Saturday, September 06, 2003


Now that even warhawks of the right are openly discussing the "root causes" of terrorism (with even Donald Rumsfeld sounding a bit like Susan Sontag) it's probably safe to share the following lyrics from a CD that has stayed near my stereo during the past few months.

The song is by Terry Taylor and the band Daniel Amos. Bonus points to anyone who can guess the context of when this was written:

Father Explains

his bare feet are calloused he hikes up his pants
his mother says "son you're too young for the ranks"
we need food for our family not airplanes and tanks
and that's where the money's all gone
eight brothers and sisters but three of them died
caught out in the marketplace with nowhere to hide
the boy thinks god may be over on the devil's die
where the line in the sand has been drawn

father's screaming now "somebody put out the light
if god wills it now we'll be in heaven tonight"
(oh yeah) the bombs came down like steel rain
(oh yeah) hit the ground like steel rain
(oh yeah) nothing sounds like steel rain
"it's our lot in life, son" his father explains

when the total of life has been suffering and hate
death on the doorstep and endless debate
then god only knows how much blood it will take
before someone makes right all the wrong
so bitter and hardened too old for his age
the boy screams his madness succumbs to his rage
now he's just another death on the bottom of the page
and that's how the story goes on

father's screaming now "somebody put out the light
if god wills it now we'll be in heaven tonight"
(oh yeah) the bombs came down like steel rain
(oh yeah) scarred the ground like steel rain
(oh yeah) nothing sounds like steel rain
"it's our lot in life daughter" the father explains

posted by Fred Clark 5:54 PM

Friday, September 05, 2003


Tom at TBogg is scathingly funny and if you're not reading him on a daily basis, you're missing out.

Reading TBogg over the past year has meant getting accustomed to the occasional disappointment -- the news that Tom would not be blogging much on a given weekend because he was attending his daughter's baseball tournament. Or soccer tournament. You find yourself checking back in not only to see if he's back to pureeing Ann Coulter and the Virgin Ben, but also because, over time, you've developed an interest in his daughter's athletic career. At some point you go from thinking "no sense checking TBogg, he's off at some tournament or something" to thinking "hmm, nothing new on TBogg ... oh that's right, it's the big game, I wonder how she's doing."

All of which is the long way of saying that I'm probably not the only TBogg reader who was pleased to read today about a certain young fieldgoal kicker who became the first female athlete at her school to score in a boys football game. Congratulations to the whole TBogg family.

posted by Fred Clark 5:11 PM


Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear, offers another snapshot of "the real America" in his essay "Cry California," about that state's recall election.

I'm not a fan of Davis' Naderite election strategies (look where that got us, Mike), but the picture he paints of what is at stake in this election is dead on:

The Coachella Valley is the prototype of a future -- Beverly Hills meets Tijuana -- that California conservatives seem to dream of creating everywhere. The western side of the Valley, from Palm Springs to La Quinta, is an air-conditioned paradise of gated communities built around artificial lakes and eighteen-hole golf courses. The typical resident is a 65-year-old retired white male in a golf cart. He is a zealous voter who disapproves of taxes, affirmative action and social services for the immigrants who wait on him.

The east side of the Valley, from Indio to Mecca, is where the resort maids, busboys, pool cleaners and farmworkers live. There is an artificial mountain built out of 500,000 tons of sludge (solid sewage) trucked in from Los Angeles, but nary a blade of grass. In Duroville the largest body of water is the sewage lagoon and the local playground is a dioxin-contaminated landfill. The typical resident is 18 years-old, speaks Spanish or Mixtec, and works all day in the blast-furnace desert heat. She/he, most likely, is not yet a citizen and therefore ineligible to vote.

This feudal nightmare is becoming a reality in more and more of America -- Davis calls it "creeping Mississippization."

This is what's at stake in the California recall. It's also what's at stake in the Texas redistricting fight (see again Michelle Goldberg's "The Texas stalemate: It's all about race" in Salon), in Gov. Riley's tax reform campaign in Alabama, and in the 2004 presidential election.

posted by Fred Clark 12:11 PM


Iraq had the capability of intending to develop the capacity to pose a potential threat.

