Thursday, December 30, 2004

Aid and Bush's World Appeal

Juan Cole is annoyed at this statement by Bush:
Take, for example, in the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year was provided by the United States government.
Cole points out:
The US Federal budget in 2004 consists of about $1.8 trillion in receipts and $2.3 trillion in expenditures. The 2003 official development assistance budget was $15 billion (a very large portion of which goes to countries that don't need the assistance, and is given for strategic reasons). That is about 0.14 percent of the US GDP. Norway, in contrast, spends $2 billion a year on humanitarian assistance, which comes to almost a full 1.0 percent of its GDP. This is the sort of thing that drove Egeland to make his remark. He was even complaining about Norway, which is several times more virtuous than the US on a per capita basis in this regard.
Meanwhile Matt adds his support to the increasingly common view that money spent on guns should be accompanied by money spent on so-called "soft power" issues. For instance, former secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher suggested in WaPo a while back that the Bush administration should increase the international affairs budget as a way to implement some of the 9/11 commission's recommendations on how to reduce terrorism:
This budget, which includes international assistance and other global programs, has evolved into the most significant non-military tool in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal and has gained widespread support in Congress and among national security specialists, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Like the use of strong military action and effective intelligence gathering, the strategies promoted by the international affairs budget are essential tools in the fight against global terrorism, against the spread of weapons of mass destruction and our efforts to promote global stability.
Matt (via Marshall Whittman) also says that Bush would do well to put some of his political skills to use on the international scene. Of this I am very sceptical for two reasons:
  • As Timothy Garton Ash's recent book and article point out: Europe (and much of Asia and Latin America) is split between a pro-American "right" and an anti-American "left" whereas America is split between an anti-European/anti-UN "right" and a pro-World "left". Bush may be close enough to the center of American politics to get elected twice but compared with the world "electorate" he is on the extreme far right.
  • The types of political tactics and strategies Bush employs successfully at home (appeal to core American values like patriotism and individualism, over-simplification, fear mongering, ruthless attacks on opponents) do not easily carry over to the world scene. His core appeal is very much grounded in an us vs. them view of the world -- the world is "dangerous", we Americans are "good" and he will "protect us".
Feedback is always welcome.

Conservatives on Abu Ghraib

A primer on how conservatives handle news they don't like. Via Wonkette, who quotes: "Five Stages of Evasion: Buck-passing, Subject-changing, Gore-bashing, Pooh-poohing, and (premature) Bad-appling."

On a (somewhat) related note, Steven Menashi and Kevin Drum talk about partisanship in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Abu Aardvark: Children

A very moving post on children's suffering, inspired by the tsunami tragedy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Matthew Yglesias takes on the exhilarating issue of Norsemen's alleged cultural aversion to fish, which he finds hard to believe.

I don't have much to add here, although I seem to recall from childhood lessons in Norwegian history that fish was definitely considered a "poor-man's" food. Also, reading about Viking explorations I got the impression they wanted to make a name for themselves. Thus, given our previous discussion about risk-taking and poverty they were most likely not poor but rather the Viking-era equivalents of spoilt rich kids with nothing better to do than to compete amongst themselves.

So my speculation is that it wasn't so much a "taboo" against eating fish (certainly not "taboo" in a religious sense) as much as a case of stupid pride: "We won't end up like those lowlife peasants back home who have to eat fish in order to survive".

Just my two øre.

PS: I noticed several "puzzling" claims when I read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" a while back. I suspect he is the kind of author that is best read at a high level, without paying too close attention to every detail. So don't discount his broader arguments even if it does turn out he's a little off on those fishies...

UPDATE: I missed this comment to Matt's post by Lemuel Pitkin, he is basically saying the same thing: "the feudal structure of Norse society meant that political power was based on control over access to land".

UPDATE II: Commenter Roxy/Ragu at Anthropik has settled this issue once and for all:
Well, it seems that there is quite a bit of disagreement on this particular case. It's not that the Greenland Norse didn't consider fish as food - many Norse back home ate fish all the time - but instead ran out of supplies to make the boats they were used to fishing in, from a combination of outstripping their resources in Greenland, and the discontinuance of ships from mainland Europe (the Plague might have had something to do with this as well). Lacking supplies, the Norse were restricted to fish they could catch from the shore, a method they probably weren't very skilled at. The Inuit had no problems making kayaks or fishing, but The Vikings' view of the Inuit as being inferior "wretches" probably kept them from trying to learn anything from the natives. So they died out, perhaps from ethnocentrism more than a cultural taboo against fish, although if the Greenlanders were in fact upper-class and had an existing aversion to fish as a "poor man's food", that certainly wouldn't have helped.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

To us Scandis Christmas Eve is the Big Event. So, as my in-laws and I are wired up with webcams to my sister's house in Norway, I wish you and your family a very Happy Holiday!

Bush will renominate 20 extremist judges

Democrats are whining. Republican Senator John Cornyn says:
'We experienced unprecedented filibusters of the president's judicial nominees, which I believe the voters repudiated on Nov. 2, both by returning the president with a decisive victory and defeating the chief obstructionist in the Senate -- that was the minority leader,'' Cornyn told the Associated Press.
The man has a point. I think it's time for Democrats to change their tactics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Arab Dinosaurs on the Defensive

Fareed Zakaria, referring to Arab regimes, thinks "the dinosaurs are on the defensive" (via oxblog). I think this underscores my previous point that firm leadership by Bush is resulting in progress that "liberals" like myself did not expect. There's a lesson in there somewhere (besides "vote Republican").

Is this anti-Semitism?

Tony Judt's says:
Those of us who take seriously the problem of anti-Semitism--but who utterly reject the suggestion that we ourselves are in danger of sympathizing with anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism--must begin by constructing and defending a firewall between the two. Israel does not speak for Jews; but Israel's claim to speak for Jews everywhere is the chief reason that anti-Israel sentiments are transposed into Judeophobia. Jews and others must learn to shed inhibitions and criticize Israel's policies and actions just as they would those of any other established state.
Steven Menashi responds:
But in its ethnic-national identity, Israel is like other nation-states. Jacques Chirac, for example, speaks routinely "on behalf of the French people."
But does anyone think that attacks on ethnic Chinese or Mexicans living in America or Europe would be a sensible response to political controversies in their home countries? Of course not.
I think they are both missing the point. All attacks on innocent civillians are "wrong", nobody is arguing they are a "sensible response". But human nature is such that in a given population there will be some extremists who respond to disagreements with hate and attack. Americans presently look differently at a bearded muslim next to them on the bus. A French waiter may be extra rude to an American tourist post Iraq. And some misguided people in Europe and elsewhere will express their discontent with Israeli killings of Palestinian children by saying and perhaps committing hateful acts against Jews (although the fact that many such hate crimes in Europe are committed by Muslim immigrants is often conveniently omitted by American media).

There are only two ways out of this mess: 1) Encourage Israel to pursue "wiser" policies that involve less killing of Palestinians, 2) continue to challenge and engage (as Tony does) Jews at home and abroad who are still (understandably) afraid that WW2 anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Europe. Responding to Jewish complaints of anti-Semitism with deference and sympathetic agreement doesn't do anybody any favors -- least of all the Jews themselves. Honest disagreement and discussion is a far better mark of respect.

Just to illustrate my point, look at this cartoon from Sweden:

Man with the dog: "I don't think one should build walls between people."
The Jew: "Damn anti-Semite!!"

So here's my point: If you think this cartoon is anti-Semitic (Andrew Sullivan did) then I would argue that you are letting past wrongs (Holocaust) cloud your vision of current events. Conversely, the Swedes don't, evidenced by the fact that this cartoon appeared in a mainstream Swedish newspaper. I say that as a Scandinavian living in America who is pretty well attuned to Swedish attitudes towards Jews.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Didn't know this:
Once upon a time, Hanukkah was a smaller Jewish holiday reminding Jews not to compromise their faith when facing pressures to assimilate into a dominant culture. Today, Hanukkah is a giant, major holiday because it is close to the holiday previously known as Christmas. Religious history doesn't get any more ironic than that.

Bush understands Israel/Palestine?

David Brooks (via Sullivan guest blogger) suggests Bush grasps the Middle East after all:
It almost makes you think that Bush understands the situation better than the lot of them. His judgments now look correct. Bush deduced that Sharon could grasp the demographic reality and lead Israel toward a two-state solution; that Arafat would never make peace, but was a retardant to peace; that Israel has a right to fight terrorism; and that Sharon would never feel safe enough to take risks unless the U.S. supported him when he fought back. Bush concluded that peace would never come as long as Palestine was an undemocratic tyranny, and that the Palestinians needed to see their intifada would never bring triumph.
So I guess it is conceivable that Bush will make more progress on Israel/Palestine than Clinton ever did. If so then he deserves our support.

