Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Top News Stories Of The Day

1. Prometheus Bound

I linked last Friday to a disturbing article about a Kansas regulatory board's decision to block the construction of a new power plant because it emits carbon dioxide—the first direct use of the global warming hysteria to shut down industrial power generation in the United States.

Below, the New York Times editorial board celebrates that decision and other evidence of state-level government interference with power-plant production—even in states generally considered to be conservative—and calls for an even more comprehensive "cap and trade" system of energy rationing to be imposed by Congress.

Congressional Democrats have so far been too bogged down in their failed efforts to force a withdrawal from Iraq to produce global-warming regulations. But this is a political juggernaut that is just beginning to get underway, and the fact that global warming restrictions are now beginning to be imposed on the state level means that America may already be starting to black itself out, one state at a time.

"Montana and Kansas Take on Big Coal," New York Times, October 23

On Saturday, The Times's business section featured two reports from unexpected parts of the country that should cheer the bipartisan coalition in the Senate that wants to move ahead quickly on legislation limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas….

One report, from Montana, described an increasingly vocal movement opposed to new coal-fired power plants on the Great Plains. The movement includes not only the usual suspects in the environmental community but also conservative and largely Republican ranchers worried about the impact of global warming on their water supply.

In addition, The Times reported that a state regulator in Kansas had denied a permit for a large coal-fired power plant because of the global warming gases it would emit. As far as anyone knows, that's the first time that a power plant has been blocked for that reason alone.

Now it's Washington's turn. A Senate subcommittee will soon take up a very promising global warming bill written by Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and John Warner of Virginia—the first step in what could be an arduous legislative journey. The bill would place a mandatory, declining cap on emissions from the electric power, manufacturing and transportation sectors of the economy. It aims to cut total emissions to 63 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, less than many scientists say is necessary but still very ambitious….

The Lieberman-Warner bill makes it clear that coal-fired power plants, new or old, will be forced to meet stiff new emissions targets just like everyone else. Dirty plants, in short, will pay heavily, as they should.

2. The Global Warming Battle

The global warming hysteria is a cultural juggernaut, backed by everyone from academic scientists to failed former politicians to Hollywood celebrities. But it is possible, eventually, to defeat this dogma because, as is so often the case, the environmentalists have chosen to fight for their philosophy within the arena of the special sciences, in this case the nascent science of climatology.

They have the advantage of the corrupting influence of government funding on scientific research, and of the second-handed motive that causes many scientists to go along with the flow of whatever is considered "politically correct" among their college-educated peers. But they have the disadvantage of the clean, reality-oriented methods of science itself, methods which make facts the intellectual gold-standard.

Here's an example: an op-ed from a scientist who doesn't fundamentally challenge the underlying philosophy of environmentalism, but who points to the inconvenient truths (to borrow a phrase) which show that global warming is not likely to lead to significant sea-level increases, mass extinctions, or any particularly harmful consequences to human beings.

Most significant, he talks of global warming as a test of scientists' commitment to science (which he regrettably calls their "faith in science") and laments the way in which some of his colleagues rationalize the distortion of science to achieve political ends. Environmentalism succeeds only because it is promoted under the cover of science—and articles like this one work to strip off that disguise.

"Global Warming Delusions," Daniel B. Botkin, Wall Street Journal, October 21

Global warming doesn't matter except to the extent that it will affect life—ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.
Case in point: This year's United Nations report on climate change and other documents say that 20% to 30% of plant and animal species will be threatened with extinction in this century due to global warming—a truly terrifying thought. Yet, during the past 2.5 million years, a period that scientists now know experienced climatic changes as rapid and as warm as modern climatological models suggest will happen to us, almost none of the millions of species on Earth went extinct. The exceptions were about 20 species of large mammals (the famous megafauna of the last ice age—saber-tooth tigers, hairy mammoths and the like), which went extinct about 10,000 to 5,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, and many dominant trees and shrubs of northwestern Europe. But elsewhere, including North America, few plant species went extinct, and few mammals.

We're also warned that tropical diseases are going to spread, and that we can expect malaria and encephalitis epidemics. But scientific papers by Prof. Sarah Randolph of Oxford University show that temperature changes do not correlate well with changes in the distribution or frequency of these diseases; warming has not broadened their distribution and is highly unlikely to do so in the future, global warming or not….

Some colleagues who share some of my doubts argue that the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate. They tell me that my belief in open and honest assessment is naïve. "Wolves deceive their prey, don't they?" one said to me recently. Therefore, biologically, he said, we are justified in exaggerating to get society to change….

At the heart of the matter is how much faith we decide to put in science—even how much faith scientists put in science. Our times have benefited from clear-thinking, science-based rationality. I hope this prevails as we try to deal with our changing climate.

3. "We Will Have the Power of the Gods"

As a semi-antidote to environmentalism, here is an article about a new British television documentary that projects potential future breakthroughs in science and technology, predicting that we are in a "historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery" and that "we will have the power of gods."

Note however, that even in this story, the scientists interviewed (I have excerpted only the article's introduction below) still express somewhat overwrought fears about the potential negative effects of these new scientific advances (some of which, such as "artificial intelligence," are themselves exaggerated).

"Future of Science: 'We Will Have the Power of the Gods'," Roger Highfield, Daily Telegraph, October 23

According to the theoretical physicist Professor Michio Kaku of the City College of New York, we are entering an empowered new era: "We have unlocked the secrets of matter.
We have unravelled the molecule of life, DNA. And we have created a form of artificial intelligence, the computer. We are making the historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery in which we will be able to manipulate and mould nature almost to our wishes."

Among the technologies he believes will change our lives in the coming decades are cars that drive themselves, lab-grown human organs, 3D television, robots that can perform household tasks, eye glasses that double as home-entertainment centres, the exploitation of genes that alter human ageing and the possibility of invisibility and forms of teleportation.

"We will have the power to animate the inanimate, the power to create life itself," says Prof Kaku. "We will have the power of gods. But will we also have the wisdom of Solomon?"

In a new BBC4 series called Visions of the Future, Prof Kaku talks to today's pioneers about how we are moving from being passive observers of nature to its choreographers. Here are their remarkable speculations about how the scientific and technological revolution will transform life and society in the 21st century.

4. The Syrian Mystery

The mystery about the recent Israeli air strike on a possible nuclear site in Syria had seemed to clear up with additional news reports—but now it is deepening again, as two congressmen drop hints that there is much more to the story than we are being told.

Stanley Kurtz analyzes those hints below, concluding that they indicate that Syria may have been buying a nuclear weapon from North Korea and not just building a nuclear reactor—and that Iran may have been much more closely involved than we have been told.

More disturbing is the speculation that the Bush administration has been suppressing these facts in order to avoid the implication they would lead to: the need for military action against Iran and North Korea.

