Food For Thought
Das Leben der Anderen (March 27, 2006)
A German movie released this past week, Das Leben der Anderen, is a compelling drama, a combined love story/political thriller of life in the former East Germany in 1984 ---- five years before the fall of the Berlin wall.... Click here
to read the article in its entirety.
Do You Really Want Honest Religion? (September 11, 2005)
This essay by the Rev. Davidson Loehr first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday 6 August 2005 under the heading: Even in the Pulpit, Religion, Politics are Sensitive Subjects. Click here
to read the article in its entirety.
Schlamschlacht - German for a Mud Slinging Battle (August 27, 2004)
on the state of the U.S. media in the present election campaign. Democratic candidate John Kerry's record in Vietnam has become embroiled in controversy because of "allegations" claiming otherwise by a group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT). The dismal way the media is dealing with this state of affairs is discussed here. A weekly summary of The Daily Show by Jon Stewart can be viewed on CNN International on weekends (depending on programming).
No Media for Me, Thanks, I'm Dieting
This excerpt from The Daily Show, blogged by Atrios, is just too good not to repeat in full:
STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years?
CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.
STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.
CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.
STEWART: But that should be -- isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?
CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity' -- might wanna look it up some day.
STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?
CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well -- sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.
STEWART: So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.
CORDDRY: No, Jon -- in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They've apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in '71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon -- they just want to set the record straight. That's all they're out for.
STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We'll be right back.
It's sad, really, when a satirical program has a better grasp on the deficiencies of the media than the media itself does. We really should give thanks every now and then that Jon Stewart and the writers and producers of that show know what's what.
Of course, they're not the only ones. Atrios also links to this Campaign Desk entry:
Campaign Desk has written many times about the perils of "he said/she said" journalism, the practice of reporters parroting competing rhetoric instead of measuring it for veracity against known facts. In the wake of the first SBVFT spot early this month, cable news programs for the most part offered viewers two talking heads, one on each side of the issue, to debate the merits of the claims. Verifiable facts were rarely offered to viewers -- despite the fact that military records supporting Kerry's version of events were readily available. Instead of acting as filters for the truth, reporters nodded and attentively transcribed both sides of the story, invariably failing to provide context, background, or any sense of which claims held up and which were misleading. And sometimes even that was asking too much. According to Media Matters, the Aug. 4th editions of FOX News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" and MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" both reported and aired the ad without mentioning (1) that despite the ad's claims, those featured in it did not serve on Kerry's boat, (2) that the SBVFT was wrapped in Republican ties, dating all the way back to former Nixon protege John O'Neill, or (3) the fact that the doctor who claims to have treated Kerry in the ad was not the medical official who signed his medical records
Reporters can, and do, argue that it is not their job to ascertain the veracity of such claims unless and until the Kerry campaign itself raises its voice in protest. But even if you buy that antiquated job description of a good reporter -- and we don't -- there's another ball most of the press is dropping in its coverage of the swift boat imbroglio. Once the Kerry campaign itself began to hit back by questioning the credibility of the Swift Boat Veterans' claims and arguing that the group was doing the president's "dirty work," the press still failed to adequately scrutinize the competing arguments at hand. When Kerry called on Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads, the White House pointed out that the president had himself been the target of harsh attack ads run by independent "527" groups supporting Kerry, and repeated its months-old contention that all such outside advertising should be banned.
The press dutifully reported this argument. But rarely if ever did reporters see fit to assess the validity of the comparison the Bush campaign was making. The anti-Bush ad most often cited by the White House as comparable to the Swift Boat spot was a MoveOn ad that questioned the president's service in the National Guard. But each one of the claims made in the MoveOn ad -- that Bush used family connections to get into the Guard, that he was grounded after failing to show up for a physical, that he wasn't seen at a Guard meeting for months, and that he was released eight months early to attend Harvard Business School -- is not in dispute. The overall tenor of the ad is harsh, to be sure -- so harsh, in fact, that Kerry quickly called it "irresponsible" -- but there's been no real argument that any of its assertions are untrue.
