Friday, February 29, 2008

To have your namoura and eat it too

David Seaton's News Links
There are scurrilous and totally unfounded attacks circulating in the Internet accusing Barack Obama of being a crypto-Muslim and an enemy of Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think that is stupid for anyone to say or to suggest that Barack Obama is not a friend of Israel, a Christian, or that he in any way supports the Palestinians. Everything he says or has said, does or has done, his every vote in the Senate, bears this out. I repeat, that this line of attack is both ignorant and stupid.

What I do find strange is that at the same time some of Obama's most enthusiastic supporters think that, in spite of his support for Israel and his conspicuous Christianity, that simply because of his color or because he is famously named "Barack Hussein" that this is going to simultaneously have some enormous "healing" or soothing effect on America' relations with the Islamic world.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I have had it explained to me, if your father and grandfather were Muslims and if you have a Muslim name, but profess another religion publicly and support the enemies of Islam (Israel) that makes you an apostate. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article on the subject of apostasy.
The four major Sunni and the one major Shia Madh'hab (schools of Islamic jurisprudence) agree that a sane adult male apostate must be executed
If you look up the subject in Google you will find some 1,160,000 entries referring to the subject. Laws to this effect are on the books of several Muslim countries at this very moment.

So really, we cannot have it both ways*. It seems to me obvious that for the United States of America to elect a president named "Barack Hussein", who is a practicing Christian and a supporter of Israel would be seen by Muslims as the ultimate provocation and the fulfillment of the most paranoiac fantasies of the most extreme Salafists.

They would say that this is what America does to Muslims: not only does it persecute Muslims, it takes the son and grandson of Muslims and turns him into
the chief killer and persecutor of Muslims. A Muslim version of Damien.

The bottom line is that you can't have it both ways. It is one thing if somebody named "John" or "Hillary" bombs Pakistan or Iran and supplies the Israelis with weapons and quite another if someone with "Hussein" anywhere in his name does it... It's adding insult to injury.

I think that Obama's supporters should make right wing voters and people like Daniel Pipes see what a unique occasion the presidency of Barack Obama would give them to take yet another opportunity to mortally offend Islam. DS

*For the curious here is a link to Namoura

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our finest hour

David Seaton's News Links
"Bullshit" is a word found neither in Shakespeare nor the King James Bible and yet it is perhaps America's greatest contribution to the common heritage of the English speaking peoples.

It holds a wealth of meaning and whatever its humble etymology, it gives a name to something that is the greatest danger to America, its republic, its institutions, its people and through them the health and sanity of the entire world.

In truth, you you don't have to be an assiduous reader of Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal or Thomas Frank to get a grip on the throbbing thickness of American Bullshit, to a clear eye it is ubiquitous and so penetrating that perhaps only a starveling yogin trained down fine in some Himalayan cave would be immune to it.

The daily labor of cleansing its Augean mess from the heart and mind is a duty paid to sanity and the bride price of a limpid heart. DS

Cor blimey, that's better out than in!

Here is some homework for News Linkers. DS

Obama victory will prolong US racial divide - Times
One of Britain’s most influential black figures today accused Barack Obama of cynically exploiting America’s racial divide and gave warning that he could prolong, rather than heal the rift.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, claimed that the Democratic front-runner would ultimately disappoint the African-American community and dismissed the notion that he would be "the harbinger of a post-racial America" if he becomes the country’s first black President.

Writing in Prospect, the monthly current affairs magazine, Mr Phillips suggested that guilt over transatlantic slavery was behind Mr Obama’s support from middle class whites.

"If Obama can succeed, then maybe they can imagine that [Martin Luther] King's post-racial nirvana has arrived. A vote for Obama is a pain-free negation of their own racism. So long as they don't have to live next door to him; Obama has yet to win convincingly in white districts adjacent to black communities," he wrote.

Mr Phillips compared Mr Obama to Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, prominent black “bargainers” – those who strike a deal with white America not to make an issue of historical racism if their own race is not used against them.

But, in a warning to the Democratic candidate, he added that Cosby now cut a “sad and lonely figure” because he had abandoned the moral weapon used by figures such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson in insisting that “in the end, salvation for blacks won’t depend on the actions of whites.”

"In truth, Obama may be helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America and I think he knows it," Mr Phillips wrote. "If he wins, the cynicism may be worth it to him and his party. In the end he is a politician and a very good one: his job is to win elections."

He added: "If he fulfils the hopes of whites, he must disappoint blacks – and vice versa."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reading Obama with Thomas Frank's glasses

David Seaton's News Links
For me, the most sinister thing about America is how it tames, absorbs, trivializes and somehow manages to package and market absolutely everything in true, Milo Minderbinder fashion. "Big Brother meets the cash nexus".

Every insight into the workings of the human mind that science stumbles onto is used to "optimize" the population, mold its thoughts and especially its choices, and most especially its spending "decisions". We and our minds are here to be processed as efficiently and as thoroughly as if we were battery chickens... Ever feather, every bone.

That is what I fled from, but it promises to follow me to the ends of the earth.

I think before we go on, you should read an excerpt from Thomas Frank's must-read classic, "Conquest of Cool". After reading this, I think you'll understand me and my Obamamania-phobia, and perhaps even understand your own self, a little better:

Regardless of the tastes of Republican leaders, rebel youth culture remains the cultural mode of the corporate moment, used to promote not only specific products but the general idea of life in the cyber-revolution. Commercial fantasies of rebellion, liberation, and outright "revolution" against the stultifying demands of mass society are commonplace almost to the point of invisibility in advertising, movies, and television programming. For some, Ken Kesey's parti-colored bus may be a hideous reminder of national unraveling, but for Coca-Cola it seemed a perfect promotional instrument for its "Fruitopia" line, and the company has proceeded to send replicas of the bus around the country to generate interest in the counterculturally themed beverage. Nike shoes are sold to the accompaniment of words delivered by William S. Burroughs and songs by The Beatles, Iggy Pop, and Gil Scott Heron ("the revolution will not be televised"); peace symbols decorate a line of cigarettes manufactured by R. J. Reynolds and the walls and windows of Starbucks coffee shops nationwide; the products of Apple, IBM, and Microsoft are touted as devices of liberation; and advertising across the product category sprectrum calls upon consumers to break rules and find themselves. The music industry continues to rejuvenate itself with the periodic discovery of new and evermore subversive youth movements and our televisual marketplace is a 24-hour carnival, a showplace of transgression and inversion of values, of humiliated patriarchs and shocked puritans, of screaming guitars and concupiscent youth, of fashions that are uniformly defiant, of cars that violate convention and shoes that let us be us.
What I am pointing out here, is that what was a historically unrepeatable, "before and after", period, one that truly brought "change" both good and bad, a period that was genuinely subversive, painful, destructive-creative, revolutionary, fresh, startling and real has been repackaged and recycled until now it is tame, stale and manageable.

