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May 28, 2004

Memorial Day Reading

If you missed the tearjerker about Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in Tuesday's WSJ, you really have to read it. I just read it today, after a friend insisted last night that I get to it. He was right, it's not to be missed.

I Love Jet Noise has the full article here (via Blackfive). It's all about sacrifice.

Cpl. Jason Dunham is a real hero.

And here's a letter from today's WSJ reflecting on the article:

I'm sorry. I've been crying. And I can't stop.

After reading your article about Mr. Grasso's compensation (legal or not), his blistering op-ed response, and your editorial -- and whatever all that petty bickering suggests about sums so enormous that few Americans can even imagine them -- I read Mr. Phillips's moving story about Cpl. Dunham's selfless heroism. I lingered on his every word, every moment, every explosion, every turn for the worse, every hope for survival. Then the devastating news: "At 4:43 p.m. on April 22, 2004, Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham died."

Look, I'm just a businessman. And a Republican, too. But I hope and pray that all of us who have basked in the glorious financial excesses of modern-day managers' capitalism will take a brief timeout from all of our getting and our self-important lives, get down on our knees and say a prayer for those who have given -- sadly, on our behalf -- what Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion."

Maybe then my tears will dry. But I hope not.

John C. Bogle
Valley Forge, Pa.
(Mr. Bogle is founder and former CEO of The Vanguard Group.)

Posted by Old Benjamin at 06:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

A Little Too Defensive

Why is the left so outraged by this? Seems like a pretty uncontroversial point to me.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 04:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

A Matter of Will

A Victor Davis Hanson Q&A:

Q: How did previous military leaders deal with such foes, like in the Missouri conflict during the Civil War or in other cases where the US military faced guerilla forces that disregarded the rules of combat? What are our real obligations toward the Geneva Convention agreements, for example, when it comes to opponents who disregard all conditions of organized warfare?

Hanson: In some ways it is irrelevant, since we live in a postmodern, CNN, NPR world where all the rules have changed. We worry about the 21st century global audience, while our foes appeal to the ghosts of the 8th century. Still, we can win this war and abide by the Geneva Convention and will. Remember, we could have taken Fallujah and followed the Geneva Convention, but chose to back off—a terrible setback. Right now the problem is will, not the Geneva Convention.

And in light of the ceasefires in Fallujah and Najaf, I'm becoming more and more convinced that we don't have the will to win.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 10:41 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Why the Watchdogs Need Watching

Here's a fine essay by Bruce Thornton on Victor Hanson's site. An excerpt:

But if the media are really, as they claim, merely "objective" recorders of the facts, then surely they would at least cover the negative and positive facts equally. Indeed, one could argue that in the context of war, civilian deaths or abuse of detainees isn't really "news" but an unfortunate constant of war. What is really "news" in Iraq is that the U.S. military has taken remarkable steps to minimize civilian casualties, and is attempting an unprecedented task: to destroy an enemy and rebuild a society simultaneously. Certainly that wasn't the tack taken in WWII, when Japan and Germany were literally destroyed before the task of rebuilding began.

The "news" in Iraq, then, isn't the behavior of the prison guards, for such brutality occurs every day in every prison in America. If there had been a cover-up, then that would be newsworthy, but the only reason the media know about the story is because the military initiated an investigation. What the whole sorry episode shows is not the failure of the military or the administration, but rather the constant reality of evil in human hearts, an evil that war has always provided an excuse to indulge. That out of 150,000 troops in Iraq a dozen would be sadists should not surprise us.

Another problem with the media is their failure to provide an adequate context for the "facts" that usually are presented in isolation. Sometimes this context is historical: for example, what sorts of things typically have happened in wars? Civilian casualties, massacres, rape, death from friendly fire, execution of prisoners, torture, all have occurred in war throughout history. Unleashing the violence of human beings is never neat or precise. We try to have in place laws, training, and regulations that minimize such brutalities, but they will still occur and have to be accepted--though never condoned-- as part of the cost of resorting to force. Again, what needs emphasizing is not the constant brutality of war but the novel attempts to create a free, functioning society in a land that has never known one. When we condemn the bad, we need also to remember the worse.

To mention this larger context does not excuse the behavior, of course. To say that getting shot in the head is worse than getting stabbed in the arm is not to approve of wanton arm-stabbing. But the media needs to keep the proper perspective and judge actions by the standard not of perfection but of flawed human nature and the complexity and unforeseen consequences of all action. One way to do this is to be careful with language. In describing the abuse in Abu Ghraib, the New York Times' favorite word is "horrific." If intimidation and humiliation are "horrific," what word do we use to describe Auschwitz, or what went on in Abu Ghraib under Hussein? The use of such rhetoric is a sure sign that partisan interpretation rather than objective reporting is driving the news. . . .

