Wednesday, June 30, 2004


I have a theory about great theories: They’re characterized by a simple elegance and are usually more the result of a “eureka” moment than a rough slog through mountains of data. In other words, Thomas Edison’s mantra about it being 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration? Bunk.

Take John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice.” For centuries, philosophers had been philosophizing on how societies should be put together. In the middle of the last century Rawls came up with a simply elegant theory that can be summarized on the back of a match book. Rawls argued that a society is only as well off as its least fortunate members. Of course he went on for several hundred pages (and in countless astonishingly tedious lectures to hapless Harvard undergrads) refining that notion and dealing with its subtleties, but there you have it. A simply elegant statement that, whether you agree with it or not, it’s almost amazing that no one else thought of it before him.

Thomas P.M. Barnett’s book, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” is a similarly ground breaking tract. Barnett unveils a theory, or actually a couple of theories, so simply elegant and so obviously true once you hear them, it’s amazing that no one had thought of them before. “The Pentagon’s New Map” (PNM) attempts to do nothing less than offer a prescription for re-shaping the world for both increased prosperity and safety for all its inhabitant but especially for Americans. The subtitle of the book is “War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century” but I think a far more fitting subtitle would have been “A Future Worth Fighting For.”

Barnett’s theory essentially has two components which I will over-simplify only a little in the next two paragraphs. The first is that the world is divided into two parts, the Core which has all the economically functioning places and the Gap which has all the economic, cultural and political basket cases. The Core includes all the places where you might vacation or buy a good from; the Gap is comprised of the places you wouldn’t visit unless you were a contestant on Fear Factor. Barnett argues that in this era of increased global connectivity and more widely available weapons of mass destruction, an unstable and disconnected country/government anywhere poses a threat to the United States and our interests. Witness the way internal Afghanistan politics had a profound effect on our soil. The only way to mitigate this threat is to, over time, integrate these Gap countries into the Core.

But how do you this when those Gap countries are often run by people like Saddam Hussein who don’t want to play well with others in the global sandbox? That’s going to involve military action and that’s where the second part of Barnett’s theory comes in. Barnett suggests that the military should be broken up into two distinct pieces. One he calls the Leviathan which will basically kick the ass of the Saddam types; the other will be called the System Administrator which will build the country back up after the asses have been kicked.

Like I said up top, obvious isn’t it? Two distinct jobs, two distinct forces to do those jobs. Thinking of the situation in Iraq, you can see how this part of the theory would have an obvious impact.

Indeed, the theories are already having an impact in Iraq. Before becoming a best-selling author, Barnett was a highly rated Pentagon briefer and his ideas have come before all the big shots like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. The domestic Iraqi forces are already being designed with the Leviathan/System Administrator distinction in mind.

But integrating the entire Gap, isn’t that a huge task? Barnett doesn’t shrink from that question. He candidly acknowledges that this will be a decades long process and that there will be no “exit strategies.” But his goal is an ambitious one: Once the entire Gap is integated into the Core, large scale poverty will be eliminated. Along with it several other things will also be eliminated like famine and war.

Which brings me to what I love most about PNM: It’s suffused with a can-do American optimism that has been the mark of this country since its birth. Although Barnett eschews jingoism, I don’t, so indulge me a bit. Virtually every person in this country is descended from someone who decided to risk all by getting on a boat or a plane and traveling a great distance to seek out a better life. Taking great risks to accomplish great things is part of our national DNA. Many of our politicians are by nature cautious people who have spent their lives trying to avoid mistakes so that they can continue their climb to higher office. But they are not representative of the American soul. I’m convinced that if someone would bring Barnett’s positive vision before the American public, America would indeed decide that PNM’s future is worth fighting for and make the necessary sacrifices.

In his recent book “Colossus,” British historian Niall Ferguson takes a different and quite dim view of the American character in arguing why America will have difficulty being an effective player on the world stage in the years to come. Ferguson writes, “The United States has acquired an empire, but Americans themselves lack the imperial cast of mind. They would rather consume than conquer. They would rather build shopping malls than nations…It is quite conceivable that their empire could unravel as swiftly as the Soviet Union(‘s).” Ferguson thinks he knows America, but he doesn’t.

