- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Decency and the death penalty

Nat Hentoff’s commentary on decency (“Evolving standards of decency,” Monday) raises an interesting link between the death penalty and President Bush’s responsibility in regard to nominating judges to serve. Regardless of whether a political leader supports capital punishment, he should recognize that racial discrimination plagues the death penalty system and that the system should be reformed in the interest of equality.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s stance that racial antipathies are “ineradicable” in regard to the application of the death penalty strikes a serious blow to the civil rights progress of the last 50 years. This month, eight men are facing execution dates in the United States, and seven of them are black or Latino. That statistic, like most relating to race and capital punishment, is disgraceful, yet it should not be surprising — it is simply the logical consequence of opinions such as Justice Scalia’s.

Continued apathy toward the problem of racial discrimination in the justice system represents a major roadblock for equality in this country. Mr. Bush may very well have the opportunity to nominate several new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court; he should take this responsibility seriously, and nominate individuals who are committed to equality, not satisfied with discrimination.



Thoughts on feminism

I read Suzanne Fields’ column about the shrinking eligible male market for women who earn bachelor’s degrees (“Disappearing acts,” Op-Ed, Thursday), and deemed her response to it, “blame it on feminism,” as to why men aren’t competing for higher education, good jobs, and so on, to be highly sophomoric. Just in case Mrs. Fields hasn’t noticed this, to get her present job, she has to thank feminism. To have the education to keep her present job, she has to thank feminism. After all, if it hadn’t been for feminism, a lot of doors of opportunity would not have been opened on Mrs. Fields’ behalf.

So men feel some sort of sexual inferiority, do they? Mrs. Fields being a woman, how would she know? I have another suggestion for Mrs. Fields: Men resent women entering their turf. I happen to know, for I have been subjected to that resentment, while in the military and trying to earn a job by way of going to a technical school.

In the latter in particular, there were mostly men in my class. Some joker engaged in property damage to my car. Why? Because he didn’t want a woman attending that particular class. Throughout history, men have always blamed women for something. In the Book of Psalms, King David blamed his mother for his personal failures (at a time where feminism was nowhere evident). The fall of man was blamed on Eve.

So, where is that mantra of personal responsibility again? As long as even we conservatives can look for a scapegoat ourselves, we no longer have to make that argument, do we?


Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Heightening fear of terrorism

The alarming headline in The Washington Times, “CIA says al Qaeda ready to use nukes” (Page 1, yesterday), badly confuses al Qaeda’s fantasy with the reality we face. The description of the CIA report contained in the accompanying article is no better. This is unfortunate, as the dangers we face from weapons of mass destruction are bad enough without exaggerating them.

First, al Qaeda would indeed be “ready to use nukes,” if for only one caveat: To the best of our knowledge, they don’t have any. Since acquiring a nuclear weapon would be by far the hardest part of mounting a nuclear attack, saying al Qaeda is “ready to use nukes” exaggerates the threat.

Second, the article quotes the CIA report as stating that the chemicals and toxins found on al Qaeda members in Europe “… could cause hundreds of casualties and widespread panic if used in multiple, simultaneous attacks.” Pretty much anything — guns or bombs, for example — could cause hundreds of casualties “if used in multiple, simultaneous” attacks. Without explaining how many such attacks would be needed, and how that compares to the potential of conventional explosives, such a statement is merely useless at best, and is most likely misleading.

Third, the article reports that “an al Qaeda document obtained in Afghanistan revealed that the group had sketched out a crude device capable of causing a nuclear blast,” suggesting that this means al Qaeda may be closer to nukes than we’ve previously imagined. But crude bomb designs are easy to come by — you can download them on the Internet or find them at your library. They’re utterly worthless without fissile material, plutonium or highly enriched uranium, the acquisition of which is the greatest barrier to building a nuclear weapon.

Fourth, the article lists several radiological materials “that are available to terrorists” for a dirty bomb, suggesting that acquisition of these materials in quantities sufficient to build an effective dirty bomb would be easy. Although radiological materials are indeed widely available, most are too weak to be useful in a dirty bomb, while the larger ones are not easily available. Radiological source security needs to be tightened, but we should not exaggerate the danger.

Perhaps most ironically, the article quotes the CIA as stating that any attack would aim to create “panic and disruption.” With such an inflammatory article, who needs terrorists for that?


Science and Technology Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies

Brookings Institution


Trigger happy

In your Saturday article, “Democrats Shunning Gun Control” (Nation), Blaine Rummel, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said, “The Democrats ran away from gun safety in the 2002 elections, and look where it got them,” and “Whoever is advising them on gun control should be shot.”

These statements reveal the real mindset of gun control advocates, even though Mr. Rummel was probably trying to be humorous. They know that the gun-control laws they treasure so dearly can only be achieved by using the iron fist behind the velvet glove. Anyone who disagrees with gun control “should be shot” is what they are really saying, and, of course, how else can you stop people from owning guns when they intend to have them unless you use gun violence to suppress them? That’s all gun control is — one person with a gun telling another he or she can’t have one. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.


Dallas, Pa.

Low-yield nukes on security

On the subject of designing new low-yield nuclear weapons, your editorial on Monday, “Undermining nuclear deterrence,” makes an argument that leads to less security for the United States.

On the use of low-yield nukes as bunker busters, your editorial cites their potential to destroy weapons of mass destruction “while at the same time, vastly limiting collateral damage.” Yes, a low-yield nuclear weapon could destroy a shallow bunker with less collateral damage than a large nuclear weapon — you don’t need to lift the ban on research to figure that out. The problem is that you are comparing nukes only with nukes. The same set of targets that could be attacked by low-yield nuclear weapons could also be attacked by advanced conventional weapons with far less collateral damage and without endangering friendly forces or hindering damage assessments.

The second argument, that low-yield nuclear weapons strengthen deterrence against rogue states, is an abstract one without any persuasive evidence. But if we are to consider this indefinable deterrence, it should be considered alongside another abstraction: the effect a renewed nuclear buildup will have on global proliferation. We are no longer in the Cold War, where nuclear competition with another superpower had strategic value. After September 11, 2001, the United States should be leading by example to reduce the world’s stockpile of its most dangerous weapons, the weapons able to do us the greatest harm, not encouraging the world to consider them legitimate instruments of war.


Research Analyst

Strategic Security Project

Federation of American Scientists


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