"Raid Revelation," Stanley Kurtz, National Review Online, October 23

If people had known how close we came to World War III that day there would have been mass panic. That is how a very senior British ministerial source recently characterized Israel's September raid on what was apparently a Syrian nuclear installation. Whether matters were quite that grave is an open question. Yet it does seem clear that the full story of the Israeli raid has not been told, nor its full significance recognized. Now two key members of Congress have raised an alarm about this event, thereby throwing our nuclear agreement with North Korea into question.
Peter Hoekstra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as senior Republicans on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees, respectively, were among the mere handful of members of Congress briefed on the Israeli air strike. What they learned obviously dismayed them greatly, as is evident from "What Happened in Syria?" a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published by Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen this past Saturday.

In that piece, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen protest the "unprecedented veil of secrecy, thrown over the airstrike" noting that the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members have been left in the dark on the details of the raid. Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen acknowledge that they have personally been "sworn to secrecy," yet add that: "...based on what we have is critical for every member of congress to be briefed on this incident, and as soon as possible."

Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen obviously believe that Syria obtained "nuclear expertise or material" from outside state sources. And while they base their concern on press reports, it seems likely that their top-secret briefings confirmed this fact. Notable here is Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen's repeated use of the phrase "North Korea, Iran, or other rogue states" when referring to Syria's possible nuclear collaborators. After their briefing, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen seem just as concerned about Iranian involvement as North Korean.

5. The Oil Curse

The Eastern Europeans are moving closer to liberty and free markets—the Poles just voted in a political party whose platform is tax cuts and privatization—but Russia continues to relapse into "Stalin Lite" authoritarianism.

The article below highlights the negative consequences for Russia. Like other corrupt states cursed by large oil reserves, Russia has used the windfall of high oil prices to cover up its underlying failure to develop a diverse and thriving economy outside of the oil sector. And this article indicates that even the oil revenue might decline, as Russia scares off the foreign investors who are needed to renew its oil fields.

The only good news is for us, not Russia: the Russian military has still not recovered from its late Soviet-era collapse.

Another piece of good news: while Russian President Vladimir Putin is still supporting Iran, a major Russian oil company has just pulled out its investment in Iran's oil industry, thanks to American economic sanctions imposed on companies that deal with Iran.

"Russia's Doing Great. Or Is it?" Eugene Rumer, International Herald-Tribune, October 22

At the center of Russia's economic recovery is the flow of petrodollars. Oil, fuel, and gas account for two-thirds of Russia's exports. At the outset of Russia's economic revival, hydrocarbons were expected to "prime the pump" for a diversified economy to spring to life, as befits a major global power with Russia's traditions and ambitions.

But nearly a decade later, Russia is using its commodities-driven recovery to finance, well, its commodities sector. In 2006, fewer than one in five foreign direct-investment dollars went to manufacturing, and even those funds were spent largely on the relatively low-tech metallurgical industry and food processing, intended mainly for domestic consumption.

In domestic investment, the picture is even worse….

The oil and gas fields feeding this bonanza are running dry. Russian gas output has leveled off; oil production is expected to peak by 2010. Russia has more gas and oil, but its energy sector has to make the right decisions now to tap new fields. Western energy companies, whose capital and know-how will be essential to sustain Russian oil and gas production, have felt distinctly unwelcome in Putin's Russia, and the outlook for the energy sector, consolidated under the Kremlin's control is not encouraging….

The Russian military is only about a quarter of the size of its Soviet predecessor…. Between 2000 and 2007, the Russian air force has received three new combat aircraft—a Tu-160 Blackjack bomber and two Su-34 fighter-bombers. The Bear bombers that have resumed long-range patrols of late first entered service in 1952.

6. Mongolia's "Third Neighbor"

Quick, what are Mongolia's three geographic neighbors? There's Russia to the North, China to the South—and then, of course, there is…America?

In an odd geopolitical move, Mongolia has volunteered to join America's global empire, designating the United States as its "third neighbor"—I am not making that up—and adopting English as its official second language, even though the nearest English-speaking nation is thousands of miles away.

As an impoverished nation looking to connect to the global economy, Mongolia is making the right choice of allies and the right choice of political and economic systems.

The article below is about Mongolia signing up for a US foreign aid package, but the foreign aid is not the important part of the story. Mongolia is simply doing whatever it can to forge a closer bond with America, and the "Millennium Challenge" is one of the better foreign-aid programs, requiring political reforms and anti-corruption measures which address some of the real causes of economic backwardness.

"Mongolia First to Qualify for Aid Program," David R. Sands, Washington Times, October 23

Mongolia yesterday became the first Asian country to qualify for President Bush's signature Millennium Challenge foreign-aid program, a move President Nambaryn Enkhbayar described in an interview as just the latest sign of warming economic and security ties between the two countries.

In another first, Mr. Bush hosted the signing ceremony at the White House, personally endorsing a five-year, $285 million aid package for the one-time communist state, the 15th negotiated under the Millennium program.

"The fact that President Bush himself has agreed to sign the compact shows the closeness of the friendship we have developed," Mr. Enkhbayar told editors and reporters from The Washington Times in an interview at Blair House, the presidential guest residence….

Sandwiched between its giant neighbors China and Russia, sparsely populated Mongolia has been an unlikely US foreign-policy success story since throwing off its centralized command economy in the early 1990s.

While maintaining ties to Moscow and Beijing, Mongolian leaders have adopted the United States as its "third neighbor," looking to boost trade and investment and enlisting as a full partner in the global war on terrorism. The country's parliamentary democracy has seen a series of peaceful transfers of power, although corruption and poor infrastructure remain major problems.

Top News Stories Of The Day

1. "There's Nobody to Shoot Here, Sir"

Have we won the war in Iraq? It's too early to say that quite yet, but it is becoming increasingly clear that we have reached—dare I say—a "tipping point" at which al-Qaeda and even Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are clearly losing.

Below, Michael Ledeen lays out the evidence for an emerging US victory in Iraq, as well as the principles of counter-insurgency war (rather neatly summarized) that explain it. The best line is a complaint from Marines in Fallujah—Fallujah, mind you—who grouse that "there's nobody to shoot here, sir."

If there's no one to shoot, then there's also no one to bury, so another story reports that Iraqi cemetery workers have fallen on hard times as the volume of killing in Iraq has plummeted.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden has released a new tape which, rather than boasting about al-Qaeda's impending victory over the US in Iraq, instead admits to mistakes and makes a plea for unity among the insurgents—an admission that al-Qaeda's former local allies have turned against them. It is an admission of defeat, or as one conservative wag puts it, "Osama Lied, Jihadists Died."

Iraq has proven an unwinnable quagmire for al-Qaeda, not the United States.

"Victory Is Within Reach," Michael Ledeen, Wall Street Journal, October 20

Almost exactly 13 months ago, the top Marine intelligence officer in Iraq wrote that the grim situation in Anbar province would continue to deteriorate unless an additional division was sent in, along with substantial economic aid. Today, Marine leaders are musing openly about clearing out of Anbar, not because it is a lost cause, but because we have defeated al Qaeda there.

