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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 24 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Rhetoric: The campaigns settle on their preferred devices for the final weeks, building the necessary narratives....

Device One: The Democrats Will Outlaw Christianity and Confiscate Your Bible

A bit comical, but it will be effective, and discussed here:

Republicans Admit Mailing Campaign Literature Saying Liberals Will Ban the Bible
David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times, September 24, 2004

In short?
The Republican Party acknowledged yesterday sending mass mailings to residents of two states warning that "liberals" seek to ban the Bible. It said the mailings were part of its effort to mobilize religious voters for President Bush.

The mailings include images of the Bible labeled "banned" and of a gay marriage proposal labeled "allowed." A mailing to Arkansas residents warns: "This will be Arkansas if you don't vote." A similar mailing was sent to West Virginians.

A liberal religious group, the Interfaith Alliance, circulated a copy of the Arkansas mailing to reporters yesterday to publicize it. "What they are doing is despicable,'' said Don Parker, a spokesman for the alliance. "They are playing on people's fears and emotions."
No kidding. Yeah, well, it will get out the evangelical zealots. They'll vote now. One can explain to them that gay marriage would not be mandatory, only optional for those so inclined, and that they can keep their Bibles if they'd like, but the seed has been planted. This, actually, is pretty effective politics. It may be absurd, and easily dismissed as a prank, but it gets the job done.

Kirkpatrick in the Times report quotes an editorial on September 22 in The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia: "Holy Moley! Who concocts this gibberish? ... Most Americans see morality more complexly. Many think a higher morality is found in Christ's command to help the needy, prevent war and pursue other humanitarian goals. Churchgoers of this sort aren't likely to believe childish allegations that Democrats want to ban the Bible."

But some will, and vote appropriately. Score one for the Bush team - a very effective move.

Note this exchange on CSPAN - on a recent call-in show:
PETER SLEN, HOST: Kenner, Louisiana, good morning.

CALLER (in a very airy voice): Good morning. I'm going to vote for President Bush because, after all, you know, God made us there, you know, in His image, free from any black color and all [Host looks up, surprised]. The only church that Kerry can go to is where they say the Black Mass, and that is in the Merriam-Webster Pocket Book dictionary, where it says that that is the devil worshippers. [Host looks uncomfortably off-camera, at producer?] I would never vote for, you know, Senator Kerry...
And there is more at the link. The Times piece also has much more detail.

This works.

Two: Raising questions about the president's policies and actions give aid and comfort to the enemy, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy is treason.

The first, or at least the most powerful example of this, was Zell Miller's keynote address to the Republican convention some weeks ago in New York - see September 5, 2004: The defining moment of the Republican National Convention in these pages for a discussion of that. The short form - Miller inveighed against those who want to "bring down this president." The underlying idea was that opposing Bush, or even having an election, was opposing America. This is not the time for that.

That message is being refined.

See Tying Kerry to Terror Tests Rhetorical Limits
Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, Friday, September 24, 2004; Page A01

The idea has now been modified in this: support of John Kerry is support of terrorism.

Milbank opens with this -
President Bush and leading Republicans are increasingly charging that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and others in his party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq -- a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric.

Appearing in the Rose Garden yesterday with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Bush said Kerry's statements about Iraq "can embolden an enemy." After Kerry criticized Allawi's speech to Congress, Vice President Cheney tore into the Democratic nominee, calling him "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the struggle against terrorism.
Does this really test the conventional bounds of political rhetoric? Raise questions and you do commit treason. Milbank admits uch accusations have been a component of American politics since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and surfaced in the modern era during the McCarthy communist hunt and the Vietnam War protests.

This is not unusual.

Milbank does cite how this is becoming the new theme of Republican rhetorical with these examples -
On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry." On Fox News, Hatch said Democrats are "consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there."

On Sunday, GOP Senate candidate John Thune of South Dakota said of his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle: "His words embolden the enemy." Thune, on NBC's "Meet the Press," declined to disavow a statement by the Republican Party chairman in his state saying Daschle had brought "comfort to America's enemies."

On Saturday, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) said at a GOP fundraiser: "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another, [but] I would think they would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops." Asked whether he believed al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry presidency, Hastert said: "That's my opinion, yes."

The previous day in Warsaw, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said terrorists in Iraq "are trying to influence the election against President Bush."
This too is effective, and earlier this month Vice President Cheney said that on Election Day, "if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating" and that the United States would not respond vigorously. Milbank points out Cheney later said that he was not suggesting the country would be attacked if Kerry were elected. But a few days later Cheney did say, "We've gone on the offense in the war on terror -- and the president's opponent, Senator Kerry, doesn't seem to approve."

According to Milbank the White House and the Bush campaign said they would neither endorse nor disavow the remarks by Hastert, Armitage and all these others. It's all just the opinion of concerned citizens.

Milbank also reminds us that a few months after the 9/11 attacks Attorney General Ashcroft said tactics used by critics of the USA Patriot Act "only aid terrorists" and "give ammunition to America's enemies." And that in 2002, President Bush charged that opponents of his version of homeland security legislation are "not interested in the security of the American people." And that in 2003, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that if terrorists think Bush's opponents might prevail, "they take heart in that, and that leads to more money going into these activities or that leads to more recruits or that leads to more encouragement."

Milbank has a long memory. The message has been clear all along - Shut up. Don't ask questions. This is not the time. Questions get our troops killed. Asking questions means the terrorists have won, and your questions helped them win. What is needed now is silence, and obedience. Bush and the Republicans will keep you safe, and you don't want to die, do you?

Milbank also quotes Ann Coulter on Fox News - "It's unquestionable that Republicans are more likely to prevent the next attack." Kerry, she said, "will improve the economy in the emergency services and body bag industry."

And that's that.

Three: One could argue that the president is pretending things are fine when everyone knows things are not fine - he is not in touch with reality

This is Kerry's counter, hammered hard all this week, to the "shut up and don't ask questions" Bush rhetoric that is rising rapidly.

Kevin Drum in The Washington Monthly lays it all out here -
Is George Bush in "fantasyland" regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I realize that's the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it's honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days. ...
A long history of the Iraq war over the last two years is then presented, and it's is clear things are a mess, and Drum ends with this -
... It's no longer clear if George Bush is merely a cynical, calculating politician -- which would be bad enough -- or if he actually believes all the happy talk about Iraq that his speechwriters produce for him. Increasingly, though, it seems like the latter: he genuinely doesn't have a clue about what's going on. What's more, his staff is keeping him in a sort of Nixonian bubble, afraid to tell him the truth and afraid to take any positive action for fear that it might affect the election.
So things will just get worse, since no one is willing to admit the truth and no one is willing to propose serious action to keep things from deteriorating further -- at least not until after November 2nd. But by then it will be too late. And when the Iraqi elections fail, what happens then?
Thus the counter device, rhetorically, is that Bush is too stubborn, or dumb, or isolated, or proud, or power-mad, to even acknowledge much less fix an obvious problem that he himself created, and he shouldn't be reelected.

Digby over at Hullabaloo piles on with an item he titles Shameless. Digby makes the mistake of watching the news.
Joie Chen on CNN just interviewed Brigadier General David Grange who basically said that John Kerry is causing the insurgency in Iraq because he is criticizing the president and "emboldening" the bad guys. ... It looks as if their plan is to say that the increased violence is John Kerry's responsibility in the hopes that Kerry will ratchet down his effective attack. ...

