Saturday, October 11, 2008

Different cultures entirely

A commentator to a Stirling Newberry post at FireDogLake notes this interesting difference between American and Japanese leadership:

Not a single person in government has resigned.

Don’t you find that amazing? The Japanese ministers must marvel at our system of allowing failed leadership to stay onboard.

But then why should any government officials resign? With corporations downsizing all over the place, it's not exactly as if they have jobs waiting for them - yet.

And why should any of the leaders of the failed and failing financial institutes resign? What, without a golden parachute?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guess we can blame this on the democratic majorities in congress

Reporting on the state of the US auto industry, the UK's Guardian notes that:

Since 2006, Detroit's three major manufacturers have cut more than 100,000 jobs, hitting hard in the so-called "rust belt" of manufacturing across Michigan, Indiana and Ohio in America's midwest. Ford has mortgaged most of its assets to raise money, including its blue oval logo.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Here's a secretary of defense candidate

On January 28, 2003, William S. Lind introduced the first of his On War series of weekly articles announcing

Beginning this Tuesday, January 28, 2003, I will offer an "On War" commentary each week until the Iraq business is over and done. I suspect that may be awhile.

Lind proceeded to ask (and answer) a question that makes him appear, with the benefit of hindsight, to be almost oracle-like:

[H]ow does the coming war with Iraq look at the moral level? Here, the U.S. seems to be leading with its chin. Why? Because the Administration in Washington has yet to come up with a convincing rationale for why the United States should attack Iraq.

The argument that Iraq, a small, poor (it didn't used to be, but it is now), Third World country halfway around the world is a direct threat to the U.S.A. is not credible. Yes, Saddam probably has some chemical and biological weapons. But few tyrants are bent on suicide, and the notion that he would use them to attack the United States, except in self-defense, makes no sense. Nor does it seem likely he would give them to non-state actors like al Quaeda—again, except in self-defense—because non-state forces and Fourth Generation warfare are as much a threat to him as to us.

It is of course true that Saddam is a tyrant (his model, by the way, is obviously Stalin, not Hitler). So what? Mesopotamia has been ruled by tyrants since before history began, and it will be ruled by tyrants long after North America is once again tribal territories. The last President who tried to export democracy on American bayonets was Woodrow Wilson. That's one of the reasons he counts as America's worst President, ever. Very few people, in America or the rest of the world, wish to see us revive the practice.

Most importantly, the real threat we face is the Fourth Generation, non-state players such as al Quaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. They can only benefit from an American war against Iraq—regardless of how it turns out.

So, why can't we have people with this level of insight advising the leader of the so-call "free world?"

And manage only to make things worse

David Vest, writing at Counterpunch poses a hypothetical, well worth considering:

If the Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress for 6-8 years, and manage only to make things worse, then both major parties will have been exposed as frauds, and maybe our two-party/one-agenda regime will come crashing down along with everything else in this system-eating system of ours.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," I imagine the reader responding.

Passed up a historic chance for a new partnership

Via Reuters, the Moscow Times has this fascinating article quoting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev extensively. Medvedev is extremely critcal of U.S. military aggression (so am I). He also suggests banning military force or the threat of force (but how would the U.S. engage politics internationally if not by force or the threat thereof?). And, if the U.S. were to quit the arms race it has perpetuated with itself, why, think of the size of the federal bail out that would be needed to save the military contractors. Seems like the world is all turned upside down. Can't tell who the good guys are anymore.

President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that the United States' self-styled role as the world's dominant power was undermining international security.

"A desire by the United States to consolidate its global domination led to it missing a historical chance ... to build a truly democratic world order," Medvedev said of U.S. actions since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Addressing an international conference in the French resort town of Evian, Medvedev also said Russia's war with Georgia in August showed that the security mechanism in Europe, which he said was based around NATO and the United States, needed a major overhaul.

The Kremlin leader proposed a new security pact that would ban the use of force or the threat of its use and would make clear that no single country, including Russia, would have a monopoly on providing security for the continent.

In an unusually emotional speech, Medvedev said Washington passed up a historic chance for a new partnership after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities, when Moscow offered to join Washington in fighting terrorism.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Washington's plans to station elements of a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe -- a project fiercely opposed by Moscow -- scotched that partnership, Medvedev said.

