Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Monday, March 31, 2003  

War and Rage
Pure pacifism is a philosophy few people embrace. There’s something about the image of armed soldiers massing on the border that will impel most folks to take up arms—even if it means death. But there’s a simple logic to the pacifist argument that stops the majority from dismissing it altogether: that the violence of war necessarily produces hatred and violence, not peace and reconciliation.

Say what you will about pacifism, but this much is true: the war’s been magnificent for creating anger. I know I’ve sunk into a kind of torpid rage—something like being sleep-deprived but simultaneously jittery from too much coffee. Last week I pored over the news, ostensibly trying to “stay informed,” but aware that I was looking for evidence to support my growing hatred over the arrogance and stupidity of our administration’s actions. Without projecting too much, I believe I can say I saw clear evidence that others were equally falling prey to their anger.

The problem is that as my hatred grows, my certainty over its cause does, too. As the week wore on, I realized I wasn’t able to contemplate the possibility that the administration had ever had a noble motivation: every bit of information I took in enraged me, and my rage encouraged me to believe the worst. And those who support the war were either violent imperialists or stooges.

The moment I realized how far gone I was came with the report of the Iraqi suicide bomber. Suffice it to say that the thoughts I had weren’t human: they were vile and twisted.

If I could offer up one great wish for the outcome of this war, it’s that we find a way to locate each other’s humanity and to forgive ourselves for acting and speaking (and even thinking) out of our fear and suspicion. I know that everyone’s anger comes from the same kind of fear and sense of helplessness I experience. We react from that emotion in ways most of us probably later regret. But there is some hope there: we can also more easily understand why we do and say the things we do and say during these extreme times.

So I’m going to take a week off from blogging. I’m going to skip the news updates and where possible, avoid basting myself in the acid of my own bile. With any luck, the next time I hear about some horror that happened in Iraq, I’ll react with the kind of normal human compassion I actually feel for the Iraqis and US soldiers trapped in this inhuman situation.

posted by Jeff | 4:09 PM |


Saturday, March 29, 2003  

Crusades, Part 3

Josh Marshall adds to the argument that the US is increasingly in danger of looking like a conquering Christian army. Franklin Graham, son of Billy and close confidant of the President, announced that he has an army of "relief workers" ready "poised and ready" to rush into Iraq and provide physical and spiritual aid. Beliefnet describes the effort:

"The group’s main objective is to help refugees and people who have lost their homes or are sick and hungry as a result of the war, Graham told Beliefnet. 'We realize we’re in an Arab country and we just can’t go out and preach,' Graham said in a telephone interview from Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C.

However, he added, 'I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son….We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ...."

'This is not just a great opportunity to do humanitarian work but to share God's love,' said Sam Porter, state disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. 'We understand that the individual people of Iraq have done nothing to hurt us. We want to help them to have true freedom in Jesus Christ.'”



The group organizing the effort is Graham's Samaritan's Purse, essentially a missionizing group who uses international disasters as an entre for spreading the word. And Franklin himself called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion."

For the sake of clarity, let me underscore that Samaritan's Purse is not affiliated with the federal government, nor is this a government initiative. But whether those distinctions are relevant to Iraqis, now looking at the prospect of having their post-war suffering tended to by missionizing Christians, is not as clear.

[Correction: Atrios points out that Samaritan's Purse does receive federal aid. And so the plot thickens.]

posted by Jeff | 9:24 AM |
 

David Remnick on Humility

Good stuff from David Remnick in this week's New Yorker. It's rumination on the difference between triumph and triumphalism, and the current administration's failure to grasp the difference.

"The Administration hawks seem oblivious, too, of the consequences of a unilateral, imperial-style occupation of Iraq. They welcome it. By embracing imperialism frankly—by proclaiming that the goal of their policy is the maintenance and expansion of unchallenged power—they congratulate themselves as honest and hardheaded. The Administration hawks seem oblivious, too, of the consequences of a unilateral, imperial-style occupation of Iraq. They welcome it. By embracing imperialism frankly—by proclaiming that the goal of their policy is the maintenance and expansion of unchallenged power—they congratulate themselves as honest and hardheaded."



The article has the quality of an historical account written in the present tense. Much as histories are written, Remick describes the context from which failures arise for the administration.

"Russia, which is led by a former colonel of the K.G.B., still deeply resents its decline, and what it sees as a string of broken American promises. At various points, we promised not to hasten the unification of Germany, not to expand nato, not to dispense with the A.B.M. treaty. In each case, we did what we wanted, simply because we felt it was in our interest and because we could. The new conservative theology too often seems to combine power with a preening delight in brandishing it; the very notion of coöperation is suspect."



His analysis is underscored by a wonderful quote, which might have sufficed on its own (except that he's not paid to locate quotes, but to make them). From Eisenhower's speech in London on June 12, 1945.

"Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.

"Conceivably a commander may have been professionally superior. He may have given everything of his heart and mind to meet the spiritual and physical needs of his comrades. He may have written a chapter that will glow forever in the pages of military history. Still, even such a man—if he existed—would sadly face the fact that his honors cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead. They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or father will not return.

"The only attitude in which a commander may with satisfaction receive the tributes of his friends is in the humble acknowledgment that no matter how unworthy he may be, his position is the symbol of great human forces that have labored arduously and successfully for a righteous cause."



The President seems to love to imagine himself pyschic kin to Churchill and Roosevelt. Eisenhower's speech and Reminck's article remind us that there was a lot more to those figures' stature than valiant armies.

posted by Jeff | 8:56 AM |


Friday, March 28, 2003  

Costs of War, Part 2

As a corrolary to yesterday's post about anti-terror laws working their way through state legislatures, NPR did a story this morning on the erosion of civil liberties at the state level. Listen to it here.

posted by Jeff | 11:27 AM |
 

Costs of war, part 1

Word today that Japan has launched a spy satellite to monitor North Korea. This because North Korea has been acting uppity ever since they learned Cowboy George might haul off and invade them.

Invading Iraq has done nothing to quell North Korean fears.

The Japanese action, naturally, angered the North Koreans, who are now more jittery and more likely to act rashly. Which will further encourage Cowboy George to consider a pre-emptive invasion, or at least cause North Korea to suspect he will. Which will make North Korea's neighbors step up their own defense programs. Which will make...

You get the idea.

posted by Jeff | 11:20 AM |
 

Coalition, revised

So it looks like the White House's procedure for creating that "coalition partners" list amounted to jotting down names of likely chums and then sliding them a little bribe money down the road. Or so it seems from the news that Slovenia was hopping mad to learn it was on the list.

Ljubljana - The United States has mistakenly named Slovenia as a partner in its war against Iraq - and even offered it a share of the money budgeted for the conflict.

One day after hundreds of Slovenians hit the streets to protest the inclusion of their nation in the US war budget, Prime Minister Anton Rop said Washington had goofed...

"We are a part of no such coalition. We are a part of a coalition for peace," Rop said.



Lesson: offer more than pocket change when bribing foreign countries (not everyone's as poor and desperate as Oregon, after all).

posted by Jeff | 11:01 AM |


Thursday, March 27, 2003  

Crusades, Part 2

Back in February, I made mention of an article in Harper's Magazine that detailed the activities of a shadowy group called "The Family." It is a Christian group of politicians and leaders who target other powerful leaders to create an international "covenant of Christ." Jeff Sharlet, the author, linked the family to actions in the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations.

It's a group whose only public event are gatherings known as National Prayer Breakfasts, the announced goal of which are (among other things):

• Our PURPOSE is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.

• Our OBJECTIVE is "Pray for all in authority, that we might lead Godly lives."

• Our STRATEGY is to use Prayer Breakfasts. The acceptance of Prayer Breakfasts is one of the most viable strategies for reaching into community life and impacting business and governmental leaders. Leaders desire to come, get involved, and experience a fresh new reminder of our country's Spiritual Heritage."



In the Harper's article, the author identifies several known Family members who are in the House of Representatives, including Jim DeMint (SC) and Josph Pitts (PA), both of whom are listed as co-sponsors of this resolution.

Now, not to put too fine a point on it, but here's the title of the bill:

Recognizing the public need for fasting and prayer in order to secure the blessings and protection of Providence for the people of the United States and our Armed Forces during the conflict in Iraq and under the threat of terrorism at home.



Again: securing the blessings and protection of Providence. Providence, for those of you who didn't go to Catholic school, is (according to Webster's): "Foresight; care; especially, the foresight and care which God manifests for his creatures; hence, God himself, regarded as exercising a constant wise prescience."

Thus the House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for prayers that God intercede on the United States' behalf against a Muslim country.

