Archive for May, 2005

Anti-Military Bias in the Media

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Given the recently retracted report in Newsweek claiming that a Koran was deliberately flushed down the toilet to upset Muslim prisoners held a Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the question has arisen as to whether the American media dislikes the military and is all too anxious to believe the worst about them. Newsweek concedes that the report did not reach journalistic standards of credibility and should not have been published. Could an anti-military bias be at work?

For some members of the journalistic generation that grew up during the Vietnam War, there remains a deep and abiding distrust and even animosity towards the military. There is every indication that the younger journalists, especially those that were embedded with the troops actually report with far more empathy for the troops. Reporters traveling with the troops in Iraq shared their danger and two famous journalists even died. David Bloom of NBC died from a blood clot from sitting in a military vehicle for many hours. Michael Kelly of the Atlantic Monthly died when the Humvee he was riding in flipped while avoiding gunfire. Geraldo Rivera is an older reporter who seems to have transcended generations. He has history of support for “progressive” causes, while still largerly sympathetic to individual military soldiers.

For other older journalists, many of them in leadership positions, it may be another matter. Earlier this year, CNN news executive Eason Jordan, suggested at an open discussion that US troops had deliberately targeted journalists. Liberal Democrat Representative Barney Frank was present and was taken a back by the remarks, while Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd was “outraged by the comments.” Jordan tried to explain away his comments as a misinterpretation of his true feelings or the result of accidentally clumsy wording. However, the evidence of Jordan’s real feelings was too strong and he resigned from CNN.

Given Jordan’s fate, one might expect journalists, even those who might secretly agree with him about the US military, to be a little more circumspect in their remarks. However, in the company of like-minded people, it is possible for people let down their guard. This seems to have happened to Linda Foley, President of the Newspaper Guild. On May 13 at National Conference for Media Reform Foley claimed, “Journalists, by the way, are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. What outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there’s not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the US military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq.” The remarks elicited cheers from the crowd, suggesting that at least some present were in agreement with her allegations.

Attempts by Hiawatha Bray, a member of the Newspaper Guild, to have Ms. Foley clarify her remarks have thus far not been successful. According to an article posted at the Newspaper Guild website, Foley claims her remarks were distorted. Perhaps she would be willing to clarify them by stating unequivocally that she does not know of the deliberate targeting of journalists by US troops. Click here to listen to the entire video of her remarks to determine for yourself, if her remarks were taken out of context.

If Ms. Foley has proof of her allegations she should share them so that any problems might be resolved. Without proof she should refrain from making charges lest she tar other journalists with any anti-military bias. So far, Ms. Foley’s allegations about military behavior reveal more about her than they do about the troops.

Republican Chumps

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

Despite the fact that Republicans increased their majority in the Senate to a health 55-45 in the 2004 elections, we learned last week that it does not take much for Republicans to lose political battles in the Senate. Democrats over the last four years have engaged in an unprecedented use of the filibuster to stop an up-or-a-down vote on the President’s judicial nominees, who would otherwise win confirmation in the Senate. This last week, we almost reached the point where Republicans would execute the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option, depending on the spin on which one wants to apply, to change the rules to prevent filibusters of judicial nominees.

The systematic practice of the judicial filibuster has caused escalating acrimony in the Senate. Republicans have worked hard to win the Presidency and a clear majority in the Senate in the hopes of selecting future judges less disposed to create law and more inclined to adhere to an “original understanding” of the Constitution. Hence, they are frustrated by the use of the filibuster by Democratic Senators to exercise political control that they could not win at the ballot box.

However, if Republican used their voting power to restore precedent and traditional with respect to judicial nominees, Democrats promised to slow the progress of legislation. Moderates, on both sides of the aisle, in a stated effort to restore comity, bipartisanship, and fraternity conjured up a last-minute deal. The President gets an up-or-a-down vote on three of his judicial nominees that had been filibustered. Democrats promise not to use the filibuster for judicial nominees except under “extraordinary” circumstances. Republicans agree to not vote to Senate changes the rules in the meantime.

The supposed comity and fellowship the deal engendered lasted about 48 hours. Democrats raced to filibuster the nomination of John Bolton to be US Ambassador to the United Nations. The brokered filibuster deal technically included only judicial nominees, not nominees to other posts, but the Democratic filibuster following so closely after the deal certainly marked an abrupt end to any alleviation of tensions in the Senate and amounted to a deliberate poke in the eye to the “moderate” Republicans who had brokered the deal. The terms “chump” or “schmuck” come to mind.