This is just the latest chapter in the classic post 9/11 playbook in which they virtually shut down dissent and paralyzed the country with accusations of 5th columns and treason for speaking out against two-faced Junior Bush. More and more it looks to me as if Rove is simply running a 2002 replay, which depended on keeping the dems off balance on national security and ginning up turnout.

... I've noticed that the wingnuts always vociferously deny impugning the patriotism of their rivals even though they constantly do it. So, I'm hoping the Dems run straight at their accusers with this latest nonsense. I suspect this patented fratboy "don't blame me" strategy is not ringing true with the swing voters. It's just kool-aid for the faithful in a turn-out street fight.
Well, it is a street fight. Of course the weapons are only words, so far.

But the rhetorical devices have been chosen - memes at dawn. Opposing Bush causes terrorism and is treason that aids the enemy, and besides that, you want to take away our Bibles and force us to marry gay folks. On the other side? This Bush guy has no clue about what he did, or is doing, and he's dangerous - so let's get someone to lead us who is at least attached to reality. This mess may be hard to fix, but it might be nice to start with accepting the facts of the matter.

So we've settled how this will play out.

Posted by Alan at 20:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 23 September 2004

Topic: The Media

Follow-Up: Who do you trust? What happened to CBS?

A few weeks ago here - September 12, 2004 - Bush's Bad Day at Black Rock (CBS) - Just Above Sunset covered the September 8 CBS broadcast which presented memos on "60 Minutes II" allegedly written by a colonel concerning how George Bush behaved in the Texas Air National Guard. The reporter was Dan Rather, the managing editor of the CBS evening news.

According to the memorandums, Bush refused to obey orders and had a "bad attitude." One Lieutenant Coronal Jerry Killian, now dead and gone, also said the future president could not qualify to fly jet planes because he did not show up for his physical, disobeying a direct order. But the memos have been questioned and appear to be forgeries. Killian's secretary, who did all his typing and is still with us, said she didn't type the memos - though she told CBS they were the colonel's thoughts. Weak stuff.

It seems handwriting experts hired by CBS said they warned that the documents might not be authentic. And there was a lot of this and that on whether the memos were typed in the seventies on an IBM Selectric typewriter, or created with word-processing software at a Kinko's in Abilene, Texas. (A good discussion of that matter is here.)

On the 14th Dan Rather in his evening news broadcast finally acknowledged that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents he use on the initial broadcast. (A summary of that is here.)

If you follow the news you've seen the reaction. Rather should resign and there should be a congressional investigation. Joe Scarborough on MSNBC on the 23rd devotes his entire show to a discussion of whether Rather and CBS have committed some crime - something like trying to unlawfully influence an election through the use of forged documents. The liberal media is evil, and so on and so forth.

From the Democrats we got this on the 21st -
Washington, D.C. - In response to false Republican accusations regarding the CBS documents, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued this statement:

"In today's New York Post, Roger Stone, who became associated with political `dirty tricks' while working for Nixon, refused to deny that he was the source the CBS documents.

"Will Ed Gillespie or the White House admit today what they know about Mr. Stone's relationship with these forged documents? Will they unequivocally rule out Mr. Stone's involvement? Or for that matter, others with a known history of dirty tricks, such as Karl Rove or Ralph Reed?"
Stone won't comment - so no denial. (More background on Stone, a prot?g? and long-time friend of Karl Rove is here - years ago Bob Dole fired the guy after this business about Stone and his wife and the sex clubs hit the news. Juicy stuff.)

Did Dan Rather and CBS try to subvert democracy by presenting, as news, documents they knew were false, and slander a sitting president in an attempt to get him voted out of office? Or did Karl Rove and his crew from the White House set up CBS to make them look like either fools or devils, and thus drive everyone to trust only Fox News - those patriots who back the president no matter what and say those who oppose Bush in any way hate America and are committing treason?

Stay tuned, or don't.

Well, Dan Rather is the one taking the hit. And there is an obvious irony here. As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, Comedy Central's faux news program, pointed out as he opened his show recently - "We begin tonight with a simple, indisputable fact: as a young man, President George W. Bush benefited from family connections to get a place in the Texas Air National Guard, thus avoiding service in Vietnam. As you would guess, this has led to calls for the resignation of Dan Rather."

Ah, yep. These were additional supporting documents of something fairly obvious.

So what happened with CBS?

I've never much liked Tina Brown - when she ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering - but lots of commentators are saying her column this week may be the definitive one on this CBS, Dan Rather business. Brown talks about the pressure in news these days. "Every editor, producer and reporter knows that the warp speed of the news cycle means we are all only one step ahead of some career-ending debacle." And that may be true. Rather lost a gamble.

See Breaking the News, Then Becoming It
Tina Brown - The Washington Post - Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page C01

Fleshing out her contention we get this -
... For Rather and CBS, all the conflicting tensions that torture journalists and producers day and night came together. The broiling partisan heat, the pressure to get out of third place with a scoop, the hot breath of cable news, the race to beat all the hacks and scribes who keep nibbling away at the story (your story, the story you've spent five years trying to get right), the baying of the bloggers, the sick sense of always being news-managed by the White House's black arts, the longing to show the Web charlatans and cable-heads that rumpled-trenchcoat news is still where the action is, the pounding inner soundtrack that asks: Am I a watchdog or a poodle? A journalist or an entertainer? A tough newsman or a mouse with mousse?

All this pandemonium in his ears is what made a legendary news icon go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, as David Gergen put it on CNN. And when the barrel hit the rocks, he stuck to the line that always used to work before in this movie: I Stand by My Story! Rather may have been eerily calm when he finally went on the air to announce, "I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically." But he looked as if his psyche had been through Hurricane Ivan.
Ah, conflict! And a bad decision made under pressure.

And news folks all know that pressure, from the competition and now from bloggers -
Journalists the length and breadth of the land publicly beat up on Dan, but privately -- even in the capital of schadenfreude -- they were not as gleeful as you might expect. Every editor, producer and reporter knows that the warp speed of the news cycle means we are all only one step ahead of some career-ending debacle. But still the panic to beat the competition trumps every other concern. Reports this month that Fox News had surpassed the other networks' ratings with its GOP convention coverage only inflamed the terror of mounting obsolescence.

Fear of missing the bandwagon is behind all the hype about the brilliance of bloggers who blew the whistle. You'd think "Buckhead," who first spotted the flaws in the documents, is the cyberworld's Woodward and Bernstein. Now the conventional wisdom is that the media will be kept honest and decent by an army of incorruptible amateur gumshoes. In fact, cyberspace is populated by a coalition of political obsessives and pundits on speed who get it wrong as much as they get it right. It's just that they type so much they are bound to nail a story from time to time.

The rapturing about the bloggers is the journalistic equivalent of the stock market's Internet bubble. You can see the news chiefs feeling as spooked as the old-style CEOs in the '90s who had built their companies over 20 years and then saw kids in backward baseball caps on the cover of Fortune. It finally drove them nuts. It was why we saw Time Warner's buttoned-down corporate dealmaker Gerald Levin tearing off his tie and swooning into the embrace of AOL's Steve Case.

The equivalent today is when news outfits that built their reputations on check-and-double-check pick up almost any kind of assertion and call it a "source." Or feel so chased by the new-media mujaheddin they start trusting tips garnered from God-knows-where by a partisan wack job in Texas.
Well, it's a tough business.

