Monthly Archives: March 2006

A Big Step Away From Democracy

I never thought I would praise a Paul Krugman New York Times column, but today’s piece makes a good point:

About the economics [of immigration]: the crucial divide isn’t between legal and illegal immigration; it’s between high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants. High-skilled immigrants — say, software engineers from South Asia — are, by any criterion I can think of, good for America. But the effects of low-skilled immigration are mixed at best.

True, there are large benefits for the low-skilled migrants, who may find even a minimum-wage U.S. job a big step up. Immigration also raises the total income of native-born Americans, although reasonable estimates suggest that these gains amount to no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

But low-skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans. And immigrants increase the demand for public services, including health care and education. Estimates indicate that low-skilled immigrants don’t pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of providing these services.

All of these effects, except for the gains for the immigrants themselves, are fairly small. Some of my friends say that’s the point I should stress: immigration is a wonderful thing for the immigrants, and claims that immigrants are undermining American workers and taxpayers are hugely overblown — end of story.

But it’s important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts. Moreover, what really worries me isn’t the narrow economics — it’s the political economy, the effects of having a disenfranchised labor force.

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas — and neither group has the right to vote. Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don’t count is likely to ignore workers’ interests: it’s likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

…Of course, America isn’t Dubai. But we’re moving in that direction. As of 2002, according to the Urban Institute, 14 percent of U.S. workers, and 20 percent of low-wage workers, were immigrants. Only a third of these immigrant workers were naturalized citizens. So we already have a large disenfranchised work force, and it’s growing rapidly. The goal of immigration reform should be to reverse that trend.

… I’m puzzled by the plan to create a permanent guest-worker program, one that would admit 400,000 more workers a year (and you know that business interests would immediately start lobbying for an increase in that number). Isn’t institutionalizing a disenfranchised work force a big step away from democracy?

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The Wary FBI and 9/11

An interesting New York Times news article on the revelations of the Moussaoui trial. Seems to me that Bush was right about the NSA wiretaps and the FISA court.

An excerpt:

The sentencing trial made clear the frustration of the Minneapolis F.B.I. office in its repeated efforts to interest bureau headquarters in Mr. Moussaoui.

Gripping testimony came from [FBI agent] Mr. Samit, who arrested Mr. Moussaoui on Aug. 16 and quickly became convinced that he was a terrorist who knew about an imminent hijacking plot. Mr. Samit said that he had sent about 70 warning messages about Mr. Moussaoui, but that they had produced no results.

The agent said he had been puzzled at the reluctance of Michael Maltbie, a supervisor with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at bureau headquarters, to seek a search warrant for Mr. Moussaoui’s belongings from a special intelligence court.

Mr. Samit seemed unable to satisfy Mr. Maltbie’s demand that he provide a tangible link between Mr. Moussaoui and a foreign power, a requirement for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He thought he had sufficient evidence from two French intelligence reports showing Mr. Moussaoui had recruited someone to fight in Chechnya for an Islamist group allied with Mr. bin Laden.

But on Aug. 24, 2001, a frustrated Mr. Samit sent an e-mail message to Charles Frahm, a friend and, at the time, an F.B.I. liaison to the C.I.A., asking for information to help make his case. “We’re trying to close the wiggle room for F.B.I. headquarters to claim there is no connection to a foreign power,” he wrote.

Mr. Moussaoui’s lawyers asserted that Mr. Maltbie had undermined the effort to obtain a search warrant by deleting some details from Mr. Samit’s requests. Mr. Samit said Mr. Maltbie had told him he was reluctant to press for a warrant because doing so would be risky for his career and “he was not about to let that happen to him.”

At the time, the bureau had become wary of applying to the intelligence court because a well-regarded supervisor had angered the court’s chief judge in a previous case.

Patriotic Assimilation

Wonderful column by Peggy Noonan on patriotism and immigration in the Online Journal.

