Friday, November 28, 2008



And so the Tory minority should be in jeopardy.

What a bizarre document the Conservatives have presented us.

I would have no objection to the government playing things cautiously with regard to major-industry stimulation policies, taking only sensible steps until the developing picture is a little clearer.

After all, a new government is being born in the United States, and it is not clear what steps will be taken towards an industry like automobiles.

But without major programs being started yet, one did reasonably expect certain steps to have been taken. Some extension of EI benefits would be one. So is a substantially better treatment of retirees with their drawdown of savings from government-created instruments. And so would genuine government restraint, such as a reducing a bloated cabinet, placing hard-nosed limits on expenses, and perhaps even reducing ministers’ salaries.

But here we have no such measures.

And, just as important, we have no consultation with opposition parties before presenting this document. None.

It’s the clearest indicator that Harper intends to rule exactly the way he has the last two and a half years, and that is simply not acceptable.

This document plays politics under the guise of economic restraint, and it is not just any politics, it is American-style Right Wing politics.

What benefit worth measuring can possibly come from ending support for political parties? Moreover, does anyone in his or her right mind think American-style private money controlling politics is good?

What benefit worth measuring can come from suspending the right to strike?

Is the suspension of that right even legal? It seems to me to invite a court challenge. This isn’t bringing people together, it’s the opposite.

What meaningful benefit can come from the changes concerning women and equity?

This document provides the clearest evidence of Harper’s continued ideologue approach to government. He seems to have learned nothing, only posing in his general statements and photo-ops as a man who has learned something.

Thursday, November 27, 2008



Christopher Hitchens becomes more trivial and irrelevant with each passing day.

Since when is being "devoted to no interest other than their own" an accusation against a politician? It is only a pleasant accident of history when a leader’s self-interest happens to correspond to a greater general interest.

What planet has Hitchens been living on that he can write, "whose personal ambition is without limit"?

I truly would like Hitchens to name one national politician - especially an American one since hubris, like greed, in America has been raised to a position of high national merit -
whose personal ambition is not without limit.

What can you say of Abraham Lincoln, raised in shacks and with less than two years formal education, offering himself for the highest office?

George Bush, who insisted on reaching the highest office despite being an obviously incompetent man, something I believe even he knows in his quiet moments?

Franklin Roosevelt, a man bound to a wheelchair, seeking the highest office?

Some degree of narcissism, or even mild psychopathy, comes with the territory of powerful national leadership. I should think any decent student of history would understand that fundamental truth.

"...sordid backstairs dealing"? That's Political Anti-Speak for the normal operations of governments and senior politicians.

Hillary has two qualities which, despite her intelligence and energy,
are widely disliked. Indeed, I very much dislike them.

First, is her public inconsistency. One day, she's a follower of Eleanor Roosevelt, the next a cheap politician appealing to grubbiest trailer-park values.

One day - early in her seeking her Senate seat for example, speaking from Palestine - she's showing unusual sympathy, for an American politician, at the plight of Palestinians. The next she's making hard-line statements that could have been scripted by the most ruthless defender of Israel's ugly excesses.

Second, there is her sticking with that great hunk of charismatic sleaze, Bill Clinton.

While most people admire loyalty through tough times, there is something more about this particular relationship than loyalty which strikes many as being distasteful and even repulsive.

But so long as sleazy Bill is kept at arm's length from Washington, I think Hillary could prove a very effective Secretary of State.

As for her views not being the same as Obama's, I don't know when this is ever the case. George Marshall, a great Secretary, certainly disagreed with Truman at times. Kissinger and Nixon?

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson actually hired scurrilous writers, shamelessly on the government payroll, to cast shadows on President George Washington’s administration.

Obama is a remarkably calm and self-confident person. There is something of the Buddha there. He is also very "results-oriented." I think he will be able to use Hillary's strengths without much damage from her weaknesses.

If he is not able to do that, he simply isn't the extraordinary person I believe he is.

Recently, the oleaginous Thomas Friedman - professional salesman for the Pentagon who frequently moonlights for Israel - said similar things about the appointment.

That was enough to tip me into believing Obama is right. Hitchens only nudges me further in the same direction. One really must consider the source.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



For the foreseeable future, the Republican Party is doomed to remain an ugly marriage of disparate interests.

