Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, December 31, 2004

At last the Strib bashing: Part four, Editorial Idiocies

      Once upon a time, two acquaintances of mine were disputing about Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, when one of suddenly asked "What am I doing trying to defend T. S. Eliot to you?"  He immediately ended the conversation.  I'm beginning to feel 'Why am I trying to apply reason and logic to the Strib?'  But let's finish up by plunging into the intellectual swamp known as the Star-Tribune editorial page.

      There are three op-ed articles, of which, astonishingly, one is completely sensible.  It consists of a letter sent from a Seabee in Iraq to his mother, forwarded by her to the paper.  I think it made it through the editorial filter because it doesn't say anything about whether we're winning.  It was just personal the thoughts of a sailor to his mom.

      Mostly sensible is an essay about math by an Arthur Michelson, a schoolteacher.  But it does have one or two objectionable features, such as a paragraph about people rejecting:
sound scientific studies on drugs or nutrition if the results don't fit their preconceived notions
.  If you've read Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear recently, or his brilliant "Aliens Cause Global Warming" speech at Cal Tech, you may recall his warnings about the way conscious and unconscious bias can creep into scientific studies.  Having actually read into many of those 'scientific' studies, I'd advise everyone to take none of them seriously until you get a chance to dig deeply into the details and find out who conducted it and what the results showed (as distinct from what the press release or summary said they showed).

      A third Op-Ed piece is by Charles Krohn, a retired lt.-Col. who compares the war in Iraq to the Tet offensive of 1968.  He notes that the elections in Iraq will take place on the anniversary of the offensive, "when Americans lost confidence in official pronouncements that the war in Vietnam was winnable."

      That statement is quite true, and also quite pointless.  Leave aside the fact that the Iraqi "insurgents" don't number in the hundreds of thousands, nor do they have inviolable sanctuaries in neighboring countries, nor the support of a hostile superpower.  Leave all that aside.  In 1968, for every U.S. soldier killed in the Tet offensive, perhaps 10 Viet Cong or NVA died.  Within a year or so, people returning from Viet Nam would casually mention visiting various spots, and hear from gasps from old Viet Nam hands.  'You visited the such-and-such region?  That's always been totally controlled by the Communists!'  In 1972, N. Viet Nam invaded S. Viet Nam with a huge mechanized tank and artillery force, because the guerrillas were gone.  The invaders were cut to pieces by U.S. and Vietnamese air power.  It wasn't until 1975 that the Communists won.

      They won because the Congress and the Administration had lost the belief in victory.  Politicians bugged out long before the public did.  Retelling the details of that loss would take more time than I care to spend, but let's keep clear that if the will had been there in the White House and Congress, the USAmerican people would have, on balance, supported the war.

      Special note should be made of Lt.-Col. Krohn's mention of "storming of our embassy," an alleged event of the offensive.  Perhaps in some parallel universe, but in the real world, the VC managed to breach the embassy wall and get onto the grounds.  They were held off by the Marine guards, and eventually killed.  Not a single Communist soldier got into the embassy.

      Krohn also mentions the "attacks on virtually every provincial capital," and the assault on Hue.  Except for Hue, they were all repelled promptly.  In Hue, the Communist forces managed to dig in, and it took for weeks to get rid of them, but in the end they all died.

      Krohn concludes "The gnawing question -- the one we cannot wish away -- is: Whose side is history on?"  Nonsense.  The question is, do we panic and run after less than two thousand deaths, a bad month in Viet Nam, or do we wave the will to win?

      The worst is saved for last -- the daily foolishness of the editorial board.  On Dec. 30th, they're mad that the "stingy" U.S. govt. has had such an "appalling" performance in responding to the Indian Ocean tsunami.  [Update: originally, I forgot to include the link to the editorial.  OOPS!]

      First, although the Strib calls its editorials "Our Perspective," this is really the perspective of "The Hive."  "The Hive" was the phrase coined by Tom Bethell and Joe Sobran of The American Spectator to describe the way that so many "liberals," "leftists," and socialists react identically to events.  A bee hive doesn't have a 'group mind,' but acts like it does because all bees react essentially identically to any given stimulus.  So do many lefties.  A UN official reacted to the tsunami disaster by calling the U.S. and other countries "stingy," and blaming the lack of funds on low taxes.

