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Consider:

"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, 30 July 2004

Topic: Political Theory

No one is neutral as you are with us or with the evil doers...

M?decins sans fronti?re ("Doctors Without Borders") became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. That was Wednesday of this week.

I came across this odd comment from Jeff Stivers in an MSNBC column -
For the inside scoop on why Medecins sans Frontiers (pardon my mangled French) left Afghanistan, go check out some French papers. Or something filed by AFP. The main reason they left was because U.S. troops were issuing leaflets saying medical help would be withheld unless people started turning in, or ratting out, those the U.S. considers terrorists. MSF thought that to be very dangerous to their personnel. To say nothing of offensive. And I think they are right on both counts.
What?

We take this you're with-us-or-against us stuff to the medical level? Cooperate or no medical treatment for you, you evil one? And you doctors? You cannot be neutral. You are with us or against us - so make your choice.

No, that couldn't be.

The Associated Press wire on this says this is, well, kind of so.

Doctors aid group leaves Afghanistan over security
Stephen Graham - Associated Press Writer - 07/29/04
KABUL, Afghanistan - Medecins Sans Frontieres became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, saying Wednesday that the government failed to act on evidence that local warlords were behind the murder of five of its staff.

The Nobel prize-winning medical relief group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, denounced the U.S. military's use of aid to persuade Afghans to snitch on insurgents, saying it risked turning all relief workers into targets. It was also dismayed that Taliban rebels tried to claim responsibility for the June 2 attack on its staff.

''We feel that the framework for independent humanitarian action in Afghanistan at present has simply evaporated,'' said Kenny Gluck, MSF's director of operations. There is a ''lack of respect for the safety of aid workers.''

The withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontieres, which had 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff in the country before the June attack, is the most dramatic example yet of how poor security more than two years after the fall of the Taliban is hampering the delivery of badly needed aid.

More than 30 aid workers have been killed here since March 2003, rendering much of the south and east off-limits.

... A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, and accused the victims of working for American interests - a shock to MSF, which relies on neutrality to protect staff who venture into war zones.

... The aid group ... called on the U.S. military to halt its expanding use of humanitarian work to win over skeptical Afghans.

U.S. and NATO troops are running a string of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams across the country, setting up clinics, digging wells and doing other work normally carried out by civilians.
The military apologized in May for distributing leaflets telling Afghans that they had to provide information on militants if they wanted assistance to continue.

Blurring the distinction ''puts all aid workers in danger,'' MSF secretary-general Marine Buissonniere said.

The U.S. military said the protests were misguided.

''We don't put anyone in danger,'' spokesman Maj. Jon Siepmann said. Many aid groups were working effectively alongside American troops, he said. Others ''need to direct their concern towards the Taliban, towards al-Qaida. We do nothing here but help.''
Summary? It got too dangerous. And one of the reasons it got too dangerous was that there was lots of talk floating around - from us - that all this aid and medical stuff was fine, but unless the locals got serious about giving up the evil ones among them, there was going to no more of it.

Medecins Sans Frontieres wanted to be neutral - and just provide medical services in one sorry part of the world. We maintain no one is neutral. So they left, before more of them died.

The AFP- the French press agency - late in the week had only a brief item on its English language service. And it contained this -
The United States said it "regretted" a decision by Medecins Sans Frontieres to pull out of Afghanistan for security reasons and asked the aid organization to reconsider the move.

At the same time, the State Department denied MSF charges that U.S.-led stabilization forces now in Afghanistan were using humanitarian aid to further political and military goals.

In announcing the move, MSF, known in English as Doctors without Borders, blamed the Afghan government for failing to protect aid workers and chase militants who killed five of its staff last month.

It also accused the U.S.-led forces of blurring the boundaries between aid workers and military personnel and "endangering the lives of humanitarian workers and jeopardizing aid to people in need."
Well, this all begs the question. Can medicine be neutral in a time of war, or ever, really? Isn't caring for the sick or injured or halt or lame or all the rest, really, a political act? What if the fellow you fix-up and make all better is someone who knows someone who is a bad guy? Have you, the doctor who treated him, not then become one of these terrorists yourself?

Interesting questions.

___

The French Press?

Afghanistan : M?decins sans fronti?res plie bagage
Le Figaro - 28 juil 2004
Cela faisait presque vingt-quatre ans que M?decins sans fronti?res (MSF) y ?tait implant?. Mais hier, l'organisation a annonc? ...

Les humanitaires en crise identitaire
Lib?ration - 28 juil 2004
Deux mois apr?s l'assassinat de cinq de ses collaborateurs en Afghanistan, M?decins sans fronti?res a annonc? hier le retrait de ses ?quipes du pays ?pour ...

M?decins sans fronti?res va quitter l'Afghanistan
Nouvel Observateur - 28 juil 2004
KABOUL (AP) -- M?decins sans fronti?res (MSF) a annonc? mercredi son d?part d'Afghanistan, apr?s le meurtre de cinq de ses employ?s d?but juin. ...

