Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Austrian Horror

The statue of Sigmund Freud pukes

David Seaton's News Links

There are some fantastic political cartoonists in Spain. In my opinion, the best I've ever seen anywhere and among them are a pair that work together, Gallego y Rey. Day after day, week after week, month after month year after year, they are insightful, intelligent and screamingly funny.

Naturally the references are usually local and don't travel very well. a joke that requires much explanation is no joke. Yesterday they drew one of the statue of Sigmund Freud vomiting that belongs in the anthologies of political humor and can be understood by all.

It is of course in reference to the unspeakable horror, recently discovered in Austria. DS

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jeremiah Wright: the Sherpa's revenge

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright
"Barack Obama went to Rev. Wright’s church as a young man and was blessed with the Christian bona fides that would be absolutely essential for a high-profile political career." Bob Herbert - New York Times
David Seaton's News Links
When I saw Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club, I had one of those moment of remembering exactly what it was like to be an American in America and to realize how during the long years away I had grown another head next to the old one.

My "new" head said to me... " ¿este tipo es 'negro'? ¿negro de que?" "This fellow is 'black'? Exactly what part of his anatomy is black?" I have known Cuban, Brazilian and Venezuelans with more African DNA than Wright who would be puzzled it you called them "black". If Barack Obama is half white then Wright must be at least 3/4 white. Even in the USA, I think if his name was Ignacio López, instead of Jeremiah Wright, very few people would consider him "black".

Of course my "old" head understood perfectly. Being "black" in the USA is a culture and Obama, culturally an outsider, but dressed by nature for the part and wishing to join that culture, could hardly have found a more exciting and "authentic" Sherpa than Jeremiah Wright.

A lifetime, studious, whigger myself, if I still lived in Chicago, I would have certainly have attended many of Wright's sermons. He has really got the stuff!

African-American culture has fascinated me since I was a tiny child.

When I was just learning to talk my parents were getting divorced, which was a before "no fault" divorce and my mom had to "abandon" the home, so I lived for about two years in the old Tivoli hotel in Biloxi Missisippi. My late mother was in those days a young divorcée and a drop-dead redhead, so I spent most of my time in the ample laps of the African-American ladies who actually ran the hotel. Thus, in effect, I became bilingual. To this day I can "pass", without caricature, on the phone. When we moved back up north, I was the only kid I knew that could actually understand Black people when they were speaking to each other.

So I can easily understand that,
Obama, culturally an outsider, but dressed by nature for the part, and wishing to join that culture, could hardly have found a more exciting and "authentic" Sherpa than Jeremiah Wright. I can easily understand that, as an Harvard man and Hawaiian preppy, wanting to be down, Obama must have felt that he had found the Rosetta Stone of African-Americanness, when first he set eyes and ears on the Reverend Wright.

Actually, I liked what I saw of Wright at the National Press Club and especially his speech to the NAACP. I think he is a wonderful speaker and what he said made sense. However he speaks like someone of the left and America is a right wing country.

I fear that Obama's "chickens" are also coming home to roost.

I think Barack Obama could have had a hundred other pastors on the South Side of Chicago, that were not as clever or fast on their feet as Reverend Wright, but who were not as controversial either.

But Reverend Wright is not just another preacher, he is a man of great charisma and of enormous credibility in his community... with the political power that carries.

Wright's "Nihil Obstat" gave Barack Obama, a half white, Harvard man, with a distant African-African father, the community credentials that allowed him to build a credible political base in the African-American community of Illinois, from which to continue to play the role he was born to, that of "JFK meets Sydney Poitier"

My question would be, When did Obama consider running for President? Because it should have been obvious to anyone, and certainly obvious to anyone with his enormous skills, that Wright would be poison to a lot of the people whose votes he would need to ever win the presidency, when the Roves of this world would be going over him with a microscope.

He should have begun years ago to, ever so gently, ever so diplomatically, distance" himself from Wright.

Publicly comparing an advocate of "black liberation theology" to his white grandmother from Kansas was probably not the most tactful way of doing that.

Wright may be many things, but I don't think he is anyone to trifle with

Also, when he "distanced" himself from Wright, didn't he know that Wright might be mortally offended and that his pastor was a man of formidable verbal skills and a mighty ego?

Like the Bittergate gaffe, there is something dumb about all of this and if there is any label that I would not have thought applicable to Barack Obama it is the label, "dumb".

Perhaps it is all about what I've been saying for months now, Obama has been brought along too fast. Impatience has spoiled a great talent... for the moment at least. DS

Monday, April 28, 2008

Notes on hiding elephants

"Around the world, there is no shortage of nations who share our values, and are willing to defend them. These include countries like Australia, which sent troops to Iraq; Israel, which has been fighting Islamic terrorism almost since its founding; and Japan, which generally follows a more "Western" policy than most of Western Europe." Rupert Murdoch - WSJ

"The neoconservative vision(...) is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?" Fareed Zakaria - Newsweek

"At first, Ms. Dowd's neocon list of last names included only Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, Libby and their "Likudnik friends," but later, as blogger "Silver Surfer" writes on, she amended the list to include Cheney, Woolsey and Gingrich. "In Ms. Dowd's view," he writes, "adding a few non-Jewish names to her 'neo-cons' list makes her conspiratorial story-line kosher. But it doesn't. The result is a classical portrait of 'neo-con' (read: Jewish) advisors, who drip poison in the ears of their hapless gentile bosses, while they advance their global plot to subvert true American interests and take over the world--and, as Ms. Dowd is always quick to point out . . . thereby 'advance the strategic goals of Israel.' " Julia Gorin - Wall Street Journal
David Seaton's News Links
It is said that if one wanted to hide an enormous elephant in the middle of the street in a big city, the best way to do that would be to organize a huge parade of circus elephants and hide one's elephant among them.

If we start with the premise (highly controversial) that one of the main interests,of the American policy makers known as "neocons" is to reinforce Israel's position vis a vis the Palestinians, than is is easy to see that in a world at peace, Israel's conflict with the Palestinian people stands out like a lonely elephant on a busy street.

Like some one smoothing a rumple in the covers while putting the final touches on making their bed, a world at peace, with diminishing American influence, would pressure Israel to comply with UN resolutions beginning with UN-242, or the Saudi peace plan. That would mean the end of the Zionist (both Christian and Jewish) right wing fundamentalist's dream of "Greater Israel", including Judea and Samaria. This would be a great relief to many Israelis themselves, but never enough for the neocons.