Reagan vs. Communists, a conflict that clearly has inspired Bush, suggests firm leadership has its rewards. The liberal "intellectual" in me questions whether simplistic rhetoric about "good" and "evil" is the answer to all the world's ills, but perhaps simple problems should sometimes be solved by simple solutions.

I still don't think a "war" is the right way to combat threats of terrorism though.

UPDATE: Juan Cole responds:
Brooks's column makes no sense to me. First of all, the resumption of some sort of negotiations was made possible only by Yasser Arafat's death, because Ariel Sharon hated Arafat, wanted to kill him, and refused to negotiate with him. Arafat was the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, however, and there was no one else to negotiate with. It seems to a lot of us that in the wasted past few years, Sharon has permanently spiked the possibility of there ever being a viable Palestinian state, and the Israeli colonization of the West Bank continues apace. Sharon's so-called withdrawal from Gaza will mean nothing without a strong Palestinian Authority in the region-- otherwise the military occupation will continue de facto.
That is more in line with what I would have thought. But then again if I had been more politically aware during the eighties I might have thought that Reagan's approach to Gorbie was flawed and dangerous. I guess I'm starting to suspect that there is an element of strong leadership that defies rationality, because it changes the context in which rational arguments exist.

UPDATE II: I somehow missed Matt's take on Brooks's column, which is spot-on as always.

Monday, December 20, 2004

On Risk, Wealth and Poverty

This post from Yglesias about risk resonnates with something I've felt for years but haven't quite been able to put my finger on: I've enjoyed living in America the most when I've been well-equipped to handle risk. Or put in a different way: In order to be happy in America you need to have enough money.

This may be an obvious point to most people, but growing up in Scandiland I was taught the correlation between wealth and happiness is coincidental at best. I now know that is not true.

Although things don't work the way I used to think. I thought the key attraction of wealth was the ability to buy and enjoy things and services. Hence the traditional (and probably religion-inspired) Scandi teachings that if you can purge yourself of material wants then you don't need more money. Of course, that's not the point. The point of having money is basically that you can handle risk much better. You don't have to worry about health insurance, losing your job, being caught by the police, etc. In fact, you can elevate your thoughts to a "higher" level and make long-term investment decisions, career choices and a network of contacts which ensures increased future wealth. And it ain't that hard. On the other hand, as Kevin Drum / LA Times point out, if you're poor and something bad happens then things quickly take a turn for the worse.

So what does this mean? Well for one thing, I think it partially explains why Europeans cherish their social model so much (something I've always struggled to explain to Americans). High taxes, huge redistribution of income, loss of economic efficiency (and hence GDP growth) as a result, social welfare -- why does any "upstanding" citizen who has a job and pays taxes support a system like this? It must be because the "system" removes risk, thereby enabling you to worry less and thus be happier. Europeans worry less than Americans, and I think that's why they work less (1400 hours in Norway vs. 2000 in the US) and take longer vacations. And even though I am personally fairly happy here I'd venture to say that Europeans live happier lives.

Most Americans (especially Republicans) try to sell us on the benefits of the "ownership society". Make a shareholder out of everybody, offer more choice in healthcare, and now: Let people decide for themselves how to invest their social security retirement savings. And for rich people these are worthy causes indeed. For more middle-of-the-road incomes (like mine) it is a mixed blessing -- like I said above, sometimes this system has worked well for me. But at other times I find myself frustrated by the mundane yet important tasks of choosing health insurance, retirement savings and now college savings for my baby boy. Frankly, I wish I didn't have to know the difference between HMO's, PPO's, POS's and HSA's. For people with low or no incomes I can't even imagine what life is like -- one car crash or a minor chronic illness and you're down-and-out for life.

So the grand conclusion? The more capitalist society is; the more benefit you get from having lots of money. I am a genius!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Abu Aardvark: Friedman on the ADRH

I missed this. Bush folks are basically obstructing a process whereby Arab authors are confronting their own people with some tough truths.

Timothy Garton Ash on Europe

Great new piece by Timoty Garton Ash.
America is failing to recognize the potential of the European Union as an ally in the advancement of liberty around the world.
Finding a new article by Timothy Garton Ash reminds me of how I used to feel about receiving a new issue of The Economist in the mail: Excited cuz I'm about to learn something!

UPDATE: Take this nugget of insight, for instance:
And one could make a strong case that the European Union's agreement to open membership negotiations with Turkey will be a bigger contribution to winning the war on terrorism than the American-led occupation of Iraq.
UPDATE II: Here's another insightful (yet pessimistic) article on Euro-American relations.

Strippers in San Antonio to wear permits

New regulation requiring "strippers to wear their permists while they are on stage":
City Councilman Chip Haass pushed the measure, adopted unanimously by the 11-member council, as a way to make it easier for police to identify dancers.
Maybe I'm missing something here, but is it really that hard to figure out who the strippers are? Just look for the chicks with little or no clothes on!

A message to Bush from his family Consigliere (James Baker)

More Ways to Stay Safe:
Now it's the time to address another critical component of the commission's report that can help increase global security and protect us against future attacks. The report calls for an increased investment in the full range of diplomatic, development and humanitarian tools to improve conditions in and relations with regions of the world that might be breeding grounds for terrorism. These are the very tools encompassed within the U.S. international affairs budget.

'Terrorism is not caused by poverty,' the commission said. 'Yet when people lose hope, when societies break down, when countries fragment, the breeding grounds for terrorism are created. . . . Economic and political liberties tend to be linked.'
A Republican and a Bush adviser talking about international development, diplomacy and poverty reduction! What has the world come to?? He almost sounds like a liberal! (Or a "leftie", "softie", "dove", "European" or any other derogatory term for a non-Conservative.)

Krauthammer: Just Leave Christmas Alone

Just Leave Christmas Alone
The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless. The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.
I agree with him. Although here in the South some de-Christmassing might still be in order: I'm tired of hearing nothing but Christmas songs on the radio and in the office elevators!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gossip on David Blunkett's "Femme Fatale"

Disclaimer: I don't usually pay attention to this kind of stuff. Almost never.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Review: Free World by Timothy Garton Ash

A great review of what seems to be a great book:
The resulting political Venn diagram thus half-overlaps. Although Europe is largely devoid of anyone resembling a Republican, and America has no socialists, both Europe and America have the equivalent of American Democrats. It is in that intersecting space that Ash sees the "surprising future" he proclaims in the subtitle of this book -- the space where John Kerry's America makes common cause with Euro-Atlanticists. These two forces can, he believes, nudge the U.S. toward greater multilateralism and Europe toward closer trans-Atlantic cooperation.
Professor Fukuyama objects:
The first reason has to do with threat perception. Prosecuting the war on terrorism does not even appear as an item on Ash’s common agenda, and yet it is, and will necessarily remain, a preoccupation for any future occupant of the White House. Americans tend to believe that September 11 represents only the beginning of a new age of nihilistic, mass-casualty terrorism, while Europeans tend to think of it as a single lucky shot, of a kind familiar to them through their experience with the IRA or the Baader-Meinhoff gang.
Read the whole thing. Then read the book itself, or at least Ash's "We are all blue Americans now." column in the Guardian. This guy is on to something. I've spent a lot of time pointing out how the Euro-American divide is increasing, and it is essentially a very negative and depressing message. Timothy Garton Ash may be guilty of being overly optimistic (as this Prof. Fukuyama suggests) but at least he holds up a guiding light for American blue-staters and European pro-Atlanticists who otherwise don't know what to do.

Cole answers Sullivan on Jews/Arabs

Juan Cole answers:
I said a couple of days ago that I regretted that the actions of Israeli hawks in the West Bank, Gaza and South Lebanon had produced an anti-Israeli and anti-American backlash in the Middle East and the Muslim world. I pointed out that that anger appears to have been part of the motive for the assassination of a US serviceman in Iraq. These rather obvious observations produced some interesting mail. In part this is because the posting was awarded Andrew Sullivan's "Sontag Award" or whatever.
Read the whole thing, it is extremely insightful -- I learned a lot!

Monday, December 13, 2004


Saw this a while back, worth re-posting to. This guy was reading an article critical of Bush and the "War on Terror". Somebody saw him and called the FBI:
'The FBI is here,'Mom tells me over the phone. Immediately I can see my mom with her back to a couple of Matrix-like figures in black suits and opaque sunglasses, her hand covering the mouthpiece like Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. This must be a joke, I think. But it's not, because Mom isn't that funny.

