McCain’s Bush-League Stunt

[Maybe that’s a little unfair to President Bush?].

Anyway, McCain is now suspending his campaign (except that it’s now all the news right? edit: plus he still had time for his interview with Katie Couric) and wants the debate postponed.  So he can….go to the Senate???…and work on this bailout bill.

Story from Ben Smith (the go-to-guy on coverage of this issue, cf here and here).

Now if I actually believed McCain were doing this in good faith instead of trying to undo all the damage this crisis is causing to his candidacy, trying to shore up his theme of fixing Washington in a bipartisan fashion/country first, I I would point out that there are (last time I checked) 98 other Senators.  Including Chairpersons (from both parties!!!) of Finance & Banking Committees, as well as Majority/Minority Leaders.  Presumably Sens. McCain and Obama know some of these other Senators.  Presumably also greater than or equal to one each of these Senators more or less agree with McCain and Obama’s views on this bill.  Hence both Senators could simply be in contact if need be with their go to guy(s)/gal(s) in the Senate and have them doing their speaking/advocating for them. And if there are absolutely needed in a vote, they’ll be notified in time to fly to D.C.

They could do all this simultaneous debating this issue during a PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.  [I know this debate is scheduled to be on foreign policy, but there is no way this isn’t coming up and McCain knows it.]

Since I don’t believe McCain is here putting his country first/personal politics last that argument isn’t worth much I suppose.  On the flip side, this is just (imb, def.#1) another instance of McCain being totally undisciplined, reckless, and having no idea what in God’s name he is doing.  Or should be doing at least.  This guy’s temper and (I’m sorry to say this) his forgetfulness/lack of coherence is really problematic.  It’s only made worse when his less than ideal VP candidate says publicly that if the bill isn’t passed we may be facing another Great Depression.

Andrew Sullivan is right–that current president guy talking in public re: financial meltdown doesn’t help either.

Update I: For what it’s worth, it’s not as if Obama’s decision to want to have the debates is unconnected from his own political ambition.  i.e. CW would suggest it benefits Obama to have the debate, hurts McCain.  [CW could be wrong.  It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the debate happens and Obama blows something or McCain pulls an upset].  But clearly McCain seems a little (alot?) spooked and hence this move.  The fact that Obama’s decision involves politics (or is political if you want to put it that way) in my mind doesn’t change my calculus.  I’m not naive and stupid enough to believe Obama is putting the needs of the country first over his politics.  I just think that in this case I happen to agree with him that the debate should go on and that it is better for the political campaign to have the debates.  I can honestly think that and still be aware that Obama agrees in part because it helps him.

iow, I realize that helps Obama’s campaign (again in Conventional Wisdom terms–subject to being proven wrong).  It’s also true that I’ve endorsed Obama, so one could just as easily turn my own logic on my analysis and point out (correctly though I think superficially) that my interpretation is not disconnected from my own political biases.  There’s no way around that charge, so I’ll just put that out on the table.  If someone wants to dismiss what I’ve said because of that, I disagree but I understand.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bottom Billion

A talk by Paul Collier to TED.  A few pieces I just want to highlight.

1)The difference between democracy and liberalism (in the classical sense).  Collier describes this (not altogether helpfully imo) as two different understandings of democracy–1)democracy as elections (i.e. “ballotcracy”) and 2)democracy as checks and balances/transparency/rule of law (i.e. classical liberalism).

Prior to achieveing a governance of the second democratic kind (in Collier’s terminology) a resource boom leaves a country worse off in the post-boom bust then if they had never had such a boom in the first place.  Collier calls this the Resource Trap.  Think:  Libya, Nigeria, Venezeula, Iran, Congo (diamonds), Russia.  Autocracies all of them.

