Two years ago the Army introduced a new battle uniform for combat troops. The problem is that when it was issued, according to one official report, “responses from the field were universally unfavorable.” The Grenadan invasion force in particular complained that the uniform was too hot and heavy, and there is evidence that this is so even in temperate climates. So what’s the Army going to do? According to the Associated Press, it’s going right ahead with plans to spend $400 million to buy more of the uniforms. . . .
The Reagan administration has a good idea. It wants to eliminate 40,000 jobs in the GS 11-15 range. It’s a good idea because that’s where the fat is most conspicuous. But it’s going about it the wrong way, with across-the-board cuts in every agency. So the handful of efficient, well-run agencies where everyone works hard all day will suffer just as much as those that appear to be on a perpetual coffee break. . . .
Did you know that the risk of those Navy reconnaissance flights over Lebanon could have been avoided? The Israelis use pilotless drones for such work. They offered to let us have some of their drones. The Pentagon, in its great wisdom, said, “No thanks.”. . .
If appearances are correct, some good guys have finally attained power in Argentina and are running considerable personal risk in taking on the military on the issue of all those Argentines who have simply disappeared in recent years. I hope some prominent members of Congress will visit Buenos Aires to show support for the new government. Since it is not right-wing authoritarian, it does not seem likely to win the warm support of the Reagan administration. . . .
Those of you who fear that America is losing its productive genius will not be comforted to learn that Eastman Kodak, for so long the proud creator and manufacturer of its own products, did not develop and is not making its new color video camera. The camera is being produced by Matsushita, which as you may guess is not located in Rochester, New York. A Kodak spokesman says, “With our joint venture with Matsushita, we can spend our money on marketing, advertising, and promotion, not on retooling for manufacturing.”. . .
While the fellows who run the Soviet Union have never erred on the side of being nice guys, lately things appear to be getting worse. According to a recent report from Moscow by Robert Gillette of The Los Angeles Times: “Soviet authorities detained, tried, and convicted a Moscow human rights activist, Tatyana Trusova, in a single day and immediately dispatched her to a labor camp.” Previously, Gillette points out, they at least had tried to give an appearance of due process, which meant the victim could count on several months’ delay before being shipped to Siberia. . . .
Fifteen years have gone by since the first issue of this magazine was published. What have we accomplished over those years? That’s hard to say because the results of our efforts remain unclear. It’s easier to talk about what we’ve been trying to do, for we’re very clear about that.
We’ve been trying to create a new kind of political journalism and a new kind of political thought. Both efforts spring from the same desire to connect ideas with facts, to look at reality without having our vision limited by the blinders imposed by the conventional political views of the right or left, to see problems in the round, not in one-dimensional slices as prisoners of the old biases tended to do.
We rejected the traditional distinction between journalist and intellectual. We felt that journalists were not thinking about the meaning of the stories they were writing and intellectuals were failing to immerse themselves in experiences that might make them see how their thinking should change. The intellectual pondered in his study while the reporter was out slogging through the facts.
We wanted one person to find the facts and to think about their significance. That meant we had to recruit young people who had not been brainwashed by the conventional journalistic training that taught reporters to be stenographers. It also meant that we had to recruit writers who had the intellectual curiosity and courage to partake of many disciplines, including history, economics, political science, psychology, and anthropology, in order to portray the fullness of the problems they reported and to explore the range and depth of the possible solutions.
We also rejected much of the traditional distinction between journalist and novelist. Of course, the journalist shouldn’t make up his stories. But there is no reason he should not try to bring to his work the novelist’s flair for conveying mood and tone and feeling. Certainly, he should strive to attain the empathy the best novelists have for the people they describe, for empathy is the key to understanding motivation, which in turn is so often the key to understanding the behavior of the public figures journalists cover.
Obviously none of us at the Monthly has succeeded in being all that we wanted—God knows there have been times we’ve fallen on our faces trying. But along with a number of writers from other publications, we have begun to break down the prejudices that kept journalists from believing that they could or should possess and use in their work the skills of the novelist and of the intellectual.
Out of this new kind of reporting, there has emerged a new political philosophy that has come to be called neoliberalism. When we looked, for example, at the problem of the economy, we saw that labor and management shared the guilt. If we had worn conservative or liberal blinders, we would have seen the fault of only one. And if we had not tried to see the problem whole, we would have failed to see that the problem is usually not one-dimensionally evil labor leaders or corporate executives. Instead, by trying to see beyond ideological and economic forces to the psychology of human beings reacting to institutional pressures, we saw why perfectly decent labor leaders were bullied by the lowest common denominator of their constituency and perfectly decent managers were seduced by short-term profit.