In Fallujah, enlisted marines have complained to an officer of my acquaintance: "There's nobody to shoot here, sir. If it's just going to be building schools and hospitals, that's what the Army is for, isn't it?" Throughout the area, Sunni sheikhs have joined the Marines to drive out al Qaeda, and this template has spread to Diyala Province, and even to many neighborhoods in Baghdad itself, where Shiites are fighting their erstwhile heroes in the Mahdi Army….

How is one to explain this turn of events? While our canny military leaders have been careful to give the lion's share of the credit to terrorist excesses and locals' courage, the most logical explanation comes from the late David Galula, the French colonel who fought in Algeria and then wrote "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" in the 1960s. He argued that insurgencies are revolutionary wars whose outcome is determined by control of, and support from, the population….

In the early phases of the conflict, the people remain as neutral as they can, simply trying to stay alive. As the war escalates, they are eventually forced to make a choice, to place a bet, and that bet becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people have the winning piece on the board: intelligence. Once the Iraqis decided that we were going to win, they provided us with information about the terrorists: who they were, where they were, what they were planning, where their weapons were stashed, and so forth….

As Galula elegantly observed, "which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population's stand…."

Herschel Smith, of the blog Captain's Journal, puts it neatly in describing the events in Anbar: "There is no point in fighting forces (US Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away." We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it….

Not a day goes by without one of our commanders shouting to the four winds that the Iranians are operating all over Iraq, and that virtually all the suicide terrorists are foreigners, sent in from Syria. We have done great damage to their forces on the battlefield, but they can always escalate, and we still have no policy to direct against the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. That problem is not going to be resolved by sound counterinsurgency strategy alone, no matter how brilliantly executed.

2. Inside the "Dogma Dome"

So if we're winning in Iraq, how is it that most Americans still think we're losing?

I have linked before to some of the excellent on-the-scene reporting from independent embedded journalist Michael Yon. Below, Yon laments the "dogma dome," the media group-think that tends to screen out any information from Iraq that doesn't fit the pre-established message of pessimism.

Yon also unveils his plans for a reader-financed program to syndicate his own work to American newspapers and to translate it for the international media. It's a worthy cause to support with your money (after you're renewed your subscription to TIA Daily, of course). Check out his whole post for details. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Steve Halter for recommending this link.

As an exception to the general tone of mainstream media coverage of the War on Terrorism, today's New York Times carries a good Associated Press report on the posthumous awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor to Lt. Michael Murphy. The article concludes with this moving description:

To his fellow SEALs, he was known as ''Murph,'' but as a child, his parents nicknamed him ''The Protector,'' because of his strong moral compass. After the 2001 terror attacks, that compass eventually led him to Afghanistan, where he wore a patch of the New York City Fire Department on his uniform.

''He took his deployment personally. He was going after, and his team was going after, the men who planned, plotted against and attacked not only the United States, but the city he loved, New York,'' said his father. ''He knew what he was fighting for.''

It's nice to know this sort of reporting can still penetrate the "dogma dome."

"Resistance Is Futile: You Will Be Misinformed," Michael Yon, Michael Yon: Online Magazine, October 22

America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions. Considering that my trip home coincided with General Petraeus’ testimony before the US Congress, when media interest in the war was (I’m told) unusually concentrated, it’s a wonder my eardrums didn’t burst on the trip back to Iraq. In places like Singapore, Indonesia, and Britain people hardly seemed to notice that success is being achieved in Iraq, while in the United States, Britney was competing for airtime with OJ in one of the saddest sideshows on Earth.

No thinking person would look at last year’s weather reports to judge whether it will rain today, yet we do something similar with Iraq news. The situation in Iraq has drastically changed, but the inertia of bad news leaves many convinced that the mission has failed beyond recovery, that all Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, or are waiting for us to leave so they can crush their neighbors….

Anyone who has been in Iraq for longer than a few months, visited a handful of provinces, and spoken with a good number of Iraqis, likely would acknowledge that the reality here is complex and dynamic. But in the last six months it also has been increasingly hopeful, despite what the pessimistic dogma dome allows Americans and British to believe….

I’ve written often about the near complete failure of most media reporting—as the craft is most typically plied over here—to capture the truth of Iraq and accurately portray it in an increasingly commercial news environment….

As I travel around the world, I see that even many of our close allies have a false impression of American soldiers as brutally oppressive towards people. Even our great friends in Singapore and the United Kingdom, and the pro-American people on the island of Bali, Indonesia, think we are savaging people. This loss of moral leadership will be costly to Americans on many fronts for many generations to come.

The only antidote for this toxic press is a steady dose of detailed stories about the amazing men and women who serve in the United States military.

3. Will He or Won't He?

The media is full of speculation about whether or not George Bush will choose to bomb Iran. Below, the New York Times gets a little too excited analyzing slight variations of wording in recent speeches by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, which may indicate that they are moving toward military action against Iran—or maybe not.

Niall Ferguson's final column for the Los Angeles Times is mildly encouraging of such a strike. Ferguson correctly points out the lesson President Bush should draw from the recent Israeli strike on Syria, and from Syria's muted reaction: "You can do this, and do it with impunity."

Over at the New York Post, Ralph Peters tries to work up his readers' support for just such an air strike against Iran—in December of 2008. It's a recommendation that matches the apparently glacial place of the deliberations within the Bush administration.

Investor's Business Daily is considerably more fire-breathing, offering an extended comparison to the need to stop Hitler before World War II.

"Cheney, Like President, Has a Warning for Iran," Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, October 22

Vice President Dick Cheney issued a pointed warning to Iran on Sunday, calling the government in Tehran “a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East” and promising “serious consequences” if the government there does not abandon its nuclear program.

The remarks, just days after President Bush suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III,” amounted to Part II of a one-two punch from the administration at a moment when it is trying to persuade its allies in Europe to impose stiffer sanctions on Tehran. Those efforts grew more complicated on Saturday when Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator resigned on the eve of crucial talks with Europe.

“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,” Mr. Cheney said, without specifying what those might be. “The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”…

That language is not radically different from what Mr. Cheney has used in the past. But people at the conference said that, placed in the context of Mr. Bush’s remarks, it represented a significant step toward increasing pressure on Iran. The speech seemed to lay the groundwork for the threat of military action—either because the administration actually intends to use force or because it wants to use the threat of force to prod Europe into action….

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who moderated a panel discussion before and after Mr. Cheney’s speech, said the vice president also seemed to draw a new red line when, instead of saying it is “not acceptable” for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, he said the world “will not allow” it.

“The first is a condition,” Mr. Makovsky said. “The second is a commitment.”…

The Bush administration, for its part, seems to be making an appeal directly to the Iranian people in the hope that they will rise up against the Ahmadinejad government…. “The spirit of freedom is stirring in Iran,” [Cheney] said, adding, “America looks forward to the day when Iranians reclaim their destiny, the day that our two countries, as free and democratic nations, can be the closest of friends.”

4. The Muslim Civil War: Pakistan

The attacks on Benazir Bhutto's convoy on her return to Pakistan may end up having one beneficial effect: galvanizing the resolve of Pakistan's relatively pro-Western, liberal faction to stand up against its Islamist faction, in the Pakistani chapter of the ongoing Muslim civil war—which is the theme of an interesting column, linked to below, from David Warren.