In many ways, it resembles a nasty laboratory experiment combining parts of several species into a weird creature.

In theory, it is the party of fiscal conservatives, but that has not been the case for decades.

They have been a super-spending party. Its distinction in this regard with Democrats has been that Republicans spend only on certain interests, especially on wars, whether wars on drugs or wars on terror or various colonial wars.

Adding to the record of fiscal irresponsibility has been a long stream of tax cuts, many of them poorly considered for the long-term interests of the country and reflecting ignorance of the many roles taxes play in a society.

The tax cuts have been vote getters from certain segments of the population but, perhaps even more, they were money-getters for the party from those massively benefiting.

The party has always been against serious reform in financing elections – the single most anti-democratic element of American government, a system that in some ways effectively acts as a poll tax - because it always said its “story” was more difficult to tell and required more money. It also embraced the specious argument that giving money was a form of free speech.

The party in fact would be a perpetual minority were it not for the Religious Right.

However, as a more honest John McCain told the world in 2000, the Religious Right has a pernicious effect on the party, and I think all thoughtful people recognize this.

The horrible irony that America was founded largely by deists and others wishing not suffer under religious opinions in their government escapes these people entirely. They just keep coming like a mob of zombies in a horror movie, always ready to impose new inappropriate religious practices to American government.



The real question here is why do presidents have this ridiculously abusive power?

It's just one of many outdated, anti-democratic provisions in the American Constitution.

The idea was taken from the power of kings at the time, many of the Founders favoring a presidency which closely resembled a monarchy.

It's long past time for this provision to be changed, but I doubt anyone will make the tremendous effort it takes to change the Constitution in the least matter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008



Yes, it is, Mr. Harper, but your grandiose words about world trade do not fit well here.

Columbia is a completely unimportant place for our trade, a small country with a very limited range of products of interest to us and an economy poor enough to provide nothing much of a market.

Moreover, since it is a narco-state, it has people running large parts of its economy who are no different in character to the Taleban you have us fighting in Afghanistan.

There is only one genuine reason for your doing this goofy stunt.

Again, you are simply doing whatever Bush wants.

Trade treaties with places like Columbia are Bush policy in the hopeless war on drugs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



The Lieberman saga is just one more prime piece of evidence for the meaninglessness of the contemporary Democratic Party.

Lieberman is a disgrace, but the party just burps and continues as it was.

It has no principles, no purpose other than seeking power.

It is difficult to see how any really progressive agenda of Obama's can succeed.

The Senate isn't so much a club, as you describe it, Mr. Thomasky, as it is the center of power in a big fat imperial power with extremely conservative attitudes.

Its collection of old, fat, crinkly, self-satisfied faces resembles for all the world something from Rome, about 100 AD.

The institution is not and never has been democratic in spirit. Its structure was planned that way.

It was appointed until 1913, and even its election now, staggered as it is, one-third every two years, keeps popular opinion from having much of an influence at any time.

Filibuster is of course anti-democratic in effect, requiring a super-majority of 60% to overcome.

This group of pompous old imperialists has tremendous power being required to approve every major appointment, judge, and treaty, as well as all normal legislation.

Its two-to-a-state structure creates some true absurdities, besides also being anti-democratic. A Senator in California could spend six years shaking hands and never shake all his "constituents" hands.

That makes immense amounts of money all the more important for campaigns. Thus all populous states have Senators whose main service is riveted towards special interests. They spend, literally, two-thirds of their time in office collecting contributions, a full four years out of six.

Newcomers are oddities in the Senate, incumbency being virtually characteristic. Inherited seats too are common.

It's a terrible, outdated institution entirely, but it will continue a very long time.

The full Senate



Thomas Friedman’s disapproval is enough to make me think it a great idea.

Friedman always makes me (using his own words) slouch in my chair because he’s not a genuine journalist, just a mouthpiece for big-money special interests.

Friedman is a full-time aluminum-siding salesman for the Pentagon, doing odd after-hours jobs for Israel.

He has no idea of the best long-term interests of the United States or of the world.



I rarely watch this kind of thing, but I watched this.

On the personal level, Barack and Michelle are a completely charming, beautiful couple.

The intelligence and keen sensibilities of both of them are obvious.

There has not been a couple like them in the White House in a very long time.

Also on the personal level, what is so apparent in the president-elect is a remarkable, unflappable temperament.