And Brown does say this really is pretty much "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."

And echoing Stewart she adds this -
Documents or no documents, everyone knows Bush's dad got him out of Vietnam. Everyone knows he thought he had better, funner things to do than go to a bunch of boring National Guard drills. (Only a killjoy like John Kerry would spend his carefree youth racking up high-minded demonstrations of courage and conscience, right?) Like O.J. Simpson's infamous "struggle" to squeeze his big hand into the glove, the letter was just a lousy piece of evidence that should never have been produced in court. Now because CBS, like Marcia Clark, screwed up the prosecution, Bush is going to walk.
Is he? I fear she is right. The press will be good little girls and boys from now on out. It's a dramatic lesson in being extra, extra careful.

But Brown has an idea that the whole thing boils down to the "romance of news reporting," such as it is.
As for Dan and CBS, it wasn't really politics that drove them over the edge, was it? It was romance. That's the sad part. How good did it feel when they broke the Abu Ghraib story just a beat before Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker? How satisfying is it when a real news sensation takes hold instead of some tabloid trash moment (like Janet Jackson's flashing breast)? A veteran newsman is in the twilight of a long and distinguished career. He just wanted to taste that sweet medicine one more time.
Ah, bitter medicine.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, agrees with Brown -
My theory on why CBS rushed to air, by the way: Seymour Hersch was on Terry Gross "Fresh Air" [NPR] a week or so ago, and he mentioned that CBS had originally been the sole recipient of all the Abu Ghraib material, but was then asked by the government not to run with the story, and they sat on it. Meanwhile, the sources of the information got annoyed that CBS was doing nothing with it, so they took the stuff to Hersch. I guess CBS got wind that the New Yorker was about to run with it, so they came running in with it just ahead of them. I suspect that CBS, smarting from someone stealing much of their thunder, vowed to never let it happen again.
That makes sense too.

And Hersch has been on fire, and CBS sleeping, but this is one hell of a way to wake up.

Hersch on fire? Just Above Sunset has noted that.

See these:
May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude...
May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues
May 23, 2004: Notes on the War Scandals
July 18, 2004 - Hollywood Feels Like Steamy Florida

This CBS scandal - be it an honest but stupid mistake, or a nefarious but incompetent plot to damage George Bush, or a sinister plot to undermine the mainstream press and make them all behave more like Fox News - is taking up much of the available air in the room; that is, a lot of column inches and broadcast and cable hours have been devoted to it. And with how things are going now in Iraq, that can only help the Bush campaign.

It is most curious. I have no theory. I report. You decide.

Tina Brown does say this all is "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."

It works - as the Associated Press reports here (Saturday, September 25, 2004) -
CBS News has shelved a "60 Minutes" report on the rationale for war in Iraq because it would be "inappropriate" to air it so close to the presidential election, the network said on Saturday.

The report on weapons of mass destruction was set to air on Sept. 8 but was put off in favor of a story on President Bush's National Guard service. The Guard story was discredited because it relied on documents impugning Bush's service that were apparently fake.

CBS News spokeswoman Kelli Edwards would not elaborate on why the timing of the Iraq report was considered inappropriate.

... The CBS statement followed a report in the online edition of Newsweek that described the frustration of CBS News reporters and producers who said the network had concluded that it could not legitimately criticize the president because of the questions about the National Guard report.

According to the Newsweek report, the "60 Minutes" segment was to have detailed how the administration relied on false documents when it said Iraq had tried to buy a lightly processed form of uranium, known as yellowcake, from Niger. The administration later acknowledged that the information was incorrect and that the documents were most likely fake.

The Newsweek article said the segment was to have included the first on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who was given the fake documents and who provided them to a United States Embassy for verification. The documents were sent to Washington, where some officials embraced them as firm evidence that Iraq was aggressively trying to make nuclear weapons.
So CBS, sensing this would make it look like they were picking on Bush, will withhold the piece until after the election.

The expected liberal reaction from Kevin Drum here - "...the resulting debacle has now convinced CBS that they shouldn't air any negative stories about George Bush for the next six weeks -- even if they're true. That's some courageous journalism for you. If this is the liberal media, conservatives can have it."

Rove is giggling. The press is being rolled. The press will indeed be good little girls and boys from now on out. As least CBS has been taken care of.


Footnote on the New Yorker -

As I said above, when Tina Brown ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering. I thought she did damage.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, said this -
There's something else you and I disagree on. Although I've never been crazy about her personally, I thought New Yorker was generally boring and inconsequential until she came along. Although I wasn't crazy about her preoccupation with sex, the articles on politics and foreign affairs were must-reads for me. Although it did seem to take a dip after she left, it's still my favorite magazine.
I will admit I always liked it too, but I was an English teacher and when Tina Brown cut back on the fiction and poetry and upped the trendy and the sexy, I missed my old read. But yes, she increased the geopolitical, and that was good. But those odd, long essays on the history of the orange or whatever were my intellectual comfort food for years.


Footnote on Fox News -

"All of the traditional media is against us. The traditional media in this country is in tune with the elite, not the people. That is why we're not liked by the traditional media. That's not us."

- Rupert Murdoch here

"Far be it for me to contradict the saintly Mr. Murdoch, but when his usually unnamed minions spend their days trumpeting their volume of viewers and readers (100 billion flies can't be wrong) and anonymously kicking the shins at every rival and every critic in a way that would embarrass Robert Novak, I'm afraid he's going to have to face the horrible truth: he is the "media elite."

- Keith Olbermann of MSNBC here

Tip of the hat to BartCop for the quotes ...


Footnote on Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta -

Rick finished working for CNN in 1985, although he did publish his TV News Journal after that, until 1988. We've known each other since the mid-sixties and I consider him an "old school" journalist sort - one of the guys who actually knows what fair and balanced really means. There are not many of them left.

Posted by Alan at 17:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 September 2004 11:13 PDT home

Wednesday, 22 September 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Policy: A slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power...

Exactly one year ago today, September 22, 2003, Richard Perle, who at that time chaired the Defense Advisory Board helping Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld make all the right decisions about the war in Iraq, said this -
And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush. There is no doubt that, with the exception of a very small number of people close to a vicious regime, the people of Iraq have been liberated and they understand that they've been liberated. And it is getting easier every day for Iraqis to express that sense of liberation.
Today was the day. A grand square in Baghdad named after President Bush? Not today.

Last I heard Perle was at his vacation home in the south of France, near Aix, fending off questions from reporters about his role in the looting of Hollinger - Conrad Black's press empire that fell apart. Perle ran the Jerusalem Post for Black and was still on the board of directors. There are tens of millions of dollars gone. Perle is mum. I guess we should cut him some slack. He's been having a bad summer.

Should we cut George Bush some slack for that speech yesterday at the United Nations?

The New York Times doesn't, and sort of says that the speech represented the antithesis of diplomacy -
We did not expect President Bush to come before the United Nations in the middle of his re-election campaign and acknowledge the serious mistakes his administration has made on Iraq. But that still left plenty of room for him to take advantage of this one last chance to appeal to an increasingly antagonistic world to help the Iraqis secure and rebuild their shattered nation and prepare for elections in just four months. Instead, Mr. Bush delivered an inexplicably defiant campaign speech in which he glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place.