Jimmy Carter was widely ridiculed when he responded to a reporter's question about adultery by saying he had "lusted in his heart," which amounted to the same thing.

Carter was referring to a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:27-28 says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Part of the idea here is that evil motives can be just bad as evil deeds.

This idea also apparently shapes the Bush administration's policy on the "imminent" threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

As Molly Ivins (most recently) points out, the initial argument for war on Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction." Thus:

• "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." -- Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 26, 2002.

• "The Iraqi regime possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons." -- Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.

• "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his 'nuclear mujahideen' -- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past."-- Bush, Oct. 7, 2002.

• "We know for a fact there are weapons there." -- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Jan. 9, 2003.

• "Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of Sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent." -- Bush, Jan. 28, 2003.

• "We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more." -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, Feb. 5, 2003.

• "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." -- Bush, March 17, 2003.

• "Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly." -- Fleischer, March 21, 2003.

• "We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so." -- Bush, May 3, 2003.

As the weeks turned to months without finding a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, the language shifted. After May 1, you stopped hearing President Bush and his aides speaking about "weapons of mass destruction." Instead, they began talking about "weapons programs."

But after four months of searching, little evidence has surfaced that Iraq had even weapons "programs." Thus the administration is searching for some new semantic twist to add even more layers of abstraction and turn their original claim -- "Saddam now has weapons of mass destruction" -- into something vague enough that it still might be true.

Yesterday's comments by John R. Bolton, under secretary for arms control and international security affairs, (via Atrios), take this semantic dodgeball to a ridiculous new level:

"The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have ... WMD programs," Bolton said at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. ...

"Whether he possessed them today or four years ago isn't really the issue," he said.

We might as well say the war was justified because Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait and "whether he did so today or 13 years ago isn't really the issue." (For that matter, the Iraqis invaded Israel -- and "whether they did so today under Saddam Hussein or during the time of Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria isn't really the issue.")

Note how Bolton attempts to add two new layers of abstraction to the original claim. Here's a scorecard:

March 2003: They have WEAPONS ready to use in 45 minutes.

Mid-May 2003: They have WEAPONS PROGRAMS that might some day develop weapons.

September 2003: They are SEEKING weapons programs. And even if it turns out they're not seeking them, they are CAPABLE of seeking weapons programs that might someday develop weapons.

In other words, Saddam looked upon America's weapons of mass destruction with lust, and thus posed a clear and present danger in his heart.

posted by Fred Clark 10:31 AM


After six years in America, Ed Vulliamy, a correspondent for The Observer (U.K.) has written a "Farewell America" love-letter that covers everything from how America lost its cool to the future of 'Amexico.'

The following vignette from Vulliamy's farewell made me proud to be an American.

It was an event with little bearing on indigenous Anglo-Saxon America that brought out the inimitable best, the essence, of New York: the 2002 World Cup, when hard-working immigrant America, of whatever generation or skin color, took over.

Every national team played at home in some cranny of the city -- in home-language bars and cafes to festoon with flags and weep or whoop. American citizens wearing rival shirts -- Nigerian, Ecuadorian, Russian, whatever -- would pass each other on the street with a dichotomous glance and smile of recognition that said, simultaneously: 'Hail, fellow' and 'F--- off.'

The time difference was punishing; games televised at 2.30am, 5.30am and 7.30am. Immigrant New York, myself included, gave up sleep for a month. Up to Harlem by night: the Cafe Africa in 'Little Senegal' around 116th Street, to watch the Lions at 2.30. After their team qualified for the quarter-final, the Senegalese danced and ran across the tops of parked cars through a ghetto dawn. Straight on, though, to Third Avenue for England or Ireland, to Queens for Turkey or Poland, and thence to grab a perch at the packed Caffè l'Angolo in SoHo for the Azzuri against Mexico, here a local derby. 'Ecco la vera America' -- behold the real America -- said a correspondent for La Gazetta dello Sport of Milan, and he wasn't far wrong.