It comes right through, and it is just what the world needs now in an American president.

The policy level is always, I think, the least important part of such interviews since policy changes and adjusts to changing circumstances and new priorities.

Just look at the way the economy has shot to the front of the line in a very short time. Few could have predicted this.

Obama's basic qualities of character assure the world of a rational response from America whatever the situation. No more blindly stupid, infantile "You’re with us or against us!" or "Bring 'em on!"

Indeed I like to think there will be no speaking out of both sides of one mouth, a disgusting Bush speciality. Apologies for the atrocious acts at Abu Ghraib while giving us Ozzie-and-Harriet stuff about that not being the America he knew.

Mighty good to hear torture - using the word without the shading or quibbling of No-ethics McCain - is not going to represent America anymore.

Good to hear that moral hellhole in Guantanamo is to be closed.

I only hope the poor prisoners left can be released rather than tried in civilian courts.

You do not try captured enemies in war, unless true war crimes are involved. But the only unambiguous war crimes involved here are those of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.

By every reasonable standard, they should be subject to an international war crimes trial, but we know well they will not be.

I think the emphasis on Osama bin Laden is not promising. He is a tired old man, and we have not had a single published scrap of evidence that he is guilty of anything other than hating the policies of the United States. But this kind of thing is unavoidable given the politics of the United States.

Obama is overall a highly welcome figure on the world stage.



Sorry, you over-estimate Americans.

The most incompetent president in history still has millions of admirers.

The Republican Party, always well financed if nothing else, will also use its established trick of buying up thousands of copies.

How else do you think literary agents are besieging the literally brainless Sarah Palin with book offers?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008



Alvin Curling was notorious as a virtually incompetent Speaker in the Ontario Parliament. Hearing him talk about his report on black-youth violence makes it painfully clear why that was so.

The man cannot think clearly. For example, in defending the collection of race-based statistics, Mr. Curling talked about the way things can be put to good or bad uses, citing the example of the hydrogen bomb. What on earth were the good uses of the hydrogen bomb?

Every cliché possible concerning black youth and violence was served up by Mr. Curling. His approach is simply not helpful. It gives us no factual basis for dealing with a real problem, the violence of young black males.

Numerous times, for example, Mr. Curling referred to the low graduation rate of black youth in Toronto – on the order of 40%.

That indeed is a vital social fact, but Mr. Curling turns it completely on its head by claiming it is evidence of racism and inadequate public facilities.

He seems totally unaware that this poor rate of graduation is typical of the black youth of his own homeland of Jamaica. Indeed, it is typical of many dominantly black regions and countries, including (predominantly black) American cities and neighborhoods, other Caribbean states, South Africa, and even black neighborhoods in Britain.

Yes, Toronto remains a relatively safe city, but if you keep reciting that you ignore important and threatening trends. The fact is that about as many black young men have been killed by guns in Toronto as Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and they have been killed only by other black men.

Our overall low violent crime rate – one of the best in North America – is owing to a continued drop in traditional forms of murder and violence on a per capita basis. But this overall gain is partly offset by a new kind of violence Toronto has never known before, public shootings with no consideration for bystanders, simply insanely scary stuff.

In the recent past, the Toronto School Board accepted a “zero tolerance” policy for violence in the schools. It served the interests of other students and teachers who all deserve a violence-free place in which to learn.

As soon as it became apparent that black males overwhelmingly made up the statistics of those penalized under the policy - people of Mr. Curling’s inclination would refer to those “victimized” by it – the policy was dropped. All the earnest representations over the merit of the policy by officials a few years before were reversed instantly after a flood complaints from people of Mr. Curling’s views.

Anyone who understands statistics knows that this kind of argument for policy reversal, the argument that the policy was ipso facto unfair because more of one group’s young men were penalized, is unwarranted in logic.

It is the same kind of thing as trying to explain crime statistics by vague notions like prejudice. Prejudice of course exists – and it exists among all groups – but it is actually a form of superstition no rational person accepts. Hard statistics are not superstition, they are facts.

In America, for example, there is a huge, decades-long body of statistical evidence showing that roughly half of violent crime is committed by young black males, despite black people making up only about 13% of American society. These trends are supported by statistics in other societies also. They are not the product of prejudice or imagination – not when we have millions of statistics – but hard facts to be faced.

