Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 23, 2007

Blue on Valentine’s

The Valentine’s Day snowstorm that caused massive trouble for JetBlue—hundreds of canceled flights, ten-hour delays, finger pointing, and “voice cracking” pleas for forgiveness from JetBlue’s chairman—spurred Senator Barbara Boxer of California to propose a “Passengers’ Bill of Rights” to protect passengers, and especially “infants and the elderly,” because “no one should be held hostage.”

The Washington Post would seem to agree, editorializing that more regulation is “a fair approach.” The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, believes that it is a terrible idea: “the market will fix the problem better than any legislator.”

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The Valentine’s Day snowstorm that caused massive trouble for JetBlue—hundreds of canceled flights, ten-hour delays, finger pointing, and “voice cracking” pleas for forgiveness from JetBlue’s chairman—spurred Senator Barbara Boxer of California to propose a “Passengers’ Bill of Rights” to protect passengers, and especially “infants and the elderly,” because “no one should be held hostage.”

The Washington Post would seem to agree, editorializing that more regulation is “a fair approach.” The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, believes that it is a terrible idea: “the market will fix the problem better than any legislator.”


In fact, one might see Senator Boxer’s initiative as an example of the dangers of a Democratic Congress, and especially of the party’s core belief that government can fix problems better than markets can. “If there’s anything more dangerous than a blizzard at an airport,” warns the Los Angeles Times, “it’s legislators who react to it by proposing new laws.”

A law like Senator Boxer’s already exists elsewhere. The European Union has an “Air Passenger Rights” act that entitles delayed passengers to compensation of $350 to $800, depending on the length of the delay. The problem is that delays are often created by circumstances beyond an airline’s control, like a snowstorm. So instead of delaying flights and putting themselves at risk of violating the law, carriers in Europe are now simply canceling flights. Surely the majority of passengers would rather be delayed six hours than be nowhere at all.

And cancellation still causes havoc, as European airlines are not necessarily obliged to compensate passengers for delays caused by “extraordinary circumstances.” Who defines what those are? Judges, lawyers, and litigation. Boxer’s short statement does not mention financial penalties for airlines, but even if exact dollar figures are not incorporated into her law, litigation against the airline industry by its “hostages” would not be long in coming.

That’s when there’s trouble on the ground. When there’s trouble in the air, passengers would be truly at risk. For instance, two years ago, shortly after the European regulation became law, an engine of a British Airways Boeing 747 caught fire following takeoff from Los Angeles. After contacting BA’s control center, the pilots were told to continue the eleven-hour flight to London instead of landing the plane—which would have caused a delay of at least five hours and cost BA $200,000 in penalties.

The risk BA took was small: flying on three engines is considered safe. But it takes just one miscalculation to cause a tragedy. As compared with that prospect, being “held hostage” in a plane for six, or ten, or even eleven hours—especially in this age of mobile phones and in-seat entertainment—seems like a tolerable fate after all.

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Weekend Reading

The recent dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has reminded some observers of what Clinton-style politics can look like in action. If, as former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman once observed, the past is the best prophet of the future, it’s distinctly probable that American political discourse will remain quite lively for some time now, and possibly even after George W. Bush’s second term ends. For your weekend reading, contentions would like to offer a selection of incisive articles from COMMENTARY taking a hard look at the Clinton administration and the years of ease at home and swiftly growing unease abroad over which Bill Clinton presided. Enjoy.

Bush, Clinton, and the Jews—A Debate
Daniel Pipes & Martin Peretz, October 1992

Lament of a Clinton Supporter
Joshua Muravchik, August 1993

Clintonism Abroad
Joshua Muravchik, February 1995

A Party of One: Clinton and the Democrats
Daniel Casse, July 1996

What Saddam Hussein Learned from Bill Clinton
Harvey Sicherman, December 1996

Clinton, the Country, and the Culture
January 1999

The recent dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has reminded some observers of what Clinton-style politics can look like in action. If, as former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman once observed, the past is the best prophet of the future, it’s distinctly probable that American political discourse will remain quite lively for some time now, and possibly even after George W. Bush’s second term ends. For your weekend reading, contentions would like to offer a selection of incisive articles from COMMENTARY taking a hard look at the Clinton administration and the years of ease at home and swiftly growing unease abroad over which Bill Clinton presided. Enjoy.

