Saturday, February 26, 2005

Broke by 1988

It's interesting that in 1978 George W. Bush was already giving speeches predicting the demise of the current Social Security system within 10 years:

Social Security "will be bust in 10 years unless there are some changes," he said, according to an account published the next day in The Midland Reporter-Telegram. "The ideal solution would be for Social Security to be made sound and people given the chance to invest the money the way they feel."

Comforting to know that some things never change.

Rowan Williams

It's interesting to see the U.S. and Canada standing side by side on a socially progressive issue, when Canada is usually seen as much more liberal on these things than its neighbor to the South. The Episcopal Churches of these two countries risk being expelled from the Anglican Communion as they stand their ground over the issue of homosexuality in the Church (both in the form of gay marriage and the allowance of gay bishops). Frank Griswold of ECUSA should be lauded for not backing down on this.

I certainly take issue with the way the Guardian characterizes the impending split:

The North Americans have precipitated the split because of their progressive stance on homosexuality, still regarded as anathema in many other parts of the communion, particularly in the developing world.

No, it's conservatives and homophobes like the archbishop of Nigeria who have precipitated the split. The North American churches did not intend to split the Communion, though perhaps they should've foreseen such an effect given the rabid nature of people like the Nigerian archbishop:

[Griswold] told the Guardian: "I can't imagine a conversation saying we got it wrong. I can see a conversation saying we should have been more aware of the effect that the decisions we took would have in other places."

He added: "It does not mean that our point of view has fundamentally changed. We have met this week at the level of the heart. There is an integrity we share across the communion, though in quite different forms."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has lost all credibility in his pursuit of a via media on this. If the Canadian and American churches are expelled, the Anglican Church will surely deserve its remaining company: a collection of homophobes and far-right conservatives. Let them have their communion. Meanwhile, there is the little issue of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion's money coming from the States. Hope they don't miss it too much.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


You know it's a divided country when even individual states are discussing an even split. This is of particular interest to me since it's my home-state and I have background on both sides (geographical and political). It's hard to imagine many places with such stark contrasts in proximity to each other. The Cascade Mountains really make a clean cut of Red and Blue as well as desert and sea, and the recent acrimonious and drawn-out governor's election has brought long-standing tensions between the two sides to a head.

There have always been those in Eastern Washington who felt that they were not represented by the powers that be in Olympia, and Dino Rossi's refusal to draw a line under the election seems to be encouraging some of the more fanatical of these folks to propose a drastic solution: partitioning the state into two, with Eastern Washington become the 51st. First things first: the separatist movement, as far as I know, has always championed "Lincoln" as the name for the new state, and this has a much finer ring than "Eastern Washington". We don't want to be like the Dakotas, do we? No, Lincoln it is.

Anyway, the plan is clearly a non-starter, but interesting for a couple of reasons. First, as noted in Jamieson's piece, Eastern Washington benefits greatly from the wealth of the Western side of the state, and separation is probably not in its best interest. Second, the entire issue is indicative of an issue in our country as a whole: what unites us? Why are we one country if there are two distinct sides that often seem to loathe each other? What precisely constitutes the common identity?

I can't say that there is an easily describable over-arching Washington identity that is as well known as, for example, the liberalism of Western Washington or the rural conservatism of Eastern Washington, but I am proud to be from a state of such diversity and would be sorry to lose half of it.


I think it's interesting that Bush referred to the spinning of his youthful indiscretions as "schtick":

When Mr. Wead warned that he had heard reporters talking about Mr. Bush's "immature" past, Mr. Bush said, "That's part of my schtick, which is, look, we have all made mistakes."

So how much of his cleaned-up, born-again image is really schtick?

Maybe he can make some amends with Old Europe by telling them that the Iraq War was part of his schtick too.

Back and in Effect

Was out of the country for a few days - things should shortly be back to normal.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Culture of Failure II

I thought of another great example of Britain's love of failure: the current London bid for the 2012 Olympics. British papers have been saying for months that London's bid is doomed and doesn't stand a chance compared with Paris's, and this is a loser's attitude that will surely go a long way toward convincing the IOC that London doesn't deserve the games.

Culture of Failure

Apparently a C4 exec's comments regarding Scotland are causing a bit of an uproar:

Scots, once regarded as the most innovative risk-takers in the world, have become an unimaginative, inward-looking people who like to celebrate failure and poverty, according to one of the country's leading broadcasters and cultural commentators.
In a controversial address to be delivered as part of the prestigious Edinburgh Lecture series, Stuart Cosgrove, Director of Nations and Regions at Channel 4, will condemn what he describes as the Scots' 'love and indulgence of the culture of poverty' which, he says, has become deeply embedded in the nation's collective psyche.