Let's leave aside for the moment the Constitutional issues (the resolution was non-binding). Let's instead look merely at the strategic implications of such a public move. The US is at war against a Muslim country. Its standing throughout the Muslim world is just slightly better than Israel's. We're so unpopular in the Muslim country we're attacking that the locals would prefer the 30-year reign of terror continue rather than welcome Amercans to "liberate" them. And now 346 Christian politicians have called on God to defeat the Iraqis.

What in the hell were they thinking?

posted by Jeff | 9:41 PM |
 

Nothing says "Crusade" like...

...a national day of prayer during war. Atrios just linked to news of House Resolution 153. From that article:

"WASHINGTON -- The House passed a resolution Thursday calling for a national day of humility, prayer and fasting in a time of war and terrorism.

The resolution, passed 346-49, says Americans should use the day of prayer 'to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings and to learn how we can do better in our everyday activities, and to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our nation.'"



Well hell, shock and awe didn't work, how about a little of the Almighty? This is remarkable. Is Washington really so out of touch with the situation in Iraq that it can't see the potential for the intense hatred this will inspire?

From the text of the resolution:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the President should issue a proclamation--
(1) designating a day for humility, prayer, and fasting for all people of the United States; and
(2) calling on all people of the United States--
(A) to observe the day as a time of prayer and fasting;
(B) to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings and to learn how we can do better in our everyday activities; and
(C) to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our Nation.



Oh man....

posted by Jeff | 1:53 PM |
 

Law and War

Last week, Oregon made the biggest headlines for it’s protesters-as-terrorists jackboot shuffle, but it’s not alone. States across the country are ratcheting up the assault on legal protections in the war on terror. Here are a few.

Washington
"(March 19, 2003) OLYMPIA --The state House passed an anti-terrorism bill a few minutes before midnight, sidestepping a fight over gun control that had threatened to stall the measure.

"Requested by Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire, House Bill 1210 would create six new terrorism-related crimes, including possession of a weapon of mass destruction, making terrorist threats, and providing material support to terrorists."

New York
"(March 22, 2003) Donohue has been touring the state this week to put pressure on the Democratic-led Assembly to pass an anti-terrorism bill pushed by Gov. George Pataki and the state Senate.

"Among the many provisions, the bill would authorize 'roving' wiretaps to make it easier for authorities to listen to calls of suspects using one or more cellular phones. The bills also would create the crime of cyberterrorism and widen the ability of law enforcement to prosecute potential terrorists.

"The legislation came under fire this week from defense lawyers and the New York Civil Liberties Union, who claim it would infringe on citizens’ rights and constitutional guarantees.

“'They would create extraordinary new police powers that would undermine basic freedoms,' said Robert Perry, the union’s legislative counsel."

Nevada
"(February 27, 2003) CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- The author of an Assembly anti-terrorism bill that's less sweeping than a Senate proposal said Thursday he's open to even narrower wording to ensure Nevadans' civil liberties aren't threatened.

"Brown's bill has several descriptions of terrorism, including one that defines it as an act that would 'disrupt, affect or influence the conduct or policy of a governmental entity by intimidation or coercion.'

"AB99, as amended, would outlaw 'any act that involves the use or the threatened or attempted use of sabotage or violence' to cause such disruptions, or to retaliate against a government agency or 'cause widespread panic or civil unrest' through attacks that result in 'substantial destruction.'"

Oklahoma
"(March 17, 2003) Oklahoma City (AP) - A state House committee today approved bills giving law enforcement agencies more power to investigate suspected terrorists.

"One bill by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee authorizes vaccination programs for teams that would respond to a bioterror attack.

"Another bill gives the attorney general authority to ask for wiretaps of terror suspects and allows the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate terrorism. It also allows for closed-door meetings for officials to assess and discuss acts of terrorism and exempts documents involving terrorism assessments and response plans from the Open Records Act.

"The bills have already passed the state Senate and now go to the full House for action."



It doesn't hurt to repeat: there are inadvertant, negative consequences to war.

posted by Jeff | 9:46 AM |


Wednesday, March 26, 2003  

"Protest marches, like petitions, are exercises in futility."

That wisdom comes from Harley Sorensen of the San Francisco Chronicle. He elaborates:

"What person in his or her right mind actually believes a man like George W. Bush will change his views on the basis of a peace march, no matter how huge?

"The history of the Vietnam War shows clearly how ineffective protests are. No other war in American history had as many active opponents, and no other war lasted as long."



As a rebuttal, let me offer an example from our own little corner of the world. Here in Portland, we have a healthy (though under-celebrated) protest corps. But the local paper is center-right: it urged readers to vote Bush and it supports the war. Early articles were decidedly negative about the protesters. Not, I think, intentionally; everyone was in shock about the war, and for those with traditional, support-our-troop views, the early, loud protests were unseemly. But the protests continued every day, and increasingly, the discussion about the war and protests has changed. Listen:

"From bridges or helicopters, they blend into indistinguishable masses. Up close, they are of all ages, and they come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and beliefs. They are united, however, in one thing: They all oppose the war in Iraq."



The local paper decided to give the protesters a fair shake, and the results are remarkable. For 24 hours, a reporter and photographer followed the protesters and wrote a wonderful piece about their lives and their views. Read it here.

It humanizes and gives voice to the anti-war movement. Much like the dozens of soldier profiles the media prepares, this one paints a sympathetic portrait of Americans with strong, patriotic views. I think it would be impossible to read it and not feel inspired by their voices.

posted by Jeff | 10:56 AM |
 

I enjoy listening to the President speak. This may be blasphemy, but don't judge me too harshly: it's not because I like what he says. For all the criticism heaped on our fair Leader, he actually has a number of speaking styles. This morning he rolled out his Texas kick-ass style at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. (Personally, I like it a great deal more than the false-somber style he affected before the war began.)

He chooses his style to fit his audience: humble and deferential for religious audiences, Dubya Churchillian for national audiences, kick-ass for the base. Thus there's no great surprise in his style this morning. Looking around the news and blogs, I see that it's failed to rouse much interest.

But I think there's more here than meets the eye. To begin with: this was a pep rally. It's not unreasonable to point out that pep rallies are used to, ah, rally--something the White House may not have expected to have to do a week ago. The President also gave the speech in Florida, which is more of a home state than even Texas. As if to underscore this point, the President had his old friend Katherine Harris on hand.

The truth is, things are looking a bit grim; otherwise, the President would have been with the Joint Chiefs instead of rallying the troops. It's taken only six days for the public's confidence to slump in the polls. This is bad news, given that what Rumsfeld said yesterday: "We're still, needless to say, much closer to the beginning than the end."

So things are only going to get worse. Bush has lost most of his friends internationally (and almost all the citizens of the world). He lost the Democrats at home. And now he's losing Ma and Pa Main Street. Pretty soon, the only friends he'll have left are in Florida and Texas.

Expect a lot more Texas kick-ass.

posted by Jeff | 10:27 AM |


Tuesday, March 25, 2003  

Tax Cut Cut

Ripping across the blogosphere is news of the President's tax cut:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate reversed itself Tuesday and voted to cut President Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cut in half, dealing a blow to the keystone of his economic recovery plan.

A week after refusing to do so, senators voted 51-48 to reduce the tax reduction's price tag to $350 billion through 2013. Bush has said his plan - which would eliminate taxes on corporate dividends and reduce income taxes - is needed to create jobs, boost investment and spur the slumbering economy.



It's a victory, but for whom? The spinmeisters are spinning. Atrios calls it advantage Democrats. But Dave Johnson and Ruminate This howl foul: three fitty's a pretty decent tax cut. Meanwhile, Ari Fleischer's still talkin big: "We'll see what the ultimate outcome is, if that vote is the final vote. They have many more to come."

But I think the real story is buried in paragraph 17:

Just Friday, the Senate voted 62-38 to reject a similar move to pare Bush's tax plan in half. That plan would have taken the additional money Bush wanted for tax cuts and used it for deficit reduction.



Let's see, last Friday. Oh right--back when everyone thought the war was going to be a cakewalk. When all the spinning is done, expect senators to look at the collapsing economy, out-of-work constituents, and insolvent states and then look at the war tally and quietly drop the tax cuts to nil.

posted by Jeff | 3:36 PM |
 

Shock and Awe Blowback

Along with everyone else in the world, I had stupidly fallen into the mind set that this war was gonna be a quickie. Twelve years of sanctions, grinding poverty, torture dungeons--you figure morale's pretty low. What the hell, the Americanos are coming in, can't be any worse--let's give them a try. My swiss-cheese-like memory can't be expected to think back before Afghanistan and Bosnia, so what other model did I consider? (Also, I had Wake Forest playing in the finals, so what do I know?)

Well.

Turns out this is going to be a real war--better hold off for a minute on the ticker-tape parade. Turns out the US's military isn't invulnerable. Turns out the people aren't exactly welcoming their "liberators" with open arms. Hell, even the weather's not cooperating. Is this just the stuff of war, or was there evidence that this was going to be tougher than it looked?