Trying to see both sides does not mean that we end up as middle-of-the-roaders who split the difference between extremes. We are moderates in temperament, having a high regard for civility and common sense, but our solutions can stray far from the middle of the road. Sometimes, as with our call for a return to political patronage as a way of restoring democratic accountability, we shock both the right and left. We have been attacked by the Nation and Commonweal on the left and by the National Review, Human Events, and The American Spectator on the right. Liberals tend to regard the civil service as sacred and untouchable, and conservatives, though skeptical of bureaucracy, fear giving more power to the people. Neoliberals simply say: look at the facts as they are now. At one time there was too much political patronage; now there’s too much civil service, and the performance of government agencies like the post office is suffering because of it. The essence of neoliberalism is a continuing willingness to take such fresh looks at the facts and to change our minds when the facts change. This doesn’t mean we’re rudderless pragmatists. We are liberals who believe in the Golden Rule, the First Amendment, and the Declaration of Independence. But that is the extent of our ideological inflexibility. . . .
Ernest Hollings is probably the brightest and most engaging of the Democratic presidential candidates. Unfortunately, his Southern accent is so thick that it’s hard for Yankees to understand him. Thus when he was interviewed by The New York Times recently, “more steaming hours” came out as “more scheming hours,” General Seignious became General “Sieglitz,” the AH-64 helicopter became the E-64. One mangling of a Hollings remark on Social Security could lose him the vote of everyone over the age of 50—”they’d not receive that COLA for one year” became “they’d not receive that all for one year.”. . .
For those who think that a communist government, while possibly not quite solicitous enough about human rights, would nevertheless do much better than capitalism in curbing industrial abuses, there is this report by Reuters from Moscow:
“Heavy industrial pollution is killing off thousands of acres of forest around the Soviet auto-making city of Togliatti, the Communist party daily, Pravda, said today in a rare report on the environment.
“It said ‘bitter smoke’ hung permanently over the hills and around the industrial center on the Volga River and suggested ecological damage would soon create a wasteland there.”. . .
The high moral tone of the bar continues to manifest itself. Consider the 20 to 30 elite drug lawyers who offer highly skilled counsel to major smugglers. “Many of the elite,” according to the Los Angeles Times, “are former prosecutors, respected lawyers, who lecture at law schools and anchor prestigious firms.”
“It’s just a fact that some of the best lawyers handle the drug cases,” says a Florida law professor. Why? What inspires them to respond to this calling? “It’s the numbers,” says the professor, “fees perhaps of $250,000.”
“Most drug arrests,” reports the Times, “begin with some kind of police search; some of the searches involve warrants. The drug lawyer invariably challenges the warrant or the search in hopes of getting the evidence suppressed on the grounds that it was seized unconstitutionally.” This tactic avoids embarrassing courtroom scenes with bags of cocaine stacked in front of the jury.
One of these elite lawyers, when faced with a client who had been caught with 400 pounds of cocaine, discovered that the police had acted on a tip provided by a confidential informant. He persuaded the court that he was entitled to the name of the informant. The informant was too valuable for the state to expose so the case was dropped.
This is a perfect example of the insanity of the law. If the defendant was caught red-handed with the cocaine, what possible relevance did the name of the informant have to the case? It might have been relevant if there was any possibility that the client was falsely accused of possessing cocaine, but since he was arrested with the stuff in his possession, there was no way the identity of the tipster could bear on the issue of guilt or innocence. . . .
I hope you didn’t miss Russell Baker’s column proposing that we give Japan one American lawyer for every Japanese car we import. The high promise of this idea is apparent from the fact that we now have 600,000 lawyers and we plan to import 600,000 Japanese cars.
Baker fears, however, that the Japanese are on to him, and quotes a secret memorandum from Tokyo: “These schemers have plans for infesting our society with hundreds of thousands of men cunningly trained in the art of stopping all constructive activity, of bringing entire societies to a dead standstill.”. . .
Judges, you must remember, started out as lawyers, so you can’t expect them to be much of an improvement. Take the Supreme Court of Montana, which not long ago proclaimed that the state’s government agencies must give absolute preference in hiring to veterans and the disabled. Does the court practice what it preaches? Of course not. The judges realize it’s a silly decision so they simply ignore it in their own hiring. . . .
Those of us who tend to favor a considerable amount of deregulation have been forced to swallow some unhappy consequences in our airline and telephone service. We are also probably going to have to accept the fact that banking deregulation has not been an unqualified success either. With the lifting of ceilings on interest rates that can be paid on deposits, financial institutions have had to pay more interest to attract deposits, which, is one reason they are charging more interest on the money they loan.