'The who?' I say.

'Two FBI agents. They say you're not in trouble, they just want to talk. They want to come to the store.'


Sometimes I read a really inspired post by Andrew Sullivan (see my archives for examples) and I think he's my hero. But then he posts something on the Israel-Palestine conflict that I violently disagree with and I am reminded that he's just as human as the rest of us. In this post, for instance, he quotes Juan Cole as saying:
The fruits of hatred sowed in the Middle East by aggressive and expansionist Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza against the Palestinians and in south Lebanon against Shiites continue to be harvested by Americans.
To me that's a fairly obvious and non-controversial statement. I don't know anybody who is even remotely informed who doubts that US policy towards Israel and Palestine has increased Muslim resentment. People may agree on the level of influence, but not on the very existence of this phenomenon. Andrew's comment that this is a "new low" for Juan Cole is a complete mystery to me.

Poverty update

It's not incomes but risk that matters. So true.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The GOP war on the UN

The campaign to remove him as UN chief has been bolstered by a TV video on the website of a Republican action group, which calls for the UN to be kicked out of New York, where it sits on prime real estate on Manhattan's East River. The voiceover of 'Get the UN out of the USA', which runs over pictures of Yasser Arafat cradling a Kalashnikov, accuses the UN of becoming an 'apologist and defender of terrorists and their agents'. It claims that money diverted by Saddam Hussein from the UN-administered oil-for-food programme was used to pay the Palestinian families of suicide bombers and to fund the Iraq-based insurgency. 'It's time we sent a message to the UN: we're not going to tolerate their conduct any more,' it says.
Unfortunately for the RVNJ (right-wing nut-jobs):
Although the Americans can make his life difficult, as they fund a quarter of the UN budget, they can only replace him by obtaining the agreement of the other permanent Security Council members. At present, veto-holding powers such as Britain and France are firmly sticking with Mr Annan.

Massive verdict in Hamas lawsuit

Palestinian organizations that allegedly support Hamas have been ordered to pay $156 million in compensation to an American family whose teenager was killed by Hamas in Israel.

The article does not mention the evidence showing the involvement of the "convicted" organizations. I hope they had ample evidence. It would also be good if the court could show that these organizations provided funds for the paramilitary (i.e. "terrorist") arm of Hamas and not the arm that funds medical services and support for the poor, but I doubt that will ever be the case. To most Americans (including judges and jurys) the distinction is irrelevant. Besides the Hamas accounting practices and financial transparency probably leave a lot to be desired.

So what will happen now? Palestinian supporters in America will be less likely to set up charitable foundations. And I guess there may be fewer Hamas terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Or, the reduction in funds will lead to increased desperation and more attacks. Who knows.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

So, the UN General Assembly gives a standing ovation for Kofi Annan. If you're a UN-hating right-wing nut-job that's bad news.

Unless, of course, you can spin it with good headline that is both true and makes it sound like a bad thing. How about "The General Assembly, while suspected of giving the bird, gives a standing ovation for Annan"? Hmm. How would you clap your hand with one finger though?

I've got it. Let's use a political reference that is clear yet negative. Like "UN representatives, including followers of Adolf Hitler, applaud their leader". That's it! The perfect headline!

PS: I am appalled at the so-called conservative nut-jobs over at All they could come up with was "Soviet-Style Vote of Support for Annan". Losers.

McCain expresses support for Kofi Annan

McCain speaking on Fox (I think - the article in doesn't say exactly):
Asked whether he believes that Mr. Annan should step down, the Arizona Republican and outspoken hawk replied, 'No. I think that we should have a full and complete investigation and then make decisions like that. Am I disturbed when I hear that his son was on payroll? Of course I'm disturbed about it, and apparently Kofi Annan was [disturbed] also.' He added, 'I think Coleman is kind of a symptom of some dissatisfaction within Congress about the U.N. -- but no, I think we need a full and complete investigation, and there's plenty of time to decide whether people should keep their jobs or not.'
UPDATE: Kucinich to the rescue!

On Israeli Politics

Juan Cole continues talking about the harassment and character assasinations that Likud-symphathizers subjected people like himself to. He also makes a number of general comments, including this one:
I remember when in Israel talking to these leftish academics about politics. I had once met Shulamit Aloni here in Ann Arbor, and I said I admired here. My Israeli colleagues were appalled that I should speak so well of what they thought of as a paternalist party like Meretz, and wanted to move me substantially further to the left. That is an aspect of the real Israel, a place where the full range of political views is debated. It is completely unlike the discourse on Israel in the United States, where anyone who departs from the Likud line is punished and pilloried.
It is important to remember that the land-grabbing and antisemite-calling group of Israelis which makes most headlines is only one of many voices. Read Haaretz for more insight into the internal debates.

Why countries join the "Coalition" in Iraq

In A Call to Arms Kristof talks to foreign members of the "coalition". An Estonian woman sites the following reason for going to Iraq:
It is in our interest to be friendly to the U.S.," she said, "because we are hoping that the U.S. and NATO will protect us if Russia attacks."
Kristof also speaks to foreign leaders (PM of Estonia, Pres of Ukraine) and concludes:
And that's the problem with our coalition: it's mostly made up of leaders counting on rewards, rather than of nations that are really behind us. Tony Blair genuinely believes in the Iraq war as a matter of principle, but the other members of the coalition are mostly opportunists trying to buy good will in the Bush administration.
Sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tony Blair going to Israel

Is he planning to cash in on some of that political capital he earned with the White House in Iraq?
Israel's concern is that Mr Blair could nudge George Bush towards a firmer stand on issues such as the expansion of Jewish settlements and, if Palestinian violence largely stops, pressing Mr Sharon to re-engage with the US-led 'road map'.
The Israelis are apparently "dismayed". That's a good sign.

An Obsession the World Doesn't Share

A fantastic column:
The United States has a strategic problem: its war on terror, unlike its long fight against Communism, is not universally seen as the pivotal global struggle of the age.

Rather, it is often portrayed abroad as a distraction from more critical issues - as an American attempt to impose a bellicose culture, driven by the cultivation of fear, on a world still taken with the notion that the cold war's end and technology's advance have opened unprecedented possibilities for dialogue and peace.
If Condoleezza Rice, nominated by Mr. Bush to be the next secretary of state, is to change this negative impression, she may have to concede that the war on terror is not, like the cold war, a label for an era. It describes the focus of America, a new principle and project guiding national policy, but it describes no more than that, because other countries have other agendas. What these countries want, above all, is to sense that the Bush administration, in its second term, hears them.

A reminder of why we invaded Iraq

JS Online: Neoconservative clout seen in U.S. Iraq policy

National Review calling for Kofi to go

This editorial is the most rational one I've seen so far. Most other right-wing propaganda pieces just seem plain nutty to me, like this one at which includes the following wild claim:
The American taxpayer, of course, will get stuck with the bill for much of the U.N.-Saddam-French-Russian-German-Syrian corruption.

WaPo on U.N. bashing

A sobering editorial.

Economist on the Dollar

Most major blogs are linking to this important piece.

Monday, December 06, 2004

View from an American in Europe

Via a link at Andrew Sullivan's I came across Bruce Bawer. He is an American living in Norway, which is interesting to me since I am a Norwegian living in America. He sees many faults with European's perception of America (and themselves), and I agree with much of it:
Living in Europe, I gradually came to appreciate American virtues I'd always taken for granted, or even disdained -- among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one's mind and question the accepted way of doing things.
He makes a lot of accurate observations about Europe as well as pointed critisism of several anti-American writers. I respect his capacity for observation, and I agree with some of his more "general" conclusions such as this one:
that the “paradise” of peace and prosperity Europe now enjoys is made possible, quite simply, by American power.
Unfortunately, many of his arguments are of little value and reflect a very "defensive" attitude:
Indeed, according to a recent study by the Swedish Trade Research Institute, Swedes have a slightly lower standard of living than black Americans—a devastating statistic for Scandinavians, for whom both the unparalleled success of their own welfare economies and the pitiable poverty of blacks in the racist U.S. are articles of faith.
Final note on Mr. Bawer's style: He rambles on with one-sided critisism of Norway/Europe while peppering his article with "facts" and quotes from "famous" authors. This is precisely the style of all those "intellectual" and conformist anti-American Norwegian pundits he so dislikes. Norway would have benefited more from his visit if he had brought some good old American constructivism.