If however there is constant tension and confrontation between the "West" (including Japan) Russia and China, than Palestine and even Iran become very small elephants indeed.

The necons affirm their attachment to liberal principals. Robert Kagan, one of neoconservatism's most audible voices expresses it thusly:
Only the liberal creed grants the right, the belief that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights that must not be abridged by governments, that governments derive their power and legitimacy only from the consent of the governed and have a duty to protect their citizens’ right to life, liberty and property. To those who share this liberal faith, foreign policies and even wars that defend these principles, as in Kosovo, can be right even if established international law says they are wrong.
Somehow, of course, none of this seems to include the human rights of the Palestinian people to escape collective punishment. Here is the law:

No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.

Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907, Article 50

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949, Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons, Section I : Provisions common to the territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories, Article 33

Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949, Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons, Section III: Occupied Territories, Article 53

This oversight converts the liberal interventionism of the neocons in pure sophistry,: "a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning". Sophistry by any definition of the word.

That something so spurious, so baldly and cynically false should be mainstream discourse gives an idea of how the American political system has deteriorated.

For example, Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal lends its pages to French neocon and philosopher(?) Bernard-Henri Levy, to vilifie former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter and simultaneously give us a Polaroid of Barack Obama :
"Is it the senility of a politician who has lost touch with reality and with his own party? Barack Obama, even more clearly than his rival, has just reminded us that it will not be possible to "sit down" with the leaders of Hamas unless they are prepared to "renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and respect past agreements." Could he be suffering from a variant of self-hatred, or in this case a hatred of his own past as the Great Peacemaker? All hypotheses are permitted. Whatever the reason, Mr. Carter has demonstrated an unusual capacity to transform a political error into a disastrous moral mistake".
Apparently in Levy's opinion, Obama's rival, Hillary, is not sufficiently clear in her rejection of former President Carter and only promises to "obliterate" Iran.

As to McClain, Fareed Zacharia, describes the ageing senator's position best:
I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.
I have some (not very much) hope that McCain's neocon part is pure, cynical pandering in order to get into the White House. And when you pander to the neocons you cannot be tepid, you have to pull out all the stops. as is shown by Levy's rapping Hillary's knuckles.

If I were a neocon, however, I wouldn't trust McCain very far on this, all through his career, until he saw the presidency in his grasp, he has been a realist and an exponent of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine: once in the White House and because of his age and whether he likes it or not, he knows he would probably be a one-term President, so it's anybody's guess what he would do.

A slim hope indeed.

Probably nothing, not even the credit crisis and the collapse of the dollar, has exasperated America's friends, clients and allies and provoked more of their contempt than the supine helplessness of the American political system on this question. Certainly future Chinese historians will have fun with it. DS

Saturday, April 26, 2008

DNA in the ground and the farmer's daughter +

David Seaton's News Links
I'm still rolling Obama's "Bittergate" remarks around in my head... I'm pissed off, but not at all in the same way that most of the people who say they are, say they are.

Certainly I don't think there is a racial element in this particular thing. For example, I agree with a lot of what Reverend Wright says. And I have no problem at all with Bill Ayers, who has done a fantastic job helping to improve Chicago's schools... However nobody could accuse me of being very mainstream and I am not running for president of 300 million people.

What I don't like about the way Obama talked about small towns is how dumb the remarks seemed. I think they are incredibly shallow. As I remember his autobiography, some of his dad's people still live in villages and he wasn't exactly living in Jakarta during his Indonesian years. My "journey" has taught me that small towns and small townies are much the same all over the world

I have mentioned in previous posts that although a daily espresso sipper (that's the only coffee available here) I have extensive, clod hopping, shit-kicker roots. I spent my childhood summers in the tiny town in Western Illinois where my maternal grandmother was raised and my father's people were Iowa farmers.

Now before I wax too sentimental on small towns, I confess I live in Madrid, because, unlike in many countries, here I can live anonymously in the center of a big city without being a plutocrat or risking my life at every turn. I think I would mutilate myself before living in a small town anywhere. (I would commit suicide before living in suburb anywhere). But I understand small towns and I understand why people live in them and I respect why they do.

A small town is an extended family. In my granny's village all the old folks who were her childhood playmates told me curious stories of my great, great grandfather and about what an amazing rip my highly respectable, Victorian granny had been as as a girl; galloping her horse bareback through the fields and jumping the fences with her Celtic, auburn hair flaming in the breeze.

People in small towns know everything about their neighbors and they are liable to walk in unannounced into the middle of your house at anytime of the day or night... always by the kitchen door (the front door is only for funerals). They are always there for you when you need them because they are always there even when you don't need them and woe to you if you ever turn them away. You have to always stop in the street and say hello to everyone you meet and ask after everybody and their family's health... always. Every resident of a small town is a politician by birth and training.

There were people in my granny's town that had tried living in the city and didn't like it and the reasons they gave were all about being human. They didn't like how impersonal the city was, how nobody seemed to care much for anybody else and how nobody had any time for anything.

Here in Madrid, I spend my weekends near a mountain village an hour and a half away from town. The people in that village have the same feeling about each other as in my grandma's town. And to take it even farther away... I worked as a photojournalist in Israel for year in the 70's. I had a wonderful Israeli girlfriend who worked in a picture magazine and she came from an ultra-left wing, "Young Red Guards" kibbutz. We use to go there on weekends and all those folks, atheist, Polish Stalinists, were just like the folks in my granny's village.

Everything is known instantly. Once when I was about ten, I was hanging out with my little friends in store when a guy running for state senate came in. I talked him into buying us all bottles of pop and candy bars and when he said for me to tell my parents to vote for him, I said they voted in Chicago. In a week it was all over the county that he had been slickered by a little city kid. His career was ruined. The country is about weighing and judging. The opinion of your peers is the most important thing in life in a small town.

Now to church and guns and aversion to the "other".

Church: There are some people in villages who are religious, I'm sure, but no more than other place. Believe me, people in small towns go to church because small town life is a performance and you have to seen in church. My granny told me that if I ever went to live in a small town, the church would be where I would find a job and make new friends. She also said the first thing to do was to check out the graveyard and memorize the surnames and which ones had expensive family crypts, that way I would learn who was who without asking too many nosy questions.

Guns: My granny's village is between the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers and the duck hunting is fantastic and the men used to go out all season. And as a child I plucked many a duck. A dead mallard is a beautiful thing to hold in your hand and pull the feathers off. Occasionally they are good to eat. Another thing that men and women who had returned from the city said they missed so much was the outdoor life. Do they "cling" to their guns? You bet! Ever try to kill a duck with a slingshot?

