The Party's Over
To follow up on my article in May ("Socialism…On the Street Where You Live") and on your Trends note (July) on the recent elections in Berkeley, the interesting question is, Why did the left lose in Berkeley?
The trouble with liberals is they can't resist a leftward fling toward socialism every few years. It makes them feel good. Unfortunately for them, someone comes along and tries to redistribute their Mercedes or their stock portfolio, whereupon they suddenly discover a compelling need for "balance" between social justice and private property.
The last time Berkeley went through this cycle, a slate of radicals was elected to the city council. True to form, the radicals behaved as Berkeley radicals have always behaved—that is, they were contentious, disruptive, alternately moralistic and ruthlessly opportunistic, and in the final analysis ineffective. The result was that in last spring's city council elections they lost all four contested seats—and, with them, control of the city government—to the "moderate" slate (actually what the rest of the country would consider liberal Democrats).
The reason is that in Berkeley if you're not a revolutionary socialist, the left considers you an implacable enemy. Left paranoia ran rampant in the '60s, and it's still rampant now. Once they won control of city government, they trusted no one but their own people. They held secret city council meetings in violation of the Brown Act. They didn't allow debate on important issues (they didn't have to, they had the votes). They appointed their supporters to city positions and created new jobs for them when there weren't enough to go around. In short, they ran Berkeley like Mayor Daley ran Chicago, which is to say, corruptly and self-servingly.
Now that the moderates are back in control, they've fired the radicals' city manager (by buying up his contract), and they've declared a moratorium on 140 lawsuits instituted by the rent board against landlords and cut $50,000 from the rent board budget. Not that all this means that rent control is on its way out in Berkeley. As liberal democrats, the moderate majority favors rent control too. Only this time, it will be a slightly more reasonable form of rent control (that is, they won't be putting landlords in jail).
Los Angeles, CA
The Russians Aren't Coming?
Robert Poole's editorial "Facing Reality in Latin America" (May) contains some truly bizarre interpretations of recent events in El Salvador, and I would like to challenge them. The central assumption behind Poole's interpretation is that of Soviet involvement in Latin America. He refers to "Soviet/Cuban aid," "the Soviets and their Cuban proxies," "Soviet penetration of this hemisphere," and the Soviets' "orchestration of the massive transfer of arms from Communist countries to Cuba and Nicaragua for shipment to Salvadorean guerrillas."
What's the evidence for this? Reading between the lines, it seems as though Poole has simply bought the State Department line on El Salvador, swallowing Haig's charges hook, line, and sinker. But the problem is that Poole hasn't even bothered to look at the alleged evidence for Soviet involvement which Haig so triumphantly released to the media. The documents on which Haig based his charges were allegedly found in a desk drawer in a guerrilla hide-out in San Salvador, passed along to Carter administration officials, and then dutifully transferred to Haig. They were released by the State Department as a veritable white paper, under the title "Communist Interference in El Salvador: Documents Demonstrating Communist Support of the Salvadoran Insurgency," complete with translations.
The problem is that the documents do not substantiate Haig's claims about arms shipments or about Soviet involvement, let alone "orchestration." I have read through them, and cannot find any evidence whatever that more than 18 or 20 tons of military equipment was ever shipped to El Salvador. Because of duplications and ambiguities in the documents themselves, other writers have claimed that no more than 10 tons were ever shipped—a truly piddling amount in a guerrilla war. There are promises aplenty—but just as plentiful are the gripings of guerrilla leaders that the promises weren't kept.…
The Russians? On page 7 of Document E, there is the first mention of a meeting with communists in Moscow. [Salvadoran Communist Party secretary Shafik] Handal met with the deputy chief of the Latin American Section of the Department of International Relations of the Communist Party, who told him that he had not discussed any of his requests with any of the Soviet leadership, and could not make any promises.…The Soviets were ambivalent in their treatment of him, keeping him at arms length, and generally giving him a runaround.…The excerpt ends as follows: "The comrade is expressing concern as to the effects that the lack of decision by the Soviets may have, not only regarding the assistance that they themselves can offer but also upon the inclination of the other parties of the European socialist camp to cooperate.…"
Castro of course cheered the Salvadoran communists on, but in his typical blowhard fashion. And, as I have said, there is no evidence in Haig documents that any more than 10 or 20 tons of military equipment were ever shipped to El Salvador—far, far less than the tonnage of arms shipped from the United States, Israel, and other Western allies to the Salvadoran government.