An excerpt:

We are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically now. We are assimilating them culturally. Within a generation their children speak Valley Girl on cell phones. “So I’m like ‘no,” and he’s all ‘yeah,’ and I’m like, ‘In your dreams.’ ” Whether their parents are from Trinidad, Bosnia, Lebanon or Chile, their children, once Americans, know the same music, the same references, watch the same shows. And to a degree and in a way it will hold them together. But not forever and not in a crunch.

So far we are assimilating our immigrants economically, too. They come here and work. Good.

But we are not communicating love of country. We are not giving them the great legend of our country. We are losing that great legend. Because we do not communicate to our immigrants, legal and illegal, that they have joined something special, some of them, understandably, get the impression they’ve joined not a great enterprise but a big box store. A big box store on the highway where you can get anything cheap. It’s a good place. But it has no legends, no meaning, and it imparts no spirit.

…Who is at fault? Those of us who let the myth die, or let it change, or refused to let it be told. The politically correct nitwit teaching the seventh-grade history class who decides the impressionable young minds before him need to be informed, as their first serious history lesson, that the Founders were hypocrites, the Bill of Rights nothing new and imperfect in any case, that the Indians were victims of genocide, that Lincoln was a clinically depressed homosexual who compensated for the storms within by creating storms without . . .

You can turn any history into mud. You can turn great men and women into mud too, if you want to.

And it’s not just the nitwits, wherever they are, in the schools, the academy, the media, though they’re all harmful enough. It’s also the people who mean to be honestly and legitimately critical, to provide a new look at the old text. They’re not noticing that the old text–the legend, the myth–isn’t being taught anymore. Only the commentary is. But if all the commentary is doubting and critical, how will our kids know what to love and revere? How will they know how to balance criticism if they’ve never heard the positive side of the argument?

Those who teach, and who think for a living about American history, need to be told: Keep the text, teach the text, and only then, if you must, deconstruct the text.

When you don’t love something you lose it. If we do not teach new Americans to love their country, and not for braying or nationalistic reasons but for reasons of honest and thoughtful appreciation, and gratitude, for a history that is something new in the long story of man, then we will begin to lose it. … Medal of Honor winner, Leo Thorsness, who couldn’t quite find the words–he only found it hard to put everything into words because he knew the story, the legend, and knew it so well. Only then do you become “emotional about it.” Only then are you truly American.

The Last Helicopter Theory

What Iran, the other Middle East dictators, and the terrorists expect after Bush.

Amir Taheri writes in the Online Journal:

Hassan Abbasi has a dream–a helicopter doing an arabesque in cloudy skies to avoid being shot at from the ground. On board are the last of the “fleeing Americans,” forced out of the Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) by “the Army of Muhammad.” Presented by his friends as “The Dr. Kissinger of Islam,” Mr. Abbasi is “professor of strategy” at the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps University and, according to Tehran sources, the principal foreign policy voice in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s new radical administration.

For the past several weeks Mr. Abbasi has been addressing crowds of Guard and Baseej Mustadafin (Mobilization of the Dispossessed) officers in Tehran with a simple theme: The U.S. does not have the stomach for a long conflict and will soon revert to its traditional policy of “running away,” leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed the whole of the Middle East, to be reshaped by Iran and its regional allies.

To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of “the last helicopter.” It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein’s generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton’s helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an “aberration,” a leader out of sync with his nation’s character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an “American Middle East.” Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Oriana Fallaci on the Islamic Conspiracy

Is there an Islamic conspiracy to defeat the West through demographics and cultural blackmail? Oriana Fallaci thinks so.

Some interesting excerpts from an LA Weekly article about Fallaci and her book The Force of Reason:

…in 1972, [Fallaci] interviewed the Palestinian terrorist George Habash, who told her (while a bodyguard aimed a submachine gun at her head) that the Palestinian problem was about far more than Israel. The Arab goal, Habash declared, was to wage war “against Europe and America” and to ensure that henceforth “there would be no peace for the West.” The Arabs, he informed her, would “advance step by step. Millimeter by millimeter. Year after year. Decade after decade. Determined, stubborn, patient. This is our strategy. A strategy that we shall expand throughout the whole planet.”

