Gullible’s Travels: David Brooks’ Trip to Reality

Posted January 26, 2007 on 10:58 pm | In the category Iraq, Politics, Press | by Jeff

Bush-Cheney’s Iraq adventure has provided David Brooks a terrific opportunity for what self-help gurus would call “personal growth and development”. It has been a strange trip in which Brooks has had to finally realize that his emperor has no clothes and that those Democratic leaders who had no alternatives actually had – and he had somehow missed them.

On Nov 2, 2006 in the NY Times Brooks had this to say:

“Partitioning the country would be traumatic, so after the election it probably makes sense to make one last effort to hold the place together. Fire Donald Rumsfeld to signal a break with the past. Alter troop rotations so that 30,000 more troops are policing Baghdad.”

On Jan. 7, 2007, it was:

“The record shows that in sufficient numbers and with sufficient staying power, U.S. troops can suppress violence. Perhaps more U.S. troops can create a climate in which decentralized arrangements can evolve.

We can’t turn back time. But if the disintegration of Iraqi society would be a political and humanitarian disaster, perhaps we should finally commit military resources, and create a political strategy, commensurate with the task of salvaging something.”

On Jan 11, he began totally to lose it:

‘If the Democrats don’t like the U.S. policy on Iraq over the next six months, they have themselves partly to blame. There were millions of disaffected Republicans and independents ready to coalesce around some alternative way forward, but the Democrats never came up with anything remotely serious.”

On Jan. 25, he came to grips with the reality that, “yes Virginia. There are alternative plans out there – some even formulated by Democratic leaders and analysts”:

“I for one have become disillusioned with dreams of transforming Iraqi society from the top down. But it’s not too late to steer the situation in a less bad direction…
for a ”soft partition” of Iraq in order to bring political institutions into accord with the social facts — a central government to handle oil revenues and manage the currency, etc., but a country divided into separate sectarian areas to reduce contact and conflict. When the various groups in Bosnia finally separated, it became possible to negotiate a cold (if miserable) peace.

Soft partition has been advocated in different ways by Joe Biden and Les Gelb, by Michael O’Hanlon and Edward Joseph, by Pauline Baker at the Fund for Peace, and in a more extreme version, by Peter Galbraith.”

Yes David, there are and have been for some time, alternatives to your Bush-Cheney approach. Glad to have you climbing on board. Better late then never I guess.

In his last NY Times column he threatens new insights to be delivered from the mount on Sunday on the NY Times Op-Ed page. As Bush-Cheney would no doubt agree: “ God help us all”.

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Posted January 26, 2007 on 5:43 pm | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

One of the key ingredients to Bush-Cheney’s**, successful selling of the Iraq invasion was its PR campaign aimed at belittling Hans Blix on the weapons of mass destruction issue. As we know Bush lied and Blix turned out to be both honorable and correct. But Bush-Cheney was intent on invading and invade we did. The cost of that decision has been enormous and continues to grow as Bush-Cheney flounders around looking for a way out and perhaps finding Iran.

Blix’s successor as Head of the International Atomic Energy Commission is Muhammad el-Baradei and yesterday he spoke out strongly at the World Economic Forum in Davos, warning the West, and particularly Bush-Cheney, that attempting to bomb Iran’s nuclear capability would be unjustified at this point, probably counter–productive and a catastrophe.

Golnaz Esfandiari, an Iranian émigré journalist, has written a solid review of the situation for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s website. It places el-Baradei’s comments in a broader context than that which Americans normally get from their press (and politicians) and describes a fairly broad international consensus that an attack by either Bush-Cheney or Israel could be catastrophic, and that as in the Iraq invasion in 2003, there is insufficient evidence to support military action.

We shall see – cornered beasts do desperate things.

**Note: In this context Bush-Cheney is seen as a kind of Chimaera – the two-headed beast of mythology

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Posted January 26, 2007 on 1:25 pm | In the category Education, Global Warming | by Jeff

In case you wondered, the Apocalypse is clearly upon us.  The evidence for this came to light in a suburb of Seattle where a teacher almost got away with showing her class the Al Gore movie about global warming without also bringing the Christian evangelical message about climate change to the class. Luckily one parent intervened and the School Board came to its senses, preparing to put a disciplinary letter in the teacher’s personnel file, placing a moratorium on the showing of the film in any of its schools and ordering future viewings to include evidence from those who do not believe that humans play a role in global warming.

