Friday, June 07, 2002

TALK ABOUT HINDSIGHT: This story beggars belief on many different levels - such as the sheer idiocy of the official: If what she's saying is true, she literally wouldn't know a terorrist if one threatened to slit her throat.
On the other hand, it is reassuring on two levels:
1) It shows that Al-Qaeda is not made up of geniuses - trying to recruit a government official you just met into Al Qaeda? Seriously?
2) I'd like to think that many people who would've been similarly oblivious before 9/11 would not be so now, so that any such slip-ups would be noticed & reported before thousands die.
We can hope.
THE FOUR SINS OF THE JOURNALISTS: Tal G. notes the transcript of an address given by the editor of Ha'aretz to the World Editors' Forum in Belgium. It begins with this:

First, the good news: Abu Ali's nine children are alive and well - as well as children can be among the ruins of the Jenin refugee camp. Please deliver this news to all of your friends who may have read, a few weeks ago, Abu Ali's mournful declaration: "All my nine children are buried beneath the ruins." Abu Ali's photograph was spread across a double page in a very distinguished and influential European magazine, under the title: "The survivors tell their story."
Israeli tanks and bulldozers had entered the camp, Abu Ali recalled. He went out to fill his car, telling his nine children to meet him at a nearby intersection. But the Israeli forces blocked his way back, and it was a week, he told the reporter, before he could return to the ruins of what had been his home. "It smells of death here," he is quoted as saying. "I am sure all my children are buried beneath the rubble. Come back in a week and you will see their corpses."
The reporter and his editors did not wait a week and published the tentative story as is. They were not satisfied with the extent of the tragedy that they could see with their eyes and legitimately depict in their copy. The desire to hype the story blunted their healthy journalistic instincts to doubt and double-check any story before publishing it.
While preparing this address, I made some inquiries about Abu Ali's case. First, final numbers indicate that three children and four women were killed during the fighting in the Jenin refugee camp. Second, Abu Ali's children were not among them. And third, the magazine did not bother to tell its readers of this relatively happy end to its story. Perhaps because they are tired of writing editor's notes on Middle East stories.
The past 20 months of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have created a real crisis of values for journalism. I believe I can compress the enormous volume of coverage and comment into four fundamental sins: obsessiveness, prejudice, condescension and ignorance. The story of Abu Ali conveniently exemplifies all four.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: I just found an old post from Alex Whitlock which still remains true:

In 2000, Barak offered more than what most Israelis were willing to concede and it was rejected by the Palestinians. Barak himself was electorally deposed for his efforts and replaced with someone considerably less diplomatic. In 2002, a plan proposed by Saudi Arabia was rejected by both the Israelis and Palestinians as insufficient. These circles just don't meet. So even leaving aside whose demands are more reasonable, war at this point is inevitable.
"But still," voices cry out, "we must try something. We cannot let the violence and bloodshed continue." Carried with this plea is the implied, but not often expressed and therefore rarely challenged, question of "what harm can there be in trying?"
Again, leaving out the moral implications who is right and wrong, there is procedurally much harm to be done in trying. Israel's actions are, for the most part, a top-down operation. If Sharon orders an attack, it's carried out. If Sharon orders his men to pull back, they do. If they do not, it is within Sharon's power to relieve them of their duties. Sharon, as the head of a state and commander of an army, is held accountable for his actions.
Palestinian actions, on the other hand, are considerably more de-centrilized. The fighters on the Palestinian side are not soldiers in a hierarchal army. They are instead an independent network of agents who take orders from several locations. Therefore, it is possible that even if Arafat is truly a peace-loving individual, he is powerless to stop the actions of Hamas and similar independent entities. Therefore, to the extent that Arafat does want peace, he is incapable and therefore not always accountable for the actions of his people. That means that to effectively create peace, we would not only need the approval of Arafat, but we would also need the approval of the leaders of each and every one of the independent entities that has declared Israel its mortal enemy. In the past, we have generally left it to Arafat to get his people in line and he has been unable, or unwilling, to do so. Indeed, Hamas and Hizbollah have claimed that nothing short of the elimination of Israel would satisfy them.
That, to say the least, is unacceptable to the Israelis. Therefore, by asking Israel to step down and being incapable of making the Palestinians step down, we are creating a strategic environment very favorable to Palestine. So even by trying to be objective and to not take sides, we are de facto taking the side of the Palestinians. It is within our rights to do so if we choose, but we are unable to expect the Israelis to simultaneously accept our opposing position and do as we ask them to.