Everything's clearer in retrospect, but there were signs. Paramount among them was this idea that the US would be regarded as a trustworthy alternative to Saddam. Why on earth would it be? In the past 15 years, the Iraqi people have been betrayed by the US almost as often as they have by Saddam.

• From ally during the Iran/Iraq war to foe during the Kuwait invasion (even leaving aside the issue of whether the US gave permission to invade);

• Failure to take Saddam out during the Kuwait debacle, which placed pro-American supporters at Saddam’s mercy;

• Iraqis watched as the US twice sold out the Kurds, most recently offering Northern Iraq to Turkey as part of the pay-off for Turkish land.



Into that context rides George W. Bush, a wild-eyed cowboy who smugly ignores international will. When the issue of Iraq arises, he ignores the UN. And when the war begins, he tries to achieve compliance through the practice of “shock and awe.”

Let’s see now, why exactly did we think the Iraqis were going to run into the streets with open arms?

I’m not a very good informant on all of this. Like others, I’m having a hard time mustering the strength to watch this all play out. So maybe it will turn out all right. Maybe the Iraqis will put down their guns. I know the US won’t, so I hope the Iraqis will. All I sense is a lot of death in the offing. But I have to admit, I can’t blame the Iraqis for not laying their guns down—I wouldn’t trust George, either. It’s a horrible crime that the Iraqis have to pay the price for America’s history of betrayal.

(I know, I know, you’re gonna torch me with that Chomsky anti-American argument. But before you do, look at it from the perspective of the average Iraqi resident.)

posted by Jeff | 1:36 PM |
 

The Goldies 2002

On the lighter side, I intended to post the third annual Goldies (you may know them under a different name)--my alternative to the dreck generally cited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the best of the year. (It'll be back to the atrocities later in the day--never fear!)

Grand Goldie (Best Film)
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese)

"My father gave his life making this country what it is. Murdered by the British with all of his men on the twenty fifth of July, Anno Domini, 1814. Do you think I'm going to help you befoul his legacy by giving this country over to them, what's had no hand in the fighting for it?"
--Bill the Butcher, Gangs of New York


Petit Goldie (the rest of the nominees)
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair)
LotR: Two Towers (Peter Jackson)
13 Conversations about One Thing (Jill Sprecher)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney)


Big Stinky (Worst film of the year)
Reign of Fire (Rob Bowman)


Much Ado About Nothing
Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)
Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes)
Signs (M. Night Shyamalan)
The Good Girl (Mike White)
Chicago (Rob Marshall)


No Ado About Something
Undercover Brother (Malcolm D. Lee)
Last Orders (Fred Schepisi)
24-Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom)
Heaven (Tom Twyker)
Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd)


Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York

Best Actress
Nicole Kidman, The Hours

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, 13 Conversations About One Thing

Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, About Schmidt

Best Director
Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York

Best Screenplay
Charlie Kaufman, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Worst Quote of the Year
"I don't like the sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating--not like you. You're soft and smooth."
--Anakin Skywalker, Attack of the Clones

Best Quote of the Year
Anton Jackson: So the conspiracies we've believed for all these years are true? The NBA really did institute the three point shot to give white boys a chance?
Conspiracy Brother: Of course!
Anton Jackson: Hollywood really is out to get Spike Lee?
Conspiracy Brother: Come on man! Even Cher's won an Oscar! Cher!
Anton Jackson: Then O.J. really didn't do it?
[Everyone looks away and mumbles]
--Undercover Brother

Rent ‘em if you ain't seen ‘em
24-Hour Party People
Adaptation
Bowling for Columbine
Dogtown and Z Boys
Heaven
Insomnia
Last Orders
The Pianist
Punch-Drunk Love
Roger Dodger
Undercover Brother



posted by Jeff | 9:18 AM |


Monday, March 24, 2003  

The New Terrorists

To those who continue to argue that we have a free and balanced public dialogue about the war: don't come to Oregon. Today the Oregon legislature will consider a bill that would make exercising one's constitutional rights of assembly an act of terror. From the text of the bill:


SECTION 1. { + (1) A person commits the crime of terrorism if the person knowingly plans, participates in or carries out any act that is intended, by at least one of its participants, to disrupt:
(a) The free and orderly assembly of the inhabitants of the State of Oregon;
(b) Commerce or the transportation systems of the State of Oregon; or
(c) The educational or governmental institutions of the State of Oregon or its inhabitants.



More on it in this article.

It's absurdly unconstitutional, and is really just a stunt by Republican congressman John Minnis to demonize the sizeable number of anti-war protesters who continue to pester the city of Portland. But the fact that it's going to occupy time at the Oregon capitol should underscore an argument I've been trying to make here for the past week: America absolutely does not want to hear the anti-war message.

Some of you have advanced the “ends justify the means” argument with regard to the war—things are going well there (except now they’re not, particularly), so what’s the fuss?

Well, how’s this for one answer?

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |
 

Press update
I’ve been critical of the local coverage of anti-war protesters. Full disclosure’s fair play. On Saturday, the Oregonian ran a wonderful article on the protesters. It was balanced and represented their message objectively.

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |


Saturday, March 22, 2003  

What else is rotten about this war? Eric Alterman reminds us that the Bush administration is using it to justify a systematic dismantling of citizens' right to know what their goverment is doing:

"Making it easier for government agencies to keep documents secret, the Bush administration plans to revoke an order issued by President Bill Clinton that among other provisions said information should not be classified if there was "significant doubt" as to whether its release would damage national security.

"The new policy is outlined in a draft executive order being circulated among federal agencies. A final version is expected to be adopted before April 17, when the last elements of the Clinton order would take effect, requiring automatic declassification of most documents 25 or more years old. Under the draft, such automatic declassification would be postponed until Dec. 31, 2006.

"The new policy would also permit reclassification of documents that have already been made public, and give the Central Intelligence Agency special authority to resist decisions by an interagency panel that considers classification appeals, typically from researchers."



| link |

Again: the war may be successful. But at what cost to our democracy?

posted by Jeff | 9:47 AM |


Friday, March 21, 2003  

War and Peace (Activists)

Yesterday there were anti-war protests throughout the country. Although these were the only visible sign of interest from our complacent population, they were nevertheless awarded footnote status in the press. In a survey of the nation's most common stories at Google's news page, there were (when I checked) 1255 related to the war effort and 30 related to the protests. Of those thirty, only 10 are related directly to the protesters themselves--the other two-thirds are stories about how the police will handle the protesters.

In my hometown (Portland, Oregon), there was a protest last night that attracted some thousands of citizens (numbers are always vague) who were sufficiently angry enough to try to block roads and bridges. Except for a couple of skirmishes, the protesters managed to stand peacefully gathered for six or seven hours. On a day when the country has gone to war, you'd imagine that some latitude would be given for these assembling citizens.

Of course you'd be wrong: the news coverage was almost shockingly martial. When speaking to police, local TV news reporters spoke in a collegial "we,' as in: "How are 'we' going to handle this situation?" The AP headline was "More than 100 arrested in Portland protest." (As opposed to, say, "Thousands voice opposition to war.") And in a slideshow by the Oregonian (the local paper), the photos tell na even more skewed story. Of the nine related to the Portland protest, only one shows a substantially un-editorialized picture of the anti-war protesters. Of the rest, three show them next to police in riot gear, and three more show them facing off with a tiny, quickly-evaporated group of pro-war demonstrators. The final two are un-editorialized pro-war demonstrators.

You see, this is what gets passed off as "dialogue" in the public discourse. Of my long screed yesterday, three of you picked out the clause "without public dialogue or international collaboration" (though none mentioned the second part). There is some fairly large percentage of Americans (call it the mere third who admit to opposing the war now--that is,100 million Americans) who don't hear their views represented on any national medium. If they wish to hear it, they've got to scurry around for a Noam Chomsky book, go see a documentary by Michael Moore, or read the rambling blogs of someone hiding behind the name of a dead anarchist. That's hardly dialogue.

So instead of petering out here, as I usually do, I'll leave you with the words of Lewis Lapham, who currently pens one of the few anti-war articles available (in Harper's, owned by a non-profit foundation, naturally), and who can really splash the ink:

Democracy proceeds from a more adventurous premise, its structure akin to a suspension bridge rather than to an Egyptian pyramid, its strength dependent upon the complicity of its citizens in a shared work of the political imagination. The enterprise collapses into either anarchy or tyranny unless the countervailing stresses oppose one another with equal weight, unless enough people possess enough courage to sustain the dialectic between the government and the governed, between city and town, capital and labor, men and women, matter and mind.