The "other": As I stated at the beginning, a village is an extended family and outsiders of any kind are like house guests; who are said to be like fish: after a couple of days they stink. The only reason I could mingle freely, was because my grandma was born in the village and the graveyard was filled with my DNA going back a hundred years. The definition of "home" as a place they have to let you into, comes to mind. Certainly if the stranger is here to lower the dollar per hour, it is perfectly legitimate to resent it. This, I believe is what the Marxists used to call a "contradiction".

Also country people know how to do a lot of cool stuff. Check out how the beautiful farmer's daughter above is controlling the sheep with her legs while smiling at the photographer.

Obama's was a real, dumb remark. I still don't understand how he could be that dumb. DS

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Turdblossom weighs in

David Seaton's News Links
Karl Rove is the acknowledged master of the dark arts. When he was in the White House, his thoughts were highly filtered and only sold under the counter to clients with "special tastes".

Now he writes in the Wall Street Journal and his political pornography is retailed and available to all.

In todays WSJ he reveals a detailed blueprint of what is going to be the Republican campaign if Barack Obama, as seems likely, takes the nomination.

Taint pretty, but it's worth looking at.

Here are some excerpts:
And what of the reborn Adlai Stevenson? Mr. Obama is befuddled and angry about the national reaction to what are clearly accepted, even commonplace truths in San Francisco and Hyde Park. How could anyone take offense at the observation that people in small-town and rural American are "bitter" and therefore "cling" to their guns and their faith, as well as their xenophobia? Why would anyone raise questions about a public figure who, for only 20 years, attended a church and developed a close personal relationship with its preacher who says AIDS was created by our government as a genocidal tool to be used against people of color, who declared America's chickens came home to roost on 9/11, and wants God to damn America? Mr. Obama has a weakness among blue-collar working class voters for a reason.

His inspiring rhetoric is a potent tool for energizing college students and previously uninvolved African-American voters. But his appeals are based on two aspirational pledges he is increasingly less credible in making.

Mr. Obama's call for postpartisanship looks unconvincing, when he is unable to point to a single important instance in his Senate career when he demonstrated bipartisanship. And his repeated calls to remember Dr. Martin Luther King's "fierce urgency of now" in tackling big issues falls flat as voters discover that he has not provided leadership on any major legislative battle.

Mr. Obama has not been a leader on big causes in Congress. He has been manifestly unwilling to expend his political capital on urgent issues. He has been only an observer, watching the action from a distance, thinking wry and sardonic and cynical thoughts to himself about his colleagues, mildly amused at their too-ing and fro-ing. He has held his energy and talent in reserve for the more important task of advancing his own political career, which means running for president.

But something happened along the way. Voters saw in the Philadelphia debate the responses of a vitamin-deficient Stevenson act-a-like. And in the closing days of the Pennsylvania primary, they saw him alternate between whining about his treatment by Mrs. Clinton and the press, and attacking Sen. John McCain by exaggerating and twisting his words. No one likes a whiner, and his old-style attacks undermine his appeals for postpartisanship.

Mr. Obama is near victory in the Democratic contest, but it is time for him to reset, freshen his message and say something new. His conduct in the last several weeks raises questions about whether, for all his talents, he is ready to be president.
Every word is filled with meaningful menace . every paragraph holds the germs of dozens of attack ads. For me the most menacing is the last sentence quoted that is the summing up of all that precedes it:
His conduct in the last several weeks raises questions about whether, for all his talents, he is ready to be president.
No vulgar Swiftboating here... yet... just a deadly game plan based on the simple deflation of a balloon.

Here are the basic Rovian talking points
  • Reborn Adlai Stevenson (A wonderful man, actually, but considered the quintessential wimp)
  • San Francisco and Hyde Park (sinister centers of wimpish, low-calorie food and un-American sentiments)
  • For 20 years, attended a church and developed a close personal relationship with its preacher who says AIDS was created by our government as a genocidal tool to be used against people of color, who declared America's chickens came home to roost on 9/11, and wants God to damn America? (By November 4th, Reverend Wright will have become an American icon)
  • He has not provided leadership on any major legislative battle (that's true)
  • He has held his energy and talent in reserve for the more important task of advancing his own political career, which means running for president (another valid point)
A very complete menu.

Like I said before, every talking point could spawn a dozen attack ads and blogger's agendas.

Personally, unless McCain has a stroke or a heart attack during the campaign, if he runs against Obama, I think he will be taking candy from a baby.

If he runs against Hillary...

Well, ask Obama what that is like. DS

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The middle class

Income inequality in the US is at its highest since that most doom-laden of years: 1929. Throughout the main English-speaking economies, earnings disparities have reached extremes not seen since the age of The Great Gatsby.(...) From a political perspective the notable feature of the inegalitarian, free-market era that began in the 1980s is how little backlash there has been against the stagnation of ordinary people's earnings in such a large portion of the developed world economy. Yet there are signs that the mix of policies and economic circumstances that gave a protracted laisser-passer to the rich and to business is coming to an end. This is potentially dangerous territory. For as Bill Gross, managing director of Pimco, the world's biggest bond fund, has argued: "When the fruits of society's labour become maldistributed, when the rich get richer and the middle and lower classes struggle to keep their heads above water as is clearly the case today, then the system ultimately breaks down; boats do not rise equally with the tide; the centre cannot hold."
John Plender - Financial Times

David Seaton's News Links
The center of American politics is its "middle class". Most observers would not have any problem agreeing that
America's greatest contribution to the world's political discourse has been the creation of a large, satisfied, middle class: all of America's social stability depends on that class's satisfaction.

We use the words "middle class" all the time and most American's would define themselves as middle class. What is "middle class", really?

First, lets get clear what upper middle class is. In my definition these are people who have layers of property, relatives other than their parents die and leave them things. They own income producing properties other than the home they live in. They can educate their children out of their current income, without giving up anything, etcetera, etcetera. It is as if their blood had a high helium content and they never quite touched the ground. This is not the middle class I am talking about.

The middle class that most Americans believe they belong to is a transitory place
on a voyage from some place harder and more difficult than the present to someplace softer and less difficult. It is place of anxiety, what it is not, or what it could be, is often more important than what it actually is: a loss of momentum may have disastrous and dreaded results. Without an adequate social net most middle class Americans are only a serious illness or a layoff away from traveling downward. Examples of that voyage surround them everywhere they look... if they dare to look.