Compare that to the Swift Boat ads. Given that military records support Kerry's version of events, and that the credibility of many of Kerry's accusers is now in doubt, it would seem that if anyone should be on the defensive for lacking corroboration and documentation, it's those defending Bush's service record, not Kerry's. No anti-Bush ad from MoveOn has flown in the face of the preponderance of evidence in the way that the Swift Boat ad does. The press, then, should have pointed out the illogic of grouping the two spots as one and the same.
In the end, as always, the information that voters receive depends entirely on the way in which the press frames the story. The problem is that once an easy storyline is entrenched -- that Kerry and his detractors disagree -- too many reporters fail to press on. In this case, they neglected to either test the veracity of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or to compare their ads with those financed by other 527s like MoveOn.
There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the Times' and the Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.
In the end, the whole ball of wax certainly did nothing to help the mainstream press' credibility with what is an increasingly dubious audience.
The question Brad De Long asks constantly is "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?" (his latest instance is here).
There's no reason we couldn't, of course, since the press corps used to be better in living memory, if never perfect. The fact that it isn't, that it's really quite bad, that it's getting worse and not better as time goes on, that sources for information that one used to be able to count on as relatively objective and dispassionate (such as the Associated Press) can no longer be trusted, that there is at times no longer even a pretense of objectivity or even-handedness (or one so flimsy -- such as Fox News' slogan "Fair and Balanced" -- as to constitute a wink and a nod to those in on the deception), all of this is a fairly good indication that what many people have long suspected to be the case really is true, that powerful forces in this country want and need the press to behave in this way in order to maintain their control and dominance.
And yes, I know that verges on tin-foil hat conspiracy thinking, but I really can't help it, that's just where the evidence leads.
A Community in a Swing State on the Fourth of July (July 3, 2004)
(or how Fahrenheit 9/11 is getting under people's skin)
One citizen's comment: "I just can't believe a person can be brought into custody for handing out voter registration forms. How on earth is handing out voter registration forms causing a disturbance? Who is the true patriot here? Let's think about this as we celebrate July 4th this weekend."
What exactly happened to Lani Frank of Easttown, a community outside of Philadelphia, is still open to dispute. Upon leaving a movie theatre after viewing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Frank started handing out voter registration forms to anyone willing to take one. She told The Daily Local.com that she was handing out the forms in the theatre, but not making any mention of party affiliation or candidates.She was then approached by the theatre manager and told she wasn't allowed to do this because she was on private property. On the way to her car outside the theatre she was called over by state troopers who took her license, handcuffed her and brought her to the Embreeville barracks where she was given a citation for disorderly conduct with the intent to create a public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. The story headlined Woman Cited for Passing Out Voter Registration Forms went online on June 29th and started up a heated debate with 30 readers' comments on the role of freedom of speech vs the rights of private property. Here a few samples of some comments:
"What has happened to this country when promoting voting is a threat to the peace?"
"..Ms Frank was trespassing and had her own political agenda. How appropriate she would be arrested at the Michael Moore picture show. Cudos….There are laws to be followed."
"I can't believe people think she was arrested for handing out voting registration forms. People – she was violating someone else's rights!"
"I almost can't believe that this is happening in America. She was passing out voter registration forms for crying out loud! How is that harassment?"
"Well, the theatre operator has his rights too. She WAS on private property and was asked to leave and she didn't. I think they should make an example of this woman and give her 30 days in the lockup."
"I would voice my opinion of the police taking people away on the charge of practicing democracy in public but it may not be safe. Recite along with me, class: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. President Bush is a great leader."