What are those views? Well, according to the Washington Post the complaining parent identifies himself as: “a  43-year-old computer consultant [and] evangelical Christian who … believes that a warming planet is “one of the signs” of Jesus Christ’s imminent return for Judgment Day.” Al Gore against the bible?  The battle of the ages.  Another citizen, a self identified PhD scientist suggests studying the “recent findings by the Russian Sciences Academy Observatory predicting global cooling beginning in 2012.”

Hmmm. Who to believe? God’s Word? Russians? Al Gore?

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Canada and France, Round five

Posted January 24, 2007 on 3:13 am | In the category Canada, International Broadcasting | by Mackenzie Brothers

So the French have managed to do it yet again. The magnificently named socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal announced in Paris to visiting separatist Parti Quebecois leader André Boisclair that she favours “the sovereignty and liberty” of Quebec. Mme Royal, who declined an invitation by the provincial government to visit Quebec and apparently has never been there, received thundering blasts from both the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, and the new federal Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion, telling her to mind her own business. The tone of these responses should give her some idea of how France’s relationship would be with her NATO ally should she become president. Dion, a dual Canadian/French citizen with an honours PhD from France’s most elite graduate institute, reminded Mme. Royal of historical developments she seems to have overlooked, and didn’t even mention the liberation of France in 1944 by, among others, Canadian troops.

“The problem with her declaration” said Dion from Quebec City in his native French, “is that we have been free longer than the French because we had responsible government while they were still in the midst of debating empires and revolutions. So Canada is a pioneer of freedom and always will be…. I don’t understand. We do not interfere in the affairs of a friend country”.

After Charles de Gaulle trumpeted his infamous “Vive le Quebec libre” in Montreal forty years ago, he was ordered out of the country. Mme. Royal may find she has trouble getting a visa to even enter.

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The Press: Illuminator Or Racetrack Tout

Posted January 23, 2007 on 6:21 pm | In the category Politics, Press | by Jeff

As we begin the bizarre process of choosing the next leader of the free world the press is approaching the process as a horserace. This allows them to be handicappers, or odds-makers, or anointers of the chosen. The way in which candidates are covered, the attention they receive, and why, gives the press a lot of power over the process and past experience is worrisome.

So when Hillary announces, it is front-page news about her “chances” as a women and her need to avoid taking any meaningful stands that might possibly be held against her later.

Dennis Kucinich announces and it is the proverbial tree falling in the forest – no one hears it because the press has determined that he could not possibly be a serious candidate – probably because four years ago he among all the others was the one who said invading Iraq was nuts – a total loser of a campaign issue.

Bill Richardson throws his sombrero into the ring and the story in the Boston Globe is  illustrated with a huge photo of Hillary talking to a group of children and a tiny headshot photo of Richardson.

Obama announces and it was as if Jesus himself had come down off the cross to make everything all right again and possibly driving Hillary out of the Garden of Eden (whoops – wrong Testament).

Much the same goes on for the Republicans with McCain picked by the press to get the nomination because Giuliani is too liberal, Romney is a Mormon, Brownback is too conservative, etc.

The press is likely to treat this horserace the way it treats them all: as exercises in tactics in which the main substance turns out to be the way the press itself presents the candidates and their campaigns and who has the most effective campaign ads, in which lies and money are the main ingredients for success.  The beat reporters will suck up their candidates to get “access” and puff will reign

The 2000 and 2004 campaigns were examples of a press largely doing everything possible to avoid serious discussion of serious issues, focusing instead on describing the candidates’ eating habits, travel travails, wardrobe, cash flow and campaign ads.  We have serious long-term issues facing the country and the day-to-day coverage of the race is not starting out well with its emphasis on whether the candidates can successfully avoid taking tough stands on issues and therefore avoid offending major blocs of voters.