With respect to judicial nominees, Democrats had argued that extended deliberation and supermajorities ought to be required for judicial nominees because these judges would serve lifetime terms. The action against the Bolton nomination, not a life-time appointment, demonstrates that the term of the appointment was never really a concern of the Democrats.

Given the ruthlessness with which Democrats have employed their minority status to thwart the efforts of Republicans, one wonders why Democrats seem so reluctant to apply the same skills, determination, unity, and moral certitude to dealing with America’s foreign enemies. On the other hand, Republicans who are so hard-nosed about America’s enemies seem to rollover to Democrats like whipped dogs. Democrats just want to get along with others countries, while they are willing to use every device and subterfuge at their disposal against Republicans. The Chairman of the Democratic Party is more likely to be found making harsh remarks against Republicans than Al Qaeda.

These contrasting behaviors can be explained by the contrasting self-images and world views of Republicans and Democrats. Democrats, at least domestically, are convinced they are morally superior to Republicans. They are at least encouraged in that view by the media which creates a news narrative of Democrats as compassionate politicians looking out for the “little guy.” After all, Democrats created Social Security and want to fashion a government-run health care system. Democrats believe they are inherently a majority party, irrespective of what they expect is a transient Republican majority. Part of this arrogant certitude is an outgrowth of the Vietnam War and Watergate era, when current Democratic leaders came of political age.

While Democrats are convinced of their moral superiority of as a political party, many appear embarrassed of their country. They believe that America is a clumsy giant, meddling in the world. The United States is essentially a mediocre world leader, and only has moral legitimacy when it is acting in accordance with the United Nations and with fawning approval our European allies. After all, Europeans have moved much closer to socially-conscious society in the mold of the highest aspirations of Democrats. How can Americana have any moral authority in the world, if we are not civilized enough to have national health care and socially-leveling rates of taxation. In foreign policy, Democrats just want to get along.

Republicans, especially older Republicans like the ones serving in the Senate, are so accustomed to being in the minority that they have internalized that minority status. In their hearts, they are not quite sure of their legitimacy as a majority party and are consequently reluctant to exercise majority power in politics. They continually seek approval from their fellow legislators and the chattering classes. Moderate Republicans like John McCain seem to depend upon reassurance of praise from the editorial pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times. On the other hand, Republicans are more likely to believe in “American Exceptionalism,” that America represents a “shinny city on a hill” to other countries. Republicans stride confidently righteously in the world, less inhibited by the opinions of others or the constraints of comity.

How much better would the world be if we only persuade Republicans to act like Democrats in politics and teach Democrats to act like Republicans in the world?

Public Schools and Common Values

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

There used to be a less litigious time when public schools could more directly reflect local values and ideals of their community. Those times ended about the same time that Leave It To Beaver was canceled. Fifty years ago, there existed a narrower set of commonly held values and the few outliers outside the norms were certainly uncomfortable, perhaps even angry, but less prone seek court relief. People were conspicuously Christian and most at least outwardly comfortable with the Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best conventional morality where: children respected their parents; most people went to church on Sunday, the ideal family consisting of a father, mother, and a few freshly scrubbed children; and the “birds and the bees” was something you were supposed to learn about from your parents. Though these ideals many times often remained only aspirations, schools could leaven reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic with the yeast of consensus values. If a teacher made a Biblical reference in a classroom, the American Civil Liberties judicial commando team was rarely sent in.

While direct religious instruction should not be subsidized by the state, the removal of Christian orthodoxy from public school curriculum has carried along with it a reluctance to teach mainstream values and predisposition to bow to the wishes of even the smallest minority. The only permitted value is tolerance of all beliefs except Christian ones. Of course, tolerance has no meaning if one has no strong beliefs against which the beliefs of others might clash.

Nonetheless, there is a natural drive among parents to their impart values to their children. Given the fact that modern life has atomized families as the father and mother run off to work and the children head off to sometimes different schools, many families, for better or worse, rely on the local public schools to act as parental surrogates. When the values of parents and schools diverge frustration sets in, both from Conservatives and Liberals.

