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Saturday, April 27, 2002

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
As is our tradition here at QP, we forget the pressing issues of the day and the obsessions of the blogosphere (a term coined by Bill Quick, speaking of obsessions) and just reflect on the results of Dodd Harris' Caption of the Day contest. It's all I can do today to keep from responding to Tony's attack on the sainted David Brooks, but I'll respect tradition. (BTW Tony, I thought his "legal pettifoggery" was a great description.)

Anyway, the scrupulously fair Dodd, a member of The Refuge, again demonstrated his independence by selecting a non-Refuge person as the winner, the tainted Brent Thurman, only person to ever have a win in the contest taken away. Most entries used a Star Wars theme except for those from The Refuge comedy corps (although JulieC did reference Star Wars in one of her entries). Interestingly, both JulieC and Dan Dickinson tried a variation of the same potty humor theme. Ah, great minds think alike.

I tried to steal a win by using an obscure fact about Glenn Reynolds' past and by mocking Dodd's trip to Canada that is in progress as we speak, but it was not to be. As the inimitable "Rags" might say, "I got nothing more to say."

Friday, April 26, 2002

If You're Not Catholic,
Then Please Shut Up!

Tony Adragna
Sorry folks! I'm not usually the type who would even consider squelching the free exchange of ideas and opinions, but there are too many non-Catholics out there whose ideas and opinions on what to do about the priest sex abuse cum infidelity cum coverup scandal are just plain ol' vanilla uninformed.

The opinions are almost always prefaced with "I'm not Catholic" (if it's not a preface, then it appears as an emphatic statement somewhere in the opinion expressed). Whenever pundits start with "I'm not [n]", that's a giveaway that they don't consider themselves to be on a good foundation.

Here's a grand example: David Brooks (his opening line - I'm not Catholic) said on tonight's NewsHour that he didn't see any expressions of "shock" in the document coming out of the U.S. Cardinals' (there are eight of them in positions in the U.S.) meeting in Rome.

Guess what, David (can I call you David?) - there was not "shock" because they've known about the conduct for years! "Shock" is something that you feel when confronted with something unexpected. Why would Their Eminences be "shocked"? There's no reason for "shock". That the heirarchy knew, and didn't adequately deal with the problem is part of the problem.

Who knew?

Their Eminences who met in Rome certainly knew.

Roger Cardinal Mahoney -- who I remember as Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton while I was attending seminary, and met a number of times when he came to visit students from Stockton -- can't claim ignorance: he has been accused not simply of covering up sex abuse cases while in Stockton, but also of sexual abuse (cleared of the charges). As pastor of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles he hasn't gotten a break from sexually abusive priests.

Cardinal Law defintely knew about abusive priests in his diocese.

Cardinal McCarrick -- who heads the diocese where I reside -- knows about Monsignor Dillard's "abuse" of two young women (what happened to this case? After the initial reportage, nobody has even hinted at asking Cardinal McCarrick).

Maybe you're looking for "outrage", David.

Sure, outrage would be proper - we lay Catholics are certainly outraged, as are many of our parish priests. Wanna know who were pissed at?

We're irate at a heirarchy that let this abuse persist for so long. If members of the heirarchy are to express outrage, they must do it while looking into mirrors!

Evidence one theme that runs through the statements coming out of the heirarchy: the heirarchy's commitment to turn over records past and present. There's an implicit admission that if they had done so in the past -- if the Church had properly addressed the cases at the time they came to the heirarchy's attention, rather than covering up -- then the problem wouldn't have the appearance that it does now. Why can't the Church explicitly admit its guilt in this matter, instead of seeking umbrage?

Another criticism coming from "non Catholics" (and many Catholics) is that they aren't seeing the current process move fast enough.

