Politics & Policy

Window on the Week – 6/2/06

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day—this week, in abbreviated form in observance of Memorial Day weekend. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# Haditha is an insurgent stronghold 150 miles west of Baghdad. We will be hearing far more about it in the coming weeks, as we learn how 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed there during a Marine patrol on the morning of November 19. “This is going to be an ugly story,” warns Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.), a former Marine who has been briefed by military officials on the preliminary findings of the Pentagon’s criminal investigations of the incident. There are allegations of a cover-up by the Marines directly involved, and two of their commanders have been relieved of duty. Another former Marine, Sen. John Warner (R., Va.), who plans to hold hearings on the incident, urges no rush to judgment before investigations are completed. But the media’s favorite former Marine has been in a rush to smear the military’s senior leadership. According to the New York Times, Rep. Jack Murtha (D., Pa.) “said efforts to repress the story might go ‘right up the chain of command, right up to General Pace,’ referring to Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” It is bad enough that the Marine Corps’s well-earned reputation for disciplined professionalism and selfless bravery will be tarnished if a few active-duty Marines committed terrible acts as alleged. It is worse when their own veterans recklessly provide ammunition for their enemies.

#-# The conventional wisdom was that President Bush wouldn’t be able to get someone of stature to take the post of Treasury secretary whenever John Snow’s much-rumored departure finally happened. But Bush defied the skeptics and landed Henry Paulson, the widely respected chairman of Goldman Sachs. Paulson is a conservative with instant credibility on Wall Street, and he lends the Bush economic team the gravitas it has lacked until now. An effective Treasury secretary is listened to, either in Washington or on Wall Street–or, ideally, both. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, was an irrelevance. Snow had the best of intentions, but as a former CEO of a railroad he wasn’t well known on Wall Street and was undercut in Washington by White House leaks against him. Treasury has been a much-diminished department in the Bush years. The White House would be well advised to allow it to regain some of its heft and have a stronger voice in policy formulation, especially now that it has a sterling new secretary.

#-# The public does not believe that marriage should be redefined to make same-sex couples eligible. The public is right to oppose same-sex marriage, which advances a spurious “equality” for homosexuals only by distorting what marriage is. But the public’s opposition did not carry the day in Massachusetts, and in an increasing number of states courts are moving to negate the public will. Notwithstanding recent appointments to the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary could move to impose same-sex marriage nationwide in a few years. Even if it does not, for the national debate to be dominated by state judges acting as policymakers is a perversion of federalism. Congress is taking up a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment is unlikely to pass this year. But it is the only sure way to vindicate the public’s will.

#-# Republicans are on solid constitutional ground when they oppose giving the District of Columbia full representation in the House, but there appear not to be very many of them who are actually willing to stand on this principle. Last week, by a vote of 29 to 4, the Government Reform Committee endorsed a bill that would permanently expand the House of Representatives by two seats, from 435 to 437. One of these would go to the District; the other would go to whichever state is next in line to enlarge its congressional delegation based on current census figures. Right now, that would give an extra seat to Utah. Because D.C. is certain to elect a Democrat and Utah is likely to elect a Republican, the bill is said to balance partisan interests. That’s true, at least for the time being. Following the 2010 Census, however, that extra seat could shift to territory that’s less hospitable to the GOP. For purely tactical reasons, it’s strange that they would even consider this deal.

#-# In Egypt, bloggers have become the latest targets of Hosni Mubarak’s unwillingness to tolerate political dissent. Separate reports in the Washington Post and Time detail recent incidents in which political bloggers have been imprisoned indefinitely for protesting against the Egyptian leader. Mubarak’s comments this week to a state-run newspaper show how, despite opening up last year’s elections to a small degree of competition, he still has a lot to learn about the political liberties that allow democracy to thrive: “Most of what they are writing could be punished according to the law, because it is libel and blasphemy,” he said. Condoleezza Rice should keep up the pressure on Egypt to continue its painfully slow reforms, otherwise Americans might start to question our policy of rewarding such a repressive regime with close to $2 billion per year in foreign aid.

#-# Imagine that you are one of that small number of super-duper-celebrities whose careers and personal lives are followed obsessively by millions–a Jennifer, a Katie, a Tom, or a Brad. How to gratify your lust for power? Well, you could take up residence in one of the world’s poorest nations, illuminating its shanties and deserts with the light of your glamour. This will bring publicity to that nation, and tourists. Then, leveraging these benefits, you might easily persuade the nation’s government to grant your every whim. So it was when movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt chose the dirt-poor African nation of Namibia as the birthplace of their first child. Vexed by intrusive journalists and photographers, the celebrity couple snapped their fingers, and the Namibian government promptly expelled one South African and three French photographers, and announced a general ban on foreign journalists not approved by the star couple. Explained the Namibian prime minister when human-rights groups protested: “This lady is expecting. You guys are harassing her. Why don’t you allow her some privacy? Harassment is not allowed in Namibia.” The merely rich have servants and lackeys at their beck and call–celebrities of the Brad and Angelina magnitude have governments.

#-# Barry Bonds has piled up amazing numbers in a game that worships them. Seven MVP awards. Seventy-three homers in a season. Two hundred thirty-two walks in one season, 62 more than Ruth’s highest total. And on and on. Now he has added the number 715, surpassing Babe Ruth’s iconic career homerun total of 714 and leaving only Hank Aaron ahead of him with 755. All these numbers would be cause for wonderment and celebration if it weren’t for some others. At age 35, Bonds began hitting a homerun every 8.3 at-bats, roughly doubling his career rate. Given that most players are in decline by age 35, this surge seems explicable only by the steroid use that is alleged in the new book Game of Shadows. Everyone assumes it is true, and Major League Baseball has launched an investigation. If it is, many of Bonds’s numbers–including 715–become meaningless, a testament to hubris and low character rather than prodigious talent.

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