Perhaps the most self-satisfied, self-portrait of America's middle class in the history of cinema is William Wyler's 1946 classic, "The Best Years of Our Lives", whose poster tops these lines. It is accurate in its portrayal of American's mental image of themselves as they returned from the war and looked forward to peace and the end of the hard times that all had known before the war. There is nothing smug about the film: the characters and the action show "normal" people living their lives.

The film won seven Oscars, including "best film". It was a huge success.

Americans paid money, laughed and cried in pleasure to see themselves being themselves.
"The Best Years of Our Lives" was a love song to ourselves that we sung to ourselves.

I can't think of any such self-celebration possible today.

Below the classic poster from 1946, I have put together a mash up of some of the figures from contemporary films who take the place of Myrna Loy, Frederic March and Dana Andrews, populating the dreams of today's movie goers.

It would seem that to engage their fantasy and prosper, you would have to be a magician, or have special powers... or be a robot.

Without getting too far off into cocktail party sociology. Americans today do not appear to see a clear and hopeful path to travel without a cloak of invisibility or the power to levitate.

In my opinion either laissez faire globalization will destroy America's "The Best Years of Our Lives", middle class -- if it hasn't already -- or
America's surviving middle class will destroy laissez faire globalization. It's anybody's guess who will win. DS

Monday, April 21, 2008

Working the basics II

David Seaton's News Links
When I was in junior high, I had this wonderful science teacher, Mr. Lazlo, a very vocational teacher who was always finding creative ways of teaching. He even let me turn in my homework in comic book form. I adored him.

One spring Mr. Lazlo brought an incubator to class filled with fertilized chicken eggs. Every day we would cut open one of the eggs and examine the development of the fetuses.

Day by day we saw the fascinating change from a clot of blood to something that looked more like a chicken.

Everyday we killed a baby chick for this.

Finally the day came for the surviving baby chicks to hatch.

Little holes began to appear in the shells as the chicks tried to peck their way out.

When the chicks were managing to get their heads free of the shell, Mr. Lazlo suggested that we help some of the chicks get out of the shell and let the others get out the best they could.

The ones we helped soon died. Apparently the act of getting out of the shell was a vital part of their development.

Discuss. DS

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Working the basics

David Seaton's News Links
It has been my experience that one of the most useful ways of taking apart a problem is to start with the simplest, most obvious things. Nothing is too obvious and humble not to be worth intense examination and rumination, till it yields its substance. Sherlock Holmes did little else

Conclusions arrived at trying to make sense of the most basic and obvious facts are solid and difficult for sophists to refute.

So If we are going to follow Confucius's advice and "rectify names" and reinvigorate our vocabulary we probably should start by having a clear idea of the most basic truths about our species.

For example:

Human beings are made up of about 66% water, which is considerably less than American beer, but still quite a lot. Sweating and peeing take their daily toll, so that water lost must be replaced:
expert opinion has it that,
To maintain a high level of health and efficiency even in ideal environments, a minimum of two quarts of clean water per day per person is the generally accepted rule of thumb. In very hot or cold or very dry environments, or if you are physically active, two quarts of water a day may not be enough to sustain life over a period of days or weeks.
I think its important to meditate on that passage, because as the BBC says,
Two-fifths of the world's people already face serious shortages, and water-borne diseases fill half its hospital beds. People in rich countries use 10 times more water than those in poor ones. The present is dire: the future looks so grim it must be entirely unmanageable. Cut it how you will, the picture that emerges from today's data and tomorrow's forecasts is so complex and appalling it can leave you feeling powerless. The world cannot increase its supply of fresh water: all it can do is change the way it uses it. Its population is going to go on increasing for some time before there is any prospect it will stabilize.(...) Because the world's water supply is finite, most of life's other necessities are finite as well. In China it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to grow one tonne of wheat. If we do not learn to live within our aqueous means, we shall go hungry as well as thirsty. A world where consumption was a means to survival, not an economic end in itself, would have enough water to go round. And polluted, inadequate water might kill its children a little more slowly. (emphasis mine)
And after water comes food. As I'm sure you have read, there is a severe world food shortage at the moment. Here is how Caritas describes it:
Across the developing world there are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks left and grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s. The UN World Food Programme has issued an urgent appeal for $500 million to respond to the dramatic increase in food and fuel prices. Rioting in response to massive food price increases has broken out in countries as diverse as Egypt, Bolivia, Indonesia and Senegal. Violent unrest in Haiti spread to the capital after protesters stormed the presidential palace last week, demanding that the government lift taxes on rice and beans. At least five people were killed . In a country where 80% of people earn less than £1 a day, the price of basic foodstuffs has soared by more than 50% since last year. Only Somali and Afghanistan have a higher per capita daily deficit in calorie intake than Haiti. The food crisis in Haiti is so intense that there is a real danger that the government and United Nations forces will not be able to maintain security if food aid is not stepped up in the very near future. Prospery Raymond, the Christian Aid country representative, said: "The country is at the beginning of a major crisis and there is a real risk of more political violence." He said: "A major contributing factor to the current food shortages are the neo-liberal economic policies that have been required by donor countries." (emphasis mine)
Of course, not everybody is complaining. Here is how "The Street" sees it:
With about 40% of the world's agricultural land seriously degraded and oil prices at record levels, prices of feed poultry and dairy cows are causing prices of wheat, soybean and maize to skyrocket. With overall crop outputs lagging demand, desperate farmers who wish to capitalize off record prices are now using a wide array of organic and inorganic fertilizers to help boost production. With this in mind, we have set up a World Food Shortage Plays portfolio on to help develop stock ideas to capitalize off this global trend. (emphasis mine)
So the basic idea would be that, since human beings have to eat and drink in order to live, any system that keeps a great number of human beings from doing that or that benefits from their misfortune, could be considered an enemy of humanity.