So the key above all else is moving into a rule-based governance scheme.  Otherwise the world is dominated by tribalistic/clan based politics–in the worst cases Civil War/ethnic conflict.  In the lesser cases, what Westerns call “corruption”–which is not corruption relative to the standards of the people who actually live in those countries but simply playing it smart, protecting your family, making a buck anyway you can so that your family doesn’t starve. i.e. It’s only “corruption” when viewed from a rule-based/open trade/meritocratic system. From such a vantage point–that is within the frame of a rule-of-law based society–such actions are in fact correctly labeled corruption.  But judging other societies based on a platform they do not have is in my book unjust.

2)On the two democracies front…in the move to a rule based system from a resource boom–i.e. how to diversify an economy based around more than a resource trap–democracies as elections (democracy #1) makes the situation worse.  Which is why those countries tends towards autocracy.

An alternate view is to accept such strongman states and work on the economic/transparency front.  A middle class then grows via open trade and eventually helps create a culture that pushes internally for reform.  South Korea is an excellent example of this trend.  This is called a Second World Solution to the Third World Problem.  Not a First World Solution.  Because a First World Solution (so-called) does not distinguish typically between democracy form #1 (elections) and democracy form #2 (rule of law).  The second is a culture that can sustain elections.  The former is simply a way in which to grant power and can easily be rigged so as to elect warlords/clans/miltias (see Iraq). Election #1 popped down into a situation prior to the rule of law only exacerbates ethnic tensions, tribalism, and fragmentation.  The worse that situation gets, the more likely the inevitable strongman who will come to power will be brutal.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 10:15 am  Comments (1)  
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Unexpected House Guest

My wife has named him Reynaldo (and no she’s not a football fan). He makes nightly visitations over the last week or so. I’ve set a (humane) trap (image of trap here) for him tonight, so I’m hoping he and I can come to a mutually agreeable understanding. Namely I won’t kill you if I can drop you off in the park near my house and you go live there.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 8:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Congrats to Team USA on Ryder Cup Win

Story from NBCSports:

Strong as a team, strong as individuals, the Americans rode the emotion of a flag-waving crowd and its two Kentucky players on Sunday to win the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999.

Tiger watched from home (sitting out because of his knee problems).

The real praise goes to Captain Paul Azinger who revamped the team. I like this line:

“If we win, I’ll go down as having the lowest IQ of any genius who ever lived,” Azinger said this summer.

Published in: on September 21, 2008 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Hate Socialism For the Rich

And that is what the bailout plan is. A. Total. Crock.

Read John Robb, Paul Krugman, Sebastian Mallaby to find out why.

The line of the night belongs to Atrios filed under “I Appreciate the Honesty”:

They could’ve released a complicated plan which appeared to have controls and oversight but which would be hard to decipher from the language. Instead they made it plain for all to see that what they want is to be able to take money from you and give it to Wall Street firms.

Or Peter Schiff:

Published in: on September 20, 2008 at 8:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Godcasting III: The Divine in the Face of the Other (Audio Content)

[Image via]

Click link to open audio player of sermon:  Sermon8/24

This is a sermon I preached at Canadian Memorial United Church (whose pastor Bruce Sanguin should be known to integralists out there) on Sunday August 24th. I apologize the quality isn’t the best (sound is a little low)–it’s from a tape of a tape (long story).  I’ll have that patched up for next time.

The sermon follows my meditations on the work of Emmanuel Levinas; the Biblical text for my reflections is Exodus 1:8-2:10 (see below). The text of my sermon for those interested is up on the Canadian Memorial Site (check for August 24th, 2008).

Published in: on September 20, 2008 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Surge Redux

As a follow up to my previous post about winning/losing & the surge, I thought this was interesting (h/t A.Sullivan):

By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that last year’s U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained.

Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery.

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.”

The surge as John Robb long ago pointed out was not winning but rather acceding to the reality of militia control of Iraq.  [Really that started with the Anbar Awakening which contra McCain preceded the Surge but whatever…]

The issue as I tried to make clear in the previous post (one among many) is the centrality of the political.  The surge can not succeed (or frankly fail) when it is hooked to a unreachable political  goal with an overall strategy (national reconciliation) which itself can never be achieved because it is a strategy attempting to reach an unreachable point (goal of democratic, unified Iraq). 

