, for that was a matter of sound philosophy rather than a matter of religion.

In fact his own attitudes to many of the religious denominations of the new country were largely contemptuous: he scorned Calvin, thought little of Athanasius, denied the historicity of the New Testament, and seems to have held the Catholic Church in particularly low repute: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." (Letter to Alexander von Humboldt (Dec. 6, 1813))

But for all this disdain for religious tradition, he thought God himself the cornerstone of liberty:

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." (Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785) Query 18)

No leading Democrat would be caught dead saying that today: what Jefferson held to be the basis for democracy is now thought to be "intolerant", "narrow-minded", and "theocratic". But Jefferson's belief that God is the basis of human liberty is quite in keeping with the views of most Americans today:

Fully 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, 85 percent in heaven and 82 percent in miracles

Democrats will do better in the polls when they take more seriously the views of Jefferson.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

W's grand slam: Sam Alito

W has had the presidential career of a home run hitter. The baseball players will note immediately that this is clearly a double-edged epithet: home run hitters nearly always are at the top of the league in strike outs. And there's no doubt that W has had his share of strike outs, Harriet Miers being a well-intentioned but undoubted whiff.

But Alito is something else again. Yesterday saw the release of a 1985 memo on abortion coupled with the release of his Senate questionnaire containing his essay on judicial review. The contents are simply solid gold.

Let me begin by pointing to the missing key to the Alito nomination: his commitment to Alexander Bickel's vision of judicial review. Alexander Bickel was one of Yale Law School's most famous and influential judicial theorists. There are two key points about Bickel:

1. Bickel thought that in a democracy it was fundamentally dubious to have unelected judges striking down democratically passed laws: judges lacked the authority and the wisdom to write good laws in place of legislatures. Consequently the power of judicial review should be exercised rarely and only in cases where the evidence was quite clear-cut.

2. Bickel believed that judges should proceed slowly, cautiously, and with all due restraint in whatever interventions into the political process they chose to initiate.

This is crisply summed up in an interview with one of Bickel's students, James Freedman of UCBerkeley:

Freedman: He was a constitutional law person, but he had views on constitutional law which were quite out of the received conventional wisdom at the time, and today, I think, sadly, are hardly regarded at all. I regard them highly, but history has, in a sense, passed by his views. Maybe they'll come back someday.

Q: What were those views?

Freedman: Well, he is very much a person of judicial restraint...Very much a person of keeping the Supreme Court out of federal courts, generally, out of decisions that ought to be made by legislative and elected officials... Part of what Bickel understood was that society had to develop organically. One of his heroes was Edmund Burke. He admired Burke's sense of society as a kind of a coral reef of beliefs and views that have been accumulated over many, many centuries. And he wanted the Supreme Court to play a role that generated widespread consent, rather than just, by edict, announce this is what the law will be, because he thought that didn't have a chance of catching on, that one needed to generate in society a general consent.

Indeed, I'm not sure whether he thought Brown against the Board [of Education], which declared segregation unconstitutional, was a wise decision in a scholarly sense, but he was very pleased with the Court saying, "We will do this, not immediately, but with all deliberate speed" -- to be done slowly, carefully, building up kind of a basis in society for acceptance of it.

In his now famous ReaganDOJ job application, Alito said that he applied to Yale Law School in part because he wanted to study with Bickel. Although Bickel was a political liberal rather than a conservative, his views on judicial restraint were attractive to young conservatives like Alito. And Bickel was not a defender of a Scalia-style commitment to originalism.

The influence of Bickel is readily apparent in Alito's newly published 1985 memo on ReaganDOJ abortion strategy. On page 17/footnote 10, Alito cites Bickel as one of four authorities rejecting the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade. It is noteworthy that three of these authorities are prominent liberal judicial theorists: Alexander Bickel himself; Archibald Cox, one of the heroes of Watergate; and John Hart Ely, a pro-choice member of Yale Law School. (I am not familiar with Epstein, the fourth individual cited). It is worth noting that none of these three is a conservative judicial radical. Alito here is functioning well within the mainstream of contemporary legal theory in rejecting Roe as simply contrary to the Constitution.

But the influence of Bickel is equally clear in Alito's recommendation for executing the ReaganDOJ policy of trying to reverse Roe. Alito, true to Bickel's belief in judicial gradualism, does not advocate seeking to reverse Roe outright. He advocates instead defending a series of common sense abortion restrictions, arguably consistent with Roe itself, that would ultimately lead to the slow dissolution of the legal force of Roe itself. Bickel's philosophy leads Alito to a policy of judicial restraint both in strategy and in tactics.