Most of this has been done by my own generation (now 60+) who took over decades ago from bemused, older marketing executives who didn't understand "our" new culture. They don't want the same thing to happen to them so they have decided to freeze time and sterilize young people's minds by continually rewinding and replaying their own youth. We are living in a classic-decadent period.

So by now, decades later, what passes for America's perception of reality has been manipulated and packaged by elderly former hippies or wannabes and their apprentices. Sophisticated (hip) and cynical to the point of nihilism, they have been pimping their youth (and mine) ever since. Barack Obama is the first, chemically pure, slickly packaged, political expression of Thomas Frank's observations.

To compare Obama with Martin Luther King, the talk of "change" and "yes we can", is no deeper than Nike's slogan, "just do it!" I am saddened by how Obama's emptiness is taken for value. As if the voters were confusing Starbucks with Vienna's Café Sperl... But then, they already do that almost every day of their lives. DS

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Linking Obama to King and RFK

David Seaton's News Links
The New York Times has an article that, with a totally straight face compares Barack Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, who were assassinated within a few weeks of each other in 1968. Here is a sample:
There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe? In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence. “I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview, reprising a line he tells supporters who raise the issue with him. “So stop worrying.” Yet worry they do, with the spring of 1968 seared into their memories, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in a span of two months.
In my opinion this should be accompanied by a disclaimer, "I'm Barack Obama and I approve of this message", because it is straightforward propaganda and a gross manipulation if ever I saw one. The message being that the "change" that Obama propose is in some way comparable to the kind of change that King and RFK were pushing for, or that the climate today in anyway resembles that of 1968.

I have an almost total recall of that period. The European student rebellion, in which I had a small, walk on, part was in full swing and the entire western world was in ferment. Everything was changing at breakneck speed, politics, sex, music and dope were all taking new forms daily. The effect was dizzying. King and Kennedy were symbols of what was the sudden and deeply traumatic destruction of the familiar. There was deep rage and fear lurking everywhere. To be a symbol of what was, in fact, a revolution was to have a target hung around the neck. Another icon of the period, John Lennon, ended up finally paying the same toll.

How can anyone compare our post-post-post, period to that one, or Obama's stream of vacuous platitudes to what RFK and King represented?

This is what gets me incensed, how ersatz this Obamamania all is... It's like comparing
poor little Amy Winehouse to Stax/Atlantic. DS

Monday, February 25, 2008

But seriously folks.. Kosovo

David Seaton's News Links
Instead of ranting about Obama, today I'd like to comment briefly on something serious: Kosovo. It's something I've been avoiding, because it's a touchy subject here in Spain: Spaniards are outraged at the United States violating Serbia's sovereignty as it might set a bad example for the separatist movements in Catalonia and the Spanish Basque country.

Personally, I don't think the Spaniards really have that much to worry about, as I cannot imagine the Catalans resigning themselves to never seeing Barça and Real Madrid play against each other again, except maybe, by chance, once or twice a decade, in the Champion's League.

Athletic Club Bilbao, never gets to Champions and so they would never ever play Madrid again. I just can't imagine that happening. However, as it makes my Spanish friends very nervous, I have avoided the subject.

The people who are really nervous, and with reason are the Israelis. The Kosovo precedent is directly applicable to the "Occupied Territories"... even more so as, in contrast to Serbia in Kosovo, Israel's sovereignty over the West Bank has never been officially recognized by anyone.

Right wing Israeli commentator Caroline Glick who is solidly aligned with the American neocons had this to say in the Jerusalem Post:
The emergence of a potentially destabilizing state in Kosovo is clearly an instance of political interests trumping law. Under international law, Kosovo has no right to be considered a sovereign state. Even UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from 1999, which the KLA claims provides the legal basis for Kosovar sovereignty, explicitly recognizes Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. For Israel, Kosovo's US-backed declaration of independence should be a source of alarm great enough to require a rethinking of foreign policy. Unfortunately, rather than understand and implement the lessons of Kosovo, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is working actively to ensure that they are reenacted in the international community's treatment of Israel and the Palestinians. Today, Israel is enabling the Palestinians to set the political and legal conditions for the establishment of an internationally recognized state of Palestine that will be at war with Israel.
And in the English edition of the semi-official Egyptian news paper Al-Ahram John Whitbeck wrote:
American and EU impatience to sever a portion of a UN member state (universally recognised, even by them, to constitute a portion of that state's sovereign territory), ostensibly because 90 per cent of those living in that portion support separation, contrasts starkly with the unlimited patience of the US and the EU when it comes to ending the 40-year-long belligerent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (no portion of which any country recognises as Israel's sovereign territory and as to which Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a tiny portion, occupied East Jerusalem). Virtually every legal resident of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip seeks freedom, and has for over 40 years. For doing so, they are punished, sanctioned, besieged, humiliated and, day after endless day, killed by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground.(...) Of course, to prevent the US and the EU from treating such an initiative as a joke, there would have to be a significant and explicit consequence if they were to do so. The consequence would be the end of the "two-state" illusion. The Palestinian leadership would make clear that if the US and the EU, having just recognised a second Albanian state on the sovereign territory of a UN member state, will not now recognise a Palestinian state on a tiny portion of the occupied Palestinian homeland, it will dissolve the Palestinian Authority (which, legally, should have ceased to exist in 1999, at the end of the five-year "interim period" under the Oslo Accords) and the Palestinian people will thereafter seek justice and freedom through democracy, through the persistent, non-violent pursuit of full rights of citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race and religion and with equal rights for all who reside there.
And not only the Israeli ultra-ultras are in a panic. Here is Bradley Burston in Haaretz:
The Palestinians have kept their ultimate doomsday weapon under tight wraps for 40 years. Israel knew about it. Israelis senior commanders could only pray that the Palestinians would never take it out and put it to actual use. Every Israeli soldier who served in Gaza knew about it, and also knew the hollowness in the declarations of IDF brass that "The army will now how to deal with it, should it happen." In all of Israel's vast arsenal of defense hardware and technology, there is nothing that can effectively counter it. That is what makes it a weapon so powerful we dare not speak its name: non-violence.(...) At the back of the minds of Israeli statesmen, diplomats, police officials, and defense planners, was an awareness that the true power of the Palestinians had nothing to do with stone-throwing, Molotov cocktails, grenade attacks, knifings, suicide bombings, assault rifle drive-by's, or Qassam rocket barrages. They knew that the true power of the Palestinians to damage Israel also had nothing to do with incitement, institutional anti-Semitism in schools, or declarations of revolution until victory and the ultimate replacement of the Jewish state by an independent Palestine. The true power of the Palestinians, the bottom-line dread of the Israelis, was embodied in only four words: Get up and walk. The theory - expounded by Palestinian moderates for year after year, supported by Israeli leftists - was that a determinedly peaceful demonstration in which thousands and thousands and still more thousands of Gazans headed for the Israeli border, would do more for the cause of Palestinian independence and freedom that all the gratuitous violence of the last 40 years of armed struggle combined.
Why the United States would choose to do something with such potentially perilous effects on Israel at this precise moment is an interesting question. I cannot answer it. Is anyone else asking it? DS