While I note that action is long overdue, and there are certainly some things that can be done immediately (like - reporting cases to civil authorities), this scandal does impact some matters that the Church must handle in a deliberate manner. For instance, the Church is taking a look at Canon Law (something I previously suggested, and was pooh-poohed) to make sure that there are no impediments to being more cooperative with civil authorities. There's also a question of just how far the Church can go in disciplining a priest -- offenses are defined and punishments prescribed at canon law.

We can't expect the Church to go off half-cocked and in a week at Rome, or in Dallas, make changes impacting not just the sex abuse scandal, but a host of unrelated matters. That, as my favourite math teacher -- Father Al Megnon -- would describe it, is a half-backed lasagna: smells good, looks good, but not fit to be served.

Are you getting the picture now, David?

OK - I didn't really mean it. I'm a'ight with the non-Catholics (of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion) who have opinions and express them. So, keep it up, David.

But please realize that we Catholics are having a tough enough time trying to explain the problem to Their Excellencies, Graces, and Eminences, and certain agenda driven Catholic groups (on both the right and left), who seem to have less of a clue about why we're upset -- we don't really need the added pressure of trying to explain how wrong are many of those opinions coming from non-Catholics.

"Hammerin’” Away At Europe

Tony Adragna
Echoing my own comments on "The Ancient Conflict”, Charles Krauthammer takes on "Europe and ‘Those People’”:
In Europe, it is not very safe to be a Jew. How could this be?

The explanation is not that difficult to find. What we are seeing is pent-up anti-Semitism, the release -- with Israel as the trigger -- of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history. What is odd is not the anti-Semitism of today but its relative absence during the past half-century. That was the historical anomaly. Holocaust shame kept the demon corked for that half-century. But now the atonement is passed. The genie is out again.

This time, however, it is more sophisticated. It is not a blanket hatred of Jews. Jews can be tolerated, even accepted, but they must know their place. Jews are fine so long as they are powerless, passive and picturesque. What is intolerable is Jewish assertiveness, the Jewish refusal to accept victimhood. And nothing so embodies that as the Jewish state.[bold emphasis added]
Krauthammer gets it exactly right(again, of course!).

See, despite the "shame”, there never was atonement – not in the best sense of what atonement means. What the Europeans attempted was to assuage their own feelings of guilt, but there was never any real attempt to right the wrong.

Sure, Europe recognized the right of Israel to exist, and went along with the creation of the State of Israel, but neither Europe, the United Nation nor, in fairness, the United States did anything to promote that cause. The British repeatedly rejected the notion that the Balfour Declaration stood for the creation of an independent Jewish state. There were several partition recommendations unacceptable to either party, but we tried, right?

Well, sure we did, but if Jews had waited for us to finally come up with a try that equaled success, then there wouldn’t be a State of Israel today.

The State of Israel owes for its existence not Western recognition – born of shame – that there was need of such a sanctuary for Jews. Rather, the State of Israel owes for its existence the determination of Jews to have their own state, their declaration of its founding, and their commitment to it defense.

Oh, but Europe sure wants to stand up for a Palestinian state – what happened to anti-Arab sentiment in Europe?

Nothing happened to it. It’s still there, except when there’s a choice between Arabs and Jews, in which case Jews are written-off. That, too, is the way things have always been.

Thursday, April 25, 2002


Tony Adragna

"If we're going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?" Cornelio Sommaruga, past president of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Cornelio Sommaruga was selected by Mr. Anan to be on the Jenin "investigation" team - no wonder the Israelis are pissed!

Note: Sommaruga's defender confirms that the comment was made, but objects that the criticism "is a vile manipulation of something said in a different context." No matter the context, Sommaruga's comment was itself vile.