The DailyLocal.com article also states that Fahrenheit 9/11 brought in $21.6 million in the box office on the last weekend in June, despite only playing at 848 theaters nationwide. According to TomFlocco.com in the entire Philadelphia and Delware Valley area, the fifth largest in the U.S. market with 371 screens in 43 theaters, Fahrenheit 9/11 was shown on 12 screens.
Paul Krugman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote in Moore's Public Service on July 2. "And for all its flaws, Fahrenheit 9/11 performs an essential service. It would be a better movie if it didn't promote a few unproven conspiracy theories, but those theories aren't the reason why millions of people who aren't die-hard Bush-haters are flocking to see it. These people see the film to learn true stories they should have heard elsewhere, but didn't. Mr. Moore may not be considered respectable, but his film is a hit because the respectable media haven't been doing their job."He ends his column stating "Fahrenheit 9/11 is a tendentious, flawed movie, but it tells essential truths about leaders who exploited a national tragedy for political gain, and the ordinary Americans who paid the price."
Declining to Wave the Welcome Flag (June 25, 2004)
Excerpt from comments made by Nuala O'Faolain, former columnist for The Irish Times and author of "Almost There", a memoir, in an article which appeared in The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune
How can there be so little enthusiasm for welcoming President Bush in as pro-American a country as exists on the face of the earth? Our intelligentsia is pro-American; American popular culture, far from being resisted as it is elsewhere in Europe, has been a precious modernizing influence on the grim patriarchy that dominated Ireland until recent times; our teachers and students work in the United States in the summer, our athletes train there, our doctors and scientists do postgraduate work there, we all have friends and relations there. No wonder Ireland shut down more completely than any other country in the world - schools, pubs, business, transport, everything - on its day of mourning for the Sept. 11 attacks.
But nations on the periphery watch the center more keenly than the center realizes. The vacuum where our enthusiasm should be is our response to the perception - the fear - that this administration is indifferent to any world view but its own; that it doesn't care whether a little place like this loves it or not.
There is another twist: we Irish, in our quarrel with Britain, have relied on American power, and that implicates us in how that power is exercised. The images from the Abu Ghraib prison were especially shocking here. We took the British Army to the European Court of Human Rights for using techniques of interrogation in Northern Ireland much less extreme than were used in Abu Ghraib - and, for all we know, in Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Iraq. The British techniques were ruled inhuman and degrading.
And Iraq is only the most lurid in a sequence of isolationist initiatives - the abrupt rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the imposition of protective tariffs, the hostility to any international court of justice, and above all, the disrespect this administration has shown to the United Nations. Not that anyone has unqualified respect for the United Nations. But small nations, in particular, have to rely on international bodies, and the United Nations for all its flaws is the international body we've got. We take it seriously and we strongly support it. Irish troops are serving with United Nations missions in places that could do with the money and attention Iraq is getting, like Liberia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Congo and the Western Sahara.
The hardheaded proconsuls in Washington know that we, though by no means the victims we once were - we've a stunningly successful economy - do not matter in terms of realpolitik. Ireland's population is a little less than that of Atlanta. But the attitudinal change I see here is part of global politics all the same. Americans who work or play outside their own country will have felt already, I'm sure, that the Bush presidency has changed how the world looks at America. For them - for ordinary Americans - the reception they get abroad at this time of profound difficulty should be warmer than ever.
But for the present administration - and a 1,000-strong entourage will be accompanying President Bush on his visit - my welcome flag is furled. It was such fun and such an honor, the first four times a president came here. But in the bitter words of a poet: "Never bright, confident morning again."
Two Movements for Change (June 25, 2004)
Diplomats and Military Commanders launch a nationwide campaign to press for change in U.S. foreign and defense policy. The official statement and list of signatories can be found at www.diplomatsforchange.com.
Donkeys in the Desert is an informal group of soldier and civilian Democrats living and working in Iraq who meet every Monday at the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in central Baghdad. The New Yorker's June Summer Fiction Issue reported on the Donkeys'letter to John Kerry urging him to visit Iraq because "…it cannot be understood from the halls of Washington or via briefing papers alone" and how "there's a misperception that if you're in the military, you're going to vote Republican. In the Army there are a lot of RINOS: Republicans In Name Only."