I think that this is called, "arguing from first principals", but, I cannot see that this conclusion is an oversimplification. DS

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What has been lost? - III

"In the wake of 1989, with boundless confidence and insufficient reflection, we put the twentieth century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market." Tony Judt - New York Review of Books

"These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis under way — and it’s hurting a lot more people. I’m talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending." Paul Krugman - New York Times

"Almost all the food we eat - 95% - is oil-dependent, so as oil prices rise, the cost of food does too. Oil is central to fertilisers, mechanised production, transportation and packaging. However, between 1950 - when mechanisation and fertilisers transformed farming into agribusiness - and 1984, world grain production increased by 250%. The consequent cheapness of food kept inflation down and allowed for the postwar consumer boom. For years experts have been asking what will we eat when the crises of climate change and oil depletion converge, with the possible end of our globalised food supply." Rosie Boycott - Guardian

"The social theories of Karl Marx were long ago discarded as of little value, even to revolutionaries. But he did warn that capitalism had a tendency to generate its own crises. Indeed, the spread of capitalism, and its accelerated industrialization and wealth-creation, may have fomented the food-inflation crisis — by dramatically accelerating competition for scarce resources." Tony Karon - Time

"The hedge funds are now active in commodities and are playing the futures contracts, where upwards of 30 million tons of soybeans for future delivery are contracted for every day. They are also buying the companies that stock grains.(...) Futures purchases of agricultural commodities classically have been the means by which a limited number of traders stabilized future commodity prices and enabled farmers to finance themselves through future sales. Speculative purchases have no other purpose than to make money for the speculators, who hold their contracts to drive up current prices with the intention not of selling the commodities on the real future market, but of unloading their holdings onto an artificially inflated market, at the expense of the ultimate consumer. Even the general public can now play the speculative game; most banks offer investment funds specializing in metals, oil, and more recently, food products. It is astonishing in the present situation that the international financial institutions and government regulators have done little to control or banish this parasitical and anti-social practice. The myth of the benevolent and ultimately impartial market prevails against all contrary evidence." William Pfaff

David Seaton's News Links
What the United States is facing at this moment, although few seem to realize it, is an ideological collapse. This happens when a mind set is no longer appropriate for confronting reality. An example would be an American Indian confronted with a steam train for the first time... "iron horse".

I think it strange that so few people recognize the symptoms of this collapse, when we so recently witnessed a similar galloping, ideological, wasting disease in another seemingly healthy patient: the USSR.

Listen to this imaginary dialog from the last years of the Soviet Union.
Scene: the Kremlin.

(Enter a flunky in the minister's office)

Flunky: Comrade Minister, a messenger has just arrived from Siberia.

Minister: A messenger, why didn't they just phone?

F: The phones aren't working Comrade Minister.

M: (sighs) Oh well, what's the message?

F: There is no toilet paper left in Siberia, Comrade Minister. They want to know what to tell the masses.

M: That is easy Comrade, since the telephones aren't working, tell them to use the pages of the telephone book.

F: But, Comrade Minister, the only telephone books are in Party headquarters.

M: (galvanized) Give the order immediately for the party to distribute phone books to the masses!

F: (fawning) Brilliant, Comrade Minister!

M: (drawing himself up) We are building Socialism comrade.
Now tweak that dialog around a little bit, change a few names and such and you might be hearing similar dialogs today in the World Bank or the IMF... not to mention the hapless White House.

As William Pfaff says in the snippet at the head of this post, "The myth of the benevolent and ultimately impartial market prevails against all contrary evidence." We are as trapped in our own ideology as the "Comrade Minister" in the sketch above.

What we are facing is a world that, contrary to our ideological mindset, needs to be heavily regulated and controlled if we are not to sink quickly into universal, dystopic barbarity of the sort that science fiction writers thrive on.

To avoid endless warfare, famine disease and genocide, everything we think and do must be reexamined, especially our idea of individual choice as expressed in consumption. This reduction of personal choice and freedom of action among peoples in developed countries, seems inevitable, either before or after a universal hecatomb... Whether we like it or not.

Where does democracy fit in?

More or less the democratic choice would be to either democratically choose to forgo our lifestyle or to have the choice imposed on us by whatever tyrant emerged triumphant from a world drowned in blood and ashes.

There is a slogan that you sometimes hear in May Day celebrations in Spanish speaking countries:

¡Socialismo o Barbaridad!

I don't think that needs translation. The problem is that "Socialism" is an unacceptable word today and previous clumsy versions were suffocated by this cornucopiac view of life that we now find is asphyxiating us in turn.

In the previous post I gave an example of how it was possible for Ekhardt Tolle to extract and retell the core of Vendantic Hinduism, at its most sophisticated, in plain, jargon-less English, so that the strange and exotic terminology wouldn't repel seekers who needed that essence.

At the bottom of whatever impulse that led thinking men and women to embrace Socialism in the first place is also a core of truth that has to be rethought and respoken.

And the wider that inquiry is and the more people participate in it the more democratic the process will be and the more humane will be the final society that emerges, however the change will come whether we participate in its gestation or not.

Sadly, nothing I have seen or heard in the American presidential campaign gives me the slightest reason to hope that anyone, with any chance of a leadership role in the United States, is any more ready for the challenges looming ahead than our "Comrade Minister" of the Soviet twilight was. DS

Friday, April 18, 2008

What has been lost? - II

"The current crisis is the culmination of a super-boom that has lasted for more than 60 years." George Soros - Financial Times
"So the moral, in a sense, is also a simple one: if someone offers you seemingly free money, in seemingly infinite quantities, with a soothing new name, you really ought to smell a rat." Gillian Tett - Financial Times
"The working class can kiss my Arse, I've got a MasterCard at last"
Revised parody of the British Labour Party hymn,"The Red Flag"

"Income inequality in the US is at its highest since that most doom-laden of years: 1929. Throughout the main English-speaking economies, earnings disparities have reached extremes not seen since the age of The Great Gatsby." John Plender - Financial Times
"The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War. Since then, the spectacle of hunger sparking revolutionary violence has been the stuff of Broadway musicals rather than the real world of politics." Tony Karon - Time Magazine"
David Seaton's News Links
Some things are pretty simple. The traditional left has practically disappeared because working people in developed countries are satisfied with the enormous prosperity of our society expressed in cheap food and abundant consumer goods. Having access to easy credit, they feel wealthy, they no longer look to their class for security and safety. They do not identify their fate with the fate of others.

The English express this as, "bugger you Jack, I'm all right" or "I'm alright Jack".

George Soros says that we are looking at the end of an era. That all the mass prosperity we have ever known was basically just a cosmic credit card binge. The cash machine has just spit our card out.

Perhaps this will lead to a rebirth of the left. For sure it will lead to the rise of the ultra-right because people will look for someone to blame. We can see this coming...

What to do?

Confucius said that the first thing to do was to "rectify names", that is to say, use correct terms.