NOT A BANG, BUT A WHIMPER: The Israelis have pulled out of Ramallah.Steven Den Beste explains why their current tactics vis-a-vis Arafat are probably mistaken:

What they said to him tonight was this:
We are no longer interested in public displays of horror at the bombings and empty denunciations of them. Offers of arrests and imprisonment of the attackers in Palestinian revolving-door prisons do not wash. The only thing we will accept will be a cessation of attacks, so from now on when we suffer, you will also suffer personally, Chairman Arafat. We're going to visit you wherever you are after every attack from now on and shell the place. We won't be directly trying to kill you, but we're not going to try very hard not to, either, and one of these times you're going to get your wish and become a martyr. But if indeed that is not your wish, then the only way to prevent it is to actually stop the bombings. Nothing less will do. You're playing Russian Roulette now, and every bombing attack on us from now on represents a chance that you'll hit the jackpot and get your 72 virgins.
It isn't going to work. Those who are planning the bombing don't give a shit what Arafat says, or whether he's harmed. That's the reality: Arafat only controls some of the bombers. The only way he actually can stop the attacks is to start a Palestinian civil war by committing his forces to a real attempt to suppress Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
...And in the mean time, this represents yet another attempt by Israel to attempt to deal with Arafat. It still places Arafat at the center of the stage, as the one essential man in the diplomatic circus. It embraces the fallacious idea that it is still possible to accomplish something by communicating with Arafat, even if the communication is delivered with tank gunfire.
Tonight was "diplomacy by other means" but it was still an attempt to deal diplomatically with Arafat. No progress will be made until Arafat is actually off the stage, one way or another.

Den Beste also makes the best case for killing Arafat, at long last.

APPEASEMENT AT FOGGY BOTTOM: The State Department is rumored to have a draft "political horizon" which goes even beyond the Clinton plan, calling for the evacuation of all settlements in return for a declaration that Palestinian refugees will not be settled within Israel. (Even the Clinton plan called for the retention of a few settlements close to the Green Line, such as Ma'ale Adumim and the Etzion bloc.)
Tal G. in Jerusalem has an appropriate response:

I find that offensive.... if the Palestinians violate more agreements and murder more civilians, will the State Dept. then sweeten the deal even more?
Arafat's response to the draft will be: "Yes, except for the part about the refugees. ... and except for any other obligation on the Palestinian side. You can't ask a people to give up their rights after all."

THOUGHTS WORTHY OF AN INS BUREAUCRAT: Some comments on the latest intellectual disaster passing for a New York Times editorial. Today's effort is an attempted banishment of John Ashcroft's proposal to have entrants into the U.S. from certain countries register with and regularly report to the government.

Congress recently passed legislation to address these weaknesses, but past Congressional mandates have paid few dividends. Border security remains porous, and there has been little effort, despite repeated promises, to provide consular officials around the world who make the crucial rulings on visa applications with access to law enforcement and intelligence databases. State Department officers overseas, for instance, did not know that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers had overstayed previous visas to America, let alone that the C.I.A. knew one of them had connections to Al Qaeda.

All the more reason to focus the government's resources on a target narrower than the set consisting of every entrant into the U.S. - such as, for example, the demographic group disproportionally likely to contain terrorists.

Similarly, the immigration service's desire to keep better track of foreign students studying in the United States has been thwarted by delays over the years and by objections from universities. The values and practices of American universities need not be undermined by reforms in the way they maintain records about foreign students.

