Commentary on news and culture from a left wing perspective.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Nicholas Kristof whines about the incivility of American politics. He has a problem with the left calling Bush a liar. In the process he bashes Farenheit 911. I don't think it's too interesting going on about how you don't like someone's tone. And Kristof doesn't earn my trust by praising Joe Lieberman, who basically ran his thoroughly unsuccessful campaign as the pro-Bush democrat. Kristof, if you have a problem with Al Franken, Michael Moore, et al, get to specifics about what you disagree with. Otherwise you're the one just trying to limit debate by putting up 'no talking impolitely signs'. On the substantive points Kristof raises--I personally believe the invasion of Afghanistan had an obvious national security component--to get rid of the Al Quaida camp--but the pipeline folk certainly lurked in the wings, and the film does usefully bring up that Taliban came to the US and met with officials earlier about building it. Kristof hyped this war as a war of liberation, that would facilitate medical care across Afghanistan--how's that worked out?
Bush may well have believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. However, certainly his speechwriters were aware their evidence sucked--recall the 'British intelligence officers report' flap, where it was more or less admitted that they put it that way because they knew the report was flawed.

Incidentally--this is the second attack on Moore's picture on the op-ed page. Waiting for a defense...

Monday, June 28, 2004

Artists win a big one in the courts against Mattel.

Farenheit 911 scores really big. Not to quibble, but hardly anyone (Rahul Mahajan is an exception) has brought up that Michael Moore promotes the silly notion that Saudi Arabia is the real enemy of the US (this is actually a little toned down in the movie compared to his last book). One more thing from Mahajan's blog--contrary to David Brooks (see below), Al Zarqawi and the terrorist acts he has engineered are not regarded in Iraq as the resistance--in fact the resistance has denounced these acts.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Trashing Michael Moore, David Brooks comments
In years past, American liberals have had to settle for intellectual and moral leadership from the likes of John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King Jr.

He goes on to say:

But venality doesn't come up when he [Moore] writes about those who are killing Americans in Iraq: "The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not `insurgents' or `terrorists' or `The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win." Until then, few social observers had made the connection between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Paul Revere.

Here are some words from Martin Luther King:
Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front -- that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of "aggression from the north" as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.


There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.


Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

And while it's a commonplace among neoliberals/conservatives that the Vietcong's fight had some degree of legitimacy, which makes it completely unlike the current Iraqi resistance, this wasn't the attitude when King actually gave this speech. The NAACP denounced it. According to FAIR,
Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

Saturday, June 26, 2004

You know Fahrenheit 911 is making an impact (even if you haven't seen that it's number one at the box office this weekend, besting movies with three times as many theatres) when David Brooks goes bananas and starts raving about how anti-American Moore and the liberals who support him are. I love the pretense that Michael Moore only speaks and sells books in Europe. I've heard him speak to a packed theatre right here in North Carolina, Brooks, and guess what? Do you know that he also makes fun of liberals and leftists? Can't help but love that he blames Moore (oh whimsy!) for inaccurately claiming that Clinton won the evangelical vote, which was quite central to that stupid column he wrote last week.

As for the movie--my own two cents is that its a little unorganized and I didn't learn too much, except that Marine recruiters are excellent at responding to potential recruits aspirations to be in music or sports ("Do you know who Shaggy is? Do you know he was a marine?") and I also learned that American troops go into battle with music blasting under their helmets.

Nevertheless, the movie is crucial. I now understand how religious people could get so worked up about "The Passion of the Christ", which also didn't sound too great. This is OUR moment, and those to the left the respectable confines of the New York Times op-ed page are going to shine for a few weeks all over the nation. I wonder if Paul Krugman will respond to Brooks column? It's a real test of character.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Another thing about religion and voters. CNN's poll after the 2000 election found identical numbers of religious-observant voters (attend religious services more than weekly 14%, and attend religious services weekly, 28%) and non-observant voters (never attend 14%, seldom 28%). Monthly attenders, who we put in-between, numbered 14%. Gore won the non-observant vote in quite similar numbers to the way Bush won the religiously-observants (although 6% of never attends voted for Nader, one of his strongest showings). So this was a polarizing factor, but it can be seen equally as a problem for Republicans or Democrats. It's hard to see what Kerry would accomplish if he followed David Brooks advice and tried to chase religious voters (although African Americans, who are more religious than Whites, vote heavily Democrat--if the CNN data was whites-only, the polarization would probably be even more dramatic).
The US loses again at the UN.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A few more thoughts on David Brooks' column today:

Brooks says:

Forests have been felled so people could publish articles and books on the religious right's influence on the Republican Party. But as the Baruch College political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio have suggested, the real political story of the past decade has been the growing size and cohesion of the secular left, and its growing influence on the Democratic Party.

Hmm.. Size and cohesion of the secular left? I wish! First, the left, such as it is, is heavily enmeshed in religious communities. Were the Unitarians and the Quakers to disappear from the American social landscape tomorrow, there would be practically no left left. Secondly, where is this growing influence of the left on the Democratic party? Dennis Kucinich's campaign wasn't much of a vote-getter. Neither was Howard Dean, and Dean isn't really a leftist anyway. It is true that the center-left has been relatively effective lately--think Moveon, Michael Moore, or Al Franken. This hardly means it's much of a cohesive movement.

Brooks also says:

Kerry talks about jobs one week and the minimum wage the next, going about his wonky way, each day as secular as the last.

He has a point here. Kerry does seem aimless, randomly tossing up policy proposals. But that means he lacks a vision, which isn't the same as religion. Lots of leaders have visions without being particularly religious.

Oddly, Brooks also throws this in:

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the number of Americans with no religious affiliation has more than doubled since 1990.

Now shouldn't the Democrats make some effort to consolidate this rapidly growing bloc, given that the Republicans are in bed with the religious bigots?
Oh, David Brooks is really working my last good nerve this morning! It's hard to know where to start in dissecting his column denouncing John Kerry's decision to not engage in superficial religious pandering. I was just saying the other day that this is practically the only thing I actively like about Kerry so far.

Brooks specializes in insulting people in vaguely backhanded ways. Here he insults non-religious people, not by denouncing our beliefs, but by claiming that the non-religious are unelectable (although as is also typical of Brooks, he doesn't come up with many facts). But then he slips up, and his own bigotry to the non-religious comes to the surface, with his reference to 'religious illiterates'. Hello! You do not have to BE religious to know something about different religious communities and beliefs. And there are plenty of 'religious' people who know little about the communities they belong to, let alone others.

Brooks says:

Religious involvement is a much, much more powerful predictor of how someone will vote than income, education, gender or any other social and demographic category save race.

Can't the Democratic strategists feel it in their bones how important this is? After all, when you go out among the Democratic rank and file, you find millions of Democrats who are just as religious as Republicans. It's mostly in the land of Democratic elites that you are likely to find yourself among religious illiterates.

Do you see the contradiction here? The first sentence is correct--religious involvement does predict votes--people who say they're very religious tend to vote Republicans, excluding African Americans. Which is why the second paragraph doesn't make all that much sense. Kerry should write off most of those religious-faithful votes. Brooks waves around Bill Clinton as an ideal 'religious democrat' (at least 'until he sullied himself with the Monica Lewinsky affair'--as if religious men don't ever get blowjobs from interns--Hah!). It's worth asking 'what about Al Gore?', who was pretty vague about his religion, and won the popular vote in 2000.

Brooks also makes much of the fact that only 7% of Americans believe John Kerry is a man of strong religious faith. He describes this number as 'catastrophic'. Well, I happen to agree with the 93% of Americans who don't think Kerry has strong religious faith. And seeing a bunch of photo ops of him at church, or hearing get all phony about the role of Jesus or God in his life on TV isn't going to change my mind. And unless you're a complete fanatic, whether or not he's religious shouldn't have much of an impact on your vote. Do you think his policies and leadership approach are better than Bush's? Then vote for him. If not, not.