Afghanistan: MSF quitte le pays
France 2 - 28 juil 2004
MSF, suite ? l'assassinat d?but juin de cinq de ses employ?s dans le nord-ouest de l'Afghanistan, a annonc? mercredi sa d?cision de se retirer. ...

M?decins sans fronti?re se retire d'Afghanistan
L'Express - 27 juil 2004
KABOUL (AFP - 07:32) - L'organisation humanitaire M?decins sans fronti?re (MSF) va se retirer d'Afghanistan, suite ? l'assassinat d?but juin de cinq de ses ...

And so on...

Posted by Alan at 15:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Thursday, 29 July 2004

Topic: Photos

The End of July

From Hollywood looking at downtown Los Angeles, across a carpet of palm trees.


Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Political Theory

Book Notes: Social Darwinism as seen from Pasadena

Previously in Cain's Question I briefly mentioned a conversation I had with a good friend of mine who is a conservative Republican. We had been talking about particular laws we have here in this country that are explicitly intended to make life more fair. And as I said, my conservative friend told me all these laws about fairness in hiring and education - all that civil right legislation that started with the 1964 Civil Right Act - were stupid. His contention was that good people with ambition will rise to the top anyway. They don't need such laws. And those who aren't good people, who are not "assuming personal responsibility for their own lives," then, because of such laws, end up feeling as if they ate entitled to stuff everyone else has to earn on his or her own. It's not fair. In addition, such laws just hobble business and schools that want to be, simply, what they want to be, no matter what "big government" thinks they should be or says how they the think these business and schools should act - such laws take away their rights, to hire or admit whomever they want. It's not fair.

This is, as I see it, pretty simple Social Darwinism. He says it's not - and says some laws are clearly necessary, but they have horrible secondary consequences by creating this giant pool of people who feel they are entitled to some sort of free ride and learn that there is no advantage in doing anything for themselves. Such laws help and hurt. They offer some relief to a few who actually need help, and at the same time create a general culture of wining professional victims who take advantage of those who labor honestly and succeed. He says this all started long before LBJ and the Civil Rights laws. He said to me FDR did immeasurable harm to this country with Social Security and the WPA and all the stuff he started during the Great Depression. Roosevelt was the man who really ruined America, and we're still trying to recover. I disagreed, and then we drank a lot more. We're still friends.

Well, unfortunately for my friend, this is the week for the return of Social Darwinism - as a topic for national discussion.

John Powers' new book, "Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America," is about to be published. (Doubleday - Hardcover - July 2004 - $24.95 - ISBN 0-385-51187-6)

Who is John Powers? He's deputy editor of LA Weekly. He writes a weekly media/culture column called "On." He is also critic-at-large for NPR's Fresh Air - and was interviewed on his new book there. That Terry Gross interview from July 28 is here. Powers has been the film critic for Vogue as well as an international correspondent for Gourmet. He lives out here in Pasadena - not far from my conservative friend in Eagle Rock.

The world of book promotion being what it is, and given his current job, well, Powers gets the cover of this week's LA Weekly. Local boy makes good.

The item is a long excerpt from the new book.

Sore Winners (and the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America
John Powers, LA Weekly, Issue of July 30 - August 5, 2004

The item gives a long history of Social Darwinism - with a discussion of key figures beyond Darwin himself, and is worth a read. On the other hand, I rather like the details of history - who wrote what and who said what, and who said things back to them. You may not.

Powers is, however, best when her talks about the here and now - and the emphases below are mine -
It's long been part of our national self-image that Americans are Good Winners. When Yankee soldiers triumphed over Burgoyne's army at the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, British prisoners were impressed by the victors' polite silence -- there was no gloating or jeering. When U.S. troops entered Germany after World War II, they didn't indulge in an orgy of rape as did the Soviets but helped rebuild the country, winning a caricatured reputation for being beaming men with chocolate bars. And when the U.S. Olympic hockey team won its famous "Do you believe in miracles?" victory over the Soviets in Lake Placid in 1980, the players exulted in their triumph without getting in the Russians' faces.

In truth, no country always behaves well in victory. Sometimes our Winners have been gentlemanly; at others, vulgar and ruthless. Just ask the foreign basketball players flattened by Charles Barkley at the Barcelona Olympics. During the heyday of Social Darwinism, capitalists worked people to death without the slightest qualm and made no apology for it -- try to form a union and goons would come after you with clubs. Meanwhile, the rich exulted in their wealth. The delightfully named Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish held a 1904 dinner party in honor of her dog, which turned up in a $15,000 diamond collar at a time when the average annual income was $380. Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller explained his fortune to a Sunday school class by declaring, "God gave me the money."

The Bush years may be the coarsest period in our nation's history since those days. To my amazement, I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the comparatively modest ill manners of the Reagan years, when the U.S. invaded countries like Grenada and "Junk Bond King" Michael Milken was on the prowl. Today's Winners don't simply win, they win badly: bragging, sneering, lording it over the Losers, and promoting themselves with a crassness that would leave Duddy Kravitz blushing. When Hurricane Isabel knocks out the power in much of Washington, D.C., the Redskins' billionaire owner doesn't just get a huge generator to restore his own electricity but turns on all his lights, so that his house glows like the Vegas strip while his annoyed neighbors sit in the dark.