Despite these dismal facts, we see that when a bright and talented black man offered himself as candidate for president, the American people embraced him.

Contrary to Mr. Curling’s recitation of clichés, poverty, it can be demonstrated, has little to do with it. We have had generation after generation of different groups coming from other places with almost no resources – poor Chinese, Koreans, Jews, Italians, Irish, and others – and making a success of things without behaving as armed psychopaths on our streets.

My brother and I were raised in extremely humble conditions. We never once thought about carrying loaded guns to school or shooting people on the street. But then we did not have babies at fourteen, we did not drop out of school, we never touched drugs, and we had a mother who set demanding standards for us despite having to work at a demanding job full-time.

Immigrants from Jamaica have transplanted that country's culture of violence and crime (1200 murders a year with a population the size of Toronto where the long-term historical annual rate is on the order of 60) to Canada. This is a crime problem immensely more than it is a general social problem.

There is a syndrome of behaviors we find in every black country and region. The syndrome includes early pregnancy, dropping out of school, fathers who ignore their babies, and general lack of economic success compared to almost any other group you care to name.

Canada is one of the best and most tolerant countries on earth, and I resent the kind of reverse-racism people like Mr. Curling promote and thrive on, blaming Canada for the lack of success in large parts of his particular community. Canada is in fact - with health care, school, and other helps – far more generous to immigrants than the United States and many other lands. And just look at the people in the Caribbean lined up to emigrate to Canada. They aren’t lined up because Canada is an awful place.

No, Mr. Curling offers us nothing helpful, and indeed parts of what he says are destructive to the fabric of our society.

Your past, recent topic of increased poverty in the GTA likely has a related explanation.

Economically-unsuccessful groups like Jamaicans are now concentrating in areas of Toronto. More successful groups, as for example Asians, are moving out to Markham. Likely a close examination of the stats would show these kinds of trends explaining increasing poverty in Toronto.

There is little industrial work in Toronto for unskilled school drop-outs of any ethnicity.

These facts together define a major and growing structural problem for Toronto. Talk about social centers or recreational facilities, while I don't condemn them, is far off the mark of dealing with hard basic trends.

If these trends continue, there is little doubt Toronto will one day begin to hollow out as so many American cities have done. Contrary to widespread notion that America’s phenomenon of “white urban flight” in the 1960s represented racism, it largely was a reflection of middle class people’s fear of living with violence. Indeed, confirming that today, we see the flight of successful blacks from violent old neighborhoods to suburbs.



That's just not true, Rex.

Remembrance Day comes out of WWI, a vast and pointless war in which all the sides involved were imperial powers.

Queen Victoria's progeny sat on half the thrones of Europe. The Kaiser and the British monarch were related.

How was Britain's empire over India and other lands any different at all than Germany's Reich. It wasn't, not at all.

WWI was about the European balance of power. It was also the result of heavily armed states and arms races.

Huge armaments and standing armies just always get "used." They do not keep peace or preserve principles, ever.

And if Germany had won? Well, first, there never would have been a Hitler ot a Holocaust or a Russian Front, the most titanic bloody battle in human history.

Second, European states would, over future decades, gradually have adjusted largely back to their origins over time, just as they always do after great imperial conflicts.

I am always touched by the thought of the men in the trenches, but not because all those people died horribly for any great cause, rather because they died for nothing and killed for nothing. And their leaders were incompetent in very many cases.

Your way of thinking about this, Rex, leads nowhere worth going.



Bob Rae is, of course, absolutely right here.

What Ignatieff is showing us now is what a very close twin to Harper he is.

Secretiveness is a basic Harper characteristic, as is being an angry control-freak behind the scenes.

We already understood Ignatieff was a divisive man. We already knew he supported the state-terror of the Iraq invasion. We already knew he was arrogant and aggressive. We already knew he had little of what honestly can be called ethics.

With this behavior, he proves he cannot be distinguished from Harper. The only differences are style.

Which monster do you like? A Frankenstein-like creature who smiles with a two-second delay to any stimulus (Harper) or do you like a low, cunning were-wolf type (Ignatieff)?

With Ignatieff, the Liberal Party becomes an irrelevant copy of the Conservatives.

I would not vote for the one over the other under any circumstances.


Ignatieff unquestionably represents a watershed in Canadian national politics.

It will be the end of the coalition of interests we have called the Liberal Party for decades.