Someone like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay reads a story like this and gets frightened and indignant. DeLay doesn't seem to realize his title -- "majority" leader -- refers to his party's status in the House and not to ethnic demographics.

Of course in DeLay's home state of Texas, white people's status as "the majority" is about to change due to the steady increase of Texas' Hispanic population. That fact, Michelle Goldberg writes in Salon, is what DeLay's push for double-redistricting is all about:

The redistricting standoff comes at a time when blacks and Latinos are on track to become majorities in Texas, leading some Texas Democrats to believe Republicans are using redistricting to limit the effect of demographic changes. One exiled Democrat recalls the candid comment of a Republican colleague: "We have 10 years until Hispanics take over."

Behold the real America.

posted by Fred Clark 9:50 AM

Thursday, September 04, 2003


Slate's William Saletan gamely tries to keep pace with the culture of death in Florida, where anti-abortion terrorist Paul Hill has just been executed.

"Florida kills a man for killing a doctor for killing babies," is how Saletan sums it up. But it doesn't end there --

Now fanatics are threatening the lives of the officials who issued and administered Hill's death sentence. Bush, the judge, and two other Florida officials have received ominous letters, each containing a bullet. The message is obvious: Kill Hill, and we'll kill you.

So, here's where things stand: People are threatening to kill officials in Florida for killing Paul Hill for killing John Britton for killing unborn babies. And if they fulfill those threats, you can be sure that they'll be killed, too.

It's enough to make even death penalty supporters like Saletan question the logic of killing people to show that killing people is wrong. Where does it end? It doesn't.

posted by Fred Clark 1:55 PM

Wednesday, September 03, 2003


A look back at the first "second resolution" and a broken promise.

Returning to the AP report by Scott Lindlaw, note the passive-voice revisionist history of this claim:

Five months after the United States was forced to drop a U.N. resolution seeking authority to attack Iraq, administration officials said they did not want a repeat of that brawl.

The U.S. "was forced" to drop the resolution? Pray tell, who or what "forced" this to happen?

President Bush promised that he would bring that resolution to a vote "no matter what" (see this post, from March 16). The only thing that "forced" him to drop the vote was his congenital compulsion to break every promise he makes to the American people and the world.

Here, again, was that promise, from the March 6 press gallery puppet show:

REPORTER: As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren't sure you have the vote?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I don't think -- it basically says that he's in defiance of 1441. That's what the resolution says. And it's hard to believe anybody is saying he isn't in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we'll call for a vote.

REPORTER: No matter what?

THE PRESIDENT: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

As it turns out, the whip count didn't go the way Bush hoped, so he broke his promise, he abandoned the resolution (causing a world of hurt for Tony Blair) and he abandoned the idea that those on the Council who opposed his war should "let the world know where they stand."

Nobody "forced" this to happen. When you say you want a vote win-or-lose, "no matter what," you cannot be "forced" to drop the matter when you don't have the votes.

Here's James P. Rubin's account of the Bushies' diplomacy at the time of the abandoned second resolution (from "Stumbling Into War," in Foreign Affairs):

... In the endgame of the negotiations over the second resolution, London could not get Washington to acquiesce to several weeks' delay, despite the fact that waiting could have helped secure majority support and that top military officials said such a delay would have no appreciable impact on the conduct of the war. The administration simply did not care very much whether it had international backing or not, and the Europeans knew it.

According to Rubin's analysis, Bush was "forced" to drop the second resolution -- "forced" by the fact that he is a myopically self-centered, thin-skinned bully, incapable of considering the long-term unless it involves nursing a petty grudge.

Since the U.S. abandoned that resolution because "the administration simply did not care very much," nearly 300 American soldiers have died with thousands more wounded. Again, the administration simply does not care very much.

posted by Fred Clark 2:39 PM


A CBO report helps bring the White House to its senses.