In general, the Haig documents are a con job on the public. He was obviously counting on a lazy press picking up his charges without bothering even to read the documents upon which he explicitly based them.
What about the charge that most of the weapons used by the guerrillas were foreign-made? The answer to that one is simple: all weapons in El Salvador are foreign made, whether the weapons of the guerrillas or the weapons of the army, because there is no arms industry at all in El Salvador. The weapons both sides are using are being bought on the open and black markets, with the majority probably coming from Americans engaged in licit and illicit arms trafficking from Texas. Where did the guerrillas get their money to buy the arms? They have a "warchest" of between $50 and $200 million, which they acquired by kidnapping oligarchs and businessmen, holding them for ransom.…
Perhaps it is time to remember Haig's role of obfuscation and deceit in the Nixon administration. And perhaps it is time for REASON's editors to dig beneath the surface before jumping on a bandwagon with the slogan "The Russians Are Coming!" painted in big, red letters on its side.
Roy A. Childs, Jr.
Mr. Poole replies: Reports appearing in print after our May issue went to press—in Harper's, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post—have raised serious questions about the extent to which the captured documents support the State Department's conclusions about Soviet/Cuban involvement in supplying weapons to El Salvador. Mr. Childs's warning about believing government pronouncements is well taken.
I am very impressed with your Trends column. In the June issue I read a succinct and rational appraisal of the MX missile and a suggestion of more practical and cost-effective alternatives. I had been wondering for some time how national defense could be sensibly handled in the 20th century; wondering if there was even a way to do it. I think you have answered that question for me and I thank you for making those ideas available to me.
I would very much like to see REASON print a major article on the subject of national defense, an article that would, among other things, critically examine such proposed weapon systems as MX, B-1 bomber. I would certainly benefit from such an article, and I'd be more able to convince people to oppose costly, ineffective weapons systems.
Again, I want to express my appreciation for your column; very valuable information.
When Reagan Is Right
Murray Rothbard's diatribe (June) against President Reagan's economic plan is uncalled for. He advocates denouncing the Reagan program as "a fraud and a deception." This is not helpful to libertarianism, nor to administration efforts to change the economic attitudes of Congress.
Rothbard says "nothing is really going on.…there are no budget cuts; there is no tax cut." While it is true that the cuts are only cuts in the budget dollar increases proposed by the Carter administration, there is a budget cut in real terms. As Rothbard states, the Reagan proposal is to increase the federal budget next year by 6.1 percent. Since inflation is currently over 10 percent, the 6.1 percent increase does reduce the buying power of government, thereby limiting its growth and its ability to operate as it has in previous years.
The fact is that Reagan is doing as much as is possible given the political realities of congressional action. Ed Clark could not do more. A gradualist approach is appropriate, since public ideas must be changed before Congress will act.
Actually, Reagan rhetoric makes it easier for others to promote free-market ideas. We can demand that the administration stick to its professed goals of reducing government while not relaxing our call for much, much more reduction in regulations, taxes, and spending in all areas. Also, it is easier to point out inconsistencies, given the Reagan rhetoric, when they occur.
Meanwhile, we ought to give Reagan an "A" for effort. There hasn't been such a change in the mood of the nation for 40 years. I think we have a president who sincerely wants to reduce federal economic power.
Irrespective of whether or not I agree with the letter from Thomas S. Booz (Mar.) on the gold standard, I must point out the gross error it contains. Say's law is not "Bad money drives out good." Say's law is "Supply creates its own demand." The quote attributed to Say is actually due to Sir Thomas Gresham, the English financier, and is appropriately called Gresham's law.…I have enjoyed reading your magazine but am puzzled over how this could have accidentally slipped through your usually careful editorship.
Thank you for your time and the continued pleasure your magazine brings.