Tuesday, May 06, 2003

THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.

Here he goes again--a second, more desperate Hugh Hewitt column referring to me, the supposed antiwar, leftist professor who bullied two freshmen (Blacklist Envy). And the second he has written without calling me first to ask whether anything he was writing was true. The only "call" I EVER got before all this was an e-mail from a producer inviting me to a radio show hosted by one Hugh Hewitt, who was unknown to me; I declined. No one said anything about a column. Now Hewitt writes that Joe Scarborough's producer Greg Cockrell called me before the Scarborough MSNBC show. That is a lie. The first call I ever got from MSNBC came days after the show, from a very apologetic Cockrell. He never claimed he'd left any messages on my machine or otherwise. Neither he nor Hewitt are good at telling the truth about contacts. I do have to give Hewitt credit for linking my second column, but I'm beginning to wonder who among the free and the brave is strong enough to read it and tell Hewitt and his radio show and The Daily Standard and Cockrell and Scarborough and MSNBC that, this time, they simply messed up and can't admit it.

--Jim Sleeper

Hugh Hewitt responds: I am tempted to send Professor Sleeper a T-shirt with the words "Anguished Conscience of a Conflicted Generation" printed on the back so he wouldn't have to work so hard at attempting to telegraph his great sensitivities and his commitment to truth-telling. Alas, I can't send him the shirt because he's built his pose on either self-delusion or simple lies.

Both Cockrell and the Yale freshmen confirmed to me that MSNBC repeatedly tried to contact Sleeper.

His writings have been reviewed by a long list of serious people and they all agree that he slandered the freshmen with the terms "neo-Stalinist" and "Fedayeen Uncle Sams."

I plead guilty to inviting him on my radio show only once. I regret he refused the invitation because the tape no doubt would have been a classic. Sleeper seems most upset that no one takes him seriously, and has apparently persuaded himself that this is because his message has been distorted or muffled. In fact, the chuckling that follows his every column or letter is because instead of a simple apology--one manifestly owed to the freshmen--Sleeper keeps reaching for martyrdom.

As a diehard Bosox fan, I welcome the stir caused by Boston Herald reporter Howard Bryant. (Christopher Caldwell, A Clubhouse Divided) It takes my mind off the fact that despite a decent April, we are already three games behind the Yankees. News about a sportswriter driven to activism will keep memories of the Curse off my mind--and off the pages of the Boston dailies.

--Christian Farley

Terry Eastland should realize that there is another alternative in Iraq: A Shiite state theocracy which tolerates other religions (The Separation of Mosque and State).

I am an American living in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. There is a large Shiite population here. They believe (at least my small sampling--mostly graduate-degreed engineering professionals--believe) that a theocracy would be the utopian form of government. Their belief is that the Shiite sect of Islam is the only pure and righteous one. It relies on religious leaders for guidance in all matters of religion and politics. They feel an Islamic state which provides freedom for infidels to practice other religions is superior to a secular one which treats all religions equally.

--Ron Monsen

Claudia Winkler, while she rightly praises President Bush for saying nice things about Iraqi Americans, should realize that it doesn't matter too much what Iraqi Americans think about Iraq--what matters is what native Iraqis think (Bush's Ideology of Freedom) And what native Iraqis think should give both Bush and Winkler pause.

For one thing, the natives seem to believe they can run Iraq better than the Americans or the British. For another, native Iraqis do not seem much enamored of democracy--they prefer theocracy. Or at least they seem to, based on the demonstrations I've seen on CNN.

Since it is unlikely that native Iraqis will be changing their opinions about self-government or theocracy any time soon, it would seem that the Americans and British will be occupying Iraq for a long, long time.

--Carl W. Goss

I am very disappointed by Justin Polin's It's All About Kashmir. The Weekly Standard has consistently and heroically defended Israel against its critics who use moral equivalence to gauge the Arab-Israeli conflict. Why doesn't the same defense applied to India?