Re-reading David Sanger's report in The New York Times I'm struck by how Sen. Robert Byrd scored a hit, a palpable hit, with his CBO study outlining the limits of America's ability to go it alone. Those limits are both financial and military:

The report said that if the Pentagon stuck to its plan of rotating active-duty Army troops out of Iraq after a year, it would be able to sustain a force of only 67,000 to 106,000 active duty and reserve Army and Marine forces. A larger force would put at risk the military's operations elsewhere around the globe, the study said. ...

"When you connect the dots, this report shows we cannot possibly sustain the mission in Iraq at current U.S. active-duty troop strength, even if we do get modestly more allied help," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. "The only hope otherwise is to turn the security mission entirely back to the Iraqis within one to two years, which is unlikely."

(Thankfully, while the article mentions the possibility of expanding the size of the U.S. military through recruitment -- an expensive, long-term endeavor -- no mention is made of the other means of expanding the ranks, i.e., the draft.)

I've referred to the occupation of Iraq as "Gaza on the Tigris." Like Israel, the United States possesses superior military strength -- we can beat anybody. But victory on the battlefield is not the primary challenge facing either the Israel or the U.S. The challenge is not to find a way to sustain an indefinite occupation by force -- no country has the troop strength or finances to do so -- but to find an alternative to such an occupation.

I'm still worried that the Bush administration will botch this newfound realization that U.N. authority is necessary in Iraq. But the CBO study gives Sen. Byrd a sturdy prod he can use to steer the White House in a sane direction:

Byrd said the report proved the Bush administration failed to inform the nation of the true costs of invading Iraq, and said the United States must now get support from NATO and the United Nations to sustain the occupation.

Let's hope Byrd succeeds.

posted by Fred Clark 1:58 PM


A chance to repair a year of diplomatic bungling.

Lots of "senior administration officials" were talking to reporters yesterday, telling them all about President Bush's discussion with Secretary of State Colin Powell in which the president apparently decided (finally) to seek a larger U.N. role in the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq.

"Administration officials" spoke with Mike Allen and Vernon Loeb of The Washington Post.

"Senior administration officials" spoke with David E. Sanger of The New York Times.

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press spoke to "three senior administration officials."

One wonders whether these were all the same administration officials and whether they would have been so talkative had Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld been around to insist that his new, lean 21st-century military was sufficient to the task at hand without any help from blue-helmeted peacekeepers from Old Europe.

But still, this is good news (from Lindlaw):

The Bush administration will ask the United Nations to transform the U.S.-led force in Iraq into a multinational force and to play a leading role in forming an Iraqi government.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met yesterday and agreed to move forward with a new U.N. resolution, an effort to attract more foreign contributions to postwar Iraq ...

The shape and extent of that "larger role" remains unclear -- particularly whether or not the administration is prepared to allow it to be the "central" role that our allies on the Security Council are seeking. (Yes, "allies." Despite talk radio idiocy and "freedom fries," France and Germany, Mexico and Canada are our allies.)

As Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, put it:

"The commitment of the United Nations has to be reinforced and reconceived. The authority in Iraq should be the U.N. as opposed to the occupying powers."

Zinser is seeking not merely a "larger" role, but the central role -- the mantle of authority for the new Iraq. He's right, of course, only such a change in authority can turn the occupation-by-force into a transition-by-rule-of-law. A central U.N. role is needed to legitimize the peacekeeping force in a new Iraq.

Yet it's not entirely clear from these reports that the Bush administration is interested in "legitimacy." Their idea of a "larger role" for the U.N. may essentially mean that the U.N.'s member states should write bigger checks, or that they should contribute more troops to an American operation. If that's what the new resolution is after, it is unlikely it will succeed any better than America's bungled pre-war attempts at bullying diplomacy. (James P. Rubin traces the history of that bungling with depressing thoroughness in a Foreign Affairs article called "Stumbling Into War.")

If the administration doesn't blow this, there's a real opportunity for the U.S. to continue to lead the military operation establishing security in Iraq, while getting a much needed infusion of assistance and legitimacy from the international community. The U.N., after all, has a much better track record at nation-building than does the Bush administration.

