In Prospect

Summer 2007

In the nearly six years since 9/11, no American city has suffered a catastrophic terrorist strike. A key reason that the U.S. has stayed safe, reports Judith Miller in the exhaustively researched “On the Front Line in the War on Terrorism”, is the cutting-edge work of the nation’s two largest police forces, the NYPD and the LAPD. Led by two dynamic cops, Commissioner Ray Kelly in New York and Chief William Bratton in L.A., the forces have adopted different methods of fighting terror. Kelly’s NYPD, wielding vast resources—including a small army of sworn officers, an all-star team of experts, and its own undercovers, who’ve helped unravel several deadly plots since 9/11—sets the gold standard, Miller argues, achieving a terror-fighting capability on par with any law enforcement agency’s.

With scarcer resources, Bratton has stressed working with other agencies—to such good effect, says Miller, that the feds see the LAPD as a model for other cash-poor police departments across the nation. In a gripping sidebar, she describes the LAPD’s top counterterrorism success to date: breaking up what appears to have been an al-Qaida cell in Hollywood.

Kelly and Bratton won’t be able to relax anytime soon, as John Robb shows in his chilling glimpse into the near future, “The Coming Urban Terror”. The author of the much-discussed Brave New War explains that the very things that make cities so successful in the modern economy—efficient international networks of communications, energy, capital, and services—also make them vulnerable to terrorist disruption. New technologies have also exponentially increased the capacity of small groups to inflict massive damage for little cost. The scariest threat, Robb believes, is bioweapons. The technology for creating lethal new strains of viruses and bacteria is already widely dispersed. So it’s only a matter of time before “suicide vectors”—terrorists who infect themselves with such diseases—begin attacking our cities. Our market societies can best defend themselves, Robb says, by decentralizing services and security.

The creativity of free markets is a theme of two more stories in this issue. Steven Malanga’s “The New Privatization” details how U.S. governors and mayors are solving a big problem—crumbling infrastructure—by auctioning off bridges and roads to private firms, for vast sums; those firms promise better upkeep and greater efficiencies. And Canadian doc David Gratzer shows how our northern neighbor’s single-payer health-care system, held up by American activists as a model for us, has led to long waits and worsening care. Fed-up Canadians are turning to the market, including new private clinics, for answers to their health-care woes.

Two provocative stories in this issue focus not on markets but on culture. America has made eradicating racism against blacks its domestic imperative for half a century, with such success that African-Americans now hold leading positions throughout our society and a black middle class thrives. How is it, then, that a large black urban underclass remains trapped in poverty, educational failure, illegitimacy, and crime? Myron Magnet’s tour de force “In the Heart of Freedom, in Chains”—ranging from an analysis of the Duke “rape” case to unpacking the dehumanizing lyrics of Snoop Dogg—locates two culprits: an elite culture that continues to portray Western civilization as a monster, crushing nonwhites; and a self-destructive worldview, prevalent among young urban blacks, that sees bourgeois success as selling out and celebrates the gangsta’s world of “niggas” and “hos.” It’s past time, argues Magnet in this sequel to his classic The Dream and the Nightmare, for blacks to break with that worldview—and for white elites to stop condoning it.

A cultural battle is going on for opera’s soul, too, and Heather Mac Donald describes it vividly in “The Abduction of Opera”, the result of six months of reporting and a lifelong love of one of the West’s cultural jewels. The struggle pits beauty’s defenders—with New York’s Met holding the line—against trendy European directors, who’ve brought sexual perversity, violence, and agitprop to their stagings of Handel, Mozart, and other giants, who must be rolling in their graves.

—Brian C. Anderson