Bush, Clinton, and the Jews—A Debate
Daniel Pipes & Martin Peretz, October 1992

Lament of a Clinton Supporter
Joshua Muravchik, August 1993

Clintonism Abroad
Joshua Muravchik, February 1995

A Party of One: Clinton and the Democrats
Daniel Casse, July 1996

What Saddam Hussein Learned from Bill Clinton
Harvey Sicherman, December 1996

Clinton, the Country, and the Culture
January 1999

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Loose Change

On Presidents’ Day this month, the United States Mint released a new dollar coin bearing an image of George Washington. It is the first of a series of forty presidential dollars to be released, four per year, in the order the presidents served. These coins are the result of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, which seeks to “revitalize the design of United States coinage” in the spirit of the “Golden Age of Coinage,” when Theodore Roosevelt commissioned designs from the nation’s leading artists. Under his impetus, coinage achieved a kind of visual poetry, culminating in the great trio of the Buffalo nickel, the Lincoln penny, and the $20 gold eagle—Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s stirring image of a confident and athletic woman striding forward, an optimistic figure of progress.

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On Presidents’ Day this month, the United States Mint released a new dollar coin bearing an image of George Washington. It is the first of a series of forty presidential dollars to be released, four per year, in the order the presidents served. These coins are the result of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, which seeks to “revitalize the design of United States coinage” in the spirit of the “Golden Age of Coinage,” when Theodore Roosevelt commissioned designs from the nation’s leading artists. Under his impetus, coinage achieved a kind of visual poetry, culminating in the great trio of the Buffalo nickel, the Lincoln penny, and the $20 gold eagle—Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s stirring image of a confident and athletic woman striding forward, an optimistic figure of progress.

The impulse to revive this period is noble; the results, alas, are not. The language of coins is preeminently linear—i.e., engraving with the line—and its strongest tool is the expressive silhouette. For this reason, the great coins of the past have invariably been based on profile. But profiles are evidently now deemed too severe. The new Washington dollar and the next three coins are three-quarter portraits, a pose that is lovelier on the canvas than on a piece of metal. These coins are likely to be collectors’ curios rather than the inspirational and instructive objects that were envisioned. There is something dispiriting about the industrial scale of the enterprise, which seems less suggestive of Saint-Gaudens than of the “commemorative” presidential plates and spoons one sees on home shopping channels.

A far more sweeping overhaul of our currency is inevitable, sooner or later, for no other reason than inflation. As David Margolick recently showed, the Lincoln penny—at the moment our finest item of currency—has become an object of contempt. There will need to be a reordering of the relative hierarchy of the principal coins in circulation. This will be traumatic; perhaps that trauma might be eased if some of the great designs of the Roosevelt era were imaginatively reintroduced—and perhaps assigned to different values and sizes of coins.

In any event, it is disconcerting to hold one of the new and unlovely Washington dollars and to look at the discarded pennies on the sidewalk. One usually thinks of Gresham’s Law as a metaphor, but in the case of American currency it is literally true: the bad coins are driving out the good.

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D’Souza’s Cynicism

Hard on the heels of Max Boot’s post on the subject, in the March issue of the New Criterion, Scott Johnson has an excellent review-essay on Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home. Johnson examines closely the book’s central idea: that, by allowing what D’Souza calls the “cultural left” to thrive, America brought the ire of Islamists down on its head. It’s a troubling and pernicious argument, and Johnson subjects it to well-deserved and damaging scrutiny. Enjoy.

Hard on the heels of Max Boot’s post on the subject, in the March issue of the New Criterion, Scott Johnson has an excellent review-essay on Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home. Johnson examines closely the book’s central idea: that, by allowing what D’Souza calls the “cultural left” to thrive, America brought the ire of Islamists down on its head. It’s a troubling and pernicious argument, and Johnson subjects it to well-deserved and damaging scrutiny. Enjoy.

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Ramadan’s Exclusion

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.

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Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.


Even leaving aside this and other contacts with leading terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, and the “blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center—all of which Ramadan denies—his claim to be a leading moderate who seeks to “westernize Islam” and believes in freedom of speech does not square with his public pronouncements. (For fuller documentation of these charges against Ramadan, please see this from the indispensible Daniel Pipes.) It is rank hypocrisy for Ramadan, who rarely condemns censorship in the Muslim world, to accuse the United States of “muffling critical opinion” and “requiring all its citizens to think the same way.”