"After toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the United States started a series of unilateral actions," he said. "As a result, a trend appeared in international relations toward creating dividing lines. This was in fact the revival of a policy popular in the past and known as containment."

Russia launched a massive counterstrike to crush an attempt by Georgian forces to retake the separatist South Ossetia region. Its troops then pushed deep inside Georgia, a response Western states said was disproportionate.

Under a deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia agreed to pull out its troops by Friday from "security zones" it set up outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebel, pro-Russian breakaway region of Georgia.

In sharp contrast to his comments about the United States, Medvedev praised the EU for its handling of the Georgia crisis. Sarkozy acted as a mediator on behalf of the 27-member bloc, of which France currently holds the rotating presidency.

"I want to stress the constructive role of the European Union in finding a peaceful option for overcoming the Caucasus crisis," he said. "When other forces in the world were reluctant or incapable of doing this, it was in the European Union that we found a ... responsible and pragmatic partner."

"I believe this is a testimony to the maturity of Russia-EU relations, which have passed their test with dignity," Medvedev said.

Only 21st century Americans

In an article entitled Mad Dog Palin, Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone, paints the portrait of a convention we're unlikely to see on network television any time soon:

All around me, a million cops in their absurd post-9/11 space-combat get-ups stand guard as assholes in papier-mâché puppet heads scramble around for one last moment of network face time before the coverage goes dark. Four-chinned delegates from places like Arkansas and Georgia are pouring joyously out the gates in search of bars where they can load up on Zombies and Scorpion Bowls and other "wild" drinks and extramaritally grope their turkey-necked female companions in bathroom stalls as part of the "unbelievable time" they will inevitably report to their pals back home. Only 21st-century Americans can pass through a metal detector six times in an hour and still think they're at a party.

In that moment, the rank cynicism of the whole sorry deal was laid bare. Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed Middle American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her.

How Mr Straight Talk was born

Writing for Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson has a long article which debunks the myths of the McCain maverickness. Dickinson draws a number of comparisons between McCain and Bush noting one difference - Bush was a better pilot. A must read.

The Keating affair also taught McCain a vital lesson about handling the media. When the scandal first broke, he went ballistic on reporters who questioned his wife's financial ties to Keating — calling them "liars" and "idiots." Predictably, the press coverage was merciless. So McCain dialed back the anger and turned up the charm. "I talked to the press constantly, ad infinitum, until their appetite for information from me was completely satisfied," he later wrote. "It is a public relations strategy that I have followed to this day." Mr. Straight Talk was born.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Avoiding the need for costly investigations

Emily Horowitz writes about false confessions in Counterpunch. The military-industrial-congressional-prison-infotainment-education complex relies on confessions to handle the overwhelming number of cases that come before the courts.

[T]he U.S. is heavily invested in a criminal justice system that would be paralyzed without confessions. Ninety-two per cent of felony convictions are obtained by plea bargains or confessions. That’s a far higher rate than in other countries (Italy’s, for example, is 8 per cent, and Norway doesn’t allow plea bargaining at all).

Relying on confessions to prosecute crimes is thrifty because it avoids the need for costly investigations. But it’s also very destructive to justice, according to Jerusalem University criminologist Boaz Sangero. Writing in a recent issue of Cardozo Law Review, he lists several problems. The first is that, after a suspect is apprehended, police tend to ignore serious investigation; instead, they focus on getting a confession. And once the confession is obtained, any other work going on at all typically ends. The push to handle cases this way encourages misbehavior in the interrogation room.

Further, reliance on confessions promotes disgraceful conditions of detention. Jails are often worse than prisons. Filth, bad food, lack of sunlight, crowding and violence pressure people to say they did something – anything, whether it’s true or not – just to get out of lockup. Then, because they’ve confessed, we figure it’s OK to keep others like them in awful cells – and to bring in more detainees for interrogation. It’s a vicious circle, and most who get trapped in it are poor, uneducated, and unacculturated. Their marginal status is bound up with the moralistic judgment that they are different from us, and therefore bad. Their badness reinforces our willingness to keep a bad system in place. It probably also allows us to export illegal interrogation – our 1930s-era torture, updated – to places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Beyond fear of the bad “other” and desire for a bargain, though, there’s a more fundamental, existential reason why dependence on self-incrimination is mean and unfair. As Sangero notes, any kind of interrogation which focuses on obtaining confessions – legal or illegal – probably violates people’s rights. That’s because, from the point of view of self-interest, confession makes no sense at all. People are asked to help themselves by condemning themselves. It is deeply irrational.