Defined as a ceaseless process of change, democracy assumes the pain of contradiction and new discovery not only as the normal but also as the necessary condition of existence. As has been said, a hard act to perform, and one that failed and was abandoned by nearly every country in Europe n the generation between the First and Second World Wars. In place of truthful and therefore possibly unpleasant argument, the Bush Administration offers warm and welcome lies, advising us to lay aside the tool of thought and rest safely on the pillows of glorious and world-encircling empire. We accept the invitation at our peril."


posted by Jeff | 6:45 PM |


Thursday, March 20, 2003  

The bombs are falling. Early reports from the Pentagon are hopeful that in these first hours, Saddam Hussein may even be dead. The war is on—and it will now play out however it can play out, with peace activists and diplomats mute on the sidelines, hoping now that all the intelligence and all the might of the US armed forces will amount to a very quick, very successful resolution.

Meantime, there’s a surge of support for the US at home, abroad, and among foreign nations recently opposed to the war. There are backlashes against those who criticized the White House’s actions leading up to the war, and now, there are even those encouraging progressives to support the war—for progressive reasons.

In an article on Salon, Edward W. Lempinen tries to make this point:

“What are we doing to make sure that not another woman is raped or beheaded as a form of political terror? What are we doing to make sure that not another man is humiliated and rendered mute and powerless as the ex-general was? What are we doing to shut down the headquarters of General Intelligence? In the community of human rights monitors, work toward these goals is heroic and often dangerous. These would seem also to be urgent goals for all who consider themselves progressive. But for the most part, in all the angry debate over the war, the left rarely discusses these issues. We acknowledge Saddam as a ruthless dictator and lament his human rights abuses, but we focus our rage on Bush.”



War is a time of extreme chaos. As people slide into increasingly reactive states of mind and opinion, it’s critical to remind ourselves why this is a bad war: not for leftists or anti-Bushies or pacifists, but for America.

The Pre-emption Doctrine
This war is the first war of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption. The White House has given many reasons why we should invade Iraq, but this is the heart of the argument: because of the “clear and present danger” Iraq poses to the United States, the US is justified in taking a pre-emptive strike. That the US is its own final arbiter in choosing which nations to attack—and when and how—was made clear when the it ignored the will of the UN and began bombing Baghdad today.

The precedent this doctrine establishes is as counter to the United States’ ideals as a democratic nation, and it places the country outside the scope of international law or world oversight. Whether this is relevant to American citizens isn’t exactly the point: rather, the very position the US has placed itself strategically—as an uncooperative member of the world politic—should alarm a nation fighting terrorism.

The Moral War
The second-most cited argument for this war is that we must defeat a ruthless dictator. This argument is well-established; it’s the emotional counterbalance to the realpolitik of pre-emption. It is the argument that appeals to good-hearted people, from Ma and Pa Main Street to Edward W. Lempinen to President Bartlett on the West Wing. But it is a hollow and simplistic argument.

1.) There are some dozens of dictatorial regimes throughout the globe. If the United States is prepared to make the argument that it is going on a campaign of ridding the world of tyrants, so be it. But: let’s have an open dialogue about which regimes are going to be targeted; let us hear which countries are next and why they are more or less dictatorial than others on the list; let’s be very clear that impediments like, say, the presence of nuclear weapons, will not deter us from our righteous cause. If a country is prepared to make foreign policy priorities based on the protection of human rights and liberty, it better damn well get in the business of protecting human rights and liberty—not just use it as an excuse when the opportunity arises.

2.) If the US is serious about protecting human life and liberty globally, Americans should demand that it sever ties with famously repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. If we’re about human life and liberty, then we’re about human life and liberty.

3.) If the US is sincerely committed to the protection of human rights, we should expect to see serious cooperation with foreign governments at all levels—not just invasions when it suits the White House. This means addressing the economic, natural resources, nutritional, educational, and medical needs of the countries that are destabilized by these problems. It means seriously dealing with Israel-Palestine, India-Pakistan, Russia-Chechnya, and so on.

On a less hyperbolic note, if the White House is serious about addressing human rights around the globe, we should expect a very serious articulation of this plan, as fully formed as the pre-emption doctrine. Americans are prepared to give the President latitude here, but not based on the mendacious, craven arguments he has thus far advanced.

The Safety Argument
The final significant argument advance by the proponents of war is that it will ensure the United States’ safety. The superficial justification is that Iraq poses an immediate threat to its neighbors, and a distant threat to the US through “terror networks.” Yet no one buys this one: the Iraqis have been under the literal shadow of US planes for a dozen years and is no threat to its neighbors; as to terror links—not a single other country has agreed that these exist.

The more substantial argument here is geopolitical. It’s also the most appealing argument—Saddam Hussein is a dangerous tyrant, and does seem capable of anything. But here again, there’s a credibility problem. With the changed world situation after 9/11, the US for the first time has a serious threat to its own soil. Realignment after the Soviet collapse have made power centers of Beijing, Delhi, Islamabad, and Pyongyang. As the White House addresses these challenges, the argument that Baghdad should consume the US’s attention, money, and resources is weak at best. Is Baghdad more of a threat than Pyongyang? Actually, it might be—but here again we have the credibility problem: Bush never made the argument. His assertions shift from misleading, absent, or untrue evidence to simplistic moralizing. Based on nothing more than that, what should Americans think?

--------------------------------


The White House never made a clear argument about why it invaded Iraq. That’s reason enough to oppose a war. But far worse, the President introduced a number of foreign policy shifts to justify this war that remain unexamined, unexplained, and hidden behind false arguments.

It doesn’t’ mater how this war turns out. The very act of going to war establishes a number of dangerous precedents: the US is now prepared to go to war arbitrarily against whom it deems the most dangerous—without public dialogue or international collaboration—without clear disclosure to American citizens about the cost, risks, hidden political and commercial goals, or long term benefits.

This is what reasonable Americans need to separate from the chaos of war, the flashy logos, and the thunderous wartime rhetoric: we all need to keep our eye on the ball. This war is a bad war because it has no clear foundation, no clear objectives, and puts into place policy priorities that American citizens should be loth to follow.

posted by Jeff | 12:51 PM |
 

Before we get to the really serious business, let's pause a moment to congratulate Ignatius and Tom Maguire for their prescient reading of world events. They predicted the bombs would start flying on the 17th. That's within 48 hours of first impact (depending on how you calculate the time difference)--far closer than any of us other wannabe Nostrodomi.

Tom Maguire and Ignatius Reilly, you're our Prophets of the Week!

posted by Jeff | 12:14 PM |
 

The Dalai Lama on War

It's never to late to hear words of reason:

"The Iraq issue is becoming very critical now. War, or the kind of organized fighting, is something that came with the development of human civilization. It seems to have become part and parcel of human history or human temperament. At the same time, the world is changing dramatically. We have seen that we cannot solve human problems by fighting. Problems resulting from differences in opinion must be resolved through the gradual process of dialogue. Undoubtedly, wars produce victors and losers; but only temporarily. Victory or defeat resulting from wars cannot be long-lasting. Secondly, our world has become so interdependent that the defeat of one country must impact the rest of the word, or cause all of us to suffer losses either directly or indirectly."

posted by Jeff | 10:32 AM |


Wednesday, March 19, 2003  

Keeping the film theme going in this pre-Oscars week, a couple of news items:

"Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, whose 'The Man Without a Past' is up for an Academy Award for best foreign-language film, said he and his production company will skip Sunday's ceremony in Los Angeles to protest plans for a U.S.-led war in Iraq."

'"We are not living in the most glorious moments of the history of mankind,' Kaurismaki wrote in a letter to Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"'Therefore, I nor anybody else from Sputnik Ltd. can participate in the Oscar gala event at the same time the government of the United States is preparing a crime against humanity for the purpose of shameless economic interests.'"



Sputnik Ltd. I kid you not. That was a real story.

And then there's this: no Joan for you.

"The show will go on as planned, but Sunday's Academy Awards will be a 'more sober affair' in light of the pending war with Iraq, Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates said Tuesday.

Cates said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 'is mindful that many of its celebrity guests would feel uncomfortable arriving at this year's awards, at the beginning of a major war, to face a business-as-usual phalanx of interviewers and photographers.'"



Uncomfortable because they're yellah. They don't want to be targets of any anti-US types PO'ed that we're bombing Iraq. Which is reasonable, one now sees, given the wild gleam in Aki Kaurismaki's eye.

"Look out, look out, I think he's got a gun!"

"Who?"

"The Finn. THE FINN!!"

posted by Jeff | 3:03 PM |


Tuesday, March 18, 2003  

American Nationalism

Nationalism (n) the conviction that the culture and interests of your nation are superior to those of any other nation. (Princeton)




Last night I watched I Am Cuba, a 1964 Soviet-produced anti-American movie about the Cuban revolution. (And not because—as the suspicious among you might imagine—I was in an anti-American pique after the President’s announcement of unilateral pre-emption. Actually it was because a friend had loaned us that DVD, left the country, and is due to return tomorrow: I couldn’t face the prospect of confessing I hadn’t watched it in the five months he was gone. I was, of course, caught in the throes of an anti-Bush pique as well.)