Not only do these institutions seek a higher return on the money they loan, they also seek a higher return on the money they invest. This in turn drives up the interest that has to be paid on corporate and municipal bonds. . . .
Another liberal view that may require modification is the belief that making people share in the cost of their health care might cause people to get less care than they need. But a recent Rand Corporation study seems to suggest otherwise. It found no difference in the health of one group that had received free care and another that had shared, by paying a modest part, the cost of the service. Together with an earlier Rand study that found health care costs were 50 percent higher for the freecare group than for the costsharers, it suggests that costsharing may be a way to reduce medical costs without harming health. Anyway, the point here, as with the deregulation cases above, is that we must always be ready to re-examine our prejudices in the light of experience. That readiness, remember, is the essence of neoliberalism. . . .
Here’s the latest installment of Reaganomics Meets Rodeo Drive. A car dealer in New York is advertising in a bold headline “TO YOU IT’S A $40,000 MERCEDES BENZ. TO THE IRS, IT’S A $40,000 TAX DEDUCTION.” The ad goes on to explain that “certain provisions in the 1982 tax code” permit you to reduce your taxable income by figuring depreciation on your Mercedes and taking the investment tax credit—by the entire $40,000 cost in three years. . . .
Speaking of tax deductions, I’m sure you want to know the latest on how our friends the lawyers are getting theirs. Next month’s Mid-Winter Convention (note: here’s another example of the trend toward taking taxpayers to the cleaners twice a year by holding both winter and summer conventions) of the American Trial Lawyers Association offers “a perfect way to blend education, relaxation, good eating, fascinating shopping, and sheer good fun.” The convention will be held in New Orleans during Mardi Gras week. We are of course completely confident that emphasis will be given to the educational aspect. . . .
The National Education Association is once again demonstrating its dedication to improving our schools. It has, according to the Associated Press, launched an attack on a plan to require teachers in Arkansas to take competency tests, charging that testing would be “demeaning” to teachers. AP quotes the president of the Arkansas Education Association as saying, people “will certainly think twice before they enter the teaching profession in the state of Arkansas.” If the tests are sensible, only incompetent teachers will have to think twice. Is that bad?. . .
The NEA wants its members judged by credentials instead of by competence. Yet over and over again we learn how meaningless credentials can be. The latest example comes from Lynchburg College in Virginia, where Professor James B. Cocking was, according to The Washington Post, described by students and other professors as “brilliant” and “a sparkling teacher” of Greek, Latin, French, and Spanish, and had been the winner of the college’s distinguished teaching award in 1981.
Cocking, it turns out, didn’t have any advanced degrees. He was, of course, fired immediately. Yet what difference does it make whether he had any degrees? If he had the ability to teach languages to American students he had one of the rarest and most clearly demonstrable of academic skills.
These cases are always complicated by the fact that the faculty member in question has lied about his credentials, so that his dismissal can be justified on that ground alone. Nevertheless, the point remains that actual knowledge of a subject and ability to communicate it to others, and not credentials, should be the relevant factors in judging teachers. . . .
I was delighted by the resolution of the Eastern Airlines strike. Eastern had a problem, shared by many other airlines, of labor costs that were too high. At first it tried to strong-arm its unions into accepting a cut. Then wiser heads prevailed and a compromise was reached under which the workers accepted a substantial cut but got 25 percent of the company’s stock in exchange. Thus, if their sacrifice helps make the company prosperous again, they are assured of a fair share of the profits they helped create. . . .
Three of the more infamous military abuses of the taxpayer are coming under attack these days. One is the commissary system, which sells servicemen and retirees groceries, appliances, and lots of other things at prices 25 percent or more below what the rest of us pay. The commissaries were established when most military bases were in the deserts out West or in other places far removed from civilization—and when the military was underpaid. So the idea of the government establishing stores in these distant places and offering bargains seemed only the right thing to do. But now almost all bases are surrounded by regular stores, the military is well paid, and we taxpayers should save ourselves $324 million by shutting down the commissaries, which is the recommendation of the Grace Commission.
At the same time, the Treasury Department is considering abolishing the mortgage interest deduction for military personnel who receive a housing allowance. That’s not fair, you say. They should get the same tax break the rest of us get. But the catch is they now get two breaks for the same thing—one the mortgage interest deduction, the other the housing allowance, which just happens to be tax-free.