That irrationality is especially apparent in the many confessions made, even though they were not extracted directly by police questioning. In fact, as Sanjero notes, it’s possible that most confessions arise not from external coercion but from states of dependency and abjection that people internalized before they were ever interrogated.

Historical and legal records abound with examples. After Charles Lindbergh’s baby was abducted, over 200 people walked into police stations and said they were the kidnapper. More than 30 told authorities they were the murderer of a woman who came to be known as “The Black Dahlia” – a Hollywood actress whose mutilated body was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles in the 1940s. In a case that truly smacks of internalized abjection and desire for quick death, Heinrich Himmler lost his pipe while visiting a concentration camp during World War II. A search ensued, but on returning to his car Himmler found the pipe on his seat. Meanwhile, the camp commandant reported that six prisoners had already confessed to stealing it.

Since they are not products of police interrogation, no amount of videotaping will eradicate these confessions. Yet, we accept them. At least partly, this is because quick admissions of guilt are cheap, and easy on the justice system. But, more fundamentally, the very concept of confession is deeply embedded in our culture.

It was not always so. Ancient Jewish law barred criminal confessions. In Talmudic commentary – cited in the Supreme Court's Miranda decision, by the way – the rabbinical scholar Maimonides notes, “The court shall not put a man to death or flog him on his own admission.” Additional evidence and witnesses are needed, Maimonides explains, because the impulse to confess is, by definition, self-destructive. Of a man who professes guilt, there is always the possibility that he is “one of those who are in misery, bitter in soul, who long for death …perhaps this was the reason that prompted him to confess to a crime he had not committed, in order that he be put to death.”

Since the 1551 Council of Trent, however, the Roman Catholic Church has taught that confession is good for the soul – yea, even necessary, to save it and purge it of impurity. This religious notion has since been incorporated into law and into the modern, secular definition of the self. Being a fully realized person today requires full disclosure to family, friends, and even (in the case of writers, artists and public figures) to the polity: of one’s deepest emotions, darkest sexual impulses, and past misdoings. Confession isn’t just good for the self. We need confession to be a self.

But when self meets soul in the modern justice system, it’s a train wreck of contradiction. As Yale University comparative literature scholar Peter Brooks notes in his book Troubling Confessions, “That we continue to encourage the police to obtain confessions whenever possible implies a nearly Dostoevskian model of the criminal suspect … we want him to break down and confess, we want and need his abjection since this is the best guarantee that he needs punishment, and that in punishing him our consciences are clear.” On the other hand, our Mirandan insistence “that the suspect’s will must not be overborne, that he be a conscious agent of his undoing, of course implies the opposite, that we don’t want Dostoevskian groveling in the interrogation room, but the voluntary (manly?) assumption of guilt. Hence the paradox of the confession that must be called voluntary while everything conduces to assure that it is not.”

It wasn’t so long ago that masters of American jurisprudence were actively grappling with this contradiction. In the 1966 Miranda decision, Earl Warren recommended that the police find other evidence to solve a crime than the “cruel, simple expedient of compelling it from [the suspect’s] own mouth.” Twelve years before Warren made that statement, Abe Fortas, who later would replace Warren on the Supreme Court, wrote that “Mea culpa belongs to a man and his God. It is a plea that cannot be exacted from free men by human authority.”

Today, Sangero agrees with these liberal lawmakers from a bygone era. He wholly opposes the eliciting and use of confession to solve and prosecute crimes. But, if confession is employed, he believes the case should never go forward unless meaningful evidence is first gathered from sources independent of the confession – evidence that strongly shows, rather than merely suggests, that the suspect committed the crime. Many people fear that such a policy would allow lots of guilty people to go free. Sangero dismisses their worries. Forensic science in the U.S. today is so sophisticated and high tech, he says, that police have only to use it. All that is required to convict criminals justly is that the cops do their job.

Sangero is very leery of putting too much emphasis on recording. Sure, he says, it’s needed. But narrowly focusing on videotaping reforms does not encourage the police to redirect investigations away from defendants’ self-incrimination and toward the gathering of independent evidence.