This story is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don't think Cosgrove is wrong, but this phenomenon is certainly not limited to Scotland. I see it in all of the UK and Ireland. They are obsessed with national failure and wallow in misery when the opportunity presents itself. Why do you think the English love Tim Henman? When Ellen MacArthur recently completed the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe by sail, did the country rejoice? No, there were stories about how she had complained too much during the trip and how it wasn't really possible to love her. As for Scotland and Ireland, there is certainly a lack of dimensionality in current arts and entertainment depicting these countries. For Scotland it's the Trainspotting effect I suppose. For Ireland, Angela's Ashes and a slew of others. There is a demand for these depictions, to be sure; Americans, for example, love their romantic image of dirt-poor, lousy Ireland.

The second interesting thing about this story relates not to the subject matter itself, but to the way the story is presented. In fact, this is typical of British newspapers. They have either an exclusive interview or a guest editorial in their comment/op-ed section, and then they run a front-page article about how said commentary is so controversial, as if that were hard news. Can you imagine the New York Times running a front-page article proclaiming "Krugman Criticizes Social Security Plan"?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

the time of the quasi-leader

I wonder why we have so few truly courageous leaders across the world today. When someone like Abbas does something bold and logical the media often tears them to shreds, villifying them and labeling them 'radicals' or crackpots. Guts is what our (US) leaders have lacked for so long the American public scarcely recognizes it anymore.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Why we need Abbas:

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed three security commanders yesterday after a Hamas mortar barrage of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, just two days after the ceasefire declaration.
In response, the Israeli government called off a meeting with senior Palestinians to discuss an array of confidence-building measures, including lifting some roadblocks and releasing several hundred prisoners.

But it said it would not undermine confidence in Mr Abbas's commitment to curb violence, provided the Palestinian security forces dealt with those responsible.

Also here. Abbas smartly recognizes that these mortar barrages are not in Palestinian self-interest. Let's hope he can convince others of this.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Senator Franken

Listening to Air America at the moment to see if Al Franken announces that he will run for Minnesota Senator next year. I personally think it's a great idea. Some might have qualms about how it would look to have a comedian running for a national Dem position, but I think that the Dems precisely need to start putting forth candidates who capture the public imagination. Not to mention that Franken is smarter on policy than he probably gets credit for.

Update: Apparently not.


The word "legacy" has been thrown around a lot lately. The way that history remembers the Bush administration seems almost to take priority over what is actually happening under the Bush Administration. Despite all the pomp and triumph following the election, in the days before the inauguration, things weren't looking so good for the GOP. Polls were steadily dropping as the media aired more and more dirty laundry from Iraq. Social Security reform was unpopular on both sides of the aisle. The air was ripe for dems to say "I Told You So."

Then, there was the election in Iraq.

Personally, I was ready for the worst: insurgent interference, corruption, low voter turn out or at least a general disillusionment with the so-called liberation process. But even nay-sayers have got to admit, the Iraqi election went well. It went so well, in fact, that some liberals are left with a bad taste in their mouths. How do we resolve all the mistakes and cover-ups and crap with this genuine public demonstration of independence and determination? I tend to agree with Biden, who suggests that Iraqis see elections as a step towards ending the American occupation. But no matter what the reasons and impulses, a happy ending in Iraq will put a Bush legacy in the bag. As Jonathan Schell writes,

There was, I confess, a momentary temptation for someone like me, who has opposed the war from the start and believed it would lead to nothing good, simply to scant the importance of the event, or react to it defensively, or speed past it on the way back to an uneasy confirmation of previous views. But the impulse passed. After all, hadn't I been irked that the war's promoters, including the President, had refused to admit a mistake when they had not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when they had failed to foresee the insurgency that soon broke out after Baghdad was taken, when American forces, encouraged by memos penned at the top levels of the Administration, had committed widespread acts of torture? More important, when masses of ordinary people act with courage to express deep and positive longings, shouldn't one give them their due? But most important of all, wasn't full acknowledgment of the magnitude of the event necessary for any real understanding of what might happen next in Iraq?

Now, death tolls are back up to pre-election levels, but nobody seems to notice. Moreover, “success” in Iraq makes me nervous about what’s next. Confidence, in the hands of the current admin, is a dangerous trait. It leads to situations like this.