The film is a product of the socialist realism school, and it’s claim to fame is the extraordinary camerawork of director Mikhail Kalatozov. Deservedly so. But beyond that it’s a pretty lousy film, because the dogma is so obvious and cartoonish. It shows creepy American businessmen in the Batista era indulging their basest, capitalist-imperialist desires at the expense of hard-working Cubans. One narrative follows a prostitute whom we realize in 1.3 seconds is a metaphor for Cuba—prostituted to imperialists. And so it goes.

The film’s failure as art is revealed in 2003 much more obviously than it would have been 40 years ago. The hypotheses that saturate the film—that capitalism is the root of all evil, and assorted manifestations—seem silly and quaint at best. Film is most successful when it challenges the viewer to think. I Am Cuba doesn’t, because all the issues are settled in our mind: the result is an oddity from a lost age with bitchin’ camerawork.

Or maybe not. Watching a movie like I Am Cuba reminds us that so much of what we “know” is actually what we assume. It is instructive because we know that at one time, such a film—and films like it—were effective because people held different assumptions. Through the eyes of history, all nationalist rhetoric looks silly and quaint and often deadly dangerous. Nazi nationalism, particularly, fills me with dread because its so easy to see where it came from. Out of the desperation of WWI, Hitler fashioned a nationalism of pride and rage.

So it was interesting to watch that film on the day our own President (sort of) declared war. Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be thrown into deep ambivalence: support for the troops on one hand, resentment and fear that the whole endeavor is a massive debacle on the other. Polls already show that the country is rallying around the President and the troops. Presumably, when the slightest events turn negative, those numbers will drop, reflecting the fear and resentment.

Standing on the edge of the abyss, I can’t help but think that the President’s arrogance is of the same, garden variety arrogance the world has seen so many times. I am willing to bet the farm that in 40 years, his nationalist rhetoric will look as quaint and silly as the Soviet Union’s does now. Americans are not patriots if they follow his blind arrogance—they’re nationalists. The commitment to the ideals of the Constitution are not embodied by a United States that invades countries pre-emptively and against the wishes of its allies. American nationalism is particularly alluring because we all participate in its manufacture—it doesn’t come from the propaganda ministry. But it’s still the same old nationalism. Real patriots question their leaders: patriotic leaders welcome the questions.

Oppose Bush's folly.

posted by Jeff | 9:38 AM |


Sunday, March 16, 2003  

Best Protest Signs

Who Would Jesus Bomb?

Lesbians Against Boys Invading Anything

posted by Jeff | 10:03 PM |
 

So, once again we have the disputed numbers. Either 40,000 or 100,000 marched in Washington to protest the Bush war. In Portland, the number was as few as 20,000 (according to the Oregonian) or twice that, according to protest organizers. In San Francisco, the Chronicle/organizers split was 40,000 and 100,000.

What's in a number? Organizers, obviously, want to emphasize the significance of their cause. The press? Well, in the Oregonian and Post's case (I don't know about the Chronicle), the papers have a pro-war stance. The Oregonian's numbers were a third lower than local TV stations' estimates (also here)--TV stations with no editorial position. Maybe it's not a major difference--it's tens of thousands either way. But the way events are presented and interpreted really does matter.

Yesterday afternoon, I tuned in to one of the local TV stations after the event (I don't recall which one). The coverage was remarkably positive--organizers and protesters were characterized as caring, average citizens. Reporting on a small group that tried to block a local bridge, the station characterized them as unconnected to the other 29,850 peaceful grandmothers and middle-schoolers.

The way the media report news creates opinion, unavoidably. But news gets reported by people, who are affected by events. Some questioned the value of marching yesterday, when it was clear that the President had already decided to attack Iraq. In fact, marching for peace may not stop George Bush--it seems nothing can. But the peace marchers can hope to rewrite the book on how Americans feel about that.

In the newscast last night, one reporter stopped to explain a protester's in that melodramatic TV-news voice. It was made by a 13-year old girl, she explained, proffering it for the camera: "30,000 bombs + 5 million in Baghdad = terrorism" (the numbers may have been slightly different) The interesting thing was, the reporter was sympathetic: she was holding a sign calling George Bush a terrorist, and she was sympathetic. That's change.

[Update: In today's Oregonian, an in-house analysis used an aerial photograph to come up with a new number: 14,200. Done deal, right? Not according to the Portland Communiqué, who analyzes the analysis and questions the results.]

posted by Jeff | 10:00 PM |


Friday, March 14, 2003  

Okay, this shows that our navel-gazing arrogance has gone beyond the pale:


A Florida congresswoman introduced a Bill on Capitol Hill that would allow the families of Second World War dead to dig up their bones and take them home.

Ginny Brown-Waite said that her American Heroes Repatriation Act 2003 was a response to constituents’ concerns that their fathers and grandfathers were lying in “unpatriotic soil”. She said: “The French don’t seem to remember that if it wasn’t for America, they would be speaking German.”

Her melodramatic flourish was the most far-reaching effort yet to codify American anger at what politicians and the public see as a mixture of French ingratitude, arrogance and wilful obstruction of US foreign policy interests.



It comes from Genfoods, of course--ahead of the curve in documenting the latest chaos.



posted by Jeff | 1:50 PM |
 

Well, while Baghdad prepares to burn, I've been fiddling over on the Oregon Blog. And thus let my duties here fall somewhat fallow. You may have seen us in the funny papers--things are a little rocky here, and thus enormously interesting. If you have a pressing desire to debate Oregon's revenue troubles, or care to offer an opinion on sales tax (provided you're one of the 48 states that, unlike Oregon, has one), please drop by. Otherwise, I'll get back to cracking Preacher George and the boys next week.

posted by Jeff | 12:43 PM |
 

If the presidential election were held today, who would be the wealthiest candidate--in terms of personal wealth? George W.? Not even close--although he made a lot of money doing very little, it's chump change. His running mate's got him beat to the tune of a factor of 4. But the real Richie Rich? John Kerry, with an estimated wealth of $200 mil to nearly $700 mil. That's a lot of cabbage. My info comes from a relatively old report, so it doesn't have all the candidates. Still, it's revealing: -

Kerry, John - $196,586,034 - $688,440,016
Cheney, Dick - $22,949,031 - $103,377,000
Bush, George - $9,634,088 - $26,593,000
Edwards, John - $8,707,072 - $36,500,000
Graham, Bob - $7,352,065 - $30,659,000
Dean, Howard - $3,792,500 - $3,792,500
Lieberman, Joseph - $376,059 - $1,617,000
Gephardt, Dick - $134,022 - $614,000

All of this comes from The Center for Public Integrity. If you're interested in where the candidates' wealth comes from, that's also fascinating: click around and see.


posted by Jeff | 9:19 AM |


Thursday, March 13, 2003  

Report on School Funding

Interesting report from the Census Bureau about school funding published this week. It's one of those very dense statistical pieces, and worth reading if you have time and inclination. A few interesting facts:

Per pupil spending ranges dramatically, from a low in Utah of $4,625 to a high in New York of $10,922 per year (the national average is $7,284). Here in Oregon, where cutting school days, and packing three dozen kids into a classroom are regularly discussed, spending is above the national average, but not excessive at $7,511. Eyeballing the list, it looks like the Northeast spends more on schools than other regions, followed by the Midwest; the South and West pull up the rear (that's generally speaking, of course).

School funding (national data): 50% from state sources, 43% from local sources, and only 7% from federal sources.

Spending: 85% goes to current spending (instruction and support), while 12% goes to capital outlays. Of the money spent, 61% goes to teachers, 12% to other staffing (support staff, administration), 10% to maintenence, 5% to pupil support (?), and 4% to pupil transportation (leaving a miscellaneous pot of 9%).



Of course, the rubber meets the road when you start looking at state data, which is provided in the text.

posted by Jeff | 10:48 AM |


Wednesday, March 12, 2003  

Office Pool

We've got an informal pool going on here at the office. No, not about the basketball tourney: about when the bombs begin flying over Baghdad. This is your chance to get in on the action (no money please: just the enormous fame you'll get from this extremely well-read blog...)

So, a few relevant factors:

Turkey. The situation as it now stands is that the old, un-bribeable Prime Minister is out, but the new guy, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ain't much more maleable. Apparently the President continued to amaze as the most inept diplomat of all time: The telephone call turned rocky when Mr Erdogan declined Mr Bush's request to help speed approval, US officials said. 'It was not a great phone call," said one Bush Administration official. "The Turks weren't as responsive as we'd hoped.' (That was from the amusingly titled article "Bush Talks Turkey and is Given the Bird."