War, Peace and Women
Elisabeth Rehn, a former Minister of Defense in Finland and UN Under-Secretary in Bosnia and Herzegovia deplored the absence of women in higher positions in peace-keeping UN Missions at the world women's congress which took place in the impressive Kaiser Hall in the City Hall of Hamburg on June 8-9. Rehn asked what democracy is and immediately advocated a rejection of the old Greek definition of "when all free men participate." She reported on her taking part in a workshop on Anticipating Genocidal Violence in Stockholm recently and how she felt almost desperate listening to three days of statements given by official delegates. There was one important element totally missing which was any mention of women until another woman delegate strongly began to stress the role of women in wars and conflicts, not to mention genocide. She added she hoped the fact that the role of women was missing from the official interventions was not depending on that most heads of delegations were men. "It is well known that women bodies have become the battle field of fighting troops and rape and sexual violence against women and girls, even small babies is a well working tool whenever the aim is to totally humiliate the enemy. We have been victims of war, we don't want to be the victims of peace."
She went on to explain how women are the experts on the needs of the people and used Somalia as an example. Women there wanted to be asked to participate in the peace process, but the President of the country refused to allow it. The media was also called upon to stop giving a very limited view of women. Very often women are just portrayed as victims and very rarely does one see strong, active women presented in war and peace articles. The real obstacle is a lack of money and she pleaded with women's and NGO groups to send women in such areas computers and help supply computer skills. She commented she felt very sad when looking at the female soldiers in the abuse photos in Iraq but she doubts they represent the majority of women.
Professor Rita Suessmuth, a former president of the German Parliament, spoke out that women are too silent on violence and inequality and called for more activism on a wide front and more commitment to UN Resolution 1325 (women, peace and security). She saw women as still the victims in war, but bemoaned the fact that when they are in authority it is often then in military authority. She could not answer the question if women are more peace loving and certainly not when the photos of Abu Ghraib were mentioned, but did add that women often conform more than they should. They need to get out of the devilish crisis of always looking for an enemy and go new ways to help establish a more equal world. Rehn too pointed out that the only way for a woman to gain any position of authority in peace-keeping efforts is if she has served some military time before. Considering the fact that in Europe 60% of university graduates are women and she alone was once Minister of Defense, something is seriously wrong with this line of thinking.
The Bonn International Center for Conversion www.bicc.de
(in English), an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace and development through the transformation of military-related processes, activities, assets and structures so they can be used in the fight against poverty, presented two papers at the congress. Brief 24 Gender Perspectives on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Regional and International Concerns, which can be read on the internet, pointed out that "The United States accounted for 70% of all female homicides and 84% of all female firearm homicides, and female homicide victimization rates were significantly associated with firearm availability… Women in the United States are at higher risk of homicide victimization than are women in any other high-income country." Paper 20 Gendering Demilitarization as a Peacebuilding Tool discusses how "ideas about women and femininity form an essential part of the process of constructing a male identity that is deemed appropriate for a warring society. It notes that the manipulation of notions of gender-appropriate behaviour is a central component of ethnic nationalism and holds that the militarization of women has been crucial for the militarization of governments and of international relations. The militarization of women has been necessary for the militarization of men." Further on the paper notes "it is only in recent years that we have begun to understand that women, and deeply–held beliefs about femininity, are also both militarized and mobilized in support of the ideology of war."
It was pointed out in open discussions that since World War II, 90% of the war victims are civilians and 50% are children. Outrage was expressed that not one single woman was involved in the Dayton agreement on the Balkan War and a call for gender balance which has been written in European law, but not practiced, be actively pursued. In order for women to have any kind of influence in politics, at the very least 30 – 35% of all boards have to have women members.