Face of the Administration

More Ash:

Yet there's no doubt that the new US secretary of state has conducted an impressive charm offensive during her lightning tour of Europe. She has presented a more elegant face, spoken a more nuanced language and played a sweeter mood music than those whom most Europeans have come to associate with the Bush administration over the past four years.

It has been pretty surprising to me that the European press, which was no friend of Rice up to a month or so ago, has been fairly universal in praising her visit as the warming of relations between the two sides of the Atlantic. Colin Powell was easily the most respected member of the administration in international circles during the last term, and he put a friendly, multilateral facade on a unilateral, occasionally beligerent administration. So while Powell was often lauded for breaking from the Bush administration's talking points, it is Rice the loyal who is now being praised for thawing of relations. Why would that be? The answer, of course, is in the tragic story of Powell. While he was rightly recognized as a moderate and as being somewhat of a dove, the world knew that he only spoke for himself, whereas Rice speaks for Bush. When Rice speaks in conciliatory tones, it means something. The tragedy of Powell is that he was merely a 'nice' guy railing against the hawks in the administration, and who didn't have enough spine or a loud enough voice to make a difference in the cabinet.

The Gorby Moment

Timothy Garton Ash has a typically great piece about Rice's first trip abroad as SOS and the coincidental ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. Corner types were falling in love with Condi and proclaiming that she had single-handedly solved the Middle East crisis (tongue perhaps slightly in cheek, but only slightly I think). Ash isn't the first to note that she has benefited from some great timing and received credit where it was most likely not due. The Gorbachev analogy is great:

What's more, she's been lucky. Her conciliatory speech in Paris earlier this week coincided with the handshake of peace between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas. That was a gift only in small measure of Washington's own making. The president whom Dr Rice serves so faithfully, George Bush, has long been inspired by the example of Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, he wants his first term, in which he was demonised as a warmonger by many Europeans, to be followed by a second term in which he writes himself into the history books as both peacemaker and freedom spreader. (Into some history books, depending whose you read.) But Reagan could do this because the US's main geopolitical challenger produced a leader called Mikhail Gorbachev. Until recently, it was hard to see where Bush's Gorbachev moment would come from. Now there is a chance that Bush's Gorbachev will be called Mahmoud Abbas.

Arafat's death is, quite simply, a blessing. Abbas is as moderate as we can hope for at the moment, and Sharon is stubborn enough that we wouldn't have been at this stage right now if not for Arafat's demise. So do the Cornerites heap praise on Abbas? From what I've seen, the right-wing blogosphere prefers to pick him apart for his past unsavory comments about the Holocaust, which indeed were repugnant but which should not obscure the hope that lies with his ascension.

Have to run right now, but will have some more comments about Condi's trip real soon.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Below the Belt

They've straightened out gay marriage. They've liberated Christians to proselytize (er, pray) in public buildings. Now, the Virginia House of Delegates has cracked down on "below the waist undergarments." Here's the low down: any one publically exhibiting indecent display of such undergarments is subject to a $50 fine.

My favorite part of this is that they defined underwear as "garments intended to cover a person's intimate parts." I'm confused by what, exactly, is the crux of the offense: the garments themselves, or the parts that they are supposed to be covering? If the garment is serving the purpose of covering said intimate parts, then at least those parts are not on display, so the flesh itself can't be offending anybody. The implication, then, is that it is not the body itself that offends, but the actual garment, because it suggests naughty things.

What seems like a joke today actually establishes a disturbing sort of precedent: the out-lawing of something which suggests the indecent. In the future, who is to set the standards of decency? What is indecent: brown shoes with black pants? What about my Run Against Bush t-shirt -- is that offensive? I'm sure it is.

Clearly, the trick to avoiding such fines is to go commando. No undies = no illegal display of undergarments, guaranteed. In that case, the House of Delegates closed this loop hole just in time!

Honestly, if you want to be offended, check out the Cost of War. Look at the pictures from the Tal Afar shooting. Ask yourself why most Americans never saw those pictures -- were they too offensive? Too graphic? Too revealing?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

New Members

There are a couple of new contributors to this blog, though I'm not sure how soon their introductory posts will be. I think Public Editor should be a little more interesting with a variety of takes on the news of the day, and we'll be able to bounce ideas off of each other. I am waiting with bated breath.

Policy Divide

It's interesting how so many neoconservatives think that the only serious foreign policy debates relate to the divisions within neoconservatism itself. How else to explain this passage from Jonah?