Practicing the "look out for yourself" philosophy preached in his books, Bill O'Reilly gloats about how many copies he's sold, accuses critics of "envy," and uses his media platforms to pitch his books and "The Spin Stops Here" tchotchkes. Seventeen-year-old hoops phenom LeBron James drives to high school in his $50,000 Hummer, not even bothering to pretend that he's a regular student. And careerist wiseass Dennis Miller, who now embraces George W. Bush on CNBC, the better to kick the underdog, justifies a bellicose U.S. foreign policy by saying, "We are real good at what we do, and the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. As that gap gets wider, they'll hate us more and more and more. We are simultaneously the most hated, feared, loved and admired nation on this planet. In short, we are Frank Sinatra, and you know something, the Chairman didn't get to be the Chairman lying down for punks outside the Fontainbleu."

On the worst day of his life, Ol' Blue Eyes, who grew up poor in Hoboken, was more idealistic about America than that.

Such Sore Winners aren't simply found in the media. Now you find such thuggishness everywhere.
This all strikes me as about right - but I may be just grumpy because I'm one of the losers. When the bottom of the Middle Class is marked by when you first earn over four hundred fifty thousand dollars a year, when Bush claims he's just a poor, hard-working stiff like the rest of us, while having a net worth of nineteen million, well, I guess I have my sour grapes. I'm outclassed. Big time, to use Dick Cheney's words.

But Powers says it's not Bush, really.
... Such vaulting brutishness can't be blamed on George W. Bush, but he's done nothing to humble the Winners. He couldn't be less like his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, no small egomaniac himself, who helped knock apart the Gilded Age because its ignobility gnawed at him: "Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth." The Bush administration is a veritable hive of Sore Winners, whether it's the president scowling peevishly at questions that Reagan would have dispatched with a joke, the vice president sneering that energy conservation is no more than "personal virtue," or Rummy treating everyone from reporters to generals as if they were no brighter than whelks. Nothing betrays such arrogance more than Republican big shots' public boasts that the GOP is becoming the "natural" party of power -- a norte?o version of the PRI, the kleptocracy that ran Mexico for 71 years. They brag about placing Republicans in key lobbying slots of K Street, freezing out PACs that don't ante up, and using congressional redistricting to ensure that the GOP keeps winning more seats. Such political hardball is hardly unprecedented. Although less ruthlessly, the Democrats played many of the same tricks for years. What's new is how flagrantly Bush and his party flaunt tactics it was once thought politic to keep hidden. It's no longer enough just to do these things, one must make a public meal of it.
Well, it is all a bit in-your-face. But you need to know whether you are a winner, or a loser - and adopt the appropriate attitude. That would be on one case a Yale frat-boy smirk, and in the other case your head hung low in shame. As pope said - "Act well you part. Therein all honor lies."

But Powers points out that like my friend in Eagle Rock, no one is admitting to any social Darwinism here -
Thanks to the Christian right, none of our politicians dares mention Darwin, except to say he shouldn't be taught in schools. ("Religion has been around a lot longer than Darwin," our president has noted helpfully.) Beyond that, the Winners' agenda is now far harsher than it ever was under Nixon, whose social policies would strike today's Republicans as downright socialist. The Bush administration has given the rich hundreds of billions in tax "relief," while excluding millions of less favored Americans (including U.S. troops) from other forms of tax relief. Even as it gave $80,000 write-offs to businessmen who buy Humvees, it sought to change the Fair Labor Standards Act in a way that would cost countless hourly workers their overtime. Just redefine their work as administrative and the extra hours are free. Underlying such behavior is the president's embrace of a philosophy (or, more accurately, an outlook) I call Populist Social Darwinism. Bush boasts about returning power to ordinary people -- "We want to give you back your money" -- then pursues policies that produce a class of highly visible Winners while unraveling the social safety net. Anytime you so much as mention this, you're accused of waging class warfare.
Yep. It is a neat trick.