Among the many cultural taboos mentioned at the congress one that is hidden in a "culture of silence" is the rape of men in war. There are no statistics here because the theme is so hideous and the humiliation so complete that the victims are damned to remain silent.
The following websites in English discuss these issues in greater detail: www.peacewomen.org
(click for the English version), www.1000peacewomen.org
Al Gore's Call for Accountability in Light of the Fiasco in Iraq
Former Vice President Al Gore, who won the popular vote for President in the November 2000 election, gave a powerful, blistering speech on the fallout from the war in Iraq. His opening words pointed out that "George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world." He proceeded to argue that "the abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th."
He called for the immediate resignations of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice and George Tenet.
"As a nation, our greatest export has always been hope: hope that through the rule of law people can be free to pursue their dreams, that democracy can supplant repression and that justice, not power, will be the guiding force in society. Our moral authority in the world derived from the hope anchored in the rule of law. With this blatant failure of the rule of law from the very agents of our government, we face a great challenge in restoring our moral authority in the world and demonstrating our commitment to bringing a better life to our global neighbors." He called on citizens to go to the ballot box and make it clear to the rest of the world that "…what's been happening in America for the last four years, and what American has been doing in Iraq for the last two years, really is not who we are. We, as a people, at least the overwhelming majority of us, do not endorse the decision to dishonour the Geneva Convention and the Bill of Rights…." In the end he called upon citizens to hold Bush accountable in November. "I believe we have a duty to hold President Bush accountable – and I believe we will. As Lincoln said at our time of greatest trial, `We—even we here – hold the power, and bear the responsibility.'"
To read the whole speech go to www.moveonpac.org/gore
An Open Letter to Presidential Candidate Senator John Kerry
From the Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC) and other member groups of American Voices Abroad (AVA) and signed by American Views Abroad – May 24, 2004
A word often repeated this week when discussing the appalling prison abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib. In a speech to The American Club of Hamburg on May 13 Dr. Peter Scholl-Latour, a veteran journalist, author of seven books on world events, and fluent speaker of Arabic pointed out that being humiliated in the Islamic world is worse than being tortured or even killed. He went on to explain that the Arab public would not be surprised or even outraged by reports of prisoners being tortured, but to be sexually humiliated and in particular by female soldiers and to have to live with this for the rest of your life is too much to bear in that culture. Dr. Judith A. Klinghoffer asks "Is There Life After Humiliation" on her blog posting of May 14th. She adds "in the West but not in the Middle East," seems to be the answer. hnn.us/blogs/3.html
. H.D.S. Greenway wrote "Thus, when American values arrive in the form of indecency, sexual sadism, female torturers, biting dogs, beatings, rapes, and even murder of Muslim prisoners, you have a humiliation bomb of an explosive power that is hard to overestimate." www.commondreams.org/views04/0514-06.htm
When asked who he thought would win the presidential election in November, Dr. Scholl-Latour diplomatically answered that the nation is so polarized, no one could say. It seemed to him that Bush's personality was one the Americans could relate to. However, he cautioned that if one wants the Islamic terrorists to succeed, then re-electing President Bush would be in the terrorists' best interest. Joan Vennochi, a Boston Globe columnist, wrote "…Islamic extremists are delighted the United States picked this war with Iraq because it gives those extremists a grand international stage on which to play their conscience-less killing games. Now the terrorists can take the fight directly to America without the trouble of plotting another Sept. 11…. It leads American news, dominates the American psyche, and dictates the American political debate. For those reasons, the war in Iraq currently represents victory for the terrorists and failure by the Bush administration…." Boston Globe Editorial
A translation of an editorial of Süddeutsche Zeitung appearing in Buzzflash discusses how under the Bush Administration, America has lost its values. "…when the governing political thinkers in Washington prefer to see everything in black and white rather than in shades of gray and preach in moralizing tones, rather than painstakingly seek compromise, then our discomfort turns into pure anti-Americanism." Making reference to the torture pictures, the editorial claims " …..it is probable that in the last few days the US has suffered more serious damage to its reputation than through the entire Iraq war." www.buzzflash.com/analysis/04/05/ana04007.html
, Paul Woodward's eloquent and to the point commentary leads off with the following sentence: "What the Bush administration may eventually best be remembered for is having turned the expression 'American leadership' into an oxymoron."