More Democrats who want Kofi's head

The Sun has insightful quotes from Jewish-American Democrat and City Council Member Simcha Felder:
...he will introduce legislation December 15 "asking that the city not do anything to help the U.N. expand, since it's really been the core of hate against democracy, hate against America, and against anyone who stands for freedom."
"This is a body that does not stand for freedom," he said of the United Nations, "and anyone who wants to help them will be viewed by the voters and by constituents as someone supporting a body that's in favor of torture, supporting countries ... that have a record of destroying freedom, that hate America and all things American."
Fellow Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner (also Jewish-American) says:
"Its members run up parking tickets, fritter away oil-for-food money, and pass resolutions that are virulently anti-Israel."

"The U.N. thumbs its nose at U.S. policy-makers and New York taxpayers ... the U.N. barely goes a week without doing something that infuriates me," Mr. Weiner added.
Jews and Republicans forming quite an alliance here. Can reason stand up to such a powerful foe? I doubt it.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out on the international scene. Looks like the Brits won't cave in like they did over Iraq. Can Republicans, Jewish-Americans and Israel push world opinion enough so that Kofi will have to go? Can they close down the U.N. completely?

DLC also calling for Annan's head

Surprisingly the Democratic Leadership Council also wants Kofi's head:
Annan's handling of the fallout over the past week has done nothing to improve his perceived credibility: He has refused requests from congressional committees for access to the United Nation's 55 internal audits and other reports, or for the chance to interview U.N. officials who oversaw the program, saying that it would interfere with the Volcker inquiry.
Blair backs him:
Mr Blair said Mr Annan was doing a “fine” job and that criticism of him was “unfair”.

So why are leading Democrats jumping on this Republican witch-hunt? It makes no sense to me.

UPDATE: Thank heavens there is somebody in the English-speaking media who is brave enough to resist:
The witch-hunt against Kofi Annan and the United Nations over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal is, quite simply, a scandal all on its own. The leaders of this lynch mob in the US Congress and the rightwing commentariat are not gunning for Mr Annan so much as aiming to destroy the UN as an institution. That would be a disaster - for all of us, including, especially, the US.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Corrupt Republicans

Finally something both sides can agree on:
Conveniently, the DeLay vote has enabled liberals and conservatives to agree: Are congressional Republicans out-of-touch plutocrats, concerned only with using the power of incumbency to perpetuate their rule? Or are they ideological traitors who have forsaken the principles that got them elected in the first place? The answer is yes.

Bush, Media and Libel

Saw this post:
Now, I'll be the first to admit that Bush is not just a poor speaker, but one whose unscripted performances are often disturbing to watch even when one agrees with what the President is saying. But since Bush can't magically transform himself into Cicero or Pericles, the logical thing for him to do is to avoid confrontations with hostile audiences.
Reluctantly, I have to agree. It makes sense for Bush to keep quiet as much as possible. But then I saw this Galloway post from Andrew Sullivan commenting on the fact that Galloway was "not given sufficient opportunity to refute the claims in the Telegraph that he had received up to £375,000 a year from Saddam":
Such a judgment wouldn't stand a chance in an American court - but then Britain's libel laws are far tougher than America's; and there's far less freedom of speech in the UK than in the U.S.
But I'm thinking: Perhaps stricter libel laws in America would be a GOOD thing. It might reduce the amount of mud-slinging and nit-picking, thereby encouraging politicians and other people in the news to speak their mind more often, thus increasing the quality of and interest in news, finally improving democracy itself through more rational debate.

I don't know if Andrew is right, is there less freedom of speech in the UK? Perhaps that is true "on paper" but reality in America is that people don't read much news (they cynically think it's "all biased" anyway) and they don't debate much ("no religion or politics at work!"). What's the point of having freedom to speak when nobody listens? Just compare two press conferences by Bush and Blair and you'll see what I mean.

Lynch Mob's Real Target Is the U.N., Not Annan

Lynch Mob's Real Target Is the U.N., Not Annan:
The oil-for-food program was developed and directed not by U.N. civil servants but by the U.N. Security Council, as are all the organization's sanctions regimes. The diplomats who ran the program worked for the council's member states, including the United States and the four other permanent members. And they ran it according to the interests of those states, with the U.S. and Britain determined to prevent Iraq from importing items that could be used for military purposes and the French, Russians and Chinese equally determined to give the Iraqis the benefit of every doubt. Preventing theft was at the bottom of everyone's to-do list. The U.S. government had dozens of people monitoring the contracts but didn't hold back a single one on the grounds of corruption, price irregularities or kickbacks.
Let's hope the investigations turn out sufficient evidence to show the world what jack-asses these conservative UN-bashers really are.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

What's wrong with Liberalism

A good post summing up recent thinking on how Democrats need to take security issues more seriously (from conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Oxblog On Killing Children

David Adesnik of Oxblog ends his report on the murder of a 13-year old Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers with this comment:
Of course, when Hamas and Al Aqsa murder Israeli children, they describe it as a tremendous success.
How does he know that? Hamas runs hospitals, among other things. To me it is not obvious that all its members and supporters enjoy killing children. Does Hamas literature specifically advocate the murder of Israeli children? If so, why doesn't Adesnik provide us with examples?

I am a frequent reader of Adesnik's Oxblog entries, and they are generally factually accurate and well-documented by links and references. He does not seem to be the type who blindly hates other people for no reason. Yet his casually derogatory remarks suggest a strong prejudice against the champions of the Palestinian cause.

By the way, this is why I don't like the phrase "war on terror". It is not that it is untrue. But it discourages even intelligent people like Adesnik from asking basic questions like: "Why do these people use terror tactics to achieve their aims?"

Monday, November 29, 2004

Why Americans Feel Safe with Bush

Another one, also via Yglesias:
Even those Americans who now know that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction or deep ties to al-Qaeda remember he was a monster who brutalised his people and defied the international community for years. Overthrowing him may have been a mistake. But it was no sin. The main alternative -- containment policy -- was no picnic. It required the US and UK to keep forces in the Saudi holy lands. It also led to an increasingly leaky sanctions regime, which itself hurt the Iraqi people. In retrospect, it might have been better not to initiate war in Iraq. But the argument often heard in Europe -- that it was a hegemonic adventure to satisfy cowboys in the White House and help US oil companies -- was never serious.

The U.S. After Bush's Reelection

Good piece on Euro-American relations, via Yglesias.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Baby Gap

Via Sullivan, this piece says you can tell if a state is Republican or Democrat by the number of white women having children.

This is obvious. Many white women leave their hometowns for the big city in pursuit of education and career. Or, they try to escape constraining social structures and narrow-minded people. The women who stay are more likely to get married and have children.

Friday, November 26, 2004

How Mainstream Media helped Bush Win

What would have happened if the MSM had done its job (journalism) properly between September 2002 and June 2003? I believe the pro-war movement would have had less wind in its sails. Fewer people would have equated critisism of Bush with treason. And a hundred thousand moderate Ohioans would not have been scared into voting for Bush even though they agreed with Kerry more.

I will try to support this argument in later posts. In the meantime, you can start by reading this from

In my mind this is the most important story in the world today, along with American ignorance about foreign (and especially Arab) anti-Americanism which prompted the 9/11 surprise attacks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Intimidation by Israeli Lobbyists

This thread from Juan Cole shows how Israelis use strong-arm tactics to silence critics. It's well worth a read (as is his blog, Informed Comment), especially if you're a concerned citizen who wants to understand why Americans were (and still are) so ignorant of the hatred that motivates terrorists.

James Wolcott makes a related point:
Juan Cole, who kindly mentions me today, had a post yesterday rounding up the international protests against the U.S.'s Fallujah campaign. Clicking through the cable news channels, I've seen nothing about this, though they seem to have endless clock to replay the "basketbrawl," explore the ramifications of Dan Rather's retirement announcement, and flash the eBay auction listing for grilled-cheese Virgin Mother. So once again Americans are kept blinkered to how more and more of the world is rallying against us in condemnation. Anything, anything, to preserve our "innocence." Until the next time we lose it.
Here's a link to the post he talks about.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Lexington on Bush and Growth

From Economist:
Mr Bush's optimistic message gave him a commanding advantage in pro-growth America. Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based writer who knows as much about the grassroots economy as anyone, points to the close relationship between growth, both demographic and economic, and a propensity to vote Republican. Most of Mr Kerry's base was in stagnant America. Democratic strongholds such as Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Mr Kerry's Boston have been losing people and jobs.
Not sure if I agree with all of that. I know Boston and San Fran fairly well and "stagnant" is not the first word that comes to my mind. Event the post Internet-bubble problems have looked more like "adjustments" than "stagnation".

But Lexington does make some good points that challenged many of my views on the election. Read the whole thing.