While the India-Pakistan situation has many differences, it also has many similarities. India and Israel are both solid democracies emerging from bloody partitions in the late 1940s. Both were later threatened by largely undemocratic neighbors who have consistently fomented war and terrorism over disputed territories. Both are diverse (Israel's diversity is especially underappreciated), and encompass deep religious and secular dimensions.

There are differences, to be sure. Israel is a tiny state (but a critical outpost of Western civilization) while India is an aspiring global power and a distinct civilization in its own right. The West Bank and Gaza have much greater security implications for Israel than Kashmir does for India (although it could be convincingly argued that Kasmiri secession would embolden other regional separtists in India). Israel is much closer to being a developed nation, and while India has developed rapidly in the past 12 years, it has a long way to go (internal violence like last year's bloody riots in western Gujarat state would not have happened in Israel).

I speak as American of Indian descent, and a staunch defender of Israel. Polin's article basically parrots the same Kashmir view as David Bonior, who would also want nothing less than meddling American "mediation" between Israel and the Palestinians.

--Mihir Shah

Thinking Australians have never forgotten that the USA saved Australia from Invasion by the Japanese in World War11. (David Hackett, "Howard"--Australian for Loyalty) General McArthur started his long march to Tokyo from these shores. Out of that conflict came the Anzac alliance and Australia has contributed as well as she could in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and now in Iraq. We have a good thing going in this country and are grateful for the help the United States has provided in making us a safe and prosperous member of the world community.

We will be always there when tyrants attempt to change the world order. We don't like war or fighting (except on the sporting field). But when a young reporter recently sarcastically suggested to the prime minister that our troops appeared to be punching above their weight level in Iraq, he curtly replied: "They always do."

--Peter R Lyon

Thank you for David Hackett's acknowledgement of Australia's role in Iraq. Aside from the basic common sense expressed by Howard--that one can't leave an armed and dangerous maniac on the loose--Australia's defense policy is to develop niche abilities (such as our SAS units) and to use these to support our major ally, the United States. Quite a sensible approach for a country of 19 million.

As an aside it might be noted that prior to the war the country with the largest support for armed intervention in Iraq was Australia at 68 percent--in the United States it was 66 percent.

--Gilbert Mane

Yesterday I spoke by crackling telephone to my daughter, a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, for the first time in 50 days. David Brooks is right (Cynics and the USS Abraham Lincoln). The pundits, because they do not have the talent to capture the scope of the real situation, are cynical. The concept of the leader of the free world being in charge of the most powerful military force in history and using it for good is just too much for them. What is really frustrating is that these highly paid pundits can't seem to grasp something that this 19-year-old girl from the hills of Kentucky understands implicitly: Our nation is built on honor, courage, and commitment, and what we have here is worthy of sacrifice.

--Mike Crockett

Some qualification's about Australia's role in Iraq:

Australia's armed forces are extremely small, so those contingents noted were difficult to field. Australia presently has only six infantry battalions (including one parachute and one commando) on active service, but manning constraints (leave, sickness, school, etc.) cut the actual force to somewhere near four battalions. That's a reinforced U.S. Brigade! With Australia's peacekeeping commitments abroad, this places a heavy responsibility on their equally small reserves.

I should like to point out that in this war, at least, those Australians who have served with U.S. contingents are being recognized by our own Army. It was not always so. Australians serving with U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam, cut off from Australian Army administration and command channels often found their courage and sacrifice unnoted in official records. In that regard, the U.S. Army Awards Board recently awarded the Bronze Star with V Device (for valor) to WO2 (Ret.) Barry Tolley, of Townsville, for his actions over a three day period during the battle of Duc Lap in August 1968. Warrant Officer Tolley was leading a platoon of Montagnards under U.S. Special Forces command. Later, at Ben Het, he commanded a company.

Nations must, of course, follow their own interests, and thus Australia may not always be with the United States. But for my part, I certainly hope they are. Their army may be small, but they are among the finest soldiers in the world.

--Shaun Darragh

I'm an Ivy League grad who's been friendly with a few pro athletes over the years and Christopher Caldwell's comments about the jealousies that obsess some members of the media are right on. I've often thought if these journalists could at least accurately perceive their own overwhelming mediocrity, they'd be far less envious of the jocks' success.