Just wondering...why do universities get a draft exemption from the war against terror? I could take a cheap shot at how the "values and practices of American universities" include having Hamas supporters deliver commencement addresses at Harvard, but this blog is above such cheap shots. Of course it is.
Seriously, if the universities' reluctance to cooperate with immigration authorities have the effect of abetting terrorism, then there is no reason why that reluctance shouldn't come under scrutiny. The Times' editors need only look at the searing piece it recently published on those caught in the World Trade Center for a reminder of why we - even universities - need to revisit our old "values and practices."

These and other lapses will not be remedied by the wholesale fingerprinting of tens of thousands of Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders. Indeed, set against the immigration service's fundamental needs, this seems like a desperation move from a Justice Department that has failed through both Democratic and Republican administrations to manage the I.N.S. adequately and fix its chronic problems.

Desperate times call for desparate measures...seriously, the Times' editors have just described the deep-seated rot at the immigration authorities. Perhaps, when faced with the people trying to kill untold thousands of Americans, who are disproportionally from certain countries and unlikely to wait until the immigration services' "fundamental needs" are met, the government might be justified in a patchwork measure that might actually keep out many such people?

There is nothing wrong with asking long-term foreign visitors to demonstrate at intervals that they are doing what they said they would do when they applied for visas. But fingerprinting and registering people from certain suspect countries will provide only an illusion of security and subject many innocent visitors to the kind of intrusive checks that Americans traveling abroad would find offensive if applied to them.
The war on terrorism requires overhauling the visa and immigration system for everyone, not just Muslim or Arab visitors. As he goes about the necessary business of tightening border security, Mr. Ashcroft should address basic problems rather than settling for quick but ultimately ineffective solutions.

Here is the crux of the Times' arguments: a refusal to admit that special scrutiny of entrants from "certain suspect countries" can ever be justified. It is an argument against the principle of profiling, evidence be damned - and even if, as Eugene Volokh points out, the basis for such profiling is as blessed in U.S. legal sources as possible. For the Times' editors, the government can do nothing to keep terrorists out of the country if such efforts are specifically focused on where the terrorists are most likely to be found - in other words, if such efforts are those which are most likely to succeed. Only in the Times' universe is the risk of a generalization greater than the risk of terrorism.
UPDATE: As long as we're on the subject of "the values and practices of American universities," check out this article by Nicholas Confessore about how lobbyists for foreign students eviscerated a system that would have worked in tracking foreign students. Thanks to Josh Marshall, who has covered this story extensively (also see here).
Marshall points out that another real problem is the Bush administration's unwillingness to engage interests deeply embedded in the federal bureaucracies (pick your three-letter word: FBI, CIA, INS). All true - I've been very pro-immigration myself, with two caveats: 1) that should not be incompatible with a properly functioning (reconstituted) INS equivalent, set up to monitor certain basics and enforce when necessary, and 2) 9/11 showed that security concerns should be given greater emphasis than was previously the case, even if some openness is compromised. Neither proposition sounds earth-shattering, I know, but each seem to escape too many. Contra the Times' editors, the likely problem is that the Bush administration is not going far enough.
ANOTHER UPDATE: OK, perhaps this is a reminder why I've tried to give up writing this stuff late at night. Reading the editorial again, it appears that the Times is in fact advocating reforms in how the universities report information about foreign students, in its usual high-minded way. My bad; the Times may in fact be advocating the drafting of the universities in the war on terror after all. (Is it too much to expect them to come out and actually say so? Of course.) Based on the rest of the editorial, though, I assume that the Times' editors would be against having universities report information about foreign students based on their country of origin, so the larger point still stands.

AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE: Hirsch Goodman, an editor of the Jerusalem Report who has been a persistent critic of Sharon and Netanyahu, had the following exchange with a Norweigan radio host while the battle of Jenin was raging:

"How," I was asked, "is the Israeli media covering the massacre in Jenin?""Are you so sure there is a massacre in Jenin?" I replied.
"Of course I’m sure, I read it here in our morning papers and see it on television: Hundreds have been killed. It’s a massacre."
"You think Israeli troops would commit a massacre?" I asked.
"It looks like it," he responded.
"Are we on air live?"
"Yes," he said.
"Well f... you," I said.