Brooks on Republicans

A good column from David Brooks:
Forget the Democrats. Bush's biggest problem over the next few years will be keeping his Republican majority together.


My friends in the commentariat are worried about the rise of the conformist yes-men allegedly surrounding the president. But the real challenge will be disunity, not mind-numbing conformity. The Republicans will be acting more like a normal majority party - with long periods of fractious disagreement interrupted by short bursts of emotional party unity (the fights for Supreme Court nominations, for example).

Bush Joke

George Bush and Dick Cheney are enjoying a quiet lunch at a very fancy Washington restaurant. Their waitress approaches the table to take their order. She is young and very attractive.

She asks Cheney what he wants, and he replies, 'I'll have the
heart-healthy salad.' 'Very good, sir,' she replies, and turning to Bush she asks, 'And what do you want, Mr. President?' Bush answers, 'How about a quickie?'

Taken aback, the waitress slaps him and says, 'I'm shocked and
disappointed in you. I thought your administration was committed to high principles and morality. I'm sorry I voted for you.' With that, the waitress departed in a huff.

Cheney leans over to Bush, and says, Mr. President, I believe that's pronounced "quiche".

(From an e-mail, thanks grandma!)

Election result maps

Most comprehensive set of election result maps I've seen so far (thanks Jay).

Thursday, November 18, 2004

We are all blue Americans now

Garton Ash's latest column:
So the expressions of European solidarity after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks ( "Nous sommes tous Américains" ) should acquire a new meaning and a new context after the November 2 2004 elections. Hands need to be joined across the sea in an old cause: the defence of the Enlightenment. We are all blue Americans now.
So how about it, Europeans? We need a hand over here :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Daniel W. Drezner on Arafat and Gorbie

Daniel W. Drezner on Arafat and Gorbie:
Assuming that Arafat's successor recognizes the futility of the second intifada, one wonders whether, to use a crude analogy, the Palestinians will be to Bush what the Soviets were to Reagan -- an implacable foe that was transformed into a near ally after a display of toughness on the U.S. side and a change in leadership on the other side.

Of course, this requires a Palestinian version of Gorbachev.
And, it requires Bush to be as flexible with him as Reagan was with Gorbie.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Matthew Yglesias: A New Superpower?

Matthew Yglesias: A New Superpower?:
But I think one thing we've clearly seen happening over the past few years is that the United States is putting much more emphasis on raw military force as a policy instrument than it traditionally has. One way to think about this is as a response to the rise of Europe (and, to a lesser extent, the big Asian countries) as economic and diplomatic forces. Increasingly, raw force is where our comparative advantage lies, so we find it increasingly useful to define international politics in terms of force. The trouble is that -- as we're seeing in Iraq -- even with 50 percent of the world's military spending, our overwhelming military preponderance accomplishes rather less than one might think.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Le rouge et le bleu, Part 1

Via Drezner, an extremely insightful post on red vs. blue states from a political scientist. His conclusion (which I wholeheartedly agree with):
This is the effect of life in a major metropolitan center -- diversity is lived in daily dealings, it cannot be escaped, it inspires forms of cooperation and reciprocity grounded on something other than common belief and common tradition.

Now, sharing a common faith is a good thing, and its value cannot be denied. And the pace and rootlessness of life in an urban center can be confusing, frustrating, even overwhelming. But the rural life makes for a different ethos than the urban; each produces, in effect, a different world-view. My point is not to praise the urban life unqualifiedly (With some qualification, I willingly defend it, and would emigrate to red America only to the blue colonies that are college towns.) My point is that there are different value systems clashing in this country, and that the conditions that produce them are enduring and probably insurmountable. I believe we are indeed in the midst of a 'culture war', a religious war, and we should bid the lessons of Westphalia before we find ourselves in a Thirty Years War. No, I don't mean secession, but I do mean a return to federalism, especially when it comes to the collection and use of taxes.
Read the whole thing. It makes you understand how inevitable the values-divide is. And it helps you understand and appreciate the inherent advantages and flaws of both urban and rural life.

Dollar expected to fall amid China's rumoured selling

That's it. I'm calling Putnam to see if I can switch my savings over to Euro-funds:
"The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of 'benign neglect' of the dollar. " More here.

Analyzing Election Results

Kevin Drum with some crude but insightful analysis:
Finally, his [Bush's] support was up by 10 points in urban areas and down by 2 points in rural communities, including a surprising 9 point decrease from residents of small towns. This goes against a whole bunch of conventional wisdom (including mine) about the growing urban/rural divide in America. If anything, it seems to have narrowed in this election.
That is strange indeed. Goes against what I previously thought. On the economy, there were some big surprises also:
Check this out: more people think the economy is doing well today than thought so in 2000. And among people who think the economy is in good shape, a stunning 87% voted for Bush. Among that same group in 2000, only 48% voted for the "incumbent," Al Gore. Bush apparently has done a great job of persuading people who think the economy is doing well that his policies were responsible.
Compared to 2000, fewer people personally think they're doing better but more people believe the economy is in good shape anyway. And Bush was overwhelmingly successful in convincing those people that his policies deserved the credit.
If this is true then one thing is very clear: Republicans are much, much better at understanding and appealing to the voters. I for one could never imagine that anobody would buy the Bush camp's "we saved the economy with our tax cuts" argument. I suspect most other "liberals" thought the same thing (as do economists). Yet Republicans managed to convince lots of voters. Amazing.

By know we pretty much know what will happen in Iraq: There will be more violence, then gradual stabilization leading to a western-friendly, semi-autocratic regime headed by Allawi or somebody like him. We know what will happen with terrorism: No more "lucky breaks" for the terrorists like 9/11, some minor attacks, hopefully nobody smuggles in a nuclear bomb, we'll learn to "live with it" just like the Spanish live with the ETA, and it will look more like law enforcement and less like "war". Those Bush supporters who think he's "the man" when it comes to fighting terrorists will continue to think so. They already defy reality and you really can't argue it one way or the other (since the terrorist threat is unprecedented and we have nothing to compare it to).

What we DON'T know is what will happen with the economy. House prices may collapse. The dollar will most certainly go down, question is how fast and how far. Growth/productivity may stall or decline. This is what will decide Bush's re-election in 2008. I'm sticking with my original guess: Something bad will happen to the economy or the financial markets.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Elitist and Arrogant

Am I Blue?:
There's just one little request I have. If it's not too much trouble, of course. Call me profoundly misguided if you want. Call me immoral if you must. But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?

I mean, look at it this way. (If you don't mind, that is.) It's true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose abortion and where gay relationships have full civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values -- as deplorable as I'm sure they are -- don't involve any direct imposition on you. We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same gender, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?

We on my side of the great divide don't, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don't claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?

The Fall of the Dollar

It is only a matter of time.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Anti-Gay Vote, Revisited

A reader of the Daily Dish presents a convincing argument against the notion that the FMA brought Bush over the top:
Now how did he do in the states which had anti-marriage ballot initiatives? .. Only in two states (Utah and Oklahoma) did he gain a significantly higher vote share than he did nationwide.
I buy that. The problem (for Democrats) is far more complex (or simple, depending on how you look at it): Outside of the big cities, white male voters think Democrats are spineless pussies.

Towards a Parliamentary System

A very important and insightful post from Josh Marshall:
... one thing that occurs to me is that President Bush is remaking the government into something that is looking more and more like a parliamentary democracy. I don't mean in every specific, of course; the key feature of the Bush presidency is an extremely powerful executive that to a great degree coopts and controls his own congressional majorities.

But the similarities are important and worth understanding. The key elements are extremely tight party discipline (something political scientists have lamented the absence of for years) and a sharp diminishment of rivalries between the branches of government which used to cut against unified party control.

But Democrats also need to learn how to live with it, at least for the next four years. And that means realizing that for at least the next two years, the President can get passed almost anything he wants to. His congressional majorities are now sufficiently padded that he can even afford a few Republican defections. He simply doesn't need Democrats for anything.

And that means approaching most legislative battles not with an eye toward preventing passage or significantly altering legislation, but placing alternatives on the table that the party will be able use as contrasts to frame the next two elections. In other words, their only remaining viable alternative is to be an actual party of opposition.
So Bush's America is basically a parliamentary democracy except parliament gets its power from the executive, not the other way around. This is a new constitutional construct, as far as I know.

Although, now that I think about it, this is not terribly different from what happens in Europe. Yes, the Prime Minister governs "at the will" of parliament. But in the era of mass media the people either vote for the Prime Ministeral candidate (Tony Blair) or for the political party they most closely identify with (Labor).

The risk of being removed by a majority in parliament is low. When a head of government is removed in-between elections it is usually because of a major screw-up, similar to, although typically less serious than, a US impeachement.