Barnett doesn’t see things Ferguson’s way. You should read this book. You should talk it up. Karl Rove should read this book and so should President Bush. And they, too, should talk it up. Americans have been desperate for a positive vision of the future. Here it is.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Biased media, anyone?

In the New York Times/ CBS poll of a little over a month ago, John Kerry had an 8 point lead over Bush in a two man race and a 6 point lead in a three man race. In the poll released today, he has but a 1 point lead in the head to head and is actually trailing by a point in a three man race. So what is the Times’ headline heralding this development? “Bush’s Rating Falls to Its Lowest Point, New Survey Finds.”

But it’s worse than just the screwy headline with its misplaced emphasis. The headline you see quoted above; the lede is as follows: “President Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.” Both are dead wrong and contradict the poll's findings!

Now, I don’t own a New York Times abacus, but even if I did I wouldn’t be able to see how they could craft that headline and that lede from their poll’s results. A month ago, Bush had a 36% favorable, 47% unfavorable. Today’s poll shows 39% favorable, 45% unfavorable. His job approval numbers? A month ago, 41% approve, 52% disapprove. Today, 42% approve, 51% disapprove. Not gangbuster numbers, to be sure, but inarguably not Bush’s “lowest point” or "lowest level." His numbers have clearly improved!

Besides, the poll’s methodology is, to put it politely, all f---ed up. 22% of the respondents aren’t even registered voters. To have a poll that means anything, the respondents have to be registered voters and likely voters. Unregistered and unlikely voters skew Democratic in a big way. Everyone knows that, even (especially) the people at the NYT.

Maybe there’s nothing venal here. Maybe it’s just a ploy to keep the Times’ gifted ombudsman gainfully occupied. Or maybe they just really don’t like the President.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight


In Iraq, great progress is made. At the cinema, a “documentary” earns renown for doing record box-office in spite of, or more likely because of, a legion of distortions and its willful ignorance of inconvenient facts. Which world do the voters occupy, the one of real progress or hateful cinematic fantasy?

I think this past week has drawn a useful distinction between President Bush and his domestic adversaries. On the one hand, you have Bush who has tirelessly slogged through the Middle Eastern muck to the point where there now exists a nascent Muslim democracy that should be friendly to the West or at the very least not an implacable foe. Whether the Iraqi venture was ill-advised or a stroke of neo-con genius, at the very least the Bushies tried to do something constructive.

On the other hand, you have a legion of prominent democrats (Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy many more) stuffing a Washington cinema for the premiere of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Even Moore’s champions don’t claim that his screed is fair or intellectually honest. Witness the ruminations of liberal columnist William Raspberry:

“Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is everything you've heard. It is a searing indictment of the Bush administration's war on terror. It is an eye-opening expose of a president whose inexperience and limited intelligence make him tragically unsuited for the job. It is a masterful job of connecting the dots between Saudi money and the business interests of the president and his friends. And it is an overwrought piece of propaganda--a 110-minute hatchet job that doesn't even bother to pretend to be fair.”

Now, Raspberry loved the movie and loves Michael Moore. He even does Moore the honor of comparing him to Louis Farrakhan. So when someone like Raspberry acknowledges that the movie is a “hatchet job” and “propaganda” it’s got to tell you something.

Here’s what I see as the divide: The Bush administration, it has to be conceded, is trying to achieve progress. There have been good days and there have been bad days and the bad ones have undoubtedly fallen in greater number, but the administration has at least tried. The Democrats, as personified by their latest hero, Michael Moore, have indulged only in tantrum like whining and screaming. Whether you like Moore’s film or detest it, you’d have to concede that there is nothing constructive there. There’s no vision of how to handle the global war on terror or the danger of Islamic fundamentalism. The bad news for the Michael Moore Democrats is the following: In spite of the ephemera of the moment such as “Fahrenheit 9/11,” real and lasting history is being written these days.