      At this point, any sane person would laugh, vomit, or get angry -- not at the 'stingy' nations, but at the UN.  This is the organization that sends "peacekeepers" into countries like Bosnia and Rwanda, and does nothing while they rape children and loot the locals.  The UN that then pulls the 'peacekeepers' out suddenly so that whatever local gang of thugs that is causing the trouble locally won't be inconvenience when they start the massacres.  This is the UN that imposed sanctions on Iraq, starving children, then "corrected" that problem by setting up the oil-for-food program that built Saddam palaces, bought arms for Iraq, financed terrorist murder, and lined the pockets of corrupt politicians all over Europe and the Mid East.  I can't even pretend to take anyone who works in that cesspool of corruption seriously.

      Anyway, the hive reacted predictably to the criticism.  The New York Times immediately agreed with the UN official.  We don't spend nearly enough on 'development aid.'  For which I say, "Thank you, Jesus."  The Times neglects to mention that development is frequently a subsidy for domestic exporters (the "aid" money may have to be spent in the country that donated it, for example), or that lots of it ends up as bribes.  Nor is any notice taken of the fact that many of the greatest "givers" per capita are small countries that have their defense paid for mostly by the U.S. See here, here, here and especially here for some of the missing facts. (Hat tip, Instapundit).  As of 7:00 AM CST, Dec. 31st, over $7 million had already been donated to the Red Cross just by customers of Amazon books.

      The Strib (remember them? unfortunately, I do) had a real challenge when it came to adding something both new and stupid to this debate, but they managed.

"The United States is not stingy," Secretary of State Colin Powell bristled in response to criticism of a paltry $15 million initial U.S. contribution to tsunami-relief efforts. Bulletin for Powell: That's not the way many Americans and most the rest of the world see it.

      Oh, what matters is what people think?  Well, the majority of USAmerican voters thought Bush should be re-elected.  Somehow I don't think the Strib will use that as a reason for supporting Bush.  Only the 'many' who already agree with the Strib count.

      As for the rest of the world, I'd be fascinated to hear the Strib tell us how they surveyed the 5.7 billion people who don't live in the U.S.A. over the last day or so, and found out what the majority of foreigners think.  Did they do a Tarot reading, or stick with tea leaves?

      Update, Jan. 2, 2005: Today, Secretary Powell was on Meet the Press (hat tip, Belgravia Dispatch) and there's these exchanges:
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, there's been a lot of discussion about the administration and its response to this crisis. The New York Times on Thursday wrote this editorial. "We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poor countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities."

It's now up to $350 million, but was the initial response too timid?

SEC'Y POWELL: No, I don't think so. These things have a life cycle. Last Sunday we all started to receive word of this tragedy, and it looked like several thousand lives were lost. The enormity of it had not yet hit. But what we do in circumstances such as this is our ambassadors on the ground immediately offer aid, which they did. It's not much, $100,000 in each of the countries, but it shows that we are committed and engaged. By last Sunday afternoon, evening, I had started calling all the foreign ministers of the immediately affected nations and on Sunday evening, and then getting them all finally on Monday morning with time changes, I said to them the United States was following; "Let us know what you need. Please let our embassy know what you need," and reached out to them. So they knew we were committed right away, on Sunday afternoon.

The president then, Monday and Tuesday, called heads of government and state, said the same thing. The first request we got for aid was from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. On Sunday they asked for $7 million. The United States immediately gave them $4 million of the $7 million. That's a pretty good start. On Monday we upped it to $15 million. By Tuesday, when things were starting to jell a little more with respect to what was needed, we upped it to $35 million. And then we waited to get some assessments in. But while waiting, we dispatched teams, we diverted ships with food, we launched our military forces from our Pacific Command. The Bonhomme Richard has been launched. The Abraham Lincoln carrier was launched. So we really started to move out.

We began working with the international community. The president made a statement on Wednesday which demonstrated his concern and also created a core group to begin making sure that all of our efforts were aligned. The president was kept informed constantly from Sunday afternoon on. I spoke to him on Monday, noon, before I went out and made my first press statement. And as we got our assessments in and as the magnitude of this really hit us, then the president decided, based on a recommendation from me and administrator of the AID, Natsios, that we should go to $350 million.