In the Footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr.
On May 22, 2004 at the Riverside Church in New York City where Martin Luther King delivered his historic April 4, 1967 speech against the Vietnam War, the new antiwar movement and the 9/11 Truth movement come together to declare "Those who seek peace and justice must fight first for truth and freedom." This event presents four speakers: Ellen Mariani who lost her husband Neil on UA 175 and who refuses the U.S. government settlement to pursue legal action to discover the truth about 9/11; former Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania Phil Berg, counsel to Mrs Mariani in her lawsuit against the Bush administration for failing to act, prevent or warn of 9/11; Sander Hicks, the publisher of Jim Hatfield's biography of President Bush "Fortunate Son" and journalist with INN World Report; and special guest Scott Ridder. Ridder a former Marine and UN Chief Weapons Inspector for Iraq boldly stated before the invasion that Iraq had no significant weapons of mass destruction. He is a powerful voice against war and against the challenge to constitutional government at home.
This event takes place at Riverside Drive (between 120 & 122 Streets). Take the 1 or 9 trains to 116 & Broadway and walk west to Riverside Drive. Doors open at 6 PM. Speakers at 7 PM. No admission, but suggested donation.
For more information see www.ny911truth.org
George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism
In "George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism", the Rev. Rich Lang of the Trinity United Methodist Church Seattle states his opinion that if Mr. Bush stays in office our future will continue to witness shrinking political rights, financial collapse and endless war. "Part of the power and seduction of this administration emerges from its diabolical manipulation of Christian rhetoric." He discusses the role Christianity has played in our nation's history. The Founding Fathers lived in an era dominated by Christian thought and rhetoric, and Martin Luther King drew upon Biblical narratives and teachings in his pursuit of social justice which stands in stark contrast to the Biblical Holiness and Holy War Traditions of George W. Bush ---- traditions rooted in the personal morality of righteous zeal and obedience. Following detailed examples of these traditions, Rev. Lang further argues that the next election will not be decided by any one single issue but rather by the candidate who can best embody deeply felt and often unarticulated religious yearnings of the populace and that the Democrats have yet to learn to speak the language of Martin Luther King who understood that social transformation requires a transcendent authority. He draws parallels to the "civic side" of America which is being inundated with a rhetoric of insecurity and the "religion side of things" which is experiencing a boom in apocalyptic theology. Environmental issues play no great role in a society in its final countdown, for example. "The progressive left, which often pays little attention to Christianity, will be making a huge mistake if they overlook the religious ideology at the core of Mr. Bush personally and the movement he represents."
Should the World Vote Before the Next U.S. Election?
rguments are circulating on the internet on giving citizens of the world a voice in the election of the next U.S. president. In a primarily symbolic action www.theworldvotes.org
seeks to apply new technologies to mobilize citizens around the world to have their say on matters that affect not only U.S. citizens, in particular in this post-Sept. 11 era . Yoichi Funabashi, a foreign affairs columnist for The Asahi Shimbun, argues for giving everyone a voice in picking the world's leader both on this site and in the article Why Not a World Poll Before the U.S. Election on www.yaleglobal.yale.edu
. "Periodically taking the temperatures of the world's Internet users would not constitute a revolution in U.S. policymaking. American politicians are used to relying on domestic opinion polls to gauge the political winds." Though it is obvious that web users don't represent the views of all their fellow citizens, it is a first attempt in an age where many issues go beyond national borders and elections to promote an international dialogue. How much influence and voice should the rest of the world have in an election that will, in turn, influence their lives?