So that means that the US may or may not get to use Turkey as a northern-front staging area. If the US isn't able to finesse Turkey on this one, then there will presumably be delay. Though, the finessing process may also produce a delay. So go figure.

Handicap: I'll say the Turks ultimately bend to the US's will, despite protests from the UN and NATO, but that it takes until the end of next week.

The Moon. Apparently the moon is a factor, so says my office mate. Stupidly, I forgot to ask her which is optimum--full or new? I would guess full, because of the night fighting, but possibly the extra light fouls up high tech equipment. In any case: full moon on March 18 and April 16, new moon on April Fools Day.

Handicap: Okay, a little search and I found this info on the Financial Times: "On the military side anyway, a little more delay may not be disastrous. The build-up of troops has been slower than optimal because of bottlenecks at the port of Kuwait, and the air force may prefer to delay the campaign launch beyond this week's full moon." Looks like the new moon, so call that a reason to delay.

The UN.
The latest news shifts like the desert sands, so this is a pick 'em. As I write this, the Bush Administration says it's got the vote sewed up, but Spain says there may not be a vote at all. On the other hand, Tony Blair's scared to death that the branch he's climbed out on is breaking off. The permutations of those negotiations will go on moment by moment.

Handicap: All bets are off.

The Stock Market.
The stock market is likely to nosedive the second bombs start flying. This could cause a greater than usual sense of panic, so the admistration is likely to avoid an early-week assualt.

Handicap: Fridays or Saturdays make a lot of sense--the administration thinks this will go smoothly, and likely would predict that 48 hours of solid bombing would assuage Wall Street fears.

The Civilians.
There needs to be a little time to allow American civilians the opportunity to flee--diplomats, the press, and inspectors.

Handicap: I'd say this has to be done within 24 hours of the assault, so Iraq doesn't have enough time to prepare. No factor.

So, based on all these factors, I'll go ... (calculating) ... April Fool's Day. Ah, come on, what'd you think I was going to go with? (My office mate is placing her bet on March 28th.)

Dare to post a date?

[Update: current tally.

Ignatius - March 17th
Tom M. - March 17th
Swopa - March 31st
Emma - April 1st

Stay tuned; we're 72 hours out from the earliest predictions...]


posted by Jeff | 2:42 PM |


Tuesday, March 11, 2003  

Incidentally, for those of you who thought I was an anti-Christian fanatic, let me point out that the President's Christianity is beginning to alarm even reasonable people too. (Which makes me a prophet. That is, err, ah...) First there was the Newsweek cover story called "Bush and God," which I neither read nor saw (and which isn't online--though for three bucks you can buy it here--and tell me what it said). Then Georgie Anne Geyer picked up the thread in a recent column.

In her words:

The predominant answer coming out of different quarters -- one that I broached six months ago, to a certain degree of derision from some readers -- is that the president of the United States of America sees himself as part of God's divine plan. For America, for the Middle East, for the world! It is not doctrine that he espouses, but gospel; not a world of shifting national interests, but one of absolute truths.

One of the best analyses came last week from the Rev. Fritz Ritsch, pastor of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Virginia. "The president," he said, "confidently asserts a worldview that most Christian denominations reject outright as heresy: the myth of redemptive violence, which posits a war between good and evil, with God on the side of good and Satan on the side of evil." This approach, he went on, "is characterized by a stark refusal to acknowledge accountability, because to suggest accountability is to question American purity, which would undermine the secular theology of 'good vs. evil' inherent in present U.S. policy."



And today, writing in the Times, Jackson Lears made the argument that this isn't your garden-variety lip service:

The great rhetoricians of Providence have resisted the temptation of self-righteousness. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail that "we will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands," he was seeking common ground with white Southerners, not predicting perdition for satanic segregationists.

Likewise, when Abraham Lincoln invoked Providence in his second inaugural address, his message to the victorious North and the defeated South was one of reconciliation. By characterizing the Civil War as a national expiation for the sin of slavery, he wanted "to bind up the nation's wounds" and make some moral sense of the appalling losses on both sides. At its best, providentialist thinking can offer a powerful antidote to self-righteousness.

Too often, though, American politicians and moralists have reduced faith in Providence to a religious sanction for raw power. In the 1840's, with the emergence of the idea that the United States had a manifest destiny to expand to the Pacific, the hand of God was no longer mysterious (as in traditional Christian doctrine) but "manifest" in American expansion. As for the natives who unproductively occupied the Great Plains, Horace Greeley, the journalist, said in 1859: "`These people must die out — there is no help for them. God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against his righteous decree."







posted by Jeff | 2:20 PM |
 

Pop Quiz

1. Who was the last permanent security council member to cast a veto?

A) France
B) Russia
C) China
D) US
E) Britain

2. When did France last cast a veto in the security council?

A) 2003
B) 2002
C) 1987
D) 1976
E) Never

3. Which permanent security council member has cast the most vetoes since 1990?

A) France
B) Russia
C) China
D) US
E) Britain

4. Which permanent security council member has cast the most vetoes since the founding of the UN?

A) France
B) Russia
C) China
D) US
E) Britain

[Update: More quiz.]

5. Number of times the US vetoed a UN declaration condemning Israel or encouraging Israel to stop some Palestinian-directed action between 1972-2002?

A) 5
B) 15
C) 25
D) 35
E) 45

6. Number of times the US vetoed a UN declaration supporting Palestinian rights between '72 and 2002 (minimum number)?

A) 0
B) 3
C) 8
D) 12
E) 17

7. Number of times the US vetoed a UN declaration supporting human rights between '72 and 2002 (not related to Israel or the Palestinians)?

A) 2
B) 12
C) 20
D) 28
E) 37


8. Number of times the US vetoed a UN declaration condemning the US before 1989?

A) 0
B) 1
C) 2
D) 3
E) 4

9. Number of times the US vetoed a UN declaration condemning the US in 1899 or after?

A) 0
B) 3
C) 6
D) 9
E) 12

10. Year in which the US vetoed UN declarations to prevent international terrorism, study the underlying political and economic causes of terrorism, convene a conference to define terrorism and to differentiate it from the struggle of people from national liberation.

A) 1972
B) 1979
C) 1987
D) 1997
E) 2001

ANSWERS
1 - D, the United States. Three months ago, over a resolution condemning the killing of U.N. employees by Israeli soldiers and the destruction of a U.N. warehouse filled with food for needy Palestinians. 2 - D, 1976. Over a resolution to recognize the tiny island of Mayotte as part of the newly independent state of Comoros. 3 - D, US. 4 - B, Russia. Russia (or the Soviet Union) cast 117 vetoes; the US was second with 73. 5 - D. 6. - E. 7. - E. A minimum of 20 of these resolutions were about South Africa and apartheid. 8. - A. 9. - E. 10. - C.

Source (1-4): the Associated Press.
Source (5-10): Melbourne Indymedia.

posted by Jeff | 10:38 AM |


Monday, March 10, 2003  

Important News

The senate is busy at work passing legislation that would "give the government new anti-terrorism powers to wiretap foreigners suspected of being 'lone wolves' plotting violence." Link here.

Also of note: President Bush is beginning to tire of the negative news cycles. Plans to take ball home if he doesn't see some genuflecting, PDQ. First word comes from the press, who felt the "press conference" last week was less than honest. Then there's this gem:

"GEORGE Bush pulled out of a speech to the European Parliament when MEPs wouldn't guarantee a standing ovation.

"A source close to negotiations said last night: "President Bush agreed to a speech but insisted he get a standing ovation like at the State of the Union address."



Oh yeah, and it looks like the war may be about oil after all. Anyway, that's the not-unreasonable conclusion one might draw upon learning that Halliburton won the contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields.

Most of this news is brought to you by Genfoods, who, by the way, has some fantastic news links. Atrios, watch your back.

posted by Jeff | 5:34 PM |
 

More on George HW Bush's speech. The Washington Post seems to have broken the story on Saturday. The comments were taken from a speech the former president gave at Tufts University on February 26th. The transcript is available here.

posted by Jeff | 2:23 PM |
 

Good God, have you seen the headlines today? Zoinks!

From the Times: "Stocks Fall on War Fears," "Russia Says It Will Vote Against U.S.-Backed Resolution on Iraq," "North Korea Fires Antiship Missile in Test Launch." The Post: "Iran's Nuclear Program Speeds Ahead, U.S. Says," "Soaring Gasoline Costs Hurting Routines." And in the international press, from the Guardian: "Iranian-backed militia moves into northern Iraq,"[Iraqi] Refugee crisis threatens."