Meanwhile, Pervez Musharraf may have reason to regret letting Bhutto back in the country, since she is using her new political role to attack "closet supporters of militants and Al Qaeda" within Musharraf's government.

Bhutto's return was encouraged by the United States, but it is also being rather vigorously welcomed by India, which views Bhutto as fighting the same enemies—Pakistan's Islamists—that India is also fighting.

"Order in Chaos," David Warren, Ottowa Citizen via RealClearPolitics, October 20

Out of the bloody mess in Karachi—hundreds killed and maimed in Al Qaeda's latest effort to gain power through psychopathic violence and intimidation—comes a kind of order. The position of Benazir Bhutto—the seemingly perpetual once and future prime minister of Pakistan—has been immensely enhanced by the failure of the blasts to kill her. If she can remain alive, she now has an unprecedented and almost miraculous opportunity to pull Pakistan together, and inspire her people to fight against their worst enemy in the world—not "Hindu India," nor "Imperialist America," but the Islamists who are feeding on the country's entrails….

Mrs. Bhutto, and not President Musharraf, has the mass appeal, without which, at this moment, no politician or general in Pakistan has a chance against the whirlwind. It was demonstrated in the crowds of hundreds of thousands that turned out to welcome her home from exile. This "champion of democracy" has that appeal through her dynastic claims, as the daughter of the "martyred" Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She represents the last hope of the (frankly aristocratic) older ruling order in Pakistan's political life.

The judicial murder of the secular leftist Ali Bhutto, directed by the late General Zia al-Haq, can now be seen more clearly as the tipping point in Pakistan's political evolution. Before that, real power was mostly in the hands of the chief landed families, whose children were raised and educated in essentially Western ways, whose assumptions and ideals were essentially secular, and whose aspirations were to "modernize" Pakistan, whatever that word might mean from day to day….

"Modernization" and "Islamization" are alternative courses. You can't have both. And one country after another, across the Islamic world, is being wrenched, hideously, in the conflict between these two incompatible aspirations—the natural ground for civil war. I would go farther and say that the soul of every sincere Muslim, trying to make a way in the world for himself and his family, is wrenched between these competing aspirations….

The Pakistan People's Party, founded by [Bhutto's] father, has wandered over the years from one position to another on passing political and economic issues, but has remained the voice and force of secularism. It is also, at this moment in Pakistan, the only path out of hell. Many who despise the P.P.P. now realize this—the rally included thousands of its former opponents—and the bombs have helped to clarify the true situation.

5. The Abortion Litmus Test

The big issue of the Republican primaries is a test of the power of the religious right. Will Republicans reject their best candidate, Rudy Giuliani, because he is a twice-divorced, pro-choice, semi-lapsed Catholic? Last weekend provided an interesting preview of this conflict, as Giuliani and the other Republican candidates addresses a conference of religious-right "values voters."

The National Review's Byron York—representing a publication that is heavily sympathetic to the religious right—gives a good, objective report below.

Giuliani tried to find some common ground with the values voters, mostly by addressing their legitimate concerns (such as "school choice" for those who want to escape the public school monopoly), but he mostly tried to sell himself on the basis of the honesty and courage in being willing to stick to his past record rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Overall, York reports that the speech achieved what Giuliani's campaign wanted it to achieve. It will not win him the votes of the religious right in the primary, but since the religious vote is currently divided ineffectually among the other contenders, he can still win without those votes. Instead, the speech may have helped him win more religious votes in the general election, when he will need the support of every part of the Republican "base."

Meanwhile, another conservative describes the nomination battle as a contest that pits the religious conservatives, who are most ardent about former Arkansas governor and Evangelical Christian Mike Huckabee, against "economic conservatives," i.e., pro-free-marketers, who oppose Huckabee's "compassionate conservative" style welfare-statism.

In short, Republicans are being asked to decide whose endorsement is more important: the endorsement of the pro-religious-right Family Research Council, or the endorsement of the pro-free-market Club for Growth?

"Rudy's Speech," Byron York, National Review Online, October 20

Well, Rudy has made his much-awaited appearance before the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. My guess is that the Giuliani campaign is going away happy. And the FRC members here—well, they may have a bit more positive view of Giuliani than they had before….
"He didn't win any converts," one FRC insider told me. "Not in the primaries. But he might have won some of them over for a general election."…

Giuliani took a few indirect shots at his fellow Republican candidates, accusing them of flip-flopping to be popular while Giuliani remained steadfast. "Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe," he said, "rather than changing my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" "If I come out here and I take a poll and I try to figure out what you all believe, and then I try to repeat to you what you believe, then I'm a follower. I may be a good actor, but I'm a follower." (Might there be any alleged flip-floppers, or perhaps an actor, in the race?)

The crowd began to warm a bit as Giuliani talked about his record in New York. "Have you been to New York City?" he asked. "I bet you're not afraid to come there anymore." He told the story of turning the city around, emphasizing his efforts against crime and in cleaning up Times Square….

Giuliani got more applause when he went through his stand against the Brooklyn Museum of Art. "The government should never be required to give out taxpayer money to desecrate religion," he said. "It's just plain wrong." Then he covered welfare reform and got more applause when he came to education. "Every parent in America should have the right to send their child to the school of their choice, including the right for responsible parents to choose home schooling. The government should not force parents to send their children to failing or inadequate schools."…

"You and I share the same goal," he said. "A country without abortions, achieved by changing the minds and hearts of people." He went through several steps he would take, beginning with, "I will veto any reduction in the impact of the Hyde Amendment." and continuing with continued support of parental notification and the ban on partial birth abortion, and the appointment of strict constructionist judges….

"You and I know I'm not a perfect person," he said in what was probably the understatement of the entire conference. But, he went on, "We lose trust with our political leaders not because they are imperfect—after all, they are human—we lose trust with them when they're not honest with us."

6. Après Moi, le Deluge

The supposed demographic collapse of the West is Mark Steyn's signature issue, so it is no surprise that he does an excellent job of describing how the growing American middle-class welfare state threatens to drain the economy. And he cleverly turns the Democrats' maudlin rhetoric about "our children" against them, showing how the middle-class welfare state is a scheme to bankrupt the next generation.

Even better, Steyn recognizes that this welfare state is not just a pragmatic economic problem, but that it is also a moral crisis because it is an assault on individualism. But then he stumbles badly (as conservatives often do) by identifying the problem as "selfishness"—as if living as a ward of the state, relying on an unsupportable Ponzi scheme, were in one's self-interest.

"The Real War on Children," Mark Steyn, Jewish World Review, October 22

So what is the best thing America could do "for the children"? Well, it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a system of unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. Most of us understand, for example, that Social Security needs to be "fixed"—or we'll have to raise taxes, or the retirement age, or cut benefits, etc. But, just to get the entitlements debate in perspective, projected public pensions liabilities in the United States are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of our gross domestic product. In Greece, the equivalent figure is 25 percent—that's not a matter of raising taxes or tweaking retirement age; that's total societal collapse….