When the story of the 2004 campaign is written and President Bush’s political resurrection is described, the past few days will be viewed as a tipping point. It will be noted that Iraq went from being an American problem to an American victory during the final weekend in June. And it will be cynically noted that after the handover, the many problems there became Iraq’s not ours and thus the U.S. citizenry could turn its gaze to a resurgent economy. With Iraq driven from the headlines, good news suddenly became dominant.

What will be forgotten is that while history was occurring, the Democrats were at the movies spewing bile and hatred, saluting their cleverness while being completely unaware that the world was spinning beneath them.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight

Friday, June 11, 2004


America’s most reliably obtuse columnist, the Boston Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson, has spent the week proving that it was indeed possible to dislike Ronald Reagan. A lot. No politeness at a time of mourning for Mr. Jackson. He’s spent the week writing columns with titles like “Reagan’s Heart of Darkness.”

For Wednesday’s column, Jackson exhumed the great old story of Archbishop Tutu’s visit to Washington in late 1984. While Jackson’s recount of the Tutu’s journey to DC isn’t complete, he does hit the high points. Tutu, an invited guest of the administration, went to Capitol Hill and pronounced the administration “evil” and “un-Christian” because of its purported support of apartheid.

Of course, Reagan and his administration didn’t support apartheid. They just had a different way of wanting to deal with it. While the left was convinced that the best way to deal with apartheid was by sanctions and cutting off the Pretoria government, the administration thought the best way to deal with it was to constructively engage Pretoria and in so doing affect change. Of course, the left had a history of misconstruing and indeed impugning Reagan’s motives. For instance, many on the left couldn’t imagine that Reagan actually wanted to avoid war as much as they did; he just differed with the left on which means would best achieve that aim. Nonetheless, his failure to join Helen Caldicott in calling for a unilateral nuclear freeze signified to many on the left that he was a warmonger.

Jackson’s regurgitation of the Tutu visit struck me because in the eyes of Reagan fans the entire incident, the most important parts of which Jackson omitted, wonderfully illustrated some of Reagan’s greatest strengths. The visit was indeed a PR disaster for the administration. Reagan was trying to appear fair-minded by inviting Tutu for a visit and to show that he shared Tutu’s moral outrage over apartheid. Of course things didn’t work out. When your guest calls you evil, it’s a sign the visit hasn’t gone particularly well.

The day after Tutu left, Reagan was having a photo-op in the oval office. One of the reporters present asked Reagan for his general impression of Tutu’s visit and specifically his reaction to Tutu’s harsh Capitol Hill commentary.

Reagan responded: “Tutu? So-so.”

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


We once had a President who apparently didn’t have much regard for the 1st Amendment. During his short time in office, he actually suspended or eliminated the publication rights of over 300 newspapers. One publisher so enraged him that this President had that publisher imprisoned without charges for over two years. During his time in power, these excesses in the exercise of power were the subject of great controversy. Now, of course, they are largely forgotten and President Lincoln has achieved mythic status as our greatest leader and the greatest man our society has yet to produce.

But these abuses of power were real. And yet they are justly forgotten because Lincoln’s real legacy was saving the Union, and the mistakes or excesses made in the process aren’t particularly relevant to the big picture. History takes the long view and focuses on the important and consequential; while Lincoln’s mistakes were real, they don’t amount to much when compared to his accomplishments.

Ronald Reagan’s detractors fervently hope that he’ll be most remembered for the Iran Contra scandal. It’s not going to happen because, regardless of what you think of his or his administration’s actions in regard to the scandal, ultimately it wasn’t consequential.

To determine whether or not something is of historical import, you have to look at the ripples that emanated from the event in question. For instance, Watergate, even though it was a petty little burglary had pretty significant ripples since the President behind the scheme managed to become the first in history to have to resign his office. Similarly, if Reagan had been chased from office because of Iran-Contra, it would have left a huge scar on the national psyche. Likewise, if Lincoln’s actions had led to a permanent repression of the press, we would likely take a far different view of the Union’s savior.