... Mr. Bush might have done better at wooing broader international support if he had spent less time on self-justification and scolding and more on praising the importance of international cooperation and a strengthened United Nations. Instead, his tone-deaf speechwriters achieved a perverse kind of alchemy, transforming a golden opportunity into a lead balloon."
Scolding the effete snobs who don't even speak English like normal people does play well in the current election here. Assume folks here ate it up - he really shamed them. Unfortunately, the General Assembly didn't seem inclined to hang their heads in shame and say, well, Bush is right, we have all been naughty children.

Was it effective? That depends on your point of view.

Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post provides a roundup.

See Bush Speech: Resolute or Clueless?
Wednesday, September 22, 2004; 12:04 PM
In a soaring, eloquent, upbeat speech from the marble podium at the United Nations, President Bush yesterday put forth the purest distillation yet of his foreign policy views.

And depending on your own world view, I'm betting you either loved it or hated it.

Was he strong, resolute, unyielding, unapologetic? Undeniably so. And in the view of his supporters, enough said.

But viewed in the context of how things have worked out, particularly in Iraq, his critics -- including many in the audience of world leaders yesterday -- found him misguided, simplistic, imperious and trigger-happy.

If the whole speech was a litmus test, this one sentence was the clincher:

"We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace," Bush said.

Some people see irony there. Others don't.
Well, it is there.

Froomkin then quotes from all the coverage.

Dana Milbank and Colum Lynch also in the Post say this - "Bush's upbeat assessment of world affairs in general and Iraq in particular contrasted sharply with assessments of diplomats and world leaders gathered for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. While others lamented spreading violence and a breakdown of the rule of law, Bush asserted that times have improved."

Okay. That's one way of looking at things.

And Bush took three questions from reporters during his subsequent photo opportunity with Ayad Allawi, the man we allow to run Iraq at the moment. One of the questions was about the recent CIA report predicting serious troubles ahead for Iraq, that National Security Estimate he has had since July and surfaced last week. It said that there are only three possible scenarios now. The best? That would be "a tenuous stability" - but that's unlikely. The second? That would be where "increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country." The third is an all out civil war in Iraq by 2005, where the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds have it out and we have to deal with that. (Discussed in these pages here.) Bush said the CIA was "just guessing" and things were just fine.

Here's the text of that exchange - and the second American hostage was beheaded within a day of that exchange.

Well, we here at home will buy anything and we believe Bush, because we want to believe him, or have to believe him or think there's something mighty wrong in the White House. And if you think that you are unpatriotic - you obviously hate America.

But UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was not impressed with the Bush speech, or its underlying assumptions. As the Los Angeles Times summarizes - "Annan insisted that `every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad.' Although the secretary-general did not name the United States, to the scores of world leaders listening in the vaulted chamber, the target of his comments was obvious... `Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it,' he said, `and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.' "

That was probably a bit too low-key and subtle for Bush. He probably didn't get it. The man not only, as he says, doesn't do nuance, he no doubt is just puzzled by irony. George, he was talking about you, big guy.

John Kerry said the expected about the Bush UN speech - "After lecturing them, instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq, I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world. He does not have the credibility to lead the world. And he did not and will not offer the leadership in order to do what we need to do to protect our troops, to be successful, and win the war on terror in an effective way."

As usual, no one listening to Kerry, who seems to think we should treat others as adults, with common interests we can discover and build on. Boring. And it doesn't play well to America's growing sense that we are only adults in this world, and all others or children who need to be slapped around.

Of course the rest of the world is unhappy with our assumption that that is just the way things are. Patrick E. Tyler at the New York Times provides a summary of European and world reaction -
European newspapers, including some that supported the American military campaign in Iraq, were largely critical of Mr. Bush's address on Tuesday to the United Nations.

The Financial Times contended in its lead editorial that the Bush administration "systematically refused to engage with what actually has happened in Iraq" namely, in its view, that American policy "mistakes" have "handed the initiative to jihadi terrorists" who "now have a new base from which to challenge the West and moderate Islam."

The paper said that Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, "after being evasive, long-winded and sometimes contradictory," was beginning to speak more realistically than Mr. Bush about deterioration in Iraq. And, the newspaper asserted, that Mr. Bush's "disengagement from the reality of a sinking Iraq is alarming."

The left-leaning Independent newspaper carried an editorial cartoon of Osama bin Laden putting up a Bush campaign poster saying "4 More Years" on a shell-pocked bit of masonry in Iraq. The cartoon seemed to be inspired by a diplomatic spat over remarks attributed to the British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts. After a private discussion on policy that was deemed to be off the record, Sir Ivor was quoted by an Italian newspaper as saying that Mr. Bush had become "the best recruiting sergeant" for Al Qaeda.

In its editorial, the Independent said that Mr. Bush "gave little hint" in his speech of the "catastrophic war" under way in Iraq. "Instead of a measured account of reality in Iraq," the editorial said, "he treated the ranks of national leaders gathered at the U.N. to a portentous and self-justifying speech brimming with clich?s about `freedom' and `democracy' that glorified the American way."
Elsewhere? Tyler notes in Poland Gazeta Wyborcza ran a commentary by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz saying the Bush UN speech had to be considered in the context of an election campaign. Poles, and everyone else, shouldn't take it that seriously. Nasz Dzinnik ran an editorial that said the opposite - Bush, having "attacked Iraq in defiance" of those nations that called for United Nations authorization for invasion was now trying to convince the international community that it should pay for the "chaos" caused by "reckless policy."

Tyler does the French press too - Lib?ration saying Kerry has it right, not Bush, as Bush "showed that slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power." Le Figaro on the right had correspondent Philippe Gelie noting that Mr. Bush was "impervious to criticism" in the conduct of American foreign policy. His speech in New York was that of a "campaigning American president" who "lectured the rest of the world." And they like Bush.

The German daily Tagesspiegel ran the headline "US, UN, Iraq: the truth counts for nothing." In Italy, Corriere della Sera said Bush had "forgotten that his go-it-alone approach has alienated many sympathizers" with American goals in the Middle East. And they said it would take "more than an isolated appeal during an election campaign" to rebuild the consensus that once existed on Iraq.

Yeah, but who cares about the silly foreigners?

Take William Saletan...

See Bush the Liberal
The nobility and folly of democratizing Iraq.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004, at 3:13 PM PT - SLATE.COM

You have love the opening -
I admit it. I have a soft spot for President Bush.

I love it when he goes to the United Nations--as he did two years ago and again today--and tells those lazy cynics to get off their duffs. They spend their days congratulating each other, passing toothless resolutions, and giving lip service to tired pet issues. Bush is just what they need. He pokes them in the ribs. He points out that scofflaws are treating them like a joke. He tells them to enforce their threats, or he'll do it for them. He preaches freedom and democracy. He vows to serve others, no matter who else joins in the cause. He refuses to back down, no matter what the price.
Ah, good strong, conservative xenophobic stuff. You have to love it.

But Saletan is off-balance because circumstances have reduced Bush's war to, well, a kind of liberal adventure to make the world a better place - a do-gooder effort you'd expect from a left winger. How did THAT happen?
... Bush didn't plan Iraq as an altruistic war. He thought Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to the United States. He thought there were weapons of mass destruction. He still thinks Saddam was al-Qaida's buddy. It's the evidence that has undercut these arguments. So Bush has fallen back on arguments that used to be peripheral to his case: We liberated Iraqis from a brutal dictator. We're building a model of democracy in the Middle East.

It's inspiring stuff. But don't tell me Americans would have tolerated going to war for these reasons. We thought we were heading off another 9/11.

