The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on September 15, 1999 · Page 25
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September 15, 1999

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 25

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Wednesday, September 15, 1999
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THE PALM BEACH POST WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1999 19A Wise Stein knew there's more to life than economics ussia not lost, just misplaced "I think that most people even those who read the Editorial and Op-Ed pages do not want to encounter opposing views. They want a good expression and confirmation of the views they have, or the views they would have if they thought about the subject. I can see that tendency in myself." Those shrewd words are among the many bits of contrarian wisdom offered by a smart, puckish and exceptionally honest commentator who, alas, will no longer be around to prick our intellectual balloons. Herbert Stein chairman of President Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, columnist for Hie Wall Street Journal, contributor to the online magazine Slate died on Wednesday at the age of 83. His is a voice I'll truly miss. E.J. Dionne Jr. As I write those words, I realize I'm falling into the very trap that Mr. Stein described. Of course, I liked him in part because he was a contrarian conservative who often said what I was thinking, better than I could. His arguments had special power, coming from an unapologetic free-market economist who nonetheless insisted there was more to life than economics. "The children growing up in wretched families, in unsafe schools, and in vicious streets are also 'our' children," he wrote. "A decent respect for family values calls for more concern with them and more commitment to them than is shown by most of those who now wave the flag of family values." You have to love an economist willing to say such a thing. And, yes, I revered him for his role as house dissident on the Journal's edi What is lost when it comes to Russia is unrealistic expectations. At least it's not keeping us up nights anymore. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing. I would like to begin this disquisition on Russia Who lost it and where has it gone? with an account of that day long ago when a certain Mr. Smith went into the ocean for a dip and was never seen to come out. In short order, the lifeguards were diving for him, his wife was weeping for him and a crowd had gathered on the beach. Among the curious, as it turned out, was Mr. Smith himself. He wondered who was missing. Richard Cohen It is the same with Russia. We are looking all over for who lost it, but look again it is not lost. It is not only precisely where it should be, astride the Eurasian land mass, but, more important, it is also a quasi-free society. Yes, it is corrupt, crime-ridden, inefficient and terribly poor, but it is not as it was for so long a disturber of our sleep. I happen not to know if much of Russia's wealth was laundered through the Bank of New York (and other institutions) and sagaciously invested by mobsters in BMWs, stunning blondes and large houses with multi-car garages. I do know, though, that our worst fears about Russia have not come true: It is neither a fascist nor communist power. This is no minor accomplishment. Russia, as opposed to, say, Poland or the Czech Republic, was never a democracy not even for the five minutes or so between the two world wars. It was always governed by an authoritarian system of some kind first the monarchy and then communism. For most of this century, it had no free-market system. It took about 75 years, but the communists thoroughly ruined Russia. But the fact that we are able to l, wwnjMiin.i.jiiiinm. ..n. i.i i torial page. That page's stubborn insistence that cutting capital gains taxes and income tax rates on the wealthy was always and everywhere the right thing to do didn't square with Mr. Stein's reading of the evidence. And for Mr. Stein, evidence mattered. "Given the behavior of the stock market and the record high proportion of the population that is employed," he wrote this summer. "I find it talk about "Russia" at all is no minor achievement. It has not moved to recapture the old Soviet satellites not the Baltic states where so many ethnic Russians still live and not, either, the republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia which were Russian before they were Soviet but which, ethnically, were always something else. In its own way, Russia even cooperated in Kosovo and, earlier, in Bosnia. By any measure, this is not the stuff of failure. What has been lost when it comes to Russia is unrealistic expectations. The first and most important of them concerned Boris Yeltsin. He is hardly the Lincol-nesque figure of President Clinton's silly rhetoric, but he is, it seems, going to stumble and reel to the end of his term and then go. Whatever may be said about Mr. Yeltsin, he has yet to assume dictatorial powers or try to. The second unrealistic expectation was that Russia, somehow, was going to become a Western power. A decade ago, you could hear a lot of talk about the vast potential of Russia and how fortunes could be made there. A virtual Wall Street-to-Moscow shuttle flew into operation and, for a time, good money was made. Reality, though, burst that bubble. Russia is not now and never has been a Western country not even "Eastern" in the sense of Japan, Singapore or South Korea. It is weirdly and strangely Russian. We live in an era of false calamities. School violence is declining yet we are making jails of our schools. Out-of-wedlock births are down, yet politicians like Dan Quayle quiver and quake about single mommies and how darn it! we are all going to hell in a handbasket. The supposed loss of Russia is in that very handbasket. It's probably true that American policy-makers hugged Mr. Yeltsin a bit too closely. It's probably true that good money was thrown