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?"