Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Beat Goes On

The list of endorsements of Senator Kerry continues to grow, which would be good news for the senator were it not for the fact that many of those who find him deserving of their support are people or groups who for one reason or another do nothing to raise Mr. Kerry's stature. Indeed, quite the opposite is true (See here for a recent discussion of this phenomenon on Viewpoint). The latest such endorsement that Viewpoint is aware of is that of the Communist Party U.S.A.

The good folks whose ideological soulmates, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Kim Jong Il, brought you over 100 million dead in the twentieth century and the most repressive regimes in the non-Arab world - these folks who would abolish your right to own property, as well as the entire Bill of Rights - have this to say about Senator Kerry:

Kerry reflects a liberal agenda... he is the vehicle by which George W. Bush, representing the most extreme reaction, can be defeated. A Kerry presidency by itself will not bring the changes, it will undoubtedly require huge mass pressure to bring the changes. In this regard ... a Kerry election presents the possibility for greater struggles to undo damage and move forward.

Reassuring words coming from people who doubtless have the best interests of America and Americans at heart.

According to The Washington Times the CPUSA has also endorsed Democrat keynote speaker Barack Obama, senate candidate from Illinois, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and Inez Tenenbaum in South Carolina.

Viewpoint asks the question again. What is it about John Kerry that makes such people as these think that he's the man they want as president?

Prisoner Abuse

One of the many critcisms President bush has had to endure since the onset of the Iraq war is that he is presiding over terrible human rights abuses carried out by the United States military. Abu Ghraib, we've been told, was just the tip of the iceberg and that torture and other forms of abuse proscribed by the Geneva Conventions were widespread.

Last week the army issued its report on prisoner abuse and demonstrated that yet again the president's war critics have been wrong. Powerline features an excellent commentary on the report by Dafydd ab Hugh. Dafydd writes:

The Army has released the findings of its report on all confirmed or alleged cases of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the war on terror in general. The "shock" headline (for the mathematically challenged) is "U.S. Reports 94 Cases of Prisoner Abuse" But in fact, the report is stunning as an example of the dog that did not bark - and it's another vindication for Bush and Rumsfeld.

First of all, headline aside, the body of the AP story makes clear that the number ninety-four refers not just to confirmed cases but to all allegations of abuse as well: if a prisoner says "I was beaten," it's counted as part of those ninety-four, even if there is no corroboration whatsoever for it, or even if it's disputed by a dozen eye witnesses.

Second, and bearing the above in mind, the real shocker is at the bottom of the article: The Army inspector general report found that since the fall of 2001, overall the United States had held more than 50,000 prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, a number never before made public.

I blinked in surprise at this: out of 50,000 arrests and detentions during a war, a grand total of only ninety-four allegations of abuse were made? That's astonishingly low -- and it's a wonderful testament to the professionalism and calm devotion to duty among our soldiers, led by Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush.

When you actually break the numbers down, it gets even better. Fully 45 of the 94 allegations refer to the moment of arrest or detention: 20 are claims of "physical abuse" (which means a prisoner got roughed up during capture, which is hardly surprising, considering how many resisted such capture), the rest claims of "theft or other crimes;" both such types of claim are routinely made in a huge percentage of arrests by civilian cops of ordinary criminals, and without some evidence of extraordinary abuse (not just some prisoner saying "he shoved me!"), these are not to be taken seriously. Unless you want to make it illegal for police officers to arrest anyone, anywhere, for anything.

Finally, here is the part that truly vindicates Bush and Rumsfeld. The most serious charges - and the most despicable behavior by the Democrats, as such charges were routinely made without any evidence and without any consideration of how such reckless charges would affect the war effort - were that we routinely "tortured" prisoners during interrogations in order to gain intelligence. The word "torture" was explicitly used scores of times, as a simple Lexis/Nexus search would show.

Yet the total number of ALLEGATIONS of abuse during or related to interrogations was... eight. Eight total cases where there was even an allegation of prisoner abuse related to interrogation. And certainly Abu Ghraib would account for all or nearly all of these allegations.

This lays to rest the only serious charge in the entire scandal: clearly, we were NOT using torture or even abuse, either routinely or even commonly, to extract intel from prisoners. All but eight allegations of abuse (out of 50,000 prisoners, 0.016%) were, in fact, soldiers using more force to arrest a prisoner than the prisoner himself thought was necessary, or a prisoner claiming that the thousand-dollar wad of bills that he had in his back pocket was missing when he got to prison (yeah, right).

...Bush is on very solid ground on this one if he just stands up for his guys. I don't think too many Americans will be upset that some al-Qaeda killer in Iraq got a black eye during his capture.

One wonders how many more defeats of their credibility the left can suffer before they become a complete laughingstock.

Kerry's Religion Problem

This analysis by Steve Waldman of Kerry's "religion problem" says some interesting things, but it misses the root, I think, of the senator's difficulty. Waldman writes, for example, that:

[T]he Kerry campaign suffers from the fact that while most Democrats are religious, many liberal Democratic activists are not. Perhaps the real problem with the paucity of African-Americans at senior levels of the Kerry campaign is not that he doesn't understand racial language but that-forgive the gross stereotyping-the white aides tend to be more tone deaf about religion than the black ones.

In other words, religion is as important to the general population of Democrats as it is to Republicans, it's just that the Democrats to whom it's important are not in the leadership. So Democrats, including Kerry, tend to "act like the Party of Secularists even if they aren't."

Waldman thinks Kerry is making a mistake by not talking about religion more because, if he does, he'll have a very receptive audience among most members of his party. This is where I think Waldman misses Kerry's underlying difficulty.

Kerry's predicament is not simply that he's shy about his faith, it's that when he has talked about it he's given the impression of being only a nominal Catholic whose religious pilings are not driven very deep. He does not project the image of a man who is comfortable talking about religion quite possibly because it truly is terra incognita to him. For a person who has given little thought to matters of faith over the last several decades to suddenly assume the role of a man of piety is very difficult, not to mention extraordinarily hypocritical.

To suggest, as some of his supporters are, that Kerry talk about religion in order to reassure a voting public which looks for such convictions in a president is to ask him to adopt a persona to which he may well be philosophically and psychologically allergic. It's to ask him to be someone he's not. The gambit, if not sincere, can only make him appear phony, which, of course, he would be.

Kerry would be better off, if he has to say anything at all, to simply tell the truth about his religious beliefs, or lack thereof, and let religious voters decide for themselves if the honesty of his response is sufficient in itself to give him a pass on the matter.

Ben Stein

The following piece by Ben Stein, who writes for The American Spectator and who appeared on Win Ben Stein's Money and in small roles in numerous movies, sums up the feelings of so many of us that I thought I'd share it with Viewpoint readers today.

Note: The restaurant Stein refers to, Morton's, is a high end eatery in L.A. For many years he has written a biweekly column for the online website called "Monday Night At Morton's", but he's now terminating the column to move on to other things:

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World? As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonline FINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started.

I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end. It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to. How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.

A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world. A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him. A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists. We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject. There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament, the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive, The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery, the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children, the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.

Now you have my idea of a real hero. We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters.

This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or Martin Mull or Fred Willard-or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.

Ben Stein

To which the only thing left to be said is "Amen."