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ok, so now what?

David Seaton's News Links
I'm getting tired of playing Jeremiah and I'm sure my readers got there first. In the "Book of Lamentations", God told Jeremiah, "You will go to them; but for their part, they will not listen to you".

It sure does look like Senator Barack Obama is going to take the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

The media certainly think so. Matt Drudge - a sign of our times if ever there was one -- gloats daily over Hillary's decline after flirting with her outrageously in the opening weeks.

However, Hillary might pull it off yet, the Clintons are like the guy with the funny haircut in "No Country for Old Men".... you don't want to turn your back.
And of course, as Al Gore said, "It isn't over till the fat lady sings", (the fat lady sang for him, but it didn't get him anything but a Nobel Prize).

But, ok, ok, let's assume for argument's sake that Obama has got it in the bag. What's next? It's kind of tricky in my opinion.

The first thing Obama will have to do on nailing down the nomination is to stop massaging his movement and veer toward the center. This is going to disappoint some of those who applaud when he blows his nose, but if he doesn't move to the right and convince people who give this fainting and speaking in tongues the fish eye, he won't have a chance.

When searching for the center he will run into his greatest weak point, his nil military credibility. He has never even served in the armed forces. Bill Clinton and Dubya hadn't either, you say? At the time both of them came to office, there were no serious military threats to the USA. That has all changed.

The United States is presently fighting two wars and has a good chance of losing them both. At this moment both Iraq and Afghanistan are relatively quiet and there has not been a terrorist attack on the US "homeland" since 9-11. All of that could change in a moment. When the snow melts in Afghanistan this spring the fighting will get very hot and will last well into the fall.

As to terrorism: Osama bin Laden has done very well with the Republicans and I imagine he would do his little bit to keep them in the White House. A major terrorist attack in the USA would win the election for McCain outright. And we haven't mentioned the Balkans, that could all go blooey at any moment.... and with no troops to spare.

Then there is Iraq. Some think that Iraq is "winnable", but they are talking in terms of something like nearly twenty years. Military überpundit, Anthony H. Cordesman writes in the Washington Post:
What the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have in common is that it will take a major and consistent U.S. effort throughout the next administration at least to win either war. Any American political debate that ignores or denies the fact that these are long wars is dishonest and will ensure defeat. There are good reasons that the briefing slides in U.S. military and aid presentations for both battlefields don't end in 2008 or with some aid compact that expires in 2009. They go well beyond 2012 and often to 2020.
This means that talk of a quick withdrawal from Iraq will meet with stiff, well documented, establishment resistance and not just from the neocons and AIPAC.

That means trouble for Obama. I can't really see any vice presidential candidate that would give him any credibility here except Wesley Clark. Have I missed somebody? The Democrats hold very strong cards on economic issues, but when it comes to war fighting... All it took was an "October surprise" video of Osama bin Laden's to sink John Kerry, and he was a war hero!

If I were John McCain, I would play this card very strongly. In fact if I were McCain I would choose as my running mate no other than Colin Powell. It is a fact that if the "Powell Doctrine" had been applied, either the invasion of Iraq wouldn't have taken place or enough troops would have been sent to stop the anarchy that followed. McCain, the hero of Vietnam, running with an African-American general on the ticket, would be hard to beat... in less, of course, there were breadlines by November.

Whoever gets to be President had better not have made too many promises about "restoring America's position" in the world. It isn't doable. Nobody seems to want to break the bad news to the American people, but the party is over. Bush is merely the face on the decline, not the decline itself. Tony Karon has a wonderful post on this called "Honey I shrank the superpower". I quote:
The gangster movie Miller’s Crossing offered a profound mediation on the nature of power in one petty thug’s warning to his boss: “You only run this town because people think you run this town.” Bush’s catastrophic mistakes have inadvertently revealed the limits of U.S. power, making it abundantly clear to both friend and foe that Washington is no longer in charge.(...)The fading of Pax Americana in the wider Middle East is partly a product of Bush’s over-reach and over-reliance on force and the threat of force. But it is also a symptom of epic, economically-driven shifts — the rise of China and India, Russia’s resurgence and Europe’s steady expansion, to name a few — that have redefined the global power equation.
The key word is Bush's has revealed the limits of American power. Bill Clinton was like the magician, David Copperfield, much smoke and mirrors, and Bush is like a kid's birthday party magician who puts his hand in the hat and pulls out nothing but rabbit poop.

The limits are real and everybody, everywhere is in on the gag by now, except, it seems, a lot of American voters. DS

Obama: bait and switch

David Seaton's News Links
What I am worried about it the emptying of real political energy for change into the self promotion of who knows who or what, to be filled in later.

A cynic would say that modern America is built on that continuous process of emptying and transference.

The Bush years are not "lost" years.

Surely the last thing Bush meant when he referred to himself as a "transformational president" was the awakening, practically the re-creation of the American left, but that is what has been happening.