Outside of the White House's inner circle, does anyone still think this war is a good idea? Whatever benefits might have come when the hypothetical war was proposed last fall have mostly been lost in the most impressive display of anti-diplomacy, lies, threats, and generalized stupidity coming from Washington. Tom Friedman, long one of the most robust supporters of the war, is looking on in horror:

"The problem that Mr. Bush is having with the legitimate critics of this war stems from his consistent exaggeration on this point. When Mr. Bush takes a war of choice and turns it into a war of necessity, people naturally ask, 'Hey, what's going on here? We're being hustled. The real reason must be his father, or oil, or some right-wing ideology.'"

...

Mr. Bush growls that the world is demanding that America play "Captain, May I" when it comes to Iraq — and he's not going to ask anybody's permission. But with Iraq, the relevant question is not "Captain, May I?" It's "Captain, Can I?" — can I do it right without allies? No.



Things have gotten out of control. Right now, some people have their reading glasses on, so when they see headlines like today's, it's easy to dismiss them as unrelated to the Great Bush Bumble. But every day someone like Friedman stops to take a bigger look at things and starts seeing the connections. Iran scrambling to build nukes, North Korea testing missles and revving up their own nukes, gas prices skyrocketing, markets across the globe plunging--all of these result from demented American foreign policy of the past year. I have a bad feeling things are only going to get worse.

[Update: You should always read Atrios before blogging. He found a story from the Times of London that has identified yet another person who's starting to feel queasy about the Iraq Debacle: George HW Bush.

"The first President Bush has told his son that hopes of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not backed by international unity.

"Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations.

"He also urged the President to resist his tendency to bear grudges, advising his son to bridge the rift between the United States, France and Germany.

'You’ve got to reach out to the other person. You’ve got to convince them that long-term friendship should trump short-term adversity,' he said."]



YIKES.



posted by Jeff | 12:06 PM |


Friday, March 07, 2003  

Cost of War (in dollars)

A couple of nights ago, the Newshour with Jim Lehrer did a wonderful piece on the economic cost of war. They spoke with William Nordhaus, who based his calculation on invasion and occupation, over the course of a ten-year period. He included variables for a number of possibilities, including direct costs, the effects on the economy, the price of gas, and rebuilding torched oil fields. Some of these were positive or neutral in best-case scenarios. The bottom line? Well, wait a minute, how about some interesting numbers first.

Nordhaus has the report online, so I checked it out. Some fascinating numbers included past costs of war. The Revolutionary War cost 2.2 billion in today's dollars, which was $447 per capita, and was 63% of a single year's GDP. Compare that to WWII, which cost 2.9 trillion, or 20,000 a head, and was 130% of GDP. And the last gulf war? Seventy-six billion--just 1% of GDP and $306 per capita.

In terms of economic stimulus, war can--but rarely does--prop up the economy through defense spending. The issue here is that generally war is just too small to contribute to the overall economy. So, Nordhaus includes a figure on the increase in defense spending as a percent of GDP. WWII was the biggie--41%. Korea's was 8%, but after that it drops off: Vietnam just 2%, and the first Gulf War .3%. Nordhaus expects a similarly tiny boost from a second Gulf War.

Okay, back to those figures. I'll quote the Lehrer transcript:

"So, bottom line, in Nordhaus' best-case scenario, cheap oil and lower prices at the pump cancel out some of the war costs, and you get a tab of about $100 billion, some $1,000 per U.S. household.

The worse-case, higher prices at home, more spending abroad, a total of roughly $2 trillion -- $20,000 per U.S. household over a decade."








posted by Jeff | 3:39 PM |
 

A few comments on President Bush's news conference last night. He's a man who doesn't put much stock in words. He's a man of action, of clear vision--words are deceptive, obfuscating. But the truth is, even though they are those things--and every honest blogger will admit it--speech can be more revealing. A good poker player will spot a "tell" instantly--some quirk of body or speech that reveals what his fellow player is thinking. I'm not much of a poker player, but last night, I couldn't help but pick up the President's tell. Did you catch it?

"Saddam."

For all the support the President tried to give to his argument last night, you couldn't help but feel it was deeply personal. The way he characterized the argument showed, time and again, what the real problem was:

• "We have arrived at an important moment in confronting the threat posed to our nation and to peace by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of terror."
• "Saddam Hussein is not disarming. This is a fact. It cannot be denied."
• Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes."
• The cause of peace will be advanced only when the terrorists lose a wealthy patron and protector, and when the dictator is fully and finally disarmed."
• And I've [not] made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. Hopefully that as a result of the pressure that we have placed--and others have placed--that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country."



For Bush, the problem's personal--it's Saddam. In the course of the news conference, the Presdident used the word Saddam or Saddam Hussein 39 times; add to that 6 times he referred to him not by name (though personally) as "dictator." Throughout the entire news conference, the word "Iraq" or its variants only appeared 36 times together--and many of these referred to the "Iraqi people" and so on.

I think it's very clear, too--despite the President's objections about words--what's going on in his mind in the last comment I quoted (if you overlook the mangled first sentence). Despite all the talk of disarmament, the danger of the Iraqi regime's weapons and their availability on the open terrorist market, the President will be satisfied if Saddam (not Iraq) disarms or leaves the country. Leaves the country? That's not consisent with anything we've heard from the White House. But it is consistent with getting back at Saddam personally. Which, when you read the transcript, is the unmistakeable tell the President gives about his real intention.

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |
 

Media Bias? How 'bout Media Boneheadedness.

Some random thoughts on the media front before we go into the really big news. So have you been following the not-quite news that two of Osama bin Laden's sons have been captured? I just saw it on Google News. Possibly everyone in the world knows about Google News: if not, check it out. The most interesting thing about it is that you can tell how "big" a news story is by how much chatter Google finds (whether there's a story there or not). At this moment (10:13 am, Pacific time), Google's got 1009 separate news pieces on this "story."

Compare that to a story the New York Times is reporting, in which the United States is surprised to find that South Korea doesn't want it to pull back troops, despite large protests there:

"The demand for American troops to stay comes as a shock to United States officials, who had assumed they were responding to commonly held Korean thinking by pushing ahead with plans for shifting the American military posture."



For my money, this is WAY bigger news. The United States was prepared to remove troops from South Korea, and they hadn't even asked South Korea? Good LORD, that's yet another massive diplomatic failure.

But I digress. The point here is Google, right? Care to guess how many related articles were listed on this story as of 10:13 am Pacific Time? Twelve.

(Meanwhile, a neighbor of an uncle of Osama bin Laden's gardner has heard from a Pakistani official that Osama bin Laden's sons may have been captured, the Grover Cleveland Junior High School Gazette of Grand Rapids is reporting.)

posted by Jeff | 10:25 AM |


Thursday, March 06, 2003  

Fascinating story (via Genfoods) about the recently-captured terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. According to all of the reports at the time of his capture, Mohammed was described as the number two man behind Osama bin Laden. Writes Debra Pickett in the Chicago Sun-Times:

A month after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush released a list of the world's most-wanted terrorists. There were 22 names on it. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was No. 22.

And the list wasn't alphabetical.



Interestingly, information on the FBI website still seems to support this. There's Mohammed, way down at the bottom of the page (Osama's in the top left corner). Also confirmed here and here (though he's 18 of 22). Check out the links because they may move him up to cohere with White House reports.



posted by Jeff | 1:33 PM |
 

The latest casualty of credibility in the Bush White House is Colin Powell, who has shrilly tried to defend the we-do-too-have-evidence line. Rolling out the usual crap—lots on VX—and new whoppers: “new intelligence” about chemical and biological weapons. Anything you’d like to cite specifically, Mr. Secretary? Well, no.

This leaves exactly no credible voices anywhere in the administration. Recall that in early 2001, we heard a great deal from the eminently credible Dick Cheney. Fawning conservatives didn’t even mind the suggestion that he was actually running the country: they gave Bush credit for “delegation.” Ah, but then came the energy summit—that is, the secret meetings with oil companies—and we haven’t heard much from Cheney since.

Emerge John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld, the domestic and foreign champions who would make post-9/11 America a safe place. Ashcroft boldly strode forth with strong words, but lost favor when the words included calling Democrats un-American. Meanwhile, Rummy was chummy with the press as he swaggered about US dominance in Afghanistan. That was, until the administration abandoned the bin Laden thread, after which Rummy seemed like a bad reminder about the administration’s poor follow-through. Not a point they wished to emphasize on the eve of an invasion of Iraq.

The odd man out, Colin Powell, tempered the aggression and clarity of the White House voice, and soothed foreign anxieties. Increasingly, his was the only voice heard overseas. And so, when he appeared in front of the UN last month with Power Point and sinister vials, the sheer force of his credibility won the day. But the “evidence,” when people got back around to it, turned out to be a Hollywood show: pretty to look at, but it didn’t stay with you.

