State of the Union

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Yesterday, two journalists were arrested for taking pictures and filming a public meeting of the D.C. Taxi Commission. One of those journalists was Jim Epstein of Reason Magazine, and you can read his account here or watch his video of the event:

This is downright Soviet. If people don’t have the right to record public meetings of government officials, we are in danger of losing one of the bedrocks of republican government, which isn’t terribly healthy as it is. Radley Balko, who knows a thing or two about recording public servants, wryly notes that the cab drivers, who are mostly immigrants “from east Africa and the Middle East,” are outraged and therefore “seem to have a far better grasp of free expression and the need for transparency in government than the federal and city employees working in America’s capital city.”

Government transparency is not a sufficient condition for a corruption-free government, but it’s sure as hell a necessary one. And although this may seem to be a minor incident, government at the federal level has grown dramatically more opaque with, for instance, an explosion in the number of classified documents after 9/11. President Obama pledged to reverse this trend, but that promise has not yielded impressive results. We should not be surprised when local bureaucracies follow the lead of their federal overlords and do everything within their power to shield themselves from public scrutiny.

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Catholic U to be sued over single-sex dorms?

Has progressive activism reached a new low? A George Washington University law professor is threatening to sue Catholic University over its recent decision to return to single-sex dorms.

The professor, John Banzhaf, claims that Catholic’s decision is in violation of a D.C. anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination based upon sex.

GW prof John Banzhaf argues that the plan to gender-segregate all of the school’s dorms constitutes illegal sex discrimination under the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act.

Banzhaf has won more than 100 legal actions under the statute, he said in a statement, adding that the District’s anti-discrimination law “prohibits any discrimination based directly or indirectly upon sex unless it is strictly necessary for the entity to remain in business.”

And since for more than 25 years Catholic University has grown considerably without gender-segregated dorms, “it is very unlikely that this newly-unveiled plan would qualify” as a business necessity, Banzhaf added.

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Debating Japan’s Lost Decade

TAC contributor Eamonn Fingleton has long questioned the idea that the 1990s were a “lost decade” for the Japanese economy.  Now he’s challenging two popular proponents of that thesis to a public debate in Washington, D.C.—and he’s willing to donate $10,000 to charity if they accept the challenge.

The offer has gone out to economists Robbie Feldman, the chief Japan economist for Morgan Stanley, and Ed Lincoln, the former chief advisor on Japanese economics to ambassador Walter Mondale.

On his website, Fingleton partially blames the idiosyncrasies of Japanese society for propagating the “lost decade” thesis to Westerners:

Let me speak plainly: no one of any commonsense in Tokyo has ever placed much credence in the story of the first “lost decade,” let alone the second. They have kept their views to themselves, however, because Japan is not a place where people lightly contradict the elite bureaucracy on anything, let alone on a fundamental public relations theme that has been systematically projected into the foreign media for twenty years.

While it may seem amazing that crucial facts can be swept under the carpet in this way, the Japanese bureaucracy’s almost magical ability to impose self-censorship not only on Japanese citizens but even on Japan-watching foreigners has been well documented (see, for instance, Ivan P. Hall’s Bamboozled: How America Loses the Intellectual Game With Japan and Its Implications for Our Future in Asia).

Among the many issues not reported on by the Western media is the protectionist Japanese auto market:

… the fact is that with the exception of two luxury German marques, foreign cars remain completely marginalized and the aggregate foreign market share has been kept at 4 percent for decades (irrespective of whether the yen is high or low).

Will Feldman and Lincoln agree to debate Fingleton?  If they do, it will be a victory for all the so-called heterodox economists who are eager to challenge today’s economic dogmas—many of which are responsible for the current crisis.

If they don’t, it will still be a victory for those willing to question today’s economic status quo.

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Whitey Bulger Behind Bars

The notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was finally captured by the FBI yesterday. Bulger had been on the run for 16 years since being tipped off about his imminent indictment by his FBI handler in 1994.