And as someone who used to teach at an exclusive private prep school in upstate New York, this cause my attention -
America is increasingly a country where Winners' kids attend private schools and the Losers' go to fading public ones, where Winners shop at specialty grocers and Losers buy their food at Wal-Mart, where Winners fly business or first class while Losers are stuck in economy sections and treated with flagrant, lunch-in-a-doggie-bag contempt, where Winners choose from a smorgasbord of jobs and Losers like Jessica Lynch enlist in the military because they couldn't get a job at Wal-Mart. The chances of upward mobility have shrunk vastly in the last 30 years; BusinessWeek says the odds have dropped by 60 percent. In that same period, the richest 1 percent of the population has doubled its holdings. It now possesses as much as the bottom 40 percent, and the richest 13,000 families own as much as the poorest 20 million households. As Al Franken vividly put it, this is like Bemidji, Minnesota, having more income than all the residents of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix combined. While Bush didn't create this situation, his policies are making the divisions far more extreme. He's institutionalizing a New Gilded Age in which the state gives financial assistance to the very wealthy -- Bill Gates personally saved $82 million in the first year of the dividend tax cut -- while showing little concern for those who are not. What compassionate leader could preside over the loss of more than 2 million jobs -- many among the middle class, whose positions have permanently moved abroad -- and still be obsessed with cuts to the estate tax? In 2003, Bush racked up a $480 billion budget deficit while cutting programs like Head Start and AmeriCorps, the entire budget of which was only three times Gates' dividend tax cut. Convinced of the inherent goodness of the free market -- a religion he embraces more deeply than Christianity -- he evidently thinks it normal for Winners to take what they want. The Losers be damned.
As they should be? That is for the population to decide in the next election, or for the Supreme Court to decide if it comes down to that again, or for Diebold to decide.

I recommend the LA Weekly article. If you have a spare twenty-five dollars, you could buy the book. But that seems unlikely, unless you're winner, and then why would you buy such a book anyway?

___

Late week footnote on winners and losers -

In the ongoing economic recovery, over the last two years, corporate profits have risen somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two percent, depending on the source of the data. American businesses are finally doing well. Real wages for American workers have, on average, dropped a bit over three percent in the last two years, adjusted for inflation. So labor costs are way down - increasing profit margins. Productivity - the number of hours worked for unit of net profit earned - is higher and higher. We are more efficient. CEO compensation is at an all time high - nearing six hundred times that of the average worker in that particular CEO's organization. But that's only a few people. The number of Americans with no health insurance at all is now at forty-four million and rising rapidly - as, along with six to nine million unemployed, companies employing contract and temporary-to-hire workers with no benefits has allowed these businesses to prosper without the burden of such costs. We are learning from such places as Spain, where fully one third of their work force is now working on a temporary contract basis with no benefits and no guarantee of ongoing employment, making businesses there much more profitable - and more nimble as they can add and shed workers immediately based on market needs and, at the same time, avoid paying costly benefits. A golden age. New jobs actually are being created in America - not at a pace that keeps up with population growth, and, on average, paying about thirty percent less than the jobs that have been lost. But there are jobs. Of these new jobs a bit over twenty-eight percent of these jobs, by some accounts up to a third actually, are taken by non-citizens - janitorial and service levels jobs at minimum wage or less. But there are new jobs.

From the IRS -

Americans' incomes fell for two years
Report: IRS data shows first-ever consecutive-year drop; loss of jobs blamed.
July 29, 2004: 11:04 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Americans' overall income shrank for two consecutive years after stocks plunged in 2000, the first time that has effectively happened since the current tax system was put in place during World War II, according to a published report Thursday.

The New York Times, reporting data from the Internal Revenue Service, said gross income reported to the agency fell 5.1 percent to $6.0 trillion in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available, down from $6.35 trillion in 2000. Because of population growth, average income fell even more, by 5.7 percent, and adjusted for inflation the decline was 9.2 percent.

The paper said the decline was due to a combination of the big fall in the stock market and the loss of jobs and wages in well-paying industries as the recession started in 2001.

The paper said before the recent drop the last decline posted for even one year was 1953.

The drop in income has hit government tax collections -- the paper said individual income taxes declined 18.8 percent between 2000 and 2002. Part of that was due to tax cuts passed in 2001.

The report said the sharpest drops were in both the number and the earnings of people with the highest incomes. Those with incomes of $10 million or more saw average income fall 22 percent, while the number of returns reporting incomes at that level fell 53 percent during the two year period.

Meanwhile the average income of those filing returns with incomes between $25,000 and $500,000 saw the average income little changed, somewhere between a 0.1 percent decline and a 0.2 percent gain, depending upon the income category, the Times said.
Interesting.

The there is this -

Jobless claims inch higher
Initial claims for unemployment insurance rise by 4,000, topping estimates of 340,000.
July 29, 2004: 8:34 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment assistance inched up by 4,000, the government reported Thursday, coming in above economists' estimates.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 345,000 in the week ended July 24, up from a upwardly revised 341,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported. Wall Street had expected 340,000 initial claims, according to Briefing.com.

The four-week moving average, which smoothes out weekly fluctuations in the number, came in at 336,250, down from a revised 337,250 the previous week.

Continued claims, or those people already receiving a week of assistance, rose to 2.96 million in the week ended July 17, the latest figures available, from a revised 2.79 million the previous week.
The recovery continues.

And this -

Unhappy Workers Should Take Prozac - Bush Campaigner
Thu Jul 29, 2004 01:50 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A campaign worker for President Bush said on Thursday American workers unhappy with low-quality jobs should find new ones -- or pop a Prozac to make themselves feel better.

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

The comment was apparently directed to a colleague who was transferring a phone call from a reporter asking about job quality, and who overheard the remark.