Israel's concern about the ICRC goes back to the ICRC's lack of concern while NAZIs were murdering millions of Jews, and the Swiss plunder of European Jewry , which didn't end at the close of WWII:
Some nine years ago, in an effort to assuage critics, Union Bank of Switzerland donated US $40 million to the International Red Cross (IRC) as token payment to compensate for unclaimed accounts belonging to victims of the Shoah. It is difficult to ignore the irony in the fact that the recipient of the Swiss banks' charity was an organization particularly indifferent to the plight of European Jewry during the war - as its present President, Cornelio Sommaruga, admitted publicly. Addressing the WJC- sponsored Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem in June 1995, Sommaruga expressed his "compassion for the millions of victims of the Shoah... Our failure to speak out at that time was a moral defeat." WJC Secretary General Israel Singer characterized the money given to the IRC as "a gift of money from those who did not own it to those who did not deserve it"[emphasis added]
Sommaruga's admission of "failure" ought be consumated with some action - why has the ICRC recognized the Red Crescent, but not Magen David Adom?

Israelis know what BOHICA stands for, and they aren't having it...

Update: Dan Hartung, who is hopefuly reprising Lake Effect, writes in to aprise me of the following:
While it's true that the International Committee of the Red Cross opposes the admission of Magen David Adom, /supposedly/ on the basis of the need to add the Star of David emblem to the Geneva protocols, they are not themselves responsible for admission. They are a voting member of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which is the entity actually governing the process, alongside groups like the American Red Cross, which has voted for admission.

Also, the Red Crescent was added back in the 19th century, and was written into the Geneva protocols, so it's not a matter before the federation in the same way.[emphasis added]
Fair enough! But that doesn't let the ICRC off the hook -- I'm sure that behind Dan's stipulation of the ICRC's opposition is agreement that the ICRC is wrong.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

A Letter, an Editorial,
and an Opinion

Tony Adragna
Taxing Virginia

Virginia tax woes are always good for a few column inches in the WaPo. And my favourite read is the "Letters to the Editor". I get a twofer today in a letter titled "Tax Tobacco, Not Telephones":
[...]I figured that the Virginia tax rate on my [telephone] bill is a whopping 22.35 percent.

I would like to know why the rate is so exorbitant for a necessity such as telephone service and so low -- a paltry 2 1/2 cents a pack -- on tobacco products, which fill no positive needs and whose use creates huge medical problems and expenses.
I gotta start buying my cigs in Virginia!

WaPo Editorial Board
Reads QP?

WaPo echoes my own comments on the distinctions between the War on Terror and the ME conflict.:
The problem with equating Israel's campaign against terrorism with that of the United States, as Mr. Sharon and some of his American supporters do, is that it overlooks this contest for territory and sovereignty underlying the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. Though it has been contaminated by suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, the Palestinian national cause and its goals are recognized as legitimate by the Bush administration and the United Nations, and they were tacitly accepted by Israel when it signed the Oslo accords of 1993. Mr. Sharon and most of the rest of his government, however, have never accepted Oslo; on the contrary, they have devoted most of their lives to the dream of permanently establishing Israel's control over most, if not all, of the territories it occupied during the 1967 Six Day War. Few outside of Israel support that plan, but Mr. Sharon and his allies have for decades argued that Israeli occupation and settlement of the Arab lands were necessary to control the Palestinian threat to Israel.
Before the charges of "moral equivalence" start flying, read the whole piece -- there is no justification of Palestinian terrorism here. In fact, the editorial board indicts Arafat in the very next paragraph:
The disastrous decision of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat not to accept a negotiated settlement of Palestinian claims and his subsequent encouragement of a violent uprising against the Israeli occupation have justified an Israeli response.But they have also given Mr. Sharon and other Israeli nationalists the cover to pursue their own unacceptable ambitions. In the name of uprooting terrorism, they have systematically destroyed the institutions and infrastructure of Palestinian self-government. To back the Israeli invasion, as the Bush administration has mostly done, is not just to back the cause of counterterrorism; it is also to abet Mr. Sharon's drive to suppress Palestinian national rights.[emphasis added]
The only problem I have with this otherwise fair and balanced editorial is that it puts too much weight on the "ambitions" of Mr. Sharon and his political "allies". Arafat had plenty of opportunity to work with people who were not "allies" of Sharon -- Rabin, Peres, and Barak -- and the deal still couldn't get done.

