Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (2-11-08)
Step right up! Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen! It's easy, fun, and everybody's a winner! Just guess which shell the nut is under.
After studying and living with the Middle East for a few decades one sees certain patterns endlessly repeated, though always with a new set of details. Understandably, naןve newcomers fall for the carnival con-man's traps. They should learn after one disaster. Veterans have no excuse.
A con-game is one in which a malefactor gains the mark's confidence in order to rob him. Conventional examples include selling swampland as vacation homes or the Internet scam of pretending to be a distressed African official who promises rich rewards in return for a loan.
The victim is fooled by the promise of big gains if he only trusts his partner and gives up his own assets. Contrary to folklore, the best way to cheat someone is not to offer them something for nothing--that's too obvious--but to pledge something dreamy tomorrow in exchange for getting something very real right now.
The pattern is this:
Step 1. They say: We have been your victims so you must make up for it. Violence arises from our grievances. You must solve the root causes of problems. In short, you owe us big time. Pay up to show you've changed your ways.
A common Western response: In our usual style of self-criticism and trying to do better, we acknowledge fault and do nice things to build credibility with you. Then you will like us better, trust us more, and make a deal.
Proper analysis: Such behavior not only convinces the Middle East side that the West is weak, scared, and surrendering but is also taken as acknowledging the West's guilt and the rightness of their own cause. Grievance and outrage, in this context, are bottomless pits. Playing this game establishes a terrible relationship along the lines of--probably the worst thing Shimon Peres ever said--our task is to give, their job is to take. This pattern never gets broken.
Correct response: If you have grievances, have suffered, and root causes must be resolved then it is in your interest to make and implement an equitable, workable deal. You are not doing us a favor by making peace, stopping terrorism, or being moderate. It is in your interest and you must show credibility, too. If it is true that you are so terribly suffering, then you are the ones with an incentive to compromise. Things are the exact opposite of what you say.
Step two. The con-game's siren call goes this way: If you only take risks and build confidence through concessions you will gain great rewards.
A common Western response: What do we have to lose? Since we don't remember what happened last time this will probably work. We can alleviate suffering, prove we want peace, there's no harm in talking, every government official can be the great hero who brings peace, and any journalist can promote happiness and tranquility by twisting the truth a bit.
Proper analysis: We do remember what happened the last half-dozen times we fell for this trick. In addition, a careful examination of your ideology, regime interests, statements to your own people, media incitement, and power structure show me what to expect, little or nothing.
Correct response: If you won't acknowledge all the times we took risks before and they came back to bite us (Oslo agreement, the two Camp David meetings, withdrawal from south Lebanon, withdrawal from the Gaza Strip) and you didn't keep your commitments (or act the way we expected) why should things be any different now? We've already proven good faith now it's your turn.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here: the description above, in general, is not about contemporary Israeli government policy but about the United States and Europe. Israel has a third perspective: we are responding to what you say publicly (in part due to Western policies) but we also take into account what you do and what you also say out of Western earshot.
The central theme of Israeli thinking today is readiness to accept a two-state solution and to give up almost all the territory captured in 1967 for real peace, coupled with the view that there is no prospect of the other side making and implementing this desired outcome.
In effect, the policy is to demonstrate Israeli willingness for negotiation and compromise--showing how good a deal could be--but making it equally clear that nothing material will be given unless something very real and specific is provided in exchange.
Nor does this mean that nothing has changed. Much of the Arab world--notably the governments of Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gulf states, would like the conflict to go away. But they are not prepared to do much themselves, nor can they deliver the Palestinians and Syria, those without whom there can be no agreement, not to mention an increasingly important Iran. Thus, while shifts in the Arab world are a positive development--the fact that a war between Israel and Arab states is unlikely is a huge advance over the past--at the same time formal peace remains closer in theory but not so much in practice.
For example, let's say that Israel agrees to a Palestinian state and, with some modification, the 1967 borders. Does this mean Arab states will make peace with Israel? Well, only if the Palestinians and Syrians agree to these terms. Will the Palestinians drop demands for all refugees to have the right to live in Israel? Will they agree to any border modifications including changes in Jerusalem? Will the Syrians abandon demands for highly strategic parts of pre-1948 Israel that they occupied until 1967?
If the answer to these and other questions is "no," Arab states will do nothing about it nor will they make peace, even if 90 percent or so of these demands are met. In effect, Fatah and Syria have veto power over peace and for a number of reasons neither is willing or able to make a deal. Even success with one would not trigger the minimum needed to shift Arab state policies.
But suppose a peace agreement is reached. Is it so self-evident that all or almost all Arab states would make full peace? Would they ignore domestic public opinion (which they have done so much to stir up and which has so often helped keep them in power), and Islamist opposition groups (which would use any actual moderation as a weapon to overthrow them) to take the risk of establishing normal relations with Israel and change the endlessly hostility of their schools, medias, and mosques?
Would they do anything if the Palestinians or Syrians broke their agreement or support those regimes even as they permitted or sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks? Would they cheer, and arm, and finance those breaking the treaty? Could they ever acknowledge that Israel was in the right or accept its acting in self-defense in response to such assaults? And of course if Islamist movements did take over, any prior agreements would be renounced.
It may well be worthwhile to take risks and make sacrifices for peace, but only if there is a realistic assessment that the situation would improve, not get worse. Realism is vital, but here I mean a real realism, not a naןve miscasting of other regime's and country's interests or attitudes to mirror image those of the West.
By way of contrast, in the West, wrote Elie Kedourie, perhaps the last century's greatest Middle East analyst, "The prevalent fashion has been to proclaim...the newest turbulence as the necessary and beneficent prelude to an epoch of orderliness and justice."
Rather than understanding regional instability isn't going away (the main problem is internal, not international) or accurately defining other's priorities (the Islamists want social revolution, not Western kindness; Syria's regime needs to survive through radicalism not through prosperity linked to Western economies; Iran wants regional hegemony, not electricity from nuclear power plants), there is an endless search for panaceas and a belief they are about to work. The latest example being an American president who first insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the region was on the verge of democracy, and who now proclaims there will be a peace agreement this year.
In the 1950s, they expected new Arab military regimes would bring modernization. There were those who extolled leftist guerrilla/terrorist movements of the 1960s as heralds of utopia, others who hoped Iran's revolution would inevitably turn pragmatic in the 1970s. Following that came endless plans, proposals and talks expected to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1980s and 1990s. Then there were those who were going to bring democracy to Iraq and the region. Today we have those who put faith in their ability to make moderate Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Syria, and the Muslim Brotherhoods.
But the real problem is the Arabic-speaking world's political structure and prevalent ideology. Nothing outsiders can do will change this very much, or at all.
To believe the problem is simply how much the West is ready to give away is merely, as Kedourie put it, chasing "illusions in that maze of double talk which Western political vocabulary has extended over the whole world." Like those secret peace dialogues where Western or Israeli participants argue about what concessions they must give the other side while their interlocutors spend the whole time criticizing them with no hint of reciprocity.
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 17:36
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (This is the introduction to an article by Michael Schwartz, "Iraq's Tidal Wave of Misery: The First History of the Planet's Worst Refugee Crisis." Click here to read Schwartz's article.) (2-10-08)
I'm an innumerate, but the figures on this -- the saddest story of our Iraq debacle -- are so large that even I can do the necessary computations. The population of the United States is now just over 300,000,000. The population of Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion was perhaps in the 26-27 million range. Between March 2003 and today, a number of reputable sources place the total of Iraqis who have fled their homes -- those who have been displaced internally and those who have gone abroad -- at between 4.5 million and 5 million individuals. If you take that still staggering lower figure, approximately one in six Iraqis is either a refugee in another country or an internally displaced person.
Now, consider the equivalent in terms of the U.S. population. If Iraq had invaded the United States in March 2003 with similar results, in less than five years approximately 50 million Americans would have fled their homes, assumedly flooding across the Mexican and Canadian borders, desperately burdening weaker neighboring economies. It would be an unparalleled, even unimaginable, catastrophe. Consider, then, what we would think if, back in Baghdad, politicians and the media were hailing, or at least discussing positively, the "success" of the prime minister's recent "surge strategy" in the U.S, even though it had probably been instrumental in creating at least one out of every ten of those refugees, 5 million displaced Americans in all. Imagine what our reaction would be to such blithe barbarism.
Back in the real world, of course, what Michael Schwartz terms the "tsunami" of Iraqi refugees, the greatest refugee crisis on the planet, has received only modest attention in this country (which managed, in 2007, to accept but 1,608 Iraqi refugees out of all those millions -- a figure nonetheless up from 2006). As with so much else, the Bush administration takes no responsibility for the crisis, nor does it feel any need to respond to it at an appropriate level. Until now, to the best of my knowledge, no one has even put together a history of the monumental, horrific tale of human suffering that George W. Bush's war of choice and subsequent occupation unleashed, or fully considered what such a brain drain, such a loss of human capital, might actually mean for Iraq's future.
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 17:04
SOURCE: Foreign Policy in Focus (2-4-08)
Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.
As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.
The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they'll be likely to face as president?
Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor - and her likely choice for Secretary of State - is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.
Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power - author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq - and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.
While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”
While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.
Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that "the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.
Iraq as Key Indicator
Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.
Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.
Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.
As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.
During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”
By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”
Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.
Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”
By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”
Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.
And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.
Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.
Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”
And new approaches are definitely needed.
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 16:53
SOURCE: LAT (2-10-08)
Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race last week, will go down as the most robotic big-ticket presidential candidate in history -- "the Platonic ideal of inauthenticity," as Harold Meyerson put it in a Washington Post column. I chalk it up to psychobiography. Growing up, he learned that authenticity kills.
It's perfectly normal for young boys to view their fathers as terrestrial gods. The young Romney's experience was unique in that the rest of the country thought his dad a terrestrial god too.
It all started with the Rambler. Already by the late 1950s, Detroit was breaking out in cold sweats at mounting competition from more fuel-efficient imports. The auto industry was only getting what it deserved, George Romney, then chairman of American Motors Corp., would thunder "wherever he could find a soapbox," as Time magazine put it in a 1959 cover profile. He would pull a toy dinosaur from his briefcase: "This fellow here is triceratops. He had the biggest radiator ornament in prehistoric history. It kept getting bigger and bigger until finally he could no longer hold up his head. He had a wheelbase of nearly 30 feet."
"Who wants to have a gas-guzzling dinosaur in his garage?"
His Rambler was small, but that didn't keep Romney from sleeping in it some nights during the 70,000 miles he traveled in 1958 to preach its wonders. It was a hit and a pop-culture sensation, the subject of a million-selling ditty about the "Little Nash Rambler" that bagged a Cadillac on the road without shifting out of second gear.
Pundits swooned; "George Wilcken Romney, at 51, is a broad-shoulder, Bible-quoting brother of a man who burns brightly with the fire of missionary zeal," Time's profile began.
A political career soon followed. But an unconventional one. Michigan was holding a new convention to replace its inadequate Constitution and needed a reconciling figure to manage the task. Romney was chosen -- and before the convention had hardly begun, he was being talked up as a presidential contender. He was Michigan's James Madison.
By the time the new Constitution passed in 1963, he was the state's governor -- a Republican in a Democratic state where the United Auto Workers was almighty. That holy grail of the pundit class, bipartisanship, runneth over. "Romney Prestige Lifts on Narrow Vote Victory," said the New York Times headline. His prestige could hardly lift more. As talk turned in the White House to the 1964 election, John F. Kennedy uttered, "The one fellow I don't want to run against is Romney." The first full-dress biography of him had been already published three years earlier.
At the National Governors Conference in 1964, his Republican colleagues, stunned by Barry Goldwater's ascendancy, practically begged Romney to accept the presidential nomination by acclamation. In 1966, he won reelection overwhelmingly, and he would now be the savior not merely of Detroit or the Republican Party but of the nation, opinion leaders decided. By 1967, the Harris polling organization reported that he had a better chance of winning the White House than any Republican since Dwight D. Eisenhower.
His son, Mitt, was then 19. At the age when most kids are awe-struck by their dad's ability to change a tire, Mitt was seeing his dad on the cover of Time and in TV commercials. By the time he approached maturity, his father was seen as something near to a national messiah.
The reason for the George Romney cult was simple. The world called him a "maverick." In a Republican Party trending right, he called America's cult of rugged individualism "nothing but a cover for greed." His forthright honesty was his calling card. His contrast with the wheeler-dealer Lyndon Johnson and the used-car salesman Richard Nixon made him -- along with that strong, square chin and silvering hair -- look like his party's only hope.
Then it all started to unravel.
An exploratory campaign office sprung up a few blocks from the state Capitol. A reporter noticed a line of books on Vietnam on the unpainted bookshelves. Romney kicked off his six-state tour warning that he wouldn't say anything about Vietnam until he had a chance to study the situation more, perhaps after a second visit (his first had been in 1965, on a junket with other governors). But the longer he said nothing, the more the reporters pressured him to say something.
Honesty was a dull blade to take into a knife fight with Nixon, who was also running for president. Romney was being chased by about 40 reporters early in 1967, each vying to see if he had what it took to play at this level of the game. In Anchorage, he uttered the apparently inoffensive observation that Republicans had a better chance of taking a fresh look at Vietnam because LBJ was "locked in." In Salt Lake City, he said the problem was LBJ's flip-flopping between escalation and negotiation offers. A salivating scribe pointed out the contradiction: Was LBJ "locked in" or a flip-flopper? In Idaho, Romney fended off Vietnam questions for 40 minutes. Then he mentioned Johnson's "political expedience ... getting his country in trouble at home and abroad, including Vietnam." He had violated his moratorium not to talk about Vietnam, the vultures said, demanding a follow-up: Would he give an example of LBJ's expedience?
"No, I will not."
"Well, because I choose not to."
It portended disaster. Romney issued clarifications that clarified nothing.
On Sept. 4, a TV interviewer asked him about Vietnam: "Isn't your position a bit inconsistent with what it was, and what do you propose we do now?" Romney decided to lay it on the line: "When I came back from Vietnam in 1965, I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only the generals but also the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job."
He was improvising.
"And since returning from Vietnam, I have gone into the history of Vietnam all the way back into World War II and before that, and as a result I have changed my mind in that particularly -- I no longer believe it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop aggression in Southeast Asia and to prevent Chinese communist domination of Southeast Asia."
An intelligent observer studying America's history in Vietnam since World War II might come to the same conclusion. But all people heard was the word "brainwashing."
"Brainwashing" as a term came into use after the Korean War to explain why some prisoners of war, supposedly insufficiently sturdy in their patriotism to resist, chose to stay behind in enemy territory and denounce the United States -- what the ruthless did to the soft-minded. Neither side of the association appealed to voters: the notion that the architects of Vietnam were ruthless, and the notion of a president who was soft-minded.
As Romney attempted to "clarify," the Detroit News demanded that he step aside so his financial backer, Nelson Rockefeller, could enter the race in his stead. The paper pointed out that he'd supported the war publicly for two years after his trip: "How long does a brainwashing linger?" In the next Harris poll, Romney dropped 16 points.
Meanwhile, Nixon got the world's attention when, in the middle of a patriotic stemwinder in a rural town, he said that "if in November this war is not over, I say that the American people will be justified in electing new leadership, and I pledge to you that new leadership will end the war and win the peace in the Pacific." He simply told Americans what they wanted to hear: not that Vietnam was an unmanageable mess, but that under a President Nixon, Vietnam would be over.
A limping Romney dropped out two weeks before the New Hampshire balloting. Overnight, he had transformed himself from national messiah to national laughingstock, a ruined man. Not to put too fine a point on it, but: Can you imagine what it would be like to watch that happen to your dad?
If you ended up going into the same profession, you just might choose to do things differently.
Posted on: Sunday, February 10, 2008 - 19:41
SOURCE: China Beat (2-1-08)
I can say with some certainty that in the current geopolitical climate, calls for an Olympic boycott will be unsuccessful - though I suppose they make for good headlines. The advocacy groups who are calling for boycotts have no direct control over the organization of the Olympic Games. In order for a boycott to succeed, the organizations that would have to support it are
1) the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and/or
2) the 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs for short) that are planning to send athletes to the Games – which would result from pressure from their national governments.
Some pundits raise the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an example of an Olympics that should have been boycotted. However, if you study the history of the IOC after those games, it appears that the "Hitler Games" actually strengthened the IOC's anti-boycott position. The American IOC member at that time, Ernst Lee Jahncke, supported an American boycott. Avery Brundage opposed the boycott and managed to achieve a supportive vote in the Amateur Athletic Union, which governed most Olympic sports at that time. Jahncke was expelled from the IOC and Brundage was co-opted to take his place. Brundage later became IOC president from 1952 to 1972 and is the only American to have held that position. He was not a sophisticated thinker, but he was pithy. It was he who popularized the phrases “keep politics out of sport” and “the Games must go on” (the latter was stated after the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972).
The fact that today the 1936 Games are used as an argument in support of boycotting the Beijing Games shows that the outside world does not always see things the way the inner IOC circles do - so one might ask, is either side deluded? Or do they simply have differing agendas? Clearly they have different agendas. So what, ultimately, is the agenda of IOC members? Well, they are a varied lot, but they all have one thing in common – whatever benefits they get from being IOC members increase in times of peace, international cooperation, and expanded economic interdependency. They thus have a vested interest in interlinking the world through Olympic sports.
New IOC members are selected by the existing IOC members in a process called "co-optation." They are not representatives of their countries and are not appointed or elected by their country. They are co-opted because of their commitment to the Olympic Movement, a commitment that in theory should be idealistic but in practice may be pragmatic (or some combination of both). An example of a member co-opted for her idealistic commitment is the U.S. member, Anita DeFrantz, who was co-opted in 1986 after she had gained international attention by filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee over its boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, contesting its authority to prevent U.S. athletes from taking part in the Games. She lost, but she was identified by the IOC as someone whose commitment to the Olympic ideals superseded her commitment to following the orders of the U.S. government. An example of a pragmatic commitment would be U.S. member Jim Easton, who owns a sporting goods company and presumably has a vested interest in a successful Olympic Games since Olympic athletes endorse his products.
Most if not all IOC members have some kind of vested interest in assuring that the Games go on. One could be cynical about this – like the most outspoken Olympic critic in the U.S., John Hoberman, who has labeled the IOC’s guiding ideology “amoral universalism.” Or one could reserve moral judgment and pragmatically recognize that they are part of the world trend in which the interests of increasing numbers of individuals get linked into international interdependency chains, so that finally people recognize that peaceful international relations benefit them personally - while boycotts, embargoes and wars do not.
If one wants to credit IOC members with some idealism, one could observe that there's a general consensus among the current IOC membership that past boycotts were not effective in bringing about any political change, and all they did was to harm the athletes of the world. Athletes from non-participating countries lost their chance to take part; athletes from participating countries missed their rivals; global sports as a whole were damaged.
Another point is that currently less than half of IOC members are from Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand (47 out of 110, or 44%). We cannot expect that the members from Africa, Asia, or the Middle East (63 members, or 57%) share Western neo-liberal political views. Also, anti-American feeling is running very high in the IOC right now, and it is likely that if the U.S. government spearheaded a boycott, there would be backlash in the IOC.
All things considered, the IOC’s opposition to boycotts is probably stronger now than at any previous time in its history.
The NOCs are required by the Olympic Charter (Fundamental Principle #4), to be politically independent from their national governments. Still, the NOCs would only boycott in reaction to pressure from their national governments, but in some countries they can defy their governments. This happened during the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, when 7 governments boycotted but allowed NOCs to send athletes. So the question is whether the world's governments - or in particular the U.S. and Western European governments - would boycott the Games. In a daily press briefing in June 2007, a State Department spokesman answered questions about a boycott in response to the crisis in Darfur by stating, “It is not a U.S. Government effort. It is not something that we have supported…. It's not something the U.S. Government has subscribed to.” In September President Bush announced that he had accepted the invitation to attend the Olympics that had been extended to him personally by Hu Jintao.
Let me return to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The most important question is not whether the 1936 Games gave legitimacy to the Nazi regime. The most important question is whether they contributed to the relatively peaceful relations that have existed between Germany and the rest of the world for over half a century now. I am not an expert on that history, so I’ll leave that question to others. I do know that this is 70 years later and not only is the world a different place, but also the Olympic Games are a different animal. They are much, much bigger now. They are not an event; they are a process. In future posts I hope to communicate something about the scale and hope of that process as it unfolds in Beijing.
Posted on: Friday, February 8, 2008 - 20:01
SOURCE: Vanity Fair (12-1-07)
I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris-or even the Yukon-becomes a venture in high finance.
And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands-or so he says-that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.
Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle "worst president" when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover's policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush's presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America's being displaced from its position as the world's richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2008 - 20:06
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (2-7-08)
Last Sunday, my family and I watched host Ghana squeak by arch rival Nigeria to advance to the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Then we saw a post-game press conference with Ghana's coach, whose looks might surprise you.
So are 11 of the 16 head coaches here at the tournament: six Frenchmen, three Germans, one Pole, and one Dutchman. Counting the Brazilian coach of South Africa's team, exactly three-quarters of the coaches are non-Africans. To an American observer, that's one of the most incongruous aspects of the "football frenzy" here in Ghana. The tournament has released a torrent of patriotism, as news reporters and ordinary citizens trip over each other with tributes to the "Black Stars" soccer team – and to the country at large.
"The Black Stars have infused a strong urge of nationalism, unity, and singleness of purpose into the populace," The Accra Daily Graphic newspaper editorialized, the morning after Ghana defeated Nigeria. "We urge Ghanaians to continue to fly the national flag, adorn themselves in the national colours and display oneness and love for all ethnic groups within the borders of our dear country."
So why does the national coach come from outside of these borders? And why do so many other African teams continue to hire coaches who aren't African?
The answer isn't pretty. Despite all of the patriotic rhetoric surrounding soccer, the sport itself is a legacy of colonialism. And so is the predilection for non-African coaches, which reflects the lingering sense among Africans that they'll never really measure up to their former European masters.
Consider the spat at the 2006 Africa Cup between the Togolese coach and one of his star players, who threatened to quit the team in a dispute over playing time. "It is because I'm a black coach," Stephen Keshi told the press. "If I was white, maybe he would have more respect for me."
Ditto for the controversy surrounding Egyptian soccer idol Mido, who called coach Hassan Shehata a "donkey" during a very public confrontation at the 2006 tournament. To millions of viewers, the argument told the same sad story: Africans won't respect African coaches.
And here's the biggest irony of all: Under Coach Shehata, Egypt went on to win the 2006 Africa Cup! Indeed, 12 of the 25 winners of the Cup – that is, almost half – have been coached by Africans. So it's simply false to say that African teams can't succeed with homegrown coaches.
But people here keep saying it. Every time I take a taxi, I ask the driver the same question: Why doesn't the Ghanaian team have a Ghanaian coach? And in every case, the answer is the same: The top professional players in Africa all play in Europe, so they're accustomed to white coaches. They wouldn't listen to an African.
Sadly, many of these same players have faced racist jeers from European fans. Crowds in Spain have made monkey noises to taunt Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o, the Cameroonian striker who recently became the top scorer in Africa Cup history. Two years ago, to protest racist slurs against him at a match in Spain, Mr. Eto'o threatened to walk off the field. But instead of stepping down, he decided to speak up. "Players, leaders, and the media have to join forces so that no one feels looked down upon because of the color of their skin," Eto'o told reporters.
He's right, of course. But as the resistance to black coaches reminds us, Africans themselves have imbibed some of the worst prejudices against them. What could be more racist than to claim that black people can't manage their own affairs, in soccer or anything else?
On the same page that it lauded the Black Stars' victory over Nigeria, for example, the Daily Graphic published a piece condemning poor facilities for tourists in Ghana during the Africa Cup. "Sometimes I wonder whether we can organise anything well," columnist K. B. Asante wrote. "Is such a simple arrangement beyond the capability of the blackman? If we Africans cannot organise elections without cheating and bloodshed, we should at least be capable of arranging to enjoy ourselves well at football."
There's a final irony in the history of Ghana, where 20th-century independence leader Kwame Nkrumah promoted soccer as a force for national pride and self-determination. By defeating Europeans in a colonial sport, Mr. Nkrumah predicted, Africans would make soccer their own – and would assert their mental freedom from their former rulers.
He was correct, but only to a point. Soccer has indeed become a huge fulcrum for African patriotism, as the recent celebrations in Ghana demonstrate. But the game itself remains mostly in colonial hands, as do the minds of too many African fans. Take another look at the coaches, and you'll see what I mean.
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2008 - 20:03
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (2-7-08)
"Listen to me carefully," President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt instructed an interviewer on Jan. 30."Gaza is not part of Egypt, nor will it ever be …. I hear talk of a proposal to turn the Strip into an extension of the Sinai peninsula, of offloading responsibility for it onto Egypt" but Mubarak dismissed this as"nothing but a dream."
Egyptian security seals the border wall in Rafah on Feb. 3, 2008, with metal spikes. (AP Photo / Adel Hana)
Given that Gazans have shown themselves incapable of responsible self-rule and Cairo has tacitly allowed the smuggling of arms since 2000, Mubarak needs to be made responsible for the Gaza Strip. As my column last week argued,"Washington and other capitals should declare the experiment in Gazan self-rule a failure and press Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to help."
Hamas partially concurs: One leader, Ismail Haniyeh, hopes Gaza can"move toward economic disengagement from the Israeli occupation," while another, Ahmad Youssef, wants the Gaza-Egypt border opened to trade and Egypt to serve as Gaza's"gateway" to the outside world. As Hamas promises that Cairo's re-closing the wall on Feb. 3 will not turn back the clock, Egypt's Muslim Brethren, a Hamas ally, demands the Gaza border be opened. Can Mubarak ignore these demands, popular among Egyptians? In effect, Gaza has already begun imposing itself on an unwilling Egypt.
Some Israelis wish to help it. Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, for example, holds that Cairo should take over economically."When Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it. So we want to disconnect from it. We want to stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and medicine." The Israeli supreme court having ruled on Jan. 30 that the government may reduce supplies of fuel and electricity to Gaza renders a cutoff feasible.
How to achieve Gaza's transfer?
Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy suggests to me that Jerusalem announce three steps:"a date certain for the severing of Israel's provision of water, electricity and trade access, free entry for replacement services through Egypt, and an invitation for international support to link Gaza to Egyptian grids." Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, would also detach Gaza from its customs union with Israel and the West Bank.
These Israeli initiatives would force the Egyptian hand. Sure, the Egyptians, with help from Fatah and even Hamas, will try to resurrect the border and put the onus back on Israel. But in the end, Arab solidarity demands that Egyptian"brothers" fill in for the Israeli enemy. Once Jerusalem cuts supplies, Cairo has no choice but to furnish them. Economic dependence would then further involve Egypt, which has further consequences. It:
Revives the old idea of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict via a three-way partition by Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.
Permits Hamas to connect with its parent organization, the Muslim Brethren. Indeed, Egyptian security forces have already arrested at least 12 armed Hamas members in Egypt and other Gazans with suicide belts. Controlling Islamist violence out of Gaza will become an Egyptian priority – but Mubarak has coped with Islamists throughout his 27-year presidency and he can deal with this new challenge in ways that Israel cannot.
Limits the freedom for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to attack Israel. Yes, Egyptians want rockets falling on Sderot, but Cairo knows that their continuation invites Israeli reprisals and possibly a full-scale war.
To prevent Gazans from creating trouble in Egypt or attacking Israel requires heavy policing of their territory. This presumably means loosening the stringent restrictions on the deployment of Egyptian forces near the border with Israel in Annex I to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Fortunately, Egyptian security services in Gaza need be only lightly armed and the Multinational Force & Observers in the Sinai peninsula could add this monitoring duty to their tasks.
In brief, Gaza can be dumped on Egypt with confidence that the Egyptians must accept it and must impede Gazans from attacking Israel. Starting this"peace process," though, will require uncharacteristic imagination and energy from Israel and the Western states.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2008 - 20:00
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (2-5-08)
"Drawing from the best resources on national and local platforms, Fox will bring together America's two greatest passions -- politics and football." So said Marty Ryan, Fox News executive producer of political programming, describing that network's addition of a three-hour"Super Tuesday political preview" to the usual day-long football festivities. In that way did Fox News manage to catch the zeitgeist of the moment, creating a 24/7 spectacle of super-entertainment by merging the number-one top-draw extravaganza, Super Bowl Sunday, with the mid-week surprise of a writer-starved TV season, Super Tuesday.
Each was guaranteed to be a dawn-to-midnight entertainment spectacular. Each was to be a talkathon of experts and pundits (including the Las Vegas odds-maker Fox interviewed Sunday who was"handicapping" both events in more or less the same breath), interspersed with mega-ads and mega-ad stories, as well as some thrilling action, leading toward results that, in each super-case, we, the viewers, would sooner or later have known, even if no one had said a word. Don't be surprised, if, on this Super Tuesday, you see Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Jimmy Johnson calling the shots alongside the Fox News crew. After all, the"showdown" under the dome of the University of Phoenix Stadium was to be followed two days later by what ABC News termed a"showdown coast to coast." (Normally, O.K. Corral-style"showdown" logos have been reserved for cruise missile shoot-outs on Main Street with global perps like Saddam Hussein.)
By the time you read this, you'll probably already know more about the immediate American political scene than I do. You may know whether Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Mitt Romney was the Eli Manning (or Tom Brady) of politics. Maybe you'll have stayed up as network news and cable outfits analyzed the election into the morning hours as if this were November 4th.
That, in itself, will be unprecedented. In 2004, the networks relegated (somewhat less) Super Tuesday to intermittent news updates. This time, with Charles Gibson anchoring ABC News' five hours of coverage, it will be another "historic occasion" in the"election of our age." There's already been the Huckabee ambush in Iowa, the McCain return from the politically dead in New Hampshire, the fall of America's Mayor in Florida, and round-the-clock Obamania, not to speak of endless media and pollster mis-predictions, which only provided yet more riveting stories for the race of the century.
Let's face it, for media and candidates alike Primary 2008 has been Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Gladiator, The Apprentice ("You're fired!"), and American Idol rolled into one -- and a ratings wonder as well in which nothing fails. Two testy opponents meet elbow to elbow in a debate in Hollywood -- with the camera flicking to the star-studded audience as if it were the Oscars… Gasp! Is that really George from Seinfeld? -- and no sparks fly; yet the story has wings anyway. Barack and Hillary were cordial! Were"a black man and a white woman" the"perfect future running mates"? Could they team up as "a Democratic dream ticket"? Or would they be back at each other's throats, just the way John McCain and Mitt Romney have been?
It couldn't matter less, not when everything in Campaign 2008 glues American eyeballs to screens without a writer in sight. Who needs on-strike vendors of fiction when a teeming crew of stand-up pundits is eternally on hand to produce political fictions at a moment's notice? Can anyone deny that more of them have been predicting, projecting, suggesting, insinuating, bloviating, and offering authoritative conclusions than at any time in our history? If that isn't"historic," what is, even if so many of their predictions prove wrong in the morning light?
It's been feeding-frenzy time in medialand -- and it's your enthusiasm off which the media's been feeding.
The Enthusiasm of the Young
Let me take a shot at creating a minor countercurrent in the flow of superduper-commentary by taking The Pledge. Here and now. On this very spot.
In this piece, I swear that I will not"handicap" any primary race, nor predict who is going to win Super Tuesday in either party. I will not handicap the race to the conventions. I will not speculate on who will be the vice-presidential candidate for whom in the fall, or who will win the presidency in November and enter the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, and I will not discuss polling results, nor mention a margin of error.
Don't think this is easy. I'm just as addicted as any other red-blooded American. After all, this election is the media equivalent of a barreling train. And not Amtrak either. Think the Japanese bullet train or the French TGV. If I fall off the proverbial caboose, it's going to hurt and yet it's so hard not to. Just the other day -- and I had already vowed to reform -- after checking out a range of reliable reportage and punditry, I assured my bored wife and son, with all the authority that the political wisdom of our age bestowed on me, over dinner no less, that John Edwards would be in the election for keeps, no question about it; that he could well be the kingmaker at the Democratic convention. It was a slam dunk -- until, that is, he dropped out so that history could"blaze its path"! But, hey, even if he didn't oblige, there were always those superdelegates! They could still save the kingmaking day and keep the media express rolling right into the Democratic convention.
Anyway, think of this dispatch as an exit poll of a different kind, starting with this question: What exactly do most Americans want to exit from?
Recently, the Washington Post's online columnist Dan Froomkin noticed this little tidbit: While George W. Bush proudly exhibits Saddam Hussein's captured pistol in a small study off the Oval Office, his pal Dick Cheney has"on display at his residence a piece of the house where Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, was killed."
Call that exit-poll symbolism. The imperial President and Vice President, the"one percent solution" guys, the we-don't-torture waterboarding folks, exhibit as memorabilia a gun and rubble. That pretty much sums up their legacy, the one that, on January 20, 2009, they'll dump on a populace only 19% of whom believe their country to be"on the right track." When it comes to guns 'n rubble, give them credit: They managed to set the oil heartlands of the planet ablaze, ensuring that oil prices would go sky high; they turned the two countries they tried their"nation-building" hand at -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- into the world's leading purveyor of opiates and a charnel house.
If they had had their way, they surely would have left much of the planet in ruins. As a hurricane showed, facing ruins at home, they were incapable of rebuilding even a single city, no less whole nations. Everywhere they turned, they proved not builders but dismantlers; not investors but looters (along with their crony corporations and private security firms). Domestically, they ruled by a politics of fear. They committed crimes with alacrity and -- possibly the greatest crime of all --- fiddled while the glaciers melted. They were the Republicants -- and darn proud of it -- in a country that had once prided itself on its can-do tradition. (And, since 2007, a Democratic Congress, voted in to do something before the rubble spread, turned out to be a body of Democraticants as well.)
You want an exit poll? Well, here it is: Americans are now stuck in the world that George W. Bush had a major hand in crafting and a sizeable majority of them, sensing doom, want out.
All of this, however, can only be blamed on Bush and his pals at our peril. After all, they simply tapped into a deep vein of American exterminatory fears. In the"good times" of the 1990s, those fears were less obvious. In a sense, most people probably didn't know they had them. But look at the young today and you can sense how they've been ensnared in an exterminatory grid of some sort. For them, dreams of the future have essentially been replaced with dystopian fears of global warming, global pandemics, global depressions, and other forms of planetary doom and disaster. Through no fault of their own, they have been living without hope.
In this election, Barack Obama in particular has seemed to show a number of them a possible exit and, beyond it, a little daylight, a tiny swatch of blue sky (as, for a smaller number of young people on the right, did Republican candidate Ron Paul). If, of course, you can't imagine building, or saving, or investing in something for your children or grandchildren (no less someone else's), then it's hard to imagine doing anything lasting. To lack a future is to have an enormous weight of despair placed squarely on your shoulders. If, even for a moment, it seems to lift, you suddenly feel free to dream; hence (I suspect) the burst of enthusiasm and hope seen this year -- and the outpouring of new primary voters which has gone with it.
I had my own youthful moment in which a sense of doom lifted and it was indeed a liberating feeling. Back in my day, there was only one danger to life as we knew it -- nuclear war (which, in the twenty-first century, has to elbow its way into a roiling queue of world-ending possibilities for its 15 seconds of exterminatory fame). When the Atomic Test Ban Treaty of 1963 finally drove nuclear tests out of sight and out of mind, the nuclear issue disappeared from political debate and popular culture. The last end-of-the-world films of that era appeared in 1964, just as bomb-shelter and civil defense programs were heading for the graveyard. By 1969, the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy had even eliminated"nuclear" from its own name. And, for a brief period, you could look to the future with a sense of hope, which was exhilarating.
Think, in this context, of the import of that affirmative call-and-response chant Barack Obama so often uses with crowds of young supporters at his rallies:"Yes, we can…!""Yes, we can…!"
At my age (63), I tend to be struck by the lack of objects in Obama's uncompleted sentences: Yes, we can… what exactly? But who can deny the chant's appeal, conjuring up as it does a can-do future and, implicitly, a past America in which"we can" seemed like a given. These days, newspaper headlines like this one from the Washington Post are commonplace, no matter what part of the government is under scrutiny:"U.S. Park Police Rebuked for Security Lapses: Force plagued by low morale, poor leadership and bad organization has failed to adequately protect iconic landmarks, government report shows." (And remember, it's the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and the Lincoln Memorial we're talking about.) So the sense that"we" can"do" anything is bound to be refreshing.
You can't help being moved, because you know that, underneath a rising tide of youthful enthusiasm lies the vortex -- a United States, and possibly a planet, transformed beyond recognition. In such a situation, even a hint that the burden of futurelessness might be lifted should send anybody searching the sky for a good omen, for a dose of -- in the mantra of every candidate at this moment --" change." That's why another vague Obama formulation -- that he represents"the future," not the"past" -- is potentially so powerful. When was the last time an American presidential candidate invoked the future and seemed to mean it?
That perhaps helps account for the upwelling of enthusiasm in our electoral moment, even after the elections of 2000 and 2004.
A Torrent of Enthusiasm
None of this, however, can account for the media enthusiasm that has accompanied it and is easy enough to mistake for its matching mate.
The media is, in Todd Gitlin's classic tag from his book Media Unlimited,"the torrent." Its images, its soundscapes flood through our everyday world, a surging river that never stops even when we officially turn off our machines. In a sense, the media has neither future, nor past. Instead, it devours both in an eternal present and still remains hungry. In our Super Bowl/Super Tuesday culture, all those pundits, talking heads, reporters, and entertainers collectively might be thought of as if they were the mad spawn of Anne Rice and Rupert Murdoch, swarming to a source of blood that, in this election season, is your enthusiasm, as well as any momentary hopes you may have for the future. Their enthusiasm is to bite deep into your enthusiasm and suck it dry.
They, too, are chanting: Yes, we can…! Yes, we can…! They'll happily chant it until a new administration enters the White House in January, inheriting that pistol and that piece of rubble, inheriting an American world in deep trouble and a planet spinning on a dime. And then they'll take their enthusiasm off to another eternal present where children are being shot up by some maniac, or giant buildings are collapsing into dust, or some celeb is heading for the nearest dry-out clinic. They'll walk away happy into another present, leaving the rest of us high and dry. Yes, they can…!
And now, yes I can… pop the popcorn in that hot-air popper, melt the butter, and settle in front of my TV with my crucial electoral tool, the channel zapper, in hand to prepare for the most epic battle of all, Super Tuesday, not to speak of all the epic, historic, thrilling battles to come. Don't call me for the next few months, I'll call you.
Just for a moment, though, let me turn that screen black, step out, head for my local polling place, and... well, you know... make the epic gesture.
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2008 - 19:53
SOURCE: Deborah Lipstadt at her blog (2-6-08)
They ranged from comments about her dress, ankles, laugh, and singing ability. She's too liberal. She's too much of a hawk. She cries in public. She doesn't show emotions.
Even the noted and well-respected [deservedly so] commentator, David Gergen, spent time talking about the "shrillness" of her voice.
When I wondered has ANYONE talked about a male candidate's dress, voice, laugh or any other personal characteristic?
Then there were the comments that she is "too political." Well how, I wondered, could one get to this point in American political life without being "political"? Do you really think Barack Obama could be running for President after just arriving in the senate were he not a savvy politician?
Then this morning I read Stanley Fish's New York Times blog about Hillary hatred. As I read I rejoiced. He articulated exactly what I had been feeling for these past weeks.
He nails it in the final paragraph when he notes that the attacks on her are just like antisemitism, they are irrational in the extreme. That does not mean you can't criticize her. Of course you can. It's the contradictory nature of the attacks which are striking and which illustrate they have nothing to do with reality.
Antisemitism is equally contradictory in nature [Jews are leftists, Jews are capitalists; Jews are pushy and work themselves into places they don't belong, Jews stick together and don't mix with others...and so on and so forth].
As I have said here before antisemitism and, for that matter, racism are prejudices. The etymology of the word tells it all: pre-judge, i.e. don't confuse me with the facts I have already made up my mind.
And so it is with antisemitism, racism, sexism, and, now, Hillary-ism.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - 19:34
SOURCE: Altercation (blog) (2-6-08)
2) Nobody really knows who is in a better position to win the Democratic nomination. In my bones, I think Hillary is the favorite because I think her organization is more experienced and more widely in place. She also appears to have a firewall of women, Hispanics and the less-well educated, and my guess is, she's more popular with the superdelegates. I think it is clear that Barack is more electable against McCain than Hillary as he competes for Republicans and independents and she does not, though the fact that Hispanics do not vote for Blacks in large numbers is really troubling. But Clinton turns out her opponents in a way that Barack does not, so that brings the advantage back to him, and explains all the red-state endorsements. Obama is going to win states Clinton will not win, or at least appears as if he might. He is not going to lose any states she will win, even if he lost them to her last night.
3) Barring some unforeseen event, I'd pick McCain as the slight favorite over Clinton going in and Obama as a toss-up. That is terrible news, given how unpopular Republicans have become, and how they should be run out of town on a rail for supporting the catastrophic-in-every-way leadership by Bush and Cheney and the incompetents and crazies who surround them, but the media, and the public tend not to hold candidates responsible for their parties; crazy, but true. What's more, antiwar voters are picking McCain despite his promises of hundred years' war. What's more, the media love McCain and are willing to forgive him everything, save perhaps the old "live boy or dead girl" dilemma they still talk about in Louisiana ...
4) Hillary has agreed to debate on Fox News, after refusing to all this time. I think after MoveOn endorsed Barack (together with the Kennedys, The Nation, etc.), she's decided to run as the centrist/establishment candidate and give up on the netroots. Back when Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean, I thought his calculation was based on the fact that Kerry would lose and the next election would be a DLC vs. MoveOn contest and he was claiming MoveOn. Well, the DLC is dead and it would be unfair to tag Hillary with their hatred of liberals, but that's what we have now, with Barack as Al Gore. (Of course, a Gore endorsement might remake this entire contest, but I think we can be certain that's not coming.) Hillary's decision to do it this way is odd, however, given the fact that Rupert just dissed her with the New York Post's endorsement of Barack. I mean, think about it. Does a single Democratic primary voter take his or her direction from the New York Post? Then what's the point of the endorsement? To dis Hillary, nothing else....
5) Running mates? Again, I dunno. Clinton/Obama in either combo makes no sense. The ticket needs a white male. Jim Webb would work well for either one. So would John Edwards, and Joe Biden. Chris Dodd makes a lot of sense for Obama but not for Clinton. For McCain, if he's worried about Limbaugh-like lunatics staying home, he will have to go to his right flank and pick an anti-immigrant demagogue, though Huckabee could work here, he's also a high-risk choice because of his (endearing) personality quirks and total and complete lack of understanding of foreign affairs. Otherwise, he should go north and make himself competitive in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, though I don't have any names in mind for that. Tom Kean is too liberal and would be a Democrat anywhere else but the Northeast.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - 16:20
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (2-8-08)
... The Hispanic world, constituted by Spain, what I'll call Latin America (Mexico and South and Central America), the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and Equatorial Guinea in Africa, has a population of roughly 350 million. The Hispanic countries have a little more than 500,000 Jews. The three with the largest concentration of Jews are Argentina (with 250,000), Brazil (87,000), and Mexico (53,101). Most Hispanics never see a single Jew in their lives. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't have preconceptions about Jews.
Among the 43 million people who make up the Latino minority north of the Rio Grande, attitudes toward Jews have undergone changes in the last few decades as the process of assimilation has progressed. A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League in 2002 showed that 35 percent of Hispanics in the United States harbored anti-Semitic views, a substantially higher number than among other Americans (17 percent). What I found particularly interesting was that the survey suggested that, among Latinos, the percentage was higher among those who were foreign-born, at 44 percent. Hispanic-Americans born in the United States held anti-Semitic views at less than half that rate, 20 percent. No similar analysis is available for the Hispanic world in general. And the sample of respondents might not have been representative of the diversity among Latinos in the United States. Still, the high percentage of anti-Semitic views among foreign-born Hispanics seems to indicate that the northbound immigrant journey, and exposure to American values, lessens anti-Semitism.
A specific Hispanic anti-Semitism feeds the animosity, sometimes influenced by global events, but stemming from concrete historical, religious, and political forces in the Spanish-speaking countries and among Latinos in the United States. (I focus only on the Spanish-speaking areas because the roots of anti-Semitism in the Portuguese- and French-speaking countries of the Americas are different.) Each region and nation has its own idiosyncrasies, and anti-Semitic sentiments tend to be different from place to place. Cuba, for instance, had a small but thriving Jewish community before Fidel Castro's revolution. Half a century later, the community is smaller but still thriving, receiving financial support from American Jews. Chile also has a small Jewish community — of wealthy Jews, whom Gen. Augusto Pinochet kept close ties to, occasionally attending a synagogue event. In Argentina, during the Dirty War against its own citizens, the number of Jews who were among the desaparecidos was high. Yet there's enough continuity to recognize pan-Hispanic patterns. And those patterns, starting in the Middle Ages, point at the Jew as interloper, hypocrite, and agent of dissent.
There are three distinctive, albeit interconnected, emphases in Hispanic anti-Semitism: church-connected — and sponsored — animosity; a more secular ideological hostility; and attitudes relating to the conflict in the Middle East.
The source of the first type of anti-Semitism is the period known as La Reconquista, which began with the Umayyad conquest in the eighth century of the Iberian Peninsula — i.e., the quest to homogenize the territory under one religion, Christianity. Inquisitions to rid Roman Catholicism of heretics took place in Europe starting in the 12th century, but in 1478 the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, with the support of the pope, inaugurated the Spanish Inquisition under royal authority. It was aimed primarily at two of the three faiths that had coexisted in Spain for centuries — Judaism and Islam, in that order.
To this day, religiously based anti-Semitism in the Hispanic world revolves around a set of beliefs sponsored by Church fathers during the Inquisition to justify hostility to Jews. Among the claims: that Jews had betrayed Jesus, and that, as witnesses to his ordeal, their existence was proof of the authenticity of the Passion. In March 1492, the Edict of Expulsion was issued in Granada, written by Juan de Coloma on behalf of Isabella and Ferdinand. It "resolved to order all and said Jews and Jewesses out of our kingdoms and that they never return or come back to any of them."
I am distressed that the edict isn't better known. It was an intricate document, with the first portion devoted to justifying the expulsion. The sheer presence of Jews in the Iberian midst made "wicked Christians" misbehave, the edict said. That is, there were good Christians and bad Christians. A successful nation would endorse the former while rejecting the latter. The edict used the verb judaizar, which would feature in Hispanic lexicons for centuries to come: to judaize means to spread the evil gospel. In 1502, Muslims were also given an ultimatum: either convert or leave too....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - 15:23
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (2-5-08)
Am I filled with self-hatred as a woman? No. In fact, there is nothing I'd rather do than vote for the first female presidential candidate. I still remember hearing--on a remote Greek island--that the Democratic party had chosen Geraldine Ferraro as a vice-presidential candidate. To my great surprise, tears flooded my face.
So why haven't I cast this historic vote?
The reasons are not all that complicated. Before I was a feminist, I worked in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Supporting Obama fits those life-long commitments. In my opinion, both Democratic hopefuls are able, smart, qualified candidates. But here are my concerns about Hillary Clinton. She talks about the poor, yet when Congress addressed the re authorization of TANF, which replaced welfare, most Democrats wanted to keep the 30 hour limit for working mothers so that they could use the rest of their time for education and training. The Bush administration, in its typically punitive manner, demanded that these women work 40 hours. Clinton split the difference and advocated 35 hours.
Denying poor women the possibility of upward mobility is just not my brand of feminism.
Then there is this insane war. Even today, Clinton shows little passion for ending the war in Iraq, even if you ignore her earlier votes.
Finally, there is Bill Clinton. During his last term, he squandered a huge amount of political capital as a result of his reckless behavior. I am genuinely afraid that revelations about recent sexual or business scandals may sabotage Hillary's candidacy and/or her presidency. I am unwilling to watch Democratic capital squandered by him one more time.
If Hillary Clinton should end up being the Democratic presidential candidate, I will certainly vote for her. But all these reservations and worries won't go away when and if I have the chance to vote for the first woman president.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - 22:36
[Ms. Dalton is the author of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life (Vintage).]
When Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady some people thought she should run for president after her husband left office. She was conversant with the issues, smart, articulate, a good public speaker, widely respected, and she had the skills to work with Congress to get bills passed. She was also considerably healthier than her husband. The major problem with that idea was the undercurrent of prejudice against women that existed at the time. Journalists like Westbrook Pegler attacked everything she did, accused her of having communist sympathies, and called her"La Boca Grande." Many people were uncomfortable with a First Lady like Eleanor Roosevelt speaking out on political issues, but by the time she died she had done immense good (she changed world history by getting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed and she remained a major voice in the Democratic Party until her death. ER was one of the most beloved figures in American history and if Americans had been able to set aside their prejudices they could have had a fine woman president in Eleanor Roosevelt. They weren't ready.
Is America ready now? The Westbrook Pegler of our time is, of course, Robert Novak (why is a man who outed a CIA agent NOT in jail?). Novak was attacking Hillary from the first weeks of the first Clinton term of office, accusing her of being behind the gays in the military controversy and everything that went wrong with the Clinton administration. He is not the only Hillary-hater running loose on the political trail. Hate Hillary sites exist on the web and right-wing millionaires like Richard Scaife have funded think tanks to spread lies about the Clintons. The Clinton haters are numerous and well-placed in the media, and eager to blame her for every mistake her husband made. This contingent of haters would provide a downside to her presidency which is not really her fault. She would have to figure out how to make fun of them or neutralize them in some new way. The familiar game plan of the Clinton camp, locked-in-the-death-grip-of-political-combat-with-the-right tactic, would need to be replaced by a more positive plan. I think she knows that.
A Hillary Clinton presidency would be different from an Obama or McCain presidency because the sexism of the right wing and even the mainstream media would be aimed against her. Have you seen Chris Matthews fulminate against her? It's disgusting--and women are circulating the clip on You Tube with shock and anger. The Rush Limbaughs of hate-talk radio call women like me who believe in equal rights for my students like you"femi-nazis" though his hyperbole is ridiculous and he is pitiful.
Hillary haters are a sick bunch, and there are a lot of them. The political landscape of the nineties was a creation of a religious right and extremists like Newt Gingrich, not the Clintons. I am sorry to say that many of my former students who are avid OBAMANIACS have been inclined to exaggerate Hillary's short-comings in the heat of the campaign. I say"Fine" disagree with her moments of centrism, criticize her husband and his big ego all you want, but try, please try, to stick to the issues and the qualifications. Though I do not know who I will support (I certainly won't support a defense hawk like McCain) I hope that the Democrats will come together behind whoever gets the nomination. Leave the hating Hillary to the media and the right wing. A President Obama would get some right wing and white supremacist hate and he is ready to deal with that. A President Hillary Clinton would have to be braced for a lot more overt nastiness because sexism still has a power to make people crazy. She's"been there-done that" already. She's ready for prime time, prepared to rise above the fray and lead.
A Hillary presidency would happen because the gender gap has come of age. Women have been voting less hawkishly than men since 1980 and men are more susceptible to the chest-pounding defend-our-country rhetoric we will no doubt hear from McCain. 2008 will be the year that men and women see the candidates from different vantage points. If a McCain-Obama contest emerges will gender-susceptible men see the choice as Tough Guy candidate versus Sensitive New Age Guy? If so expect McCain to be sending more of your sons and daughters to Iraq. he says he surge wasn't big enough. Watch those men who like Rambo movies and see how they vote!
Pundits need to watch women as voters, too. The women's backlash in New Hampshire, older women voting for Hillary in large numbers after Obama and Edwards ganged up on her in the debate and after she expressed some human feeling about the attacks, is a sign that the anti-Hillary attacks can evoke some sympathy and a reaction in her favor. Right now attacking a woman candidate carries more political danger than attacking a male candidate. How the dance of Hillary-haters and Hillary-sympathizers would play out in a presidency is anyone's guess. Maybe it is time America faced its capacity for demonizing strong women.
Taking Hillary Clinton for herself I would think she would be as good a president as any candidate who has run in the past quarter century in terms of experience, ability, and vision. But I do not believe that women are inherently different from men and I am not sure if your question suggests that you are expecting a woman to have different hormones or style or something that would make her presidency different from a man's presidency. Based on her record there would not be anything especially different about a Hillary Clinton presidency. In political views and coalition-building style, we don't have much evidence that women are really that different from men. Women politicians like Hillary are urged by political consultants to act presidential and she does it well.
What would her policies be like? Her website tells us a lot. She is a centrist Democrat with progressive leanings. She was always different from her husband politically but she learned a lot from the polarized political atmosphere of the eight years her husband was president and she has learned a lot as Senator from New York.
I hope we give her a chance and don't hold her being a woman against her and don't hold her husband's presidency against her either. Buy hat man a chastity belt and send him on diplomatic missions--he will be an asset to her presidency.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - 17:21
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (2-4-08)
Well, it’s been four weeks since the Iowa Caucuses. I considered writing my analysis of the caucus results immediately after it was over, but in retrospect I am glad other things intervened. Of course a month still doesn’t provide that much perspective, but given the pace of this year’s nominating contest, I think we have a pretty good amount to go on right now.
So, did Iowa matter?
That’s the big question around here. For all the attention, hoopla, excitement, and crowds, what did Iowa mean in the end? There’s been some debate in political science circles over the years about this question, and the best recent summary of it is to be found in Christopher Hull’s new book, Grassroots Rules: How the Iowa Caucus Helps Elect American Presidents. While I take some issue with some of Hull’s analysis, overall he argues that Iowa has become more important recently due to its role in providing online momentum (e-mentum, he calls it). Overall he makes a good case that grassroots politics is the name of the game in Iowa, and that Iowa results impact the rest of the nomination process.
Well, what about 2008? On its face it looks like Iowa did NOT play much role in the actual crowning of frontrunners. Granted Barack Obama did win Iowa, but at the moment much of the smart money is on Clinton winning the nomination, and she was third in Iowa. As for the Republicans, it appears to have been all downhill since Iowa for Mike Huckabee. So it’s hard to argue Iowa coronated anyone. It is however clear that Iowa did some of its traditional weeding out – Biden and Dodd immediately, Richardson soon after. And maybe Iowa can claim credit for disposing of Giuliani who was leading in the earliest 2007 Iowa polls, but who abandoned the state – a strategy that clearly did not pay off for him.
Did anyone get a bounce? There is some argument to be made that it’s not about winning, but about beating expectations in Iowa that actually matters. Perhaps McCain, who also abandoned Iowa, did this, getting 13% and tying Fred Thompson who actually did campaign in the state. And Obama’s margin of victory – 8% - probably surprised some. So maybe there’s a little bounce out of Iowa this time.
In the end though I would argue that Iowa did play a huge role this year – the role was defined by the fact that 38% of this all but white state voted for a black man for president. For those who worried that Iowa is not representative of the country, this seems repudiation. If Obama can win a state like Iowa, who’s to say he can’t win elsewhere?
But this isn’t what I’m focused on – instead I would argue that what white Iowans voting for Obama simply did was make it ok for African-Americans to also vote for Obama.
After Obama won Iowa, we began to see the shift in South Carolina.
During 2007 anecdotal evidence out of that state suggested that African American voters were concerned that Obama would not be electable nationally, that a black man could not win the presidency. At that stage Clinton was picking up the majority of support from this community. But come January 3, 2008, and an Obama win in one of the whitest states in the country, things shifted, and shifted rapidly. In the end of course Obama won 80% of the African American vote in South Carolina, and I think he owes some (maybe a lot) of it to white voters in Iowa.
One last point about Iowa – not only do I think we gave a bump to Obama, but we gave a bump to the whole country. Iowa caucus turnout was huge, about 37% of registered Democrats (counting registration number after people registered on caucus night) turned out, as well as about 20% of Republicans. For Democrats this was twice the number of the next largest turnout, while Republicans were up about 50%. Following Iowa turnout like this has been seen from one state to another, with primary/caucus turnout records broken state by state. Voters in Iowa were engaged, and voters all over the country appear to be following suit.
Did Iowa matter – I think so, but not necessarily in all the traditional ways. Now we get to sit back and see what the nearly two dozen states going on tomorrow, on Super Tuesday, have to say. It’s been an exciting run so far!
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2008 - 16:55
SOURCE: WaPo (2-4-08)
"United we stand; divided we fall," Patrick Henry wrote in 1785. Other Founders also extolled unity. "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all," quipped Thomas Jefferson. "There is nothing which I dread so much," John Adams remarked, "as a division of the republic into two great parties."
But they had it wrong: They were too close to their own creation to grasp its genius. The strength of the young republic and the key to its success lay not in its fictional unity but in its ability to tolerate opposition and sustain political division.
Barack Obama's ardent, heartfelt promise to bring Americans together and turn the nation's capital into a place of bipartisan harmony not only buys into the seductive myth of national unity but misconstrues the very essence of democracy -- which is nonviolent political conflict.
James Madison marveled that the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 agreed on a Constitution "with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected." Such concord was nearly a miracle, he wrote, in which one could see "a finger of that Almighty hand."
But after that foundational moment, unity was not to be expected again. Indeed, the Constitution that Madison and his colleagues gave us represented an agreement to disagree. The new government was carefully structured so that people and interest groups, as well as the executive and legislative branches, would clash and collide rather than concur. And the political parties that evolved in the 1790s added even more discord to the mix.
Would it have been possible to design a government that fostered unity? That dream could indeed have been achieved, Madison explained, by summarily outlawing factions, but the cost would have been freedom itself. "Liberty is to faction," he wrote, "what air is to fire. . . . But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air."
What Obama and others, captivated by the notion of unity, could reasonably promise is not national unity but simply unity within the Democratic Party or within the Republican Party. For Republicans and Democrats do not and should not agree. Different, competing visions of the public good are the lifeblood of a dynamic and open democracy. They strengthen our democracy, engage citizens in meaningful political debate and keep us awake....
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2008 - 16:49
SOURCE: WaPo (2-3-08)
One of the most fascinating notions raised by the current presidential campaign is the idea that the United States can and must finally overcome the divisions of the 1960s. It's most often associated with the ascendancy of Sen. Barack Obama, who has been known to entertain it himself. Its most gauzy champion is pundit Andrew Sullivan, who argued in a cover article in the December Atlantic Monthly that, "If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today's actual problems, Obama may be your man."
No offense to either Obama or Sullivan, but: No he isn't. No one is.
I realized that when I read this e-mail from a friend, a passionate Obama supporter who's a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement: "Who are you supporting for prez? You know my feelings -- and my son has been working 16-hr days for him up in NH. Kind of like his 60s . . ."
I realized it again when I saw the online ad produced by Sen. John McCain's campaign, arguing that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't deserve the presidency because she earmarked one-millionth of the federal budget ($1 million) for a museum commemorating the rock festival Woodstock.
I realized it, too, when Bill Clinton accused Obama of leaving the role of Lyndon B. Johnson out of the civil rights story, and when Sen. John Kerry announced his endorsement of Obama with a quotation from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- and both set off a strange bout of opinion-journalism shadowboxing over which camp, Clinton's or Obama's, better grasped the historical legacy of the civil rights movement.
I realize it anew just about every day of this presidential campaign -- most recently when a bevy of Kennedys stood behind Obama last week and spoke of reviving the spirit of Camelot, and when the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks responded by making fine distinctions between "the idealism of the generation that marched in jacket and ties" -- the "early-60s," which he took Obama to represent -- and the "late-60s," defined "by drug use and self-indulgence," of which the Clintons are the supposed avatars.
The fact is, the '60s are still with us, and will remain so for the imaginable future. We are all like Zhou Enlai, who, asked what he thought about the French Revolution, answered, "It is too early to tell." When and how will the cultural and political battle lines the baby boomers bequeathed us dissolve? It is, well and truly, still too early to tell. We can't yet "overcome" the '60s because we still don't even know what the '60s were -- not even close....
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2008 - 15:18
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-31-08)
The economic bubble that lifted the stock market to dizzying heights was sustained as much by cheap oil as by cheap (often fraudulent) mortgages. Likewise, the collapse of the bubble was caused as much by costly (often imported) oil as by record defaults on those improvident mortgages. Oil, in fact, has played a critical, if little commented upon, role in America's current economic enfeeblement -- and it will continue to drain the economy of wealth and vigor for years to come.
The great economic mega-bubble arose in the late 1990s, when oil was cheap, times were good, and millions of middle-class families aspired to realize the"American dream" by buying a three (or more) bedroom house on a decent piece of property in a nice, safe suburb with good schools and various other amenities. The hitch: Few such affordable homes were available for sale -- or being built -- within easy commuting range of major metropolitan areas or near public transportation. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, the median sale price of existing homes rose from $290,000 in 2002 to $446,400 in 2004; similar increases were posted in other major cities and in their older, more desirable suburbs.
This left home buyers with two unappealing choices: Take out larger mortgages than they could readily afford, often borrowing from unscrupulous lenders who overlooked their overstretched finances (that is, their"subprime" qualifications); or buy cheaper homes far from their places of work, which ensured long commutes, while hoping that the price of gasoline remained relatively low. Many first-time home buyers wound up doing both -- signing up for crushing mortgages on homes far from their places of work.
The result was metastasizing exurban home developments along the beltways that surround major American cities and along the new feeder roads that now stretched into the distant countryside beyond. In some cases, those new homeowners found themselves 30, 40, even 50 miles or more from the urban centers in which their only hope of employment lay. Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2004 showed that virtually all of the fastest growing counties in the country -- those with growth rates of 10% or more -- were located in exurban areas like Loudoun County, Virginia (35 miles west of Washington, D.C.) or Henry County, Georgia (30 miles south of Atlanta).
At the same time, cheap oil and changing consumer tastes -- pushed along by relentless advertising campaigns -- led many of the same Americans to trade in their smaller, lighter cars for heavy SUVs or pickup trucks, which, of course, meant only one thing -- a significant increase in oil consumption. According to the Department of Energy, total petroleum use rose from an average of 17 million barrels per day in 1990 to 21 million barrels in 2004, an increase of 24% -- most of it being burned up on American roads.
Let the Good Times Roll (into the Exurbs)
In 1998, when the bubble was taking shape, crude oil cost about $11 a barrel and the United States produced half of the petroleum it consumed; but that was the last year in which the fundamentals were so positive. American reliance on imported petroleum crossed the 50% threshold that very year and has been rising ever since, while the cost of imported oil hit the $100 per barrel mark this January 2 for the first time, an all-time record (though the price was once briefly higher, as measured in older, less inflated dollars).
When that steady price climb, combined with growing dependence on imported petroleum, was translated into the new exurban landscape the economic bubble began to shudder. As a start, there was that ever-increasing outflow of dollars needed just to pay for all those barrels of crude and the resulting surge in America's foreign-trade deficit.
Consider this: In 1998, the United States paid approximately $45 billion for its imported oil; in 2007, that bill is likely to have reached $400 billion or more. That constitutes the single largest contribution to America's balance-of-payments deficit and a substantial transfer of wealth from the U.S. economy to those of oil-producing nations. This, in turn, helped weaken the value of the dollar in relation to key foreign currencies, especially the euro and the Japanese yen, boosting the cost of other imported foreign goods and so threatening to fuel inflation at home.
Meanwhile, two critical developments kept the cost of oil rising: a dramatic increase in global demand, largely driven by the emergence of China and India as major consuming nations; and a pronounced slowdown in the expansion of global supply, due mainly to a dearth of new discoveries and recurring political disorder in key oil fields already in production. This meant that American energy consumers -- including all those long-distance commuters with crippling mortgages and gas-guzzling SUVs -- had to compete with newly-affluent Chinese and Indian consumers for access to ever more costly supplies of imported petroleum. Something had to give.
As the oil import bill kept rising, the value of the dollar kept falling, and inflationary pressures kept building, the country's central bankers responded in classic fashion by raising interest rates. This naturally resulted in substantially higher monthly payments for homeowners with variable-rate mortgages. For many families already stretched to the limit, this would prove the final blow. Forced to default on their mortgages, they then precipitated the subprime crisis by, in effect, puncturing the bubble.
Even then, the economy might have had a chance had that crisis not come in tandem with the $100 barrel of oil. By December, consumers were cutting back on nonessential purchases, producing the most disappointing holiday retail season since 2001. When questioned, many indicated that the high cost of gasoline and home-heating fuel had forced them to economize on Christmas gifts, winter vacations, and other indulgences."If gasoline prices go up, that means there's less to spend on everything else," said David Greenlaw, chief U.S. fixed-income analyst at Morgan Stanley.
The high price of gasoline was bad news for another pillar of the economy as well: the auto industry. While Japanese companies were busy rolling out hybrid vehicles and small, fuel-efficient conventional cars, Detroit stuck doggedly to its now-obsolete business model of producing large SUVs and light trucks, which had, in recent years, been the source of most of its profits. Once the price of oil went stratospheric, of course, Americans predictably stopped buying the gas guzzlers, signing what looked like an instant death certificate for an improvident industry. In 1999, for example, Ford sold more than 428,000 mid-sized Explorer SUVs; in the first 11 months of 2007, the equivalent number was 126,930 Explorers (and even that puts a gloss on the corpse, as November was one of the worst months in recent automotive history). An auto industry in decline naturally means that many ancillary industries will be facing contraction, if not disaster.
Popping the Bubble
Then came January 2. Although oil retreated from the $100 mark by the end of that day on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the damage had been done. Stocks on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted, suffering their worst loss on a New Year debut since 1983. Gold, meanwhile, soared to an all-time high -- a sure indication of international anxiety about the vigor of the U.S. economy.
Since then, stock market panics have hit major financial centers around the world. Only a dramatic last-minute decision by the Federal Reserve to reduce overnight lending rates by three-quarters of a point before the markets opened on January 22 averted a further, potentially catastrophic slide in stock prices. Many analysts now believe that a recession is inevitable -- possibly a long and especially painful one. A few are even mentioning the"D" word, for depression.
Whatever happens, the American economy will eventually emerge from this crisis significantly weaker, largely because of its now-inescapable dependence on imported oil. Over the past decade, this country has squandered approximately one and a half trillion dollars on imported oil, much of which has been poured down the tanks of grotesquely fuel-inefficient vehicles that were conveying drivers on ever lengthening commutes from the exurbs to employment in center cities.
Today, a large share of this money is deposited in so-called sovereign-wealth funds (SWFs). Americans should get used to that phrase. It stands for giant pools of wealth that are under the control of government agencies like the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. These SWFs now control approximately $3 trillion in assets, and, with more petrodollars pouring into the petro-states every day, they are projected to hit the $12 trillion mark by 2015.
What are those who control the sovereign-wealth funds doing with all this money? For one thing, buying up choice U.S. assets at bargain-basement prices. In the past few months, Persian Gulf SWFs have acquired a significant stake in a number of prominent American firms, giving them a potential say in the future management of these companies. The Kuwait Investment Authority, for example, recently took a $12 billion stake in Citigroup and a $6.5 billion share in Merrill Lynch; the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority acquired a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup; and Mubadala Development of Abu Dhabi purchased a $1.5 billion share in the privately-held Carlyle Group.
These acquisitions are just a small indication of a massive, irreversible shift in wealth and power from the United States to the petro-states of the Middle East and energy-rich Russia. These countries, notes the International Monetary Fund, are believed to have raked in $750 billion in 2007 and are expected to do even better this year -- and each year thereafter. What this means is not just the continuing enfeeblement of the American economy, but an accompanying decline in global political leverage.
Nothing better captures the debilitating nature of America's dependence on imported oil than President Bush's humiliating recent performance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He quite literally begged Saudi King Abdullah to increase the kingdom's output of crude oil in order to lower the domestic price of gasoline."My point to His Majesty is going to be, when consumers have less purchasing power because of high prices of gasoline -- in other words, when it affects their families, it could cause this economy to slow down," he told an interviewer before his royal audience."If the economy slows down, there will be less barrels of [Saudi] oil purchased."
Needless to say, the Saudi leadership dismissed this implied threat for the pathetic bathos it was. The Saudis, indicated Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, would raise production only"when the market justifies it." With that, they made clear what the whole world now knows: The American bubble has burst -- and it was oil that popped it. Thus are those with an"oil addiction" (as President Bush once termed it) forced to grovel before the select few who can supply the needed fix.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2008 - 20:53
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (2-2-08)
Mario Cuomo drew the distinction between “the poetry of campaigning” and “the prose of governing” in 1982, but he embodied it a bit too well: He electrified the Democratic National Convention of 1984 but never made his own bid to govern nationally.
That has made Barack Obama the first likely liberal-Democratic nominee to tap the mystic chords of memory and destiny since 1980, when Ted Kennedy, conceding defeat in the primaries, vowed, “The cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Kennedy has endured, but even if his passing the torch to Obama last week propels the latter’s nomination, we’ll be only halfway to the convergence of mythic currents that would have occurred in 1980 had Kennedy faced that other poet of the republic, Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter did that, but even as an incumbent he was no more a poet than is the quasi-incumbent Hillary Clinton.
Two great American crosscurrents -- of liberal communal provision, without which conservative individuality can’t flourish, and of conservative personal responsibility, without which even the best liberal social engineering produces clients, cogs, or worse – can converge only if John McCain and Barack Obama face off.
It will be an Oedipal struggle, too: a national father-figure reminiscent of Dwight Eisenhower facing an upstart national son, like candidate Jack Kennedy, a keeper of some traditions but breaker of others, a child of the new world which conservatives can’t quite admit that their own investments have made. Old Ike and young Jack never faced off, but our hunger for such a reckoning now makes it likely that McCain and Obama will.
McCain is no poet, but his endurance amid disaster and sloughs of despond is poetry in action that most Americans warm to. Only the un-American among us don’t get it -- religious zealots and global capitalists who’ve made very clear by now what their piety, governing ability, and business acumen can offer.
It was against them that McCain -- without money, priestly blessings, or pundits-- went door to door to the American people. He wavered in 2004, wrapping George W. Bush, whose campaign had smeared him four years earlier, in a bear hug that left my heart cold. But while his pilgrimage was flawed, anything like it was wholly inconceivable to the operatic and invincible Rudy Giuliani and to the moneybags, mountebanks, and blowhards, and most Americans recognized the difference.
The good things about America that Ronald Reagan played to perfection in movies and photo-ops, John McCain has played with his life. Reagan gave us the theater of our yearnings, his “Morning in America” a glorious euthanasia to a fading civic-republican hopes; McCain has slogged on. Americans who once thought themselves Reaganites have recognized that difference, too.
No less than McCain, Obama has reached deep inside himself and gone door to door, and he embodies something America represents to itself and the world – a capacity to vindicate those who enter the golden door tired, poor, and yearning to breathe free, even when they come here despised.
Obama’s shucking off ancient blood feuds and fears offers something inestimable to blacks: Precisely because they were abducted, stripped of cultural coordinates, and plunged into an endless nightmare of non-recognition here, African Americans have had the highest stakes imaginable in the republic’s living up to its creed and have nurtured its most eloquent champions.
Because their struggle to belong fully is also the most powerful epic of unrequited love in the history of the world, some have also been America’s most nihilist assailants, sometimes refusing even “yes” for an answer. Obama vows, “Yes, we can,” with a faith as compelling as McCain’s.
But is either man’s faith enough?
While McCain has brought character and faith to egislating, he’s as confused as Reagan about how to help those who aren’t quite so heroic or dreamy. Courage and generosity haven't yet shown him what they showed Eisenhower – the real costs of our military-industrial juggernaut in a world where corporations are becoming so much more powerful and corruptible than governments that the real dangers to liberty are no longer taxestaxestaxes. Trapped in making war for laissez faire, conservatives can’t reconcile their yearnings for a sacred, ordered liberty with their obeisance to every whim of a global capitalism that is abandoning America and republican institutions. Can McCain reconcile these strains?
Can the poetic Obama bring his character to governing at all? He remains untested against the dark dominions that surround any executive lacking a coalition and inner circle stronger than the electoral majority or plurality that sent him. Can this fine orator, community organizer, and lawyer -- and, yes, a great listener and learner – govern a coalition of fractious constituencies that is no beloved community?
Liberals like Obama who’ve done well by what they once called “the system” have not seriously addressed the inequities it is now spawning between blacks and blacks and women and women, let alone between the cool and the tools. They have't found it in themselves to defend “the system” wholeheartedly, either.
Instead they grasp at compensatory, symbolic gestures and grace notes, including support for Obama himself, a Ivy alum who (unlike most of them) took his Columbia core humanities curriculum seriously enough to go down and out in Chicago. In a crisis, he might even redistribute some of this cohort's unearned income and second homes. Or he might not.
Cuomo was right to warn that poetry isn’t prose; in office, McCain or Obama would lose many of their supporters. But both have lived in ways that make them strong enough to expect that, and, unlike Cuomo, to run, anyway.
So let poet confront poet; let the mythical crosscurrents converge; let distinctions between them blur in the mythmaking. And, for now, at least, let the ranters, ravers, and know-it-alls who have given us so much grief look as foolish as they truly are.
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2008 - 20:13
It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth. I am not so sure we can identify the first casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom so easily.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, truth was a casualty well before our soldiers crossed into Iraq on March 20, 2003. By its reckoning, 935 times the Bush administration "methodically propagated erroneous information" leading to our military action.
We have also lost historical memory.
Do you remember the name of the first casualty of war? If not, visit icasualties.org/oif and scroll down the long and sorrowful Department of Defense Confirmation List, from the six dead of Jan. 27 and 28, 2008, to the first casualty, 2nd Lt. Therrel S. Childers, 30, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, on March 21, 2003.
Scroll slowly and think about what Walt Whitman told us 145 years ago, reporting from the deplorable Civil War field hospitals outside Washington. Each individual casualty is gone and at rest. But those who remain behind suffer. Wives, mothers, children, fathers and "musing comrades" suffer inexhaustible grief.
We were not given the truth about how Childers died. Embedded reporter Gordon Dillow wrote then in The Orange County Register that Childers died bravely leading his men against a thinned Iraqi army brigade at an oil pumping station. He was killed, Dillow told us, by a half-dozen Iraqis, some of them elite Republican Guard, wildly shooting an AK-47 out of a speeding Toyota pickup. Childers was heroized, made the subject of a book, Shane Comes Home by Rinker Buck, and honored with an official decree by the Mississippi Legislature.
Two tellings later, however, in an oral history of embedded reporting, Dillow gave us something closer to the truth. Childers and his Marines were facing no opposition. They were standing by the side of the road when a civilian vehicle incongruously started driving toward them. They were baffled.
No one had told them this war was going to be like Vietnam, with insurgents, explosive devices, assorted inglorious ways of dying.
"All of a sudden," Dillow said, "a guy sticks an AK-47 out and starts shooting and hits the lieutenant in his stomach, just below his protective vest."
Our first combat death was a drive-by shooting.
Does this matter? It certainly doesn't make Childers any less brave or any less worthy of our admiration, then or now. But if we had known then that the assignment our soldiers had been given would resemble Vietnam more than World War II, it might have changed our readiness to believe that the mission was accomplished by May 1, 2003.
What if we had known what Cpl. Jesse Odom, who tended to his dying officer, later wrote? He heard Childers' "last words on Earth." They were: "It hurts."
Odom continues: "He died a painful death. I was hurt not only because I saw a father type figure go before me, but to see a grown man cry and urinate his pants hit me hard." It would have hit us hard, too, if Dillow had given us what really happened instead of a tale of battlefield glory.
Odom writes, "In reality the war in Iraq is over for me, but emotionally the war will never end. There will be a sight or smell that will bring me back to the battlefield."
He mourns Childers and "damn[s] the terrorist for all the hate, fear and sadness."
Odom's feelings are sincere. We feel their dignity. But quite another casualty of the Iraq War is the unthinking hatred it has let loose. On YouTube, you can view a video song, "We Hate Terrorists," played and recorded by "members of 1/153rd Infantry Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom II." In it, we get - in images and words - the Quran as toilet paper, a soldier using his rifle as a phallus, and repeated wishes to skin terrorists alive, sodomize them, and kill them all.
Worse still are the six approving comments. here are two of them:
"yer kill the bastards and make them fuk there alla in the ass."
"Love it! God Bless our troops. and may He screw the liberals"
I am sure of one thing. Childers did not die for an America that writes and approves of songs and sentiments like these.
After the above piece appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on January 31, 2008, I received a message from Nora M. Mosquera, the adoptive mother of Marine Lance Cpl. José Antonio Gutierrez, who also died in action in Iraq on March 21, 2003. Childers and Gutierrez died in different places, and no times of death are given in their official Department of Defense (DoD) confirmation list casualty reports.
Ms. Mosquera has informed me that the U.S. Marine Corps has determined that Cpl. Gutierrez died before Lt. Childers. He is the true first soldier to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This is a further good example of the difficulty of getting at the truth of what goes on in wars, both because of its complexity and chaos, and because of intentional or careless misinformation.
In regards to the 'first death', NPR did an"All things Considered" piece on March 18, 2007 referring to Childers as the first casualty. Rinker Buck's book Shane Comes Home trumpets the same 'fact'.
Published reports, including BBC News, refer to Cpl. Gutierrez as the second combat casualty or"one of the first."
The DoD reports list Lt. Childers first; but his link, and Cpl. Gutierrez's (he is listed 6th and as a victim of 'friendly fire') go to a joint announcement of the deaths of the two soldiers.
The situation is complicated by the fact that they died in different areas: Lt. Childers in the Rumelia oil fields,"a couple of hours after dawn" according to Buck; Cpl. Gutierrez in the port city of Umm Qasr, according to the BBC, in 'the early hours' of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His DoD entry lists him as a victim of friendly fire.
This is a disquieting contest, these rival claims as to whose son died first. And it has significant undertones concerning ethnicity, citizenship status and immigration.
Cpl. Gutierrez, who died at age 22, grew up on the streets of Guatemala City, and entered the US military as a step toward earning his green card. He is now the subject now of a much-praised documentary film,"The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez." See the New York Times review: http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/04/27/movies/27shor.html.
Lt. Childers, by contrast, went to the Citadel and is portrayed by Buck and others as a true red-white-and-blue all-American model officer. He died at age 30.
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Posted on: Saturday, February 2, 2008 - 01:53