When told the Prozac comment had been overheard, Sheybani said: "Oh, I was just kidding."

While recent employment growth has buoyed Bush's economic record, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has argued the new jobs are not as good as those lost due to outsourcing in recent years.

Nearly 1.1 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001.
Winners don't have to take Prozac.

What is Prozac? Well, it's quite for if you have panic disorder.

See this from the National Institute of Mental Health. (Disclosure - my second father-in-law was head of the National Institute of Mental Health before he moved over to the Pentagon to work for Frank Carlucci as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs in the Reagan administration.)
Prozac (fluoxetine) is an antidepressant medication originally approved by the FDA in 1987 and currently available for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Prozac has also been used off-label (which means a use not reviewed by the FDA) to treat panic disorder. Under a different brand name (Sarafem), fluoxetine is also approved for the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Prozac is believed to work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. It is a member of the serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family, as are Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine).
All of these - Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil - are quite useful in the current cultural and political climate.

And this -

Back to work for less
Survey: 57% who lost full-time jobs 2001-2003 and found full-time work again are earning less.
July 30, 2004: 12:28 PM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Judging from the latest government data, more than 50 percent of workers who lost or left full-time work between 2001 and 2003 and were lucky enough to have found another full-time job by this year were earning less than they used to.

From January 2001 through December 2003, 5.3 million long-tenured workers were displaced from full-time or part-time jobs they had held at least three years, according to a new report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Displacement in this context is defined as a job that was lost or left because a plant or company closed or moved, there wasn't enough work to do or a position or shift was eliminated.

Among the long-tenured workers who were displaced, 65 percent had found either full-time or part-time work by January of this year, when the BLS survey was conducted. Another 20 percent were still unemployed and 15 percent were not in the labor force, meaning they said they had not looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey.

But 57 percent of the group who had lost full-time jobs and found new full-time work reported that they were now earning less than what they earned in their old jobs. Indeed, about one-third of those with smaller paychecks were being paid at least 20 percent less.

...Among the long-tenured workers surveyed, 43 percent said plant or company closings or moves accounted for their displacement. Another 29 percent cited elimination of their position or shift. And 28 percent said there wasn't enough work to do.

Other highlights: Among industries, manufacturing accounted for 1.7 million long-tenured workers who were displaced -- or nearly a third of the total. Wholesale and retail trade accounted for 765,000 displaced workers, or 14 percent of all long-tenured displaced workers. Professional and business services accounted for 595,000 displaced workers, 11 percent of the group. The financial industry saw displacement of 355,000 long-term tenured workers, or nearly 7 percent of the group. Likewise education and health services, with a loss of 346,000 workers.
But profits are way up. This IS a recovery. You can't argue with that.



Posted by Alan at 18:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 13:48 PDT home


Topic: Election Notes

Cain's Question

Barack Obama, the rising star of the Democratic Party, gave the one speech that turned heads at the Boston convention this week. Most everyone has commented on it. And he hasn't been elected to any office yet, although he is now running unopposed for the open Senate seat from Illinois. His opponent dropped out after it was revealed that his glamorous Hollywood wife divorced him partly because he kept insisting she would really enjoy naked hot monkey sex with him in front of large crowds at sex clubs. She suggested she wouldn't like that at all. Oh well. Obama was far ahead in the polls anyway. The Republicans then tried to the run Mike Ditka, the former Chicago Bears football coach with the notoriously short fuse. But Ditka stepped away. There was some talk of the Republicans trying to get Ted Nugent to run - the former rock star, avid hunter and NRA guns-for-everyone enthusiast. He hates wimps and girly-boys too. But that went nowhere. So Obama will win the seat.

Barack Obama is the son of black African exchange student and a white woman, and a bit of an overachiever - as in Harvard Law School and President of the Law Review. His paternal grandfather herded goats in Africa. Beat that story, Horatio Alger. Now he is said to be presidential material - articulate, charismatic, generous, thoughtful, and positive - maybe our first black president somewhere down the road. That is possible.

The speech itself was amazing - but so many have dissected it that a review seems unnecessary. The meme of the day is that Obama managed to appeal to everyone, and to everyone's better nature, whether lefty liberal Democrat or born-again gays-are-evil Christian Republican.

The full text is here:
Barack Obama's Remarks to the Democratic National Convention
The New York Times - Published: July 27, 2004

If there is one part of this speech that merits some comment it is this:
If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.
I suspect that is where he lost the conservative Republican folks.

Cain kills his brother Abel - and asks if he is, really, his brother's keeper. The answer is clear-cut. Yes, you are, you fool. What were you thinking?

I suspect that is one part of the Biblical narrative where a lot of the conservative right says, well, sometimes the Bible is wrong - not often - but sometimes it is.