This could save American lives and help to improve the lives of the Iraqi people. As Dana Milbank writes in another Washington Post article:

With too few U.S. troops available to serve in Iraq, and too few nations volunteering troops in the absence of a U.N. imprimatur, the administration decided to do what the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) suggested recently: "swallow our pride and do what's supposed to be done: go back to the international community."

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Milbank also offers this commentary by former Pentagon official (in the Reagan administration) Frank J. Gaffney Jr.:

"The legitimacy of an American foreign policy initiative derives from its justness, wisdom and congressional approval, not from the vagaries of U.N. Security Council resolutions ... Now is no time to go wobbly on that principle."

I agree, in principle, that if a course of action is evidently just, wise and the will of the people, then the U.S. ought to be prepared to go ahead with that course of action regardless of whether or not the U.N. Security Council gives its approval. (This is what Clinton did in Kosovo, to cite one example.)

But Gaffney and his ilk seem to object to multilateralism per se, which seems unwise, unjust and contrary to the will of the people.

In any case, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not predicated on wisdom, or justice, or by the informed consent of Congress (the Nigerien nuclear fraud was unveiled on the eve of the Senate vote -- that was its purpose, its later inclusion in the State of the Union was an afterthought). And none of those sources can be credibly cited as the source of "legitimacy" for the war on Iraq.

The war was "legitimated" by shock and awe. By pure military might. Without some greater source of legitimacy -- such as the "vagaries of U.N. Security Council resolutions" -- we will have to continue to apply that military might, and the fighting will never end.

posted by Fred Clark 4:06 AM

Tuesday, September 02, 2003


Defining down "weapons of mass destruction."

Via Corrente I found this article from UPI analyst Martin Sieff, who notes that chaos and discord in Iraq ought not to surprise anyone who paid attention to the history of that country since its creation in 1918. Here's Sieff's kicker:

Friday's frightful bombing in Najaf, coming so soon as it does after the destruction of the U.N. compound in Baghdad and the murder of the chief U.N. envoy within it, serves notice that the bullet, the knife and the bomb are reigning again in Baghdad, just as they did during all those four long decades of supposedly enlightened British rule. U.S. policymakers should cease laboring under the delusion that they are about to change it.

I do have one quibble with Sieff's history. He writes:

The British, it should be remembered, ruled Iraq directly for 15 years from their military conquest in 1918 to 1933. And they remained the real power in the country behind a succession of puppet governments -- the most long-lasting of them led by Nuri e-Said -- for the next quarter of a century until 1958. It was an era when the technology did not yet exist to threaten the homeland of a world-spanning empire with weapons of mass destruction. ...

Sieff is too much of a historian to keep up with the faddish new uses of the term "weapons of mass destruction." He seems to think the term continues to mean only what it did for most of the 20th century -- nuclear weapons.

Thanks to the Neo-cons and the march to war in Iraq, the term no longer means only that. It's new, 21st-century meaning is much broader -- encompassing also chemical and biological weapons.

The meaning of the term has expanded in inverse proportion to the likelihood that Saddam Hussein's Iraq in fact possessed actual, nuclear, weapons of mass destruction. It has become so broad that now it even includes things like mustard gas -- a weapon used most prominently during World War I.

While the effects of mustard gas were horrific, its capacity for "mass destruction" did not rival the lethal effect of the machine gun -- a technological innovation of the time responsible for far more "mass destruction" in that era of trench warfare. It is a measure of how meaningless the term "weapons of mass destruction" has become that the category now includes mustard gas, while the machine gun is dismissively relegated to the category of "small arms."

From 1933 until 1958, the Iraqis did, in fact, have access to mustard gas. But it wasn't until 2003 that this became regarded as the possession of "weapons of mass destruction" and cause for a full-scale invasion and occupation of that country.

posted by Fred Clark 3:20 PM


The Gadfly of Philadelphia is so prolific that when he went on vacation this summer it took four worthy bloggers to fill his shoes. While Atrios was gone, the Eschatonics -- Leah, Lambert, Tresy and the Farmer -- maintained a steady stream of lively insight.