Alas, there were no ripples from Iran-Contra, or none that really mattered. Reagan survived the storm, and his designated successor ascended to the Presidency less than two years after the scandal broke. Relations with the countries in question, Iran and Nicaragua, were largely unchanged. None of the principle players in the drama even managed to parlay their new found fame into much of consequence. Ollie North failed in his Senate bid, and Iran-Contra committee member Senator Warren Rudman, the Bob Kerrey of his day with his non-stop phony outrage, soon mercifully receded from public view. With the exception of the occasional tedious balanced budget scold usually issued in conjunction with Paul Tsongas, Rudman has hardly been heard from since.

There’s another reason why the Iran-Contra scandal won’t have much traction in history. If you look at the Nixon scandals and the Clinton scandals, one thing stands out – all of them were venal. Watergate, Travelgate, Mar Rich – they were all for the sole purpose of furthering the selfish interests of the President. Each one of them was about consolidating or acquiring power or money.

Whatever you might think of Iran-Contra or Reagan’s involvement in the affair, it wasn’t about furthering the President’s selfish interests. Take the dimmest view of the matter from the Reaganaut’s perspective, that Reagan organized and ordered the whole thing, including the diversion of the funds to the Contras. For what purposes would he have done so? Three and only three reasons exist: To free the hostages, to better relations with Iran, and to bolster the Contras in their struggle for freedom. Whether you think these goals are laudable or not (or even legal in the case of the funds diversion), or whether you think Iran-Contra was a wise way to pursue these goals, you have to concede that there was nothing venal about this affair. At the very least, this was a scandal where the perpetrators had the best of intentions. Typically scandals of that sort, where at least the motives were pure, are the kind that history usually seems willing to forgive or even forget.

History has seen fit to forget or obscure Lincoln's first amendment abuses as well as Roosevelt’s interment of hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens because their accomplishments were so outsized. Likewise, Reagan’s failings in regards to Iran-Contra, whatever they might have been, will be but a footnote in the story of an administration that achieved things of true and lasting consequence.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight

Monday, June 07, 2004


A few months ago, I had to spend a couple of days in the hospital. One of the nights during my stay, I was proudly wearing my “Viva La Reagan Revolución” T-shirt that I had recently purchased on-line at the conservative book store. One of the nurses came in and shot a disapproving glance at my shirt; a few minutes later, she re-entered and this time could not resist offering her commentary on the garment. “You like Reagan, huh? Look at him now, wasting away with Alzheimer’s. Serves him right.” She exited the room with a disgusted harrumph.

I was thinking of this little non-exchange on Sunday while Bob Scheiffer on “Face the Nation” was offering his tribute to the late President. Scheiffer is the kid of liberal media member that drives conservatives like me crazy for two reasons. First, Scheiffer goes to great lengths pretending to be objective when he clearly isn’t. And second, his views are all reliably shopworn left wing sentiments that are trotted out only by the most unimaginative liberals. Actually, to be technical, Scheiffer’s ideas are too old to trot. Instead, they have to be rolled out in a wheelchair.

With this as his background, it came as little surprise that Scheiffer’s tribute to Reagan was clichéd and condescending. What came as a surprise was how untrue it was. Scheifffer said of Reagan, “Even if you hated his policies, it was impossible to not like the man.” I bet my disgruntled nurse would disagree.

Indeed, the left wing hated Reagan with a passion that exceeds anything that Bush has to date elicited. Remember the AID activists in Queer Nation? Many of them actually thought that AIDS was a right wing plot concocted (or at least condoned) by Reagan as a means of practicing genocide on the gay community. Remember the nuclear freeze types like Helen Caldicott? They actually thought Reagan was a war-monger who wanted a nuclear conflict. They didn’t think that he had a different idea of how to avoid nuclear war. No, they actually thought he desired the annihilation of much of the human race.