Finally, and most importantly, where ultimately do the loyalties of the media lie? To profit, professional standards, or partisan ideology? And what if pursuing these harms the interests of their own country? We are not asking that the media be cheerleaders for the government, but simply be objective and fair in their coverage and not work actively against the aims pursued by a democratically elected administration, particularly when the lives of fellow Americans are at stake.


Posted by Old Benjamin at 10:29 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Warfare's Changing Landscape

Belmont Club has a very interesting post arguing that urbanization, the media, and other factors have broken down the wall between military affairs and civilian governance:

But the really frightening aspect of Col. Leonhard's argument is not that the military and political aspects of warfare have fused, but his realization that foreign battlefields and home front have merged into one integrated area of operations. There is now no real distinction between winning the "media war" and cleaning out a sniper's nest in Ramadi; between Abu Ghraib the prison and Abu Ghraib the media event. Many readers have criticized the Belmont Club's An Intelligence Failure as being too "soft" on the liberal press, arguing that the media's distortions are not simply the effect of incompetence but the result of a deliberate campaign of partisan information. Doubtless many in the liberal press harbor symmetrical resentments. Yet I have held back from framing the argument in these terms until I could place it in the framework of Col. Leonhard's concept of a global battlefield: one in which the WTC towers and the New York Times newsroom are front line positions no less than any corner in Baghdad; and where victory is measured not simply by the surrender of arms but the capitulation of ideas. We have begun the 21st century just as we inaugurated the 20th: at the edge of old familiar places and on the brink of the unknown.

One thing seems clear to me -- the adminstration has mishandled the media war both overseas and, most disturbingly, here at home. While it is certainly difficult to get positive information through the media's negative filter, I can't help but conclude that the administration has done an incredibly poor job on this front.

In the latter part of 2003, for example, the administration was silent as Howard Dean, the other candidates in the Democratic primary, and the media tore apart the justifications for the war in Iraq. The administration did not meaningfully challenge them or correct their misinformation. Indeed, the anti-war types were so successful that otherwise intelligent people I know actually believe that we went into Iraq because the president wanted to settle the score with Saddam over the attempted assassination of Bush I -- it was a personal vendetta. Likewise, the lied-about-WMD meme is now conventional wisdom among many -- and the administration did little to counter the misinformation that caused this.

Naturally, some are predisposed to believe such wild theories, but when otherwise intelligent people start to believe them, you've got to conclude that the administration has done a very bad job in the media. And that's not to even mention the adminstration's handling in the media of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Najaf.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 09:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Productivity

Bruce Bartlett gives us a lesson on "why productivity is good and why it is worth making efforts to increase it":

At the simplest level, productivity is about doing more with less — less labor, less energy, less capital. It is because each worker today produces far more than those in the past that we have a higher standard of living. According to the [Dallas Fed] report, output per person is about 25 times higher today that it was in 1776. And unless productivity increases, businesses will not have the resources to increase real wages and raise future living standards.

Some workers incorrectly view productivity as a kind of dirty word. They imagine bosses prodding them to work longer and harder, with fewer breaks and vacations. In fact, productivity is all about getting workers to work less and more easily, not longer and harder. As the report notes, a key benefit of higher productivity is that we work far less today than in the past. In 1830, the average worker put in a 76-hour workweek. This fell to 60 hours in 1890, 39 hours in 1950, and just 34 hours today.

Workers are able to work less because capital, technology, education and training, and managerial innovation have combined to raise output per hour. . . .

Historically, labor productivity in the U.S. has grown 2.3 percent per year. At this rate, living standards will double every 31 years — about a generation. Thus, at this rate, every generation will live about twice as well as the previous one. But after 1973, this historical trend took a nosedive for reasons economists are still unclear about. From 1973 to 1995, productivity increased only 1.5 percent per year. At this rate, it would take 48 years for living standards to double.

Since 1995, productivity has rebounded and even accelerated to 3.2 percent per year — enough to double living standards in just 22 years if sustained.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 12:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

Praising the EITC

Tyler Cohen is praising the Earned Income Tax Credit "as one of our government's best policies."