Certainly the left needs its language retooled. Words get worn out, lose meaning. Think what words like, "awesome", "wonderful" and "amazing" originally meant and how little they mean anymore. Much of left wing discourse is similarly devalued: to speak it is to sound like the villain in a cold war spy drama. Think that the word "Proletariat" originally meant people who had a lot of prole or children and you'll see how stale language can get.

A new language of the left has to be created. This is not impossible. recently I came across an example of how something eons old could be expressed in new and different terms without missing its essence.

One of India's greatest spiritual teachers was Ramana Maharishi, a Hindu saint who died in 1950, he expounded the practice of self-inquiry as the path to liberation.

Many people who would benefit from the teachings of Ramana Maharishi might be put off by the
exotic Indian English or the obscure Sanskrit terminology normally used in describing it. A spiritually "ripe" suburban housewife might be put off by words like, "Satchidananda", and think she was being drawn into some satanic sect and would end up with a shaved head, beating a tambourine in an airport.

I was amazed to discover that none other than Oprah Winfrey's favorite guru, Eckhardt Tolle, had managed to do a very workmanlike job of conveying the core of of Ramana Maharishi's teachings, in everyday English, without bending them all out of shape.

Meanings have many verbal paths leading to them.

Tolle often repeats that words are only signposts pointing at the path and that one should not get too identified with the words in detriment to where they point. Therefore if a word like "God" is a help in spiritual practice use it, and if it is an obstacle, because of the baggage it carries, don't. I don't think Tolle ever uses words like "Atman" or "Advaita", he just sticks to the central idea.

He must be getting the message over because his book "The Power of Now" sells like hot bread.

Something similar desperately needs to be done with the language of progressive politics so that people who are seeking can get quickly to the truth without being repelled by culturally over-freighted verbiage. With what is lying ahead, a failure to do so would be tragic. DS

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What has been lost?

Gandhi with women workers in Lancashire, September 1931

David Seaton's News Links
This photograph of Mahatma Gandhi surrounded by cheering women workers in Lancashire was taken in 1931.

1931 was a bad, bad year in the industrial world and the women in the picture are "workers". It isn't difficult to imagine that there lives were easily as hard, and probably a good deal harder than those of the natives of the rust belt small towns that were the object of Barack Obama's "Bittergate" remarks.

They are cheering in solidarity with a man that wants to destroy their empire.

What was the culture that produced this picture and what happened to it?

What has happened since then is the stupefication of the left.

The hymn of the British Labor (labour) Party is entitled "The Red Flag", which is sung to the melody of the German Christmas carol, "O Tannenbaum". The opening verse goes like this:
The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
That's what the ladies in the photo sang and they believed it.

With the coming of Tony Blair or more exactly, the coming of the conditions that brought Tony Blair, cruel parodies of "The Red Flag" circulate, here is one of the better ones:
The people's flag is palest pink
It's not the colour you might think
White collar workers stand and cheer
The Labour government is here
We'll change the country bit by bit
So nobody will notice it
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year

The cloth cap and the woollen scarf
Are images outdated
For we're the party's avant garde
And we are educated
So raise the rolled umbrella high
The college scarf, the old school tie
And just to show that we're sincere
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year
But the cruelest parody I've ever heard of "The Red Flag" opens:
The working class can kiss my arse
I've got the foreman's job at last
The rest is too rough for a family blog

What Obama said had some truth in it, but what was (I think the new Americanism is) inappropriate was the flip tone employed. There is something serious here that deserves discussion.

Karl Rove made a point of underlining the Marxist, "religion is the opium of the people" tone of Obama's remarks. Turdblossom has a point, but, in fact, in the original quote, in contrast to Obama, Marx's tone is filled with impassioned compassion and respect for the people's religiosity.
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
"The heart of a heartless world". Now how does that compare to:
“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”
One is a noble sentiment, nobly expressed and the other is something you might hear at a vernissage. Shallow, condescending. And then, when cornered Obama didn't defend the idea... and it can be defended as Marx went on to say,
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."
Now, what Marx is saying makes no mention of the existence or nonexistence of God. Here, on this point, Marx like the Gautama Buddha, keeps a "noble silence". He is only talking about using religion to keep people from examining their actual lives: alienation. Or as Joe Hill sang:
Long-haired preachers come out every night
To tell you what's wrong and what's right
But when asked about something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- that's a lie.

And the starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray.
'Til they get your all coin on the drum,
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum.

You're going to eat bye and bye, poor boy,
In that glorious land above the sky, way up high.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- dirty lie.
Holy rollers and jumpers come out,
And they holler , they jump, lord they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all your troubles today.

And you will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

If you heart for children and wife,
Try to get something good from this life.
You're a sinner and a bad man they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

Working men of all countries unite,
Side by side for freedom we will fight.
When this world and its wealth we have gained,
To the grafters we will sing this refrain:

You will eat bye and bye,
When you've learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood it'll do you good,
You will eat in that sweet bye and bye.

Yes, You will eat bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky.
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die -- that's a lie.
As a matter of fact, I personally believe in God and I have always found what Marx said deeply spiritual. Gandhi himself synthesized all the contradictions implicit here. That's another reason the Socialist ladies in the picture were cheering him.

In short Obama said what he said and as Arianna Huffington was thousands of miles away in the South Pacific, staying on "billionaire Obama backer" David Geffen's 454-foot yacht, like in "the people's flag is palest pink," she didn't kill the story in time and Obama got caught.

This was even a better opportunity for him than the Wright-race speech to say something noble and to educate his listeners... as is his want, but he didn't step up, he choked.

And I think that if you think this stuff and say this stuff, you have to defend this stuff, because it has a pedigree and can be defended without offending. Or don't think it or at least have the mother wit not to say it anywhere to anyone except maybe to Michelle when the lights are off... Not even then, people get divorced and ex-wives of famous men write books.

For me this confirms my impression of Barack Obama as an American Tony Blair with a fantastic tan, but without Blair's self discipline.

Is this an endorsement of Hillary Clinton?

No, but one can say this for Hillary, she is so phony, so artificial, so contrived, that you could think that, somehow, somewhere, cowering at the bottom of her soul, there might be a real person hoping to get a chance to spring out.