after bad. It is no doubt true that corruption has replaced ballet as the one thing Russians do best. But Russia has always been corrupt and so, for that matter, is much of the world. It also seems true, though, that infusions of cash kept the Yeltsin regime (and his prime minister du jour) afloat. That, as Martha Stewart had often remarked (in a somewhat different context) is a good thing. Check your memories. Remember stories about possible coups about the threat of the nationalists and that crackpot Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky? Remember the warnings of pogroms and how the Jews of Russia were in imminent, awful danger? Remember how we all held our breaths as the communists sneaked back into government? If you remember these things then it's hard to say that Russia is, somehow, lost. It's precisely where it has been for some time in a muddle but not at our throats. What's really lost, it seems, is memory. Richard Cohen is a columnist for The Washington Post. Mr. Stein i East Timor is no Kosovo, so U.S. should stay out NATO and even the alliance itself would be thrown into question. The Kosovo operation was in part meant to prove that NATO was still relevant in a post-Soviet Europe. None of this applies to conflicts outside Europe. hard to buy the supply-side proposition that present taxes are depressing risk-taking and the supply of labor." Indeed. He said this in a piece counseling against cutting taxes now. It's to the credit of an opinion page that often enforces orthodoxy with the confidence of the Vatican's Osservatore Romano that its editors allowed Mr. Stein to go his merry, independent-minded way. And Mr. Stein's merry way was a large part of his appeal. Parodying those who thought the government could solve any problem Mr. Stein really was a Republican he once suggested that to solve the country's nagging marriage problem, the feds might set themselves up as providers of "spouses of last resort." Now that is big government. ' But if Mr. Stein poked fun, he didn't excoriate or ridicule. He didn't set himself up as a paragon of genius or virtue. He presented evidence, including inconvenient evidence. "If he presented five points, one of them usually went against his own position," said Michael Kinsley, his editor at Slate. "Whenever a colleague questions my father's approach to an issue," son Ben wrote in The American Enterprise magazine on his dad's 80th birthday, "my father's first inquiry is whether he, my father, might be wrong, not the other guy. When he disagrees, he does it with minimum force and maximum politesse." How different is that from what we've become accustomed to in commentary? This was a person plying two trades economics and opinion writing both notorious for predictions offered with utter certainty. When Mr. Stein made a prediction, he reminded you of all the variables that could make things go the other way. "Here are my own views," he wrote in his Wall Street Journal tax piece this summer, "which I recognize may be wrong." Mr. Stein once offered Slate readers his list of "unfamiliar quotations," reprinted in a lovely collection of essays called What I Think (AEI Press, 1998). There is this delightful gem from Richard Nixon: ."Honesty may not be the best policy, but it is worth trying once in a while." And there is this line, which Mr. Stein described as "an advance comment on the Information Age of which we are now so proud." T.S. Eliot wrote: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" Mr. Stein valued both knowledge and information. But as a true conservative, he knew wisdom mattered more. EJ. Dionne Jr. is a political columnist for The Washington Post. His e-mail address is postchataol.com ' -TV V--. " weakening the Indonesian government. This is because the civilian officials do not appear to be in control of the military units carrying out repression in East Timor. Punishing the fledgling democratic government by military action could defeat our own purposes. So where does that leave the noble principle of humanitarian intervention, so triumphantly affirmed in Kosovo? About where it began: as the exception rather than the rule. Intervention will occur where it can be done relatively cheaply, against a weak nation, in an area both accessible and strategic, where the public's emotions are aroused and where it does not get in the way of other political, economic or military needs. However realistic this may be, it is deeply regrettable on moral grounds. The special tragedy of this case is that the "international community" monitored an election whose predictable results an overwhelming vote for independence it had no intention of guaranteeing. But in the end, the quest for self-determination which is what led to the current murderous repression is relative, not absolute. People have the right to seek their own independent state. But others will come to their defense only where they believe their own self-interest is involved. That is where the line is being drawn today in East Timor. Ronald Steel, author oTemptations of a Superpower (Harvard University Press, 1996), teaches international relations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He wrote this article for The New York Times. By Ronald Steel "Because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we should bomb Dili," national security adviser Samuel Berger says about the atrocities in East Timor, which seem to have been committed by militias supported by elements of the Indonesian military. Well, why not? The case for intervention in Dili is stronger than it was in Kosovo. Kosovo, after all, was a province of Serbia and had been for centuries. East Timor was never a part of Indonesia until it was seized by the Jakarta government in 1975. Its people overwhelmingly voted for independence in a recent United Nations-monitored election that the Indonesian government promised to honor. Yet, after days of violence and hundreds of deaths, the West has only asked, albeit forcefully, that Indonesia allow