In France, President Sarkozy is proposing a very modest step—that those who retire before the age of 65 should not receive free health care—and the French are up in arms about it. He's being angrily denounced by 53-year-old retirees, a demographic hitherto unknown to functioning societies. You spend your first 25 years being educated, you work for two or three decades, and then you spend a third of a century living off a lavish pension, with the state picking up every health care expense. No society can make that math add up.

And so, in a democratic system today's electors vote to keep the government gravy coming and leave it to tomorrow for "the children" to worry about. That's the real "war on children"—and every time you add a new entitlement to the budget you make it less and less likely they'll win it….

But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: it turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the Nanny State…. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: once a fellow's enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and who cares if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?

That's the real "war on children": in Europe, it's killing their future. Don't make the same mistake here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Algore Nobel Prize And Other Friday News

I almost cancelled today's article altogether rather than be required to report that Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize—which now apparently has nothing to do with world peace and is simply an all-purpose vehicle for promoting leftist causes. So Gore has the distinction of being recognized as a moral hero by the Nobel Committee—the day after he was scolded by the London High Court for distorting and inventing facts "in the context of alarmism and exaggeration."

I was pulled back from the brink of despair on reading a perfect response from John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been the best and most effective conservative opponent of environmentalism. Berlau points out how Gore's crusade contradicts the mission of the Nobel prizes. Here is the central passage of Berlau's excellent article:

In direct contradiction of Alfred Nobel's last will and testament, the selection of Gore essentially means the Peace Prize can no longer be said to be an award for improving the condition of humankind. Looking at Gore's writing, it's far from clear that Gore even believes that humanity is his most important priority….

Rather, his stated desire is to stop human activity that he sees as ruining what he calls the "ecosystem." Awarding the prize to Gore in 2007 is the equivalent of honoring the Luddites who tried to stop the beneficial technologies of Alfred Nobels's day.

A common theme of selection for the Nobel Peace Prize and the other Nobel awards has been the use of science and technology to overcome problems afflicting humans such as starvation and disease…. In creating the annual prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of world peace (roughly the same five fields for which Nobels are awarded today), Nobel stated the desire in his will to honor "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."

According to Alfred Nobel: A Biograpy by Kenne Fant, an earlier draft of Nobel's will stipulated that prizes in all categories should be "a reward for the most important pioneering discoveries or works in the field of knowledge and progress."

But for Albert Gore, Jr. the fields of knowledge and progress are suspect, and so are many types of technology with benefits to mankind.

This is the real, essential issue, and Berlau's piece captures the essential perversity of giving a Nobel Prize of any kind to an avowed enemy of technological progress.

In other news, a federal judge has blocked a draconian new effort by the Bush administration to appease anti-immigration conservatives by forcing employers to fire workers who cannot be verified in the Social Security database. The problem:

The plaintiffs convinced the judge that the Social Security Administration database includes so many errors—incorporated in the records of about 9.5 million people in 2003 alone—that its use in firings would unfairly discriminate against tens of thousands of legal workers, including native-born and naturalized US citizens.

More disturbing than the practical effect of these potential firings is the principle behind them: that workers would be forced to obtain express legal permission from the government before they could seek work or remain in their jobs.

This case is revealing because it demonstrates the evil of the anti-immigration laws by showing us the oppressive measures actually required to enforce them. The measures pursued by the administration would be have made all employees and employers guilty until proven innocent.

Anti-immigrationists claim that they merely want to preserve America's culture—but I can't think of anything more un-American than this kind of nativist police state.

In war news, the New York Times provides a blockbuster: the same strategy used in Anbar Province to turn the population against the insurgents is now being successfully used, not only against al-Qaeda, but now against Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The Times reports:

In a number of Shiite neighborhoods across Baghdad, residents are beginning to turn away from the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia they once saw as their only protector against Sunni militants. Now they resent it as a band of street thugs without ideology….

In interviews, 10 Shiites from four neighborhoods in eastern and western Baghdad described a pattern in which [Mahdi Army] militia members, looking for new sources of income, turned on Shiites….

Among the people killed in the neighborhood of Topchi over the past two months, residents said, were the owner of an electrical shop, a sweets seller, a rich man, three women, two local council members, and two children, ages 9 and 11.

It was a disparate group with one thing in common: All were Shiites killed by Shiites. Residents blamed the Mahdi Army, which controls the neighborhood.

Everyone knew who the killers were,” said a mother from Topchi, whose neighbor, a Shiite woman, was one of the victims. “I’m Shiite, and I pray to God that he will punish them.”…

Shiite sheiks, the militia’s traditional base, are beginning to contact Americans, much as Sunni tribes reached out early this year, refocusing one entire front of the war, officials said, and the number of accurate tips flowing into American bases has soared.

This is another major turning point in the war—and you can expect that General Petraeus will exploit it as effectively as he exploited the Sunni tribes' uprising against al-Qaeda.

Indeed, our armed services are already beginning to treat Iraq as if it has been won—so that the Marines are now seeking to take over the US counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan as a reward for their success in Anbar.

Happy 50th Birthday, ATLAS SHRUGGED!

October 10, 2007 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's classic novel Atlas Shrugged, so in the coming week we can expect to see a flurry of articles about the novel—many of which will, unfortunately, offer highly inaccurate descriptions of the novel's meaning and significance.

A recent New York Times article about the influence of Atlas Shrugged among businessmen and Fortune 500 CEOs, for example, contained one confused businesswoman's opinion that "Rand's idea of 'the virtue of selfishness' is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself." It is hard to see how Buddhism—a philosophy of mystical asceticism—can be seen as equivalent to a philosophy of rational self-interest.

Some distorted views of Ayn Rand's masterwork will be motivated by spite. (In the Weekly Standard, for example, Andrew Ferguson dismisses the novel's readers as a bunch of neurotic adolescents—but he does so, ironically, by adopting exactly the kind of puerile derisiveness one would expect from such an insecure adolescent. Read it at risk to your sense of good taste and intellectual seriousness.) Most inaccuracies, however, are merely the result of the reporters' awkward unfamiliarity with Ayn Rand's ideas.

That's a shame, because Atlas Shrugged is a novel that everyone ought to discover and grapple with, because it succeeds at something too few artists and intellectuals have had the courage to do.

The purpose of art and philosophy is to show us truths about human nature, about the nature of the world and our place in it. Philosophy names these truths explicitly, in literal terms; literature dramatizes these truths in concrete terms, revealing its insights through the actions and statements of the characters created by the novelist. A philosophical novel, like Atlas Shrugged, is supposed to do both of these things.

But too often both the philosophers and the artists have failed us as seekers of truth. Rather than convey truths they have learned first-hand through observation of the world, they simply repeat or project their own prejudices and pre-conceived notions.