Fallaci thought he was referring simply to terrorism. Only later did she realize that he “also meant the cultural war, the demographic war, the religious war waged by stealing a country from its citizens … In short, the war waged through immigration, fertility, presumed pluriculturalism.” It is a low-level but deadly war that extends across the planet, as any newspaper reader can see.

…In 1974, Algerian president] Boumedienne, the man who ousted Ben Bella three years after Algerian independence, spoke before the General Assembly of the United Nations. And without circumlocutions he said: ‘One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere of this planet to burst into the northern one. But not as friends. Because they will burst in to conquer, and they will conquer by populating it with their children. Victory will come to us from the wombs of our women.’ ”

Such a bald statement of purpose by a nation’s president before an international forum seems incredible. Yet even in British journalist Adam LeBor’s A Heart Turned East (1997), a work of profound, almost supine sympathy for the plight of Muslim immigrants in the West, a London-based mullah is quoted as saying, “We cannot conquer these people with tanks and troops, so we have got to overcome them by force of numbers.” In fact, such remarks are commonplace. Just this week, Mullah Krekar, a Muslim supremacist living in Oslo, informed the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that Muslims would change Norway, not the other way around. “Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes,” he said. “By 2050, 30 percent of the population in Europe will be Muslim.”

In other words, Europe will be conquered by being turned into “Eurabia,” which is what Fallaci believes it is well on the way to becoming.

…Briefly put, the alleged plot [to destroy Europe] was an arrangement between European and Arab governments according to which the Europeans, still reeling from the first acts of PLO terrorism and eager for precious Arabian oil made significantly more precious by the 1973 OPEC crisis, agreed to accept Arab “manpower” (i.e., immigrants) along with the oil. They also agreed to disseminate propaganda about the glories of Islamic civilization, provide Arab states with weaponry, side with them against Israel and generally tow the Arab line on all matters political and cultural. Hundreds of meetings and seminars were held as part of the “Euro-Arab Dialogue,” and all, according to the author, were marked by European acquiescence to Arab requests. Fallaci recounts a 1977 seminar in Venice, attended by delegates from 10 Arab nations and eight European ones, concluding with a unanimous resolution calling for “the diffusion of the Arabic language” and affirming “the superiority of Arab culture.”

While the Arabs demanded that Europeans respect the religious, political and human rights of Arabs in the West, not a peep came from the Europeans about the absence of freedom in the Arab world, not to mention the abhorrent treatment of women and other minorities in countries like Saudi Arabia. No demand was made that Muslims should learn about the glories of western civilization as Europeans were and are expected to learn about the greatness of Islamic civilization. In other words, according to Fallaci, a substantial portion of Europe’s cultural and political independence was sold off by a coalition of ex-communists and socialist politicians. Are we surprised? Fallaci isn’t. In 1979, she notes, “the Italian or rather European Left had fallen in love with Khomeini just as now it has fallen in love with Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and Arafat.”

The Law Enforcement Approach For Terrorists

Moussaoui’s day in court.

If He Can Say It, He Must Be Wrong

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens reveals the irrationality behind the pose of America’s “dissenters”:

America’s self-styled “dissenters”: people like MIT’s Noam Chomsky, Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation and Harper’s magazine editor Lewis H. Lapham. Ordinarily — or at least in a world in which language is used accurately — these people would be in a class with every other American. That is, they would, depending on the administration or the policy, find themselves dissenting from time to time from the majority view. Anybody who has voted for a losing candidate would therefore qualify as a current or former dissenter.

But this is not at all what someone like Mr. Lapham has in mind when speaking about “dissent.” To judge by his writing, he thinks of himself not as a voice of ordinary disagreement in a free society but as a man heroically opposed to a “regime,” that is, as a dissident. During the course of his prominent career, he has written about a dozen books, including the recent “Gag Rule,” whose argument is neatly summarized by its subtitle: “On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy.”

As complaints go, there’s something amiss about this one. How exactly is “dissent” being “suppressed” when the dissent in question is also being published, distributed and widely sold throughout the U.S. (and by no less an imprint than Penguin Books)? The logic of Bertrand Russell’s paradox applies: If Mr. Lapham’s thesis in “Gag Rule” is right, he couldn’t say it. And if he can say it, he must be wrong.