In today's speech, Bush tried to sell the world on collective law enforcement. "Every nation that wants peace will share the benefits of a freer world," he observed. "Eventually, there is no safe isolation from terror networks, or failed states that shelter them, or outlaw regimes, or weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others."

... Bush wants you to think that he's the America-first guy, and Kerry is the utopian internationalist. But take a closer look. Yesterday, Kerry asked, "Is [Bush] really saying to America that if we know there was no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer: resoundingly, no, because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."
So who here is the change-the-world-and-make-it-better liberal and who the keep-the-status-quo-and-amass-wealth conservative? The world turned upside down?

The Bush speech and its underlying new doctrine? Saletan says that as a liberal, he admires it, and as a conservative, he wonders how it looks to the guy in Ohio who can't pay his bills.

It is all very curious.

Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 September 2004 08:36 PDT home

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Piling On: One step beyond the tipping point...

Last weekend in these two items - Trends: There just isn't enough fairy dust to fix this one and The rolling meme gathers speed - you could find the argument that around September 13 a new narrative started gathering momentum - or a new meme, a newly accepted axiomatic sense of what is an actual fact.

What would that be? We are losing, or have already lost the war in Iraq. While this may have started with the New York Times and Newsweek, the new view of how things really are in Iraq is gathering momentum. Last weekend's items cited many a source, and pointed out, curiously enough, all this does not seem to be coming at all from the Democrats assailing Bush. It just kind of happened. Folks woke up? Something like that.

And on the Sunday morning political talk shows, following a week of this, even some Republicans were saying that, well, it might be time to admit the truth. Jeffrey Dubner provides a summary of what these Republicans said -
Chuck Hagel on Face the Nation: "[T]o say, 'Well, we just must stay the course and any of you who are questioning are just hand-wringers,' is not very responsible. The fact is we're in trouble."

Richard Lugar on This Week: "Well, this is incompetence in the administration."

Lindsey Graham on Late Edition: "Well, the bottom line is it will get worse before it gets better. And I agree with Carl [Levin] that we've done a poor job of implementing and adjusting at times."

John McCain on Fox News Sunday: "I'd like to see more of an overall plan articulated by the president. And also, by the way, again, congressional hearings are very good at getting answers to questions. And I think we'll be having at least one or two in the Senate Armed Services Committee."
Yipes! The president says things are going just fine and we're making progress, and these guys are saying these things?

Then the hard right Robert Novak drops the blockbuster here -
Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.
Now Novak is the ultimate insider in these matters - ask whose wife is a secret CIA agent and needs to be exposed and ruined, for vengeance. And he says it's over, just no one in the administration is saying that now. It'll wait.

Andrew Sullivan here offers a few Byzantine explanations that all come down to a matter of the president coming out of denial -
The question lingers: why would the administration want to leak to Robert Novak that Bush is contemplating a quickish exit from Iraq? An obvious thought is that the leak comes from someone diametrically opposed to such a stance. An admission of any plan of that kind would demoralize the president's supporters (and war supporters) and probably prompt a question in the debates or upcoming news conferences. The president might then be forced to dismiss such an idea, boxing himself into the neoconservative position before the election. Tada! You scotch the withdrawal idea by raising it. The beauty of this is that it uses that anti-war curmudgeon, Novak, to bolster the president's resolve. Alternatively, it's less an attempt to corner the president than to wake him up. "Look," someone might be trying to say from within the cocoon. "You might still think we're marching to victory but almost no one else does. We're in a situation where withdrawal is increasingly a least-worst option." That comports with the allegedly despondent mood of Paul Wolfowitz, addressing a bunch of Iraqi exiles last week. Wolfowitz is a smart and principled man. He knows the extent of the failure since the fall of Baghdad and may be doing his best to rescue something from it. So you have Wolfowitz, Hagel, McCain, and Graham all trying to wake the president up - or bounce him into a concrete commitment of more money, troops and attention before the election. All this is purely my conjecture. Whatever scenario is more accurate, the underlying message is clear. Most of Washington now believes that the war in Iraq is all but lost and that Bush has to tell us soon how he intends to turn things around. People are coming out of denial. And that's dangerous for the president if it becomes widespread before November 2.
Most of Washington believes the new meme?

Not everyone. Donald Rumsfeld doesn't believe it. As the neoconservative Weekly Standard reports here in an account of a speech Rumsfeld gave late week -
The crux of the speech came during the question-and-answer session, when an audience member posed the following: "The Financial Times today editorializes that it is 'time to consider Iraq withdrawal,' noting the protracted war is not winnable and it's creating more terrorists than enemies of the West. What is your response?" An irritated yet good-natured Rumsfeld responded, "Who put that question in? He ought to get a life. If he's got time to read that kind of stuff, he ought to get a life."
Ah, in short, anyone who even reads bad news has the wrong attitude and should "get a life." Tell me again - how did we get into this war and make so many bad decisions? I guess those with reservations about our rationale(s), our evidence, about how many troops we'd need and how easy this all would be simply had a bad attitude and needed to get a life.

Okay then.

Krugman in the New York Times get on his own high horse, and rides in the other direction.

See The Last Deception
Paul Krugman, September 21, 2004

Krugman spends some time discussing Ayad Allawi and his visit this week to the UN and his upcoming address to a Joint Session of Congress, but here's the money quote:
Now Mr. Bush hopes that by pretending that Mr. Allawi is a real leader of a real government, he can conceal the fact that he has led America into a major strategic defeat.

That's a stark statement, but it's a view shared by almost all independent military and intelligence experts. Put it this way: it's hard to identify any major urban areas outside Kurdistan where the U.S. and its allies exercise effective control. Insurgents operate freely, even in the heart of Baghdad, while coalition forces, however many battles they win, rule only whatever ground they happen to stand on. And efforts to put an Iraqi face on the occupation are self-defeating: as the example of Mr. Allawi shows, any leader who is too closely associated with America becomes tainted in the eyes of the Iraqi public.

Mr. Bush's insistence that he is nonetheless "pleased with the progress" in Iraq - when his own National Intelligence Estimate echoes the grim views of independent experts - would be funny if the reality weren't so grim. Unfortunately, this is no joke: to the delight of Al Qaeda, America's overstretched armed forces are gradually getting chewed up in a losing struggle.
This is, of course, a bit grim, but the consensus now.

But is there any way out of this? Not exactly...
The Bush administration fostered the Iraq insurgency by botching the essential tasks of enlisting allies, rebuilding infrastructure, training and equipping local security forces, and preparing for elections. It's understandable, then, that John Kerry - whose speech yesterday was deadly accurate in its description of Mr. Bush's mistakes - proposes going back and doing the job right.

But I hope that Mr. Kerry won't allow himself to be trapped into trying to fulfill neocon fantasies. If there ever was a chance to turn Iraq into a pro-American beacon of democracy, that chance perished a long time ago.
Oh. No way out.

Krugman calls for scaling back our aims. Accept the idea that any Iraqi leader, to have legitimacy, must toss us out, or seem to. And forget those fourteen "enduring bases" we're building there. And accept the idea Iraq will not have a strong central government - probably just local autonomous leaders. The best we can hope for is "leaving behind an Iraq that isn't an American ally, but isn't a threat either." And even that isn't sure thing.

Well, we tried.

Richard Cohen says pretty much the same thing, the same day, in the Washington Post.