international peacekeeping troops into East Timor. If the United States intervened for humanitarian reasons to support the Kosovars, even to the point of bombing Serbia, why shouldn't it do the same against Indonesia? One reason is that, all the rhetoric aside, we did not intervene in Kosovo primarily for humanitarian purposes. The plight of the Kosovar refugees is what tugged at the public's heartstrings. But if American foreign policy were driven mainly by such concerns, we would have sent a few thousand troops to Rwanda to stop the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus. What tipped the balance in the case of Kosovo, as in the case of Bosnia, were two concerns: that the conflict would spread to other areas of the Balkans and beyond, and that American leadership' of Witness, for example, the West's nonre-sponse to and even lack of interest in the Russian repression in Chechnya. Unless Indonesia changes its mind and allows in troops, the East Timorese will most likely be left to fend largely for themselves. This will happen not only because East Timor is far from the North Atlantic world, but also because of the size and importance of Indonesia. The world's fourth most-populous nation, Indonesia is rich in natural resources and a prime trading partner for American corpora EMMANUEL DUNANDAP An East Timorese father, wearing a scarf in the red and white colors of the Indonesian flag for protection from anti-independence terrorists, holds his child Saturday in Dili. tions. It is a logical counter to any potential Chinese expansion. Furthermore, unlike puny Serbia, it is a serious military power. Moreover, we have good reason to avoid Grown-ups showing zero tolerance for T-shirts and pink hair Well, children, with the school term just about getting started, it is time for your first lesson in what is called Maturity, or How to Behave Like Big People. Yes, you are never too young to begin If the idea of education is to help children become intelligent adults, the adults running the schools sure are doing a bang-up job. acting like you re all grown up. In fact, when you think about it, that is the main purpose of the entire elementary and high school educational system, to teach children how to become adults. The easiest way ities recently banned the wearing of sports clothes bearing the trade name "Billabong." The brand name became very popular at Winneconne High School this semester, but when Principal Ed Dombrowski spotted junior Adam Szadkows-ki wearing a Billabong shirt, he sent the youth to a restroom to turn the garment inside out so the name wouldn't show. Then he issued an order forbidding any student from wearing the Billabong label. Mr. Dombrowski, it seems, must have been thinking back to the 1960s when a "bong" meant a pipe used to smoke dope. He apparently did not know that billabongh an Australian slang word for a lagoon, as in the Aussie song Waltzing Matilda, that begins Once a jolly swag-man camped by a billabong . . . Anyway, the students protested and Schools Superintendent Robert Reinke overturned the ban. Young Szadkowski, whose shirt sparked the whole mess, had this to say, according to the Chicago Tribune: Then there's the Midlothian Middle School, near Richmond, Va. On her first day of class, eighth-grader Veronique Jade Bunk was sent home because she had pink hair, and she was ordered not to return until it was back to its natural color. Of course, the American Civil Liberties Union got into the act, sending a letter to Principal Edward Leslie, threatening a lawsuit and reminding him of the constitutional amendment that says we have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and pink hair. That made the school officials give in, and now Veronique is back in class, pink hair and all. "I want to be myself," the girl said. "It's what I like." The principal had told her parents that the hair was distracting to other students. I can agree with him to a point. If I remember my own attention span at that tender age, Veronique's hair would have distracted me for exactly 3.7 seconds, after which I would resume daydreaming about my girlfriend or the chances of my someday playing second base for the Yankees. But again, children, we have an educator who acted in an adult fashion. That is, he worried more about what was on top of a student's head than what was in that head. But we needn't travel out to Wisconsin or even up to Virginia for inspiration. Right here in Palm Beach County, members of the school board are setting an example every day in how to act like mature, responsible, grown-up human beings. That is, when they aren't accusing their own lawyer of trying to assassinate them. As I said at the beginning of this lesson, you students need only look around to find dozens of examples of how to become an adult. Follow those examples and you might grow up to be just like the rest of us God help you. H George McEvoy is a columnist for The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is gfamx4aol.com George McEvoy "It's ridiculous. I could maybe understand if the shirts said 'bill-a-bong,' but not 'Billabong.' Are they going to ban us from wearing a shirt that says potato just because it has the word pot in it?" Now children, that's what I mean by immature thinking. As any grown-up knows especially Dan Quayle the word is potatoe, so it also has toe in it. But the important factor here is that Principal Dombrowski acted like an adult. That is, he went off half-cocked, banning things and ordering kids around, and all because he never heard of Australia. That's lesson one in how to be grown up: When you don't know what you're talking about, bluster. for you to achieve this is to choose certain adults as your ideals, and then try to emulate them. And what better role models could you possibly have than those sterling individuals who have devoted themselves to your education? For instance, out in the Wisconsin town of Winneconne, the school author-

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