A New World Poll
n time for the first anniversary of the start of Gulf War II, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a comprehensive survey of European and Muslim opinion of the United States. Mistrust of America in Europe has intensified rather than diminished, perceptions of American unilateralism remain widespread and the war in Iraq has undermined America's credibility abroad. A growing percent of Europeans want foreign policy and security arrangements independent from the United States. Americans, however, have a far different view of the war and think it not only helped in the fight against terrorism, but revealed America to be trustworthy and supportive of democracy around the world. This is the latest in a series of international surveys by the Pew Global Attitudes Project and it was conducted from late February to early March in the United States and eight other countries.
One of the largest gaps between Europeans and Americans concerns the question of whether people who move to the U.S. have a better life. 88% of Americans wholeheartedly believe this to be the case. However, only 14% of Germans, 24% of French and 41% of British think that to be true. Very interesting numbers when one considers the number of U.S. TV programs and films the Europeans can view each year compared to the number of non-U.S. shows and films the average American has access to. Take the example of ER in Germany. Dubbed in German it presents the viewer here with the reality of the many Americans who are forced to get medical help at a hospital's emergency room because of a lack of health insurance. One scene several seasons ago stands out when a patient newly diagnosed with lung cancer asked to be released because he couldn't afford further medical treatment and his family was dependent on his earnings. What is essentially a dose of reality for American viewers can appear shocking for Europeans.
The 9/ 11 Committee Investigations from Singleminded's Perspective
THE ABC'S OF 9/11. Here's the nub of what Richard Clarke has to say about the Bush administration's failure in the weeks and months leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: "I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue." This fits with one of my own pet theories based on working in D.C. for over 30 years. Most critical blunders are made in the first 6 months of a new administration. Why? Because it takes new officials that long to figure out what the hell is going on. The problem is worse than ever now because it takes so long to get officials vetted that critical positions are held sometimes for a full year by placeholders or holdovers with no real authority to initiate new policy.
The kind of thing Clarke is talking about fits right into that. He was running around with his big message about Osama bin Laden, but the new guys in town had their own agendas to get in place and counter-terrorism was not on their list of things to do in the first 100 days. As these things go, the failure to heed Clarke is tragic perhaps but not all that uncommon. I could give several examples of huge mistakes early in presidential administrations that haunted those administrations for the rest of their tenure. What makes this a little different is the sense that part of the reason the new Bush team didn't listen to Clarke is that he was a Clinton holdover, and in those early days of the Bush administration, the "Anything But Clinton" approach to governance was very much the order of the day in the White House. (This was before they decided they needed Bill Clinton as cover to justify their claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.)
The other thing you hear is that Clinton wanted to deal with Al Qaeda but the partisan sniping that prevailed during that time -- this was at the height of the Lewinsky affair -- limited the president's ability to respond militarily lest he be accused of a "wag the dog" scenario, which in fact he was when he sent troops to Kosovo. Sad to say, there may be a small element of truth to both sides of that particular partisan coin. Certainly these factors are not enough to say that if they weren't the case 9/11 would not have happened, but they are strands in the fabric of events that did ultimately leave us with our guard down. What was it Walt Kelly said many years ago: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Truth As a Guiding Principle?
In the Bushes New World Disorder James Carroll writes "The repetition of falsehoods tied to the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq has eroded the American capacity, if not to tell the difference between what is true and what is a lie, then to think the difference matters much. The administration distorted fact ahead of the invasion, when the American people could not refute what had not happened yet. And the administration distorts fact now, when the American people do not remember clearly what we were told a year ago. That Bush retains the confidence of a sizeable proportion of the electorate suggests that Americans don't particularly worry anymore about truth as a guiding principle of their government."
Iraq on the Record: Identifiying misleading public statements by the Administration on the threat posed by Iraq from the office of Representative Henry A. Waxman.
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