I'm delighted to learn that this fearsome foursome has found a non-interim home of their own.

Please add Corrente to your bookmarks. I've added it to mine.

posted by Fred Clark 3:15 PM


Drusilla, Rexella and the end of the world.

The special features of the Season 4 DVD collection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes an interview with James Marsters, who plays the vampire Spike.

It's a bit jarring to hear Marsters speak like an American, rather than the Johnny-Rotten-ish English accent he uses as Spike. Marsters clearly delights in the role -- villains are usually more fun to play. He describes Spike as "gleeful," but finding glee in "all the wrong things."

That statement was an "aha" moment -- one that helped me better understand something else entirely, something that had nothing to do with Joss Whedon's fictional world.

Shortly before watching the interview with the vampire, I was reading this discussion of Jack Van Impe's (overstated) claim that he was providing the Bush White House with advice about the Middle East and the "End Times."

Van Impe is a TV preacher whose weird, nightly news-styled show chronicles earthquakes, famines, floods, wars and rumors of war with a fanatical zeal. Van Impe sees these -- sees everything -- as signs of prophecy fulfullied, signs of the end of the world.

Van Impe and his wife and co-host, Rexella, are gleeful -- and they find glee in all the wrong things. They delight in war and tragedy. Sure, they'll make that concerned-anchorperson-face that every newscaster does while bearing news of death and destruction -- but like Wolf Blitzer during the war on Iraq, there's that undertone of excitement and, yes, glee. The Van Impes view every event through the distorting prism of their heretical understanding of "biblical prophecy," finding cause for celebration in every suicide bombing and retaliatory strike in the Holy Land.

The Buffy villain that Jack Van Impe most resembles is not Spike, but Richard Wilkins III, the mayor of Sunnydale whose demonic plot shapes the course of the show's third season.

Like most Big Bads in the Buffy universe, the mayor seeks to bring on the apocalypse. That is what Big Bads do. Buffy stops him, of course, that is what she does.

In the moral universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, heroes fight to save the world from doom and the apocalypse. In the bizarro-world moral universe of Jack Van Impe and the "prophecy" cult, heroes cheer on the apocalypse, longing for global tribulation and the unleashing of Satanic forces. (And really, if you look at his show or Web site, a lot of Van Impe's stuff looks like bad Buffy fan fiction.)

Jack Van Impe (consider what it would mean if a novelist had chosen that name) is a kind of idiot savant. He is said to have memorized the entire Bible, and often quotes lengthy passages with ease during his broadcasts. But Van Impe reads the Bible through the same distorted lens he uses for viewing current events -- the tortured, convoluted theory of dispensational sensationalism. His citations thus are random -- jumping from Revelation to Matthew to Daniel to Corinthians, with no hermeneutical justification beyond his weird passion for the end of the world.

That phrase, "the end of the world," refers for Van Impe solely to a chronological event. But the phrase can have another meaning. "The end of the world" can also refer to its purpose -- like in the cathechism question, "What is the chief end of humankind?" This second meaning never seems to occur to Van Impe. His Rain-Man-ish citations of scripture provide him no insight into the purpose of the world or why it might be worth fighting for. (Or, to get to the crux of the matter, why it might be worth dying for.)

This is why I avoid referring to Van Impe as a "televangelist." He may have a TV show, but he has nothing to do with the good news.

posted by Fred Clark 12:02 PM

Monday, September 01, 2003


Fewer jobs, lower pay -- isn't the "upturn" fun?

Steven Greenhouse hits most of the key points in his New York Times article, "Looks Like a Recovery, Feels Like a Recession":

Even though the recession ended nearly two years ago, polls show that American workers are feeling stressed and shaky this Labor Day because the nation continues to register month after month of job losses and wages are rising more slowly than inflation. ...

The nation has lost 2.7 million jobs over the last three years. The recovery has been so weak since the recession ended in November 2001 that the nation's payrolls are down one million jobs from when economic growth resumed. ...

