Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

In American parlance, the source of the killing in Iraq gets more and more mysterious. Ambassador Khalizad says more Iraqis are being killed by militia violence than by the terrorists. The Washington Post adds to its report, "He did not say which militias he meant nor did he define who the terrorists were." When the U. S. military is asked about these things, they profess to know nothing, although they're always investigating everything. What the outcomes of these investigations are never quite comes to light. No one seems willing to say publicly that the U.S. invasion has sparked such widespread violence the country is moving deeper into murderous chaos every day. American forces are now accused of shooting up a mosque in northern Baghdad and killing sixteen people. The U. S. military says that no mosques were entered or damaged during the operation, which raises the question of whether the Americans know what a mosque is. If they don't, that would fit with their not knowing anything else about the country. General George W. Casey has promised to investigate this also. One might be forgiven for suspecting that the American forces have no time to do anything other than investigate themselves. The gap between what's happening in Iraq and what American officials say about it has become so wide no one can peer across it. Is this not obvious to everyone who pays the slightest attention?

Zacarias Moussaoui wants to be a big deal in al Qaeda's war against America. He was not a big deal in the past, but that doesn't seem to matter any more. The United States government wants to kill him and he is happy to help by getting up on the stand and bragging about how he wanted to kill Americans. Now, the only drama left in his sad case is whether a jury of U.S. citizens will help him achieve his goal. If the U.S. government gets its way and kills him, then he will become a symbol all around the world. He will help violent haters of America recruit more converts to their ranks. And he will make stronger, among people who ought to be our friends, the belief -- already far too strong -- that America is a brutal, vicious country that shouldn't be helped by anyone. This is so obvious it's hard to see how anyone can doubt it. And, yet, the odds, at least as reported by the media, are that the jury will line up behind Moussaoui. We can only hope they are strong enough, and wise enough, not to give in to him

Brian Forst is a professor of government at American University. He specializes in the U.S. criminal justice system. He estimates that there are ten thousand wrongful convictions in this country every year. In a Washington Post op/ed piece he says these come about mostly through a combination of witness mistakes and bad luck. The main cost of what he calls (oxymoronically) "errant justice" is that people lose faith in the legitimacy of the legal system. And so, he calls for better management of the system to weed out errors. Better management would be a good thing, but unless the system is refashioned to reward accuracy rather than conviction, changes in style of management are unlikely to make much of a difference. The main problem with our criminal justice system is that the people who work in it and try to scramble up its various career ladders are bent on throwing people in jail. Most of them probably would rather incarcerate a guilty person over an innocent one. But if it came down to jailing an innocent person versus no jailing at all, we can't be sure. These people want to close cases and when somebody is put in jail the case is closed. There's a reason why we in America have more people in jail than does any other comparable country. It's because we have built into our system an inherent conflict of interest. The ideal says to punish only the guilty. But the reward system says to punish somebody, regardless of what he did.

Newt Gingrich and David Merritt have posted an article in the Boston Globe which argues that, in the main, the new Medicare drug program is working well. But if you read the article carefully you'll notice that not a word is said about who gets the money that's being borrowed to support the system. An essential feature of the industry-driven government we've had over the past five years is the perfect faith that a few crumbs thrown to the public will divert their attention away from who the major beneficiaries are. In the case of this bill, anyone who looks at it knows the big rewards go to insurance companies and the drug industry. Drug consumers come in a distant third. Both Gingrich and Merritt are officials of the Center for Health Transformation. And guess who is one of the Center's largest institutional members -- the America's Health Insurance Plans. If that doesn't tell you something then you haven't taken any interest in how our economic system works.

There's important truth in Michael Kinsley's piece in the Washington Post titled, "The Twilight of Objectivity." He says everyone agrees the internet is going to alter journalism. But how? The internet is filled with howling voices which make no pretense of objectivity and seem to be driving newspaper readership ever downward. Perhaps it would be a good thing if so-called "objective" newspapers were laid to rest, but only, Kinsley says, if, in giving up objectivity, they adopted intellectual honesty. It's hard to understand how the notion ever got abroad that honesty and objectivity are the same thing. I recall that when I was in graduate school, I used to ask my professors what objectivity was, and never did I get a sensible answer. Even though they talked up objectivity in the strongest way, they didn't know. Kinsley does a good job of summarizing the principal elements of intellectual honesty. His column is worth reading for that alone. But it's main value lies in pointing out that in striving for objectivity reporters often arrive at the very opposite of honesty.

American journalism is notorious for its inability to peer even a couple inches beneath the surface. But every now and then, in a newspaper, you will find a writer who does. William Pfaff's recent piece in the Boston Globe is an example. He says there's more to the current French protests than meets the eye. Ostensibly they are about a minor change that will allow French employers to be more flexible in managing their work force. But what they really signify, says Pfaff, is an ongoing debate in Europe about what kind of capitalism a country should adopt. The old version of a capitalist corporation, which had some responsibility to workers and to the general society, has been under assault for the past thirty-five years. The thrust against it has come from America. The newer version, the American version, has corporate managers being concerned only with the short term interests of themselves and stockholders. This the French call "capitalisme sauvage." The underlying truth about resistance to America all around the world is that the opposition has its basis in a dislike of this form of capitalism. People believe that the model is inconsistent with standards of national justice. And they're right. The major political decision facing us, the people of the United States, over the next decades is whether we want to be the champions of this savage capitalism or whether we want to join with the other people of the world in redirecting capitalism's energies. It's probably not too much to say that it will be a struggle for the soul of the nation.

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