As to the Democrats and America itself, my inner Lenin tells me things are going to have to get much, much worse, before they ever get better. DS

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bittergate and Obama's navy

David Geffen's Yacht

David Seaton's News Links
Maureen Dowd, who normally seems to favor Barack Obama -- whom she calls the "Wonder Boy" -- over hapless Hillary, published a scathing article about the freshman senator from Illinois and Bittergate in the New York Times.
Obama comes across less like a candidate in Pennsylvania than an anthropologist in Borneo. His mother got her Ph.D. in anthropology, studying the culture of Indonesia. And as Obama has courted white, blue-collar voters in “Deer Hunter” and “Rocky” country, he has often appeared to be observing the odd habits of the colorful locals, resisting as the natives try to fatten him up like a foie gras goose, sampling Pennsylvania beer in a sports bar with his tie tight, awkwardly accepting bowling shoes as a gift from Bob Casey, examining the cheese and salami at the Italian Market here as intriguing ethnic artifacts, purchasing Utz Cheese Balls at a ShopRite in East Norriton and quizzing the women working in a chocolate factory about whether they could possibly really like the sugary doodads.(...) What turns off voters is the detached egghead quality that they tend to equate with a wimpiness, wordiness and a lack of action — the same quality that got the professorial and superior Adlai Stevenson mocked by critics as Adelaide. The new attack line for Obama rivals is that he’s gone from J.F.K. to Dukakis. (Just as Dukakis chatted about Belgian endive, Obama chatted about Whole Foods arugula in Iowa).
It looks like Obama really hit a lace-curtain nerve of Maureen's, doesn't it?

One of the most interesting things I have read about how Bittergate came to light is from Bill Bradley via RCP. Catch this:
When Arianna Huffington, thousands of miles away in the South Pacific where she was staying on billionaire Obama backer David Geffen's 454-foot yacht, learned of the brewing issue. She signed off on the story, which was then underway.
On reading this a few awkward questions spring to mind.

Why exactly does someone who espouses progressive politics go to Tahiti to lounge on a 454 foot yacht and why is the owner of such a monster yacht backing Obama?

What are these people "clinging" to?

Is it that unfair to doubt that these people have much real empathy or any reason to feel any empathy at all for the "lunch pail" set?

Is it poisonous to think that they might be just a little elitist? I mean I know, there is always going to be someone with a bigger yacht, but 454 feet is not your normal "bass buster", is it?

Could it be that we have stumbled onto a rich vein of phoniness in the obamistas, if not in Obama himself?

What kind of bad joke is the Democratic Party anyway? DS

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

EU, Russia and the USA: musical chairs... two chairs left

David Seaton's News Links
The natural synergies between Russia and the European Union are central facts in today's geopolitics.

Russia, underpopulated at 140 million and amazingly rich in natural resources and the 400 million inhabitants of the European Union, unrivaled for adding value to everything tangible that comes into their hands are an obvious match up.

If Russia and the European Union can ever come to some harmonious understanding, the result would be the most productive concentration of humanity and raw materials in history. The question would be how to handle the United States. because two is company and three is a crowd. What would they need the USA for? Except as a provider of entertainment, what would America's further role be in the "West"?

If Russia is no longer a military threat to Europe, what possible justification could there be for the USA to station soldiers in Europe?
Why should the Mediterranean be filled with US warships? How would this affect Israel?

If Europe with the euro and the world's largest economy finally creates it own unified defense force... in the face of fierce American opposition and ridicule, just like when the euro was created, what then could possibly justify an American role in European affairs. America would be next to irrelevant in Europe.

Therefore keeping Russia and the EU apart is evidently an American strategic goal of the first order.

In my opinion this obvious synergy between Russia and the European Union and the logical consequences that would flow from it are haunting American foreign policy today... much more than Iran, China or the "Global War on Terror".

It seems to me evident that the USA is doing all it can to create tension with Russia in order to prevent and interrupt the natural flow between Europe and Russia. Something like a fireman who sets fires in order to justify his role and create a demand for his services. DS

Monday, April 14, 2008

Getting fed to the lions

He’s disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America. He’s usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped. And it’s not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize.

And what are the grounds for his supercilious disdain? If he were a war hero, if he had a career of remarkable civic achievement or public service — then he could perhaps be excused an unattractive but in a sense understandable hauteur. But what has Barack Obama accomplished that entitles him to look down on his fellow Americans? William Kristol - New York Times
David Seaton's News Links
The quote above from loathsome neocon, William Kristol is only a preview of what is in store for Barack Obama if, as is probable, he wins the Democratic nomination, and below my post is a very workmanlike analysis from Politico of the flank that Obama's "small town gaffe" has opened for his adversaries.

In case anyone thinks that I am exaggerating the importance of all of this let me explain a bit of "secret doctrine".

A great many white Americans, although they would never admit it, even to themselves, are not quite ready to have someone of African ancestry in the White House; at the same time they do not want to appear racist even in their own eyes.

What could be more delicious than to disqualify an African-American as an elitist snob?

What could be more democratic than to openly consider a black man one's social superior?

It is probably the only acceptable ad-hominem attack that can be used against Obama without disqualifying the attacker as a redneck... and Obama walked right into it.

It immediately turns all of Obama's strong points: his intelligence, his verbal ability and poise, in short his cool, into weaknesses that prove that he is elitist. And if you say that it is impossible for an African-American to actually be an elitist, then you are the racist practicing the "racism of low expectations"

"Of course a Harvard lawyer, who lives in million dollar townhouse has every right to be an elitist, no matter the color of his skin!"


The United States of America has become a virtual mega-Bosnia-Herzegovina and Barack Obama has just strolled into a very old and well marked mine field. DS

What Clinton wishes she could say - Politico
Why, ask many Democrats and media commentators, won’t Hillary Rodham Clinton see the long odds against her, put her own ambitions aside, and gracefully embrace Barack Obama as the inevitable Democratic nominee?

Here is why: She and Bill Clinton both devoutly believe that Obama’s likely victory is a disaster-in-waiting. Naive Democrats just don’t see it. And a timid, pro-Obama press corps, in their view, won’t tell the story.(...)Far from a no-holds-barred affair, the Democratic contest has been an exercise in self-censorship.

Rip off the duct tape and here is what they would say: Obama has serious problems with Jewish voters (goodbye Florida), working-class whites (goodbye Ohio) and Hispanics (goodbye, New Mexico).

Republicans will also ruthlessly exploit openings that Clinton — in the genteel confines of an intraparty contest — never could. Top targets: Obama’s radioactive personal associations, his liberal ideology, his exotic life story, his coolly academic and elitist style.

