Think tanks wrap-up

June 26, 2002 at 5:36 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 26 (UPI) -- United Press International's think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- Bush's Mideast Plan

-- Stephen Zunes, associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, Zunes is the Middle East editor at the Foreign Policy in Focus Project.

"It is remarkable how President Bush insists on democratic governance and an end to violence and corruption as a prerequisite for Palestinian self-determination when his administration, as well as many administrations before him, have strongly supported a series of violent, corrupt and autocratic regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond. It should be apparent that Bush's criticisms of Arafat's regime, however valid, are not the reason for denying the Palestinians their right to self-determination. They are the excuse."

-- Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, Waskow was one of the initiators of an inter-religious call for U.S. action for peace in the Middle East that appeared in the New York Times on May 31.

"Both Israel and the Palestinians need a clear vision of the American goal, not a fuzzy one, and a clear timetable. So do Americans, for this war besmirches all religious hope, and endangers all peoples."

-- Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. He was legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations from 1991 to 1993 and author of the forthcoming book "Palestine, Palestinians and International Law." He said today: "At least President Arafat was democratically elected by the vast majority of his people, unlike President Bush. The time frames seem deliberately designed by the Bush administration to punt on all critical issues beyond the 2004 presidential elections ... As Israel repudiates Oslo and resumes its outright occupation of the West Bank, there is nothing for the Palestinians but vague promises of good intentions by the United States government that have never materialized during the past 35 years. Basically, Bush gave Sharon the proverbial green light to dump Arafat. Violence will continue and escalate."

-- Naseer Aruri, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is author of the book "The Obstruction Of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians." He said today: "Bush's long-awaited speech will give Sharon most of what he needs to put into effect his colonial plan for the remaining part of Palestine -- absolute Israeli control, cantonization and economic strangulation among other methods of subtle persuasion to leave the country. The speech certainly endorses Sharon's position that Arafat must be overthrown, and that is now being made a condition for establishing a 'provisional Palestinian state,' a rather innocuous phrase that has no real meaning in either politics or international law. The speech was a major disappointment to all those around the world who were looking forward to seeing an end to the Israeli siege of West Bank cities, most of which are now under occupation."

The National Center for Policy Analysis

(The National Center for Policy Analysis is a nonprofit public policy research institute that seeks innovative private sector solutions to public policy problems.)

DALLAS, Texas -- Kristol Deserves Medal of Freedom

by Bruce Bartlett

On June 20, President George W. Bush announced the first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in his presidency. This is an award inaugurated by President Kennedy to honor civilians who have served their country in the arts, literature, sport, politics and other endeavors.

I was pleased to see that among the recipients is Irving Kristol. He is listed in the presidential citation as "an author, editor and professor who is one of the leading intellectuals of his time." It goes on to say, "Mr. Kristol's writings helped lay the intellectual groundwork for the renaissance of conservative ideas in the last half of the 20th century."

It is difficult to properly put into context the magnitude of Mr. Kristol's accomplishment in the revival of conservatism. He is less of an original thinker than, say, Russell Kirk or Friedrich Hayek. And he is certainly far less well known than Bill Buckley, the founder of National Review magazine, or even his son, Bill Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard magazine. Yet, in many ways, Irving Kristol's influence on conservatism has been as great as any of these. It is not an overstatement to say that only Ronald Reagan has done more to push America to the right over the last 30 years.

Mr. Kristol's great strength was in understanding, more clearly than anyone else on the right side of the political spectrum at the time, the profound importance of intellectuals in the political process. He then took it upon himself to provide the Republican Party and the conservative movement with a cadre of like-minded intellectuals, who came to be called neoconservatives. These people were essential to the election of Ronald Reagan and the legislative success of many conservative policies since then.

As with so many of the conservative movement's most sophisticated thinkers in the postwar era, such as James Burnham and Frank Meyer, Mr. Kristol came to the right from the far left. When he came of age, the left worshiped intellectuals and most of them worshiped Marx. In the 1930s -- in the midst of the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism -- Marxism, Communism, Trotskyism and lots of other left-wing "isms" seemed to be the cutting edge, the wave of the future, and the place to be for anyone who fancied himself an "intellectual."

The first batch of left-wingers to turn right in the 1950s were mostly ex-communists, horrified by Stalin and naked Soviet expansionism. The second wave, which included Kristol, came around in the late 1960s in reaction to the excesses of the New Left and the growing wave of anti-Americanism among conventional liberals. He was their leader and he showed them a halfway house out of the left by creating "neoconservatism." Eventually Kristol was joined by such heavyweight intellectuals as Norman Podhoretz, Pat Moynihan and Daniel Bell.

In a small journal called The Public Interest, which he still edits, Mr. Kristol sought out university professors with conservative views on particular public policy issues. They might not have been conservative on any other issue, but he got them to write articles about the one issue on which they were conservative. In this way, he created a solid intellectual foundation for things like supply-side economics, welfare and education reform, and many other conservative policies that have been enacted into law.

Kristol was also an important middleman between New York-based foundations, corporations and media, on the one hand, and the Washington-based policy community and Boston-based university professors who made up the neoconservative movement. He found the money for Jude Wanniski to write his book, "The Way the World Works," the first on supply-side economics; encouraged Harvard professors like Martin Feldstein to write for the Wall Street Journal and not just for academic journals; and published the first article by a young Washington policy analyst named David Stockman in The Public Interest.

In the process, Kristol helped wean the Republican Party away from its instinctive anti-intellectualism and make conservative views semi-respectable in academia and the press. This critical foundation, which Kristol put together in the 1970s, all came together with the Reagan campaign in 1980. The people and the policies Kristol had nurtured for a decade behind the scenes became Reagan's advisors and program. Neoconservatives helped flesh out Reagan's agenda, find a less threatening voice with which to promote conservative ideas, and defended him against intellectual assault from left-wing academics and their friends in the dominant media.