Ramadan justified the protests against Danish cartoons of Mohammed, claiming that the Koran prohibits representations of Islamic prophets. (In fact, it does not.) He supported the Islamist campaign to ban Voltaire’s play about Mohammed, Fanaticism, at the French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. He refers to Islamist atrocities such as 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and Bali as “interventions” and denies that bin Laden was behind 9/11. He has praised the genocidal Sudanese Islamist regime. He attacked the French intellectuals Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy for “betraying the French Republic” by their support for “sectarianism”, a euphemism for Zionism, and scandalized many by identifying them as Jews. According to Mike Whine, head of the British Community Security Trust, an organization which monitors anti-Semitism, Ramadan has made many anti-Jewish statements and “is at the soft end of the extreme Islamist spectrum.”

We do not know precisely why the U.S. Department for Homeland Security has repeatedly turned down his application for a visa, despite elements in the State Department who would like to revoke the ban. The evidence against him may well include classified information. What we do know is that Ramadan has never abandoned his project of Islamification, and that he wants to pursue it in the heart of the United States. As the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan sees his own destiny in exalted terms. In his Chronicle piece, he speaks of the “period of transition” on which the West has embarked since the emergence of large Muslim minorities, who will require the host societies to make “major adjustments” to accommodate them. “We must move forward from integration,” he declares, while Muslims “must no longer see themselves as a ‘minority.’”

What does all this mean? What is Western society supposed to be in transition to—an Islamic one? What are these “major adjustments” that the Western democracies must make? What is wrong with the model of integration, which has served the United States well in the past, and why is it no longer good enough for Muslims? And why must Muslims no longer see themselves as a minority, if that is what they are?

Ramadan’s manifesto, moderate as it may sound, in reality amounts to a program of Islamification by stealth. His family was exiled from Egypt, and Ramadan remains persona non grata there, because the Muslim Brotherhood was and is seen as dangerous. It was the first and is still the largest Islamist organization in the world. Ramadan has achieved respectability in Europe, where he is feted by academics at Oxford and Geneva—he was even invited by the British government to sit on an advisory committee after the 7/7 subway bombings in London.

But the United States has looked more carefully at his record and decided that he represents a threat. To allow Ramadan’s brand of Islamism a platform in the heart of the American academy would be the equivalent of allowing, say, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt to lecture in the United States during the Third Reich. It was the judge who had prosecuted many Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, who warned that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” It is not incumbent on a democracy to allow its enemies the freedom to subvert its very existence. Tariq Ramadan is just such an enemy.

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Credit Where Credit Is Due?

Bank of America has inadvertently wandered into what might become the most interesting public policy debate of the next election cycle: illegal immigration. A week ago, the bank—the largest financial-services company in the country—began a pilot program to market its credit cards to people without asking for their Social Security numbers or other proof of citizenship. Without saying so outright, this seemed clearly a plan to turn undocumented, illegal aliens into Bank of America clients.

In a lawyerly way, Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO, defends the policy in today’s Wall Street Journal. But the issue cuts much deeper than the policies of financial services companies. It really addresses the question of what we do with the millions of immigrants who have arrived here illegally and , in some cases, have been here for a generation or more.

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Bank of America has inadvertently wandered into what might become the most interesting public policy debate of the next election cycle: illegal immigration. A week ago, the bank—the largest financial-services company in the country—began a pilot program to market its credit cards to people without asking for their Social Security numbers or other proof of citizenship. Without saying so outright, this seemed clearly a plan to turn undocumented, illegal aliens into Bank of America clients.

In a lawyerly way, Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO, defends the policy in today’s Wall Street Journal. But the issue cuts much deeper than the policies of financial services companies. It really addresses the question of what we do with the millions of immigrants who have arrived here illegally and , in some cases, have been here for a generation or more.

No one in the political sphere has taken on this issue directly. Border security and guest-worker programs don’t address the real issue of how to deal with people who, other than their undocumented status, are productive and law-abiding citizens. Tracking down all of them and deporting them is wildly unrealistic. Yet perhaps the Bank of America credit-card approach is the first in what will be a series of steps to mainstream this population.

There will be howls of protest, especially from the more nativist elements in the Republican and Democratic parties. There will also be all sorts of national-security arguments, as there were when Tennessee tried to give drivers’ licenses to undocumented aliens. But there is no escaping the question of how to bring aliens into the normal channels of American life. Bank of America’s decision to stick to its policy suggests that this question might ultimately be determined by gutsy and entrepreneurial businesses, not by poll-watching politicians.

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