This is also consistent with what other nations had been doing. I'm so pleased the Japanese have gone to $500 million, but they also started out at a much lower number, as did so many other nations. After you see the impact of this and the enormity of it, then you scale up your efforts. But it is not just a matter of money. It's a matter of getting supplies to the region and then, once you get these supplies to airports and ports, how do you make retail distribution out to the people in need? And this is where trucks, helicopters, C-130 aircraft, they come into play. There's no point spending a lot of money to put all of these supplies in the region unless you can distribute these supplies. . .

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the United States contribution will go beyond $350 million?

SEC'Y POWELL: It may well have to go beyond $350 million, but it's the time now to step back and assess, see how best to use the $350 million. $350 million hasn't been spent yet. It'll be spent over time and it will be spent for supplies. It'll be spent for infrastructure rebuilding. It'll be spent for reconstruction efforts in due course. And so whether we will need more remains to be seen. But right now the international community and especially the United Nations is very pleased with the response that we have seen. Over $2 billion have been pledged just in official money, plus a lot more in terms of private contributions.

      So, the President and the Sec. of State were intervening immediately; they reacted to initial reports of a relatively small natural disaster with relatively small amounts of aid; they upped it a hundred fold as the scale of the damage was increased; they sent practical non-monetary aid in the form of military transport to drop supplies without waiting for more information; they're ready to spend more if it becomes clear that it is needed.

      Funny how no one doing the initial criticism saw fit to ask why the U.S. response was on the level that it was, or, if they asked, didn't see fit to print the response.  You might almost think they didn't care why the U.S. govt. did what it did, that they just wanted an excuse to complain.

As the Bush administration is wont to say, actions speak louder than words, and America's actions in recent days have painted the United States as a rich, self-absorbed and uncaring nation that had to be shamed into anything approaching appropriate concern about this catastrophe. The Bush administration's handling of this crisis has been inept beyond belief.

      Yeah, the 'inept' U.S. has Air Force cargo planes on the scene dropping relief supplies, and is sending naval forces to aid in getting the relief supplies handed out and the bodies collected.  I sort of wonder what other people are doing.  Given the actual level of military forces they possess, I doubt the Swedish Air Force is dropping all that many supplies to the needy.

There's a broader context here that bears consideration. Two days before Christmas, the media reported that unprecedented U.S. deficits -- caused substantially by the Iraq war, which most of the world hates, and by Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans -- had led the Bush administration to cut substantially its previously agreed contributions to world food programs. By going back on its commitments, the Bush administration forced numerous aid agencies to suspend ongoing programs in many impoverished nations -- including, ironically as it would turn out, Indonesia.

      More crap about aid programs, rather than aid actually feeding the hungry.  Want to give some specifics, Strib?  Including the amount spent on paying the "relief workers," with estimates of how much gets stolen?  No, I didn't think so.

Then a day after Christmas came the undersea earthquake and resulting tsunami waves that very likely will end up taking well more than 100,000 lives while putting millions at risk of disease and destroying both their livelihoods and homes. From the very first hours it was apparent this was going to be an almost unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Yet Bush remained at his Texas ranch where, aides said, he spent time cutting brush and bicycle riding. He uttered not a single public word about what had happened in Asia.

      We now see a main theme of the editorial: Bush doesn't flap his gums nearly enough.  I guess the Strib never heard the saying "talk is cheap."

      By the way, I wonder how many of the paper's employees are heading overseas to work on relief efforts?

On Monday, the United States announced an initial $5 million in aid, mostly through the Red Cross, to which it said it most likely would add an additional $10 million at some point. Bush still was nowhere to be seen.

The criticism began almost immediately, and it did not come only from a U.N. official. Comparisons were drawn, for example, to the additional $80 billion that Bush has requested for the war in Iraq and the $30 million to $40 million that his January inauguration will cost.

      Another main theme emerges: Bush spend enough on the Strib's priorities.  Reminds me of Bierce's definition of an egotist (quote approximate): "Egotist: A stupid fellow, more interested in himself than me."

The criticism had an effect. While responding angrily to accusations of stinginess, the administration on Tuesday added an additional $20 million to the $15 million it had announced on Monday. The appearance was clearly that Washington had been shamed into the larger contribution. Bush was still in Texas with his brush piles and mountain bike.

But his absence had been noticed, and numerous reporters in Crawford were pressing Bush aides on why he was invisible in this crisis. Late Tuesday, in response to the questions, it was announced that he would have a public statement Wednesday. Again, the appearance was that he was shamed into it.