How can you blast those who propose a "mommy government" with all sort of freebie benefits keeping people feeling like victims and dependent and lazy - when they should get off their fat asses and take care of themselves - if you buy into this idea that you might actually be your brother's keeper? This does not match up with the concept of "personal responsibility" very much at all. And how can you propose "tough love" - cutting welfare and stopping unemployment benefits for the good of these losers, so they actually are forced to do something productive - if you are, in fact, your brother's keeper. My conservative friend has told me all these laws about fairness in hiring and education - all that civil right legislation that started with the 1964 Civil Right Act - is stupid. Good people with ambition will rise to the top anyway. They don't need such laws. And those who aren't good people, who are not assuming personal responsibility for their own lives, then, because of such laws, just feel entitled to stuff everyone else has to earn on his or her own. It's not fair. In addition, such laws just hobble business and schools that want to be, simply, what they want to be, no matter what "big government" thinks they should be or says how they the think these business and schools should act - such laws take away their rights, to hire or admit whomever they want. It's not fair.

Barack Obama didn't win over these folks. He cited the wrong part of the Bible.

In general, the right immediately had problems with this speech, as reviewed here by Jeanne at Body and Soul -
You had to work hard not to fall under the spell of that speech. Kevin Drum caught one fool at The Corner trying out the spin that, sure it was a good speech, but liberals don't really believe all that stuff, they're just trying to put a nice face on their real beliefs. Tucker Carlson tried essentially the same spin last night on CNN -- it was "nothing like the typical Democratic speech this year." In other words -- a sham, even if it sounded good. By the end of that segment, even Carlson had figured out his spinning top had tumbled, so I suspect that argument will disappear. A kinder, somewhat more rational version, however, is already taking its place. Andrew Sullivan's spin: What was great about the speech is that it was so Republican.

I love it. First you make up some nonsense about liberals being faithless, irresponsible and politically correct, and then when a liberal demonstrates that your stereotype is pure garbage, you don't question your stereotype, but instead try to create a world in which progressive values are really conservative ones.
Hey, whatever works.

But Thomas Frank has the last word here in the July 29 opinion pages of The Los Angeles Times.

Thomas Frank is the author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" - discussed in Just Above Sunset - here July 18, 2004 - The Importance of Martyrdom to the Conservative Movement with a follow-up here.

The problem with Obama and the Democrats? The party doesn't get it: Most voters hate what those people stand for.

Oh. That must be it.

Frank is arguing that whatever Obama says, folks just don't like what is happening in Boston.

Why? Too may celebrities in view, of course. Blame Hollywood.
After all, as this party makes clear, when Hollywood stars decide to get out there and do their patriotic duty and stump for the candidate of their choice, the candidates they support are usually Democrats.

But somehow it never seems to help. Somehow this glitzy world of risque dresses, pseudo-transgressive stylings and velvet ropes (i.e., the things that make up "creativity") has precisely the opposite effect on a huge swath of the American public. They hate it, and they hate everything that Hollywood has come to stand for. After all, Hollywood stars are as close as America comes to an aristocracy, and being instructed on how to be kinder and better people by pseudo-rebellious aristocrats can't help but rub people the wrong way.

What the stars' Democratic allegiance illustrates for this segment of the public is not the glamour of Democratic candidates but their repulsiveness and shallowness and insufferable moral superiority; their distance from the historical Democratic base of average Americans. For them, Hollywood's superficial leftism only validates the ludicrous claims of the Republicans to be the party of the common man.
I guess Ben Affleck and Glenn Close should have stayed away. Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Streisand did.

Bush is morally superior to them all? I suppose one could argue that position.

So the upcoming election campaign will be self-righteous optimists claiming moral superiority against realistic cynics who say we should all be really, really frightened and not change horses in mid-stream because we all could die. It will be Dopey and Grumpy - and the assorted other five dwarfs of fear - against the dull but earnest Lurch and the happy Breck Girl from North Carolina.

Barack Obama gave a good speech, but he doesn't count. It is not his time, yet.

Posted by Alan at 11:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

What to Make of the 9/11 Commission's Report

Arthur Schrader writes in the pages of The Colonial Music Institute something that corrects a mistake -

On a March Allegedly Played by the British at Yorktown, 1781
Since 1881, a story has circulated among some Americans that the British played a march called "The World Turned Upside Down" (hereafter WTUD or Yorktown/WTUD) during their surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. Over the years this story has been accepted by more and more Americans (though without corroboration). After 1940 at least 33 American professional historians accepted the story and published it in their textbooks (still without corroboration). This seems to have encouraged several American novelists and one British poet, Robert Graves, to adopt the story and embroider it for their books.

What are the problems? First: The evidence that this happened is poor by any historical standard but historians haven't bothered to look. Second: Nearly one hundred years of professional cataloging of early Anglo-American music hasn't turned up a single eighteenth-century British tune or march called WTUD. (Writers who say there were several English WTUD tunes in the eighteenth-century are guessing from bad extrapolations). Third: Three different twentieth-century American groups have made strong claims for three different tunes, they call the Yorktown/WTUD but not one of these claims stands up to investigation.
And then Schrader goes on and explains at all in detail - and you can click on the link if you have a need to know more.

Well, no brass bands are current thumping away at "The World Turned Upside Down" - if there is such a tune at all - but they might as well be.