See Coming Clean About This War
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; Page A21

Key quotes?
At one time I would have ruled out anything less than what might be called a U.S. victory in Iraq -- a secure nation governed by democratically elected rulers. I would have argued that no matter how the United States got into Iraq, it simply could not preemptively pull out. To do so would have great and grave consequences. It could plunge the country into civil war, Shiites against Sunnis and Kurds against them both. It would cause the country to disintegrate, maybe dividing into thirds -- a Kurdish north, a Sunni center and a Shiite south. Where things are not so ethnically neat, expect a bloodbath -- and expect outsiders to join in.

Now, though, we all have to face the prospect that Iraq will end up a mess no matter what. The administration's own national intelligence estimate raises the possibility that civil war may erupt by the end of next year. That's the direst prediction, but it now seems more likely than the one President Bush once envisioned: an Iraq with some sort of Jeffersonian democracy. That ain't about to happen and bit by bit, Bush has been scaling back his rhetoric. The truth is that we'd now settle for a pro-American strongman such as Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Both countries are essentially military dictatorships.
I suppose such a strongman would do.

Then Cohen brings up Vietnam, as you might expect -
... Iraq is fast becoming Vietnam -- only the stakes are higher. (Vietnam had no oil.) It is also Vietnam in the way the presidential campaign is handling it. Once again the GOP is playing the odious patriotism card to silence dissent. As for Bush, he talks about Iraq with the same loopy unreality as he does his National Guard service. He's a fabulist.

I still don't think the United States can just pull out of Iraq. But I do think the option is worth discussing. Would the threat of a U.S. pullout concentrate the minds of Iraqis so that they take control of their own destinies? Would the loss of the Yankee enemy cause Iraqis to blame actual bombers for the bombing -- and not the United States? Would a threatened U.S. withdrawal get the attention of NATO, not to mention neighboring Middle Eastern countries? Do they want Iraq in shambles? I doubt it.

Bush ought to come clean. What are his goals for Iraq now? Does he plan to bring in more troops if he wins in November or is he simply going to accept defeat, call it victory and bring the boys (and girls) home? If I were still in the uniform I once wore, I'd sure like to know. It's terrible to die for a mistake. It's even worse to die for a lie.
And it's 1968, or 1972, all over again. Same questions.

But the most interesting of the analyses of all this comes from Chris Suellentrop.

See Cheney's Burden
The case for war vs. the case for peace.
Posted Monday, Sept. 20, 2004, at 7:38 PM PT - SLATE.COM

Suellentrop says Cheney, unlike Rumsfeld above, makes the most compelling case possible for continuing with a flawed policy.
... Before 9/11, he says, the terrorists learned two lessons from how the United States responded to their multiple strikes: "They could strike the United States with relative impunity," and, "If they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy," as happened after the 1983 attack in Beirut and again in Mogadishu. That's why, Cheney insists, the nation must stay the course in Iraq. The strategy of terrorists is to use violence to force a change in U.S. policy. If that happens, "that's a victory for the terrorists."

Kerry hasn't argued for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, of course, though Cheney certainly implies it. What really differentiates Cheney's position from Kerry's is how the two men approach the burden of proof for war: The Bush administration has shifted it from war to peace.

That's what Cheney is saying, that the administration's current Iraq policies are the proper default position. Any change in policy--not just a complete withdrawal, but any "change"--must be weighed against the fear of emboldening al-Qaida. And at its heart, that's what the debate over going to war with Iraq has been about for two years.
So it's a burden-of-proof thing. Cheney, the one man who can be said to most probably control and direct the administration, is saying one needs to prove the case for anything else but war. Unless you come up with some damned good reasons, then continual war it is.

He just shifts the terms, and Suellentrop remind us of how we got into this -
Those, like Kerry, who wanted to give the inspectors more time, or who wanted to bring more allies aboard before invading, believed that the burden of proof was on war, that an attacking nation must provide evidence of the justness of its decision. The administration argued the opposite, that Iraq needed to prove to the world that it didn't deserve to be invaded. The job of the inspectors, in this view, wasn't to find weapons of mass destruction but to prove a virtual impossibility, that Iraq didn't possess WMD. That was the lesson of 9/11, the administration said. We couldn't wait to find out whether Iraq had WMD. If we did, it might be too late.

Based on his speech in New York on Monday, Kerry doesn't agree with that lesson. He says he voted for the war to give the president leverage in the United Nations. That way the inspectors could verify whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But Kerry misunderstands the administration's position. They didn't want to prove the case for war. The only way to dissuade them would be if someone had proven the case for peace.

... The question in front of voters in November: Do you think, for the next 30 to 50 years, that the nation needs to prove its case when it goes to war? Or do you think the world has changed so much that we should have to prove the case for peace?
Yep, that is the core question. And I suspect most folks buy into the war-as-default policy.

Think of the bully who has you cornered, grabs your shirt and sneers, "Okay, give ten good reasons I shouldn't beat the crap out of you right now?" An angry and frustrated American people can understand why playing the part of that bully is just plain satisfying, and relatively easy given our military resources - no one pushes us around. Hey, anything else is just too much of a bother, and kind of French.

But it is too bad that people who have been repeatedly bullied fight back in sneaky ways that make life hard. Geez, they just don't get it. Algeria in the fifties, Vietnam in the sixties, Gaza and the West bank now, Northern Ireland since 1688 - and so many other examples of the defeated and powerless just not accepting their worthlessness - makes you wonder if this "prove to me you don't deserve a beating" stance really works.

Well, it's what we do. And one does not sense much change in the air. Everyone may agree we're in a mess with Iraq, but it looks like will just keep hitting the twerps harder and harder.

Ah, you could vote for going the other way on that.

Posted by Alan at 15:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 September 2004 08:43 PDT home

Monday, 20 September 2004

Topic: The Culture

The Work Ethic: Is the route to sanity to do as little as possible in your job while saving yourself for your real life outside the workplace?

A few years ago, after a second bottle of dry red Tuscan wine, or perhaps a third, with my conservative friend and his wife, we fell into a discussion of the American work ethic, and the way the French seemed to approach work. There is a difference. This was after my fourth trip to France, and he and his wife had just returned from one of their trips to Tuscany.

I recall we discussed the idea of whether one worked to live, or lived to work - and that seems to be the basic disconnect. He said the French just don't take work seriously. They define themselves by their personal lives, not their careers. This was irresponsible.

So he was going on about how the six to eight week summer vacations and the thirty-five hour workweek made France an economic loser. I countered with something about the French doing well with some things - how the Falcon jet built by Dassault in Toulouse had the major share of the executive jet market (our Coast Guard alone has forty of them) and how Vivendi had managed to buy up Universal Studios and their theme parks and music businesses (oops - that didn't work out) and so on and so forth. He wasn't buying it.

He said look at their productivity. I countered with the odd fact that on a unit-of-value-per-hour-worked basis the French workers' productivity far outstrips that of Americans.

He countered with the idea that they have to be productive each hour because they start work at ten in the morning, take two-hour lunches, and have innumerable three-day and four-day weekends all year round. And he added, as he is the CEO of a thriving software company, if someone applied for a job with him and asked about vacation benefits, well, that applicant would never be hired - as that was a sign that applicant didn't take work seriously, and had no ambition.