Regarding the Norweigan boycott of Israeli products in reaction to the non-existent "massacre," Goodman states:

The Europeans, and the European press in particular, owe Israel an apology. They lied. There was no massacre in Jenin. There was probably less collateral damage in almost two weeks of fighting in dense urban areas than in one day of NATO bombardment of Belgrade. It took 18 months of violence and almost 500 killed, two-thirds of them civilians, before Israel went into Jenin. The allies did not wait that long before they reduced Milosevic’s Yugoslavia to rubble.
So if there is going to be a boycott, perhaps Jewish caterers should stop serving Norwegian salmon and Danish herring and Belgian chocolates and French champagne, and Jewish tourists choose other destinations for their vacation this year. As for those Germans who seemed only too happy to start Jew-bashing again, perhaps there is still some work to be done on that Holocaust thing. Remember?

MORE STATEMENTS OF THE OBVIOUS: From today's Jerusalem Post editorial:

The urgent task is not to define the political horizon but the opposite: All talk of horizons, all conference preparations, all envoy missions, all time line preparations should simply stop. Because if they do not stop, the message is that the more Israelis are murdered, the more the world will run around looking for something to give the Palestinians so that they will stop.
The lesson of the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the subsequent Palestinian terror offensive is that peace cannot be achieved by satisfying Palestinian grievances. Camp David was the ultimate experiment in providing a political horizon. It failed. It failed because there is no fixed set of Palestinian demands short of Israel's destruction.
This does not mean there can never be peace with the Palestinians. Egypt and Jordan also had unlimited grievances, and potentially still do, but they made peace for lack of better alternative. In the pivotal case of Egypt, peace came not, as many argue, because Egypt was able to restore its honor from the trouncing it received in 1967, but because the 1973 war was once again a massive military defeat.
In other words, the real "political horizon" is the elimination of an alternative to making peace. This is what the current war with the Palestinians is about, and the sooner we win it, the sooner the clouds blocking the political horizon will disappear.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

THIS AGAIN? Israeli troops are surounding Arafat's offices in Ramallah again.
I hope the Israelis aren't going to surround his offices and hope Arafat surrenders, or drops dead of a heart attack, or that the U.N. will pass a resolution allowing his exile. The lesson of his last siege, I think, is that if you're going to go after the guy, don't flinch. Otherwise, don't bother with him; just concentrate on actions which may actually have a practical impact - i.e., killing and arresting terrorists. Don't make the guy a martyr again unless you're willing to go all the way.
I still have a fantasy of missiles simultaneously going through the windows of Arafat, Sheik Yassin and the head of Hizbullah. (If that's the plan, perhaps the Israelis should wait for some "peace advocates" to rejoin Arafat and share his fate.)
LET'S SEE THE U.N. DO SOMETHING USEFUL: In the New Republic, Hillel Neuer proposes sending U.N. peacekeepers to Israel to act as human shields for the victims of terror rather than for the terrorists:

Throughout their post-Camp David jihad, Arafat's gunmen have repeatedly hid behind civilians, stashed weapons in mosques, and smuggled explosives through Red Crescent ambulances. Why, they even boast of it--not to our Western ears, of course, but to AL-JAZEERA and the Arab press. (For English transcripts, see How long before homicide bombers, bound for Tel Aviv to explode student cafés or Passover seders, would don blue helmets and drive white jeeps marked with black lettering reading "U.N."?
And we've seen this sort of behavior before. A year-and-a-half ago in Lebanon, after Israel's withdrawal was certified by Kofi Annan as complete, Hezbollah gunmen abducted and murdered three Israeli soldiers by posing as a U.N. border patrol. Found inside the abandoned Hezbollah vehicles, next to weapons and explosives, were U.N. insignia, uniforms, and license plates.
But it's not only the peacekeepers' passive potential to harm Israel that makes them so attractive to Jerusalem's enemies. More pernicious is the United Nations' active mischief. History demonstrates that these missions--typically conceived by the same unholy Euro-Arab axis that decided it was a good idea to award certified terror-sponsor Syria with membership on (and now the presidency of) the U.N. Security Council--are invariably biased against the Jewish state.
Consider the actions of Terje Larsen, the United Nations' Mideast mandarin. When asked last June by Israel's defense minister about a U.N.-filmed video of the Hezbollah abduction, an indignant Larsen tore into his counterpart, emphatically denying existence of any cassette. A week later the United Nations in New York acknowledged that, um, yes, there was a video. And more recently, Larsen--who has never quite managed to raise his voice against Hezbollah's mockery of international humanitarian law, nor against the Palestinian murder and maiming of thousands of Israeli civilians--pronounced himself "horrified" by Israel's anti-terror operation in Jenin. All this from a U.N. man who says he is "profoundly a friend of Israel." Imagine the views of his many colleagues who are profoundly not.
...So if the world wants to send monitors, by all means let them come. Let them come in droves. Let thousands come and circulate randomly among Israelis in all the country's blood-stained public places--Jerusalem's cafés, Netanya's hotels, Haifa's buses. In Jerusalem, let Larsen and friends eat pizza at Sbarro's, let Kofi and crew have coffee at Caffit. Have the monitors wear plainclothes and work shifts set by the Israelis. And then, throughout Israel, ask them to live as Israelis do.
Human bombs? Meet human shields. If Arafat and Hamas wanted to kill more Israelis, they'd have to risk killing representatives of their beloved international patron. Chances are they wouldn't do it. And if they did? Well, then the international community might finally come to understand just how dastardly the Palestinian terrorists really are--and allow Israel to exercise its legitimate right to self-defense.

OUR FRIENDS THE FRENCH: Jeff Goldstein cites a report in the New York Observer regarding the French edition of Saul Bellow's book Ravelstein, based on the life of Allan Bloom. Apparently, the cover of the French edition of the book contains a picture of a man which resembles classic anti-Jewish caricatures. The Observer story has a picture of the cover; judge for yourselves.
WELL-SAID: On today's addition to the list of suicide bombings in Israel since the second intifada began, the following statements from Ha'aretz seem appropriate:

Based on what's being said both within the PA and by other Palestinian public figures, it seems that the condemnations and disgust with the suicide attackers are a genuine reflection of the immediate mood. But that is still a long way from the moment when the Israeli public will be persuaded that the Palestinian people and its leaders are indeed turning their back on the terrorist ways nurtured over the past years. Many now speak of the need to foil such attacks and prevent them, but that's not enough if a large segment of the Palestinian public continues to glorify terrorism and sanctify its perpetrators.
As long as the terror groups are not denounced and real pressure is not applied to end their activities, the people of Israel will find it difficult to take seriously condemnations by the PA. Security reforms in the PA are a necessary step for making the war on terror more efficient, but Palestinian public opinion also needs to change. Even those who believe that it's not Israel's business to reorganize the PA, have the right to expect that the PA be a responsible, representative organization that can be a true partner for political dialogue.

Monday, June 03, 2002

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: I know I'm late to the party, but this needs to be noted. Nicholas Kristof's most recent column contained a shocking amount of good sense:

As we gather around F.B.I. headquarters sharpening our machetes and watching the buzzards circle overhead, let's be frank: There's a whiff of hypocrisy in the air.
One reason aggressive agents were restrained as they tried to go after Zacarias Moussaoui is that liberals like myself — and the news media caldron in which I toil and trouble — have regularly excoriated law enforcement authorities for taking shortcuts and engaging in racial profiling. As long as we're pointing fingers, we should peer into the mirror.
The timidity of bureau headquarters is indefensible. But it reflected not just myopic careerism but also an environment (that we who care about civil liberties helped create) in which officials were afraid of being assailed as insensitive storm troopers.
So it's time for civil libertarians to examine themselves with the same rigor with which we are prone to examine others. The bottom line is that Mr. Moussaoui was thrown in jail — thank God — not because there was evidence he had committed a crime but because he was a young Arab man who behaved suspiciously and fit our stereotypes about terrorists.
...The Moussaoui case neatly exposes intellectual dishonesty on all sides. The Bush administration has engaged in widespread detentions of Muslims, twisting the law to keep them behind bars while denying that civil liberties have been abused. That's nonsense: the administration has wallowed in precisely the kind of hysterical wartime infringement of civil liberties that history always ends up judging harshly.
Yet civil libertarians are also dishonest in refusing to acknowledge the trade-off between public security and individual freedom. It would be admirable to insist on keeping our hands off potential terrorists until there is evidence that they have broken the law — but only if one frankly acknowledges that the price is a greater risk of terrorism.
...We must also relax a taboo, racial profiling, for one of the lessons of the Moussaoui case is that it sometimes works.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta bars airport security screenings based on religion or ethnicity. That's why aging nuns are plucked out of airport lines for inspections of their denture bags, why women with underwire bras are sometimes subjected to humiliating inspections after the metal detector goes off. But let's be realistic: Young Arab men are more likely to ram planes into nuclear power plants than are little old ladies, and as such they should be more vigorously searched — though with no less courtesy. El Al, the Israeli airline, has the world's most effective air security system, and it's all about racial profiling.
...As risks change, we who care about civil liberties need to realign balances between security and freedom. It is a wrenching, odious task, but we liberals need to learn from 9/11 just as much as the F.B.I. does.

While these thoughts to not qualify as "news" to many of us, it is safe to assume that they are considered shocking in the context of the NYT's editorial pages. Accordingly, Kristof truly deserves credit for telling his editors and many of his readers what they do not want to hear.

SPEAKING OF COLLEGE TUITION: Peter Scheer cites the following:

In a study of admission and financial-aid decisions at Williams College from 1988 to 2001, economists Gordon Winston and Catherine Hill found that the real cost of tuition stayed essentially constant across all income groups.
Middle-income families paid a discounted tuition of $10,794 in 1988 (in year 2000 constant dollars); the same families in 2001 paid $11,024, an increase of just 2 percent in 13 years. Low-income families actually experienced a reduction in tuition, from a 1988 net of $7,667 to $5,907 in 2000. Only families paying the sticker price saw a big increase in tuition in real terms. But even their tuition cost represented about the same share of family income in 2001 as in 1988, according to Winston and Hill.

I have not been able to find an online copy of this study, but the report raises one obvious question: how does this study account for debts incurred by the student via student loans? The description in the article of "discounted tuition" is not encouraging:

Thirty years ago, most students at private colleges paid full tuition. Today, only one-quarter do. The rest receive financial aid in the form of scholarships and loans. These discounts are substantial: 50 percent, on average, at the elite private colleges—the 25 most selective and best-endowed private colleges and universities, including the Ivies—even higher at many less-selective private colleges. In other words, most students at good private colleges pay only half the list price or less.

And what do the students who receive loans pay after they graduate? Is that cost included in the study's calculations of "discounted tuition" paid in a given year? If not, the comparison may be extremely misleading. If the percentage of aid consisting of loans increased over the period covered in the study (which I believe is the case), then the increased future costs would need to be picked up in the comparison.

HEALTH-CARE SMACKDOWN - OR, WE REPORT, YOU DECIDE: Ted Barlow advocates a single-payer system for the U.S. His arguments are blasted by Megan McArdle at great length (and it spills over into the comments on that post.) It seems to me that even if Barlow's arguments are right, they ignore the collateral costs described by McArdle.
A different idea for health-care reinvention was outlined a couple of years ago by Matthew Miller in this Atlantic article. Miller essentially proposed ending the market-distorting tax exemption for health insurance with vouchers generous enough to enable individuals to buy good insurance policies. I am not sure how Miller's proposed system would provide a voucher that was generous enough without giving insurance companies the ability to jack their costs up on the government's tab. (For an analogy, the availability of government aid for college has enabled colleges to charge more tuition than they otherwise would have. That's not an argument that such aid should not exist, but it is an argument that the benefits of such aid are more limited than they appear.)