The fact that some fourth-rate mind who's the third reporter covering a sports team for a city's second paper has the chutzpah to lord his intellectual capacities over anybody, pro athlete or not, is astonishing.

--Dean Barnett

The Media Gets Religion
The only problem is that, according to a new study, they get it wrong.

YOU WOULDN'T THINK STUDENTS in a single college class could advance the debate on a major media issue. But they have. The issue is how the press covers religion. A class in religion at the University of Rochester did a detailed study of top newspapers and concluded, based on empirical evidence, that the media's performance on religion is woeful. The press plays up the negative (radical Islam, for example), largely ignores many faith groups, and fails to tap into the advice of experts. Pollster John Zogby says the findings validate what he already knew or suspected about religious coverage. The findings ring true to me as well.

"When it comes to religion, the press seems at odds with itself," the study found. "On one hand, religion pervades America's newspapers as part of the background on topics from politics and economics to sports and the arts. On the other hand, stories about religion itself infrequently address religion's beliefs and values."

The study, dubbed "Religion in American Newspapers: A Critique and Challenge," was conducted by a senior seminar for religion majors at the Rochester school. The 29 students were led by professor William Scott Green and Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush, radio commentator, and author of numerous books on baseball. The papers scrutinized for the month of February were the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Denver Post, Wall Street Journal, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, USA Today, and Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Thousands of stories were examined.

Though the students didn't say so, I suspect the findings apply to coverage of religion, period, not just to newspaper coverage. It's not a pretty picture. So what were the specific findings? For one, more often than not religion is fleetingly mentioned rather than being the subject of a story. Two, religion stories are mostly about how some faith deals with political or legal issues. Most of the attention paid to Catholics dealt with the sex scandal involving priests. Coverage of Protestants, Jews, and other religions is more balanced.

The study also found that while religion is often used to identify people, it is done haphazardly. Senator Joe Lieberman is frequently identified as an orthodox Jew, while other politicians with strong religious beliefs are not identified by their faith. No politician is ever identified as an atheist, I would add. Coverage of the religious lives of Latinos, blacks, and women gets little media attention. And as you might expect after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the coverage of Islam is disproportionate and heavily slanted toward "criminality and bad deeds."

Another finding: The religious left's opposition to the war with Iraq got a lot more attention than the religious case for the war. Finally, here is what I think is the most important conclusion: The bad-news bias so prevalent in the media today also permeates the coverage of religion. "All the papers studied devote more coverage to religion in the context of bad deeds than they do to the good deeds religions do in their communities."

Why is this? The study doesn't say, but I believe it's the case because most reporters at large papers--or TV networks or magazines, for that matter--are secular in the extreme and regard religion with disdain.

The recommendations in the study are fairly tame. The press should "make a clear distinction between religion and criminals or criminal groups associated with that religion," the students say. It's hard to argue with that. Coverage should be balanced, the study also declares. One way is for the media "to help readers achieve an accurate perspective on the communities . . . [by reporting on] the ways religions actually improve society." And so on.

For those who claim the American press is being taken over by the political right, there's nothing in the report to buttress their claim. The right in America is often seen as more hospitable to religion, particularly Christianity. If that's true, then the media is more hospitable to critics of religion and, by extension, opponents of the political right.

America Leads the World, Again
No other country is capable of leading the world out of the economic doldrums. The United States will have to do the job.

PRESIDENT BUSH says the combat phase of the war against Iraq has been successfully concluded, and Alan Greenspan's doctors say the Fed Chairman's minor prostate problem has been successfully treated. So the president flew to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to meet and thank his troops, and Greenspan returned to Washington to meet and joust with congressmen eager to learn his latest views on the economy.

Bush received warmer treatment from his troops than he got from the central banker he just nominated for a new term. Greenspan told Congress that he remains opposed to the president's tax cut unless it is matched with an equal cut in expenses. Any student of Congress's spending proclivities--and Bush's relaxed attitude towards the cost side of the ledger--knows such cost cuts are not likely.