This 9/11 Commission issued a report that is messing with some heads, as they say.

Take the columnist David Brooks. He is one of them who is now saying odd things - the author of the best seller Bobos in Paradise and its new follow-up On Paradise Drive. Brooks has been the younger of the two token conservative columnists at the Times (the other is the senior William Safire) since September 2003 - after being the moderate, reasonable guy at the neoconservative pro-war Weekly Standard.

Note: see Just Above Sunset for June 20, 2004 - David Brooks: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" - a detailed discussion of Brooks' writing.

Anyway, last weekend in the Times Brooks went off the conservative reservation after he thought about what the commission was actually saying.

War of Ideology
David Brooks, The New York Times, July 24, 2004

Key observations?
We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological conflict.

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.
Whoa, Nellie! This from the man who said the war was wonderful - even if we screwed up everything quite badly since the fall of Baghdad - because it was the right thing to do.

Now he says, pretty clearly, maybe a war, in the conventional sense of a war - kill the bad guys and occupy their land - was a stunningly bad idea. Say what?

What should we have done? Well, he is now suggesting what we should do.
We ... need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.
Yeah, well. We could have done that in the first place.

And Brooks says this now-
... we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological.
What? Our experience over the last several years has been misleading? We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it?

Hey, who misled us - and said it was simple? They were bad. We were good. They hate us. Conquer and occupy Iraq and things will be better. All else is nuance, of the French sort. You might point the finger at Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz. Or at David Brooks.

It would have been nice if we decided that a bit earlier. But we had the war.

And NOW we're supposed to consider what they think and how we can counter that by non-military means? Okay.

Better late than never. Don't expect the Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz troika buy that idea, David.

__

Caleb Carr - a professor of military history at Bard College and the author of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians" - takes up the topic four days after Brooks, with a different twist.

Wrong Definition For a War
Caleb Carr, The Washington Post, Wednesday, July 28, 2004; Page A19

Carr too does a riff on "The World Turned Upside Down" -
Toward the end of its widely praised report, the Sept. 11 commission offers a prescriptive chapter titled "What to Do?" There, it makes an assertion that is genuinely shocking. It says that in our current conflict, "the enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism [the report's emphasis] -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology."

... It seems almost incredible that we could have been at war this long without defining precisely who or what we are at war with. But such is the case, and it has never seemed an urgent matter to lawmakers. When I appeared before a congressional subcommittee studying strategies for the war on terrorism in 2002 and suggested that the first step should be the promulgation of just such a uniform definition, the members were momentarily dumbstruck. To their credit, they soon recovered and we began to discuss the issue, but a comprehensive definition of terrorism for the use of the American government and the education of the American people never emerged. Now, however, the president and his supporters are apparently ready to instantly approve the radical definition set forward by the commission.
Carr is doing a different riff on the theme of the apocryphal march. Carr doesn't say the war was the wrong way to meet the threat. He's saying we never really defined the threat at all - and the commission is finally doing that - even if they are doing it quite badly.

Well, it would be nice to define terrorism, precisely. Then we could work out, say, a plan to deal with it.

So, what do we do?
... first we must agree on an internationally acceptable definition. Certainly terrorism must include the deliberate victimization of civilians for political purposes as a principal feature -- anything else would be a logical absurdity. And yet there are powerful voices, in this country and elsewhere, that argue against such a definition. They don't want to lose the weapon of terror -- and they don't want to admit to having used it in the past. Should the United States assent to such a specific definition of terrorism, for example, it would have to admit that its fire-bombings of German and Japanese cities during World War II represented effective terrorism. On the other hand, few Muslim nations want to go up against the power of organized terrorist groups by declaring them de jure as well as de facto outlaws.
You see the problem.

Note: see Just Above Sunset - August 10, 2003 Mail: War Crimes - Or Just Standing Up for Yourself? - From Dresden to Tokyo to Inglewood to Baghdad - a discussion of such matters with comments from readers.

Well, Carr's issue is that the Commission's quick judgment that terrorism is too vague a term and Islamic extremists will do for now as a definition of "the problem we face" - well, that's just going to make things worse,
What the commission fails to see is that the word "extremist" (or "Islamist") is not what will be heard on the "Arab street," or indeed much of anywhere else in the world, when the new enemy is proclaimed. George Bush initially reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks by calling for a "crusade" against terrorism, but many Muslims heard only one word, "crusade," and they heard it in its historical rather than its rhetorical sense. The West, that word implied, is coming again to take control of Muslim nations and holy places, just as it did after the turn of the last millennium. The president later apologized for his thoughtlessness, but the damage had been done.

And now, when the Sept. 11 commission says that terrorism is no longer the enemy, that Islamist extremism has assumed that role, most Muslims are going to hear the same sort of threatening, generalized message, one constantly repeated by Osama bin Laden: The Americans are not really concerned with terrorism -- in fact, they've practiced it throughout their history; what they are embarked on is a war against Islam itself.
So what do we do?