This frustration manifests itself on battles over school curriculum. The Kansas State School Board is now listening to testimony from advocates of “Intelligent Design” on how schools ought present the Theory of Evolution in classrooms. In 2002, the Ohio State School Board amid much controversy instituted a policy to include Intelligent Design and other critiques of evolution in instruction.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Liberals tried to introduce a sex education curriculum that mimics the values of “progressives” in the county. The curriculum went so far in pushing its agenda that even the reliably Liberal Federal District Judge, Alexander Williams Jr. could not swallow it. He issued an injunction temporarily halting, the imposition of the curriculum. He was uncomfortable with the conflict between the First Amendment and a curriculum that specifically criticized denominations that did not look favorably upon homosexual acts. The curriculum in effect was choosing preferred religions, when it “juxtaposes … [a] portrait of an intolerant and Biblically misguided Baptist Church against other, preferred Churches, which are more friendly towards the homosexual lifestyle.”

The point here is not to argue the merits of Intelligent Design or the new sex education curriculum, but rather to recognize that people with strongly held views will try to drive school systems to teach them or to at least be sympathetic to them. One should not expect less. Parents want their values reflected in the instruction of their children. At the very least, they do not want schools to be at war with their values. Pulls from all ends will force schools to avoid all controversy, always stepping gingerly lest one group or another rushes to court. The result is that children receive a blander and less demanding curriculum.

The most straightforward solution is to remove these decisions from school boards and empower parents directly. If school districts provided vouchers to pay for education rather than provide one monolithic school system, parents would be able to select the education and moral environment they want to raise their children in. Parents can choose those schools that reinforce rather than undermine what is taught at home.

Sure, some may find it uncomfortable when the children of others are instructed with different values, but such would be the cost of living in a pluralistic society. In truth, we would probably find that there is more consensus in child raising than might be apparent at first. If parents could choose schools via a voucher system we would likely find most parents gravitating to schools teaching a fairly broad set of Leave It To Beaver values taught with a true cultural tolerance. The extremes would tend to isolate themselves. Without vouchers or something akin to them, we are likely to see a lot more conflicts that enrich lawyers while polarizing neighbors.

Frank Monaldo — Please e-mail comments to frank@monaldo.

End the Filibuster of Judicial Nominees

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

The controversy over the filibuster of judges is far more difficult for Conservatives than it is for modern Liberals. After four years of whining, complaints, grumbling, and protests about the Constitutionally-mandated Electoral College, the present Democratic feigned devotion to the judicial filibuster and the rights of political minorities is too transparently disingenuous to even be hypocritical. It is a totally insincere and manufactured self-righteousness marshaled in the service of patent political pragmatism.

Conservatives are congenitally suspicious of transient majorities and favor slower and more deliberative processes. Conservatives believe that large changes are best accompanied by clear rather than narrow majorities. When we have narrow majorities little happens and this is generally good. This disposition is what animates the reluctance to challenge the filibuster from Conservatives like George F. Will.

Honest people or those whose minds are not sealed shut with the cement of political partisanship acknowledge that the use of the filibuster to block judges, that would otherwise win a majority vote on the floor of the Senate, is unprecedented. However, the filibuster can play a salutary legislative role. Since Democrats in the Senate have raised the stakes by using the filibuster, some Conservatives are fearful that if Republicans use their majority to change filibuster rules with regard to judicial nominees, it will serve as precedent for future Democratic majorities to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

The entire political fight between the Republicans and the Democrats reflects the present disposition of Republicans to regard themselves as a minority party in temporary control and the Democrats to believe that they are really the majority party that has fallen into a transient minority position. Republicans, especially older ones have the soul of a minority party. As a consequence, they are inherently reticent about circumscribing the rights of legislative minorities. Democrats by contrast are pushing for minority rights now, but will little compunction about eliminating them when they return to a legislative majority.

We already know this will be Democratic behavior. Democrats, sometimes with Republican help, are the party that chiseled away at filibuster rules in the past, from the point where one Senator could stop the Senate, to requiring a 33% minority, and eventually a 40% minority. It is not hard to see that if Democrats are stymied in the future by a persistent legislative minority, they will trim the power of the filibuster even further.

At this point, the Democrats have, in effect, altered tradition by insisting upon a supermajority of 60% for judicial appointments. Republicans have a choice: they can accept this new requirement or fight it. When Democrats come to power, they will not have to face these same limitations for two reasons. First, Republicans have never used the filibuster to stop the nomination of someone who would be confirmed by the full Senate. Even if Republicans follow the new precedent established by their Democratic colleagues, Democrats will have few qualms about using their majority position to change the rules back again. If over 200 years of tradition and precedent could not compel a more collegial approach to judicial nominations, it is doubtful that even a dedicated and disciplined Republican minority could stand in their way.