The most important event of the past two centuries, with which artists and intellectuals ought to have come to grips, is the rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution—a social revolution that has radically transformed human life for the better. Free markets and industrialization have produced a previously unimagined wealth, which is enjoyed not only by captains of industry but by the common man, who is able to afford luxuries—large homes, automobiles, air travel, everything down to his caffe latte at the corner coffee shop—on a scale that could not even have been conceived in earlier centuries. Capitalism has also afforded the individual a degree of personal independence and unlimited opportunity that has fully liberated men from the stultifying tyranny of previous aristocratic and feudal systems.

Human nature is timeless and universal, but the evidence for human potential is not. That evidence is provided by actual human actions and their results. No one could have conceived of the achievements of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution before they happened—and these new events required a radical re-evaluation of conventional ideas. Yet the intellectuals failed to perform such a re-evaluation.

Regular readers of may be familiar with my own favorite example. In 1816, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, a group of Britain's best young literary minds—including Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley)—gathered together to explore their new school of literature, which they called "Gothic" because it took its inspiration from the mysticism of the Middle Ages. In that spirit, they challenged each other to write the best ghost story, and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein—a story which portrays the quest for scientific knowledge as a kind of dangerous madness.

Just as capitalism was propelling us forward into a technological future that would, among other advantages, double the average human lifespan, the intellectuals were looking backward to the Middle Ages and predicting that all of this new science and technology would bring disaster. (They're still doing it, except that now they conjure up the bogeyman of global warming in place of Frankenstein's monster.)

A few decades later, a German intellectual named Karl Marx gave one of the most influential accounts of the new capitalist system—and he got everything wrong. An Industrial Revolution driven by scientific and technological advances springing from the minds of a few extraordinary individuals, he would describe as the anonymous, collective product of brute physical labor; an economic system of liberty, he would describe as a system of oppression; a system built on the right to property he would describe as a system based on expropriation—and then he would propose actual oppression and expropriation as the solution.

This has been the pattern of the artists and intellectuals in dealing with the most significant phenomenon of our age. While the world was transformed around them, they refused to grasp the real meaning of these events, choosing to ignore or denigrate the forces that were rapidly improving human life.

In this context, we can see the widest significance of Ayn Rand's literary and philosophical achievement. She was the first thinker and artist to fully grasp the meaning of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution and to give them expression both in literature and in philosophy.

The most radical aspect of Atlas Shrugged is that it is a sweeping, serious novel of ideas that is based in the business world, the last place mainstream intellectuals would have thought to regard as the inspiration for epic drama or profound new ideas. What makes Ayn Rand distinctive is that she found drama, heroism, and profound philosophical meaning in the achievements of the entrepreneurs and industrialists who were reshaping the world.

Atlas Shrugged was written in an age of creeping global socialism. Extrapolating from the trends of the day, Ayn Rand projected a future in which most of the world's nations are collapsing into the poverty and oppression of socialist "people's states," while America itself is collapsing under the weight of increasing government takeover of the economy.

She saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen—after decades of being vilified and regulated—started to disappear? What if the men condemned as parasites who somehow grow rich by exploiting manual laborers—the whole Marxist view of the economy—what if those "exploiters" were no longer around? The disappearance of the world's productive geniuses provides the novel's central mystery, both factually and intellectually.

Factually, the story follows Dagny Taggart, a woman in the then-unconventional role of operating vice-president of a transcontinental railroad, as she struggles to keep her railroad running in the face of strangling government regulations, while trying to solve a series of mysteries: a promising young railroad worker refuses a promotion and takes up a menial job instead; a spectacularly talented heir to a multinational copper company abandons his work to become a flamboyant playboy; a genius who invented a revolutionary new motor abandons his creation in the ruins of a derelict factory.

The factual question is: where did all of these people go? Why did they give up their work? Is there someone or something that is causing them to disappear?

The philosophical question raised by this plot is: what is the role of the entrepreneurs and innovators in a society? What motivates them, what are the conditions they need in order to work, and what happens to the world when they disappear? The factual mystery is integrated with the novel's deepest philosophical question: what is the moral status of the businessman and industrialist? Capitalism had been transforming the world for the better for more than a century, yet until Ayn Rand no one had taken a serious, original, first-hand look at this question, and no one had had the courage to challenge the conventional answers.

Capitalism unleashed an extraordinary burst of scientific and technological innovation and of human creativity—yet this had largely gone unrecognized as a phenomenon with any moral or intellectual significance. Ayn Rand was the first to celebrate the accomplishments of the James Watts and Andrew Carnegies and Thomas Edisons and to recognize in their productive energies an example of moral heroism.

Literarily, she recognized the romanticism in the extraordinary feats of these business innovators. In Atlas Shrugged this is perhaps best captured in repeated references to the legend of Nat Taggart, the swashbuckling young adventurer who founded the railroad for which Dagny Taggart works—a character based, in part, on the real-life swashbuckling of Commodore Vanderbilt's early career.

Or consider this passage, from an early chapter of Atlas Shrugged, in which steel tycoon Hank Rearden reflects on the process by which he invented a revolutionary new metal alloy.

He did not think of the ten years. What remained of them tonight was only a feeling which he could not name, except that it was quiet and solemn. The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it. But the parts, unrecalled, were there, within the feeling. They were the nights spent at scorching ovens in the research laboratory at the mills—

—the nights spent in the workshop of his home, over sheets of paper which he had filled with formulas, then tore up in angry failure—

—the days when the young scientists of the small staff he had chosen to assist him waited for instructions like soldiers ready for a hopeless battle, having exhausted their ingenuity, still willing, but silent, with the unspoken sentence hanging in the air: "Mr. Rearden, it can't be done—

—the meals, interrupted and abandoned at the sudden flash of a new thought, a thought to be pursued at once, to be tried, to be tested, to be worked on for months, and to be discarded as another failure—

—the moments snatched from conferences, from contracts, from the duties of running the best steel mills in the country, snatched almost guiltily, as for a secret love—

—the one thought held immovably across a span of ten years, under everything he did and everything he saw, the thought held in his mind when he looked at the buildings of a city, at the track of a railroad, at the light in the windows of a distant farmhouse, at the knife in the hands of a beautiful woman cutting a piece of fruit at a banquet, the thought of a metal alloy that would do more than steel had ever done, a metal that would be to steel what steel had been to iron—

—the acts of self-racking when he discarded a hope or a sample, not permitting himself to know that he was tired, not giving himself time to feel, driving himself through the wringing torture of: "not good enough…still not good enough…" and going on with no motor save the conviction that it could be done—

—then the day when it was done and its result was called Rearden Metal—

—these were the things that had come to white heat, had melted and fused within him, and their alloy was a strange, quiet feeling that made him smile at the countryside in the darkness and wonder why happiness could hurt.

This is a view of the innovative entrepreneur as a kind of crusader, driven by a profound commitment to moral excellence.

More than a century earlier, one of the most honest and insightful observers of America, Alexis de Tocqueville, had recounted the extraordinary exertions and risk-taking of American merchant sea-captains and concluded that "the Americans put something heroic into their way of trading." But Tocqueville never really took this idea seriously or followed its consequences. Ayn Rand did.