I seem to recall that when I worked at Hughes Aircraft in the eighties and nineties - later Hughes Electronics, then Hughes-Raytheon, then a new part of General Motors, then DirecTV after shedding Raytheon, then sold by GM and now part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation - the fellow who ran the communications lab (satellite payloads and top secret communications gizmos) was famous because in twenty years he had never taken one day of vacation, ever. By California state law we had to pay him a big chunk of change for that. My conservative friend was impressed - this was the kind of hard worker and ambitious go-getter that made America great. (The fellow was Japanese, by the way.) I was appalled.

So we didn't agree. I asked what was so damned good about productivity? He looked at me like I was from another planet. And we had even more wine and let it pass.

That all came back to me last week when I came across an item in the International Herald Tribune and my friends on line started discussing it.

Meanwhile: Workers of the world, unite and don't work!
Michael Johnson - The International Herald Tribune - Friday, September 17, 2004

First of all, know that Michael Johnson is the author of "French Resistance: The individual vs. the Company in French Corporate Life." And he opens with this -
A few years ago I co-authored a book called "Workaholism: Getting a Life in the Killing Fields of Work." It sank like a stone. Maybe the title was too clunky.

More likely, my timing was off. Both Europe and the United States were living through a mild spasm of anti-work rhetoric in the 1990s, but it was nothing like what is happening today in France and Britain. This new wave goes far beyond downshifting and life balance.

Two best sellers reflect this tune-out culture: Corine Maier's "Bonjour Paresse" in France and Tom Hodgkinson's "How to Be Idle" in Britain. Both authors advise that the route to sanity is to do as little as possible in your job while saving yourself for your real life outside the workplace.
So, in essence, this is a book review with personal anecdotes.

Johnson, who has been a manager in both the UK and France, says that when he arrived in London he was told that "one must not be seen to be striving." And he says that in France, "dodging work and responsibility in my company was an art."

Johnson too says the key difference between Americans and the Brits and the French is that there the work ethic is that work life and private life are separate, and friendships tend to be unrelated to professional life.

But here's the real key -
In the French publishing firm where I worked, employees simply did not buy the argument that their work might be inherently worthwhile and essential to the success of the firm, the source of their sustenance. They resented the fact that shareholders took home unearned income from their daily work.

This disconnect creates a standoff between leaders and the led.
As well it might.

Johnson notes that French workers demand precise job descriptions so that management cannot take advantage of their energies. And that means "initiative and extra hours are out of the question." And he quotes a fellow who worked for him in France saying - "We want you to tell us exactly what you want us to do, and we'll do it if we feel like it."

Well, that makes a manager's job a bit harder.

Corine Maier's "Bonjour Paresse" is mentioned in little detail, although he notes she is "a chipper professional economist with a disarming subversive streak." The book is intended to help you "use your company instead of letting yourself be used by it." And the books does refer to recent polls that indicate only three percent of the French are willing to give themselves to their work whereas seventeen percent are "actively disengaged" - their attitudes are so unconstructive as to "approach sabotage."

Maybe my conservative friend was right. And too, Maier is scheduled for a disciplinary hearing at her job later this month. Perhaps she should not have written this book.

But the bulk of Johnson's item is dedicated to the UK, where "Margaret Thatcher's self-help culture has eroded since her departure from public life, allowing the old slacker malaise to creep back into daily life."

Johnson covers the nascent "chav scum" movement - the Kevs, steeks, spides, ratboys, skangers, stigs or scallies. The workers who don't give a damn.

Read it. It's quite funny.

And Johnson says we are safe over here -
On a recent visit to the United States I watched for signs of erosion of the bootstrap culture Americans have always been proud of. I browsed the shelves at Harvard's Coop bookstore, finding nothing at all on downshifting. Finally I asked the manager where he was hiding these books. "Can't help you," he said. "We're mostly about upshifting here."
We are? Well, a bit of this was discussed previously here.

But what about our president, the top American?

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, muses about that -
Geez, reading about all these French and British slackers gives me pause to worry about the state of the world! In our country, folks with no sense of responsibility and who don't believe in showing up for work, at best, all tend to end up voting Republican, but at worst, are elected President!
Why, then George Bush, by this reasoning, what with the long vacations and inattention to anything like hard work or the silly details of the job, and his life-long history of goofing off and avoiding real work, would be, well, sort of... French? What a concept!

Don't tell anyone.

Nico in Montr?al, the most French of cities in North America, says the American work ethic is an anomaly, and even the Canadians doesn't quite get it -
Lots going on in this article, but the work ethic Johnson talks about an American phenomena.

It is the willingness of many young Americans to do what it takes, and go where they need to be, to have their career. People are constantly on the move across the country. This shows they are keen and, probably secondly, know no one in the city they live in, or rather, near.

A further point is that for every unemployed worker in the US, there are probably two over-worked ones, willingly participating to sacrifice their private lives for productivity gains for companies that would just as soon cast them out than go over budget on toilet-paper.

Most of my American (and even Canadian) friends think it odd that I would choose where to live, then figure out a career or just get a job. Having been "right-sized" a couple times myself, I have stopped trying to include work-mates into my private life. As long as I still live and work in the same city my professional circles are still there and growing with each new job. They are held together by the odd email chain, cinq-a-sept, or run-in's on the street.

At the end of the day, the question is why this "corporate idealism" when most know that American business is more than ruthless when it comes to 'right-sizing' and casting off devoted workers who make the workplace the center of their worlds.
I too have been "right-sized" a few times. One takes care of oneself. Making your job the center of your world? That way lies madness. I agree with Nico.

And the people who have worked for me - and I was a senior systems manager - have become my friends, but always after they left or I left the job. Work is work. Life is life.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, has a response to Nico -
I have no problem with picking a place to live first, then picking a job. Cool enough! Hell, that's what I've been urging Alan to do for years. Then again, I suppose it'd be hard to move to Paris without a work permit, then find some job that suits you.

But the idea of getting hired to work for a company, then trying to get away with working as little as you can, sounds not only like it takes way too much effort, but also insures you'll spend the whole day staring at the clock and wishing you were somewhere else.

And also, the idea of working in an environment in which all your co-workers frown on you if you are "seen to be striving" sounds too much like spending an eternity in hell, turning big rocks into little ones. God help you if you'd actually want to work your way up into management.

And to live in a whole country where this passes for a "work ethic"? How could it avoid having shoddy goods and services? No wonder we see so many things here that were made in China, and very few made in Britain or France. When I first moved to St. Croix [US Virgin Islands], I thought I would like this whole concept of "island time" and the relaxed attitude toward work, but that was before I had to stand a whole two hours or so in line one day (with only one other person in front of me) to get a driver's license.

The truth is, although I'm definitely no flag waver and don't know if the United States is (as all those bean-dip-for-brains conservatives brag) "the greatest country on Earth," I keep getting reminded that, in spite of all its problems, I'd really rather live here than anywhere else.
Well, I'm the Alan that Rick mentions, and I know getting a carte de sejour to work in Paris isn't likely - and Hollywood really is pretty fine.

And in two weeks I start work for an HMO - with the task to expand a department and staff it up, to build a nationwide claims processing suite of applications. And I hope it is not "too much like spending an eternity in hell, turning big rocks into little ones." And I will be in management. I think the idea is to do a fine job, and help others do a fine job, but not take it too seriously, as work is not all of life.

But that aim - doing well but knowing there is more to life - goes against the grain of life here in the United States. Should I stumble there are a thousand, and maybe many thousand well qualified others waiting to take my place, unemployed and unhappy, and more than willing to sacrifice family and health and all spare time to the organization. It is well to remember them.