There is no reason on earth to vote for this unethical man over Harper.

Any success he could hope to achieve would only reflect old sentiments and associations people have in their minds concerning the party.

But these emotional connections are already frayed.

They will snap altogether with the emergence of this dark, unpleasant man as leader.


M. LeBlanc is actually the Liberals' greatest prospect.

He is altogether an energetic, intelligent, informed, and likeable man.

He has the French name and language so important in Quebec.

He could create some real excitement.

But no, the boundless, unwarranted personal ambition of Ignatieff will prevent that happening.

It is a very troubling set of circumstances.


"...but Iggy is the better liberal."

A ridiculous statement.

The traditions of the modern Liberal Party - the party of Pearson, Trudeau, and Chretien - are violated in almost every aspect by what Ignatieff represents.

There is no connection whatever, anymore than there is between Harper and that tradition.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


November 11, 2008


John Chuckman

There has been an ad on television recently, one featuring a young couple walking or drifting into a place of enchantment, a warm and colourful fantasy world, a kind of biblical Disneyland. Every step of their brief journey is met by people smiling warmly, moving slowly, even bowing, greeting them at each turn with Shalom!

It is interesting that all the faces in the ad are the same kind of faces we might see in New York or London, except that here they are all bathed in glowing antique light. We see no harsh fundamentalist types cutting down someone else’s olive groves and cursing anyone, even other Jews, as interlopers. We certainly see no arrogant settlers, strutting around with machine guns, sneering at the camera.

The couple quick-cuts their way through pleasant scene after scene – images of ancient middle-eastern streets and buildings and finally a man watering a garden, back-lighted by sun so that each drop he sprays is seen like blessing making the desert bloom.

We see no check-points bristling with guns, no razor-wire, no concrete wall dwarfing Berlin’s fabled one. We see no Palestinians, indeed, no one resembling an Arab. We see no endless line-ups at check points with poor people waiting around for hours just to do the business of their lives or go to hospital. We hear no soldiers cursing and abusing them.

We see no images of the giant open-air prison that is Gaza nor the slow, inhumane siege that grips the place night and day, making it close to impossible for a million and a half souls to cloth themselves and eat and enjoy basic amenities. We certainly see no Hellfire missiles incinerating people as one did just the other day, murdering six without a hint of legality.

No, there’s the handsome young couple briefly, dreamily drifting through sunny fantasy, the woman with lovely, frizzled long red hair glowing in the sun.

That last image of the smiling man sprinkling a sun-filled patch of garden reminded me of another piece of film, an historical oddity recently brought to light.

The other film was similar in many respects despite being 70 years old and in black and white. It was done for similar purposes. It was made on the occasion of Germany’s upcoming Olympic Games in 1936, and the satanic genius of marketing, Joseph Goebbels, saw the need to reassure visitors about Germany’s treatment of the Jews.

You see, while the Holocaust was years away in 1936, and even the murders and burning and pillaging of Kristallnacht were yet two years away, there still had been a lot of ugly and brutal behavior towards Germany’s Jews, generating nasty press coverage abroad. The Nazis were concerned lest the “bad press” keep tourists away from what was planned as the most grandiose Olympics to date.

The old film offers a fantasy version of the Nazis’ treatment of German Jews. It shows a happy village of re-located Jews with people walking about and looking pleasant and doing pleasant things. In particular, there is a scene of Jews carrying huge watering cans, happily sprinkling large, lush gardens. Well, the film is inferior in quality to the 2008 film from Israel, three-quarters of a century later, but one could be excused for thinking that someone in Israel got his or her inspiration from Dr. Goebbels’ film.

But maybe not: like conditions tend to breed like ideas and actions, over and over again across nations and eras. History is regularly forgotten, its main stories re-staged with new directors and lists of characters, and rarely have I seen a more striking example than Israel’s current re-branding effort.

Now, a new ad has appeared, this one with visiting children going through a different sequence of glowing images. Gone is the woman with the red hair. A series of ads may always have been intended, but I couldn’t help thinking perhaps the ad with the beautiful red hair had been pulled because it reminded too many viewers of Rachel Corrie. She was a real visitor to Israel, a sweet-tempered, innocent young woman, and she had strawberry-blond hair, at least before she was rendered into pulp by an Israeli D-9 armored bulldozer, diverted momentarily in its work of smashing Arab homes.