After eight years of Bush the United States is still standing, but something very good has happened in that time. Many people have awakened and begun to ask serious questions. A small but visible crack has opened in the system and some light is pouring through it. This we owe to Bush. Obama is here to plaster up that crack.

A reader over at TPM commented on my previous post:
Just gets me riled up to worry about a Democratic candidate that might just blow the GOP out of DC for a while, when we have had Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Ashcroft, Rove, Addington, Yoo, Negroponte, Bolton, Bolten, Alito, Roberts, Boykin, Delay, Lott, Boehner, Hastert, and endless other idiots in charge.
This is a list of names that have caused millions of Americans to actually stop and think seriously about politics. Something that Americans are loathe to do. They have built consciousness and consciousness is what changes the world. Bull Conner and Orval Faubus -- after Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King -- probably did more than anyone else to advance the cause of African-Americans.

To me, Americans waking up is the key to real, permanent change in America and, to the extent of America's influence, changing the rest of the world. That is the real center of the question, certainly not about producing another, Democratic, "business as usual" version of "Good Morning America".

What is truly important and essential is the awakening and the energy conjured by Bush and all he represents and what I see in the Obama "movement" is the system's endless siphoning off of that energy and its singing a lullaby for the newly awakened.

Obama's "movement" is just another part of the endless manipulation that all Americans suffer from the day they are plunked down wearing diapers in front of TV set. DS

Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama or "Elvis joins the army"

David Seaton's News Links
Lately I have found myself ranting about Barack Obama and his "movement" on an almost daily basis. Experience has taught me that when that happens it is as wise to examine myself as to examine the cause of the irritation.

Reading over my old posts I find myself clamoring repeatedly for a citizens "movement" and commending Howard Dean for instigating Internet micro-financing to offset the big check writers. Why, then, am I so turned off by Obama?

This quote from Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of America", gets a corner of it:
We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress. Howard Zinn (emphasis mine)
What is needed to "change" America is a "citizens" movement, patiently built brick by brick from the ground up on the lines of Martin Luther King's civil rights movement that would put as much or more pressure on the politicians as the different lobbies and PACs do. And Doctor King was not alone, his movement spawned dozens of leaders, some of whom are still prominent and influential today. Few of them are office holders. By its very nature a "movement" cannot be in the hands of politicians, who as part of their function must make concessions and compromises every day of their lives. You cannot be both a sheepdog and a wolf, you have to choose.

Then my irritation became much clearer to me. What we are seeing with Obama's "movement" is the most classic maneuver of the American system's playbook: neutralizing and homogenizing any energy it fears. We have seen this happen over and over again.

For want of a better name I call the maneuver, "Elvis joins the army".

I call it that because of something John Lennon said when Presley died. Asked for comment the ex-Beatle said, "Elvis died when he joined the army". it was a brilliant remark, because before being drafted Elvis had been a national symbol of rebellion and untamed sexuality. Along with James Dean and the young Marlon Brando, he was a symbol of a new and dangerous way of being young. When they drafted him and cut off his hair, they turned him into a pasteurized version of himself. The fat, drugged, hambone, kitch, rhinestone, "living dead," Elvis was born in the US Army.

That is why, a generation later, Muhammed Ali's, rebellion was so important, he didn't let himself be pasteurized by the system, he made no concessions... He was absolutely true to himself and to those who looked up to him. Authenticity personified. He suffered and was vindicated.
You cannot be both a sheepdog and a wolf, you have to choose.

When I hear Obama and see the reaction of the crowds, I feel my inner Holden Caulfield rise from some dusty 1950's closest. "No, not again." DS

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Change... you mean spare change?

David Seaton's News Links
The USA has gone broke.

From personal experience, I know that one of the hardest realizations that people who have always had quite a lot of money can have, is to discover that they are flat broke.

I don't say "wake up" to discover, because waking up is instantaneous and the discovery that one's world no longer exists is a slow one. Sometimes it never fully sinks in.

Denial is a wide river that floods the valleys of the nouveau pauvre.

Martin Wolf, the chief economist of the Financial Times outlines the situation:
"The risks are indeed high and the ability of the authorities to deal with them more limited than most people hope. This is not to suggest that there are no ways out. Unfortunately, they are poisonous ones. In the last resort, governments resolve financial crises. This is an iron law. Rescues can occur via overt government assumption of bad debt, inflation, or both. Japan chose the first, much to the distaste of its ministry of finance. But Japan is a creditor country whose savers have complete confidence in the solvency of their government. The US, however, is a debtor. It must keep the trust of foreigners. Should it fail to do so, the inflationary solution becomes probable. This is quite enough to explain why gold costs $920 an ounce."
David Ignatius elaborates in the Washington Post
"The public, fortunately, doesn't understand how bad the situation is. If it did, we might have a real panic on our hands.(...) Do you want to know who is bailing out America's biggest banks and financial institutions from the consequences of their folly -- by acting as the lender of last resort and controller of the system? Why, it's the sovereign wealth funds, owned by such nations as China and the Persian Gulf oil producers. The new titans are coming to the rescue, if that's the right word for their mortgage on America's future."
I disagree with David Ignatius when he says, "The public, fortunately, doesn't understand how bad the situation is." I think that deep down, the public does understand only too well and a great many of them are in denial.

I believe this explains the Barack Obama phenomenon, where a hysterical, nationwide personality cult has grown up mushroom style around a person who has never really done anything: Jerzy Kosinski's fantasy made flesh, a blank sheet, who creates rhythmic ecstasy in his followers with words like "hope" and "change".

Nobody has much of an idea what he might stand for. When Obama supporter Susan Sarandon was asked about this she replied, “I can’t wait to see”.

We are speaking of denial: lets review the steps of the classic, Kübler-Ross "grief cycle".
  1. Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
  2. Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
  3. Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
  4. Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
  5. Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
  6. Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
  7. Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.
I think it is obvious that the eight long years of the Bush Restoration have been pure Kübler-Ross. Different parts of the American electorate are at different places on the cycle.

Some of us went directly from "shock" to "anger". Others, the Obamites, are stuck at step two with maybe a foot in four; t
hose disposed to vote for either Hillary or McCain are either at step five or are dabbling in six or seven.