Ask yourself why Democrats, as a minority in the Senate, would risk the legislative filibuster by the unprecedented extension of the filibuster to judicial nominees. They see little down side. If Republicans allow the judicial filibuster, they can block Bush’s choices without calling a single vote on the Senate floor. They, in effect, negate the prerogatives of the President and the choice of the people in the last election. When they become a majority party they will simply change the rules again on their own behalf.

Though many Republicans do not realize it, there is now really little risk for Republicans in voting down the judicial filibuster. Whether Republicans restrain themselves or limit the judicial filibuster, Democrats can be depended upon to not exercise restraint in the future. Republicans should act like a majority party now, while they have the opportunity. The Democrats certainly will.

Elimination of the Inheritance Tax

Sunday, May 8th, 2005

“Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritance and a free press, and I will provide you with a republic.” — Alexis de Tocqueville.

When Alexis de Tocqueville penned Democracy in America after his travels through the United States from 1831-1832, he noted the salutary consequence of the fact that the young republic had no law of primogeniture, passing estates intact solely to the first born. Since the first born cannot count upon inheriting his father’s estate, it is harder for landed estates to perpetuate through generations. Sons of the wealthy might realize some advantage from their affluent start in life, but one important consequence of the division of inheritance is that most heirs would have to make their own way in the world and could not rely on inherited wealth. This recognition encourages the individual industry and ambition that helped girder rapid American economic growth. The American economy is the beneficiary of this rigid meritocracy.

Some current Americans of a redistributionist bent are wont to cite de Tocqueville, usually an authority reserved for Conservatives, in defense of draconian inheritances taxes. Their argument is that inherited wealth robs heirs of their ambition and the country of the exertions of these heirs. The confiscation of estates is necessary for a robust economy.

Such an argument might be persuasive if wealth tended to propagate in families generation to generation. This is empirically not the case in the US. The current division of inheritance among children mitigates against accumulations of great wealth over many generations. In the US, there is large wealth mobility with the rapid and frequent migration of individuals from the lower to higher percentiles in wealth, while others descend this ladder. For example, according to Kerwin Kofi Charles and Erik Hurst [1], 20 percent of parents in the lowest quintile of the parent’s wealth distribution had children rise to the top two quintiles. They further found that, “Age-adjusted parental wealth, by itself, explains less than 10 percent of the variation in age-adjusted child wealth.” According to economist Bruce Bartlett [2], 80% of US millionaires acquired their wealth without benefit of a financial inheritance. Most wealth in the US is accumulated from privately-owned businesses and personal savings. The argument that we need more economic mobility is not a sufficient excuse for more severe inheritance taxes.

The economic impact of inheritance taxes is more limited than Conservatives believe or Liberals wish. The very wealthy can usually manage to create trusts and devise other mechanisms to avoid taxes on the generational transfer of wealth. Unfortunately, inheritance taxes hit most severely on the modestly affluent, especially the owners of small businesses who don’t realize that they have really accumulated substantial wealth. The inheritance tax is less a tax on wealth, and more a tax on the neglect to properly estate plan.

Inheritance taxes should be limited or repealed less because of any economic impact and more because of what they do to the cohesiveness of families. If we sever one generation from another by large inheritance taxes, we accelerate the process of atomizing individuals, unfettering people from civilizing familial bonds. If we can expect little help from our parents or children, we grow in dependence on collective provision. If we need help, we become more and more dependent upon government. This is the underlying principle of redistributionist policies.

There are many forces in modern culture that split apart generations and attenuate familial bonds. Although we can communicate over long distances easily, it is no longer the case that parents, children, and grandparents live close together. Modern media and the Internet exercise increasing, and many times negative, influences on children. The increasing probability that children grow up with multiple sets of parents weakens and even destroys family relationships. Inheritance taxes are just one more means of splitting generations, one way more of creating a society composed only of individuals and the state without the benefit of mediating institutions like families.

Part of growing older is the wish to perpetuate our influence down to our children and grandchildren. We certainly do this most effectively in intangible ways, in what we have taught by our words and actions. Yet the ability to grant an inheritance, to control the distribution of our wealth remains important. Indeed, it is a desire to extend our influence to the following generations that motivates some people to build and preserve wealth beyond what they personally can consume. This is the intuitive reason for the growing unpopularity of inheritances taxes.


  1. Charles, Kerwin Kofi and Erik Hurst, “The Correlation of Wealth across Generations,” Journal of Political Economy, 111 1155–1182, 2003.
  2. Bartlett, Bruce, “Death, Wealth, and Taxes,” The Public Interest , Fall 2000.