We could convene an international conference to actually define what it is we are fighting. You know, get everyone on the same page. Make the whole thing a cooperative effort where everyone, at least all interested nations, gets a say in working out what we're trying to do, and to whom. Of course Dick Cheney might attend and tell each and every foreign leader, in his blunt, explicit way, to go... . Perhaps he should stay home, at his undisclosed location, being grumpy.

An international conference is unlikely. But the international conference idea has been floating around the Kerry camp - something they'd do first thing.

Of course, he will not be elected in November.

__

And what about Cheney? He's not budging. Leadership is standing firm on your positions. No matter how events, and facts, evolve. No flip-flops.

As the Democratic National Convention got underway in Boston, Cheney came out of hiding and spoke out here, down the coast at Camp Pendleton, the big marine complex out here. The Reuters report on that, via MSNBC, is here. Yes, it was counter-programming, so to speak.

His theme?

"Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness."

We keep fighting, militarily. All else is just stupid.

Juan Cole, the professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress now and then, and pops up on the PBS "News Hour" every month or two, disagrees.

See Arguing with Cheney

Here's his history counterargument -
This statement is half right and half wrong. Some terrorist attacks are caused by the use of strength. For instance, the Shiites of southern Lebanon had positive feelings toward Israel before 1982. They were not very politically mobilized. Then the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied the South. They killed some 18,000 persons, 9,000 of them estimated to be innocent civilians. The Shiites of the South gradually turned against them and started hitting them to get them back out of their country. They formed Hizbullah and ultimately shelled Israel itself and engaged in terrorism in Europe and Argentina. So, Hizbullah terrorist attacks were certainly caused by Sharon's use of "strength."

On the other hand, it is the case that a perception of weakness can invite terrorist attacks by ambitious and aggressive enemies. Usamah Bin Laden recites a litany of instances in which the United States abruptly withdrew when attacked, and takes comfort in the idea of the US as a paper tiger. He instances Reagan's 1983 withdrawal from Beirut after the Marine barracks was bombed and Clinton's departure from Somalia after the Blackhawk Down incident.

The lesson I take away from all this is that the US should not get involved in places that it may get thrown out of, because that projects an image of weakness and vulnerability to the country's enemies. There was no way the United States could possibly have maintained a presence in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and Reagan was foolish to put those Marines in there, and even more foolish to put them in without pilons around them to stop truck bombs. The country was embroiled in a civil war, and it would have taken a massive commitment of troops to make a difference. In the wake of the Vietnam failure, the American public would not have countenanced such a huge troop build-up. Likewise, Bush senior was foolish to send those troops to Somalia in the way he did (which became a poison pill for his successor, Bill Clinton).

The question is whether the quagmire in Iraq makes the US look weak. The answer is yes. Therefore, by Cheney's own reasoning, it is a mistake that opens us to further attacks.
Ah, history can be so very irritating. And ambiguous.

Reuters - "Cheney said Americans were safer and he stood by prewar characterizations of Iraq as a threat despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and new warnings by Cheney and other administration officials that another major terrorist attack may be coming."

Juan Cole: -
Iraq was not a threat to the United States. Period. Let me repeat the statistics as of the late 1990s:

US population: 295 million
Iraq population: 24 million

US per capita annual income: $37,600
Iraq per capita annual income: $700

US nuclear warheads: 10,455
Iraq nuclear warheads: 0

US tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 31,496
Iraq tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 0

While a small terrorist organization could hit the US because it has no return address, a major state could not hope to avoid retribution and therefore would be deterred. Cheney knows that Baathist Iraq posed no threat to the US. He is simply lying. I was always careful not to accuse him of lying before the war because who knows what is in someone else's mind? Maybe he believed his own bullshit. But there is no longer any doubt that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no active nuclear weapons program, no ability to deliver anything lethal to the US homeland, and no operational cooperation with al-Qaeda. These things are not matters of opinion. They are indisputable. Ipso facto, if an intelligent person continues to allege them, he is prevaricating.

"President Bush is determined to remove threats before they arrive instead of simply awaiting for another attack on our country. So America acted to end the regime of Saddam Hussein . . . Sixteen months ago, Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States and the civilized world. Now it is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror and the American people are safer for it."

I have never understood the phrase "civilized world." To what exactly does it refer? How do you get into it? Can you drop out of it? Is Germany in it? How about 1933-1945? Is Egypt in it? (Surely it helped invent "civilization"?)

But the more important point is that a) there was no threat to the United States from the regime of Saddam Hussein, and there certainly was no gathering threat. The Iraqi military was more dilapidated by the hour; and b) It is obvious any situation that kills and maims thousands of US servicemen and women every year is not "making us safer" (the troops are part of "us", Mr. Cheney).
I think Cole is upset.

Perhaps, should Kerry win the election in November, Cheney can lead the band playing a rousing chorus or two of "The World Turned Upside Down" at the inauguration in January.

Posted by Alan at 22:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 July 2004 22:17 PDT home

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