I think these months are going to go down in history as one of the most bizarre chapters of our amazing and original national experiment. DS

When backing Barack feels like joining a cult - Boston Herald
Abstract: I’m nervous because too many Obama-philes sound like Moonies, or Hare Krishnas, or the Hale-Bopp-Is-Coming-To-Get-Me nuts. These true believers “Obama-ize” everything. They speak Obama-ese. Knit for Obama. Run for Obama. Gamble - Hold ’Em Barack! - for Obama. They make Obama cakes, underwear, jewelry. They send Valentine cards reading, “I want to Barack your world!” At campaign rallies people scream, cry, even faint as Obama calmly calls for the EMTs. When supporters pant en masse, “I love you!” (like The Beatles, circa 1964), Barack says, “I love you back” with that deliciously charming, almost cocky smile. Oh - I’m nervous because it’s all gone to his head and he hasn’t even won yet. I’m nervous because it’s gone to a lot of other people’s heads as well. Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings introduced Obama last week in Baltimore and said, “This is not a campaign for president of the United States, this is a movement to change the world.” “He walks into a room and you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere,” says George Clooney. “I’ll do whatever he says to do,” says actress Halle Berry. “I’ll collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear.” I’m nervous because nobody’s quite sure what Obama stands for, even his supporters. (“I can’t wait to see,” said actress/activist Susan Sarandon, declaring full support nonetheless). I’m nervous because even his biggest fans can’t name Obama’s accomplishments, including Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson, an Obama-man who humiliated himself when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked him about five times to name something, anything, Obama’s done. Watson hemmed. Watson hawed. Watson gave up. I’m nervous because John McCain says Obama’s is “an eloquent but empty call for change” and in the wee, wee hours, a nagging voice whispers, suppose McCain’s right, too? Then what? READ IT ALL

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

US elections: the joker in the deck

David Seaton's News Links
At this moment the US presidential elections are centered around domestic political issues. health, taxes, immigration, etcetera. The two wars that America is fighting are on the back burner, simmering. The present conversation plays to the Democratic Party's strengths.

The only card the Republicans really have left to play these days is national security. Defense still seems the natural calling of mean, old, white men ... but things are so quiet.

In Iraq, the draw down from the surge has not begun and the insurgents are laying low in classic guerrilla fashion waiting till the coast is clear.

The mountain passes of Afghanistan are still filled with ice and snow and the Mujadeen in Pakistan only await the spring thaws to pour through them.

And then of course there is Osama.

Everybody seems to have forgotten him. I wonder what the old boy is up to?

Getting ready to decide who is to be President of the United States of America, I should imagine.

If you stop and think about it, Osama bin Laden owes the Republicans big. If Gore had won the election in 2000, (ok, I know he did win, but you know what I mean) then, when the Twin Towers went down, the United States, accompanied by all of NATO, would have gone through Afghanistan like a dose of fruit salts and bin Laden would have been brewed up in some hole in Tora Bora.

But Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld's ineptitude not only saved the sheik's life: by invading Iraq, by opening Guantanamo, by running Abu Ghraib and by supporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, they made Osama bin Laden's case for the entire Muslim world. Who's your daddy?

Does Osama bin Laden want the Republicans to win?

Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?

Now, even his worst enemies would have to admit that Osama bin Laden is a very focused, scheming, long headed fellow, so it is not difficult to imagine that he is not simply going to trust his fate to the wisdom of the American voters.

Maybe it's because I live in Madrid and have actually seen it happen that I expect a bomb to define the next US presidential election. In 2004, many observers thought that bin Laden's "October Surprise" video was enough to give Bush a second term. But after "four more years", it will take a bit more than a video to keep the Republicans in the White House.

As we move into Spring the Democratic candidacy will define itself, it will be either a woman whose major qualification is to be the wife of an ex-president or a young, untested African-American with no military experience. At that point first Afghanistan and then Iraq will begin to heat up. As the campaign hits October somebody in an explosive vest will blow him or herself up in an American shopping mall and with that mean, old, white, John McCain will be elected the 44th President.

In my opinion the only possible candidate that the Democrats had that could have survived this scenario and gone on to win is Al Gore, and short of a miracle in a brokered convention, he is not going to be the candidate. DS

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel retires

"This is the event that fifty years of U.S. policy was designed to stop." Sarah Stephens - Huffington Post
David Seaton's News Links
Compared to Switzerland, Castro’s Cuba is truly a vile tyranny. However, compared to neighboring Haiti, the favelas of Brazil or even post-Katrina New Orleans, for that matter, Cuba is Switzerland.

Cuba may be the only country in the world where African slavery once existed where today there are no children of color living in squalor, without preventive medical care or proper schooling. Could that have been achieved without such brutal repression? It is difficult to say, because it has never happened anyplace else.

I wrote this in a post last year about infant mortality in Mississippi:
On lifelong reading and observation I have come to the conclusion that African slavery and its aftermath form a pan-American nation and that Mississippi has more in common with the Dominican Republic than with Iowa and more in common with Haiti than Vermont. So I don't compare Cuba, for example, with Sweden, France, Lichtenstein or Canada. I compare it with Jamaica, Brazil and... Mississippi.
I 'll stand on that. DS

Monday, February 18, 2008

America, beautiful, but dumb

"The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse."
Susan Jacoby - Washington Post
David Seaton's News Links
America is literally like no other country in the world. To understand how original it is you only have to compare it to Australia and Canada. In fact one of the best ways of coming to grips with the American psyche is to begin by comparing these three, white settler, ex-British colonies.

America is extraordinarily original, therefore "exceptional", but not exactly like most Americans think. In fact "American Exceptionalism" is a doctrine which maintains that Americans, because of their innate "goodness", are destined to fulfill a special destiny.

Here is a sample of this mentality in a recent statement of Colin Powell's, which many see as an indirect endorsement of Barack Obama:
"I am going to be looking for the candidate that seems to me to be leading a party that is fully in sync with the candidate and a party that will also reflect America's goodness and America's vision."
Now there any number of positive adjectives that I could apply to
"my fellow Americans": energetic, creative, hard working, ingenious, enthusiastic, etcetera, but "good"?

General Powell is talking about a people who enslaved his ancestors, ethnically cleansed the Native-Americans, dropped atomic bombs on the helpless civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and uselessly killed about a million Vietnamese in a historically short space of time. Good? Certainly, any lucid historian would have to say about America what the British used to say about certain ladies, "she's no better than she ought to be".