That’s not the kind of image you want in your re-branding effort for sure.

Sunday, November 09, 2008



I agree completely with the general direction of your sentiments, Mr. Stone, but I think you have, and always have had, far too simplistic an idea of John Kennedy.

He was a ferocious Cold Warrior, a martinet in military matters.

Good Lord, he started the American thug-assassin organization, the Green Berets.

They would, of course, go on to cut the throats of 20,000 civilians in Project Phoenix in Vietnam with creepy night attacks against people like village chiefs, a disgrace far greater than Guantanamo.

Kennedy also was deeply involved in trying to assassinate Castro.

Kennedy kept company with, and took benefits from, some terrible underworld types in America.

He was, both in matters involving the Cold War and in matters involving the American Mafia, a man who consistently played at both ends.

His legacy is actually a blur, as are his ethics. We have no idea of what he really was, what he really stood for, and much the same with his brother, Robert.

The Kennedys did not like Lyndon Johnson and his godfather, Edgar Hoover, but they kept Hoover on and enjoyed the filth he delivered on political opponents.

Lyndon Johnson was so crooked in politics, it is impossible to view him clearly. Vote fraud put him into office again and again in Texas.

And the Kennedys, so far as we know, were happy to take his help in 1960. Vote fraud in Texas and Illinois put Kennedy into office. I don't know about you, but I believe we never get good things out of evil starts.

I know the Kennedy mantra you keep, the bright, brave young man who tried to keep America from the insane human waste of Vietnam.

But we have no clear evidence for that view. He launched the Bay of Pigs. He kept - Robert in charge - making attempts on Castro's life. He came close to starting a nuclear war in Cuba.

He was a truly dangerous risk-taker, just as when he'd have prostitutes over to the White House swimming pool when Jackie was away.

And, if anything, his brother Robert was even worse.

Obama is from another world altogether. First, he is a genuine intellectual, something not true of either of the Kennedys, although they showed public respect for intellectuals not seen since.

Second, he is a genuinely warm and loving family man, something not true of either of the Kennedys. Robert drove his wife into alcoholism, and John used Jackie as little more than a photo-op prop.

Third, he doesn't come from a wealthy, "connected" family, the Kennedy's father having had a long association with the Mafia.

Fourth, he genuinely embodies a world view, being the product of a complex multi-cultural background.

The Kennedys, all of them, were a clan with all the narrowness and intolerance that word implies.

I much prefer comparisons with Franklin Roosevelt, although clearly even in this case there are greatly different backgrounds and influences.

Obama is something genuinely new and bright and genuinely attractive. It will be exciting to watch him try making America at least a little bit better place, which I cynically believe is the very best that can be hoped for.

Finally, anyone who knows some real American history knows that “W” was not a new phenomenon in American politics, just the most incompetent one in memory.

And remember he had Dick Cheney always there, a viciously competent man, who assumed powers as surely as any fascist dictator. And there are lots of Dick Cheneys out there.

God, a recent poll said over 70% of Republicans would support the ignorant, uninformed, ridiculous Sarah Palin as candidate in 2012.

They know a "Cheney" would be there waiting to quietly guide that pathetic lump, a woman the Secret Service has formally accused of creating a big spike in threats against Obama's life with her trashy mouth.

It will be a miracle if Obama can generate any meaningful change, but then his election itself was something of a miracle.

You know, you really cannot have both an empire and a beacon of liberty. It is impossible.

And you really cannot have a nation whose greed at consuming knows no limits and a world of some fairness and decency. That is an oxymoronic idea.

I really think the prospects for meaningful change are a bit bleak. America in the past has always learned by first beating its head against walls until the pain is just too great to stand.

I think it is very difficult to come up with counter-examples of the American learning process. After all, we only got Obama after enduring eight years of insanity. And the insanity is still there, bubbling just under the surface.

Remember William Shirer’s dark utterance: "Perhaps America will one day go fascist democratically."



I couldn't agree more.

America invaded out of a fit of rage and vengeance and a show of power. It never made any sense from the beginning.

Once they got there, they "won" only by exploiting the nasty pieces of work in the Northern Alliance.

But most of the Northern Alliance warlords were not any better than the Taleban in their regard for Western values.