For all these reasons and more, Irving Kristol well deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Bush is to be congratulated for awarding it.

(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- Border security not borders books

by Chris Edwards

The Bush administration's budget office recently revealed that the federal government makes $20 billion in erroneous payments every year. The U.S. General Accounting Office repeatedly finds that billions of dollars are misspent by the military. This article is not about such large-scale Washington waste.

Rather, it's about "For the Birds," a 50-page book about bird feeding published by the Department of the Interior. It joins other Interior hobby guides such as "Fishing Is Fun for Everyone."

Perhaps Interior officials don't realize that 43 bird feeding books and more than 2,000 fishing books are already available on Maybe the department didn't notice that the federal budget is $100 billion in deficit. Alas, such publications are a microcosm of a federal bureaucracy that fashions itself as the nanny of the nation.

Do we really need the government's help in the kitchen? Someone in Washington thinks so considering the Department of Agriculture USDA titles "Making Healthy Food Choices," "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals," and "Team Nutrition's Food, Family and Fun: A Seasonal Guide for Healthy Eating." Here too, the government faces competition from, which lists about 2,200 health-related cookbooks.

If you need help around the house this summer, the government has you covered with the USDA's 29-page booklet "How to Prune Trees" and other titles. USDA officials should check out Home Depot. At this time of year, the store arranges dozens of books on trees, grasses, and other gardening topics right near the check-out counter.

And watch out Bob Vila. The government is horning in on your territory with guides such as the 230-page "Rehabilitation of Wood-Frame Houses" from the USDA. The Department of Energy offers "Improving the Efficiency of Your Duct System" and "Cooling Your Home Naturally," which reveals the secrets of tree shading and window opening.

Washington seems to think that every area of our private life needs federal input, ranging from "Tips for Finding the Right Job" to "Buying Your Home." The government even wants to tell us how to walk in "Walking for Exercise and Pleasure," which describes "what to wear, warm-up and conditioning exercises, and how far and how fast to walk."

On health care, the Department of Health and Human Services has booklets such as "Health Diary, Myself, My Baby" and the hip "You and Mental Health, What's the Deal?" Thank goodness we don't have to rely on those untrustworthy private references such as the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.

HHS doesn't even want to leave grassroots mobilizing to the people. It publishes the activist guidebook "Healthy People in Healthy Communities." To support the government's goals you can lobby your neighbors on any of "467 objectives in 28 focus groups." I am formulating my own "action plan" to get our boss to comply with objective 20-13 to "increase the proportion of worksites offering employer-sponsored fitness programs."

Federal agencies love to publish tomes telling us what a great job they are doing. "For a Healthy Nation" from HHS trumpets federal health achievements. One USDA cookbook is dedicated to "Commemorating 50 Years of School Lunch," which seems like a cruel joke since many kids remember rubbery Salisbury steak and paper mache mashed potatoes.

But the most audacious and self-aggrandizing booklet has to be "The Facts on U.S. Farm Policy" published by the House Agriculture Committee as soon as the ink was dry on the new farm subsidy bill. Complete with photos of George Washington and John F. Kennedy, this slick and colorful booklet heaps praise on the farm bill, denounces the bill's "special interest" critics, and compares the farm bill's supposed victory to Ronald Reagan facing down the Soviets in the Cold War!

Lifestyle gurus tell us not to "sweat the little things." But these publications suggest a broader problem of the federal government trying to be all things to all people. Rather than doing a good job on the limited responsibilities originally assigned to it, the federal government today publishes NASA's "Adventures of Echo the Bat."

Let's start moving back toward a government focused more on border security, and less on imitating Borders Books.

(Chris Edwards is director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute.)

The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES -- Derailing Amtrak

by Mike Lynch

By tomorrow, Americans may have to hit the highway, board a bus, or settle on to a plane if they plan to take an intercity trip. Actually, that's what 997 out of 1,000 Americans already do. For them, the demise of Amtrak, our national passenger rail service, will take only a psychic toll: the knowledge that another government enterprise failed miserably.

But for those other three citizens -- who are concentrated in the Washington-New York power corridor -- Amtrak's shut down is a real loss. And, thanks to a cause-as-much-pain as possible strategy by Amtrak's new head, David Gunn, the shutdown may well strand thousands of other rail commuters, as Amtrak clogs up New York's Pennsylvania station with idled trains and shuts down tracks that are also used by regional commuter railroads.

With nothing left to mortgage, and no more credit lines to draw down, Gunn threatens a complete shutdown of the system unless Congress, the president, or a big-hearted philanthropist comes up with $200 million immediately. In threatening to halt large segments of the East Coast rail network, Gunn shows that he's better at playing politics than at running a railroad. Instead of shutting down long-distance routes that lose hundreds of dollars per passenger and building up lines that people actually use, he's going to the brink with what's known as the Washington Monument strategy.

Congress and the president should call his bluff. Sunk costs are sunk, and the fact that we've wasted $25 billion on Amtrak since its creation three decades ago is no reason to keep sending it billions more. The railroad should be thrown into bankruptcy, where a federal judge and trustees could ensure that the routes people actually use stay open while the railroad sells off its assets to organizations and companies that may actually be able to run a business.

Gunn is a declared foe of such privatization and shutting down any long-distance routes. He's ridiculed the notion that anyone would be willing to buy Amtrak's assets. Yet there are plenty of companies willing to attempt to succeed were Amtrak consistently fails. Politicians in Washington ought to give them a chance.

(Mike Lynch is Reason magazine's national correspondent.)

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