So, I am not "proud" to be an American, simply, I AM an American. I love America because I love myself, not vice versa. I accept and cherish her gifts to me and assume her karma reverently. America is my idiosyncrasy, my mother tongue and a sortilege of skandas to schlep though the samsara. Never, in my whole life, often surrounded by people who detest what the United States represents, have I ever said -- with that smile of a fox eating shit off a wire brush -- that I am a Canadian... In the words of a great American, "I yam what I yam". I just don't want to live there, f'ya knowwhaddahmean.

After I lived away from America some time, I began to have enough distance to "see oursels as ithers see us" and realize how unique, eccentric, idiosyncratic and even a bit sinister America really is. However, like Susan Jacoby, whose text I quote today, lately I have begun to notice that America has passed originality to become simply weird. A country that produced Emerson, William James, Walt Whitman, Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison has become a universal byword for stupidity.

'Twasn't always so. Jacoby writes:
People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged "Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin." This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made.
If we go farther back we can find masses of citizens, many frontiersmen, who way back in 1858 were able to follow the complex arguments of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. So obviously this isn't something genetic.
Americans are being deliberately turned into idiots, because only idiots would act as America does today. What has happened? Who in America wants Americans to be so stupid? Why?

It is far beyond my modest abilities to forge a truly American, grand, paranoid, conspiracy theory of all of this. But I would humbly direct the attention of those sufficiently endowed in these matters to explore the confluence of interests between America's over bloated military spending, its suicidally self-defeating foreign policy and the enormous media conglomerates: news-sports-Hollywood, that create America's mental wallpaper, the texture of its stupidity. The answer is certainly there. DS

Susan Jacoby: The Dumbing Of America - Washington Post
Abstract: "The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations. This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office.(...) Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.(...) It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news. No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching." As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be.(...) The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation. There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. READ IT ALL

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Real Face of Change

"Promises to transcend the conundrums of entitlement reform that require real and painful trade-offs and that have eluded solution for a generation. Promises to fund his other promises by a rapid withdrawal from an unpopular war" Charles Krauthammer
David Seaton's News Links
The quote above encapsulates the central political question of the United States and it is a question that will quite literally affect the entire world.

"Entitlement reform"... These two words are one of those American euphemisms like "collateral damage", which, in this case, is used to describe reducing pensions and health care for the aged.

The sad news is that there isn't enough money to pay for the empire and to pay the coming pensions of the "boomers". (full disclosure: I am not in the US pension system, I have been working in Spain and paying into its system. This is not about me). Chalmers Johnson describes the situation best:
"It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense's planned expenditures for fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations' military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The United States has become the largest single salesman of arms and munitions to other nations on Earth. Leaving out of account President Bush's two on-going wars, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the largest since World War II."
Something's got to give.

I doubt if it's going to be the old folks.

The codgers vote.

We have been hearing for years how selfish the boomers are. Get ready to see it in action. After all, we are talking about the "generation of '68".

One of the things that has irritated me most about Obama's "Children's Crusade" has been his supporters' criticism of the senior's lack of enthusiasm for his vaporous rhetoric, as if the elderly were holding back "progress".

As I read the tea leaves, the ones truly manning the ramparts in the battle against imperialism are America's elderly. The fight to pauperize America's elderly in order to pay for more missiles is the central political story of our time. DS

Friday, February 15, 2008

Krauthammer's opening move

"Democrats are worried that the Obama spell will break between the time of his nomination and the time of the election, and deny them the White House. My guess is that he can maintain the spell just past Inauguration Day. After which will come the awakening. It will be rude."Charles Krauthammer - Washington Post

Erin go bragh?
David Seaton's News Links
I admit I am having some second thoughts on my theory's present validity on reading Krauthammer.

I detest Krauthammer, a poisonous neocon, but he is very smart. With him, "every movement has a meaning". Each word he writes is dripping with intention. He seems to have already written off Hillary Clinton and is unloading on Obama. His idea, put briefly, is that Barack Obama is some sort of George McGovern with a cool tan.

I joined in an intense debate on Barack Obama in the great politics junky's venue, TPMCafe, and I got some interesting questions that I thought I'd paste in here at News Links.
David, do you think there is more racism in our country over the past, say, 20 years, less, about the same, different? Are your thoughts on that part of your sense of hopelessness? Do you think it is impossible to over-estimate the racism of the American people?
I think every American is race conscious. I say this because in the United States anyone with even a drop of African blood is considered "black". This is not true of Latin Americans, where to be black means to be just that, "black". I have had Cubans that were as "black" as Colin Powell tell me that they were Basques or Galicians and nobody thought this was strange.

This leads to some strange attitudes. For example my maternal great grandmother was Irish from Dublin, the boxer, Mohammad Ali's maternal great grandfather was Irish from Dublin too. Ali is loquacious, poetic, pugnacious, brave and funny. Irish, no? No, of course not, he is "black". Ha, ha! But if I say that I am Irish nobody laughs, and I can't fight my way out of a paper bag... I would say that as long as nobody would think to say how "Irish" Mohammad Ali is, America is a racist country.
Is it "too soon" for a "black" man to be President of the United States?
Well, it is fair to say that it is much too soon for most white men or women to be president, so, not being a racist, I imagine black people wouldn't be any different.

Having said that, I think it is important to also say that Barack Obama is not the first "black" man to be considered for the job. Not too many years ago, General Colin Powell was being talked about very seriously for the presidency and certainly before Bush spoiled him, few would have argued that he was not qualified for it. If we look at the field this year, Powell might be considered overqualified. He surely has a thicker CV than any recent candidate and a record of proven judgment: certainly if the "Powell Doctrine" had been adhered to, the USA would have never invaded Iraq. I think that if he were a Democrat he would already have been president by now.
David, what are your specific concerns about Obama? What do you think would happen if he were President?
Here I am afraid that I agree with the detestable Mister Krauthammer, which is why I quoted him above. Here is the whole thing. DS

Charles Krauthammer: The Audacity of Selling Hope - Washington Post
There's no better path to success than getting people to buy a free commodity. Like the genius who figured out how to get people to pay for water: bottle it (Aquafina was revealed to be nothing more than reprocessed tap water) and charge more than they pay for gasoline. Or consider how Google found a way to sell dictionary nouns-- boat, shoe, clock -- by charging advertisers zillions to be listed whenever the word is searched.