For more background on Bulger, see this TAC classic by William Norman Grigg from our May 22, 2006 issue.

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What’s a Neoconservative?

My father suggested to me recently that it might be helpful to better explain what the term “neoconservative” means. “A lot of people don’t know,” he said. As usual, Dad was right. Though decades old, the mainstream use of the word neoconservative is relatively new. I mentally filed away my father’s suggestion agreeing that a layman’s explanation of “neoconservative” might be helpful when the time was right. The time is right—as the American intervention in Libya has drawn a clearer line between neoconservatives and conventional Republicans than any event in recent memory.

The “neocons” believe American greatness is measured by our willingness to be a great power—through vast and virtually unlimited global military involvement. Other nations’ problems invariably become our own because history and fate have designated America the world’s top authority.

Critics say the US cannot afford to be the world’s policeman. Neoconservatives not only say that we can but we must—and that we will cease to be America if we don’t. Writes Boston Globe neoconservative columnist Jeff Jacoby: “Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.” Neocon intellectual Max Boot says explicitly that the US should be the world’s policeman because we are the best policeman. Read More…

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Right and Left Share the Peace Pipe

TAC Editor-in-Chief Dan McCarthy and I sat down to talk about the perils of empire with Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese on Sunday night at Busboys and Poets, located in possibly the most liberal end of DC outside of Dupont Circle and Takoma Park. We not only survived, but I think we had a good time tilling some common ground. There are many differences — especially on domestic economic policy — that are possibly irreconcilable. The urgency both sides feel for ending the permanent war state is obvious, however. Whether they can transcend fundamental differences for a common mission is yet to be seen, but at least the conversation is engaged and from what we saw Sunday, pretty focused on the task at hand, as insurmountable as it might seem today.

Here is my take on the evening published Tuesday on Antiwar.com :

What do you get when you talk Pat Buchanan in a room in which every liberal peace and civil rights icon—from Gandhi to Rosa Parks to the Dalai Lama—is looking down like the immortals in a sort of benign judgment from a giant mural on the wall?

For one, the lightning doesn’t strike and the tables don’t clear with an angry clatter. In fact, the mostly liberal crowd that came to see the a panel about the prospects of a left-right alliance against war seemed ready to try anything to help the peace movement out of the dustbin of wasted energies in time for another drawn out presidential campaign cycle and the election of a new U.S. Congress in 2012.

The place: Busboys and Poets, in the heart of D.C.’s U Street Corridor and the city’s “cultural and activist” scene, which you can bet is not emblematized by bleeding liberty trees or minute men. Who? Ralph Nader, liberal activist, government watchdog and consummate third party provocateur; Dan McCarthy, editor-in-chief of The American Conservative magazine, a Republican Party insurgency, consummate paleo-conservative meets libertarian voice in the wilderness; Kevin Zeese, longtime liberal activist who began his career as an attorney for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and a former Green Party Senate candidate; and I, who was seated on the “right” of the stage because of my freelance affiliation with FoxNews.com.

The evening was moderated by Baltimore radio talk show host Marc Steiner, and sponsored by Come Home America, the brainchild of Zeese. He sees a left-right alliance as the natural evolution of a peace movement that’s floundered as the longtime proprietary activity of liberal-Democratic America. Since Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats have conspicuously fallen off the peace train, making the antiwar movement more anemic than ever. According to a recent University of Michigan study, up to 54 percent of antiwar activists had been self-described Democrats during the last presidential election between 2007-2009. Now, less than a quarter of activists call themselves Democrats anymore. Read More…

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More bin Laden

The American media has again been complaining about perfidious Pakistan over the report that five men had been arrested for helping the United States kill Osama bin Laden.  The complaining is ridiculous.  It was inevitable that Pakistan would try to identify and arrest those Pakistanis who had been recruited by CIA and were working as agents.  The FBI would do exactly the same if the situation were reversed.

