Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Fighting words," Jan. 12, 2002

CIVIL LIBERTIES FOR AMERICANS? What kind of election can exist when the candidates are legally barred from expressing their political views? Columnist George Will writes that this very situation exists in Minnesota, where potential judges are forbidden from receiving party endorsement and from expressing "their views on disputed legal or political issues." The state GOP has sued and the case is headed for the Supreme Court. Mr. Will notes that while judges can't do anything "political," they are free to associate with various special interest groups-like the Trial Lawyer's Association. This is an absurd speech code, he argues. "When the dust settles from the terrorism crisis, attention should be paid to the perversely selective concern some people have shown these past few months about civil liberties," Mr. Will said. "The same sort of people who insist that unlawful noncitizen belligerents be accorded the full panoply of legal protections accorded to Americans accused of burglary are simultaneously eager to abridge Americans' core First Amendment right, that of unrestricted political speech." SELECTIVE GIVING: When politicians give to others, they also give to themselves. That's the lesson Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby takes from Congress planning to aid 9/11 victims as it gives itself a pay raise. The tax-free relief may be as much as $6 billion, but is it necessary? "To be sure, no amount of money can make up for the loss of a beloved parent, spouse, or child to a cruel act of terrorism," Mr. Jacoby remarks. "But that was also true for the families of those who were murdered by terrorists on Pan Am 103-or at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania-or in the Oklahoma City federal building-or in the first World Trade Center attack. Yet those families were not compensated with million-dollar government awards or exempted from taxes on two years' worth of income. Why should the Sept. 11 families be treated differently?" Mr. Jacoby notes that $1.5 billion in cash has been raised, plus hundreds of millions more in goods and services, for the families of the victims. He argues that charity isn't the government's business, "both because nothing in the Constitution authorizes it, and because it cannot be done with fairness." VETS AS PAWNS: Is Gulf War syndrome a real crisis? Science writer Michael Fumento has taken up the contrarian stance once again. In Reason, he notes that the Defense Department, "exhausted by years of defending itself against charges of cover-ups and callousness," will start paying benefits to vets with Lou Gehrig's disease. Mr. Fumento said this is the start of a trend. "We will begin making presumptive payments for more and more illnesses among Gulf vets," thanks to questionable claims and media hype. "This game has continued for eight years now, and as always the pawns are America's vets," he said. "Somebody purportedly finds a link between Gulf service and some health problem. But the studies are either unreproducible or outright refuted." The Lou Gehrig's disease decision was based on preliminary findings of a link after two previous studies showed no connection. "There have been a plethora of previous studies making every possible health comparison between Gulf vets and non-Gulf vets.... Many were published in peer-reviewed medical journals, such as The New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Epidemiology," Mr. Fumento writes. "None found any links between Gulf service and illness." FREEDOM'S CHAMPIONS: With Phil Gramm and Dick Armey both planning retirement, William Murchison penned a fond tribute to them in The Dallas Morning News. Both had campaigned hard for the paper's endorsement during their early days, and the columnist built a great fondness for them. Mr. Murchison praised Sen. Gramm as an outspoken free-market visionary. "You couldn't help liking a man who spoke his mind so plainly and with such charm and humor." Rep. Armey impressed him as "the genuine article: smart, capable, devoted to the right principles, namely, the principles that undergird freedom." Their departure leaves a big hole. "These are men of my own generation, stepping aside voluntarily before the sun goes down," he concludes. "I wonder if their like will come again soon."

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