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America is dying

Posted January 19, 2007 on 6:12 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Kiwi

Today’s NY Times reports the Fed Reserve chairman warned Congress that projected growth in entitlements under Soc. Sec. and medicaid threaten the economy. This is not news, but never-mind. Anyway, what I want to rant about is contained in this paragraph on Congressional reaction to Bernanke :

“His comments also dovetailed with statements by the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., favoring efforts to curb the cost of entitlements this year, despite skepticism among some lawmakers that painful steps to deal with the problem cannot be taken two years before a presidential election.”

According to that observation–which I think is as honest as it is damning– America is un-govrernable 50% of the time. (Maybe more, as opponents of any major controversial effort know they can defeat it merely by delaying initiative for the first half of a presidential term.) America isn’t unmanageable–it continues its headless running around without direction—but it isn’t governing itself.

That to me is the headline. “America Out of Control Half the Time” Or that would be the headline if it were news to anybody. That you can’t do anything—like, say, withdraw from Iraq—within 2 years of a presidential election is pretty much accepted as fact by press, public, and obviously politicians. So it isn’t a headline. It isn’t news. Just like it isn’t news that social security is broke. That is accepted reality right along with the accepted reality that half the time the country simply can’t make big decisions. We’re old and tired. And sick.

America has political sclerosis. The vessels feeding and healing it are all plugged up with the plaque of money, and celebrity and mass stupidity. Maybe we lost our will? What do you call it when there is wide recognition that something needs to be done–get out of Iraq or secure SS–coupled with wide acceptance that nothing will be done?

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Storms over Bavaria

Posted January 19, 2007 on 5:00 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

There has been virtually no winter in southern Germany this year – last year there was snow on the ground from late November to mid-March – but a hurricane thundered in yesterday across western Europe. As the wind blew everything unchained around the garden of the palace of the Bavarian kings, a Shakesperean drama played out its final act in the seat of government at the edge of the Hofgarten in the wings of the old War Museum. Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, 14 years in power, announced that he would resign all his posts as of Sept. 30, 2007.
For Stoiber, at 65, it was a tragic end to a life-long career that had brought him within a very few votes of becoming German Kanzler in 2002. The way it played out demonstrated the wide gulf that separates the Protestant north of Germany, with its power centre in bankrupt Berlin, and the Catholic south, with its baroque splendour in booming Munich. In 2005, Stoiber actually set up shop in the grand coalition government ruled by Angela Merkel, where he offered to play the role of a kind of super minister. When Merkel offered him quite a bit less than that, he fled back to Munich to resume his position as Bavarian premier, much to the despair of many of his party colleagues. When the Süddeutsche Zeitung speculated that the Bavarians would never forgive “einen feigen Hund” (a cowardly dog) for cohabiting with the despised Prussians before fleeing back to safe home territory without a fight, the storm flags were flying, and the prognosis was correct.
But Stoiber didn’t give up, and his (angry) potential successors all swore they were loyal and would not be candidates if he ran again in 2008, as he said he would. Behind the scenes, however, the knives were out, and the mortal blow came, appropriately enough, from an unknown female backbencher in his own party who accused him of sending spies on her trail.
Yesterday, in the midst of the hurricane, it was all too much, and Stoiber gave up. But in many ways he may have also won. The leftist Süddeutsche, a permanent thorn in the side of Stoiber’s conservative CSU party, concluded in its lead editorial this morning, that all in all Stoiber had been a good premier of Bavaria – somethung that had never crossed its mind previously – and that it was sort of sad that he had been brought down both by his own weakness in going, however briefly, to Berlin, and by his inablility to realize that the red-haired backbencher from Franconia, who “loves to hear her own voice and see her own photographs” had made a charge he had to take seriously. Small failures in a major political figure, one would think, but maybe that’s what Shakespeare is all about.

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Thomas In Wonderland

Posted January 19, 2007 on 4:56 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

My local rag runs a syndicated weekly column by Thomas Sowell and I always look forward to reading it for the insight it provides into the diehard neocon mind.  Today’s is a gem.

From its title – “As in Vietnam, the Media May Cost us Victory” – I knew where this was going and also knew that the fun would be in the trip, not the destination – which is somewhere south of the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here are some quotes:

“American troops scored a big victory on the battlefield in 1968 that was presented in the American media as a big defeat – and that began the political unraveling of that war….