Most notable, the Israeli leader who was willing to give up the most to acheive peace -- Barak -- lost his place not so much because Israelis wouldn't accept concessions, but because Barak wasn't able to counter Sharon's characterization of the concessions as a threat to security. Why not? Because, despite Arafat's agreement to the principles of the Trilateral Statement, the intifada resumed in September 2000 and continued through the negotiations at Taba. Arafat made an agreement, then broke it in pursuing violence -- he proved Sharon's argument!

Sharon's politics are a problem, but the Knesset can deal with him, and he has proven himself willing to accept that he can't have everything he wants.

Arafat is The Problem: He concedes nothing, is not willing to accept the rule of law, and he can't be trusted to even negotiate in good faith -- forget about asking him to faithfully abide whatever agreement is eventually reached.

Predicting the Inevitable

Dean Broder takes on what will happen with Campaign Finance Reform when it reaches The Court. His assessment of how the case will be decided -- contribution limits upheld; new rules on issue advocacy struck -- is exactly where most people who pay attention to The Court think the case is headed.

I feel a bit of sympathy for Mr. Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Scalia. They are going to have to sit through another case where Buckley v. Valeo is cited affirming contribution limits. Thomas and Scalia have always argued that Buckley was decided wrongly -- see Thomas' dissents in Nixon v. Shrink (the other Nixon case) and FEC v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee, where Thomas starts both dissents with a rejection of Buckley. They'll try again, and again they'll be in the minority on contribution limits.

But, the "net effect" of striking the issue advocacy provisions while leaving the soft money provisions alone is troubling:
The political parties, already weakened by many forces, will have lost a major source of their financing with the outlawing of "soft money," while interest groups, whose influence has grown by leaps and bounds, will be free to play an even larger role in campaigns, thus expanding their grip on government.

And that in turn will make it ever harder to break out of gridlock in Washington. Political parties, as large coalitions, learn to adjust to the competing demands of their own factions, and they understand that those they help elect must at times compromise with the opposition to get things done. Single-issue interest groups are more adamant in their demands on officeholders and less willing to see them seek middle ground.

It was not the intention of the sponsors of this new law to weaken parties and strengthen interest groups. But if the court does what I think it will do, that will be the damaging consequence of this latest reform effort[emphasis added]
I'm afeared that the Dean is correct!.

Questions for Kurtz

Will Vehrs
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz was taking questions on-line today. He took two of mine:

Richmond, Va.: Do you think there is some extra effort on the part of reporters/pundits to find a "story behind the story" in the Karen Hughes resignation? This administration hasn't given up many juicy staff infighting or staff dissension stories.

Howard Kurtz: In Washington, when a senior official quits, there's almost always a story-behind-the-story. Reporters are fixated on digging out the hidden motivations -- was the person shoved, worried about some future embarrassment, etc. In this case, the news is that the story is pretty much what Karen Hughes says it is: her husband and especially her teenage son want to go back to Texas. Somehow, this is seen as remarkable. It's certainly true that the administration has largely been a dry hole as far as backstage infighting stories are concerned.

Fairfax, Va.: What's your prediction on the ultimate hosting arrangement when ABC's This Week is revamped?

Howard Kurtz: I don't like predictions but it sure looks like Stephanopoulos is being groomed for the job. He's even selling his place in New York and coming back to D.C. Don't know whether he'd be the sole anchor or share the duties with ABC's Claire Shipman.

Note how I cleverly changed my location to confound Kurtz! I also asked him a question about Weblogs--did he think other media outlets would follow Fox's lead and publish blogs--but instead of my terse question, he chose to respond to this:

Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed Monday's column about the new Web "pundits." I think it's great that these people have an outlet for their opinions, and I also think it helps everyone to understand that there's really nothing special about the columnists that appear on the OpEd pages. It's all just one person's opinion. I get the impression that people like George Will and Charles Krauthammer take themselves and their own opinions too seriously, and just because they appear in the newspaper the public at large gives their opinion more weight. Isn't it great that the web is democratizing this process and we can finally see that the blowhards whose columns appear in the paper are no different than anyone else with an opinion?