When she followed the consequences of this idea, it led her to two crucial philosophical identifications that Atlas Shrugged introduced to the world.

Atlas Shrugged is famous for its characters' philosophical speeches, even though its primary means of expression is dramatic, not didactic; ninety percent of the novel, after all, is action and dialogue. Yet the speeches are a crucial part of the novel's drama and suspense. The central mystery of the novel is not merely what the characters are doing, but why. This sense of philosophical intrigue is heightened by the fact that the central characters turn out to be motivated by radical new moral and philosophical ideas—ideas that challenge centuries of received wisdom and lead these characters to act in unexpected and unconventional ways.

Atlas Shrugged is a "novel of ideas" in the truest sense: the philosophical issues it explores are indispensable to the drawing of its characters and the suspense of its plot.

The central philosophical theme of Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand's demolition of the intellectuals' dichotomy between the high-minded pursuits of the intellect and the allegedly grubby, un-intellectual world of business and industry. Ayn Rand's answer to this is provided early in the novel by her character Francisco D'Anconia. A flashback shows us Francisco and Dagny as teenagers combing through the machinery of a junk yard, to the disapproval of a friend of the family:

Once, an elderly professor of literature, Mrs. Taggart's friend, saw them on top of a pile in a junk yard, dismantling the carcass of an automobile. He stopped, shook his head and said to Francisco, "A young man of your position ought to spend his time in libraries, absorbing the culture of the world." "What do you think I'm doing?" asked Francisco.

Later, Dagny's observations about the motors of a railroad locomotive provide a deeper explanation of this view of the products of industrial capitalism as testaments to the power of the human mind.

For an instant, it seemed to her that the motors were transparent and she was seeing the net of their nervous system. It was a net of connections, more intricate, more crucial than all of their wires and circuits: the rational connections made by that human mind which had fashioned any one part of them for the first time.

It is a measure of the success of Atlas Shrugged that this message may not seem as radical today as it did 50 years ago. With the discrediting of Marxism and the rise of the "information age," it is now commonplace to recognize that knowledge is the engine of production—that ideas, more than physical labor or raw materials, are the primary source of wealth. Yet Ayn Rand originated this idea during the old industrial age, when the brute muscle power of union workers was still widely put forward as the source of America's industrial might.

It may be easier to recognize the central role of the mind when looking at advances in high technology. But Ayn Rand grasped the role of the mind in all aspect of business. Late in the novel, Dagny Taggart observes the reign of Cuffy Meigs—a kind of railroad czar empowered as chief regulator of the industry—and surveys the havoc that his arbitrary decrees wreak on the rational planning of private businesses.

She knew that no train schedules could be maintained any longer, no promises kept, no contracts observed, that regular trains were cancelled at a moment's notice and transformed into emergency specials sent by unexplained orders to unexpected destinations—and that the orders came from Cuffy Meigs, sole judge of emergencies and of the public welfare. She knew that factories were closing, some with their machinery stilled for lack of supplies that had not been received, others with their warehouses full of goods that could not be delivered. She knew that the old industries—the giants who had built their power by a purposeful course projected over a span of time—were left to exist at the whim of the moment, a moment they could not foresee or control. She knew that the best among them, those of the longest range and most complex function, had long since gone—and those still struggling to produce, struggling savagely to preserve the code of an age when production had been possible, were now inserting into their contracts a line shameful to a descendant of Nat Taggart: "Transportation permitting."

That the central "planning" of government actually consists of the disruption of rational planning by millions of private individuals is a point that had already been made by pro-free-market economists like Ludwig von Mises. Ayn Rand grasped that these economic principle were not dry, academic abstractions, but dramas played out in the real world—that the laws of economics are a matter of life and death, of triumph or tragedy. Here, for example, is one episode of the tragedy that plays out in the novel's later pages:

Six weeks ago, Train Number 193 had been sent with a load of steel, not to Faulkton, Nebraska, where the Spencer Machine Tool Company, the best machine tool concern still in existence, had been idle for two weeks, waiting for the shipment—but to Sand Creek, Illinois, where Confederated Machines had been wallowing in debt for over a year, producing unreliable goods at unpredictable times. The steel had been allocated by a directive which explained that the Spencer Machine Tool Company was a rich concern, able to wait, while Confederated Machines was bankrupt and could not be allowed to collapse, being the sole source of livelihood of the community of Sand Creek, Illinois. The Spencer Machine Tool Company had closed a month ago. Confederated Machines had closed two weeks later.

The people of Sand Creek, Illinois, had been placed on national relief, but no food could be found for them in the empty granaries of the nation at the frantic call of the moment—so the seed grain of the farmers of Nebraska had been seized by order of the Unification Board—and Train Number 194 had carried the unplanted harvest and the future of the people of Nebraska to be consumed by the people of Illinois. "In this enlightened age," Eugene Lawson had said in a radio broadcast, "we have come, at last, to realize that each one of us is his brother's keeper."

Atlas Shrugged is about more than capitalism, and Ayn Rand carried her observation about the role of the rational mind beyond economics into art, family life, and yes, even sex—where she rejected brute materialism just as thoroughly as she did in economics. To understand fully the lessons of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, she grasped, required that one understand the validity and life-sustaining power of reason in human life.

The passage I quoted above also hints at a second philosophical theme that remains the novel's most revolutionary idea. Altruism—the notion that "each one of us is his brother's keeper"—is still regarded as practically synonymous with morality. Yet Atlas Shrugged concretizes the destructive impact of a moral code based on sacrifice and shows us the virtues of selfishness.

Throughout most of mankind's history, moralists have warned that individuals driven by "greed" and left free to pursue their self-interest would plunge society into a destructive war of all against all, a system of brutality, plunder, and exploitation—precisely the qualities Marx projected onto the new capitalist system. Instead, capitalism produced a system of freedom, independence, prosperity, and super-abundant creative energy—while the societies most thoroughly dedicated to the sacrifice of the individual to the collective, the 20th century's Communist regimes, were guilty of the greatest crimes ever recorded.

The lessons of this history were not lost on Ayn Rand, who had escaped from the Soviet Union to America in the 1920s, experiencing in a brief span the most complete contrast between opposing social systems. In one of the novel's most powerful metaphors, a character describes the collapse of the 20th Century Motor Company, a once-prosperous firm that descended into rancor, petty tyranny, and economic squalor after its employees voted to adopt a "bold experiment" in egalitarian socialism. The tale's narrator concludes, "This was the end of the 20th Century." Literally, he is referring to the fate of the company; symbolically, Ayn Rand uses the story to sum up the moral catastrophe of 20th century socialism.

As her own answer, Ayn Rand offered a morality of self-interest in which the individual's central moral goal is the pursuit of his own happiness. As one of the novel's philosophical speeches expresses it:

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.

Yet Ayn Rand's radical idea is not merely her defense of self-interest—others have grudgingly accepted self-interest as a necessary evil, a "private vice" that makes for "public virtue"—but rather her redefinition of the moral meaning of self-interest.