Or how about the homeless? Remember how his detractors blamed Reagan for every single homeless person in America. Under Reagan, homelessness ceased to be a problem for municipalities. In the eyes of his domestic foes, Reagan all but created and perpetuated homelessness. Why? Because he was apathetic at best, or more likely because he took sadistic pleasure in the misery of the dispossessed.

Things weren’t much better in Europe either. Europe was aghast at the deployment of the Pershing missiles on their soil. The Pershings were a sign that Reagan was an irresponsible “cowboy” who would blow up the world. The European demonstrations that were held protesting Reagan in the early ‘80’s again dwarf anything that Bush has been able to provoke.

And, of course, lest we forget, Reagan was uniformly viewed by American and European sophisticates as a blithering idiot. Clark Clifford’s memorable phrase, that Reagan was an “amiable dunce,” characterized the left wing’s sentiments precisely. I remember one of my college professors telling me in 1987 that he found himself to be personally insulted by the fact his president was so unintelligent. Of course, it has come as a bitter revelation to these folks that throughout his life Reagan penned a series of speeches that delineated a political philosophy with a clarity and precision that compares favorably to the writings of any president since the time of the founding fathers. He turned out to be a pretty rigorous thinker, especially for a dunce.

But I digress. The reason I point all of this out is because I think it’s important to acknowledge that Reagan was hated in his time by his domestic foes, and “hated” is the right word. Indeed, many of those who hated Reagan hated Nixon before him and now hate Bush. The people who cannot civilly discuss Bush today had similar issues with Reagan 20 years ago and Nixon 30 years ago. Can it really be that all three men were such polarizing figures? Or is it possible that the people doing the hating are just unusually good haters who are always eager or at least willing to get a good hate on?

Reagan was incredibly affable and likable. And yet there was a segment of the population that hated him. I’d argue that that fact says a lot more about the haters than it does about Reagan.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


One of the reasons blogging has been light the past several days is because the wife and I took a much needed holiday. On a related note…

One of my defining features since 9/11 has been an unrelenting hostility towards the non-discount airlines. Like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I’ve felt that the government should just let them go out of business. No other industry treats its customers in such a shoddy manner; the industry’s problems have a lot more to do with its lack of customer service than terrorism or fuel prices. Southwest and JetBlue also have to buy gas and beware of the islamo-fascist nutcases but they still manage to make a buck. But for the major airlines, actually turning a profit is a wildly out of reach goal. They’d be thrilled to stop losing zillions a quarter.

The airlines, on the rare occasion when they agree to take a measure of responsibility for their woes, invariably point to the union contracts that suffocate them. Unless you believe an American Airlines pilot is worth several times a Southwest pilot, American is being inefficient. The same of course goes for American’s flight attendants, mechanics, gate agents, luggage handlers, and the guys who wave the red flags on the runways.

But the heart of the matter is that the major airlines treat their customers like shit, and the better customer you are the worse the airlines are likely to treat you. Think about it: Who’s the airlines’ best customer? Obviously, the business traveler who makes a ton of trips, many of them on short notice. Yet who pays the most? The business traveler making a trip on short notice. The pricing that the airlines use for travelers who don’t have the luxury of a lot of lead time in planning their flight could almost be described as predatory. If all of a sudden you have to plan a flight to Los Angeles for tomorrow morning, plan on paying over $2,000 to one of the major airlines. And of course, it’s only the business traveler who has to make such an unscheduled trip.

What other industry would treat their best customers in this fashion? Is it any wonder that whenever the discount airlines with their comprehensible and fair pricing schemes invade a city, they habitually whip the major airlines? Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue have successfully encouraged customer loyalty. The majors engender hostility.

Which brings me to my little adventure last week. If you were running an airline, do you think you’d be able to identify who would be your most pissed off customers? I would – the people who have their luggage lost will always be upset, often outraged. When your luggage is lost, it will be at best a major inconvenience. At worst, a vacation can be ruined.

So if you were running an airline, would you not have the people staffing your lost luggage desk be experts in customer service? You’d look for people with soothing demeanors and train them to within an inch of their lives so that they could save the situation.