Now--this country does have a serious religious problem. Fundamentalist ministers have been responsible for fomenting terrorism against health care workers, and, most recently, even beyond the most fundamentalist domains, many ministers have been inciting hatred against Muslims. Bland faux populists at the New York Times like Brooks and Nicholas Kristof (both of whom are at least as elitist as the liberal 'elitists' like myself they're always denouncing--I'm not spending much time at Manhattan cocktail parties, guys) are afraid to touch this, but this is morphing into a culture that is going to destroy US standing in the world, between stupidly picking unwinable wars with parts of the Muslim community and ending the alliance with Europe (another obsession of fundamentalists). Another religious problem in this country involves the way fundamentalists have pandered to the narcissism of their followers by telling them they've got the one true answer to everything. In other words, they actively discourage science, critical thinking and dialogue, which are hard enough to begin with. This also has long term consequences for the US.

So good work John Kerry. Secularism is worth fighting for.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Can't Ralph Nader find something better to do than bash China? A couple of points to consider that are missing from his account: first, China by most accounts has expanded local democracy. There isn't very much pressure for a national democratic opening in part because of a societal consensus in favor of stability. Second, even if Chinese workers were free to organize, their wages are going to be quite a bit lower than Mexicans--let alone Americans--indefinitely. Its much more of a matter of demographics than union organizing, which doesn't have as huge an impact on wages as people tend to think.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The 9-11 Commission says Bin Laden tried to get help from Iraq, but was rebuffed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Excellent article from the Nation about what has to be a top priority not only of unions, but of the left in general over the next few years: unionize WalMart.
There are many things to say about this David Brooks column. First, George Bush is not a good manager. Before he went into politics, he drove a number of businesses into the ground. Lots of people (Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, etc) have crawled out from his administration with stupefying tales of how out of it and incompetent he is. Seeing things in black and white, despite what you may read elsewhere, is not a sign of good management or decisive leadership. It is a sign of simple-mindedness. You can act decisively without necessarilly believing that you are inherently good and those who disagree with you are automatically bad. George Bush is a good-to-excellent image manager, but this is something entirely different.

Secondly, not reading newspapers is not an attack on the idea class. It's an announcement Bush has no interest in rising to the responsibilities of the position he now occupies.

Third, when people talk about aristocracies, they usually talk about, among other things, 'those who fight'. In the US, that group (the elite officers of the army) is a lot more polarized than the professional idea workers who apparently vote 52% to 40% for Democrats. The statistic is 9-1 pro-Republican.

Then there is the matter of the impression that Brooks may leave with this comment:

"Republicans still have an advantage the higher you go up the income scale, but the correlation between income and voting patterns is weaker. There is, for example, this large class of affluent professionals who are solidly Democratic. DataQuick Information Systems recently put out a list of 100 ZIP code areas where the median home price was above $500,000. By my count, at least 90 of these places — from the Upper West Side to Santa Monica — elect liberal Democrats."

In fact, according to CNN, Bush won majorities in all upper income groups. Gore won majorities in all lower income groups. It's not all that muddied. The less money you made, the more likely you were to vote for Gore. And vice versa--the more money you made, the more likely you were to vote for Bush. It was one of the clearest polarizations, although rarely mentioned by the media.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Asia Times has far more serious analyses of geopolitics than you find in the US media. Like this piece, which argues that multilateralism (the US working with allies closely as primer unter paris) or multipolarism (multiple centers of power worldwide) are the only real options. And the Bush administration has weakened the prospects of multilateralism. I would only add the authors underestimate the prospects of a France-Germany-Russia alliance.
I've been waiting for the more sober Republican types to come out against Bush--among people who actually know something about the world, who can possibly believe he's been an effective 'war president'?--looks like it's starting to happen.
Protestantism worldwide is expanding rapidly. But American baptist leaders are such reactionaries that they may well squander this potential source of power.
Interesting article on present day Fallujah. Doesn't sound like the US has really succeeded there. Basically, the 'insurgents' are in control. I've read US army people predicting that Fallujah is likely to be the direction the rest of Iraq will move in. Sounds about right.
Today's retirees are likely to be less wealthy than those of recent years, because the last twenty years has seen the destruction of the traditional pension plan. All the new-fangled plans you've heard about don't add up to as much.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

