Monday, December 31, 2007

Pakistan, 2008: the beckoning abyss

David Seaton's News Links
In common speech, "nightmarish" often means to clearly see what is tragic and dreaded coming and not be able to do anything stop it or to even soften its effects. In nightmares the dreamer sees the unnameable approach, rustling and twittering in the dark of bedroom night and tries to escape, dragging impossibly leaden feet. The relentless pull of gravity toward the object of dread is the stuff of nightmares.

As we enter the inauspicious year of 2008 the situation in Pakistan could be fairly called "nightmarish". We are being daily drawn deeper into a cauldron of molten misery and an abattoir of hemorrhaging violence: a civil war in a country where there are atom bombs and where the men who broke the skyline of New York live and work.

Benazir Bhutto's death, in itself, is not in any way the end of the world. Corrupt and intriguing, she was no Joan of Arc... or the real solution to anything. What is significant about her assassination is the will to chaos that it manifests and the casual ease with which it was carried out. That will to chaos and its clockwork precision of execution is certainly not going to stop at eliminating one politician. In the butchering of Benazir Bhutto we begin to see the tragic and futile waste of lives, political capital and military power of invading and occupying Iraq. Now when they might be needed desperately, that capital, those lives, that power and the will to use them may no longer be at hand.

Because at some point a decision is going to have to be taken... Pakistan with its atomic bombs, home away from home for Osama bin Laden, cannot be allowed to turn into a "failed state"... I use the passive tense "cannot be allowed", but somebody is finally going to have to bell the cat and that cannot be done in the passive tense. If the situation continues to deteriorate, and who imagines it won't, "surgical strikes" and "special forces" are not going to be enough, it would require a multinational force of hundreds of thousands of men to take, occupy and literally smother anarchy and rebuild a collapsed state of many millions of citizens. This would surely require a return to universal military service in both the USA and NATO in order to pull off. At this point I feel I am writing political fiction. After Iraq an effort of such magnitude is unthinkable.

As I write these words, I can feel how even the language necessary to describe the action which may finally be inevitable, may have become impossible to use through the neocon-speak travesty of Iraq. All the sophistries and bad faith used to needlessly invade Iraq and to unjustifiably try to start a war with Iran have emptied the credibility from American speech so that every statement coming from Washington rings with the sinister cynicism of "arbeit macht frei". If someday 9-11 becomes little more than a curious footnote to much greater tragedies, the men and women who gutted the language and credibility of power will be responsible for every drop of blood shed. DS

Al-Qaeda aims at Pakistan's heart - Asia Times
Abstract: Following the killing of Bhutto - considered by her al-Qaeda killers to be an "American asset" - al-Qaeda can be expected to launch more suicide attackers on those considered a part of the United States plan to establish a broad coalition government comprising secular and liberal elements that would change the political and social dynamics of the country and the region. At stake is the very soul of the country and how it should be governed. On the one side are US-backed President Pervez Musharraf and political parties such as Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (now headed by her 19-year-old son Bilawal) and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Against them are al-Qaeda ideologues such as Egyptian scholar Sheikh Essa, who are determined to stamp their vision on the country and its neighbor, Afghanistan. Prior to 2003, the entire al-Qaeda camp in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas of Pakistan was convinced that its battle should be fought in Afghanistan against the foreign troops there, and not in Pakistan against its Muslim army. That stance was changed by Sheikh Essa, who had taken up residence in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, where his sermons raised armies of takfiris (those who consider all non-practicing Muslims to be infidels). He was convinced that unless Pakistan became the Taliban's (and al-Qaeda's) strategic depth, the war in Afghanistan could not be won. In a matter of a few years, his ideology has taken hold and all perceived American allies in Pakistan have become prime targets. Local adherents of the takfiri ideology, like Sadiq Noor and Abdul Khaliq, have grown strong and spread the word in North Waziristan. Former members of jihadi outfits such as Jaish-i-Mohammed, Laskhar-i-Toiba and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have gathered in North Waziristan and declared Sheikh Essa their ideologue. This is the beginning of the new world of takfiriat, reborn in North Waziristan many decades after having first emerged in Egypt in the late 1960s. On the advice of Sheikh Essa, militants have tried several times to assassinate Musharraf, launched attacks on the Pakistani military, and then declared Bhutto a target. This nest of takfiris and their intrigues was on the radar of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the day after Bhutto's killing Sheikh Essa was targeted by CIA Predator drones in his home in North Waziristan. According to Asia Times Online contacts, he survived, but was seriously wounded. Sheikh Essa had only recently recovered from a stroke which had left him bedridden. READ IT ALL

Friday, December 28, 2007

Time to stick it to the Gipper

"The surge from nowhere of Mike Huckabee(...) threatens to split and even destroy the Republican coalition, by dividing social conservatives from economic conservatives."
Clive Crook -FT

"The strategic failure of a whole generation of economists, bankers, and policy-makers has been so enormous that it may now take a strong draught of socialism to save the Western democracies."
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - Telegraph
David Seaton's News Links
I have been writing a lot about Mike Huckabee lately, not because I'm endorsing him but because I find his sudden appearance, his explosion, so significant.

It seems to me that he has discovered and is exploiting for all it's worth, what is in effect a "contradiction" within the Republican, conservative coalition that Reagan built. He is speaking to the working poor of America but without the nauseating, implicit racism of Reagan's state's rights, anti-welfare, rhetoric.

I don't believe that Huckabee is really a serious populist. He isn't because he wishes to abolish income tax and substitute it with a sales tax. Progressive income tax: taking wealth from the wealthy and redistributing it to the poor, is the heart and soul of social justice and sales taxes favor the wealthy and penalize the poor. Everything begins there. So to advocate eliminating income tax while bombastically attacking the "The Wall Street to Washington axis" is either cynical or weird.

I think it's cynical, and I prefer it that way. If he is cynical it is because he is shrewdly exploiting a lifetime of knowledge of his audience (flock?) and their fears and resentments and this is knowledge that progressives could profit from acquiring for themselves.

What Huckabee is for sure doing is taking control of the social conservative wing of the Republican Party. And even if he isn't the candidate, without his enthusiastic support, no Republican anywhere will win much of anything in November of 2008.

It is really difficult to talk about class conflict in American English because all the words like, "class struggle", "contradiction" etc are taboo or sound foreign to American ears. This is as if a doctor would have to use awkward euphemisms when making a diagnosis. Imagine a
gynecologist writing, "the patient reports experiencing severe discomfort whenever a dime is inserted in her pay phone." Communication would suffer. The march of science would be arrested. Probably the most significant thing that will happen in the coming months in America will be the rebirth of progressive politics and the language of progressive politics among the working poor.

Any real change has to come from people who feel oppressed and victimized. Mike Huckabee is probably nothing but a red herring, but we should encourage the "red*" and discard the "herring".
If the Democrats cannot exploit the goldmine that Huckabee has opened then others will come along who will. DS
*Notice how the language of American politics has been deliberately deformed. In every other language in the world including British English, "red" means "left" and "blue" means "conservative". In the US they mean exactly the opposite. DS

Clive Crook: America in 2008: Populism calls the shots - Financial Times
Abstract: If the elections give Democrats the presidency and increased majorities in both houses, as seems likely, the US is going to see one of the most radical alterations in its political outlook for decades. As things stand right now, the politics is all good for the Democrats and all bad for the Republicans. The time-series of national opinion-poll ratings for the Republican presidential candidates looks like the read-out of a patient having a stroke. The lines jerk up and down, as party supporters search desperately, and so far in vain, for a candidate they like. The surge from nowhere of Mike Huckabee – to join a three-way tie with Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney – is partly a sign of this desperation. It threatens to split and even destroy the Republican coalition, by dividing social conservatives from economic conservatives. Mainly, though, it underlines something even more significant than that: the growing appeal of economic populism among supporters of both parties. Mr Huckabee is an evangelical – his faith leads him to reject the theory of evolution and to favour constitutional amendments to ban abortion and gay marriage – but he is an economic populist as well. On trade, on the tyrannical power of Wall Street and sometimes even on public spending, he sounds more like John Edwards than Mr Romney. Trade must be “fair” not free. There must be an end to “shipping jobs overseas”. He rails against outlandish CEO pay. He is not averse to more regulation, or to spending (financed with higher taxes) on many social programmes. Immigration complicates the picture: as governor of Arkansas, his treatment of illegal immigrants was too soft for many Republicans. But he is making up for it now, promising to fence the border and deport (and bar from re-entry), immigrants who fail to register within 120 days. “The Wall Street to Washington axis, this corridor of power, is absolutely, frantically against me,” he boasted this week. To be sure, for many Republicans, his main attraction is his religious conviction; he is also a likeable, funny, easy-going man and good on television. Nonetheless, the economic populism is all upfront and has plainly struck a chord.(...) A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found that 58 per cent of Americans think that globalisation has been bad for the US and that only 28 per cent believe that it has been good. Ten years ago the split was more even: 48 per cent thought that globalisation was good and 42 per cent that it was bad. The biggest surprise is that supporters of the two parties are no longer far apart on the question. Globalisation has been bad for the US according to 55 per cent of Republicans and 63 per cent of Democrats.(...) the real question is what happens in 2009, when (let us suppose) the main obstacles to a populist turn in policy have been removed. How far left, in economic policy, might America then veer? The answer is a long way. As a rule, the stridency expressed in the primaries fades once the nominees are chosen and the general election approaches. Debate gets tugged back to the centre as candidates try harder to appeal to independents. That cyclical correction will happen again next year, but it will be milder than usual because populist economics is selling so well across the board. It is striking, too, that the growth of anti-trade and anti-corporate sentiment has happened up to now in a relatively benign economic environment. Stagnation in middle-class living standards, erosion of manufacturing employment, financial stress, alarm over the cost of health insurance and a college education – all these concerns came to the fore with interest rates, inflation and unemployment low, with the stock market strong, and with aggregate output (until very recently) growing at a reasonable pace. Add an election-year slowdown, already begun or even an outright recession to this mix. Add rising unemployment. Add an accelerating fall in house prices and a gathering wave (counter-measures notwithstanding) of mortgage foreclosures. If populism had material to work with in 2007, just wait for 2008. READ IT ALL

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blown away... a tribute

David Seaton's News Links
There are very few beautiful people in politics... Sarkozy and Bush are about par for the course... Benazir Bhutto was movie star beautiful... till the day she died.

People I have known, who knew her personally, have told me that she irradiated energy and intelligence... Beautiful, intelligent and energetic people are in short supply.

And she was bullfighter brave, as tough as a boot, as mean as a snake and, by most reliable reports, as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Oh well, like Joe E. Brown once said to Tony Curtis, "nobody's perfect".

She was a "dead woman walking" from the day she went back home. As far as I can see she was sent back to Pakistan and a sure death by Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush, simply in order to try to save something of their post White House speaking careers.

Certainly as intelligent, energetic, brave and mean as she was she had no chance of ever bringing Pakistan under control. Maybe even the Pakistani Army is losing it. Tragedy is when you know something terrible is going to happen and can do nothing to stop it. Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan are tragic, perhaps America is too.

When the United States imported Wahhabi Islam into South Asia from Saudi Arabia, they sealed the fate of that region... and perhaps the fate of some American city
someday, God forbid. DS

Conspiracy theories abound over Benazir Bhutto slaying - Haaretz
Abstract: The most astounding aspect of Thursday's events is the negligence displayed by Bhutto's security detail. According to reports, the assassin managed to approach Bhutto and position himself within a short distance of her, before proceeding to shoot her and detonate the explosives with which he was strapped. Not only did the assassin want to cause maximum casualties, but he also hoped that authorities would later be unable to identify him and thus ascertain which organization he was working for. What makes the security failure all the more startling is the fact that it comes just weeks after the first assassination attempt following Bhutto's return to Pakistan from a lengthy political exile. In the attempt, suicide bombers killed 150 people, although Bhutto escaped unharmed. Under these circumstances, it was chiefly incumbent on her security guards to do all in their power to prevent direct access to her, even during the course of an election campaign in which a candidate seeks to come into contact with the public. One can make the claim - and some already have - that foreign agents of countries in conflict with Pakistan (re: India) orchestrated the assassination so as to create chaos and to create an image of a country that is unstable and unreliable. READ IT ALL

Monday, December 24, 2007

The soft Republican underbelly: caught between Rand and the Rapture

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other."

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a Stranger and you Welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.
Jesus Christ - Matthew 25

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."

Jesus Christ - Luke 6:43 - 45
David Seaton's News Links
There is a gaping fault line within the Republican Party that few seem to have noticed and fewer to exploit. It is the abyss that runs between those who follow the teachings of Ayn Rand and the woollier followers of Jesus Christ. As the quotes above show, no two doctrines could be more incompatible. Just by reading these snippets it is evident that the gap between the two world views is greater than any other imaginable, certainly greater than any gap that ever existed between Christianity and socialism.

Those brutalized by Reaganism and the pious platitudes of Bush may think that evangelical protestantism is irremediably wedded to Neanderthalite capitalism, but they forget, if they ever knew, that the leftist traditions of our British cousins have their firmest roots in the Nonconformist chapels of England and Wales and in the Presbyterian kirks of Scotland. The history of the British Labour Party is filled with Bible beating Baptists and Methodists and the Lutheran influence on Scandinavian social democracy is clear. Certainly the answer to the question, "am I my brother's keeper" is affirmative in both social democracy and Christianity.

Examples of Randism?
With Wikipedia at our fingertips, I wont take up space and bandwidth expounding on the doctrines of Ayn Rand, suffice to say that she was the greatest single influence on former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, the overflow of whose heart and the fruits of whose tree -- more like the flowering orchard he planted -- we are only now beginning to taste in the fullness of their season.

The closest the GOP have ever come to the synthesis of these extremes is in
the misbegotten, smirking, strut, adorned with homely pieties, of the improbable George W. Bush. It is unlikely that any successor, no matter how blighted his spirit and darkened his understanding, could long maintain such superlative cognitive dissonance or bridge that aching gap again anytime soon.

Over the last few days I have been writing frequently about Mike Huckabee and the reason is that his campaign and the reaction to it by the Republican leadership is illuminating this gap. For me it is the most interesting development, coming at a moment of military defeat and economic crisis, that I can remember.

It is clear that a path to victory is opening for progressive politics to take, but it is anything but clear that progressives are inclined to take it. I would tell them in the words of the the best loved king of France, the Protestant King Henry III of Navarre who, when he was offered the crown of France quickly became the Catholic, Henry IV or "Henry the Great", said, Paris vaut bien une messe ("Paris is well worth a Mass"). DS

Friday, December 21, 2007

Yet more notes on populism

"A zero-sum economy leads, inevitably, to repression at home and plunder abroad. In traditional agrarian societies the surpluses extracted from the vast majority of peasants supported the relatively luxurious lifestyles of military, bureaucratic and noble elites. The only way to increase the prosperity of an entire people was to steal from another one. (...) Democratic politics became increasingly workable because it was feasible for everybody to become steadily better off.(...) in the new positive-sum world, elites were willing to tolerate the enfranchisement of the masses. The fact that they no longer depended on forced labour made this shift easier still. Consensual politics, and so democracy, became the political norm.(...) The biggest point about debates on climate change and energy supply is that they bring back the question of limits. If, for example, the entire planet emitted CO2 at the rate the US does today, global emissions would be almost five times greater. The same, roughly speaking, is true of energy use per head. This is why climate change and energy security are such geopolitically significant issues. For if there are limits to emissions, there may also be limits to growth. But if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart. Intense distributional conflicts must then re-emerge – indeed, they are already emerging – within and among countries."
Martin Wolf - Financial Times

"In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals--which is to say the Bush second term agenda." This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club." Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam - Weekly Standard
David Seaton's News Links
The bottom line that ties together all the above quotes are the taboo words, "class struggle" or what Martin Wolf artfully calls, "intense distributional conflicts."
"if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart"
What does Martin Wolf mean by the "underpinnings of our world"? The great (huge understatement) British historian, Eric Hobsbawm, puts it this way in "The Age of Revolution":
"... some time in the 1780s, and for the first time in human history, the shackles were taken off the productive power of human societies, which henceforth became capable of the constant, rapid and up to the present llimitless multiplication of men, goods and services."
This is the world we have lived in since the end of the 18th century, we know no other and it is predicated on limitless growth. Limitlessness is an article of faith, so is optimism. In the article from the Weekly Standard quoted above there is a relevant paragraph on this optimism:
"...the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike."
I'm sure my readers will have noticed that when ever they talk to one of these "Enterprisers", they invariably pooh pooh any doubts about the sustainability of our system. These people have a taliban-like faith that there will always be a technological solution to any "limit" that might ever pop up.

Until recently this optimism was not confined to the Rotarian, Republican, booster crowd, it was also an article of faith of the left. Every Soviet five year plan that ever was, was filled with this very same optimism. Up till recently the only argument between the left and the right on the question of growth was to whom would fall the privilege of fulfilling mankind's destiny to soar ever upward on the wings of growing productivity... and the right is the last man standing.

At this point, as the evidence of the reality of global warming piles up, most of these optimists are whistling past the graveyard or in denial. Some of them, however, may be prudently planning for the future.

Martin Wolf is the chief economist of the Financial Times and a wonderful journalist. In his work: at international conferences, and over a thousand dinner tables and at countless coffee sessions, he comes into daily contact with some of the most wealthy and powerful men and women in the world and those that serve them. Wolf hears them speak and most of all picks up their body language, their silences and vibrations. His article on "limits", which I am quoting abundantly is the cri de coeur of a man who, though not wealthy and powerful himself, knows the ways of the wealthy and powerful as no other does... with the possible exception of Rupert Murdoch's butler. For the language of a financial newspaper, Wolf practically weeps:
"The response of many, notably environmentalists and people with socialist leanings, is to welcome such conflicts. These, they believe, are the birth-pangs of a just global society. I strongly disagree. It is far more likely to be a step towards a world characterised by catastrophic conflict and brutal repression. This is why I sympathise with the hostile response of classical liberals and libertarians to the very notion of such limits, since they view them as the death-knell of any hopes for domestic freedom and peaceful foreign relations."
If we examine what Martin Wolf is saying logically, not even really reading between the lines,
this supremely informed man is declaring that he knows that, before they ever pay Scandinavian like income taxes, drive small cars and wear sweaters around the house on cold winter days, the elites of the United States will create a police state and go to war endlessly to dominate the resource rich areas of the world. Hyperbole? Examine George W. Bush's presidency in that light and perhaps Dubya may not really be as dumb as he looks.. Or maybe he is more like what May West said about Ronald Reagan, "dumb but willing."

At this juncture, the elites of the Republican Party begin to separate from the middle class and working class base and the only way to keep them on board would be endless war and endless fear. Terror and paranoia may be the key to 2008 election. What moldy old Marxists used to call, "false consciousness". The Republican Party, to use another worn but useful Marxist term, has entered into contradiction with itself and using Wolf's analysis as our text, is
clearly going to tear itself apart.

Who knows, Huckabee may only be a straw in the breeze, but that is the way the wind is blowing. DS

The secret to Mike Huckabee's success - Salon
Abstract: The miracle birth of the Republican candidate with the four-word name -- Mike Huckabee Iowa Front-runner -- has as much to do with social class as religion. There is nothing subtle about Huckabee's celebration of his humble roots: He gleefully told 150 supporters (some more accurately described as acolytes) in Marshalltown Thursday morning that a "Republican muckety-muck" had recently declared that Huckabee was unelectable because he had a "hick last name." Then, a few minutes later, Huckabee returned to his obsession with the name game. "I didn't grow up with a name that opened a lot of doors or had a Rolodex," he boasted, harking back to his childhood in Hope, Ark. Then, the candidate suddenly switched to a twangy version of an upper-class lockjaw accent as he recalled, "Nobody said, 'Oh, he's a Huckabee, let him in.'" After the laughter died down, Huckabee added, "I often say that for my family, summer was never a verb. We summered in hay fields and chicken yards and all kinds of stuff." Of course, Huckabee is laying it on thick, but the candidate is peddling his common-man persona more than any specific set of policies. This time around, Romney (the governor's son) and McCain (the son of an admiral) lack convincing hard-scrabble stories from their early years. And the Bush family is not exactly the embodiment of portraits in populism. Huckabee, in fact, stole a joke that Jim Hightower famously used to ridicule the elder George Bush at the 1988 Democratic Convention. "Many of you work hard," Huckabee said, as he looked out at the breakfast crowd (not a tie or a dress-for-success outfit in view) at the Best Western in Marshalltown. "That's what America's always been about. It's not about folks who were born on third base and think they hit a triple."(....) But the Democrat whom Huckabee appears to be channeling is John Edwards, who never missed an opportunity to remind voters back in 2004 that he was "the son of a mill worker." At a chaotic rally in a cramped room in a West Des Moines shopping mall Wednesday night, Huckabee lifted a signature Edwards phrase, promising that when he triumphs in Iowa on Jan. 3, "America can say thank you for restoring faith in a political system that's not just run by corporate greed but is run by ordinary citizens." Huckabee followed up in Marshalltown by uttering a line of such naked populism that the Baccarat crystal probably rattled in corporate dining rooms around the country: "Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who doesn't find himself wholly owned and completely tied to the biggest corporations in the country?"(...) In contrast, Romney, on the stump in Iowa in late November, told a joke that literally began, "A man walks into a country club." There may be a social-class barrier that explains why, despite Iowa spending that will undoubtedly top $10 million, Romney risks being upended by Huckabee -- an underfunded candidate whose campaign seems modeled on Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney putting on a "backyard musical." Gail Stecker, who works for a food-safety institute at Iowa State University in Ames, captured the Romney-the-robot problem when I spoke to her before the Huckabee speech. "I went to a Romney rally in July and decided that he's not the man for me," Stecker, who was wearing a festive garland of Christmas lights around her neck, recalled. "When Romney looks at you, he looks right through you like he doesn't care." If Romney falls short in Iowa, that sentence -- "He looks right through you" -- could serve as his epitaph. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Notes on populism

David Seaton's News Links
Howard Dean has often said the "values voter" should not be awarded to the Republicans by default. Democrats could learn a lot by studying Huckabee.

I have no idea what is really behind Mike Huckabee's friendly facade, but he is making some interesting and nuanced noises for a southern populist and I think Democrats should take note of these nuances and make some of the same noises.

What are the nuances I'm talking about? For one thing, as far as I know he never uses Reagan-type racist code terms like, "state's rights", which is code for keeping black people from voting, or "welfare queen", which is another, racially loaded term. In fact I believe he is on record as saying that the major problem of the American prison system is that it is filled with people who are drug addicts, not criminals, and that instead of prison they should be in rehab. Since the majority of prisoners in American jails are persons of color, this statement is profoundly un-racist. And if you consider how much more caring, un-punitive and especially how much more expensive it would be to treat these unfortunates as sick people instead of criminals to be locked away, the statement is amazingly un-conservative. This is the sort of message that Democrats should be delivering.

Why are so many of the poor of America, white and black, socially conservative? Because without a welfare state, the only institutions that offer any comfort or protection are the church and the family. The family is the first welfare state. Here is Spain where we have a welfare state and a fine public health system, the traditional family is still in place. In the hospital system this means that the operations are fantastic, but the nursing is deficient, because normally the patients are surrounded by solicitous family members carrying bed pans etc and nurses only come around if patient suddenly takes a turn for the worse. In the USA there is no welfare state and the family is also under heavy pressure from the system.

Poor people are terrified: frightened people take comfort where they can. A divorced waitress with two kids who has to take them to an emergency room to treat their asma can't be criticized for being a "Left Behind" enthusiast.
There is no better country than America in the whole world to be rich. It is probably the only country in the world where the rich are loved. Conversely there is no worse country in the world to be poor. Of course these people are paranoid, the system literally hates them.

We all know that Marx said that religion was the "opium of the people", but it could be argued that worshiping Jesus is less harmful to poor people than taking meths, heroin or crack. Very few people are equipped to take such suffering straight.

Huckabee sometimes talks just like an old fashioned, Huey Long type southern populist. In an amazingly un-Reaganlike statement Huckabee demolished the central Republican article of faith, "trickle down economics", claiming that cutting the taxes of the super rich is: "a false and callous assumption that the poorest people in our nation, with inadequate salaries, lack of nutritious food, substandard housing and nonexistent or underfunded health care, can somehow afford to patiently wait while someone else's wealth eventually splashes onto them.". Hell, that sounds like that other creationist, William Jennings Bryan! No wonder the conservative establishment is horrified by him. Where are the Democrats on this, only Edward's make these noises.

If Democrats were intelligent and, after 2004, this is in doubt, they would study Huckabee with the attitude of humble self-criticism and then triangulate him to death. I really doubt that they can and they will.

It would be a shame if a serious populist movement took off in the United States and the party of FDR was left out of it... But I'm afraid that's what might happen. DS

Huckabee, Giuliani tied in 2008 Republican race - Reuters
Mike Huckabee has surged into a virtual tie with front-runner Rudy Giuliani in the national 2008 Republican presidential race two weeks before the first contest, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas whose campaign has caught fire in recent weeks, wiped out an 18-point deficit in one month to pull within one point of Giuliani, 23 percent to 22 percent.(...) "Huckabee is on a roll, he has gotten an enormous amount of publicity and he is doing very well with conservatives, who at least for now appear to have found a candidate," pollster John Zogby said. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has led most national polls since early in the year, saw his support drop from 29 percent to 23 percent in the survey. His one-point lead over Huckabee was well within the poll's 4.8 percentage point margin of error. Huckabee moved ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in third place at 16 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 13 percent, Arizona Sen. John McCain at 12 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 4 percent. The groundswell for Huckabee, a Baptist minister with close ties to religious conservatives, has been fueled in part by his growing support among that key party constituency. Among likely Republican voters who say they are "very conservative," Huckabee drew the support of 43 percent, with Thompson second at 20 percent and Romney third at 16 percent. Those voters who describe themselves as "born again" gave Huckabee the lead at 33 percent, with McCain in second at 17 percent and Romney with 14 percent. The number of undecided likely Republican voters dropped from 21 percent last month to 9 percent. The race remains fluid enough to be shaped dramatically by the results in Iowa on January 3 and New Hampshire, where voters go to the polls on January 8. "Voters are starting to at least pay attention and identify with someone," Zogby said. "But it doesn't mean they have made up their minds for good." READ IT ALL

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The era of cheap food is over.

David Seaton's News Links
This should be the most important story in the world, but it isn't... and perhaps that is the most important story in the world . DS

World food stocks dwindling rapidly, UN warns - International Herald Tribune
Abstract: In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday. The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency's food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before - a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year. At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980.(...) Diouf blamed a confluence of recent supply and demand factors for the crisis, and he predicted that those factors were here to stay. On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows. "We're concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world's hungry," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, in a telephone interview. READ IT ALL

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Huckabee tickles my inner Lenin

David Seaton's News Links
Huckabee is interesting, he has all the weird social positions that typical southern Bible thumpers have, but he never, ever panders to southern racism even in code terms. This is in contrast to everything the Republicans have been doing in the south since Nixon discovered his "Southern Strategy".

Huckabee's nuance is important because a great many African-Americans are just as socially conservative as southern whites are. Both are far below the national averages for wealth. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of black Arkansans voted for Huckabee. Repeated nationally those numbers would make him a landslide winner in 2008.

It is a timeworn, but evergreen cliché, that keeping working class white people from realizing how much they have in common with working class black people is one of the secrets of American capitalism's stunning success... And Huckabee is playing with that. He is against tax breaks for the rich, he attacks Bush's "arrogance". The Cato Institute gave him an "F" as governor of Arkansas, because of his taxing and spending on education and he calls the ultraconservative political action committee, "Club for Growth" the "Club for Greed". He even makes positive noises about the environment.

What is Huckabee after?

My reading is that he wants to take control of the political and social juice of the American Evangelical movement and that includes the black Evangelicals too... The mind boggles.

It should be remembered that Southern Evangelical Protestantism is resentful and anti-elitist before it is anything else. It is against any "expert" opinion. They feel that these "experts" look down on them with contempt and they are probably right. Lenny Bruce did a routine once that describes the whole thing perfectly:
Southerner: Mah 'pinion about New-Klee-heer Physics is

(interrupts sneeringly) Vadda you know about nuclear physics, you smuck?
Both poor white people and poor black people face this kind of contempt all their lives. The Evangelicals love for creationism and the literal reading of scripture is because the Bible trumps the "experts"... any hick quoting the good book is superior to a PhD from MIT quoting Darwin. The same psychology holds true for "Rapture" enthusiasts, they will be saved, taken directly up to heaven and all the people who have ever treated them so shabbily here on earth will suffer indescribable torment and humiliation, which the chosen will be able to watch from heaven. It is interesting to note that Tim LaHaye the author of the "Left Behind" series has enthusiastically endorsed Huckabee. This has all the signs of being a "movement", not just another primary campaign.

I titled this post, "Huckabee tickles my inner Lenin" and what I mean is this:

The entire American economy is based on making people feel bad about themselves, making them feel poor, ugly, sick, helpless, stupid, inadequate and then offering to sell them something to relieve the pain of rejection and failure. What, despite all its grotesque fanaticism, is truly healthy about all this Evangelical, rapture, mishegoss is that it is a real rebellion against the basic, inhuman tool of the system... Its unhappiness factory. Here we should note the significance of Huckabee's losing a hundred pounds. If you knew anything at all about southern cooking you would understand that such weight loss by any southerner, either black of white, could easily be taken for a miracle of God... a SIGN.

Of course many of the same old vultures feed off this rebellion, in the same way that they feed off all the other unsatisfaction, but this is a true rebellion for all of that.

America's first Nobel prize for literature, Sinclair Lewis once said that, "when fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross". I would go a bit farther and say that any rebellion in the USA would have those characteristics to begin with. What, for me makes, this Huckabee thing not exactly fascist is that he is not and has never been a racist. Racism for me is the core of all American fascism that I have ever seen and up till now this thing isn't racist.

For it is self evident that any popular movement that would ever hope to change the status of the poor in United States would have to begin by uniting the resentment of both poor whites and poor blacks and that could probably only be possible around the figure of Jesus Christ, as he is painted by southern Christianity both black and white... and, as any South American will tell you, once the poor begin to march, Jesus is more easily a figure of the left than of the right DS

Huckabee Taps Renewed Fervor Of Evangelicals - Wall Street Journal
Abstract: Evangelical voters, dispirited with their options in the Republican presidential field for much of the year, are feeling new energy and intensity as they flock to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And with their support, Mr. Huckabee's campaign is soaring to heights that seemed unimaginable just a month ago. The turnaround is personified by evangelicals Valerie and Larry Domagalski, who waited more than an hour recently to greet Mr. Huckabee after a speech in Greenville, S.C. When they finally got their chance, Mr. Domagalski looked Mr. Huckabee in the eye: "We've been praying for you," he said. "We know this is entirely in God's hands, but we're continuing to pray for you." Mr. Domagalski, who says he has never been active in politics before, now regularly emails close to 100 friends and colleagues encouraging them to vote for Mr. Huckabee. The candidate's quick rise is a vivid demonstration of the power social conservatives continue to wield in Republican politics. It also illustrates the bloc's evolution. Grass-roots churchgoers no longer necessarily follow their national leadership.(....) Mr. Huckabee's gains are threatening to shift once again the political balance between evangelicals and the rest of the Republican coalition of social and economic conservatives, Wall Street executives and national-security hawks, whose agendas have come into conflict in recent years. While Mr. Giuliani has tried to rebuild the coalition around security and economics, playing down social issues, Mr. Huckabee is tinkering with it in a different way. By talking about economic hardship and bashing free trade, he combines his appeal to religious voters with outreach to so-called Reagan Democrats -- working-class families viewed as socially conservative but economically liberal. Over the weekend, Mr. Huckabee took on his party's national-security hawks with an essay in Foreign Affairs, blasting "the Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality." While all the other top-tier Republicans have embraced President Bush's aggressive foreign policy, Mr. Huckabee wrote that the country "needs to change its tone and attitude, open up and reach out." Mr. Huckabee's approach to economics and foreign policy mirrors a broader change in the political outlook of evangelicals. A new generation of leaders has begun to replace some of the old guard. Many of the new breed, like Rick Warren, pastor of the mammoth Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., are either nonpolitical or interested in a range of issues -- such as poverty, the environment and AIDS in Africa -- that go well beyond abortion and homosexuality. "Younger pastors may very well bring in things like protection of environment as God's creation" to the political mix, says Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. In addition, disappointment with Mr. Bush, both for his failure to enact some of their priorities and over the Iraq war, has eroded some evangelicals' enthusiasm for Republican politics. Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who quotes readily from the Bible, is working hard to capitalize on the new evangelical spirit. Among his tools: grass-roots organizing, television advertising and targeted messaging to reach evangelicals. And a growing number of evangelical Republicans have embraced him.(...) For now, however, many evangelicals are relishing their revival. "We haven't really had a candidate who represents us, a true conservative -- not one that morphs depending on the circumstances or crowd," says Mrs. Domagalski of South Carolina. "There's been an explosion of people like me who have found Mike. We are so excited about this man." READ IT ALL

Friday, December 14, 2007


David Seaton's News Links
The title of this post sounds a little like a screen credit from a W.C. Fields film, but what I'm trying to pin down is the idea of a political figure that doesn't hold any political office being more influential then political figures that do.

Gandhi never held office, yet he is universally considered the father of Indian independence and one of the most memorable and influential politicians of the 20th century.
Not only that, he has given the Indians a lasting image of moral excellence that they are trying as hard as they can to forget.

Much of Gandhi's power was paradoxically derived from his being "powerless".

Gandhi's not having day to day executive responsibilities freed him from having to address problems that didn't interest him and by avoiding being tarnished and diminished by the endless petty battles of political trench warfare and by keeping to an unpolluted high ground, he was able to give a moral and political structure to India where none would have ever existed without him.

It seems that Al Gore has chosen Global Warming as his own particular Sathyagraha.

At this point a small, cynical bird perches near my ear (this bird is my secret weapon, folks) and it whispers to me that perhaps this is just a very special way of running for president in the year of our Lord, 2008.

This election of all elections is the one made for the Democrats to win, but they are doing all the can to lose it. The leading Democratic candidates all have loser written all over them.

Hillary is absolutely loathed by half of her countrymen and a huge hunk of her countrywomen too. Barack Obama is, as Andrew Young said, too young and inexperienced for the job and although I think the voters would vote for Obama for vice-president, perhaps Colin Powell (before Bush ruined him) was the only African-American that could have been elected president... for the moment. As for Edwards, I don't know what it is... his hair? His being a trial lawyer? His being so pretty? The only Republican Edwards could lick is Thompson.

I think the weakness of the Democrat field will become very evident as the convention approaches... and panic will set in.

At that point my little bird tells me that Gore might just become "available"... to "save" the party, the nation and ultimately the world. He will be begged to run. If he does, the campaign will take on millenarian tones of a "children's crusade"... or Gandhi's Salt March. That could turn a lot of people off. If he wins, he be will hogtied by the system, he will be "just another politician" again, caught in America's gridlock. More cynicism, more disappointment.

So, I hope the bird is wrong.

I have sadly come to the conclusion that because of how the system has developed, America cannot be reformed from inside the institutions anymore: the reform has to be grassroots, to come from within society itself and the institutions will then have to follow society. It seems (seemed?) to me that Gore had stepped forward to lead that movement, both in Global Warming and political reform.

No president will solve America's problems, by now only American society can. It seems (seemed?) to me that Gore has (had?) realized that Global Warming is a political "can opener" to lead the fight for political and social reform and that he was prepared and, armed with his Nobel Prize, willing to wield that can opener ruthlessly.

I hope I'm right and my little bird is wrong. DS

Gore hits at US over climate change - Financial Times
Al Gore savaged the US government’s “obstructing” attitude and urged delegates at the UN conference on climate change to ignore Washington if necessary to pursue the “moral imperative” of a new global regime.

“My country is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali,” the former US vice-president told 2,000 of the 12,000 people attending the conference on Thursday. “[But] over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now.”(...)Mr Gore, fresh from receiving the Nobel peace prize jointly with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said delegates must “find the grace to navigate around this enormous obstacle, the elephant in the room that I have been undiplomatic enough to name.”

The US delegation in Bali has repeatedly said it is committed to finding a consensus and reaching a deal but numerous countries have accused it, as well as Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia, of blocking progress.

A substantial part of Mr’s Gore’s hour-long address was a recap of material he has used on numerous occasions since making An Inconvenient Truth, his Oscar-winning film, in 2006. He described how scientists are warning of a rapidly escalating crisis unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.

He sought to inspire the audience by telling them they had the privilege of being some of the few people in the world who can make a difference in saving “the world’s civilisation”.

“The way ahead from Bali is difficult,” he said. “The truth is that is the maximum now considered possible even here in this conference is still far short of the minimum that will really solve this process. So we have to expand the limits of what’s possible. We must have the moral imagination of humankind to see ourselves as the symbol of global civilisation.” READ IT ALL

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to rebuild a revolution from just DNA samples

David Seaton's News Links
Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on its front page about a resurgence of the Italian "Red Brigades".

Full points to the WSJ for picking up on the story and for giving it such prominent treatment. This is not exceptional for them. It was Noam Chomsky's recommendation that got me reading the WSJ. If you discount its Neanderthal opinion section, it probably has less bullshit in it than any other American paper. We can only hope that Murdoch doesn't spoil it. I don't think all his fellow billionaires would ever forgive him if he did.

Getting back to the article: The social peace that was achieved in Europe with the creation of the welfare state is slowly being picked apart by the new economy and violent groups of young people are beginning to appear. A situation where university graduates cannot find anything better than delivering pizza on a thousand euros a month is a sure recipe for organized political violence anywhere where there is a well rooted tradition of it. The return of the Red Brigades is just the tip of an iceberg.

The violent right, the racist "skin-heads", have been around for quite awhile, but now they are being confronted in the street by "red-skins", young men of working class background who call themselves "anti-fascists". So far these red-skins are politically naive, mouthing slogans read off of posters, but achieving political sophistication is just a question of reading and discussion, acting, evaluating and criticizing. It's a path well trodden over the last hundred years and its techniques are well known. Many like to talk, but few dare or care to act. It easier to take people of action and teach them analysis than to take armchair anythings and move them to action which could lead them to physical discomfort.

The most important thing is that these young people already have a militant class attitude. They know what side they are on. In today's deadening consumer and entertainment society that attitude is much harder to acquire than smooth, pink patter or even the formula for making pipe bombs on the Internet.

If these young people are not quickly offered some horizon of steady, unionized employment, the sort of jobs their father's and grandfather's enjoyed, a significant number of them will morph from street fighters into anti-system terrorists in the next decade.

If this happens it will be much worse than the "years of lead" of the Red Brigades as there are a lot more young people without any hopes of stable employment than there were then. Desperation can become a fashion and any economic downturn would multiply it. DS

In Europe, Some Still Cling To Dreams of Revolution - Wall Street Journal
Abstract: Beneath the archaic rhetoric and sweeping ambitions is a remarkable story of a political movement's survival. Long after Soviet communism collapsed, traces of a left-wing dream of revolution live on in corners of Europe, sometimes in virulent strains. Adherents say they're motivated by profound disappointment with how political struggles from a generation ago have played out. Instead of a more equitable society, they see one more out of kilter. Partly through years of strikes, European workers have won greater job and welfare protections. But debt-laden governments can no longer pay for it all, and a system of haves and have-nots has emerged. Young people chafe at a rigid job market with few opportunities. Communist parties espousing workers' rights still garner support. Italy has two, each with ministers in the government; France has five far-left groups. The parties retain the trappings of a militant era, like the hammer-and-sickle symbol, but most have lost their edge as they join governments and forge compromises. One result is that some who still cherish the dream of revolution have been forced to the margins of society or gone underground. Although the mass worker movements that fed the political violence of the 1970s have long vanished, left-wing political terrorism retains a romantic appeal. Italian movies such as "The Best of Youth" and "Buongiorno, Notte" -- co-written by a former Red Brigades member -- paint a seductive picture of idealism and violence that resonates with some. Investigators were struck by the sympathy the arrests kicked up. Graffiti in support of the Red Brigades and those arrested appeared on factory walls around Padua, and there were two protest marches. A Molotov cocktail was left, unexploded, at the home of a police investigator. That has left investigators with nagging worries. "We have dismantled this wing, but we don't know if there are others," says Bruno Megale, head of Milan's investigative police unit. "I think the siren call of revolution is buried deep inside this society." READ IT ALL

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The rough road to paradise

"Ruins at the Sea" - Jan Both (1618 - 1652)
James Howard Kunstler - NYT
I think we’ll eventually see a reversal of the 200-year-long cycle of people moving from farms and small towns to big cities. Food production is going to be a big problem when oil-and-gas-based agriculture is no longer possible, and we will have to reestablish a more meaningful relationship between urban places and a more productive agricultural hinterland. (We will have to get much more of our food locally in the decades ahead.)

Our mega-cities will contract substantially. The fortunate ones will densify around their old cores and waterfronts — though sea level rise may affect many harbor cities. This process of contraction is likely to be problematic and disorderly. In America, there is certainly the potential for ethnic conflict.

Categorically, our colossal metroplexes will not be sustainable in a post-oil future — and despite the wishes and yearnings of many people, the truth is that no combination of alternative fuels will permit us to continue living at this scale. Some of our cities will not make it. Phoenix, Tucson, and other Sunbelt cities will dry up and blow away. In Las Vegas, the excitement will be over. Other mega-cities will have to downscale or face extreme dysfunction.
David Seaton's News Links
James Howard Kunstler is often denounced as a fear monger and ridiculed as a prophet of doom. I think he is merely making a logical extrapolation from what would appear to be incontrovertible facts: in a foreseeable future, non-renewable energy sources will become scarce and we will not be able to waste them as we do today and this in turn will inevitably change the way we live. 2 + 2 = 4

But why be pessimistic? This new way of living might be much preferable to the way we live today.

Perhaps we will see small, vibrant, very personal cities surrounded by enough agriculture to support them. This is how humanity lived for centuries before fossil fuels became our principal source of energy.

Alternative energy sources cannot maintain our present lifestyle, but I’m sure they’ll be able to maintain a very satisfying and human, future lifestyle. There is no reason to see this as some sort of "Dark Age".

If we have just enough electricity to maintain the Internet, that will mean that contact between all the earth's peoples will continue and all the knowledge of our civilization will be available to all its members instantly...

But fruits and vegetables will have to eaten in season, n
o more grapes in May or strawberries in January and travel will again be the adventure it always was for centuries, before plane loads of bored, ignorant, overweight tourists were flown at supersonic speeds around the globe to overeat and overdrink surrounded by desperately poor "natives".

I think Kustler is being attacked for the same reason Al Gore is: if they are right in their predictions it means the end of the laissez-faire version of capitalism based on endless growth and consumption. And for sure, that system will not go down without a fight to the death.

Ay, there is the rub! The world of the future may not turn out to be a bad place at all, quite the contrary. But, if history is any guide, and there is no other, then getting there is going to be hell. DS

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Democracy without consequences is exhibitionism

"Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue"
La Rochefoucauld
David Seaton's News Links
Democracy without consequences is mere exhibitionism. If some serious jail time doesn't follow these revelations of torture and destruction of evidence then the United State is just "flashing" the world.

If America is not going to eradicate these practices it should at least have the decency to cover them up. That would show some consciousness that they were wrong or minimally incongruent with the supposed ideals of the republic.

Bush has to be extradited to the Hague for trial for war crimes if the USA ever wants to be taken seriously again as anything more than a large collection of fat people out shopping. DS

CIA boss faces tape interrogation - BBC News
The head of the CIA is due to testify to two key congressional intelligence committees, after it emerged tapes of two interrogations had been destroyed.

Gen Michael Hayden will face questioning amid ongoing concern over why the tapes were wiped in 2005. Some suggest a possible torture cover-up.

The CIA and the US justice department are investigating the tape destruction.

Meanwhile, an ex-CIA agent has defended the use of "water-boarding", which critics say amounts to torture.

Speaking to ABC News, John Kiriakou said the technique, which simulates drowning, helped "break" a key al-Qaeda suspect.

The suspect, Abu Zubaydah, was said to be one of the men questioned in the deleted footage.

A Palestinian, he was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr Kiriakou said the day after water-boarding was used on Abu Zubaydah, the detainee told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to co-operate.

"From that day on, he answered every question," the retired agent said.
But the director has come under pressure to explain the agency's decision to destroy the tapes.

Correspondents say there are suspicions that the decision was made to conceal evidence that terror suspects were being tortured in order to extract vital intelligence.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that lawyers in a clandestine branch of the CIA gave written approval in advance for the destruction of the tapes, and said this could widen the scope of the investigation.

Gen Hayden has defended the decision, saying it was "done in line with the law".

The CIA says it destroyed the tapes to protect the identity of its agents.

But Democrats have accused the agency of a cover-up to hide evidence of possible detainee torture.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Kiriakou told ABC News he had wrestled with the moral implications of using so-called "enhanced techniques" on prisoners.

"Like a lot of Americans, I'm involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself - weighing the idea that water-boarding may be torture, versus the quality of information that we often get after using the water-boarding technique," he said.

"And I struggle with it."

But on Tuesday he shifted responsibility from the CIA to the White House, saying the decision to use certain interrogation techniques did not rest with people like him.

"This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and justice department," he told NBC TV.

Human rights groups say that water-boarding - and other techniques allegedly used by the CIA - can be defined as torture under various international treaties to which the US is a signatory.

The administration of US President George W Bush has always maintained it does not allow the use of torture. LINK

Monday, December 10, 2007

Huckabee: squaring the circle

“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Sinclair Lewis
David Seaton's News Links
Mike Huckabee is not to be underestimated. He has managed to re-mix the traditional "po' boy" southern populism and Evangelical fanaticism, remove the traditional southern hostility to African-Americans and replace it with "Islamo-fascist" paranoia... and repackage the whole concoction as "Republican", with all the freight that word carries as "tough on terrorism".

Just as Shakespeare was able to take the plots of mediocre playwrights and turn them into masterpieces, Huckabee has taken George W. Bush little slogan "compassionate conservatism" and fed it on steroids. Huckabee as a pastor and as a man of humble origins has a credibility when talking this talk that silver spooned Bush never had, (although the slogan took Dubya within stealing distance of the presidency in 2000).

The year 2008 looks like being a very hard year indeed with many families losing their homes and jobs and ever emotional Americans will be easy prey to all this talk about Jesus loving the poor while building a fence to keep out Mexicans.

Unless Huckabee does a "Howard Dean" and implodes very soon, he is going to be an extremely hard man to stop.

Huckabee is a reactionary's Barack Obama: "visionary", charming, inclusive, feel good, plus ironclad, rigid, repressive, social conservatism. American fascism, when it comes, will have a flavor all its own.

There seems to be some idea that either Hillary or Obama is going to be "crowned" next year and that we will all live happily ever after. It's not that simple. You have to ask yourself how an espèce d'ordure like George W. Bush ever got elected president in the first place and then accept that those very same forces are still at work today. Mike Huckabee is what George Bush only pretends to be. As the Reverend Huckabee would put it, "God help us all". DS

Holy Huckabee! A Pastor's True Calling - Newsweek
Abstract: On the campaign trail, Huckabee quotes Scripture so often that his stump speeches themselves could be mistaken for sermons. He has spent less than $400,000 in Iowa, compared with Romney's estimated $7 million. In a recent speech at Liberty University, the Baptist school founded by Jerry Falwell, Huckabee said his surprise surge in the polls was the result of divine intervention. "There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one,"(...) "Faith doesn't just influence me; it really defines me," Huckabee says in a TV ad now running in Iowa. "I don't have to wake up every day wondering, 'What do I need to believe?' " Just in case his meaning is not clear enough, the words CHRISTIAN LEADER flash on the screen in capital letters.(...) In 1992, he resigned from his church and ran for the U.S. Senate.(...) Huckabee ran on a hard-right platform. (On a candidate questionnaire, the Associated Press reported last week, he advocated isolating AIDS patients. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment.) Huckabee lost. He was crushed. "I thought, 'Why?' " he told the parishoners at New Beginnings. Months later, he got his answer. The post of Arkansas lieutenant governor opened up. Political supporters asked him to run and he won a long-shot campaign, making him the Republican No. 2 to Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Three years later Tucker was indicted and then convicted on charges related to the Whitewater scandal. Huckabee was governor. He says he knows now why he lost his Senate race: God had other plans for him.(...) Huckabee has gotten noticed in part by politely exploiting the voters' dissatisfaction with his rivals. He has positioned himself as the only true conservative in the campaign, the one candidate who hasn't conveniently inched rightward on issues like abortion or stem cells just in time for '08. He believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God and says creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution. All the same, he is careful not to come off as all hellfire and brimstone. As he likes to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody about it." Huckabee hopes his charm will help overcome any qualms secular voters or those of other faiths might have about the possibility of a minister in the Oval Office.(...) Arkansas voters saw the funny, down-to-earth Huckabee. Political pros who tangled with him away from the cameras say the governor they dealt with was anything but easygoing. Republican state Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson says Huckabee has an explosive temper. He recalls one heated conversation with Huckabee about a health bill Hutchinson didn't want to support. Huckabee began screaming at him, and banged his fists on his desk so hard that "trinkets started falling off."(...) Jim Hendren, the state's Senate minority whip, says he gave up trying to debate issues with Huckabee. "It was like you became the enemy," he says. "There wasn't ever a negotiation. It was, 'It's going to be my way or else'." READ IT ALL

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ending the modern era

David Seaton's News Links
We are looking at a sea change in international relations.

Since the nineteenth century everything has been predicated on the seigneur-vassal relationship between Europe/America and the rest of the non-white world. (with the Japanese as 'honorary caucasians'). That is finished. This is truly the end of the modern era.

Imperialism didn't end when the empires dissolved. When the former colonies became independent, nothing really changed at all. In the Cold War world, they simply became the vassals of either the USA or the USSR: rule takers, not rule makers.

China's engaging with capitalism on capitalism's own ground, but playing by Chinese rules, has put paid to hundreds of years of Eurocentric navel gazing. The rise of India's enormous, new, English speaking middle class, dynamic and voracious, only accelerates the tipping of the scales.

When something as massive and long standing as that relationship of "superior/Inferior" falls apart, many are hurt by the falling debris. Things like food, water and air can no longer be taken for granted anymore. We now enter terra incognita. That is the principal characteristic of our time. DS

Food: Cheap no more - The Economist
Abstract: In early September the world price of wheat rose to over $400 a tonne, the highest ever recorded. In May it had been around $200. Though in real terms its price is far below the heights it scaled in 1974, it is still twice the average of the past 25 years. Earlier this year the price of maize (corn) exceeded $175 a tonne, again a world record. It has fallen from its peak, as has that of wheat, but at $150 a tonne is still 50% above the average for 2006. As the price of one crop shoots up, farmers plant it to take advantage, switching land from other uses. So a rise in wheat prices has knock-on effects on other crops. Rice prices have hit records this year, although their rise has been slower. The Economist's food-price index is now at its highest since it began in 1845, having risen by one-third in the past year. Normally, sky-high food prices reflect scarcity caused by crop failure. Stocks are run down as everyone lives off last year's stores. This year harvests have been poor in some places, notably Australia, where the drought-hit wheat crop failed for the second year running. And world cereals stocks as a proportion of production are the lowest ever recorded. The run-down has been accentuated by the decision of large countries (America and China) to reduce stocks to save money. Yet what is most remarkable about the present bout of “agflation” is that record prices are being achieved at a time not of scarcity but of abundance. According to the International Grains Council, a trade body based in London, this year's total cereals crop will be 1.66 billion tonnes, the largest on record and 89m tonnes more than last year's harvest, another bumper crop. That the biggest grain harvest the world has ever seen is not enough to forestall scarcity prices tells you that something fundamental is affecting the world's demand for cereals.(...) Central bankers are determined to ensure that what could be a one-off shift in food prices does not create continuing inflation by pushing up wages or creating expectations of higher prices. So they are tightening monetary policy. China increased interest rates in August, Chile in July, Mexico in May. The striking thing about these rises is that they are the opposite of what has been happening in some rich countries. The Federal Reserve reduced rates by 50 basis points in September and 25 points in October; the Bank of Canada cut rates this week. The indirect effect of food-price rises has therefore been to widen the interest-rate differential between rich and emerging markets. And all this is going on as the economic balance of power is shifting. Growth in America and Europe is slowing; China and India are going great guns. Financial confidence in the West has been shaken by the subprime-mortgage crisis; capital flows into emerging markets are setting records. This shift will be tricky to handle. Such transitions always are. The risk is of a bubble in emerging markets. READ IT ALL

Friday, December 07, 2007

Huckabee: and you thought things couldn't get worse?

"Just imagine that Huckabee were running one-on-one in Iowa against Joe Lieberman. (It's a thought experiment. Stay with me.) If he had run the same ad in those circumstances, it would have raised an outcry. The subtext -- who's the Christian in this race? -- would have been too obvious to ignore, the appeal to bigotry too clear."
Charles Krauthammer
David Seaton's News Links
God (any god you like, take your pick) only knows that I don't like to find myself in agreement with Charles Krauthammer about anything, but today I think he's hit the nail on the head as far as Mike Huckabee is concerned.

I would add that Huckabee, like Krauthammer, forms part of America's slide toward its own unique brand of paranoiac, whimpering, Jesus ridden, Disneyesque, something or other that we might even call "fascism", if that word hadn't lost almost all its meaning; as by now the word "Fascist" has become degraded into an all purpose term of abuse without its former precision.

In one speech, however, his CPAC "islamo-fascist" speech, Huckabee went well over the line (YouTube link) directly into classic fascism as defined by former Columbia University Professor Robert O. Paxton in Wikipedia's article on the subject:
"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Paxton further defines fascism's essence as:
...a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination."
Here is an extract of the speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, some of whose phrases I have highlighted to emphasize their conformity to Paxton's definition:
We all understand we are in an unconventional war. I have said, and I believe with all my heart, we are not on the brink of; we are in the midst of a World War III. (Applause)

And the Islamic fascists who have declared enmity against us are not interested in settling the types of lines of demarcation that normally settle wars.

Because this is not a war about property. This is not a war about personalities. This is not a war even about power.

What makes this so unusual is that the radical Islamic fascists—not representative of the entire Muslim religion, but the radical Islamic fascists who have declared war on us do so not from a political perspective but from a theological perspective.

And a lot of people I don't think understand that when that is the basis, there can be no negotiation. Because while one may be able to negotiate with diplomats, one does not negotiate with God.

When they declare that their sole purpose is the destruction of Israel, the United States and anything that resembles us, let us be clear. They are not interested in detente. They are not interested in some type of peaceful co-existence.

They are not just interested; they are solely determined for one and only one thing, and that is not our decline. It is our ultimate and absolute annihilation and destruction.

This is a war we cannot and must not lose. Because it doesn't mean that we have a shrinked (ph) border. It means that we have a nonexistence.

They are not marching under the banner of a flag and wearing the uniforms of soldiers and carrying the banner of a country. It is an unconventional war.

And I am convinced it will require an unconventional response, through unconventional means, with special operations and heavy use of intelligence and a different kind of approach to fight it and to win it.

But the one thing that we must be committed to as a nation—be we liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, urban or rural—is that we understand the nature of this enemy and we understand that at stake is not simply higher taxes, changed lifestyles, but existence itself as a people and as a civilization.

We must win this war. (Applause)
Much of the Huckabee "movement" has to do with decontenting and eviscerating language. Try listening to Huckabee answering the evolution question: Youtube link. Or on Gays in the military. Youtube link. Here is my 'guru' William Pfaff on this language question:
"The debasement of language is political, due to the American electoral system, by which campaigning is entirely by unlimited paid television (or radio) advertising, imposing demagogy and simplism, frequently testing the limits of defamation and calumny. It also is due to the power of special interests in Congress and their influence on the public debate in Washington, distorting argument, cultivating euphemism, setting the media agenda, and imposing demagogy." William Pfaff
That debasement of language (in the widest sense of the meaning of "language") is at the heart of it all. Remember "compassionate conservatism"?

What we are seeing with Mike Huckabee is a post 9-11 retread of George W. Bush's year 2000, oxymoronic "compassionate conservatism": with the difference that Huckabee is much more credible than Bush was at delivering that oxymoron and it is an oxymoron that has resonated mightily with the American people and still does.

In fact "Compassionate Conservatism" is a magic phrase that holds in itself all the contradictions of contemporary America and certainly Huckabee is much better suited to deliver it than the hapless present tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Huckabee's political skills are of quite another order of magnitude than Dubya's and can only be compared to fellow Arkansan, "Slick Willy" Clinton's. (is there something in the water in Arkansas that loosens the tongue so prodigiously?)

You probably think that the United States cannot produce a worse president than George W. Bush... You are wrong. The best thing about Bush is how clumsy and inept he is. Imagine someone with Bush's ideology and Bill Clinton's political skills. Bush is only Huckabee's "John the Baptist", the "good news" is on the way. DS