Particularly when the surge follows on the reality of ethnic cleansing because the cleansing is at heart political:  namely the fight over who gets to control the corpse of what used to be the Iraqi state.  The “failure” goes back to the inabiilty to “mind the gap” created in the wake of the destruction of the Baath police state in 2003-2004!!!!  The peace was already lost (i.e. two years+ prior to the surge).  Once it became clear that the US was not going to fill the vacuum, and that everything was returning to a Hobbesian state (weirdly with a Leviathan there but not a backup to deal with state formation)–i.e. the war of all against all–the Shia and Sunni got on doing what they had to do in that situation….a civil war. 

The Surge following upon all that could not and did not reverse that reality. How could it?  How could in a post-ethnic cleansing situation could anyone ever seriously ask about winning or success?  When hundreds of thousands are dead and millions more are refugees? 

What the Surge did do was prevent the vacuum from being filled–hence the anger of Maliki at the US for financing the Sunni Awakening Councils which he correctly perceives as a threat and not getting out fast enough.  He wants to fill that vacuum.   We will see whether the Surge has allowed groups to re-arm providing them the (false imo) hope of an attempt to recolonize and undo the ethnic cleansing.  If so, it is going to be scary violent. 



Bloody Brutal Bombing in Islamabad

Warning, by clicking the link to the Reuters story in the NyTimes you will see a disturbing photo.  The link is here.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – At least 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected suicide car bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the city’s police chief reported.

The attack was timed at the exact moment that the new president of Pakistan, Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) was to first address the parliament and call for a crackdown on militants.  The attack then sends the signal that the government is not in control, can not protect citiizens and most importantly can not protect foreigners–the Marriott in Islamabad is a major foreign (mostly Western) hang out.

The Reuters article unhelpfully in some ways refers to “al-Qaeda-linked militants” as having suffered a series of attacks by the government.  If I had to guess who was behind this, it would be the head of the Pakistani Taliban from Waziristan, Baitullah Mahsud.  He is the main suspect behind the assassination of Bhutto and this has all the hallmarks of their operation.  The other major candidate would be Jalaludin Haqqani who is thought to have been behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and is perversely known as the father of suicide bombing in Afghan/Pakistan.

This entire strategy of predator drones/airstrikes into Waziristan, special forces in there, the Pakistanis announcing that they will attack any NATO/US soldiers who cross into Pakistan (!!!!!), needs to be fundamentally re-thought.  Pakistan is being destabilized–Pakistan with a NUCLEAR WEAPON, that Pakistan.  The most dangerous nation on the planet getting more dangerous by the minute.

Suicide bombing is a tactic of populations perceived to be under occupation.

I’m glad I’m not in charge on this one because I have no idea what to do.  If you leave it alone, the Taliban is too strong and too well equipped/financed not to overrun all kinds of places, especially in Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, the Taliban just want (at this point) to be left alone and left to rule their haunts.  But in Afghanistan they want the government back.

But a cynic or maybe a realist would ask how we could simply disentangle al-Qaeda from the Taliban and make our fight only with them.  But that just doesn’t seem possible.  Mullah Omar, Mahsud, Haqqani, too many of them are connected with AQ.  From such a perch it seems inevitable to me that AQ would successfully land another attack–probably on Britain not the US but possibly in the US as well.

That worries me for the obvious reason of loss of life but also for the hysteria/over-reaction that accompanied the September 11th attacks.  Another attack and God only knows what more civil liberties we would lose.

It seems a real damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.  And by damned here I mean people damned to death.  I don’t mean that in some vague gotcha sense or political campaigns. This is real human life here.

At the end of the day, the Pakistanis it seems to me don’t really want this fight.  Zardari does because his whole power lies in it.  He is the fulfillment of the US-backed plan to install Benazir Bhutto, which at the time was a Bhutto-Musharraf power sharing arrangement but now is a Bhutto-clan only scenario.  Nawaz Sharif of course is running to unseat the government on an anti-US, pro-Pakistani sovereignty platform (and undoubtedly a peace with honor/deal with the Taliban plank).  Bhutto got US approval because she told the West she would take on the militants (never mind that she helped them prosper in the first place).