Howard Kurtz: Well, sometimes they're more informed than some of the bloggers, or actually do reporting, and obviously they have bigger audiences. But the great thing about the blogosphere is that it utterly democratizes the process by letting anyone air their opinions online. You get all kinds of views on all kinds of subjects from all kinds of people. And it's the ultimate market test: those who are particularly sharp or have something to say can attract tens of thousands of readers while others labor in obscurity.

I found the Arlington questioner amusing, deriding pundits as "blowhards" after his/her long-winded preface to the vapid question, "Isn't it great?"

I've never been one who thought that blogging and traditional media were at odds, or that you had to dislike or distrust pundits and reporters to be a blogger. The full transcript of Kurtz's one hour session is here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Philosophy At War

Tony Adragna
Jim Holt's "Terrorism and the Philosophers - Can the ends ever justify the means?" is a blog-worthy takedown of terrorism's philosophical justifications. I realize that for the purpose of this discussion there are noted some equivalencies between acts at war and acts of terrorism. I'm not taking issue -- I think Jim Holt is on target.

My only criticism is that Jim doesn't distinguish war cimes from terrorism. Yes, they are morally equivalent, but there are several reasons why the distinction is important.

The most important reason is practical: At war, we already have codified standards of conduct at international law. We don't need to have the philosophical discussion. The questions regarding what is justifiable conduct have already been answered. The only question at war is: Did the actors conduct themselves according to the laws of war?

I think it also important to not leave room for conflation, even unintended, of warfare and terrorism.

In the current debate over the morality of "suicide bombings" in the ME, both sides engage in some disingenuous arguments -- the terrorists wanting to justify the deaths of civilians by linking those deaths to an arguably legitimiate armed insurrection, and Israelis wanting to deligitimize the whole insurrection by putting those individuals who use legitimate means in the same bucket with the terrorists.

I know that this delinkage is hard to get at because the terrorists act under the same umbrella as, and with the support of, those who pursue legitimate means. But, if we don't make this delinkage, then our own response to the analogy between the American Revolution and the Palestinian uprising -- an analogy made by Prince Bandar, who ought to know better -- sounds disingenuous to those making the analogy.

Addressing justifications for ME terrorism would be a lot easier if we would just call the conflict what it is -- war.

The West Bank is still disputed territory, and the Israelis have been in effect administering hostile territory. The terrorists are in fact war criminals. Both the Israelis and Palestinians have obligations vis a vis noncombatants (The Moral Limits of Strategic Attack, by Major Michael A. Carlino -- currently assigned as Battalion Operations Officer in the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Baumholder, Germany -- includes a good discussion on "Noncombatant Immunity", and deals with "Force Protection", form a moral perspective).

Jim gets the bottom line -- "To act knavishly in a good cause is to act foolishly" -- just right. I'll revise and amplify: A just cause is never defense for immoral conduct.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

ME Revisionism

Tony Adragna
On Barak

I recently noted Mr. Barak's emphatic statement on Hannity & Colmes. Just to be clear, after Mr. Barak made the statement, Sean Hannity pursued the point with a "let me get this right" type of question, and Mr. Barak affirmed.

Is Mr. Barak engaging in revisionism?

To answer the question, I decided to review what happened at Camp David in July 2000 (vesus what the press and the pundits reported and commented on).

I think part of the problem was that the framework of the meeting -- agree on everything or agree on nothing -- gave Arafat an out. It was obvious to everybody, despite the hopefulness expressed by some members of the U.S. administration, that the parties weren't going to "agree on everything". But, that doesn't mean that the negotiations were totally useless from the start -- agreement on the Trilateral Statement did at least forestall Arafat's planned September 13, 2000 unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. This point is important because it was Arafat's threat that prompted Mr. Barak to seek Mr. Clinton's auspices in the negotiations.