He’s spent the past weeks joining the chorus of White House scolders, shrill because he’s embarrassed to have to repeat such tripe. All the while things stayed bad with the unimpressed world. Rummy poured gas on the fire in Germany, and Kim Jong Il made sure everyone was clear about the difference between an actual threat and a White House threat. Things look especially grim now that Turkey, a country teetering on default, blew off $26 billion and right of tyranny over Iraqi Kurds to poke America in the eye. Then radioed the ships off-shore and told them to take their toys elsewhere.

Things can’t really get any worse diplomatically. Pretty much the rest of the world hates the US, even if some leaders support it. After an Iraqi invasion, some will fall in line, because power attracts friends. But America’s authority—moral, diplomatic—is gone. Nobody really like the fact that we were so powerful in the first place, and they really despised being lectured to. For the Bushies, it’s even worse: if ever they need to go to the world for help, who will be their voice? They’ve managed to destroy the one advantage they had in Colin Powell.

Nothing left for them to do but start bombing.

posted by Jeff | 11:39 AM |


Wednesday, March 05, 2003  

Follow the Bouncing Quarter

In these troubled times of international chaos, there's a predictability about President Bush's domestic policy that's almost comforting. For every proposal coming out of the White House, there's always a single motive behind it: to benefit some coporate industry. Like searching for the "Nina" in an Al Hirschfeld illustration, searching for the special interest receiving a pay-out is a blogger's diversion.

The new Bush Medicare prescription reform? A twofer: drug companies AND insurance companies. (You wonder, does the White House gauge the elegance of its proposals by how many corporate interests they serve? Karl Rove and the geometry of kickbacks...) From the Post:

"Bush's proposal is vague on many points, including the terms for insurers. But Tricia Neuman, a vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the plan would have to provide a windfall for the companies, "or too few would participate for the plan to work."

The analysts said drug companies also could be expected to reap huge profits under Bush's approach. More senior citizens would be able to afford prescriptions, and doctors could be expected to write more of them. And drug company executives fear that federal price controls on their products would be the result if a drug benefit were provided within Medicare.

Several administration officials said the drug and insurance businesses would profit from Bush's plan, which is estimated to cost $400 billion over 10 years."



But wait, that's not all. Karl's scored a trifecta!

If Bush's proposal were enacted, it could provide a high-profile benefit for industries that are reliable donors to Republican candidates and committees. The Center for Responsive Politics said that for the past two elections combined, pharmaceutical manufacturers gave $30 million to Republicans and $8 million to Democrats.



| link |

posted by Jeff | 9:18 AM |
 

Poor George, he doesn't know any better. He was elected for the first time in 1994, when the economy was just beginning to go through its Clinton-era boom. The only model he's ever experienced is one in which the bean counters tell you how much money you have to spend and--Abra Cadabra!--the economy delivers more. He shouldn't be expected to comprehend that the opposite can happen:

"The federal deficit is growing much more quickly than expected, even before Congress takes up President Bush's tax-cutting proposals and without factoring in the costs of a war in Iraq, Congressional analysts have concluded."

'The tax code is not performing, and it's making a mess out of the budget, said Representative Jim Nussle of Iowa, chairman of the House Budget Committee. 'Unless we get the economy growing again, we're going to keep getting these kinds of corrections.'"



| link |

(Oregonians could enlighten him about how this process works.)

posted by Jeff | 8:46 AM |


Tuesday, March 04, 2003  

Well CRAP. I've made a liar out of myself. More religious content ahead. (Though I swear to God--err, ah, just swear that is--I have nothing against religion.) Actually, you can blame it on Listening, who got me digging around on the Family to see what I could find on this whole disclosure issue. I found nothing to address that, but I found some interesting stuff.

The Family's one publicized gathering (according to Sharlet) is the National Prayer Breakfast. This is an event well-attended by politicians, including in 2002, the President. His remarks at the breakfast are available online, and include innocuous language like this:

"Every religion is welcomed in our country; all are practiced here. Many of our good citizens profess no religion at all. Our country has never had an official faith. Yet we have all been witnesses these past 21 weeks to the power of faith to see us through the hurt and loss that has come to our country."



Also innocuous is Tennessee Representative Zach Wamp's comments on his congress website about the breakfast:

"In 1953, President Eisenhower attended the first combined Prayer Breakfast, and Presidents have participated every year since. The National Prayer Breakfast was President George W. Bush's first major appearance since being sworn in on January 20th."



But it's not all quite so ecumenical as that. Cruising around the official sponsor's website, you find some interesting commentary:

"The acceptability of Prayer Breakfasts is one of the most viable strategies for reaching into community life and impacting business and governmental leaders. Leaders desire to come, get involved, and experience a fresh new reminder of our country’s Spiritual Heritage.

• The GOAL of Prayer Breakfast Network is to reach every city possible across the USA through a well-planned Prayer Breakfast.

• Our PURPOSE is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.

• Our OBJECTIVE is “Pray for all in authority, that we might lead Godly lives.”

• Our STRATEGY is to use Prayer Breakfasts. The acceptance of Prayer Breakfasts is one of the most viable strategies for reaching into community life and impacting business and governmental leaders. Leaders desire to come, get involved, and experience a fresh new reminder of our country’s Spiritual Heritage."



And just to bring it all back home, Rep. Wamp mentions a little bit more that hints at the Family (in nice, separation-of-church-and-state prose):

"The Senate and the House of Representatives each continue to hold their own weekly breakfast to discuss problems, both personal and national, in the spirit of fellowship and prayer. Members meet in the spirit of peace and in the Spirit of Christ, but they need not be Christians. All members are welcome, regardless of their political or religious affiliation; sincere seekers, as well as the deeply devoted, all on a common journey to understand the place of faith in their lives and to discover how to love God and one’s fellow man."



And no more promises about not printing anything anymore.

posted by Jeff | 7:31 PM |
 

Sort of connected to all this is Nicholas Kristof's article in the Times today. I notice that it infuriated Atrios, but actually, the content seems right on to me. We seem to be in an increasingly religious-ized world; the evangelical Christian view is likely to get more and more prominent as time goes on. This will relate to the Family on a number of levels, but certainly it will give more public weight to the idea that American politics should reflect the majority religion.

(And let's see, what happened when other countries traveled that path ....)

I promise, this is the last post on religion I'll do for some time.

posted by Jeff | 1:36 PM |


Monday, March 03, 2003  

Thoughts on the Family

What a delightful discussion: thanks. (Referring to the "comments" on the previous post--context there for any first-time readers.) We've come to an interesting question: what's the constitutionality of the Family? Our good friend Listening puts it thus:

"it's not that there are groups who gather with the express aim of exploring the means by which they can gain influence and political power. This has happened since the beginning of human history. In our county it is our right, if not our duty, to so act to protect the values that WE cherish--so that our views are not trampled upon.



It's an interesting point--one I've been pushing around all weekend. Intuitively, I felt it missed a basic point, but on the face of it, the statement seems the essence of democracy: individuals voicing their opinions about the nature of governance. I was hung up on this secrecy thing it occured to me, because obviously the Christians have enormous governmental influence, and I never consdered this anything but good politics. Certainly consistent with the constitution. But the secrecy...

It starts from the obvious question: why would they need to be secretive? George Bush doesn't hide his own beliefs: he tells people what they are and he endorses PACs, media, and nonprofits who are specifically politico-religious. So what's the advantage of secrecy?

One thought is that the Family's ideas don't make good PR and so better to keep them on the hush. (According to Sharlet, they have a list of statements in a document called "Thoughts and Principles of the Family" that are not mainstream: "We recognize the place and responsibility of national secular leaders in the work of advancing His kingdom." "We desire to see a leadership led by God--leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.") But still, we don't descriminate against a speaker because we don't like his speech: the Family has the right to espouse this view.

But one could argue that the secrecy is there to protect not constitutionally-protected speech, but the implementation of unconstitutional actions described in the speech. And this is what I fear. Any third-party involved in politics is bound by disclosure laws--whether it's the oil industry, labor, or religious groups. This is part of the protection that ensures that the three wings of government maintain the checks and balances that are critical to a healthy democracy. The Family's raison d'etra, however, is exactly the opposite. It wishes to harness the power of the government to further the ends of Christ. Its strategy, it seems clear from the article, is to work in secrecy to recruit and convert politicians who will in turn pack the courts and pass laws favorable to Christian values and work with governments who agree to this course.

Why are we planning to invade Iraq? George Bush has told us nothing of a religious war. But if the agenda of the Family were to hold sway across all halls of US power, it might well be. (And to Listening, who is leery about my conspiracy-coddling, let me say that I'm not asserting this.)

We live in a democracy, which means there needs to be safeguards against the tyranny of the many. If these are dismantled for the sole reason of establishing the tyranny, it's clearly a constitutional breach. Call me a canary in the coal mine, but I think it's not too soon to start asking hard questions about what appears to this blogger to be an establishment of religion.

posted by Jeff | 1:47 PM |
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