      Apparently, the Strib also never heard the statement about appearances being deceiving.  Nor did it occur to them that the President might have something better to do than talk.

Contrast Bush's behavior to that of the world on Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States lost 3,000 people to terrorist attacks. The expressions of grief, support and solidarity from world leaders -- including Asian leaders -- were both abundant and public.

      OK, I'll be glad to see that contrast.  Tell us what each and every "leader" was doing beforehand, and what they did afterwards.  And also, tell us what they did later, when something more than talk was needed.

At every step of the way, however, the official U.S. response to this disaster has been seen as grudging. That's not good, especially at a time when much of the world reviles the United States for its unilateral actions in Iraq that have taken such a horrific toll on civilians.

As Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Washington Post, "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care." By its niggling contributions and by Bush's silence, the United States has strongly suggested to the world that it doesn't care all that much.

      Ah, I see, the lives of those lousy Asians don't matter in themselves.  They matter because of the possible political problems caused by not posturing properly in public. (Note to self: increase the dosage of anti-alliteration medicine, Steve, it's not working).

In the initial days after such a disaster, there are practical limits to the amount of aid the relief pipeline can handle. Managing the release of U.S. funds into that pipeline is important, to ensure the money isn't wasted.

      Oh, just throwing money at the problem might be a bad idea?  Then maybe Bush's only dribbling in the aid is the right way to do it!  You've just destroyed your entire basis for criticism.  The Strib editorial writers should have stopped and thought then.  Instead, they pressed on, showing that a fanatic does redouble his efforts when he's forgotten his aim.

But that concern did not stand in the way of what should have happened immediately:

Dressed in a somber black suit and subdued tie, President Bush should have called an impromptu news conference in Crawford Sunday afternoon. He should have reported to the American people and to the world that the United States stood with the suffering people of Asia and would do everything in its power to help them. To that end, he should have said, he has directed that $1 billion be pledged to the relief effort, to be released as needs are identified. Further, he should have said he has been in touch with leaders of the affected countries and offered whatever U.S. military capabilities might be helpful in meeting both the short-term relief needs and the longer-term reconstruction challenges.

      Of course, Bush is sending military units to help out.  He probably was on the phone to Asian leaders, or at least members of the Administration were.  So what's missing?  A) Bush didn't shoot his mouth off.  B) Bush didn't name a sum first, and then look around for something to spend it on later.

      Oh by the way, that hypothetical billion isn't Bush's money!  It's the taxpayers' cash.  Do they get consulted before their money is spent?  And that pesky Constitution says that expenditures have to be authorized by Congress.  Shouldn't they be involved in deciding what is to be spent?

This pledge of $1 billion, he should have said, is but the first American assistance in what will be a very long and difficult recovery for the affected region.

      Pardon me, just how much is the Strib calling on us to spend?  I don't think even they know.  But it's not the amount, it's the principal of the thing -- throw money at problems first, think later.

He should have ended by saying that the American people send their heartfelt condolences to all those who lost loved ones -- and especially to the thousands of parents whose children were lost. We embrace you in your loss, he should have said, and while we cannot make that loss disappear, we will be with you every step of the way as you recover from this disaster.

      Noble sentiments.  But individual USAmericans are already expressing them, in words, in actions, in donations.  It says something about the Strib that it can't conceive of anybody's actions being important.  I believe this is called the Feuhrerprinzip.

      But I wouldn't want you to think I'm implying the Strib's editors are fascists.  I'm not implying anything; I'm stating it out loud: these "liberal" swine hate freedom and want to see it destroyed.

That's what the leader of the United States should have said, because only he, of all the world's leaders, can say it to such good effect. By example, the United States should have led from the start, because it is the right thing to do and because it so clearly would demonstrate the generosity of spirit and dedication to doing good in the world that Americans feel in their hearts.

      The rate at which the USAmerican people are donating money for tsunami relief already demonstrates that, thank you.

Bush's Wednesday statement helped, but it was short and defensive. Today he should say something like the statement outlined above. It's late, but there's still time to lead the world through a very dark day.

      Neither Bush nor anyone else will lead the world through a "dark day."  Thousands of relief workers will help the locals recover from this disaster.  That's what's really needed, and that's what will be supplied.

      Meanwhile, the Strib will have to live with the disappointment of not having a President who substitutes empty words for effective deeds.



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