They may be foolish, given what they can realistically expect in return - mostly nothing. What one gets for disregarding one's family and undermining one's health must come from within - a sense of worth based on career and title and, in my trade, elegant, flawless software. Hey, if that is what defines your worth in this world, well, that is your choice.

But there are other criteria for defining your worth in this world, to yourself.

And as for whether the French or the Americans are using the "right" criteria is an interesting question, but finally personal. Rick is right to point out the limitations of what he calls "island time" - that laid back vaguely French way of living life in the moment and savoring friends and family, but getting nothing much done. And Nico is right to point out the empty shallowness of giving your all-too-short life over to a corporate career, for a handful of dust, and, more often than not these days, a pink slip.

Perhaps the answer is to be a CEO like my conservative friend. From the top the choices are easier. But I do know some petty burnt out CEO's who endlessly think of chucking it all. I know one in San Diego who buys a lottery ticket for each drawing so she can, maybe, one day, sell the company and get some sleep. Maybe being on top isn't always the answer.

So I dream of Paris - I lived with Rick's family in the Virgin Islands for three or four months and I'm over that particular dream - but you make the compromises. You do your best.


Reactions -

From Joseph, who used to do film stuff here in Hollywood but now lives in France...
Two items:

Despite the impression pandered in the US media, France is not working toward becoming more socialist; quite the opposite. Sure maybe thirty years ago, but it's been running the other way for quite a while.

I submit an exhibit: Recently, the French government sold a large portion of it's holdings in France Telecom, thereby relinquishing majority control. Quelle dommage. It seems they sold about a sixth of their sixty Billion stake. More is apparently sure to follow. This made me wonder what the complete portfolio of the republique came to, and particularly in relation to the current fiscal deficit. Perhaps Ric Erickson [see MetropoleParis] has a figure at his fingertips, but I invented a figure of about 350 billion euros. If the holdings are in this range, that seems a significant kitty in comparison to the budget deficit. This is the interesting part. While the US has to go even deeper in to debt to meet it's obligations in the future, France may merely have to sell the family silver to cover the shortfall imposed by the looming demographic catastrophe. This one's a no-brainer. Guess which country is going to have the greater tax burden in twenty years time?

Alan, you may want to look for an article from the IHT about eight weeks ago, FP/ATF, about why Europe doesn't have to compete with the US, and why taking so much vacation time is logical; leisure is a luxury good, and as people become more wealthy, the consume more of it. Adam Smith would have approved. Everyone seems to understand this except Americans, who seemingly can never get enough of anything, so long as it's tangible.

By the way, whenever Americans want to pick on Europe for it's "socialist policies", long vacations and generous welfare state, why is the devil always France (Rick has already guessed, no doubt - it's the enemy within) when GERMANY, (ya die vaderland, suck it up, German-Americans) is a better example of this by almost any objective measure.
The IHT item? That would be the International Herald Tribune, the Paris daily essentially run by the New York Times, and the item Joseph refers to, I believe, is this:

Work and leisure in Europe
[ no byline ] - The International Herald Tribune - Friday, August 20, 2004

The opening -
Those vacation-loving Europeans are not pulling their weight in the effort to reignite global economic growth, Americans often grumble, and the International Monetary Fund seemed to agree in a report issued earlier this month. By calling on Europeans to jump-start their economy by working more, it intensified the trans-Atlantic debate over the increasing divergence in work patterns. As their society has become wealthier, Europeans are working less, while Americans are working more.

The longstanding debate over whether Europeans are too easygoing or whether Americans work so hard they miss out on enjoying the fruit of their prosperity - more leisure time - is an interesting one...
Yes, but the author asserts the real issue the IMF is raising is persistent high unemployment in western Europe, and the odd work rules that make that inevitable.

Key paragraphs:
The answer for Europe, in other words, is not necessarily to turn its back on its own culture's balancing of economic productivity and leisure. Americans, as a rule, may derive more satisfaction from working longer hours, though recent social research suggests that one of the reasons Americans work almost one-fifth more hours than Europeans do is a fear that if they don't, someone else will take their job. Surveys show that Americans would prefer to work less and have more time to enjoy leisure and family.

... Europe's problem is not that its workers work too little, but that the system that protects them also makes sure that the unemployed stay that way. High minimum wages, high payroll taxes and laws that make it excessively hard to dismiss workers discourage hiring, and the people who lose out are usually those who weren't around when the rules were written, such as the young, immigrants and mothers returning to the workforce.

... As for the question of working hours, the answer may be simply to give people more choice - to let them find their own balance of work and leisure, now or later - but give them more responsibility for funding their retirement years.
You get the idea.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, does respond to Joseph, of course -
Joe, nicely put.

I think I agree with everything you said, including that "vacation time being a luxury worth living for" stuff, but especially the wisdom of a nation holding a portfolio in reserve to hedge against budget deficits that might come back to bite the country in its collective ass sometime down the road. Perish forbid a U.S. president should look to France - or any other country, for that matter - for better ideas on doing anything, but I have a feeling that a hypothetical President Kerry would do just that, once past the election and emboldened enough not to fear being caught speaking French in public.

Still, I should clarify something you probably already knew, that I wasn't attacking France for its (maybe imagined) "socialist" ways; in fact, I only used France and Britain as examples because those were the two countries addressed in the article I was responding to. In fact, not so much France, but what the guy said about working in England -- and even post-Thatcher, non-"socialist" England -- is something I myself have heard often from some of my friends who live there.

All I meant to say was, although I have little problem with grunts who do their work and get paid for it and go home at the end of the day, I just wouldn't want to work in an environment where there was peer pressure to slack off. I myself would prefer working in an environment where there's freedom to enjoy what I do for a living.
Along with the hypothetical President Kerry, then, we now have this hypothetical workplace full of folks who enjoy their work and still have a life outside the workplace.

Such places are few, and far between.

When I worked for Perot Systems one of their mantras was that at Perot Systems all folks loved their work, and got up each and every day eager to get to the office and do more of it. And Perot Systems made sounds about the importance of vacation - that you had to take your vacation as earned, so you didn't neglect your family and yourself in your enthusiasm. That was the Perot way. But H. Ross Perot got old and retired, and turned the company over to his son, who saw just how cutthroat the economy was becoming. Something shifted. My regional position was eliminated, along with two others, for one manager directing work of forty people in three states remotely from Phoenix - and I was given a project to manage - then was laid off as the overhead was high and the customer wasn't paying Perot enough for all the work. Fifty of us left in the first wave of that - all projects abandoned - and then another fifty got their pink slips a few months later as maintenance service to the customer was cut to the bare contractual minimum. Perot then trained me on HMO billing systems and assigned me to manage an implantation of this software here - and the client suddenly canceled the contract and sixty of us were left with nothing to do. The only thing left? A high priority contract in Boston - and that meant full-time travel, sixty-hour weeks, living out of a suitcase in a hotel on Tremont, and getting home for a day and a half every third weekend. So being somewhat France in my attitude toward work, I resigned. The cost to my own life was far too high at that point. I suppose I wasn't dedicated - and wasn't committed to the career and to success. Or I wasn't buying into the new Perot Systems definition of success.

Shame on me? I made my choice. No regrets.

And perhaps in two weeks I will be working in the sort of environment the now elderly and frail H. Ross Perot once envisioned. We shall see.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 September 2004 11:38 PDT home

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