Despite seven years of propaganda for soccer moms in America, the burqua is universally worn outside Kabul, and it is worn by many in Kabul.

The Potemkin village schools are often closed as soon as they are opened. The local warlords do not want them, and the central government cannot even pay the teachers.

You cannot change the basic attitudes and beliefs of millions in a matter of years. It's a fool's idea.

It was all an extreme over-reaction from the beginning.

The threat represented by bin Laden's people (if indeed they even were responsible for 9/11 - a point not proved to this day) could have been handled with a more intelligent set of policies.

It's an absurd nightmare to have dumped so many resources and killed so many people in this country.

And now the maniacs are trying to destabilize Pakistan with their missile attacks in the name of protecting troops who shouldn't be in Afghanistan in the first place.

American achievements in Afghanistan

Thursday, November 06, 2008


November 6, 2008


John Chuckman

Already in the press there have been stories of plans to dampen the public’s expectations of Obama. The expectations are undoubtedly beyond being satisfied by any human being.

Obama’s bright face, a keen intelligence at work in every expression, represents the greatest hope for change in America since Franklin Roosevelt. Even Kennedy, with all his gifts, did not come close. After all, Kennedy was a harsh Cold Warrior, a wild risk-taker, and he was connected to some of the most unsavory subcultures in America.

But Obama is the inheritor of one of the bleakest legacies ever in a modern state: the meltdown of Wall Street and its severe international consequences, two costly unresolved wars, war crimes against other countries, and waves of ill-will towards America for its international torture gulag.

All these, plus the problems that have bedevilled the United States for decades, matters like poor health care, the dismal state of public schools, or the immense and pervading corruption of America’s politics, something to which the Bush people made their own contributions, including vote fraud and severe abuse of power, especially by the Vice President.

Bush gave Americans oppressive laws, unprecedented war profiteering, and a tax system now twisted and warped by giveaways to the wealthy. That is not a left-wing view: going back to Jefferson, it was understood that excessive accumulation and inheritance of wealth were dangerous to a republic. The United States has moved towards a society of inherited influence and entitlement, its establishment coming to resemble increasingly the ancien régime of 18th century France.

The Bush excesses largely do not upset the establishment since they were aimed at protecting that very establishment. John McCain, establishment by blood and marriage, dropped his boyish outsider stage act during the campaign, revealing himself unimaginative and unresponsive - indeed a tired, unappetizing serving of Bush leftovers.

And that was deadly to McCain’s hopes. Despite the establishment’s influence, ordinary Americans do once in a while manage to vote against it. Without eight years of Bush incompetence and abuse pushing ordinary Americans to anger and embarrassment, Obama’s victory would not have been possible.

Any effort to correct these problems is against the great weight of America’s establishment, further strengthened by eight years of abusive benefits, always the beneficiaries and keepers of America’s unacknowledged imperialism. Winning a national election is one thing, but turning that victory into a long series of Congressional votes is quite another. All those Congressmen and Senators, in both parties, need constant injections of cash to operate, and they do not get it through the populist mechanisms of Obama’s election campaign. The Congressmen will all face re-election in just two years.

And then there is a political party, Obama’s own, that has almost no genuine purpose left other than opposing Republicans for power, prestige, and patronage. It stands for nothing anymore, and some of its members could easily be interchanged with Republicans. Its voice was not heard against illegal war, against torture, against abuse, or indeed anything important in the last eight years.

Many, perhaps most, modern American presidents achieve little in altering American society, although they may do considerable damage abroad. Bush was an exception in that he did serious damage both at home and abroad, but the circumstances permitting him were unique: blind, insane fear over 9/11. The entire period since that event represents nightmarish over-reaction to a relatively minor threat.

Presidents generally achieve little domestic change because America’s Constitution was deliberately designed to make the office of the president a weak one. An American president with an opposition-filled Congress is a political eunuch, getting neither his appointments nor legislation nor treaties approved. Only in matters concerning disturbances in the empire will he invariably enjoy Congressional support.

Obama’s party will have a majority in the House and the Senate, but he will not have an overwhelming majority. Progress in the Senate can always be stopped by filibuster, and you can only stop filabusters with 60 of the 100 seats, something Obama will not have. Also some of his party’s senators, Lieberman for example, might as well be Republicans, and they will not support a truly progressive agenda.