They treat governing as a converyor belt or an ATM machine

Naomi Klein makes some excellent points in her interview with Amy Goodmand on DemocracyNow! criticizing Milton Freidman and the "Chicago School" of Economics.

So, I think all ideologies should be held accountable for the crimes committed in their names. I think it makes us better. Now, of course, there are still those on the far left who will insist that all of those crimes were just an aberration—Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot; reality is annoying—and they retreat into their sacred texts. We all know who I’m talking about.

But lately, particularly just in the past few months, I have noticed something similar happening on the far libertarian right, at places like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation. It’s a kind of a panic, and it comes from the fact that the Bush administration adapted—adopted so much of their rhetoric, the fusing of free markets and free people, the championing of so many of their pet policies. But, of course, Bush is the worst thing that has ever happened to believers in this ideology, because while parroting the talking points of Friedmanism, he has overseen an explosion of crony capitalism, that they treat governing as a conveyor belt or an ATM machine, where private corporations make withdrawals of the government in the form of no-bid contracts and then pay back government in the form of campaign contributions. And we’re seeing this more and more. The Bush administration is a nightmare for these guys—the explosion of the debt and now, of course, these massive bailouts.

So, what we see from the ideologues of the far right—by far right, I mean the far economic right—frantically distancing themselves and retreating to their sacred texts: The Road to Serfdom, Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose. So that’s why I’ve taken to calling them right-wing Trotskyists, because they have this—and mostly because it annoys them, but also because they have the same sort of frozen-in-time quality. You know, it’s not, you know, 1917, but it’s definitely 1982. Now, the left-wing Trots don’t have very much money, as you know. They make their money selling newspapers outside of events like this. The right-wing Trots have a lot of money. They build think tanks in Washington, D.C., and they want to build a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago.

Now, this brings up an interesting point. It’s an interesting point about the think tanks, in general, which has to do with the fact that it does seem to take so much corporate welfare to keep these ideas alive, which would seem to be a contradiction of the core principle of free market ideology—I mean, and particularly now, in the context of the Milton Friedman Institute. I mean, I could see it in the ’90s, but now, is the world really clamoring for this? Is there really a demand that you are supplying here? Really?

I think this points to a larger issue, and this comes up—has come up for me again and again in talking about this ideology, this ideological campaign. You know, is it—is it really fueled by true belief, and—or is it just fueled by greed? Because it’s not—the thoughts are so very profitable. So they are distinctive in that way, distinctive from other ideologies. And, of course, you know, certainly we know that religion has been a great economic partner in imperialism. I mean, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. But this is a question that comes up a lot. And I think it’s very difficult to answer, and it’s clear, certainly at this school, that much of it is fueled by belief, by true belief, by falling in love with those elegant systems.

But I think we also need to look particularly at this moment, who this ideology benefits directly economically, keeping it alive in this moment, and how, even in this moment, when everybody is saying, you know, this is the end of market fundamentalism, because we’re seeing this betrayal of the basic tenets of the non-interventionist government by the Bush administration—you know, I believe this is a myth and that the ideology has just gone dormant, because it’s ceased to be useful. But it will come roaring back

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The screen has captured American children en masse

I missed this Tomgram report from Tom Engelheardt, In the Zone with G.I. Joe when it was first posted in December of 2004. In documenting the history of the GI Joe action figure, as well as the history of children playing with toys on the floor, Tom performs the tremendous service of documenting elements U.S. commercialism (perhaps to be confused with U.S. exceptionalism) and showing a disturbing connection from the games children play to the way our military and ever more militarized police forces have come to resemble video game characters.

Both right and left have been deeply disturbed by the way our commercial century, in the form of the screen and the ad in particular, has colonized every previously private or sacred space (home, school, church, the family, the bedroom, the body) and many have focused on the details -- the "violence" and mayhem of video games, the sight of Janet Jackson's pre-prepared nipple or Nicollette Sheridan's naked back. Neither the right, nor the left has, however, been particularly successful at coming to grips with the way consumerism has spent an American Century's worth of time breaking all boundaries of time, space, and desire.