The bottom line is, as Josh points out: Democrats have to get used to making alternative policy proposals and trying to sell them to the American people, as opposed to having any real say in anything.

Here's my suggestion for topic number one: To whom should we move the responsibilities of executive oversight previously held by Congress?

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias elaborates on Marshall's post.

More on Crossfire-style Partisan Hackery

From Fareed Zakaria:
"Crossfire" is now a metaphor for politics in Washington. There are two teams, each with its own politicians, think tanks, special-interest groups, media outfits and TV personalities. The requirement of this world is that you must always be reliably left or right. If you are an analyst "on the right" you must always support what the team does. If President Bush invades Iraq, you support it. If he increases the deficit, you support that. If he opposes stem-cell research, you support that, too. There's no ideological coherence or consistency to these positions. Republicans are now fervent nation-builders, but only two years ago scornfully opposed the whole concept. You must support your team. If you don't, it screws up the TV show.
How to change this? Not a clue. Should it be changed? Yes, I hate this ridiculous partisan hackery as much as Jon Stewart does.

Does it matter in elections though? Apparently not much. Republican voters apparently vote on "moral values" (code for anti-abortion, anti-gay) and 42% of them think Saddam attacked the World Trade Center. Unless Americans become more politically aware (and less partisan) it's a lost cause.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Election Results by County

Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a nice map. Click image for big PDF version.

Dowd: The Red Zone

Great column.


George F. Will's column put it well:
But Democrats cannot disguise from the people their bewilderment about how to appeal to a country that is so backward, they think, that it finds Bush appealing.
It really is a true catch-22. How do you appeal to people for whom you have no respect? In the good old days the "great masses" would concede politics to an elite. Today, the masses are so empowered by media outlets not controlled by the elite (cable news, internet) that they no longer accept "fancy" leaders whose message is too "complicated".

Another prediction: I don't think the Democrats are going to get it together anytime soon. The logical response would be to emulate the Republicans and select a "simple" candidate. But I don't think they will be able to unite behind such a strategy. It's just too dumb and cynical for the average blue-state liberal to get excited about. More likely, they will introspect and debate amongst themselves like Kevin Drum does already:
"What are we going to do now?"

Well, I don't know. The lefties will say we need to stop trying to be Republican Lites, the DNCers will say we need to move to the center, the New Republic will say we need to get serious about national security, Amy Sullivan will say we need to pay more attention to religion, George Lakoff will say we need better issue framing, the Washington Monthly editors will say we need a more potent vision, etc. etc. I'm not sure who's right, but we'll figure it out.
My best guess: Once Bush realizes that big policy initiatives won't fly anymore (constrained by defecit and military over-reach) he will become increasingly disinterested in the mechanics of governing. That will create a free-for-all for corrupt Republicans which will lead to scandals and bad press. The Democrats will take 2008 simply because the electorate will be fed up. If they put forward a strong candidate like Obama or Spitzer they will think otherwise, but in reality it will be Bush's own undoing.

Views from the Right

Have been reading some right-wing responses to the election such as Robert Novak and Hugh Hewitt. The common thread seems to be that liberals "don't understand" America. Novak says:
The electorate is simply too conservative for the Democrats, as shown by the defeat of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota. The formula of taking the straight liberal line in Washington and talking conservative at home does not work when a Democrat's every move becomes visible as a member of the leadership.
It is a Republican country, but it is very hard for the left to see this because they believe so deeply in their agenda.
I think they have a good point. When I lived in a blue state (MA) I did not realize how conservative most Americans are. Those who grew up in a a red state would try to tell me but I could never quite comprehend it. The jokes about "flyover country" and "square states" did help.

Now, living in Atlanta I've realized that white Americans consider Democrats to be spineless, if not traitors. That's why Kerry lost.

Gotta love those Republicans..

From a letter to Andrew Sullivan:
"I wonder if you noticed that yesterday all eleven states that considered the question of gay marriage voted to ban it. ALL ELEVEN. I think this sends a very clear message -- true Americans do not like your kind of homosexual deviants in our country, and we will not tolerate your radical pro-gay agenda trying to force our children to adopt your homosexual lifestyle. You should be EXTREMELY GRATEFUL that we even let you write a very public and influential blog, instead of suppressing your treasonous views (as I would prefer)."
Expect a lot more of this over the next four years. Bush himself would not agree but his use of the gay marriage issue for political gains will embolden the bigots.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Where to go?

A reader at Wonkette presents a true dilemma:
"Where are all the hip young intellectuals heading? I'd hate to end up in France if all the cool kids are going to Canada, and vice versa."

On a Lighter Note

Man, that last post was depressing. I guess I had to vent my frustrations. Now I'm feeling rather goodly.

I had been waiting for somebody to start joking about the blue states separating from the red, then I found this on Matt Yglesias's site:

Not a bad idea. Wonder what the Canadians would think?

Bush Won: So what does it mean?

In the next few days the media and the blogosphere will be full of opinions on why he won and what it means for the future. I will be reading and learning. Some of it will be valuable; some of it will be completely misleading and probably a waste of time (like all the pre-election stuff I read about the “youth vote” and how voters always “break for the challenger”).

Before my mind becomes tainted and confused again I wanted to write down my own thoughts on this election and what it means. I’ve long thought that pundits and commentators should be evaluated on their ability to predict the future. Now somebody else (if anybody cares) has something to criticize me for.

I (and many others) have been complaining about the state of democracy in the U.S. Partisan redistricting, the Electoral College, and low participation rates are all aspects of U.S. democracy that favor cynical manipulation and polarizing views over intelligent and constructive discussion about things that matter. Since re-election is not an option Bush himself may not care that much but I fully expect other Republican leaders to fight tooth and nail to consolidate and increase their gains. Except for a few Senators who are becoming increasingly marginalized I don’t think there is anybody in the party leadership who has any concern on this issue outside of their own narrow self interest and self preservation. I will be very, very surprised if any of the inevitable post-election calls for electoral reform gain any traction at all within the one-party machinery of government. If anything, things are likely to get worse as Bush himself starts thinking about his legacy and retreats from the minutia of government even more while his minions feel they have free rains to exploit issues, consolidate power and push limits of decency even further.

Congress will become even more corrupt, just like the Democrats did in the seventies when they held all branches of government. By the end of Bush’s term the whole Republican Party will be deeply unpopular, with the possible exception of a moderate and fiscally conservative wing led by somebody like John McCain. I fully expect the Democratic candidate to win in 2008. If he is somebody who can unite and inspire the country (Kennedy, Bill Clinton) then he may be able to reverse the decline set in motion by Bush. If he is another polarizing figure (such as Hillary Clinton, possibly a John Kerry look-a-like) then conservatives will go back to the attack mode of the 90’s and the fall will continue.

Civil Liberties
Ditto for civil liberties. I fully expect fear-mongering Republicans to use “terror” as an excuse to strengthen the Patriot Act, especially if America suffers from another attack on its soil. For the time being the Supreme Court will act as a constraining influence and roll back the most outrageous violations (as it has done in the past year or so) but the Bush appointment of two or three new justices will make them more agreeable. A more Republican Congress will completely bend over backwards as usual, at least while Bush is still popular. One caveat; whomever occupies the State department may convince Bush to soften some of the most glaring civil rights violations, especially those that affect citizens of other rich countries (such as Guantanamo Bay). The military may speak out as well.

The situation will get a lot worse before it gets any better. As I see it, there is no way Iraq will become a well-functioning democracy with independent courts, free elections, a free press and a working market economy with all the institutions required to support it. That would take a decade-long international effort. The best we can hope for is a stable regime led by a strongman friendly to the west who doesn’t abuse his people too much (someone like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak). Then Bush may be able to declare yet another fake “mission accomplished” and significantly reduce the troop deployments. Or it may just disintegrate into a full civil war. Either way I don’t expect any major international support until the security situation has improved dramatically.

Al Qaeda / Terrorism
The infamous Al Qaeda is probably beyond Bush’s control. I really don’t know what their deal is right now. I suspect Peter Bergen is right in his assumption that Al Qaeda would have hit US soil a second time if they could. The most recent Osama tape where speaks of “bankrupting” the United States seems a bit desperate. He won’t bankrupt anybody, sooner or later law enforcement and other officials will have enough data points to figure out what works and what doesn’t so they won’t have to spend such ridiculous amounts of money on pointless anti-terror measures. Maybe he’ll manage to turn Al Q into a political movement but being world’s most hunted man must complicate things.