And now, in the most amazing trick of all, a silver-tongued freshman senator has found a way to sell hope. To get it, you need only give him your vote. Barack Obama is getting millions.

This kind of sale is hardly new. Organized religion has been offering a similar commodity -- salvation -- for millennia. Which is why the Obama campaign has the feel of a religious revival with, as writer James Wolcott observed, a "salvational fervor" and "idealistic zeal divorced from any particular policy or cause and chariot-driven by pure euphoria."

"We are the hope of the future," sayeth Obama. We can "remake this world as it should be." Believe in me and I shall redeem not just you but your country -- nay, we can become "a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest."

And believe they do. After eight straight victories -- and two more (Hawaii and Wisconsin) almost certain to follow -- Obama is near to rendering moot all the post-Super Tuesday fretting about a deadlocked convention with unelected superdelegates deciding the nominee. Unless Hillary Clinton can somehow do in Ohio and Texas on March 4 what Rudy Giuliani proved is almost impossible to do -- maintain a big-state firewall after an unrelenting string of smaller defeats -- the superdelegates will flock to Obama. Hope will have carried the day.

Interestingly, Obama has been able to win these electoral victories and dazzle crowds in one new jurisdiction after another, even as his mesmeric power has begun to arouse skepticism and misgivings among the mainstream media.

ABC's Jake Tapper notes the "Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities" of "Obama worshipers," what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls "the Cult of Obama." Obama's Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience -- to such rhetorical nonsense as "We are the ones we've been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek."

That was too much for Time's Joe Klein. "There was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism," he wrote. "The message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."

You might dismiss as hyperbole the complaint by the New York Times's Paul Krugman that "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." Until you hear Chris Matthews, who no longer has the excuse of youth, react to Obama's Potomac primary victory speech with "My, I felt this thrill going up my leg." When his MSNBC co-hosts tried to bail him out, he refused to recant. Not surprising for an acolyte who said that Obama "comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament."

I've seen only one similar national swoon. As a teenager growing up in Canada, I witnessed a charismatic law professor go from obscurity to justice minister to prime minister, carried on a wave of what was called Trudeaumania.

But even there the object of his countrymen's unrestrained affections was no blank slate. Pierre Trudeau was already a serious intellectual who had written and thought and lectured long about the nature and future of his country.

Obama has an astonishingly empty paper trail. He's going around issuing promissory notes on the future that he can't possibly redeem. Promises to heal the world with negotiations with the likes of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Promises to transcend the conundrums of entitlement reform that require real and painful trade-offs and that have eluded solution for a generation. Promises to fund his other promises by a rapid withdrawal from an unpopular war -- with the hope, I suppose, that the (presumed) resulting increase in American prestige would compensate for the chaos to follow.

Democrats are worried that the Obama spell will break between the time of his nomination and the time of the election, and deny them the White House. My guess is that he can maintain the spell just past Inauguration Day. After which will come the awakening. It will be rude.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What does, "inner Lenin" mean?

David Seaton's News Links
A reader asked me exactly what I meant by my "inner Lenin".

Wasn't he a terrible monster, she wrote.

I would answer the way Zhou Enlai did when asked his opinion of the French Revolution, "It's too early to tell."

Lenin created the Soviet Union and without him, Stalin who was surely a monster, would never have existed, but without the Soviet Union or Joseph Stalin, Hitler would have probably won the Second World War. Would Hitler have ever come to power if Germany's elites were not so afraid of a Communist revolution in Germany? History chases its tail like a puppy.

The Soviet Union no longer exists and Lenin is a wax puppet in Moscow. What could the word "Lenin" still mean?

In a sense "Lenin" means the same thing as Nike's "swoosh"... "Just do it!" or the Adidas slogan, "Impossible is Nothing". People are throwing the word "change" around a lot these days, "Lenin" really means change.

He was one of the most unsentimental readers of reality that has ever existed. His cold analysis of reality as a means to action and his fearlessness in executing his analysis are unequaled to this day.

He despised sentiment as "petite bourgeois", but he was not a cold man: my favorite Lenin quote comes from when he once walked out of a concert saying, "If I keep listening to Beethoven's Appassionata, I won't be able to finish the revolution." That is what I mean when I speak humorously of my "inner Lenin". As a mental exercise I try to imagine how America could be changed as radically as Lenin changed tsarist Russia, but I can't stop listening to "
Beethoven's Appassionata".

There are contradictions boiling up in and around America and its society that could bring down the entire system if they are not correctly addressed. My inner Lenin views that with cool detachment, but my "inner Beethoven" cringes at the
human cost. DS

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Exactly who is Barack Obama?

David Seaton's News Links
The question is still, who is Barack Obama?

What do we really know about him from direct observation and not what he chooses to tell us? Or that we choose to imagine about him

Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, warts and all, are people who have been in the public eye for a long time, they have had their successes and their failures in public. If we like them or dislike them it is because we actually know them. They are personalities that certainly do not encourage fantasizing.

We are moving into very dark and troubled waters and the rhythmic stroking of platitudes will not be enough to see the nation through them.

I think it says volumes about the present, desperate state of the American psyche that content-less speeches, well delivered by someone with such a tiny CV, could sweep all before them.

Most of what any politician anywhere says has a high bullshit content. It's not entirely their fault, there are many traps waiting for the plain and incautious public speaker ... However when they have been around a long time, it is possible to use our experience of how what they say relates to what they actually end up doing, to evaluate correctly the distance between their words and their actions.

Lets look at the recent case of Mitt Romney... There were a lot of actions as a governor and a lot of words as a candidate. Republicans were able to measure the distance between the two and make a decision based on observable facts.

Being President of the United States of America is the country's top job, it is the crowning achievement of a lifetime of service, eight years is as long as you can hold the job, after that you are supposed to fade into the wallpaper. Look at all the shit Bill Clinton is taking for not fading into the wallpaper. The only ex-president that has done anything interesting is Jimmy Carter. Being president is the end of a career, not the beginning of one... Unless you envision a lifetime of decades of after dinner speaking stretching out before you.

How does someone in his 40s with almost no CV have the nerve to present himself for such an important office? JFK was young you say?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a war hero, who had been something like fourteen years in the Congress and the Senate and had won a Pulitzer Prize (not about his search for his "identity" BTW) before he put himself forward. And today he is not considered to have been a successful president, only a tragic and much loved one.

