Archive for May 2006

Squelching the Whistleblowers

May 31, 2006

Surprise, surprise — Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, plus fellow (but unreliable) Republican Anthony Kennedy, have decided to hand Bush a major victory in his campaign to silence whistleblowers (though the particular case in question had to do with an LA county official, the precedent is one that's sure to make the president very happy indeed). As the AP reports:

Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security.

I hope one day Neil Young will get together with the John Birch Society for a "Let's Impeach John Roberts" campaign.

The Immigration Story That Doesn’t Get Covered

May 31, 2006

Robert Samuelson has another very good immigration column, this time on what the major media didn't deign to cover in the Senate's immigration bill.

he White House's projected increases [as a result of the Senate bill] of legal immigration (20 million) are about twice the level of existing illegal immigrants (estimated between 10 million and 12 million). Yet, coverage overlooks the former. … Whether or not the bias is "liberal," groupthink is a powerful force in journalism. Immigration is considered noble. People who critically examine its value or worry about its social effects are subtly considered small-minded, stupid or bigoted. The result is selective journalism that reflects poorly on our craft and detracts from democratic dialogue.

See also: coverage and analysis of the case for war against Iraq, circa 2002.

Isabel Paterson

May 30, 2006

My brief review of Stephen Cox's The Woman and the Dynamo, from the Fall 2005 Modern Age, is now on-line here.

Founders’ Keepers

May 29, 2006

This year's glut of summer books brings with it several new specimens of "Founders' Chic," a sub-genre of pop history for which there seems to be a just about unlimited market. At least one of this season's offerings comes from a reputable scholar: Gordon S. Wood of Brown University. Berkeley professor emeritus Robert Middlekauff reviews Wood's Revolutionary Characters in the Washington Post. I have a review of it myself in the new issue of The American Conservative, which ought to be in shops and subscribers' mailboxes within a week or so. It's a difficult book to review because Wood presents deceptively simple arguments: when summarized by reviewers they look like nothing very surprising, but the power of his analysis is in adding fresh life to interpretations that have become either rote or unfashionable in scholarly circles. I was grateful to have 2400 words or so for my review in TAC; it takes a bit of space to get across what sets Wood's book apart from — and above — the pack.

Then there's Bill Bennett's America: The Last Best Hope, a 500-page history of America from Columbus to Woodrow Wilson that comes in for a drubbing from the New York Observer. I thought the reviewer was exaggerating when he wrote, "It takes a man with a certain singular talent to write a history of America empty of originality and devoid of insight." Surely it's much easier to write a by-the-numbers history of America without originality or insight than to produce one that breaks new ground. But then I had a look at the book for myself and, sure enough, its most remarkable quality is its blankness. Not scholarly detachment — not at all — but a simple unwillingness on the part of Bennett's ghostwriter (I presume) to attempt any kind of argument at all. It's not a badly written book, if one chooses to overlook the author's predilection for emphatic italics (three or four to a page) and chatty prose, but it has nothing at all to say. The Observer reviewer is also quite right to scoff at "Bennett's" bibliography, which consists almost exclusively of a few classic general works. The reader would be better served by consulting them directly than bothering with the "Bennett" re-write.

There's quite a contrast between Bennett's book and Wood's. The latter can take well-worn material and make something compelling out of it, whether or not we already know the story. Bennett's book is an exercize in recitation; he's not even arguing a particularly hard neocon line. Perhaps a product without any daring or perspective at all simply sells better.

AT&T Makes Excuses…

May 28, 2006

…for having a hidden tapping room in its San Francisco switching center. Then the company tries to redact the excuses from court filings — but doesn't quite succeed.

Gonzales: Snatching Papers Is More Important Than My Job

May 27, 2006

Somehow I don't think Bush would have returned the William Jefferson papers even without Gonzales threatening to resign, but it's interesting that Gonzales — who, lest we forget, is pro-affirmative action and abortion — is so committed to expanding executive power that he would resign if he weren't allowed to keep the papers snatched from a congressman's office.

Keep in mind, the FBI has video of Jefferson accepting cash. The case against him doesn't exactly depend on anything taken from his office (and in any case, the FBI could have asked the House Sergeant-at-Arms to secure the papers if they really were that important).

It needs to be said again: the chief objective of the Bush administration, at least since 9/11, has been to increase executive power. The administration's appointees, Gonzales in particular, are exhibit A. Their trampling over conventional, legal, and constitutional protections of private citizens and now congressmen is exhibit B. There isn't enough space on a blog — or letters in the alphabet — to list all the other exhibits…

Architect of the Old Right

May 26, 2006

That's Ralph Adams Cram, and I don't mean that he designed the Old Right — he was literally an architect, who happened to be on the Old Right. Alan Wall had a very good article on him on LRC a week or so back; check it out.

Cram was a late but seminal influence of Albert Jay Nock. Cram's essay "Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings" crystallized Nock's growing pessimism about humanity; Cram's thesis was that most people do not behave like human beings because most people are not human beings, not in a spiritual or psychological sense. At one point, Nock, Mencken, and Paul Palmer — at the time the editor of The American Mercury, later editor of Reader's Digest — discussed the prospect of publishing a book consisting of a series of letters between Nock, Mencken, and/or Cram. The idea never got off the ground: Mencken thought that he and Nock would have much too much in common to make for an interesting exchange of correspondence, and Cram was too old (by then, the late '30s or early '40s, he was in his 70s).

Nock and Palmer went some way with the project by themselves, though the results were never published. I've seen some of those letters, and while they tell us relatively little about Nock that wasn't already known (his correspondence with other acquaintances in the early '40s is more revealing, particularly for his thoughts on FDR, Stalin, and the British — he had a pretty black view of all three), Palmer's side is interesting for the light it throws on the emerging Cold War mindset. Mencken, Nock, and most of the old right were steadfast in supporting Communists' civil liberties; they were not proto-McCarthyites, despite what some liberal intellectual historians seem to think. Palmer, however, was: he argued that the gravest danger Communists posed within the U.S. was the risk that they would precipitate a popular and governmental backlash that would harm Americans' civil liberties generally; in order to forestall that outcome, he was willing to pre-emptively circumscribe the Reds' rights.

Palmer remains an obscure figure. Cram, however, has been the subject of a two-volume biography that I'm going to have to take a look at whenever I can, though it's been heavily criticized for its author's fashionable preoccupation with Cram's sex life. In the meantime, it's good to see him getting a little bit of appreciative coverage in Wall's LRC piece.