If today you really wrote a landmark history of the last century, the conquerors would seize our time, communities, purses and emotional valences; the great battles would be for market share and property rights globally; the freedom-givers would offer that most modern of freedoms, the right to choose among many channels, catalogs, brands, and the shifting identities that go with them. Of course, the landmarks of the year 2004 aren't to be found in any book, but in the swooshes on our sneakers, the apples on our computers, the Mickey Mouses on our T-shirts, the golden arches that soar over our heads, and that "real American hero" on the child's floor. So ignore media arguments about what books should be read and what history should be taught and take a good long look from that floor to the screen in your house.

Out here, in the cyber-marketplace, all history has been superseded by a new kind of story-telling. On that child's floor and on the various screens of childhood are a set of "stories" for straight shooters, largely barren of historical context, reflecting mainly the stripped-down global-selling environment from which they arise; so insular (yet all-encompassing and well-armed) are they as to be both conquering heroes and nothing at all.

Our troops in Iraq represent the first video-game generation, kids who spent their teen years ramping up their weaponry in outer space as on Earth. Perhaps then it's not surprising that, trapped in Iraq, they now speak of the enemy familiarly as "the bad guys."

But as any video-game "Zone" will tell you, as [G.I.] Joe's own history indicates, that old world of "landmarks" is long gone -- and that would have been so even if the invasion of Iraq had been a success, even if Syria and Iran had fallen like ten pins, even if the world's oil supplies were secured for us for generations to come. What the culture wars and the history wars and all the rest of the angry buzz hardly touch, what George Bush has no way of saying, is that, for decades, our world has been continually dismantled and restructured in a way that spells a kind of defeat. Like Joe in the Vietnam years, our President has a hold on our nation, but you can't spend two hours in a toy palace and not think that he won't, in the end, go the way of the giant Joe.

The conclusion of this piece highlights a phenomenon evidenced at the Republican Party Nomination Convention in Minneapolis. The militarization of America continues unabated, taken as a given. But the locus of the enemy has gotten much closer to home. War protesters are really high upon the list of internal enemies. can often catch sight of the New York Police Department's heavily-armed HERCULES teams, specially stationed at "landmarks" and tourist attractions, togged out in full tactical gear, including the sort of dark helmets and heavy body armor that might leave them at home anywhere in outer space or possibly as the bad guys in some near-future shadow-op scenario.

The military and our increasingly militarized police look ever more like something out of an off-Earth video game or a comic book. They and the toy and video-game companies grow ever closer. (The Army is reportedly even patterning a new, fast-loading assault rifle on Hasbro's popular Super Soaker Water Gun.) Perhaps it's not that history, in the form of the military, is returning to the child's world, but that the exotic look first developed in that world is about to seize history by the throat with mayhem in mind.

What would Molly Ivins Say?

When assessing what a political candidate will do once in office, dear Molly Ivins would say you need to do three things: Look at the record; look at the record; look at the record. Confirming this analysis, Steve Soto posts at the Left Coaster:

I would remind all of you that George W. Bush left Texas in far worse shape than he found it, and history is simply repeating itself. The man is a walking catastrophe, now with a sidekick where the both of them represent Disaster Squared.

Oh, read the whole post. A GWB cousin, was an executive at Lehmann Bros was warned:

Because Bush’s own cousin was a Lehman executive, who rejected any idea that corporate fiscal prudence outweigh an executive smash and grab on their way out the door.

Waxman said that in January, Fuld and his board were warned the company's "liquidity can disappear quite fast."

Despite that warning, he said, "Mr. Fuld depleted Lehman's capital reserves by over $10 billion through year-end bonuses, stock buybacks, and dividend payments."

I guess, it's just a family affair.

This gambit has turned out to be clever rather than smart

Writing for the Washington Post, Andrew Bacevich presents a compelling case that Bush's biggest gamble was not invading and occupying Iraq as a response to 9/11, but rather attempting to do so cheaply, without requiring financial sacrifice from the American people.

It's widely thought that the biggest gamble President Bush ever took was deciding to invade Iraq in 2003. It wasn't. His riskiest move was actually one made right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when he chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to any wartime economic sacrifice. Bush tried to remake the world on the cheap, and as the bill grew larger, he still refused to ask Americans to pay up. During this past week, that gamble collapsed, leaving the rest of us to sort through the wreckage.