Most of today’s media, led by The New York Times, have been even more blatantly one-sided in their reporting. Everyone I have heard from in person who has been in Iraq paints a far different picture from that of the gloom and doom of the media.,,,

The success or failure of the troop surge in Iraq may depend far more on whether those troops will again be hamstrung by politically restrictive rules of engagement than on how many troops there are.”

Sowell then proceeds to explain that not only are the media to blame for the mess in Iraq, BUT – the Iraqis must share that blame:

“Our choice may become whether we are prepared to sacrifice more American lives in order to prop up the al-Maliki government or whether we are prepared to sacrifice the al-Maliki government in order to restore law and order in Iraq.

That government is a product of our “nation-building” under the banner of a democracy for which Iraq may not have been ready.”

It is simply impossible to understand why any sane editor would run such utter nonsense.  I assume it is a cheap way to feed the animals

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U.S. Public Diplomacy: Skating on Thin Ice

Posted January 19, 2007 on 4:33 pm | In the category Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

There has been a surge (pardon the term) in discussion about the need for a stronger, more effective U.S. public diplomacy program, particularly in the Middle East but not restricted to that part of the world. By all accounts the worldview of the U.S. is at an all time low and recent attempts to improve international opinion on the U.S. have been feeble at best.

So the American media hype over Michelle Kwan going to China as a public diplomacy ambassador has to be viewed as what it appears to be: American public diplomacy directed toward America. Ms. Kwan is, by all reports, a delightful, smart young woman. But what does it do in the grand scheme of things to send a champion ice skater to China to fly our flag? Are we saying that in America a woman of Chinese descent can become a champion? Soon enough the Chinese will produce their own. What this story does is make us feel good about ourselves.

Recognizing the difficulty in mounting an effective public diplomacy program during a period of seriously flawed foreign policy, it is nonetheless past time for the U.S. to develop a coherent, substantive long-term program aimed at improving understanding of the positive parts of American life, including our tolerance for other cultures. Sending world class athletes abroad is not bad, it is simply too meager.

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The State of U.S. Broadcasting to Iran

Posted January 18, 2007 on 5:19 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Iran, Public Diplomacy | by Jeff

International broadcasting, a major component of America’s public diplomacy program, has fallen on hard times. This is due partly to major misunderstandings about the nature and value of surrogate broadcasting versus a recent emphasis on building listenership numbers by following a strategy of “dumbing down” the content, most notably in major changes made to Radio Free Europe’s Persian broadcast service and Iraq broadcast service. These services were originally funded by the Congress in the late nineties to provide the kind of surrogate broadcasts that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty provided to the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc during the Cold War: programming of domestic and international news and analysis, cultural developments and interviews and panel discussions with émigrés.

However, early in this decade the Broadcasting Board of Governors were sold on the concept of building an audience of the young by providing a kind of “radio lite”: rock and roll music and brief, light news updates. A serious discussion of the weakness of this approach has recently begun in Washington.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey testified on the Iran broadcasts to the House Committee for Foreign Affairs on January 11, that: “We should … engage in ways similar to those techniques we used in the 1980’s to engage with the Polish people and Solidarity — by communicating directly, now via the Web and modern communications technology, with Iranian student groups, labor unions, and other potential sources of resistance. … We should abandon the approaches of Radio Farda and the Farsi Service of VOA and return to the approach that served us so well in the Cold War. Ion Pacepa, the most senior Soviet Bloc intelligence officer to defect during the Cold War (when he was Acting Director of Romanian Intelligence) recently wrote that two missiles brought down the Soviet Union: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Our current broadcasting does not inform Iranians about what is happening in Iran, as RFE and RL did about matters in the Bloc.”

Earlier, Enders Wimbush, a former Director of Radio Liberty published a lengthy article on the need to change the current approach in the December 18 issue of the Weekly Standard; a follow-up discussion by Edward Kaufman, a member of the Board and Wimbush followed in the January 15 issue of the Weekly Standard. Both are worth reading for insight into the issue

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