Clumsy Coverage by the Washington Post

Sunday, May 1st, 2005

That there is bias in media coverage is almost a axiomatic, regardless of one’s political perspective. By definition, writing or broadcasting the news means making value judgments as to what issues are important and relevant enough to claim scarce coverage resources. These decisions rely on value judgments, informed by political perspective. This sort of bias is sometimes referred to as “bias by agenda.” The potential for bias by agenda is the reason that news rooms ought to have real diversity, a diversity of viewpoint.

Bias by agenda is hard to guard against, but incompetent or slanted coverage of any story, once chosen is inexcusable and one of the reasons there has been a flight from conventional news sources, the major papers and networks, toward the Internet and various alternative cable news networks.

Although the Washington Post has, and would probably concede in a moment of candor, a bias of agenda that leans to the Left, they are typically carefully balanced and fair within a story. Unfortunately, they have been guilty of such conspicuous coverage errors recently, that it is difficult to blame it on inadvertence or incompetence.

The first example concerns the confirmation hearings of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton has been harshly, sarcastically, and even undiplomatically critical of the UN. Indeed, Bolton has been so critical that many Democrats would like to prevent President George Bush’s nominee from becoming the UN ambassador. Given the general unpopularity of the UN and the recent UN scandal involving billions of dollars in the UN-managed Oil-for-Food Program, many Americans might just believe that the UN ought to be sharply criticized. This makes it politically inconvenient for Democrats to attack Bolton on the merits of his positions, so instead there is a frantic effort to seek out character issues that might disqualify Bolton.

The Democrats found an issue in one Melody Townsel who had a decade-old dispute with Bolton about a project in Kyrgyzstan. For the Washington Post to report the charge on April 20, 2005 was entirely appropriate. However, they neglected to mention that Ms. Townsel is an anti-Bush partisan who founded the Dallas-chapter of “Mothers Against Bush.” This does not make her charges necessarily false, but Washington Post readers were entitled to know Townsel’s background as part of their overall assessment of the credibility of her story. This was not a small oversight, it was a key neglected fact. It was not until Howard Kurtz cited a National Review passage about Townsel that the Post’s dedicated readers were made aware of Townsel’s partisanship. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times also failed to mention Townsel’s partisan affiliation, but one had come to expect more from the Washington Post.

Perhaps a more damaging recent failure of the Washington Post is its reporting on a Washington Post-ABC poll. At present, there is a dispute on the use of the filibuster by Senate Democrats to block Bush judicial nominees. The use of the filibuster for this purpose is not traditional and the issue is a cause of a political confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are considering using their majority status to change the Senate rules to prevent the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees. Democrats argue that they are defending the rights of the minority party and Republicans argue that any president deserves an up-or-a-down vote on his nominees. The state of public opinion on this issue is important politically. Polling and coverage by the Post on this is necessary and proper.

On April 26, 2005, the Washington Post ran the page-one headline “Filibuster Rule Change Opposed: 66% in Poll Reject Senate GOP Plans to Ease Confirmation of Bush’s Judicial Nominees.” The headline and the article definitely gave the impression that Republicans are in political trouble over the issue. wp_post_2005-04-20.jpg

However, consider the exact wording of the poll question: “Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees?” The question does not mention the word filibuster and definitely paints the picture of special rules changes on Bush’s behalf without reference to the unprecedented use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees. It would not have been a fair question, but one could imagine different results for the poll if the question were: “Would you support or oppose a minority of Senators preventing an up-or-down vote on Presidential judicial nominees.” The Washington Post poll was a classic example of a poll designed to obtain a specific result.

Nonetheless, publishing the results of the poll, without a misleading headline would have been good journalistic practice, if the poll was put in the context of other polls yielding different results. For example, a plurality by a 2-1 ratio in a Rasmussen poll suggested that people believe the presidential nominees ought to receive an up-or-a-down vote on the Senate floor. Giving readers a broad perspective is good journalism and in this case the Post did not meet their obligation to their readers.

The most revealing fact is that in the week after the poll, Republicans moved more directly to changing the Senate rules and Democrats backed off trying to seek a compromise. This would not have been the case, if internal private polls commissioned by both parties did not contradict the Washington Post headline. Readers of the Washington Post were thus misinformed.

As a general rule, it is best never to assume maliciousness when incompetence is a sufficient explanation. Arguing the case for incompetence in the Washington Post’s coverage is becoming more and more difficult.