Weekly earnings for all private-sector workers, after accounting for inflation, have slid for the last seven months, down two-tenths of one percent so far this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported. ...

President Bush appears on the way to having the worst record of job creation of any president since Herbert Hoover.

Countering all this gloom and doom is Martin Regalia, chief economist for the United States Chamber of Commerce, who points out that unemployment was higher during the Reagan and Bush I recessions "Are things as good as they should be?" says, "No. Are they as bad as some people portray? No."

This claim is similar to the repeated insistence by Bush administration officials that the record $401 billion deficit in 2003 is not as bad as the deficits under Reagan and Bush I when expressed as a percentage of GDP. Both claims are true -- but I'm not sure this amounts to a winning re-election theme for George W. Bush: "Vote for me. I've screwed up the economy, but not quite as badly as the last two Republican presidents did."

Regalia also offers this dubious claim:

Regalia noted that when benefits like health coverage were included, overall employee compensation was rising.

How exactly is Regalia measuring this? It seems like he is making a claim about the value of benefits based on the cost of benefits. Yes, the cost of healthcare benefits is skyrocketing. No, this does not mean workers are better off than they were. In fact, for many workers, the actual worth of their healthcare benefits has decreased despite the additional costs.

Regalia's claim calls to mind Oscar Wilde's observation that we have become a people "Who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing." Workers are paying a higher price for their health coverage. Unlike the Chamber of Commerce, I don't see this as a good thing.

posted by Fred Clark 6:42 PM


"I'll be everywhere ... wherever there's a fight ..."

In a Washington Post op-ed column, Sen. John McCain furthers the evolving argument that the war on Iraq was just because Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who oppressed his people:

We were right to go to war to liberate Iraq. The Iraqi people welcome their liberation from tyranny. ... We fought a just war in Iraq to end the threat posed by a dictator with a record of aggression against his people ...

This is a revolutionary claim.

Implicit in this argument -- an argument also made by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as other advocates of the war -- is a radical redefinition of the criteria for what constitutes a just war. The justification of "self-defense" is extended beyond national and political boundaries to apply to all people everywhere.

Initially, the argument for this "pre-emptive" followed more closely the classical just war grounds. Although Iraq had not attacked the U.S., Britain or anybody else, advocates of the war judged that it might do so, soon. The pre-emptive war, therefore, was still a matter of national self-defense. (Thus all the talk about "45 minutes" and "mushroom clouds.")

As it has become clearer over the past months that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was not nearly as imminent as it was described the argument has also shifted to focus more on Saddam Hussein's evil history of oppressing his own people. Thus mass graves and Udai's atrocities were marshaled as evidence for the justness of the war.

This shift is even more radical and innovative than the leap to "pre-emptive" defense. The new argument is that the war is justified on the grounds of self-defense because of Saddam's crimes against the Iraqi people.

This is almost a utopian claim, based apparently on an ideal of universal humanity that transcends all claims of national sovereignty and all alleged limits of jurisdiction.

It's an interesting idea, one that echoes the arguments of some of the most liberal and radical writers on world hunger and poverty.

If Saddam Hussein had tortured and killed thousands of people in Ohio, that would have provided a just cause for a war toppling his regime. Why then shouldn't such a war be justified when he does the same thing to people in Basra and Najaf?

Such a question gives "realists" the heebie-jeebies. They will start sputtering about "national sovereignty," about "precedents" and "consequences." But this argument has nothing to do with realism. Its soaring idealism dismisses these realist qualms, sweeping away such concerns along with all political and geographical limits in a powerful torrent of universal moral absolutes.

It's difficult to imagine the limits of such an audacious idealism. It entails a foreign policy in which America's military is not merely a global police force, but a global ghost of Tom Joad:

Fella ain't got a soul of his own. Just a little piece of a big soul. One big soul that belongs to everybody… I'll be around in the dark -- I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look -- wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there ...

I love the soaring idealism of Tom's great speech in The Grapes of Wrath, I'm just not sure I want it to form the basis for America's foreign policy.

posted by Fred Clark 6:15 PM

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