So that’s where it all is now.

The Exhumation of Frederico Garcia Lorca

From the CBC:

Relatives of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, executed in 1936 at the age of 38 during the Spanish Civil War, will not block a judge’s order to open a mass grave where his body is believed to have been dumped.

Lorca’s niece, Laura Garcia Lorca, told El Pais, Spain’s largest-circulation newspaper, that the family would prefer that the gave remain undisturbed. “But we respect the wishes of other parties involved,” she said, “and we would not oppose it.”

Although there is no official record of how many died, it is believed that more than 30,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War and the repression that followed under Gen. Francisco Franco’s 36-year dictatorship lie in mass graves across the country.

Lorca, who wrote on themes of human suffering and injustice, and who was open about his homosexuality, was among those who disappeared with no record of their fate or final resting place. It is believed his remains are in a mass grave in a mountain gorge just outside Granada, where he lived.

I remember reading Lorca when I was in Grenada Spain (one of my favorite cities on the planet). I especially like this poem of Lorca’s (first in Spanish, then a free translation by me)

El Balcon

Si muero,
Dejad el balcon abierto.

El nino come naranjas
(Desde mi balcon lo veo)

El segador siega el trigo
(Desde mi balcon lo siento)

Si muero
Dejad el balcon abierto.


If I die,
Leave the balcony open.

A boy eats oranges
(From my balcony I can see)

The reaper is harvesting the wheat
(From my balcony I can hear).

If I die,
Leave the balcony open.

Very bittersweet poem especially when read in light of his death and the later closing of Spain by the Fascist dictatorship. El Balcon in Spanish can mean either balcony or a vantage point. The double meaning I read as intended. Leave the perspective open.

In the third last line, I also sense a brilliant double entendre/pun. Lo siento means “I can hear it”–the “it” being the thrush of the reaper’s instrument, perhaps a scythe, thereby indicating the Grim Reaper and connecting back to Death who is haunting the poem. But lo siento also means “I’m sorry”. The verb sentir typically means “to feel” (“to hear” as is used in this case is a minor meaning of the word).

“From my balcony, I am sorry.” Sorry about or for what exactly? Sorry to be dying? Sorry to leave this world and having only to leave instructions to the hearer to visit the balcony and see the child eating and the harvester reaping? To see life giving activities (food preparation and food consumption) as a way to assuage the sorrow of death?

The story of Lorca’s death is as follows:

In 1936, García Lorca was staying at Callejones de García, his country home, at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was arrested by Franquist soldiers, and on the 17th or 18th of August, after a few days in jail, soldiers took García Lorca to “visit” his brother-in-law, Manuel Fernandez Montesinos, the Socialist ex-mayor of Granada whom the soldiers had murdered and dragged through the streets. When they arrived at the cemetery, the soldiers forced García Lorca from the car. They struck him with the butts of their rifles and riddled his body with bullets. His books were burned in Granada’s Plaza del Carmen and were soon banned from Franco’s Spain.

Top image: Lorca
Bottom image: Grenada Cathedral Spain.  [Courtesy Flicker-er ra1000 via Creative Commons]

Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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Poor Gordie

Brown that is. This can’t be good.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is facing the political fight of his life as his Labour Party gathers for its annual conference this weekend with several lawmakers openly calling for a new leader.

Fifteen months after taking over from Tony Blair, Brown’s popularity is in tatters with poll after poll showing Labour trailing the opposition Conservatives by some 20 points as the economy teeters on the brink of its first recession in 16 years.

Brownie does have this going for him:

But so far no credible challengers have shown their hand and cabinet ministers have so far rallied behind the prime minister with varying degrees of support.

By all accounts, unless something radically changes, Labour is headed for a serious electoral defeat.  Pack yer bags for the wilderness Labourites I say.  I think that is your next destination.

Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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