Look, the USA is broke, losing two wars, entering a recession that might even turn into a depression. I am really worried by Barack Obama's chutzpah, I see a boundless ego, untested by reality, standing before 300,000,000 people in a time of crisis and saying. "I am the best person among all of you to lead you!"

Getting starry eyed about Obama is like someone who has lost his job, taking his last savings and buying a lottery ticket... Hope. I don't know who is crazier, Obama or the people who cry at his speeches. DS

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Skinny, the Fudge and the Movement

Walking on water as she is really walked
David Seaton's News Links
In today's New York Times David Brooks lays out the cards face up:
"The new Democratic president would be faced with Bill Clinton’s Robert Rubin vs. Robert Reich choice: either scale back priorities for the sake of fiscal discipline or blow through all known deficit records for the sake of bigger programs. Choose the former, and the new president would further outrage the left. Choose the latter and lose the financial establishment and the political center. This is the debate that Democrats have been quietly rearguing during the entire Bush presidency. The left wing of the party is absolutely committed to winning it this time. It will likely demand the clean energy subsidies and the education spending, the expensive health care coverage and subsides to address middle-class anxiety. But no Democratic president can afford to offend independent voters with runaway spending. No president can easily ignore the think tank establishment, which is rightfully exercised about the nation’s long-term fiscal health. It would be another brutal choice."
A brutal choice indeed.

Brooks's bottom line is very simple,
"clean energy subsidies and the education spending, the expensive health care coverage and subsides to address middle-class anxiety"
must be sacrificed for military spending. Next will come Medicare, pensions and the "entitlements".

Spanish friends who travel regularly to the United States on business comment on the deterioration of America's infrastructure, roads, bridges, etcetera. There is no money for them either.
Here is Chalmers Johnson precise description:
"There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on "defense" projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. Simultaneously, we are keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segments of the American population at strikingly low levels.(...) in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call "opportunity costs," things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world's number one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs -- an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.(...) Our excessive military expenditures did not occur over just a few short years or simply because of the Bush administration's policies. They have been going on for a very long time in accordance with a superficially plausible ideology and have now become entrenched in our democratic political system where they are starting to wreak havoc. This ideology I call "military Keynesianism" -- the determination to maintain a permanent war economy and to treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption." Chalmers Johnson
When we talk about money for infrastructure and especially money for the education and for the health of children, we are talking about "seed corn". We are eating our seed corn. When it's gone, the real ride down the steep slope of decadence begins in earnest.

However Brooks in his inimitable, smarmy, sadistic, way is right. If elected, a Democratic president will be faced with all these choices. I have no doubt that be it Hillary or be it Obama, he or she will fudge... The "system", as Brooks points out, is the system. There has never been a system like it.

Both Hillary and Obama are dues paying, card carrying, members of that system.

The climb down would be less humiliating for Hillary as she could probably wheel and deal some kind of health care package in exchange for staying in Iraq and waltzing Kyoto... Hillary doesn't pretend to be a "movement". She is "Mrs. Possible".

However, at some point, Obama will be asked to prove his supernatural powers, to walk on water, to raise the dead and bring sight to the blind and when the fat, old thing just lies there looking at him, a lot of folks are going to be real disappointed.

And that, friends and neighbors, is when a real movement, one that actually moves, might get moving.

My human heart cringes, but my inner Lenin laughs and laughs. DS

David Brooks: When Reality Bites - New York Times
Abstract: When you think about it, the Democratic policy unity is a mirage. If the Democrats actually win the White House, the tensions would resurface with a vengeance. The first big rift would involve Iraq. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have seductively hinted that they would withdraw almost all U.S. troops within 12 to 16 months. But if either of them actually did that, he or she would instantly make Iraq the consuming partisan fight of their presidency. There would be private but powerful opposition from Arab leaders, who would fear a return to 2006 chaos. There would be irate opposition from important sections of the military, who would feel that the U.S. was squandering the gains of the previous year. A Democratic president with few military credentials would confront outraged and highly photogenic colonels screaming betrayal. There would be important criticism from nonpartisan military experts. In his latest report, the much-cited Anthony Cordesman describes an improving Iraqi security situation that still requires “strategic patience” and another five years to become self-sustaining.(...) All dreams of changing the tone in Washington would be gone. All of Obama’s unity hopes would evaporate. And if the situation did deteriorate after a quick withdrawal, as the National Intelligence Estimate warns, the bloodshed would be on the new president’s head. Therefore, when a new Democratic administration considered all these possibilities, its members would part ways. A certain number of centrists would conclude that rapid withdrawal is a mistake. They would say that the situation had changed and would call for a strategic review. They’d recommend a long, slow conditions-based withdrawal — constant, small troop reductions, and a lot of regional diplomacy, while maintaining tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for the remainder of the term. The left wing of the party would go into immediate uproar. They’d scream: This was a central issue of the campaign! All the troops must get out now! The president would have to make a terrible decision. Which brings us to second looming Democratic divide: domestic spending. Both campaigns now promise fiscal discipline, as well as ambitious new programs. These kinds of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too vows were merely laughable last year when the federal deficit was running at a manageable $163 billion a year. But the economic slowdown, the hangover from the Bush years and the growing bite of entitlements mean that the federal deficit will almost certainly top $400 billion by 2009. The accumulated national debt will be in shouting distance of the $10 trillion mark. With that much red ink, the primary-season spending plans are simply ridiculous. It’d be 1993 all over again. The new Democratic president would be faced with Bill Clinton’s Robert Rubin vs. Robert Reich choice: either scale back priorities for the sake of fiscal discipline or blow through all known deficit records for the sake of bigger programs. Choose the former, and the new president would further outrage the left. Choose the latter and lose the financial establishment and the political center. This is the debate that Democrats have been quietly rearguing during the entire Bush presidency. The left wing of the party is absolutely committed to winning it this time. It will likely demand the clean energy subsidies and the education spending, the expensive health care coverage and subsides to address middle-class anxiety. But no Democratic president can afford to offend independent voters with runaway spending. No president can easily ignore the think tank establishment, which is rightfully exercised about the nation’s long-term fiscal health. It would be another brutal choice. READ IT ALL