In fact, Mr. Lapham refutes his own claims in “Gag Rule” every month. Take the current issue of Harper’s, which contains Mr. Lapham’s disquisition on “The Case for Impeachment”: “We have in the White House,” he writes, “a thief who steals the country’s good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use.” In what country where the word “dissent” means what Mr. Lapham thinks it means could he get away with this statement? Certainly not in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, whose destruction at the hands of the Bush administration Mr. Lapham bitterly denounces.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Lapham claims that the real stifling of democratic debate is taking place at a much deeper level than that of overt censorship: “The obstacles that stand in the way of an honest and genuinely democratic debate,” he writes, “consist not only of the prejudices symptomatic of corporate journalism but also of the epistemological biases inherent in both the American school system and the means of electronic communication.” In other words, we are all brainwashed.

Here again, however, logic intrudes: If “we” are all brainwashed, and Mr. Lapham is one of the “we,” how can either he (or we) be sure that he isn’t also a victim of the same brainwashing? Perhaps the CIA, in a cunning plot, introduced an element of fake “dissent” into the system to fool Americans into thinking that they live in a society in which “genuine debate” is allowed. I doubt even Mr. Lapham believes this.

Ultimately, the problem for Mr. Lapham and all his fellow would-be dissenters is this: Life in America has been so shorn of formal prohibitions and social taboos that the words “dissenter” and even “nonconformist” have ceased to mean anything at all, at least within our borders. Mr. Lapham longs to be a dissident, but that is the one role America has denied him.

Tom Wolfe, also in the Wall Street Journal, expresses a similar sentiment:

“I … believe in the United States. I think this is the greatest nation that ever existed, still is. It’s really the only really democratic country in the world. Find me one country, just one country in the entire world that would let a foreign people–different culture, different language, and in many cases different color than the majority of the native stock–take over politically an entire metropolitan area in less than one generation. I’m talking about the Cubans in Miami . . .”

Mr. Wolfe has a habit of using experience and anecdote to gird an argument or shade a meaning, and he carries on like this for some time. Then, abruptly: “I really love this country. I just marvel at how good it is, and obviously it’s the simple principle of freedom. . . . Intellectually this is the system where people tend to experiment more and their experiments are indulged. Whatever we’re doing I think we’ve done it extremely, extremely, extremely well.” Silence. “These are terrible things to be saying if you want to have any standing in the intellectual world.”

Bubble Boy

The usually wise Peggy Noonan deconstructs the Academy Awards and George Clooney.

A brief excerpt:

… Mr. Clooney’s remarks were… part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don’t think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn’t even know he’s not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they’ve experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven’t experienced life; they’ve experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Thank You, "Crash"

Los Angeles Times (and former Philly) columnist Steve Lopez doesn’t think LA is a racist town whose citizens need to be sensitized by “Hollywood.”

No Murderers Here

The New York Times runs a three part series this week on the Imam of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge without once mentioning the mosque’s connection to a murder. Eric Fettmann writes in the New York Post:

OF the many New York Times readers who made their way through this week’s three-part series, “An Imam in America,” one was paying especially close attention.

The series, which ran at the top of Page One on Sunday and Tuesday, focused on the political tightrope walked by Sheik Reda Shata, imam of Brooklyn’s Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, as he tries to reconcile the often conflicting values of America and Islam.

Devorah Halberstam knows full well about the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. On March 1, 1994, a Lebanese-born man who had just listened to a hate-filled anti-Jewish sermon at that mosque filled his car with deadly weapons and attacked a van filled with Hasidic Jewish children on the Brooklyn Bridge.

One youth was killed – her 16-year-old son, Ari. Tuesday was the 12th anniversary of his death.

Halberstam pored through the Times series, expecting to see at least some mention of her son’s case in the second installment, which dealt with the issue of terrorism. But Ari’s name never appeared in the 11,000-plus-word series.

Certainly, there is no denying the mosque’s critical connection to the case.