A number of websites where former intelligence officers congregate are also buzzing over the story.  The initial reports were followed by media accounts that CIA Director Leon Panetta had personally met with his counterparts in Pakistan and had asked that the detainees be released.  The New York Times followed up with an article revealing that the five men had indeed been arrested, confirmed that they had been working for CIA, and added that one of them was a Major in the Pakistani Army who had been providing a list of license plate numbers on the vehicles entering and leaving the bin Laden compound.  A subsequent story suggested that the Pakistani authorities had released four of the five men arrested, but as far as I can tell that has not been confirmed.

Former intel officers are angry because Panetta apparently confirmed to the Pakistanis that the men were indeed CIA agents.  Depending on how one looks at it, that could be equivalent to a death sentence, but it is possible that part of the tale is missing.  Panetta might have already known that the men had confessed, presumably under torture, but if there were any remaining doubt in the mind of the Pakistanis he would have dispelled that through his plea.  The New York Times report, based as it was on an official government source, served as confirmation of Panetta.

One former CIA officer described the Panetta plea and the NYT story as together “executing the five agents.”  It is the ultimate no-no in The Business never to reveal the identity of a source and thereby endanger him.  Panetta is, of course, not a real spy and the NYT has never indicated that it understands what goes on either.  If the White House made the decision to try to free the men on some kind of humanitarian grounds, it was a bad choice because most agents are trained to have cover stories that enable them to plausibly deny any clandestine activity. Intervening on their behalf would have confirmed that they were American spies and would have eliminated any possibility that they might talk their way out of jail.

Possibly the most disturbing aspect of the whole affair is the possibility that Obama acted in the belief that we are the good guys and that the Paks would understand that it was all in a great cause, i.e. killing bin Laden.  I don’t think Islamabad would quite see it that way.

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Not Even Close

Sometimes an article comes along that is so blindingly stupid and misinformed that the mind reels in a vain attempt to understand how such a thing could be published by any semi-reputable organization. In my personal experience, these articles often discuss the history of the libertarian movement or libertarian ideas. I’m certainly not contending that this is the only subject that attracts wildly inaccurate commentary like a picnic attracts ants, but it’s the one where I can spot these stories most easily.

Today’s entry is this deeply confused article on the supposedly baleful influence of philosopher Robert Nozick and his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The only proper response to a piece this nonsensical is something like this: Read More…

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The Dumbing-Down of America

“Is our children learning?” as George W. Bush so famously asked. Well, no, they is not learning, especially the history of their country, the school subject at which America’s young perform at their worst.

On history test given to 31,000 pupils by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the “Nation’s Report Card,” most fourth-graders could not identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a reason why he was important.

Most eighth-graders could not identify an advantage American forces had in the Revolutionary War. Twelfth-graders did not know why America entered World War II or that China was North Korea’s ally in the Korean War.

Only 20 percent of fourth-graders attained even a “proficient” score in the test. By eighth grade, only 17 percent were judged proficient. By 12th grade, 12 percent. Only a tiny fraction was graded “advanced,” indicating a superior knowledge of American history. Read More…

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2012 and Latter-Day Taint

The idea of a Mormon president is as unpopular today as the proposition of a Catholic occupant of the White House was in 1959. Gallup recently asked “if your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Mormon, would you vote for that person?” One in four Democrats and one in five Republicans and Independents say they couldn’t support a member of the LDS Church. The latter data point is of course more relevant, since Harry Reid is not mounting a primary challenge to President Obama — but should Romney and Huntsman be worried?

Mormons are only more popular than gays and atheists:

At 22%, Americans’ resistance to electing a Mormon president, even one nominated by their own party, is exceeded only by their opposition to electing someone who is either gay or lesbian (32%) or an atheist (49%). By contrast, less than half as many, 10%, say they would not vote for a Hispanic, and fewer than 10% would not vote for a nominee who is Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, female, or black. Read More…

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