Reading Alito's memo, carefully crafted and incisively written, is a reminder of what a remarkable legal talent W has found. As an academic, I am dislike the word "brilliant", the most overused word in academia and one rarely merited by the evidence. But I am strongly inclined to describe Alito as brilliant: it is not the flashy brilliance of a Mozart, the genius as enfant terrible with all the brassy noise which that title implies; rather it is a quiet, understated brilliance, whose calm logic and soft-spoken whispers of cutting reason remind one of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the cool syllogisms of the Summa Theologica.

Among the many parts of the memo that deserve careful consideration is Alito's line on page 9: "we should make clear that we disagree with Roe v Wade and would welcome the opportunity to brief whether, and if so to what extent, that decision should be overruled." [Boldface addedd]. In contrast to the sloppy rhetoric of clashing interest groups, reducing Roe to thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down, Alito carefully indicates that reversing Roe is not necessarily a matter of all or nothing, but may well be viewed by the court as a matter of degree. A valuable point, and not one likely to be picked up in warring television ads and network sound bites.

On balance, the new memo probably helps Alito in the Senate. Some senators will be disturbed by the fact that memo really places beyond doubt the point that Alito thinks that Roe v Wade was wrongly decided; the memo can scarcely be dismissed as a mere expression of Alito-the-advocate. But it also show Alito's temperamental and philosophical caution: even within a ReaganDOJ committed to reversing Roe, Alito declined to counsel seeking that directly; he preferred a gradual approach running the implicit but concomitant risk that gradualism might lead in the long run to nothing but minimal modifications in the basic framework of Roe.

It is worth noting too that this places his decision in Casey in a new light as well: in Casey, Alito followed exactly the strategy of his ReaganDOJ memo--he upheld the spousal notification requirement, but declined to challenge Roe directly. Although Alito as an appeals court judge was not really in a good position to call for the reversal of Roe, it is quite probable that he found the opportunity to uphold a specific abortion restriction completely consonant with his ReaganDOJ advocacy strategy.

Alito then is likely to lead to the further erosion of Roe, and he may well vote to reverse Roe altogether if given the chance. But as a Bickel-schooled gradualist, he is unlikely do this immediately or rapidly or soon. Alito is likely to give state legislatures the benefit of the doubt as to the constitutionality of abortion restrictions. Over at ConfirmThem, there has been much speculation that Alito will prefer a "rational basis" test for interpreting Roe. This would leave Roe officially on the books while gutting Roe of most its force. In the end, Roe would remain "good law", and yet the teeth would be taken out of it, and most state abortion restrictions would be allowed to stand.

The new memos from the ReaganDOJ make this a highly probable scenario for the future Mr Justice Alito.

The Ownership Society 2001-2005

I've defended here the basic point that W's Ownership Society goes back to Aristotle: private property is an essential foundation for a successful society, and the erosion of this principle by government action is counter-production to what Aristotle called human flourishing.

An excellent blog, Willisms, provides a very cool graph on exactly this point:

The Brussels Journal has a great piece titled "The Myth of the Scandinavian Model," in which the correlation between government spending and economic growth is noted.

Indeed, in OECD countries over the latter half of the 20th century, the correlation was very significant:

This data is not terribly shocking, but it's worth saying, because the stakes are so high:

The higher the level of taxation, the lower the growth rate. The explanation for this phenomenon is as logical as it is simple. The higher the tax level, the lower the incentive for people to make a productive contribution to society. The higher the fiscal burden, the more resources flow from the productive sector to the ever more inefficient government apparatus.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration, while lowering tax rates, has been reluctant to confront the need to keep down government. The following chart, from the Brussels Journal, helps to clarify:

This chart neatly reverses the conventional wisdom of much of American politics over the last fifteen years. President Clinton, boxed in by Newt Gingrich's Congress, saw government spending as a percentage of GNP fall sharply. W, seeking to cut into traditional Democratic constituencies, sharply raised government spending as a percentage of GNP. It can't be said that W has had much success with spending money like LBJ.

The hero in the chart above is...Ireland.

Once the #22 ranked economy in the OECD, Ireland surged to #4 after a deliberate policy of slashing taxes and spending. Ireland now has the most dynamic economy in Western Europe.

The lessons of this are pretty clear: the Ownership Society works--if we act on it.