Modern presidents are able to do damage abroad because the Founding Fathers made the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces. They thought they had effectively divided power and weakened the possibilities for adventures abroad by giving Congress the sole power to declare war, but we’ve seen over the last sixty years America’s wars are no longer declared.

The Founders also never expected the Frankenstein-monster military America maintains today because they did not expect America to become a global imperial power. But most of what the more thoughtful Founders said and wrote has been vitiated by the actual history of the United States, and today we even find a Vice President accepting the view that the President’s powers in such matters are unlimited.

I believe that a man of Obama’s particular intelligence and sensibilities deeply understands the nature of America’s great problems. They are just not subjects you can discuss in an election campaign, especially in the near-imbecile campaigns America seems cursed to fall into, with candidates barking about flag pins or accusations of “buddying up to terrorists” or suitability for military command or, indeed, “the Reds are coming.”

America’s great underlying problem is an overwhelming case of living beyond its means. It reflects the deliberate, corrupting praise of greed (in a grotesque American parody of Adam Smith) coupled with the fantasy that you can have it all and have it now plus the establishment’s arrogance that it is entitled to order the affairs of the planet for its benefit. This is all jumbled together in the advertising slogan, “the American dream.”

The slogan is rooted in America’s unique post-World War II position when no other great industrial power was left standing. America’s comparatively light damage (e.g., suffering roughly ½ of one percent of the world’s deaths and no civilian damage) and its being geared-up for immense arms manufacture allowed it to become the supplier of everything to a war-crippled world, providing economic opportunity to ordinary Americans as no country had done before.

An unskilled American worker could, for a few decades, earn a house, a car, perhaps a boat, and generous vacations. When I worked one summer in the early 1960s as a student in the Chicago steel mills, earning what seemed fabulous amounts, it was because employees with twenty years’ service received thirteen-week vacations. Those days are gone, and things have moved from bad to worse. Real wages have dropped for decades, and competition from abroad defeats industry after industry.

At the same time, American politics avoids the harsh truths of the world’s historic transition towards a place with many competitors, other centers of power, and with reduced opportunity for what Benjamin Franklin called the middling people in America. Talk about re-negotiating NAFTA is as close as we get, but much of that talk is little more than coded language for anti-Mexican racism.

America has been living in recent decades as though its dream slogan were as meaningful as it was in 1955, but much of the prosperity in the last couple of decades was purchased by borrowing to consume beyond the nation’s ability to pay.

Administration after administration has kept the economy “pumped” with borrowing, with easy credit, with unwarranted deregulation, and with doing everything possible to encourage mindless consumption. America’s balance of payments deficit just swells, decade after decade, generating massive total debt that erodes the real economy, a disease generated solely by an insatiable demand for things America cannot afford.

Wars of the kind America has generated for half a century may be seen as just another form of consumption, the most wasteful conceivable, running assembly lines flat out and printing money and enlisting young people to destroy things on a gigantic scale, generally making little meaningful change in world affairs.

So, imagine being the first black man elected president, a young man without family wealth and influence, but a man who understands problems of which a Bush is not even aware. You are faced with needed fundamental change in America, being elected out of years of sheer despair over Bush, enjoying the rare blessing of a Congress not controlled by opposition. You nevertheless are opposed by an extremely powerful establishment, hostile to most change. You are also opposed by the limited understanding of many ordinary Americans. Do you really try to do what you may have a unique opportunity to attempt?

If you do try, can you survive the assaults of America’s establishment, as dark and ruthless as the fabled Borgias of Renaissance Italy? They can make you look terrible, as they did Clinton, and they can even make you disappear, as they did Kennedy. Change is dangerous stuff in a country like America.

Monday, November 03, 2008



I think you quite wrong in your regard for Updike's political patter, at least if these samples are typical (I've not been a follower of his thought, regarding him as a sophisticated entertainer rather than a great writer).

His attitudes about war are all too typical in America and fairly trivial by any standard. His comparison with sex is nothing less than slightly ridiculous, if not perverted.

He is a good writer, at least with a certain limited standard of judgment, a technician, a standard with which a master like Graham Greene would not agree.

But, in any event, being a good writer is no protection against political or other kinds of stupidity or prejudice.

John Steinbeck was a perfect example. And Ezra Pound. Martin Amis. We have the same phenomenon in all the arts. How about Wagner? And many, many others.