The third and greatest outrage is the retirement system under which military personnel can retire at half pay after only 20 years of service. Even the Pentagon can’t stomach this—one of its study commissions is going to recommend that retirement pay be cut from 50 to 35 percent. But the real answer is to abolish 20-year retirement. We should encourage good people not to leave but to stay by offering more generous retirement after much longer service. . . .
My friend George Ott points out that while Ronald Reagan says, “In virtually every measure of military power, the Soviet Union enjoys a decided advantage,” military leaders sing a somewhat different tune:
First let’s hear from General John Vessey, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Asked if he would trade his capabilities with those of Marshal Ogarkov, his opposite number in the U.S.S.R., General Vessey replied, “Not on your life.” Earlier, his predecessor, General David Jones, when asked the same question, responded, “I would not swap our present military capability with that of the Soviet Union.”
Now let’s hear from Admiral Thomas Hayward, recently retired chief of naval operations: “I would not trade the U.S. Navy for the Soviet Navy under any circumstances.” And General Lew Allen, former Air Force chief of staff, says: “I would not trade the United States Air Force for its Soviet counterpart. Our people are better motivated, trained, and educated than their Soviet counterparts, and in most areas the quality of our weaponry is unsurpassed. . . . There is no question that the U.S. Air Force is the finest in the world.”. . .
Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and the other debtor nations may be in better shape than they realize. Those who are into American banks for really substantial sums may actually be in the driver’s seat. They can just about call their own tune on the terms of repayment, renegotiating both the length of the loan and the amount of interest. If the banks don’t like it, what are they going to do—foreclose on Brazil? The banks are in fact terrified that the debtor nations will repudiate their debt and thus reveal the banks’ balance sheets as the fictions that they are. . . .
At a somewhat more modest level of the banking business, Jeffrey Kummer and Jim McCartney of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press have revealed that the local Metropolitan Council switched a $5.2 million deposit to the Capitol City State Bank shortly after the bank had loaned $750,000 to the council president and his firm. This is a common practice, not only by state and local government officials but by officials of private organizations that have substantial funds to deposit. The bank that gets the deposit makes sure that the official who steered it to the bank is taken care of whenever he needs a loan. . . .
Skilled practitioners of the art of public relations—in the old days they were called press agents—can come up with items that get their clients mentioned in the press but that are interesting or amusing enough that few people realize what’s going on or mind it if they do. Unfortunately, such skill is uncommon, and unless editors are vigilant, we are treated to items like this one from the “Washington Ways” column of The Washington Post:
“Rose Narva, the eminence elegante of the refurbished Hay-Adams Hotel, may seem out of step as the rest of Washington dances off toward the Super Bowl, but there’s a reason: Her thing in life is luxury hotels, not gridiron heroics. In fact, as Narva flew off to Lincoln, Nebraska, a few weeks ago, it was not to pay homage to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (pre-Miami, when they were Number 1 among college footballers) but to help her boss, multimillionaire financier David Murdoch open his newly reborn hotel, also known as the Cornhusker. So when she found the hotel and most of the town draped with big red ‘Ns’ upon her arrival, naturally she thought they were welcoming Narva, not celebrating University of Nebraska football fanaticism .”. . .
Speaking of the Post, I fear that the people who write its editorials have an excessive regard for the experts. Not long ago they ran an editorial urging “more caution in revising the insanity defense,” recommending that the views of the American Bar Association and the American Psychiatric Association be given great weight, and concluding, “Lawyers and psychiatrists are the professionals most closely involved with the insanity defense, and their views should be persuasive.”
This sounds eminently respectable and indeed it is the respectable opinion. It is also wrong. You don’t have to be a lawyer or a psychiatrist to have the common sense to realize that insanity has nothing to do with whether someone committed a crime or not and that it should not be used—as is the case in most states today—as a defense that can keep the perpetrator from being found guilty of doing what he in fact did. Insanity, on the other hand, should be considered in determining the treatment accorded the convicted person. And it doesn’t take a lawyer or a psychiatrist to understand that either.
The Post next, in an editorial entitled “He Shouldn’t Have Done It,” condemned Jesse Jackson for intruding “into a sensitive foreign negotiation whose ins and outs could not possibly have been fully known to him.” In other words, Jesse should have left it to the experts, those same fellows who have been doing such a wonderful job for us all the time we’ve been in Lebanon. . . .
A recent column by Peter Pringle of the London Observer reminded me of the disaster that was Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, under which we gave atomic secrets to the world under the illusion that they would be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The Voice of America produced broadcasts entitled “Atomic Locomotive Designed” and “Forestry Expert Predicts Atomic Rays Will Cut Lumber.” No timber was felled but there seems to be no doubt that the program permitted India, and probably several other countries, to build the bomb.