Slowly but surely the anti-terrorism efforts will start looking more like law enforcement and less like a “war” (although Bush will keep calling it a “war”). It just doesn’t make any sense to run a war when you don’t know who the enemy is. Bush will continue to talk tough with various Middle Eastern states (Syria, Iran, etc.) and I actually think he’ll make some progress on that front. As Ghadaffi of Libya has shown, the old Soviet-era logic of tough talk and power “posturing” is a proven way to make foreign leaders do what you want. That, in fact, is why Bush could have gotten a lot further with Saddam if he had waited a bit longer (assuming Saddam was capable of perceiving the reality of the threat at all, which I guess we’ll never know). You can count on powerful people to care about their own self-preservation. Random terrorists and suicide bombers is a completely different matter.

The whole conflict with Islamic Jihadists will, in the long-term, reach one of two states: We’ll learn to live with it just like the Spanish have learned to live with ETA, or some world leader (by necessity an American one) will force Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peaceful agreement, at which point the Jihadists whole reason for being will disappear. Bush will definitely not be that world leader, hence we’ll just slowly move closer towards co-existence.

The other issue inspiring the Jihadists – foreign support for Arab dictatorships – is not likely to change under Bush either. He won’t do much, if anything at all, to reduce US dependency on foreign oil because that would go against the interests of his oil-business friends. Besides, this would be a long-term project whose benefit would come long after Bush so I can’t possibly see why he would even bother. I can’t think of a single thing he has done for simply ideological reasons. If it doesn’t fire up the base, bring short-term benefits or allow him to talk about lofty feel-good ideas (such as “freedom” or “American values”) then it’s not worth doing.

Expect even more anti-environment and business-friendly initiatives thinly disguised as pro-environment plans (such as the Clear Skies initiative).

America’s standing in the World
Foreign leaders will try to be polite for a while and profess their support for the Office of the President, but after a while they’ll criticize him more openly. After all the big carrot (that he won’t be re-elected so they can deal with more understanding president) is gone. Other foreigners will reflect on the fact that the Bush presidency was not a one-time mistake committed by a people who are really, deep down, quite sympathetic towards them, and their antipathy towards Bush will increasingly translate into antipathy towards all Americans. Expect fewer au-pairs, foreign students, tourists and global American pop stars. Europeans may put more of their faith and energies into the European Union, which in the short run may give Europe a boost. In the long term I fear its military could become more independent and strong, although this will depend a lot on the British. Fewer Americans will travel to destinations outside Mexico and the Caribbean thus further contribution to their isolation and ignorance.

Bottom line, I guess I’m not very optimistic about America’s future. Almost all the things I admire (civil liberty, respect for the law, equality, sense of responsibility, diversity, optimism, decency) seem to have declined under Bush and I see no reason for change now that he’s been re-elected. Many of the things I despise (nepotism, prejudice, corruption, dishonesty, moral decay, self-righteousness, isolationism, ignorance, materialism) are on the rise.

I may just be suffering from post-election depression but I can’t help but think that the country has reached a critical turning point in its history. I just don’t see America acting as a Great Nation anymore. My neighbor greeted me this morning with the following statement: “Anybody who could vote for Kerry after he endorsed Osama Bin Laden, and being endorsed by Bin Laden on TV, is a fool”. A good number of Bush supporters would probably agree with him. Just like they think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. Can you blame me for being a little pessimistic??

Bush Will Win

Ohio is not looking good. At 1am Kerry is trailing by 130,000 votes after 83% has been counted. There are apparently about 400,000 provisional ballots (according to Bjarte in Norway). They have apparently counted the absentee ballots already.

Thus it's pretty clear: Bush will win Ohio and the election. He'll have to find his own way out of the mess he created. Maybe that's for the best. Who knows. I'm going to bed.

UPDATE: My friend Bjarte was way off (perhaps because he stayed up until 7am). They are now saying there are about 175,000 provisional ballots, and Bush leads by 140,000. There is no way Kerry can close that gap.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

US presidential election 2004: quiz

Guardian Unlimited: US presidential election 2004 Quiz: Damn! I got 32. Kevin Drum got 33. How many did you get? (

Bin Laden aims to bankrupt United States

Bin Laden aims to bankrupt United States. Bin Laden's original aim was probably somewhat different but after the American collective post-9/11 panic attack his new strategy makes a lot of sense. He says 9/11 cost them $500,000. With the $200bn Bush has committed for Iraq plus the $70bn he just asked for that's a ratio of 540,000 to 1. For every dollar Bin Laden spends, he can count on Bush to spend $540,000.

Avoiding the Oil Curse

Via a friend in Boston, a flattering report about Norway (my home country) and the way it manages its oil revenues:
In Norway, the sudden increase in oil prices has meant larger inflows to the fund and enhanced long-term welfare for its citizens. That's not how it goes down in other big oil producing countries. In Russia, the oil boom has enriched oligarchs and increased foreign currency reserves. But the quality of life in Russia continues to deteriorate. Saudi Arabia has been pumping far more oil than Norway and for a far longer time. But its oil revenues tend to flow into the bank accounts of the royal family—not into a segregated account to benefit the public at large.
As a Norwegian I am obviously hopelessly biased here, but you'd think the English-speaking media would take an even greater interest in Scandinavia. More US - Scandi comparisons here.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Incompetence: A Myth?

Mickey Kaus raises a good point:
Polls show doubts about President Bush's ability to handle the Iraq war but relative confidence in his approach to the larger war on terror. It seems to me this gets it backwards. On Iraq, I'm highly suspicious of the strident attacks on Bush's prosecution of the war from those who pushed the war (like Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and the editors of New Republic). Arguing that Bush horribly botched the job is one convenient way of avoiding the conclusion that it was a bad idea to take on the job in the first place. (For example, what if we'd kept the Iraqi army--and then it staged a coup in a few years?)
I think Sullivan is the #1 blogger out there but I have to agree with Kaus on this. I have to remind myself that incompetence is not the main problem with Bush's policies, it just happens to be the best way to defeat him given the average American's inability to appreciate the importance of international consensus.

Democracy RIP

I keep critisizing the state of Democracy in the US, yet I think this front page (via samizdata) may be a little too crass:

It showes you how much foreigners respect the United States after four years of Bush rule though. The level of contempt and dislike has probably risen more than the mechanics of Democracy has declined.

Foreign Affairs: The Sources of American Legitimacy

Of the many Bush legacies that would make me pick Kerry (if I could vote), the decline in legitimacy abroad is the most significant:
Throughout its history, the United States has made gaining international legitimacy a top priority of its foreign policy. The 18 months since the launch of the Iraq war, however, have left the country's hard-earned respect and credibility in tatters. In going to war without a legal basis or the backing of traditional U.S. allies, the Bush administration brazenly undermined Washington's long-held commitment to international law, its acceptance of consensual decision-making, its reputation for moderation, and its identification with the preservation of peace. The road back will be a long and hard one.
I believe this is the single most important reason we (i.e. citizens of the West) have been at peace for over 50 years:
Just as civilization itself is distinguished by the insistence that conflicts be settled by means other than brute force, so U.S. postwar leaders insisted that international relations be ordered by the same principle.
I can understand why Bush wants to preemptively strike our enemies -- that's what people under threat have done for tens of thousands of years. But a truly gifted and wise leader with a keen sense of history would know unity and consensus matter more to peace in the long run.

Unfortunately most Americans of all persuasions appear incapable of appreciating this point. I was against the war in Iraq for one very simple reason: The rest of the world was against it. If Bush had managed to bring them around, I would have been for it. To most Americans that sounds like "flip-flopping" which is really too bad.

More on Mandatory Voting in Australia

More details on how it works. I really, really think the US should adopt this idea.

Thomas Friedman endorsing George Herber Walker Bush

Nice twist:
Columnists for this newspaper are not allowed to endorse presidential candidates. But I think this election is so important, I am going to break the rules. I hope I don't get fired. But here goes: I am endorsing George Bush for president. No, no - not George W. Bush. I am endorsing his father - George Herbert Walker Bush.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Arabs see benefits of Bush

I'm not quite sure what to think of this, but is makes some sense:
In London, the consensus among Arab ambassadors - though they don't say so publicly - is that keeping Bush in the White House would be preferable to starting afresh with Kerry.

Also pointing in Bush's favour is the popular Arab view that second-term American presidents are better placed to take a firm line with Israel than first-term presidents. The theory is that in their second term they no longer need to please the Israeli lobby in the US because they cannot seek re-election again.
Another way to look at it: Would Arab ambassadors support him if they really thought Bush would be successful at spreading democracy in the region?

Mandatory Voting?