Most intellectuals have accepted the old altruist caricature of self-interest as brute criminality, as if the only choice we face is between forms of sacrifice: sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others or sacrificing others to ourselves. Yet this caricature is thoroughly refuted by the history of capitalism, in which the most self-interested men are not looters or vandals, but creators who built railroads, steel mills, and computer networks. The philosophy of altruism gives us a choice between two moral models: Mother Theresa or Al Capone. Yet where is the room in this philosophy for a Bill Gates, a Thomas Edison, or any of the thousands of other figures who populate the history of capitalism, building their own fortunes through the creation of new ideas and products?

For the first time, Ayn Rand recognized the reality and significance of these men and drew a profound moral lesson: that genuine self-interest means, not the short-range conniving of the brute, but the creative thought and productive effort of the entrepreneur.

These philosophical insights were radical and new—but they were the only genuine, honest response to the evidence provided by the achievements of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Ayn Rand's detractors sometimes dismiss her novels as "unrealistic," but it is today's mainstream intellectuals who seem like they are wandering around in a fog of unreality. Stuck in a battle between two pre-conceived conventional notions—the religious traditionalism of the right versus the secular collectivism of the left—they have missed the monumental lessons of two centuries of history.

The era of encroaching global socialism—the dominant trend when Atlas Shrugged was written—has since given way to an era of global capitalism. But the deepest meaning of capitalism and its achievements has still not been widely understood and embraced. Capitalism is beginning to transform the lives of billions of people across the globe, from Eastern Europe to India to China. But there is virtually no one to help them understand what it is, its deepest personal meaning for their lives and values, and why it is good.

And that is why Atlas Shrugged is, if anything, even more relevant and more necessary today than it was when it was first published five decades ago.


Friday, October 05, 2007

The National Security Agency Of The Nanny State


RUSH LIMBAUGH: Michael Graham today has a column in the Boston Herald, and it's fascinating. Not being a parent, I have not encountered this. It's what happens when you send your kids to the doctor and what the doctor starts asking the kids about you. "They're watching you right now," begins Michael Graham. "They counted every beer you drank during last night's Red Sox game. They see you sneaking out to the garage for a smoke. They know if you've got a gun, and where you keep it. They're your kids, and they're the National Security Agency of the Nanny State. I found this out after my 13-year-old daughter’s annual checkup. Her pediatrician grilled her about alcohol and drug abuse.

Not my daughter's boozing. Mine. 'The doctor wanted to know how much you and mom drink, and if I think it's too much,' my daughter told us afterward, rolling her eyes in that exasperated 13-year-old way. 'She asked if you two did drugs, or if there are drugs in the house.' 'What!' I yelped. 'Who told her about my stasher, I mean, "It's an outrage!"'I turned to my wife. 'You took her to the doctor. Why didn't you say something?' She couldn't, she told me, because she knew nothing about it.

"All these questions were asked in private, without my wife's knowledge or consent. 'The doctor wanted to know how we get along,' my daughter continued. Then she paused. 'And if, well, Daddy, if you made me feel uncomfortable.' Great. I send my daughter to the pediatrician to find out if she's fit to play lacrosse, and the doctor spends her time trying to find out if her mom and I are drunk, drug-addicted sex criminals. We're not alone, either. Thanks to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and supported by the commonwealth, doctors across Massachusetts are interrogating our kids about mom and dad's 'bad' behavior. We used to be proud parents. Now, thanks to the AAP, we're 'persons of interest.' The paranoia over parents is so strong that the AAP encourages doctors to ignore 'legal barriers and deference to parental involvement' and shake the children down for all the inside information they can get.

"And that information doesn't stay with the doctor, either. Debbie is a mom from Uxbridge who was in the examination room when the pediatrician asked her 5-year-old, 'Does Daddy own a gun?' When the little girl said yes, the doctor began grilling her and her mom about the number and type of guns, how they are stored, etc. If the incident had ended there, it would have merely been annoying. But when a friend in law enforcement let Debbie know that her doctor had filed a report with the police about her family's (entirely legal) gun ownership, she got mad. She also got a new doctor. ... Of course doctors have a choice. They could choose, for example, to ask me about my drunken revels, and not my children. They could choose not to put my children in this terrible position. They could choose, even here in Massachusetts, to leave their politics out of the office. But the doctors aren't asking us parents. They're asking our kids. Worst of all, they're asking all kids about sexual abuse without any provocation or probable cause. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared all parents guilty until proven innocent. And then they wonder why we drink."

Now, you know, you want to listen to a little quotation here from Orwell? (interruption) What is it, Mr. Snerdley? Just stick with me on this. That is why I wanted people to watch the movie The Lives of Others, the German Academy Award winner. This is exactly what happened in East Germany. This is really not new, in terms of happening in human civilization. But here's a little quote, this is an excerpt from 1984 by George Orwell. "'Are you guilty?' said Winston. 'Of course I'm guilty,' cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. 'You don't think the party would arrest an innocent man, do you?' His frog-like face grew calmer and even then took on a slightly sanctimonious expression. 'Thought crime is a dreadful thing, old man,' he said, 'it's insidious, it can get hold of you without you even knowing it. Do you know how it got hold of me? In my sleep. Yes, that's a fact. There I was working away trying to do my bit, never knew I had any bad stuff in my mind at all, then I started talking in my sleep. You know what they heard me saying?' He sank his voice like someone who is obliged for medical reasons to utter an obscenity. 'Down with big brother. Yep, I said it, over and over again, it seems. Between you and me, old man, I'm glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I'm going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? Thank you, I'm going to say, thank you for saving me before it was too late.'

"'Well, who denounced you?' said Winston. 'It was my little daughter,' said Parsons. 'She listened at the keyhole, heard what I was saying, she nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don't bear her any grudge for it. In fact, I'm proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.'" This is from 1984 with the kid ratting out a parent saying "down with big brother." Now, Michael Graham writes this in what is a humorous way. But this is right in keeping with this movie, The Lives of Others, that I have recommended that you see. If we end up with state-run health care, this could be required. This could end up being just like it has been here in Massachusetts, children informing on their parents about their activities and their lifestyles. I haven't seen the list of questions, but I will bet you that none of the questions asked by the Massachusetts doctors are about any politically correct lifestyle choices. Like I'll bet they're not asked, "Does dad have boyfriends?" I'll bet there aren't questions like that on this test.

When you socialize medicine, doctors can't help but become socialists themselves. This is the one angle of socialized medicine that I don't think we think about enough. Who's going to pay the doctors and what's going to be in it for them? Who will their bosses be? Federal government, state government, that's who they'll work for. Doctors won't tell parents when their 13-year-old is going to have an abortion, for crying out loud. Right now doctors are not allowed, if they find out, to tell the parents. But you get socialized medicine in there, and those people who run it, à la Mrs. Clinton, want to find out what you're doing at home. The best way to do it is to require the doctors, as part of an examination of your kids, to find out from them, and then they'll know. In this case, the instance of a mother whose daughter told the stories about guns in the home, all legal, they got the attention of the authorities with this.