Which means that Greenspan doesn't think it a good idea to cut taxes. He worries that red ink as far ahead as the eye can see will drive up long-term interest rates and abort the relatively weak recovery now underway.

Greenspan also knows that the tax cuts are unlikely to provide a timely stimulus. For one thing, they are trivial compared to the size of the U.S. economy--perhaps three-tenths of one percent over the ten years in which they will be in effect. For another, by the time the Congress agrees on a tax package, the economy should be well on its way to more rapid growth.

At least, that is what Greenspan told the House Financial Services Committee he sees in his admittedly cloudy crystal ball: "I continue to believe the economy is positioned to expand at a noticeably better pace than it has during the past year . . ." If it does not, the Fed is prepared to cut interest rates once again, a move some Fed-watchers expect its monetary policy committee to take when it meets later this week.

Which is important not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world. For many years the United States has been the locomotive tugging the major economies of the world behind it. With the locomotive low on steam, the Americans urged their international colleagues at the recent meetings of the world's financial institutions to increase their growth rates by lowering interest rates and taxes, reforming their rigid labor markets, and easing some of their growth-stifling regulations. Responses included the "non" and "nein" to which Americans have grown accustomed of late.

Which means that the world remains highly dependent on America, as a quick review of the other economies makes clear. Start with Britain, perhaps the best-performing of the major European economies. Manufacturing orders are at their lowest level in four years; taxes are rising to fund the billions being wasted on the unreformed public services; shops and hotels in London are suffering from an absence of tourists; and the trade unions are becoming increasingly militant. The consumer-led economy may nevertheless grow, but not at a rate that will do much for the rest of the world.

The German economy is a basket case. The unemployment rate is 11 percent and rising. Unable to fire incompetent workers, employers won't hire and the unemployed are so well compensated that they have little incentive to look for work. And Germany no longer owns the monetary and fiscal policy tools with which to build a recovery. It surrendered them when it traded the deutschemark for the euro. Unfortunate, since the euroland-wide interest rate set by the European Central Bank is a full percentage point too high for Germany's no-growth economy, and the misnamed Growth and Stability Pact threatens Germany with huge fines unless it raises taxes or cuts outlays, exactly the opposite of what its economic circumstances require.

Nor is there much hope for the future. Capital is in flight and German businessmen tell me that the grudging reforms being proposed by Chancellor Schröder are too little, too late.

France is in no better condition. Its economy grew at a rate of merely 1.2 percent last year and in the final quarter experienced what some economists politely call "negative growth"--meaning that it shrunk. Business confidence is at the lowest level ever recorded, and the consumer saving rate has soared to 18 percent in response to worries about the viability of the state pension system. Like Germany, France is a victim of euroland's inapt one-size-fits-all interest rate and austere fiscal policy.

Nor is relief to come from what may be the world's fastest growing economy, China. It seems likely that post-SARS China will grow at a rate of about 7 percent. But that growth will be export-led. China's currency, the renminbi, is tied to the dollar and is now conceded by all economists to be seriously undervalued. Add to that China's low labor costs, and you have a country able to penetrate American and other markets, but not likely to soon provide much of an increased market for goods produced in the rest of the world.

So it is left to the United States to give the world a boost. Our consumers continue to do their part. After taking a breather in February (weather) and March (war), their confidence soared in April and they resumed their visits to malls and purchases of homes. But businesses remain on the sidelines, some afflicted by excess capacity, others by a lack of pricing power, still others by fears of a weak jobs market--the unemployment rate rose to 6 percent last month. They worry that these factors will eventually drive consumers away and continue the slide in manufacturing activity, new orders, and new construction reported late last week. Those clouds may be dissipating. Low inventories; recent earnings reports that beat expectations; lower oil prices; rising free cash flow; and last month's share-price recovery might just persuade America's gloomy CEOs to dust off long-postponed investment plans. The rest of the world had better hope that proves to be the case.

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