This is truly good stuff on the merits of mandatory voting (Australia has it):
Many of the least attractive elements of our election system derive from the fact that the composition of the actual electorate changes from year to year. Thus, both parties have reason to try and launch drives to register 'their' voters. This, in turn, raises the specter of fraud. The specter of fraud, as we've been seeing, can be a useful tool in trying to prevent the other guy's supporters from voting. Negative advertising, meanwhile, is primarily useful as a way of suppressing the other side's turnout, and much of the most egregious policies and rhetoric you see in any campaign season are aimed at 'motivating the base' rather than broadening a candidate's appeal.
Now just throw away the electoral college and teach young Americans to talk about politics and voila! you've got a vibrant Democracy again!

Another Sensible Endorsement for Bush

Via Sullivan, a Bush endorsement from somebody who actually put some thought into it instead of just repeating GOP talking points and low-ball Kerry attacks. Although she focuses on Bush's plans without commenting on how he did with respect to the previous set of plans. Also, this is pretty weak:
I don't think the president has much, if anything, to do with how the economy runs, unless he's one of those disastrous tinkerers, like FDR and Richard Nixon. Neither of the current candidates is such a lackwit, meaning that their impact on the economy will be minimal indeed. Neither candidate gets my vote here.
I'm open to the argument that Kerry may be no better, but to suggest that defecits and spending increases don't matter is a bit rich.

Bush States, Suicide and Obesity

People in Bush states are 51% more likely to commit suicide and 20% more likely to be obese. A fact that prompted one commentator to make this observation:
If Bush wins, total suicides in my state may increase by at least one. If not, the number of passports will increase by at least one, U.S. population will decrease by at least one, and some country with a lot less fucking idiots will see a population increase of at least one. Who's with me?

Michael Moore in Norwegian Schools

My 16-year old niece in Norway just told me they're watching Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11 in school. The latter has apparently been selected as the "school movie of the year".

I didn't bother asking if they show Stolen Honor or Swift Boat Ads to balance things out. They would never believe that Americans take those right-wing nut jobs seriously anyway.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Hard Right

Well put: "There's an obsession with purity, both of ideology and motive at the expense of assessments of actual consequences; a valorization of action and mobilization, a disdain for thoughtfulness, caution, detail, comity, and consensus. "

The Economist endorses Kerry

Probably the best endorsement I've read. It hints at what I consider to be the bottom line: Bush has lost almost all credibility with half the American electorate and people in other countries. They will never trust him again. Even if you agree with everything he says (and I don't) this distrust will prevent him from accomplishing his foreign policy goals.

I disagree with The Economist on a few issues that are relatively minor, by the standards of this campaign:
  • I was on the fence on the Iraqi invasion, and I still am.
  • I agree that Bush was "inspiring" after 9/11 and that he "grasped the magnitude of the challenge well". But the "war on terror" has little in common with the traditional concept of war. There was indeed a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But just as the "war on poverty" is not a war, potential terrorists who hate America cannot be fought in a war unless they reside in a terrorist-friendly country (and most don't).
  • I don't agree that Kerry "has seemed to hark back to the old Clintonian view of terrorism as chiefly a question of law and order". That's not what Kerry has said, and besides that's not what Clinton thought (as Richard Clarke and several other sources have attested). The main obstacle Clinton (and Bush) faced was a pre-9/11 mindset on anti-terrorism. Kerry won't have that problem. In fact, based on what likely Kerry cabinet members Wesley Clark, Richard Hoolbrooke and Rand Beers are saying, Kerry would be more creative and coordinated with other countries in his fight against terrorism.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Welcome to the Green Zone (review)

Just read Welcome to the Green Zone by William Langewiesche. I recommend it for anybody who wants to get past the partisan spin and get a feeling for what Iraq was really like for those who tried to "reconstruct" it.

The piece left one lasting impression on me: Imagine for a moment that you have a country with a powerful political movement. This movement has nationalistic tendencies ("we know best", "people in other countries are corrupt and/or incompetent"). It has religious fundamentalist tendencies and sees the world in simple moral terms ("we are good, terrorists are evil"). And, curiously given its power, it is constantly on the defensive; it typically responds with ignorance or counter-attack to both suggestions from outsiders and criticism from insiders.

Now picture this movement being responsible for invading another country with the aim to create a democracy. What will happen? How will they go about it? Welcome to the Green Zone gives you a pretty good idea, and it mostly confirms what you would expect.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Why Are Republicans More "American"?

Having lived in Europe, Boston and now suburban Atlanta I have formed opinions about America. I definitely subscribe to the idea that the "red" (Republican) parts of the country are quite different from the "blue" (Democrat) in terms of jobs, values, and tolerance and respect for others (such as foreigners like myself). These words from Matthew Yglesias - albeit a bit extreme - resonate with my general impression:
Virtually all of the globally competetive sectors of the American economy, film, television, music and other media, software, financial and legal services, etc. are concentrated in Blue America. The Reddish portions of the country are living off federal subsidies, tarrif barriers, and military spending.
Yglesias is commenting on a provocative piece by Paul Waldman, in which he wonders why being a 'conservative from Texas' is a good thing while a 'liberal from Massachusetts' is not:
In today's politics, it is acceptable for Republicans to traffic in ugly stereotypes and assert outright that people who come from some areas of America are not really American.

To hear [Bush] tell it, Massachusetts is not a state now on its fourth Republican governor in a row or one with one of the lowest tax burdens in the country, as the Boston Globe recently reported, but some sort of Sodom on the Bay, with 90% tax rates, mandatory Wicca ceremonies in public schools, and an anarcho-syndicalist majority in the state legislature.
Waldman makes this prediction for the future...
But this will in coming years become very much the GOP's problem. At this point, it's hard to imagine them nominating someone for president who doesn't hail from the Old Confederacy, given the current makeup of their party and the relative power of the factions within it. As they become increasingly isolated geographically, more and more Americans will see the Republicans as the alien group that doesn't understand their lives.
... but he does not speculate why. How come it's ok to make fun of the North but "un-American" to make fun of the South?

My two cents: It is because the North (including "mainstream media") is trying to compensate for having mocked and humiliated the South in the past. Many Southerners I've met react defensively on topics like racism, poverty or "culture". I am not quite sure how this defensiveness came about, but when asked people have quoted defeat in the Civil War and the embarrassement of subsequent poverty and/or racism (the Klan or acts like the Emmett Till abduction). Northerners, sensing this defensiveness, have basically adopted a "politically correct" style of not mocking a "minority" group (the same way they try not to mock ethnic minorities). Hence Republicans can run television ads with words like these without fear of counter-attack:
Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Linus on Open Source

Taking a break from politics, here are some wise words from Linus Torvalds:
Nobody should start to undertake a large project. You start with a small _trivial_ project, and you should never expect it to get large. If you do, you'll just overdesign and generally think it is more important than it likely is at that stage. Or worse, you might be scared away by the sheer size of the work you envision.

So start small, and think about the details. Don't think about some big picture and fancy design. If it doesn't solve some fairly immediate need, it's almost certainly over-designed. And don't expect people to jump in and help you. That's not how these things work. You need to get something half-way _useful_ first, and then others will say 'hey, that _almost_ works for me', and they'll get involved in the project.
I have definitely fallen into these traps.

Sullivan on Faith

Read this if you consider yourself secular person and you live in America:
'He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.' That's the view of a disillusioned Republican secularist, Bruce Bartlett, formerly of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, now one of a growing number of conservatives who feel shut out of the current Republican leadership because, well, they're not 'born-again.'
Does this scare you a little? If not, why?

Brzezinski: How to Make New Enemies

A good piece that accurately descibes the problem:
Both candidates have become prisoners of a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time. President Bush's 'global war on terror' is a politically expedient slogan without real substance, serving to distort rather than define. It obscures the central fact that a civil war within Islam is pitting zealous fanatics against increasingly intimidated moderates. The undiscriminating American rhetoric and actions increase the likelihood that the moderates will eventually unite with the jihadists in outraged anger and unite the world of Islam in a head-on collision with America.
Brzezinski then proposes a comprehensive plan for turning the Middle East around:
... the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance (as opposed to a polarizing Holy Alliance) that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
Unfortunately, the combined right-wing and pro-Israel bias in U.S. politics will make this plan politically impossible for years to come, even if Kerry wins. Unless he proves to be as good of a political manipulator of public opinion as Bush is. That's not likely though. Persuading a nation requires a leader who subscribes to a simple vision with a deep and honest conviction. For all his good instincts and bravery (yes, I think the anti-war protests were actually brave) Kerry does not seem to be a man with a clear vision for the future. Certainly not a simple vision.