John Tierney says the country isn't polarized, just the parties, which are dominated by extremes. I'll have more to say about this another time, but here let it be said that The Democrats are not dominated by extremes! John Kerry is a centrist! He soundly defeated Howard Dean in the primaries, and Dean himself wasn't much of an extremist (sorry if I'm shouting, but one gets tired of needing to make this point). These days,Kerry's begging John McCain, a Republican, to be his running mate. There is a major party in the US dominated by extremists, but it isn't the Democrats.
Especially when it discusses the 'left', the New York Times seems to be writing about a different planet than the one I live on. I spend much of my days devoting myself to the left, yet I don't think I could find anyone who would've had more than very mild nostalgic interest in this 'gathering of the far left'. Mark Rudd. There's a name that never seems to come up except in articles like this one. I love that little line at the end of the article about how no one mentioned the three people who died in the robbery. All week, with all the funeral coverage for Reagan, has anyone outside the far left mentioned the hundreds of thousands who died in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala...

If you want to see the left today, try the Boston Social Forum at the end of July. We'll see how much the Times bothers with it.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Interesting op-ed piece suggesting Reagan rejected the neocon's advice on foreign policy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

To grasp the future of Iraq, look at Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai has accepted the support of powerful mujahedeen leaders for the presidential elections scheduled for September, indicating he will continue an alliance with them in a future government. His move has dismayed many Afghans who were hoping that the nation's first democratic elections would herald an end to the power of the warlords, who have dominated politics for the past decade.

We shouldn't oversimplify. Iraq is not run by warlords, and is not likely to be. But the point is that there are continuities that the US is by no means prepared to undo given its limited means and highly simplistic worldview--in Afghanistan, those continuities involve the rule of warlords, while in Iraq those continuities are likely to include authoritarian centralization of power and turning on the Kurds...
One of, if not the biggest issue during Watergate was President Nixon's notion that the law ultimately did not bind the nation's chief executive. But the press, and public opinion, did not agree. Looks like Bush's lawyers didn't get the news. The following is an actual quote, not a sarcastic rewrite on my part:

A team of administration lawyers concluded in a March 2003 legal memorandum that President Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal antitorture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Good article by William Blum today on counterpunch about the myth of Reagan's role in ending the cold war.
In a real headscratcher of a column, Thomas Friedman claims the Indian election results show why the 'antiglobalization' movement has lost its edge. The movement has certainly shown weakness lately. But the Indian elections, in which the racist neoliberals of the BJP were trounced, was a defeat for Friedman's way of thinking, not a victory as he continues to insist on.
Prediction: Ronald Reagan's death will be a complete nonissue come election time.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Nicholas Kristof says that regarding the potential of democracy in China following the increasing presence of the market, "No middle class is content with more choices of coffees than of candidates on a ballot." Hello, Nicholas? What country do you live in? I will concede that I greatly prefer Kristof's 'we'll win 'em over with Britney Spears' version of imperialism to the neo-con's 'bomb them into democracy.'
I love it when the New York Times plays up blatant propaganda as 'news'. Like this. The prime minister of Iraq, who was clearly the US choice, a guy with well-known CIA connections, wants the US troops to stay. Quel surprise.
In a somewhat rambling piece, Felix Rohatyn makes the useful point that "Despite the hostility generated by the war in Iraq, (the French) wish for the relationship to be better. On the American side of the ocean, there is no such curiosity, much less anxiety. There is only a certain dismissiveness and this silent reproach: "They don't remember."" Actually, it's more in the polite neoliberal circles that Rohatyn moves in that people say 'they don't remember'. At Fox News, they say 'who cares about those cheese-eating surrender monkeys anyway'. Nevertheless, it's useful to put out there that in this spat, the insanity is mostly on this side of the Atlantic.

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