What's very clear is that while Mr. Barak did move from his initial position further than Arafat was willing to move, it's not so clear that Mr. Barak was making an "offer" to Arafat. It would be just as correct to say that Mr. Clinton, acting as broker, was able to draw some concessions out of Mr. Barak.

It's also very clear, evidenced by Mr. Barak's willingness to make concessions on the negotiating position, that he was more committed to peace than to the maintenance of his own political position. Unfortunately, Arafat would concede nothing.

At Camp David, I think there's room to accept Mr. Barak isn't being revisionist.

But, I don't think that Mr. Barak was talking about Camp David when he made the statement. It seems to me that he was talking about Mr. Clinton's proposal in January, 2001[4/22 Update: according to Dennis Ross, the proposal actually presented on Dec. 23, 2000] -- Mr. Barak definitely isn't being revisionist here. Both sides went to Taba with reservations.

There's a good argument -- with which I agree -- that, because of Arafat's perfidy, Taba wouldn't have lead to a solution either. In fairness, though, it should be noted that Mr Barak halted diplomatic contacts until after the election, and Sharon is on record as being not just against the concessions made at Taba, but averred that he wouldn't have honored them in any event.

You want revisionism, try reconciling Mr. Sharon's record with the label "man of peace" -- here's what Ha'aretz had to say in response to Sharon's spin on his record:
Sharon also followed the line of his media campaign, and sought to divert criticism from issues such as his stance on peace and his role in the Lebanon war. Answering a question, he said he did not oppose every peace agreement or the withdrawal from Lebanon. He said he supported the peace agreement with Egypt (he voted against it in the cabinet), and he was the first to support pulling out of Lebanon, as early as October 1982 (he voted against withdrawal in the cabinet in 1985).[all emphasis added]
Does all of the above really matter? Well, if you're like me -- if you insist upon truth in rhetoric -- then it does matter.

But, it doesn't matter as much as the point that we all agree on: Arafat is The Problem. I just don't think that we need engage in revisionism in order to establish that truth -- the unadulterated facts suit the purpose just fine.

On "The Ancient Conflict"

Here's a case of revisionism that really irks me. I've heard it said so often that the fight between Jews and Arabs has been going on for centuries, even millennia.

Problem is, it just isn't true.

By the time of the Muslim conquest (638 CE), most inhabitants of the area had been Hellenized and Christinized by the Romans, and there had been a brief Persian occupation. The Diaspora had been underway since the 6th century BCE -- can't blame it on Muslims who didn't appear til the 7th century CE.

Most of the fighting that rook place between the rise and fall of the Caliphate had nothing to do with Jews -- the fighting was between Western Christiandom and Islam. They just happened to be fighting over the homeland of Judaism. And, just in case anybody forgot what happened to Jews whenever Christians won, I refer you to the reconquest of Spain -- Jews were forced to either convert, or leave the country.

The conflict between Jews and Muslims didn't start until the rise of Zionism -- that makes the struggle roughly 120 years old, not "centuries", nor "millennia". And "war" between Jews & Arabs didn't happen until after WWII!

"The Ancient Conflict" is between Christianity and Judaism [and Islam] -- witness the current resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe -- and the roots of anti-Semitism amongst Arabs may stretch as far away as Britain (in other words, Wahhabism -- which doesn't appear until the late 18th century -- and the Saudis aren't the only sources).

Again, does all of the above matter in laying blame or resolving the conflict? No! We all agree on where the fault lies. But, as with the previous issue, we can make the case -- that Arab thuggery is at fault, and any resolution requires an end to Palestinian terrorism -- without resorting to a revision of history.

Powell Patrols Pundit Programs

Today's edition of TV Punditwatch has been posted. For the fourth week in a row, it's more of the same--Middle East muddle. There were a few other top issues, though--panty-waist Republicans and Ozzy Osbourne.