If you agree with any of that, obviously you don’t work for U.S. Airways. When my wife and I landed at Reagan National Airport last week, her golf clubs did not. We were on a tight schedule and had begun our day at 4:30 a.m. to accommodate that tight schedule, so obviously this little setback was an irritant. The person at the U.S. Airways lost luggage desk, though, was there to ensure that our nightmare was just beginning.

First she told us that the barcodes that they put on your luggage claim tag are there just for show. No one ever scans the codes, so it’s not like they have any idea where the golf clubs are. Then she helpfully suggested that we hang around the terminal for the morning because “maybe they’ll show up.” Then she dampened our rising enthusiasm for spending day one of our vacation besides the luggage carousel by conceding that the bag could be anywhere and that perhaps we should just be on our way.

On our way we went, but not before leaving the information of the resort in West Virginia where we were staying so if the clubs did surface they could be gotten to us post-haste. Several hours later, I called to check on the status of the search. I was told that they don’t begin a search for 24 hours. The policy is to wait to see if the clubs miraculously show up where they were supposed to be in the first place, in this case Reagan National Airport baggage carousel number 9; if that fails to happen, they make inquiries.

I demanded to speak to a supervisor. I asked her how the clubs would miraculously make their way to that carousel several hours after their scheduled appointment there. She admitted that it was unlikely, and allowed that there were three possible places that the golf clubs could be. First, they might still be sitting on the ground in Logan. Second, they might have mistakenly hopped a shuttle to LaGuardia instead of Reagan. Or third, they might have stayed on our plane that went to Reagan and, having failed to deplane, made the subsequent flight to Atlanta.

Great, I said. All we have to do is make inquires at LaGuardia, Logan, and Hartsfield – then they’ll turn up. Yes, she agreed, but they weren’t allowed to make such inquiries until 24 hours from the time of the clubs’ disappearance had elapsed. This, I told her was unacceptable. She told me it was policy. I then made a subtle tack change and told her it was ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE!!!. Obviously sensing the gravity of the situation she agreed to begin the search immediately and she assured me someone would contact me on my cell phone with the results in an hour or so. To be fair, the supervisor was both competent and pleasant.

My wife and I thus began a round of golf, her with rented clubs. About 50 minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was the U.S. Airways lost luggage desk at Reagan. The clubs had turned up at LaGuardia and were going to be shipped out to us. She asked me where I wanted the clubs sent. I told her they should send them to the resort whose address I had given to her colleague several hours earlier. She said she needed the address. I suggested she use the address that I had already given her colleague since it assuredly hadn’t changed in the past several hours and since I was on the golf course, I didn’t have a copy of the White Pages handy. She told me that she had just gotten on duty ten minutes ago and that therefore she didn’t have the address. I asked how could that be? Does the other woman throw away the shipping addresses when her shift ends? Are they not logged into a computer? Are they not at the very least written down somewhere?

My interlocutor was growing impatient. She told me that unless I provided her with the address right away, there would be nothing she could do. I suggested that her attitude was inappropriate; she shot back, “Your attitude is inappropriate!”

I decided to be solution oriented. I gave her the name of the resort and the city that it was in and suggested she call directory assistance to get the phone number and then the address. She said she couldn’t do that. Because she was in DC and the resort was in West Virginia, that would require long distance directory assistance and she wasn’t authorized to use such an exotic service. Mind you, I’m not making any of this up. She told me that if the address didn’t come from me, the clubs weren’t going anywhere.

This is where I got smart. I figured the resort would have a 1-800 number and that maybe the U.S. Airways person could use 1-800 directory assistance. She agreed to try. Lo and behold, it worked. She got the phone number and in due course the address. By 2:30 a.m. the following morning, we were reunited with the missing golf clubs in beautiful West Virginia.

Is this any way to run a railroad? The next time you hear about the taxpayers bailing out the airlines, think of this tale of woe. I know I will.

Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at

James Frederick Dwight