This view has been an article of faith among Clinton advisers for months, but it got powerful new affirmation last week with Obama’s clumsy ruminations about why “bitter” small-town voters turn to guns and God.(...) Skepticism about Obama’s general election prospects extends beyond Clinton backers. We spoke to unaffiliated Democratic lawmakers, veteran lobbyists, and campaign operatives who believe the rush of enthusiasm for Obama’s charisma and fresh face has inhibited sober appraisals of his potential weaknesses.

The concerns revolve around two themes.

The first is based on the campaign so far. Assuming voting patterns evident in the nominating contest continue into the fall, Obama would be vulnerable if McCain can approximate the traditional GOP performance in key states.

The second is based on fear about the campaign ahead.

Stories about Obama’s Chicago associations with 1960s radicals Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers landed with barely a ripple. So, too, did questions about whether he once backed a total ban on handguns (he says no but in a 1996 state legislative race his campaign filled out a questionnaire saying yes). Obama’s graceful handling of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy may have turned that into a net positive against Clinton.

But all this was in a Democratic contest. What about about when Obama’s running against a Republican?

Let’s take the first point: Obama’s electoral coalition. His impressive success to date comes predominately from strong support among upscale, college-educated whites and overwhelming support from African-Americans.

Assuming he is the Democratic nominee, it seems virtually certain he would bring turnout of these groups to historic levels.

But there is reason to question whether he would be able to perform at average levels with other main pillars of the traditional Democratic coalition: blue-collar whites, Jews and Hispanics. He has run decently among these groups in some places, but in general he’s run well behind her.

Obama lost the Jewish vote by double-digits in Florida, New York and Maryland — and that was before controversy over anti-Israel remarks of Wright.

An undecided Democratic superdelegate told us many Jewish voters are itching for a reason to break with the party and side with Republicans, who have embraced the Israeli cause with passion. A small shift could swing swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, which have significant Jewish populations.
Obama won only about one-third of Hispanic votes on Super Tuesday — and did even worse a month later in Texas. A Democratic nominee needs big margins with Hispanics to win states like New Mexico, California, Colorado and Arizona. In the fall, Obama would be running against a Republican with a record on immigration that will resonate with Hispanics.

Then there’s the lower-income white vote. Does it seem odd that a woman with a polarizing reputation would be rolling up enormous margins among some of the country’s most traditional voters? Three out of every four blue-collar whites in small towns and rural areas of Ohio voted for Clinton over Obama on March 4. The reality is, this is already an electorate with deep cultural divisions — and that’s in the Democratic Party. READ IT ALL

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The "small town" gaffe

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations” - Barack Obama
David Seaton's News Links
As my readers may have noticed, I am not a great fan of Barack Obama's, but among his possible defects (I say "possible", because so little is really known about him) being dumb was the last one I would ever
have thought he possessed.

However, this remark about small town Americans is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard a major, campaigning politician say... and that includes "the decider" himself, who, strangely enough, is rather shrewd when out campaigning.

Can you imagine a white person running for president making a statement about African-Americans with that many patronizing stereotypes? I love to do parodies, but I wouldn't even attempt one here, because even joking, it would be so painfully offensive; and if Obama even so much as dreamed he had said something in a similar tone about Jewish people he would wake up in a cold sweat and immediately phone Abe Foxman to apologize... even at three in the morning.

Despite being a "white wine-espresso", type myself, I spent many childhood summers in the small town pictured above, where my great, great, grandfather, an immigrant marble carver from Glasgow Scotland, had settled in the 1840s.

On reading this horseshit in the Huffington Post and the subsequent play it is getting, I was moved to write a panegyric on the virtues of the small town, but after some rumination decided that to defend the human beings who live in the country against such a patronizing attitude would be like affirming that Obama is "a credit to his race" or something like that.

I just can't get over how dumb it is.

If I had any doubt (and I did, I assure you) that Barack Obama is a phony, I have none now. DS

Friday, April 11, 2008

Middle East: the skinny

David Seaton's News Links
Charles Krauthammer column in the Washington Post is what you might call a "neocon watershed". Here is what Krauthammer wants:
During the Cold War, we were successful in preventing an attack not only on the United States but also on America's allies. We did it by extending the American nuclear umbrella -- i.e., declaring that any attack on our allies would be considered an attack on the United States.

(...)We should do the same to keep nuclear peace in the Middle East. It would be infinitely less dangerous (and therefore more credible) than the Cold War deterrence because there will be no threat from Iran of the annihilation of the United States. Iran, unlike the Soviet Union, would have a relatively tiny arsenal incapable of reaching the United States.

How to create deterrence? The way John Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. President Bush's greatest contribution to nuclear peace would be to issue the following declaration, adopting Kennedy's language while changing the names of the miscreants:

"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran."

This should be followed with a simple explanation: "As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people."

This policy -- the Holocaust Declaration -- would not be tested during the current administration, because Iran is not going to go nuclear before January 2009. But it would establish a firm benchmark that would outlive this administration. Every future president -- and every serious presidential candidate -- would have to publicly state whether or not the Holocaust Declaration remains the policy of the United States. (underlining mine)
This proposal is what the neocons think they can salvage from the Iraq debacle. In a sense it is a white flag.

Israel has literally bet the farm on American hegemony and if that is fading, Israel finds itself painted into a corner. As I wrote in a previous post, "For the lack of CHIPAC",
The invasion and occupation of Iraq was supposed to set in motion a domino effect which would lead to new democratic regimes in Iran and the Arab world that would recognize the state of Israel. Instead it has only hastened the decline of American influence there and around the world.(...) Probably a lot of Israel's present behavior is explained by the hysteria-producing feeling that this is the "last dance": the "last days" of the White Man's Burden.(...) In a few years the Israelis simply won't have the same levers of power in their hands they do today and they will be forced to make what Ariel Sharon called "painful concessions", only a bit more painful than Sharon ever dreamed (dreams?). This is not a plot or a conspiracy, it is simply that the world is no longer a white soliloquy.
The bottom line is that all of Israel's eggs are in America's basket and if the United States ground forces ever manage to extricate themselves from Iraq, committing them again to fight in the Middle East would be next to impossible.

Perhaps the only thing that could ever bring back the American boots on the ground in the Middle East would be to avoid having to execute some of the clauses in Krauthammer's contract.

I am very sure that Charles Krauthammer doesn't just wake up in the morning and think it would be nice if the United States committed itself to vaporizing 70,049,262 people. This is a very serious proposal that has been discussed at length and that Krauthammer has been chosen to float. This is an opening move in a new game.

It will be interesting to see if any of the presidential candidates sign on this proposal in the coming months. DS