To understand this link between today's financial crisis and Bush's wider national security decisions, we need to go back to 9/11 itself. From the very outset, the president described the "war on terror" as a vast undertaking of paramount importance. But he simultaneously urged Americans to carry on as if there were no war. "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he urged just over two weeks after 9/11. "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." Bush certainly wanted citizens to support his war -- he just wasn't going to require them actually to do anything. The support he sought was not active but passive. It entailed not popular engagement but popular deference. Bush simply wanted citizens (and Congress) to go along without asking too many questions.

So his administration's policies reflected an oddly business-as-usual approach. Senior officials routinely described the war as global in scope and likely to last decades, but the administration made no effort to expand the armed forces. It sought no additional revenue to cover the costs of waging a protracted conflict. It left the nation's economic priorities unchanged. Instead of sacrifices, it offered tax cuts. So as the American soldier fought, the American consumer binged, encouraged by American banks offering easy credit.

From September 2001 until September 2008, this approach allowed Bush to enjoy nearly unfettered freedom of action. To fund the war on terror, Congress gave the administration all the money it wanted. Huge bipartisan majorities appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars, producing massive federal deficits and pushing the national debt from roughly $6 trillion in 2001 to just shy of $10 trillion today. Even many liberal Democrats who decried the war routinely voted to approve this spending, as did conservative Republicans who still trumpeted their principled commitment to fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets.

Bush seems to have calculated -- cynically but correctly -- that prolonging the credit-fueled consumer binge could help keep complaints about his performance as commander in chief from becoming more than a nuisance. Members of Congress calculated -- again correctly -- that their constituents were looking to Capitol Hill for largesse, not lessons in austerity. In this sense, recklessness on Main Street, on Wall Street and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue proved mutually reinforcing.

For both the Bush administration and Congress, this gambit has turned out to be clever rather than smart. The ongoing crisis on Wall Street has now, in effect, ended the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, a month before elections, panic-stricken members of Congress are desperately trying to insulate Main Street from the effects of that crisis -- or at least to pass the blame onto someone else.

What Bacevich has written, to this point, offers an excellent historical summary. But his article continues, offering an ever more in depth perspective; a continued peeling of the onion, revealing even more layers of meaning, text and subtext.

Even today, the scope of those ambitions is not widely understood, in part due to the administration's own obfuscations. After September 2001, senior officials described U.S. objectives as merely defensive, designed to prevent further terrorist attacks. Or they wrapped America's purposes in the gauze of ideology, saying that our aim was to spread freedom and eliminate tyranny. But in reality, the Bush strategy conceived after 9/11 was expansionist, shaped above all by geopolitical considerations. The central purpose was to secure U.S. preeminence across the strategically critical and unstable greater Middle East. Securing preeminence didn't necessarily imply conquering and occupying this vast region, but it did require changing it -- comprehensively and irrevocably. This was not some fantasy nursed by neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard or the American Enterprise Institute. Rather, it was the central pillar of the misnamed enterprise that we persist in calling the "global war on terror."

At a Pentagon press conference on Sept. 18, 2001, then-defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld let the cat out of the bag: "We have a choice, either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter." This was not some slip of the tongue. The United States was now out to change the way "they" -- i.e., hundreds of millions of Muslims living in the Middle East -- live. Senior officials did not shrink from -- perhaps even relished -- the magnitude of the challenges that lay ahead. The idea, wrote chief Pentagon strategist Douglas J. Feith in a May 2004 memo, was to "transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally."

But if the administration's goals were grandiose, its means were modest. The administration's governing assumption was that the U.S. military, as constituted in late 2001, ought to suffice to transform the Middle East. Bush could afford to tell the American people to go on holiday and head back to the mall because the indomitable American soldier could be counted on to liberate (and thereby pacify) the Muslim world.

For a while, that seemed to work: The Taliban fell quickly, with little need for the U.S. taxpayer to shell out for a larger military. But the Bush team turned quickly to Iraq, hoping to demonstrate on an even grander scale what the determined exercise of U.S. power could achieve. This proved a fatal miscalculation. After five and a half years of arduous effort, Iraq continues to drain U.S. resources on a colossal scale. Violence is down, but expenditures are not. An end to the U.S. commitment is nowhere in sight.