Posted by Old Benjamin at 01:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Sadr Update

StrategyPage:

May 27, 2004: Muqtada al Sadr's gunmen continued to withdraw from Najaf, as al Sadr tried to make a deal that would get the murder charges against him dropped. A ceasefire agreement has been negotiated with al Sadr, with the help of members of the Iraqi Governing Council. In most of the areas that al Sadrs gunmen took over in April, the gunmen are dead or gone, and the Iraqi government and police are back in control.

Over a hundred of al Sadr's men have been killed by coalition troops in the last few days, with few coalition casualties. This has been demoralizing for the al Sadr gunmen. The American troops are especially scary, with their use of UAVs, snipers and tanks. No matter what the al Sadr men do, the Americans seem to know where they are, and what they are up to. Show yourself, and an American sniper gets you. Try and shoot it out with the Americans, and they tend to hit you with their first shot. Fortify a building, and an American smart bomb hits it, and leaves neighboring buildings intact. Al Sadr's men receive more scorn than help from other Iraqi Shia, even though al Sadr had a lot of popular support in Najaf. The shrinking popular support, and continued pressure by the senior Shia clergy to get out of the Najaf shrines and mosques have put al Sadr in a difficult position. Even having his men fire at some of the Najaf shrines, and then blaming it on the Americans, didn't work. His chief lieutenant was captured yesterday and there is a feeling that the walls are closing in. They are.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 12:44 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Gore Horror

Power Line:

One of the great differences between liberals and conservatives is how the two camps go about explaining misconduct. Conservatives prefer straightforward, old-fashioned explanations that focus on a flaw in those who commit the misconduct -- greed, lust, cruelty, or (in extreme cases) evil itself. For liberals, such explanations are unsatisfyingly superficial. Misconduct must have a root cause, but liberals regard basic human instincts such greed, lust, and cruelty as insufficiently rooted. Thus, an intellectual posse must be recruited to track down the real culprit. And the search always seems to lead to the liberals' version of the heart of darkness -- "Amerika," in other words the policies adopted by America's elected leaders. By rejecting the obvious explanation and shifting the blame to American policy, the liberal accompishes that which is most important to him -- he proves his intellectual and moral superiority.

Al Gore accomplished this yesterday. A person of ordinary intelligence and moral discernment would only be able to identify two possible explanations for the misconduct at Abu Ghraib -- (1) a combination of cruelty and kinkiness and (2) the desire to coerce prisoners into providing information that might save American lives. But Al Gore is not ordinary. Thus, he was able to penetrate the heart of darkness and there locate a deeper explanation -- George Bush's post-9/11 policies. Had Gore not been so modest, he would have reported (instead of merely alluded to) the most deeply-rooted explanation he found on his intellectual voyage-- the country's failure to elect Al Gore.

Meanwhile, John Podhoretz thinks Gore has actually lost it.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 12:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Linking Iraq and Al Qaeda

From the WSJ editorial page:

We realize that even raising this subject now is politically incorrect. It is an article of faith among war opponents that there were no links whatsoever--that "secular" Saddam and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists didn't mix. But John Ashcroft's press conference yesterday reminds us that the terror threat remains, and it seems especially irresponsible for journalists not to be open to new evidence. If the CIA was wrong about WMD, couldn't it have also missed Saddam's terror links?

One striking bit of new evidence is that the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam's son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime's dirty work. Our government sources, who have seen translations of the documents, say Shakir is listed with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

This matters because if Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11. Shakir was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda "summit" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9/11 attacks were planned. The U.S. has never been sure whether he was there on behalf of the Iraqi regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamicist who hooked up with al Qaeda on his own.

It is possible that the Ahmed Hikmat Shakir listed on the Fedayeen rosters is a different man from the Iraqi of the same name with the proven al Qaeda connections. His identity awaits confirmation by al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody or perhaps by other captured documents. But our sources tell us there is no questioning the authenticity of the three Fedayeen rosters. The chain of control is impeccable. The documents were captured by the U.S. military and have been in U.S. hands ever since.

As others have reported, at the time of the summit Shakir was working at the Kuala Lumpur airport, having obtained the job through an Iraqi intelligence agent at the Iraqi embassy. The four-day al Qaeda meeting was attended by Khalid al Midhar and Nawaz al Hamzi, who were at the controls of American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon. Also on hand were Ramzi bin al Shibh, the operational planner of the 9/11 attacks, and Tawfiz al Atash, a high-ranking Osama bin Laden lieutenant and mastermind of the USS Cole bombing. Shakir left Malaysia on January 13, four days after the summit concluded.

There are more connections set forth in the editorial.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 12:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack