Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My take on McCain

"I say very mildly, we have only one political party in the United States, the Property Party, with two right wings, Republican and Democrat." Gore Vidal
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The other day there was an interview (in Spanish) in my Newspaper with the emminent historian and director of the Remarque Institute of NYU, Tony Judt. They asked him, a fire-tested progressive, about the presidential elections in the USA.

His opinion was that if Hillary Clinton were elected and re-elected president it would mean that two families, the Bushs and the Clintons, would have dominated American politics for over thirty years and that wasn't acceptable in a serious Republic. As to Barack Obama, Judt found him simply too inexperienced for serious consideration.

Judt said that the only interesting candidate was John McCain, although, "I don't agree with almost anything he says." I am glad that Tony Judt said it first.

I opened this post with a quote from Gore Vidal to which I subscribe fully. I would that the Republicans aren't fooling anyone, which is why they win elections and the Democrats are trying to fool people into thinking that they are a 'progressive' party, which is why they lose elections... Not enough people are fooled.

I find myself against almost everything that the Republicans stand for, but at least they seem to truly stand for what they say they stand for (although many evangelicals doubt this). I respect that quality, even in a jerk like Bush... He defends his people (the very, very rich) to the bone. But the Democratic Party to use highly technical language, really, really, sucks: with few exceptions, a herd of Judas Goats leading the poor to slaughter, bells a tingling.

Full disclosure: I wish there was a party of the left in the USA like the German Socialist Party, although if I were a German voter, I would probably vote for Die Linke (to keep the SPD honest).

Now to McCain.

The next few years are going to be truly, truly, rough. Nobody knows what is really happening nowadays or why it is happening, or even how it is happening, much less what is going to happen tomorrow. This is the time for a man or woman that has really been tested by life. Knows exactly who they really are and how they will react when the caca hits the fan. That is certainly McCain's case, I have to admit that I am really impressed that he spent five years in prison being tortured in Vietnam because he refused to be given special treatment as an Admiral's son and take an early release. Anyone who has lived through that has to have seen deep into himself,all the way to the bottom. A karma yogi.

I would be happier if the Democrats were running Teddy Kennedy or Al Gore than Hillary or Obama, both Teddy and Al have had some hard knocks, have shown that they have got real fiber. I would vote for either of them before McCain on the issues... better half a loaf than no loaf at all.

The real and in my mind most serious objection to McCain is Iraq and his seeming willingness to attack Iran. I am fairly sanguine on this. It seems to me that if the United States has not attacked Iran yet it is simply because it can't, if it could, Bush and Cheney would have. That simple. The next president will probably have even less options than Bush has right now. What I don't think McCain would do is to put American military personnel in harm's way frivolously. Or bomb people just to prove he is "tough". He is not going to be living out some macho fantasy as to war. In this I think he would be as judicious as Colin Powell would be.
"It's a difficult thing to say. But now that I've seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam." John McCain to NYT reporter R. W. Apple, Jr. Saigon 1967
As to Iraq, if he comes to think its time to leave, again I don't think he would lose any sleep about people calling him a wimp. Basically, with Democrats or Republicans, the USA will finally leave Iraq because it will not be able to afford to stay a moment longer.

What really make me sad it that now that John Edwards has dropped out of the race, nothing is really ever going to happen on health care for America's working poor. Gore Vidal will have to explain it to them. DS

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Karl and the Boaters out to out Africa

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I hate to be a party pooper, but it seems that everybody has forgotten that if Obama finally wins the nomination he will be facing the Karl Rove filth machine and Swiftboaterdom.

Now since most Americans don't follow events beyond their shores closely, disaster from afar usually tends to catch them with their trousers at half mast. It seems left to me to bring up an awkward bit of business.

One of the most charming parts of what Bill Clinton calls Obama's "fairy tale" takes place in Kenya, which for most readers probably summons up visions of Meryl Streep out hunting with Robert Redford, however recently Kenya has exploded in Rwanda-like ethnic violence, with people being locked in churches and burned alive and folks being hacked to bits with machetes. Here is a Google News search link to bring you up to speed.

I read "Dreams From My Father" a couple of years ago and don't have it at hand at the moment, but I seem to recall that the Senator from Illinois has quite a few aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens in that country and that his father was some sort of a civil servant. I can't remember what tribe they belong to and I have no idea what, if any, might be their participation in today's situation, but you can be sure that Karl and the Boaters are already on the case.

This is a potential can of worms unlike anything heretofore imagined in American political mudslinging and the faster this gets talked about and cleared up the better. DS

Monday, January 28, 2008

Kennedy to Bush to Clinton to Bush to Clinton or Kennedy surrogate?

"The election of a Progressive like Clinton or Obama would deprive conservatives of power. The election of a Progressive like McCain would deprive conservatives of both the government and the means to resist Progressivism. Which is the lesser evil?" Cato Institute
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With all the old Kennedys being trotted out, I really begin to think the Democrats are going to do the impossible: lose the next election. And after reading the above quote from the Cato Institute's libertarian crazies, I'm not so sure it would be such a bad thing.

Cato aren't the only ones. On the other side of the ultra right spectrum, here is what America's favorite fascist, Pat Buchanan has to say about McCain,
"Where President Bush has been bravest, on taxes and judges, McCain has been his nemesis. Not only did McCain vote against the Bush tax cuts twice, he colluded to sell out the most conservative of the Bush nominees to the courts.

In 1993, McCain voted to confirm ACLU liberal and pro-abortion Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But when Bush set out to restore constitutionalism, McCain colluded with Democrats who wanted to retain power to kill Bush's most conservative nominees.

McCain helped form the Gang of 14, including seven Democrats, who agreed to block a GOP Senate from using the "nuclear option" -- allowing a simple GOP majority to break a Democrat filibuster of judicial nominees -- unless the seven Democrats approved. McCain thus conspired with liberals to put at risk the most courageous conservatives nominees of President Bush.

With his record of voting for liberal justices Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and of colluding with Democrats in their campaign to kill the most conservative Bush nominees, what guarantee is there a President McCain will nominate and fight for the fifth jurist who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

In the battle over campaign finance reform, McCain colluded again. The McCain-Feingold law denies to gun folks and right-to-lifers their basic First Amendment right to name friends and foes in ads run before elections."
With enemies like that, the man must be doing something right. Where is the progressive vote here? To a Clinton or a Kennedy restoration? The only Democratic candidate talking seriously about the issues is John Edwards and he is being treated by the media like he had genital herpes. Look, if we have to vote for a dynastic candidate, aren't there any living relations of LBJ interested in the job? At least he was a real progressive on labor, race, pensions, health and education. DS
McCain Gaining Among Republicans - Cato Institute
"Mr. McCain, who has delighted in sticking his thumb in the eye of mainstream Republicans throughout his political career, is now accumulating a base of support among party regulars who see him as the strongest general election candidate in the remaining Republican field," reports . "The latest evidence came Saturday night with the endorsement of Florida's popular Republican governor, Charlie Crist, which surprised even Mr. McCain. That state holds primary elections on Tuesday."

In "McCain vs. Madison," John Samples, director of Cato's Center for Representative Government, writes: "President McCain -- and yes, the words make me shudder even subjunctively -- would pursue endless 'reform' of campaign finance. He would do so in part for political reasons. Such restrictions on speech will quicken his transformation of the Republican Party away from its Reaganite past and toward a Rooseveltian future. But 'reform' is more than a political tactic for McCain. For him, the First Amendment is a philosophical mistake that limits our true calling to national greatness. It is a mistake that might be corrected by proper laws and compliant courts.

"The election of a Progressive like Clinton or Obama would deprive conservatives of power. The election of a Progressive like McCain would deprive conservatives of both the government and the means to resist Progressivism. Which is the lesser evil?"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parag Khanna in the NYT

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This article by Parag Khanna in the New York Times that I have abstracted here is going to be a huge "conversation piece". I suggest you run off and read the whole thing now and then come back and read my comment, if you are so inclined.

Khanna's piece seems to be a "dark" view, but it ends on a note of wonky optimism that is beyond my ken. At this moment we are looking into a whirlpool.

Khanna sees all sorts of ways of “managing” the world situation, but, what I believe really defines the world situation is that it is no longer manageable. It’s un-manageability is its defining characteristic.

I also think that Khanna is wrong about Russia’s situation. We are going to be looking at a world of much armed conflict actual and threatened and the Russians have very good weapons for sale. In fact they are the only ones that provide antiaircraft systems of a quality that can neutralize the US air force’s superiority. Thus anyone who would like to be independent of US intimidation only has Russia as an alternative. Iran is an obvious case in point.

I would imagine that Russia’s population will increase as the oil and gas money continues to filter through their society. They also have a fair base in pure science as I recall and that is a real ace in the coming world, where science will have to solve so many hair raising problems. Anyway it is silly to write off any people that produced Leo Tolstoy and who drowned Adolph Hitler in their blood.

Really, what I worry most about is the effect this stomach floating drop in power, influence and ultimately standard of living, will have on the Americans themselves. There are certainly plenty of right wing demagogues around in the USA and I am worried by the idea of a “Wiemar - America”, with an apple pie version of “ve vass stabbed in der back” in the not too distant future. There may be American leaders waiting around the corner that could make Bush look good. DS

Waving Goodbye to Hegemony - New York Times
Abstract: Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

Why? Weren’t we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America’s image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no “permanent enemies,” but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth. READ IT ALL

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Enjoy Bush while he lasts

David Seaton's News Links
I'm taking some well deserved rest today, so I thought I'd goof off and just show y'all a film.

I made this thing over a year ago as a mashup. Had fun and worked off my agressions. Looking at it today, I got to thinking that a meatball like Bush is a one off. I think we'll see much worse than Bush, someone just as rotten but much more competent. A heart as worm eaten as his, but velvet tongued. So lets enjoy this scum ball while we can. We shall not live to see his like again. DS

Thursday, January 24, 2008

William Pfaff: The Coup d'Etat against Bush

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I can't think of a more important topic than this. This is not the rant of some blogger in pajamas. William Pfaff is one of the most respected political commentators writing today in the English language.

Careful readers will notice a thick forest of nuances in everything he says here. DS

William Pfaff: The Coup d'Etat against Bush
Abstract: The conspicuous irrelevance of George W. Bush’s tour of the Middle East to any of the real forces and interests of the region, as well as the spooky irrelevance of nearly everything he said there about the alleged menace of Iran, Israel-Palestine peace, his fancied notions of Iraq’s democratic development, and even about oil prices and the American economy, embarrassed his Arab hosts as well as the American officials and press accompanying him. The tour – his farewell to the Middle East? -- lent weight to the judgement many abroad have already reached, that he no longer governs the United States, and indeed does not even understand its present foreign relationships. It is widely felt that what amounts to a coup d’etat has taken place in the United States, removing George Bush, without his even recognizing this (or at least admitting that it has occurred) from control over the principal issues of war and peace. This coup has taken the form of what amounts to a mutiny of the professional foreign policy services of the U.S. government, acquiesced in by the new Secretary of Defense, the service chiefs, and Director of Central Intelligence Bush has himself appointed.(...) The pathetic and pusillanimous refusal of recent American Congresses – and we are not simply speaking about the Congress now in office, but of practically every Congress since the beginning of the cold war – to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities with respect to the declaration and financing of wars, has now generated its own rebuke from within the executive branch of government. Leaders in the executive branch are unwilling to act on presidential orders that do not carry with them the constitutionally mandated authority of the representative branch of government.(...) I am perhaps taking a romantic and unjustified view of what has happened. I hope not. I believe that only grave malfeasance in government and unconstitutional conduct justify an executive ‘coup d’etat’ – however ‘postmodern’ the form that it assumes, and however elevated its motives. However I would suggest that the present election campaign demonstrates that powerful forces in the Washington political and foreign policy communities, reinforced by financial and industrial interests, are committed to suppressing all challenge to policies that already have altered the political character of the United States. The American form of government itself needs to be defended. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Every so often something beautiful happens

David Seaton's News Links
Every so often something beautiful happens that makes your heart swell with human feelings of empathy and solidarity.

A wall falling and people behind it flowing out just to buy ice cream, to see their friends they haven't seem for years, or to get married and start a family like the couple in the story below.

The down side? This could blow Egypt apart. American aid has neutralized Egypt, but Egypt is the most important country in the Middle East.

If the Mubarak regime is seen collaborating with the Israelis to put the Palestinians back in their cage it might bring the Egyptian people out into the streets. If the Israeli army enters Gaza and Hamas puts up a real fight then the Egyptian army (captains, majors and colonels) might stage a coup d'etat and a general war might break out in the Middle East. Something much bigger and harder to control than the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Because when people's hearts swell with human feelings of empathy and solidarity it generates an amazing force that politicians oppose at their peril. DS

Wedding bells to ring after fall of Rafah wall - Reuters
While other Palestinians lugged food and fuel from Egypt into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, Omran Lubbab took advantage of the fall of Gaza's Rafah wall to bring his future bride home.

"No more delays," said Lubbab, a 34-year-old Gaza cameraman, vowing to marry fiance Heba al-Qadi in two weeks' time.

Lubbab was reunited with Qadi, a Palestinian who lives on the Egyptian side of the divided town of Rafah, after stepping through one of the gaps Hamas fighters blew in the border wall dividing the town.

"We have been engaged for two years but our wedding has been delayed because of the closure of the border crossing," said Qadi, who carried two suitcases filled with new dresses into the Gaza Strip to begin her new life.

Israel and Egypt have largely kept the Rafah passage sealed since Hamas Islamists violently took over the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June.

In a declared bid to stop Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, Israel shut the territory's other crossing points on Friday but eased restrictions on Tuesday after an international outcry over shortages of fuel and other goods.

Qadi will be staying with relatives in Gaza until the wedding.

Her mother, Buthaina al-Qadi, was all smiles as she watched the couple chatting about their wedding reception.

"I am very happy. My daughter is finally going to start a new life and a family," she said.

Palestinian police estimated that more than 100,000 people had crossed into the Egyptian side of Rafah.

"People need to breathe. People need to bring food to their children. It is the revolution of hunger," said one policemen who declined to give his name.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Congo to Wall Street: Hey, things are tough all over.

David Seaton's News Links
I imagine that quite a few of my readers are watching the Dow Jones with trepidation these days or struggling with their mortgage or credit card payments and I thought a little news from Africa might make them stop and count their blessings.

There is this war in the Congo, you see, and it's been going on for ever so long. I'll let Wikipedia bring you up to speed:
The largest war in modern African history, one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as about 25 armed groups. 5.4 million people died, mostly from starvation and disease. Millions more were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries. Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former belligerents to create a government of national unity, 1,000 people died daily in 2004 from easily preventable cases of malnutrition and disease. A United Nations human rights expert reported in July 2007 that sexual atrocities against Congolese women go 'far beyond rape' and include sexual slavery, forced incest, and cannibalism.
So you can see that although we haven't been following it very closely, it has managed quite well without us. DS

Congo conflict causes 45,000 deaths a month: study - Guardian
Abstract: The effects of a decade of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo is continuing to kill about 45,000 people each month - half of them small children - in the deadliest conflict since the second world war, according to a new survey. The International Rescue Committee said preventable diseases and starvation aggravated by conflict had claimed 5.4m lives since the beginning of the second Congo war in 1998, equivalent to the population of Denmark. Although the war officially ended in 2002, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition have continued to claim enormous numbers of lives in part because fighting continues in the east of the country. The study of 14,000 households across Congo between January 2006 and April 2007 found that nearly half of all the deaths were of children under the age of five, who make up only 19% of the population.(...) "When war destroys a country's economy and infrastructure, there's no quick fix," said Dr. Richard Brennan, one of the survey's authors. "Significant improvement in Congo's health and mortality will require years of unwavering commitment from the government and the international community and substantial financial investment. Sadly, the humanitarian crisis in Congo continues to be overlooked and funding remains disproportionate to the enormity of need." READ IT ALL

Monday, January 21, 2008

Are the Democrats the right tool for the job?

"The median American family is going into what looks like a recession owing more than 100 percent of its income."
Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor
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Are the Democrats the right tool for the job? I ask such an unpleasant question at such an awkward time, because the only candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination that is talking about a real, universal health care scheme on European lines, John Edwards, seems to be going nowhere.

As to the front runners, Hillary had her chance at bringing health care once and failed so miserably that a decade was lost and Obama's idea of sitting around a table for a "friendly chat" about health care with the insurance and pharma crowd is well... Mike Huckabee might say that Barack is "constipated". After Obama's paeans to the Gipper, anyone who expects anything progressive from him is simply indulging in political onanism.

All of this tends to lend credit to Gore Vidal's idea that there is only one political party in the USA, the "Property Party" with a Democratic wing and a Republican wing. In short it looks like nothing much is really going to change very much at all and that is the basic idea of the system, that nothing much change. To say this is a crying shame is a screaming understatement.

As we see, by Elizabeth Warren's quote above, the median American family is heading into a major recession not only without any savings, but in debt as well. Thanks to the bursting housing bubble many people are also going to lose their homes. Obviously in such times, many who have some health insurance will have to cut back on it, or drop it all together. We are talking about a meltdown of the American middle class's self-image and its basic well being. Having abandoned the traditional virtues of thrift and prudence, they stand naked in a very cold breeze.

This presents a historic opportunity to create a progressive consciousness that cuts through racial, regional, sexual orientation, religous and ethnic divisions. Nobody wants to get sick and die unattended and no one wants to see their children get sick and die unattended either. The money is there, of course, but it will have to come out of the "defense" budget which, if my memory serves me, is greater than the military expenditures of the next fourteen countries on the list combined. This would mean the end of American militarism as we know it. With a defense budget only bigger than say the next five countries combined we could take care of everybody, right down to braces on little poor girls' teeth.

Most commentators ignore or pretend to ignore what a political sea change a federal, universal health care system would bring to the dynamics of American politics. For example: One of the greatest objections that "conservatives" have against a universal health scheme on European lines, is one they hardly talk about: unions. In Europe the health systems are unionized and the unions are powerful. Doctors, nurses, cleaners etc, are all in unions. So not only would socialized medicine save people from disease, death and humiliation, it would also help to rebuild America's unions that Reagan did so much to cripple.

Health, the end of militarism and the rebirth of the labor movement. Pretty heady stuff, nu? But that is what strategic opportunities are about: the "game changers". They don't come by very often and they are not to be missed. I don't say that most Democratic voters wouldn't like to see all this happen, but if they wait for their "leadership" to pull it off, they are worse than fools. How can I say this in a way that will sound good to the reticent progressive ear. How about, "these are the times that try person's souls"? Or, "Now is the time for all good persons to come to the aid of their country"? This the big one. DS

Roger Cohen: U.S. Soldiers and Shoppers Hit the Wall - New York Times
Abstract: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have pushed the U.S. armed forces to the limit. Many soldiers have scarcely seen their families in recent years. But a much larger American army, the one that's spent this century shopping, is even more overextended and its pain is now coming home to roost. Nobody ever made money exhorting people to save. But U.S. banks and financial institutions have spent huge amounts in recent years telling people debt is good and savings are dumb.(...) And here we are, with the rainy day our grandparents always droned on about appearing in the form of a deluge, and no savings stashed for it, and President George W. Bush, the debt-spender par excellence, conjuring up a $150-billion stimulus package that evokes the injection of steroids into a prone athlete wrecked by a marathon. This "shot in the arm," as Bush put it, may dampen a little pain. But this patient will be in intensive care for a long time. As Stephen Roach, the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said to me: "The very low U.S. savings rate, and related huge balance of payments deficit to attract funds from overseas, are not sustainable things." The adjustment is likely to be long and painful. Think of it as getting the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers and the obliviousness of U.S. shoppers a little more in sync. The non-relation between expensive wars and exempt non-warriors, a mirage Bush has fostered, has become unsustainable. Roach estimated U.S. net national savings at a tiny 1.4 percent of national income and household debt at 133 percent of personal disposable income. That last figure means middle class families are tapping into home equity - borrowing against their homes - to buy their kids socks. And if they can't pay the resulting never-sleeping debt, they lose not a room or two, but the house. Headlines in recent weeks have focused on the international investors - from Japan to Kuwait - riding to the rescue of such American symbols as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. The Asian financial crisis of the 1990s has gone into reverse. This turnabout has provided eloquent evidence of the Asian-tilted power shift of the past decade and of the way countries from Korea to Singapore have built up dollar war chests as the United States has plunged into debt.(...)As my colleague Floyd Norris has written of ballooning (and now plunging) property prices: "The only way prices got so high was that people who could not afford to buy those homes were given mortgages they could not hope to repay unless home prices kept rising." A staggering number of these mortgages were either interest-only or so-called "negative amortization" contracts that left the principal owed either unreduced or mounting after monthly payments. "The median American family is going into what looks like a recession owing more than 100 percent of its income," Harvard law professor, Elizabeth Warren said. No wonder Citigroup just set aside $4.1 billion to cover possible defaults on home-equity loans, credit cards and auto loans - shoes that have yet to drop. READ IT ALL

Friday, January 18, 2008

The health equation for change

David Seaton's News Links
I am convinced that struggle to bring forth a universal public health system in the United States on European lines is the decisive battle in reforming the whole US body politic from top to bottom.

For anything to ever really change in the USA, it is fruitless to wait for operatives of the American political system to bring about that change. The reason is simple and obvious: those who hold public office have been able to use the system as it is to their advantage. Why should they want to change it? They will finally rubber stamp the changes that society itself has created through consciousness and action.

Change comes from those who are dissatisfied with the status quo, the quantity of dissatisfaction multiplied by the number of the dissatisfied provides the energy for change. Health care is literally a question of life or death. What greater commitment to change can there ever be than to change the conditions that threaten one's life? It is said that some 40,000,000 Americans have no health coverage: exposed to illness, death and humiliation. Multiply the energy of those 40,000,000 by the desire of those 40,000,000 to live and you have a fulcrum and a lever with which to move the world.

Many who read this will never have experienced such a public health system and may think it an unrealistic utopia. Let me give you an example from the Spanish health care system that I heard about today. I was talking to an Englishman who works as a political analysts for one of Spain's largest, multinational banks. Despite being a young man he suffers from arthritis. Once a month he goes to the hospital where he is given medicine that costs 1000 euros ($1,462.34) a treatment. The system spends about $17,550 a year so that he won't live in constant pain. It costs him nothing. The Spanish economy is doing nicely,
Spain just passed Italy in per capita income, people dress well, live in nice houses and eat good food, this is not some "Marxist hell" like North Korea and the system manages to care for the health of all.

It would be interesting to do the math, but I imagine that you could pay for all treatments of all the Americans with acute arthritis forever and ever, world without end. Amen... for the cost of one stealth bomber. For the cost of one atomic powered aircraft carrier you could probably pay for all the generic medicine that all the ill of America could consume in a generation or more. Explain to someone that for the welfare and safety of the homeland he or she must wither away in agony and die unattended. The least they could do is send a Marine Corp bugler to play taps at the funeral of every pauper in America. Theirs is truly a sacrifice! Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

To sum up: there is critical mass for change in the American system. This critical mass is the urgent need for basic health care of many millions of people, who can vote, march, organize, go on strike, sit in, chain themselves to public buildings, block roads and do all the things the civil rights movement did in the 60s or for that matter what even Bolivian Indians do today when they want change. There are many teachers of the politics of change, beginning with Ghandi himself, for those who would like to take up the plow without looking behind them. DS

Thursday, January 17, 2008

George Washington (1732-1799)

David Seaton's News Links
Spanish newspapers are famous for including all sorts of inducements included with the paper: DVDs, books, games etc; free or nearly free. My paper, El Mundo is running a series of booklets with speeches by famous statesmen. One of them is a collection of speeches by George Washington, and they have asked me to write an introduction to it... Which I have done. I usually do something like this first in English and then rewrite it in Spanish.

I thought I would post the first English language draft to News Links. Here it is. DS

George Washington (1732-1799)

“First in peace, first in war, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
General Henry Lee (father of General Robert E. Lee), “The funeral eulogy of George Washington

George Washington, the first President of the United States, the “Father of his Country”, is the great American icon par excellence. The unfinished “Athenaeum” portrait of Washington by Gilbert Stuart, which adorns the ubiquitous dollar bill, is the same painting whose endlessly reproduced image has hung on millions of school classroom walls in the United States for generations. What American schoolboy has not sat squirming under the unblinkingly steady, stern, imperious, but not unkindly, gaze of Stuart’s Washington? The broad, intelligent forehead, the powerful nose, the granite jaw, the lips pressed firmly against his famous, wooden false teeth, are powerfully imprinted on the American subconscious.

In American legend Washington symbolizes perfect honesty and almost superhuman integrity. An enduring part of American folklore is the totally apocryphal story of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” about the supposedly angelic, infant Washington, who at the age of six was given a little hatchet and promptly chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree. This is how the famous story goes:
"George,'' said his father, "do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree in the garden?"

I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.''

The anger died out of his father's face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! Yes - though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!''
Although he never actually said it and though it has, in our cynical age of irony, become little more than a joke, "I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! “, is probably Washington’s most famous quote. Si non e vero e ben trovato, because Washington’s honesty was, in fact, proverbial. In his first inaugural address on assuming the presidency in 1789 he referred to his salary in the following way:
“When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”
In an age when most former presidents and prime ministers make fortunes with their memoirs, speeches or consulting fees, Washington’s refusing to accept any pay for governing the United States of America sounds as fantastic and improbable as any myth of the Hindu god Rama or an inhabitant of the Greek Olympus.

By far Washington most famous speech is his “Farewell Address” on the 17th of September of 1796 after refusing a third term in power. For many Americans today, much of what Washington said then sounds startlingly prophetic, as if some benevolent ghost had suddenly appeared to warn his loved ones among the living of disaster.

Looking at the hole in the New York Skyline where the Twin Towers once stood, observing the hecatomb of Iraq and wondering at the seeming helplessness of the United State in solving the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, these following lines seem positively uncanny:

“A passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."
Obviously, talking this way, George Washington would not have an easy time getting elected President of the United States today or anything else in Washington.

Sitting there stiffly and solemnly in his powdered wig gazing out from the much devalued dollar bill, as he stoically gets passed from hand to hand, it is difficult not to feel certain tenderness for the specter that speaks across the centuries in this manner.
"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Obama eats the cheese

"Mr Obama’s problem, as the candidate of unity and change, is that spats over seemingly innocuous racial remarks remind white voters of the type of divisive politics more usually found on college campuses.(...) It will be unfortunate for the Democrats if television reports from Michigan focus on outraged blacks wondering why they cannot vote for Mr Obama." The Economist
David Seaton's News Links
Hillary is playing this race thing smarter than most people think.
Hillary knows that nothing makes American white people, especially the liberal type, more nervous than easily offended black people. White, American, liberals live in terror of offending "touchy" blacks and at the same time they resent having to eternally walk on eggshells and there is much suspicion among them that this fear of giving offense is being used to manipulate and dominate them.

Hillary's remarks about Doctor King were unoffensive to white ears, but the Clintons know better than anyone the finest shades of tonality and nuance needed to set off black "rage".

Thus she is seen to be enduring the American white liberal's great nightmare: to, inadvertently, with the best will in the world, have said something that has offended African-American sensitivity.

Of course, Hillary is subtly introducing a subliminal theme here.

Obama gets elected president, but he turns out, like so many have been, to be a perfectly awful president.

The question:
  • Could we insult Obama the same way we insult Bush?
  • Wouldn't that be taken as racism by African-Americans?
  • Wouldn't that be rather inhibiting?

What Hillary has done is to temporarily lose some black support that, if she is finally the candidate, Bill will retrieve for her. In return she has caused ultra-sensitive black people (or professionally ultra-sensitive leaders) to rally to him in such a way as to make Obama seem much more black than he has up till now wished to appear. This will probably cause a lot of white people to vote for Hillary in the primaries. I think we'll see this cynical tactic pay off for her on Super Tuesday. Hillary may be "unlikable", but she is plenty smart.

Of course, all this mess really only comes about because until now American "identity" politics was always played with surrogates: WASP men wearing masks.

Thus Bill Clinton was "America's first black president". The whatever WASP whose turn it was to woo Latinos, would eat tacos and say "juntos podemos" with an atrocious accent etc, etc. Candidates would attempt to show that they were "sensitive" to the feminist agenda and so on. Absolutely de rigueur for all white, male and protestant presidentiables was a photo at Yad Vashem sporting a yomulka. This all came with the turf like kissing babies. It was a game.

The problems start when the Democrats decided to use "originals" instead of the traditional, "ballo in maschera". The whole charade begins to fall apart without the WASP surrogates.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Notes on the donkey as the symbol of the Democrats

A pair of jackasses.

David Seaton's News Links
This was to be the election that the Democrats couldn't lose... Just watch them do it.

They seem to be in the process of simultaneously alienating both women and blacks, both fundamental constituencies to any Democratic victory. You have to see it to believe it, as they say, "you can't make this stuff up".

Certainly if Obama continues to play the race card he can expect a white backlash in November and
normally Hillary could expect a very enthusiastic black turnout if she won the nomination, but if she succeeds in trashing Obama much of the African-American vote may go fishing too. The Republicans must be laughing themselves sick, simply peeing themselves with mirth.

I am beginning to think that the Democratic Party is a figment of Karl Rove's imagination. DS

Clinton, Obama Clash Over Race Issue - Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have become embroiled in racially tinged disputes as large numbers of black voters prepare to get their first say in the Democratic presidential campaign.

The candidates and their surrogates are heating up their rhetoric, and it could prove to be combustible beyond South Carolina's Jan. 26 primary.

Clinton, on defense over comments that she and her husband made regarding Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and Obama's fitness for the White House, tried to turn the tables on her top primary rival. She accused his campaign of looking to score political points by distorting their words.

Hillary Clinton had said King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of while Bill Clinton said Illinois Sen. Obama was telling a "fairy tale" about his opposition to the Iraq war. Black leaders have criticized their comments, and Obama said Sunday her comment about King was "ill-advised."

"I think it offended some folks who felt that somehow diminished King's role in bringing about the Civil Rights Act," he told reporters on a conference call. "She is free to explain that, but the notion that somehow this is our doing is ludicrous."

As evidence the Obama campaign had pushed the story, Clinton advisers pointed to a memo written by an Obama staffer compiling examples of comments by Clinton and her surrogates that could be construed as racially insensitive. The memo later surfaced on some political Web sites.

"This is an unfortunate story line the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully," the former first lady said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race."

Clinton taped the show before appearances in South Carolina, where at least half the primary voters are expected to be black. On Monday, she planned to attend a union event honoring King's legacy in New York City.

But no sooner had Clinton said she hoped the campaign would not be about race than it got even more heated. A prominent black Clinton supporter, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson, criticized Obama and seemed to refer to his acknowledged teenage drug use while introducing Clinton at her next event.

"To me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues—when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book—when they have been involved," Johnson said.

Obama wrote about his youthful drug use—marijuana, alcohol and sometimes cocaine—in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

Johnson later said in a statement released by the Clinton campaign that his comments referred to Obama's work as a community organizer in Chicago "and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

Another Clinton campaign official, Bill Shaheen, resigned last month after suggesting Democrats should be wary of nominating Obama because his past drug use could be used against him in the campaign.

Obama, campaigning in Las Vegas, declined to respond to Johnson.

"I'm not going to spend all my time running down the other candidates, which seems to be what Senator Clinton has been obsessed with for the last month," Obama said.

His strategist, however, didn't spare Johnson or Clinton.

"I don't see why this is so much different from what Billy Shaheen did in New Hampshire," David Axelrod said. "Senator Clinton apologized for that. It's bewildering why, since she was standing there, she had nothing to say about this."

Clinton was not yet on stage when Johnson made his statements and she did not mention them when she emerged.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Obama's wife rose to his defense over Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment. Michelle Obama said some blacks might be skeptical that white America will elect her husband, but advised them to look to his win in Iowa.

"Ain't no black people in Iowa," she said during a speech at the Trumpet Awards, an event celebrating black achievement. "Something big, something new is happening. Let's build the future we all know is possible. Let's show our kids that America is ready for Barack Obama right now."

John Edwards, a third candidate in the Democratic primary, waded into the dispute Sunday.

"I must say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that," Edwards told more than 200 people gathered at a predominantly black Baptist church in Sumter, S.C.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Health is a "civil right"

"What European countries definitely haven’t done is dismantle their strong social safety nets. Universal health care is a given. So are a variety of programs that support families in trouble, helping protect Europeans from the extreme poverty all too common in this country.(...) the next time a politician tries to scare you with the European bogeyman, bear this in mind: Europe’s economy is actually doing O.K. these days, despite a level of taxing and spending beyond the wildest ambitions of American progressives."
Paul Krugman - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
Health is a civil right, like the right to life or the right to vote.

I live in Europe, where we have socialized medicine. This means that the major hospitals are owned by the state. During at least half the day most doctors, even eminent specialists, are state employees. Medicines, even the most expensive, are heavily subsidized or totally free. Here the suffering of poor people in America without medical care, or the anxiety of the American middle class worrying about losing their jobs and thus losing their coverage is unthinkable. I read the "plans" the different American political "leaders" have to solve this suffering and humiliation and they remind me of the cynical and patronizing "separate but equal" justifications of the Jim Crow south.

The more I explore this painful and festering sore of scores of millions of Americans of all colors without adequate medical care, the more I am reminded of the political climate before the civil rights battles of the 50s and 60s. What seems totally missing, however, is the Martin Luther King or the Malcolm X to give it shape and words. Polar bears and glaciers have their Al Gore, but who is to lead a citizen's revolt against pain, sickness, humiliation and death?

You could say that the idea of some 40,000,000 Americans many of them of color, condemned to death and disease is even worse than the injustice of segregation, but the comparison is one of hope. The civil rights movement's successes means that even within the American system profound change is possible when enough people stand up and say, "this far, no farther." It can be done, it's been done before.

For someone who has no memory of what America was like before the civil rights movement, let me explain as quickly and brutally as I can what America would be like today if that movement had never existed:

  • Colin Powell would be a retired army sergeant.
  • Barack Obama's mother would be a pariah.
  • Barack Obama would be somebody's butler.
  • Clarance Thomas would be working in somebody's yard.
  • Condoleezza Rice would be teaching in a segregated grammar school.
  • Oprah Winfrey would be cleaning some white lady's house.
That America is so different today, that the lives of the above mentioned have turned out so differently, was not engineered by benevolent politicians, it was a conquest of the American people in the streets. It was all about marches, sit ins and riots. It cost pain, blood, jail time and lives. Cities burned and soldier's patrolled the streets, men were lynched. It was a movement. The politicians came trailing after making laws to recognize the facts created on the ground.

The result is that the America of today is barely recognizable to someone born into the America that was before. This means that things can be changed by people who won't accept "no" for an answer.

But make no mistake, this battle could be even harder and crueler. The battle against prejudice and discrimination was only really about customs and habits, it was fought in the context of the cold war where the Soviet Union used the plight of black people in the USA to its advantage in Europe and the Third World. Law makers knew that social inertia was the only real obstacle to dramatically improving America's self-image and its image around the world as a champion of freedom. It was simply good for business. For America's rich and the powerful little was really changed by allowing African-Americans full civil rights.

The battle for the right to health, however is about money, lots of money: higher taxes for the rich, much higher... like in Sweden. And the limits beyond which the wealthy of America will not go
in defense of their money, has yet to be discovered.

The money invested in the ideology necessary to fight socialized medicine in America is also limitless. This ideological task force that the oligarchy has deployed has even made the very words "
socialized medicine" taboo. Thus the successful system of countries like Britain, Canada, France and Germany is made to sound like something inefficient and subversive.

Politicians require huge amounts of money to get elected and those who sign the big checks don't want to pay the taxes necessary to pay for a health system similar to Europe's. I don't think anything meaningful will ever occur led by the men and women who owe their existence to our present system of campaign financing.

To get something like this done only a movement will suffice and I doubt if even a million uninsured children marching on Washington would be enough to melt the hearts of those weaned on a diet of Ayn Rand. It might take a general strike, the shutting down of America's huge transport system for a few days,
to bring it off.

This more than any other is work for grassroots activists and organizers: free health care for all is the true catalyst for change in the USA. Those who begin to organize this from the ground up are today's equivalent of the Freedom Riders that opened up the American south and ennobled an entire generation. DS

Paul Krugman: The Comeback Continent - NYT
Abstract: Why should Americans care about Europe’s economy? Well, for one thing, it’s big. The G.D.P. of the European Union is roughly comparable to that of the United States; the euro is almost as important a global currency as the dollar; and the governance of the world financial system is, for practical purposes, equally shared by the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve. But there’s another thing: it’s important to get the facts about Europe’s economy right because the alleged woes of that economy play an important role in American political discourse, usually as an excuse for the insecurities and injustices of our own society. For example, does Hillary Clinton have a plan to cover the millions of Americans who lack health insurance? “She takes her inspiration from European bureaucracies,” sneers Mitt Romney. Or are top U.S. executives grossly overpaid? According to a Times report, Michael Jensen, a professor emeritus at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business whose theories helped pave the way for gigantic paychecks, considers executive excess “an acceptable price to pay for an American economy that he believes has outstripped Japan and Europe in growth and prosperity.” In fact, however, tales of a moribund Europe are greatly exaggerated.(...) Since 2000, employment has actually grown a bit faster in Europe than in the United States — and since Europe has a lower rate of population growth, this has translated into a substantial rise in the percentage of working-age Europeans with jobs, even as America’s employment-population ratio has declined. In particular, in the prime working years, from 25 to 54, the big gap between European and U.S. employment rates that existed a decade ago has been largely eliminated. If you think Europe is a place where lots of able-bodied adults just sit at home collecting welfare checks, think again. Meanwhile, Europe’s Internet lag is a thing of the past. The dial-up Internet of the 1990s was dominated by the United States. But as dial-up has given way to broadband, Europe has more than kept up. The number of broadband connections per 100 people in the 15 countries that were members of the European Union before it was enlarged in 2004, is slightly higher than in the U.S. — and Europe’s connections are both substantially faster and substantially cheaper than ours. I don’t want to exaggerate the good news. Europe continues to have many economic problems. But who doesn’t? The fact is that Europe’s economy looks a lot better now — both in absolute terms and compared with our economy — than it did a decade ago. What’s behind Europe’s comeback? It’s a complicated story, probably involving a combination of deregulation (which has expanded job opportunities) and smart regulation. One of the keys to Europe’s broadband success is that unlike U.S. regulators, many European governments have promoted competition, preventing phone and cable companies from monopolizing broadband access. What European countries definitely haven’t done is dismantle their strong social safety nets. Universal health care is a given. So are a variety of programs that support families in trouble, helping protect Europeans from the extreme poverty all too common in this country. All of this costs money — even though European countries spend far less on health care than we do — and European taxes are very high by U.S. standards.(...) According to the anti-government ideology that dominates much U.S. political discussion, low taxes and a weak social safety net are essential to prosperity. Try to make the lives of Americans even slightly more secure, we’re told, and the economy will shrivel up — the same way it supposedly has in Europe. But the next time a politician tries to scare you with the European bogeyman, bear this in mind: Europe’s economy is actually doing O.K. these days, despite a level of taxing and spending beyond the wildest ambitions of American progressives. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Feeling good about Barack

"Right now, he's a national Rorschach test, with voters reading into him their fondest hopes for what America can do and be."
Mort Kondracke - Roll Call
David Seaton's News Links
The problem with Obama is that we are not talking about Obama himself very much at all.

The fact is that instead of talking about Barack Obama, we are talking about how good Obama makes us feel about ourselves. We also are talking about how good it would make us look, if he were the next president

We are probably talking more about ourselves than about Obama,
because he hasn't really been around that long or done that much and except for what he tells us about himself we know next to nothing about him... so there isn't that much to talk about.

Obama, who has been in the US Senate for barely two years certainly has the thinnest presidential CV I can ever remember, even Dubya had been the governor of one of America's most important states. If Obama were a successful two term governor of Illinois, which is a very complex state with a huge budget, this would be a much more serious conversation. If Obama had ever done anything outstanding in "private life", like most of the other candidates (Hillary excepted) have done, it would give us something solid to hang on to. As far as I can see, he has written a book about his search for who he "is" and given a couple of good speeches and that is about it.

The campaign(s) are going to be long and brutal and the question is going to be: will our own self-flattery finally be enough to carry the entire country behind it? DS

What happened to Hillary?

David Seaton's News Links
What happened to Hillary?

How about this?

Hollywood doesn't write any good parts for middle aged, American women... Hollywood's message to them is "drop dead" and in today's world of corporate concentration and infotainment, Hollywood and the news media are of one flesh.

However, look around you, there are many middle aged American women with a few extra lines around their eyes, with some furrows in their pucker, with a bit of sag in the chin, and with a little "rope" in the neck muscles, but who, somehow -- malgré Hollywood -- don't want to drop dead, just yet... and they can vote.

I have spent my whole life trying enthusiastically, but none too successfully, to understand women, but what little I have managed to learn tells me that it would be very difficult for a middle aged woman to join in publicly ridiculing and humiliating another middle aged woman... the empathy would be just too strong. That humiliation and ridicule are always just beneath the surface in too many places, even in their own homes, available to them all.

And beyond middle age,
despite all the talk of a "youth crusade" around Obama, the old folks are the ones that really vote. Women live longer than men, so that among the elderly, women outnumber men, that means more women voting in the group with the highest voter participation.

So Hillary has been saved by her sisters, they rode to her rescue like the 7th cavalry in an old western... "Joan Wayne" saved Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. DS

Monday, January 07, 2008

To die of success

"The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 oil; it's getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically(...)That will be done with more fertilizer, with genetically modified seeds, and with advanced machinery and technology". BMO strategist Donald Coxe

The latest generation of Chinese-Americans, many of whom grew up in the restaurants their parents worked in, are increasingly choosing legal and medical careers over the kitchen. As a result, Chinese restaurants have been relying even more on imports from Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China.

But the sizzling economy in China has raised the incomes and profiles of the best chefs, who now find it less desirable to leave their families and friends halfway around the world.

Several major restaurant owners in the city said salaries for Chinese executive chefs range from $42,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the business, a 30% rise in the past five years. In China, top chefs are getting close to those amounts, while the cost of living in cities like Beijing and Shanghai is still a lot lower. New York Daily News
David Seaton's News Links
When I was a little boy, oh so long ago, my grandmother, who followed in the great culinary traditions of Scotland and Ireland, used to encourage me whenever I refused to eat some little horror that she had dished up, by saying, "think of all the starving millions in China!". Think indeed.

It is true that in the last two hundred years countless millions of Chinese have starved to death in many famines that swept that country. The same of course was true of the other Asiatic giant, India. Both countries were synonymous with dramatic poverty or at the best a picturesque, austere simplicity. Certainly western imperialism had much to do with the poverty of countries that had been prosperous for thousands of years before the industrial revolution.

Globalization has changed all that, instead of simply providing
raw materials and captive markets for our manufactures China and India, and the rest of Asia, have become seamlessly integrated into our economies and hundreds of millions of their citizens are now part of a global middle class with middle class aspirations. Naturally the new middle classes of China and India want to eat the same food as the American and European middle classes eat -- they probably always did -- but now they can pay for it.
I stood in Zhang Meidi's cabbage patch, kicking the dirt with my boots.(...) This is China's bread basket. Wheat has been grown here for thousands of years. But Zhang Meidi has given up on it(...) The prices in the market were good these days, she said, but not for wheat.(...) She started by giving me a lesson on China's food chain. First, she explained, people in China now had more money so they wanted to eat better things, more meat and more fruit and vegetables. That is why she is growing cabbages. Her little handkerchief of land would grow enough wheat to earn about £200 ($395) but, by planting cabbages, she had almost trebled her earnings. And, in the summer, she would grow tomatoes and earn almost £700 ($1,300).(...) Zhang Meidi and her neighbours were being swallowed up by the city. Urbanisation and the creeping desert in the north mean that China is losing 25 million acres (10m hectares) of farmland a year. And just as the amount of land is shrinking, the demand for food is getting greater. When she was younger, Zhang Meidi explained, her family would only have meat on special occasions. Pork would be served when guests arrived or during China's big national holidays. Now it was on their dinner table two or three times a week.(...) Over the next 12 years, an estimated 320 million people will move to cities. As one analyst put it, a country larger than the United States will be created by new urban Chinese by 2020. And when they come to the cities, these new arrivals - almost instantly - start eating more protein. Now that they no longer grown their own food, and with more wages in their pocket, their diet changes. So Chinese people are eating less wheat and fewer grains in general because they are upgrading to meats, especially pork. But that pork comes from hungry pigs who consume a lot more grain.(...) And other crops will follow. The days of food self-sufficiency in China are numbered. So, like the rest of us, China will turn to Australia, Africa and South America to fill its belly. It is small wonder that food prices are climbing everywhere, not just here in China. BBC News
And it isn't just food.
Virtually every automaker on earth will keep a close eye on the Indian Auto Show in New Delhi, where Tata plans to introduce what it's calling the People's Car on Jan. 10. The industry is looking to emerging markets for growth, and many companies are gearing up to build cars that can be sold at rock-bottom prices—in both developing countries and more established markets. Toyota and Volkswagen's Skoda subsidiary are planning small cars for India. Suzuki says it will soon cut the price of its cheapest model in India. And Renault-Nissan has teamed up with Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto to launch a $3,000 car next year. "If Tata can do it, we can do it," says Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. BusinessWeek
Is there enough oil on earth to fuel an India with as many cars per capita as the USA or Europe? Is there enough air in the world to breathe after those cars pour their exhaust fumes into it. Is there enough grain in the world to feed all the pigs that the Chinese could eat? Is there enough water to water that grain? Are we about to run into the theories of Karl Marx like a speeding truck running into a wall of cement?
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.... It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
It took along time, but that prophesy has finally been fulfilled. We are very, very close to finding out now whether or not our immense well being has always been predicated on the misery of others. And we are also close to finding out whether or not the whole thing will come crashing down around our ears if the others come to live as well as we do or even dream of doing so. DS

Saturday, January 05, 2008

No glamor please, don't break my heart

"People are lining up to believe in him. He has the easy demeanor (in a long, lanky frame) of someone who’s comfortable with himself. Even when he fires up a crowd, he doesn’t get too hot. He has the cadences that remind you of King but the cool that reminds you of Kennedy — John, not Robert." Bob Herbert - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
"People are lining up to believe in him."

"Lining up to believe". I read this by Bob Herbert and I became very sad.

Now they are comparing Barack Obama with JFK. I'm sad that young people put that kind of enthusiasm, place so much hope, in a politician again. Most of all it makes me sad to see them "fall in love" with a political leader. I been there, I done that. It still hurts.

When I was a kid in high school I worked for the Cook County Democratic Party's campaign for JFK in 1960. I worked the telephones, I ran the mimeograph machine, I made coffee, stuffed envelopes. The night he won was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I remember before the Democratic convention, former President Truman going on national television to warn that JFK was too inexperienced to lead the country. I felt betrayed by Harry S. Truman.

Now most historians think Truman was right, that Kennedy's presidency was failing when he died. Many say that if he hadn't been killed he would have been a one term president. That instead of being vigorous he was desperately ill, that instead of Jackie and he being the ideal couple... why go on? We had "lined up to believe" and by God we believed.

The day Kennedy died was for me, like for most young Americans of the time, one of the saddest days of my life and no revisionist can ever touch that. It seems to me that nothing has really gone right for America since that day.

Time has passed and the kids are lining up again.

Nobody is going to "bring Americans together" with stirring speeches.
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge—and more."
How hollow that all sounds today, at least to anyone who lived through the sixties and seventies. The problems we have today, at home and around the world, have been brewing for a long time and no president is going to fix them, much less "heal" us, with wonderful speeches. In fact, sadly enough, America like most other countries, no longer can set a course for itself and hope to sail it against the wind and the tide. No words no matter how "healing" are going to change that. The changes have to come from the society itself, not from the leaders.

Frankly, I don't think any of the candidates this year are very impressive, but after eight years of Bush, the bar isn't very high. I would be amazed if any of those running could do a worse job than he has. I would also be amazed if any were too successful either. It is no longer in their hands to be so.

But please, please, don't let the children fall in love with a politician again, the disillusionment is not worth the enthusiasm and does terrible damage to an entire generation. DS

Friday, January 04, 2008

"Huckenfreude" and "Huckaboom? How about "Huckafucked"?

"Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has. In that sense, Huckabee’s victory is not a step into the past. It opens up the way for a new coalition." David Brooks - NYT

"I think sometimes the reason that our campaign is catching fire," Huckabee said in Burlington, "is because people had rather elect a president who reminds him of the guy they work with — not the guy that laid them off." USA Today
David Seaton's News Links
What impresses me about the Huckabee win is that the Huckabee campaign has come out of nowhere with no money. This is not the American Way (version - 2008). Hillary and Romney really have no message, only money and organization. Hillary, Obama and Romney are all bankrolled to the max, they are basically representing the money that grooms them. Money and organization have taken them this far. They have had to share the limelight with Huckabee, who up till now had nothing but message and personality.

Obama himself is his own message, a mixture of skin color and classy optimism: brown, upper middle-class. Both class and color could be winning advantages or crippling disadvantages; class could hurt him more than color if the economy continues to slide. Also, there is something not quite real about him, too perfect, too Sidney Poitier, and in a long campaign, reality has a nasty way of intruding.

Huckabee has come this far without money, only on message and personality. Having won Iowa this convincingly, Huckabee should start seeing some serious money. His campaign is being managed by the legendary Ed Rollins, National Campaign Director to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election where Reagan won 49 states, so that means that when he gets the money it will be well spent and the up till now activist based organization will get professionalized in a flash.

Many Democrats think that Huckabee would be a pushover in the final run for President. They are dead wrong. These are people that thought Kerry was "electable". In fact, they are living in a country that has repeatedly voted Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush into office.

Short of of something cosmic and message destroying like marital infidelity or a pedophilia scandal, Huckabee, with a bit more momentum and a lot more money, would be practically impossible to stop. People are really that fed up with the status quo.

A lot of commentators have fun making up new words, riffing on "Huckabee", like "Huckenfreud" and "Huckaboom, etc, How about "Huckafucked" for a neologism? DS

For Republicans, What a Difference Five Days Might Make - Washington Post
Abstract: As the presidential race shifts to New Hampshire, the Democratic candidates are continuing the intensive organizational battle that defined their race in Iowa. But the Republican candidates find themselves confronted with what amounts to an entirely different race, with a different slate of top contenders, a new set of issues and only five days to sort it all out. The Iowa GOP contest became, in effect, a two-person race between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, with Huckabee in the end overcoming his severe financial disadvantage to win easily. The race was dominated by the issue of immigration and the spectacle of a Baptist minister taking on a Mormon in a state with a large population of evangelical Christians. New Hampshire, however, presents a different two-man Republican showdown, this one between Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has focused most of his efforts in the state where he upset George W. Bush in 2000.(...) Obama, coming off a strong victory in Iowa, has not spent nearly as much time in New Hampshire, but his campaign has not stinted on its organization here. He has more than a dozen field offices, over 100 paid staffers, and a captain for every town and city ward. Obama has attempted innovative efforts to spread interest in a candidate that few in New Hampshire knew much about before he arrived in the state a year ago. The campaign organized book clubs for residents to discuss Obama's 1995 memoir and set up a statewide three-on-three basketball tournament in which residents could participate if they agreed to volunteer. The campaign also set up small groups of supporters organized not only by geography but by profession or interest -- lawyers, doctors, environmentalists -- and sent relevant surrogates to address them. Recently, the campaign has held meetings to train local volunteers on getting out the vote, and has been encouraged by the big turnouts in small towns. Added to this group will be a crush of out-of-state volunteers, including many students on break. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who in 2004 saw his campaign fade here, has invested more resources this time. He has 80 organizers in the state, but lacks the momentum he was hoping to build with an Iowa victory. Obama will be up against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's rock-solid organization, which benefits from widespread support across much of the state's Democratic leadership, as well as from the ties that the Clintons formed here in the 1990s. READ IT ALL