A foreign-policy realist might have said, "Oops, no WMDs" — and then bugged out. We called Saddam's bluff, which was our perfect right given the stakes, but it's not in our interests to stay. That's realism. And it's funny to hear Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore, et al. keep invoking it.

How dare a liberal take a foreign policy position!

The next point is more interesting:

Bush decided to stay partly out of a different realist analysis of our national interest: A democratic Middle East, he believes, is the best chance for stopping the production of terrorists.

I have made a similar point here several times before, that there are not a lot of foreign-policy idealists or democratic globalists in the administration, and that they do in fact believe they are operating in the country's self-interests. The problem is that so many of these people have a fundamental misunderstanding of our national interests. Anyone who still believes that taking resources away from the war on terror in order to invade Iraq was in our self-interest is simply nuts.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Social Security

To say the least, it's interesting that Bush has chosen to begin his second term by touting a plan that is wildly unpopular, dubious economically, and likely to be a giant embarrassment if the privatization scheme does in fact fail. Even at this early stage of the discussion, when Bush is just embarking on a sales tour, the plan seems dead in the water. Josh Marshall, who along with Paul Krugman has made swiss cheese of the proposal, notes that it is unpopular not just in liberal, Blue America but in areas where Bush is extremely popular:

This isn't particularly surprising when you think about it. These are areas are often older, more rural and have more voters with lower incomes. These are states where President Bush has campaigned on a pseudo-populism which is belied by his own economic policies. Phase-out is bringing the contradiction to the surface.

This is certainly one of the great tragedies of American politics, that so many people vote Republican when it is clearly not in their self-interest. That's the topic for another post, as the point here is how much Bush has gambled on a plan that makes no sense and which he doesn't understand anyway. Check out this horrifying attempt to explain the plan to a friendly Florida audience:

PRESIDENT: Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Shariah Don't Like It

Is this the worst possible outcome in Iraq?

With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution...

Such a constitution would be a sharp departure from the transitional law that the Americans enacted before appointing the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. American officials pressed Iraqi politicians drafting that law in early 2004 to guarantee equal rights for women and minorities. The Americans also persuaded the authors to designate Islam as just "a source" of legislation. That irked senior Shiite clerics here, who, confident they now have a popular mandate from the elections, are advocating for Islam to be acknowledged as the underpinning of the government. They also insist that the Americans stay away from the writing of the new constitution.

"It is Hard to Remain Uninvolved"

One of the most damning critiques of neoconservatism, in my mind, was written well before what we know as neoconservatism even existed. Graham Greene published the excellent book The Quiet American, about early American intervention in Vietnam, in 1955, and yet many of the quotes about the title character could be applied just as easily to Bush, Rumsfeld and others in the administration. Alden Pyle, the quiet American who meddles without considering the ramifications of his actions, is described as such:

He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance...

Pyle had been silent a long while, and I had nothing more to say. Indeed I had said too much already. He looked white and beaten and ready to faint, and I thought, 'What's the good? he'll always be innocent, you can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.'

He comes blundering in and people have to die for his mistakes.

That about says it, doesn't it? This administration is 'innocent' in the worst sense: naive, overidealistic, careless, blundering and, most of all, ignorant.

Iraq and Iran

These past days the British media have seized on every Bush or Rice reference to Iran as a sign that an invasion is imminent, but I haven't heard much comment on the effect that invading Iran would have on the situation in Iraq. If anything, the Shia ties between the two countries have been used by some on the right as a justification for invading Iran, to prevent Iranian clerics from gaining strong influence in post-war Iraq. I think that this misses the point. Bush's greatest victory regarding Iraq will be if the election results are respected by all Iraqi parties involved and there is a transition to a relatively peaceful democracy in the next months. It is a given that the new government will be Shia-dominated. Now imagine how an invasion of Iran, controlled by a Shiite theocracy, could so easily upset any peaceful balance of power in Iraq. The US certainly needs to ensure that Iran doesn't gain influence in Iraq, but an invasion would only serve to agitate Shias in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

MSN Search

I have no intention of switching from Google, but it looks like MSN Search is after my heart.

Toy Soldiers

I like Jonah's response to the kidnapped toy:

I do think the doll-napping is really bad news for the insurgents, no matter how the story plays out. It looks so desperate and pathetic how can it do anything but undermine the credibility of the insurgents' tough-as-nails image? The Khmer Rouge never captured anybody's doll.

Today's Guardian features the photo prominently on page 2 without any mention of it possibly being a fake.