The achievements of Gen. David H. Petraeus notwithstanding, the primary lesson of the Iraq war remains this one: To imagine that the United States can easily and cheaply invade, occupy and redeem any country in the Muslim world is sheer folly. That holds true in Afghanistan, too, where the reinforcements that Gen. David D. McKiernan, the recently appointed U.S. commander, says he needs to turn things around will be unavailable until at least next spring.

Yet there is an economic lesson here too. "We have more will than wallet," the president's father said in 1989 during his own inaugural address. That is again painfully true today. The 2008 election finds the Pentagon cupboard bare, the U.S. Treasury depleted, the economy in disarray and the average American household feeling acute distress. Profligacy at home and profligacy abroad have combined to produce a grave crisis. This time around, telling Americans to head for Disney World won't work. The credit card's already maxed out, and the banks are refusing to pony up for new loans.

It's not surprising that people don't cotton to the idea of spending $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. Nor should they find it acceptable to spend as much as that, or more, to perpetuate a misguided and never-ending global war. But like it or not, the bill collector is pounding on the door. Bush's parting gift to the nation will be to let others figure out how to settle accounts.

Long invasions and occupations invariably cost LOTS of money. LOTS.

Yet in this article, most assuredly a condemnation of the policies of Cheney / Bush and the neocons, not one word about what the impacts are to the Iraqi people. One million plus dead, killed either directly or indirectly as a consequence of the decision to remake the middle east. Four million plus refugees. The squalor of daily life and living. The kidnappings. The lack of electricity. The tens of thousands of Iraqis jailed, tortured, abused. These are the horrors which WE the people permitted to be unleashed upon the Iraqis, and we are all culpable. Remember, GWB was re-elected. That signal event was sufficient to tell the world all that is needed to know about the American people.

Monday, October 6, 2008

There's no fines, no enforcement mechanisms

Tom Feran of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has written a fascinating article about the efficacy of lies in political advertising. The reason political ads lie, is because, LIES WORK!

Whatever the intent or term, false and negative ads often work very well, said Dr. Carolyn Lin, a communications professor at the University of Connecticut who formerly taught at Cleveland State University. "When it works, it works like a charm, and historically it has worked. That's why they do it.

"The unfortunate thing about political advertising," she added, "is that when you tell lies, these lies often stick, and the liars never receive any penalties.

West agreed. "Candidates aren't worried so much anymore about a media backlash, and McCain's campaign thinks the public is less likely to listen to reporters."

In fact, studies have shown that debunking falsehoods can have the backfire effect of reinforcing falsehoods by repeating them.

People screen out facts that run counter to broad narratives they accept, and they perceive reality in a way that conforms to their long-held beliefs, said science writer Farhad Manjoo, who writes about the phenomenon in his book "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society."

"You can go so far as to say we're now fighting over competing versions of reality. And it is more convenient than ever before for some of us to live in a world built out of our own facts," he said.

By rebutting untruths, meanwhile, a candidate departs from his own message and can risk being seen as weak or complaining.

Legally, candidates have a right to lie to voters just about as much as they want
, said's Jackson.

The Federal Communications Commission requires broadcasters to run ads uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe they are false. And the Federal Election Commission deals with finances, not ads.

"Ohio has the toughest truth in political advertising law in the nation, and it doesn't work," Jackson said. "There's no fines, no enforcement mechanism."

A little over 40 years ago the 20th century marketing genius Rod MacArthur oversaw the mail sales advertising campaign for one of the first Medicare Supplement policies. What most interested Rod was what induced people to buy, and thus the preliminary mailings were stratified into two types of advertising copy: "clean", or thorough disclosure, and "dirty", consisting of ... well, hyperbole. He discovered that more people were swayed by the hyperbole (selling the sizzle rather than the steak).

Okay. So political advertising is dirty. Politics is dirty. What is a citizen's duty in such a context? I'd say it is to make ones self as well informed as possible, to avoid buying into the sizzle. To realize that advertising that reinforces one's world view just makes the sale that much easier.

And to get involved. This was Gore Vidal's advice:

Q: What can people do to energize democracy?

Vidal: The tactic would be to go after smaller offices, state by state, school board, sheriff, state legislatures. You can turn them around and that doesn’t take much of anything. Take back everything at the grassroots, starting with state legislatures. That’s what Madison always said.