NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: October 19

The GOP’s American apartheid vs. socialism we can believe in

“Socialism we can believe in”?

OK. It’s not going to be a slogan the Obama campaign will ever want to use, but were it not the fact that fifty years after Sen Joe McCarthy’s death we still live in the shadow of the McCarthy era, there’s no reason why in a liberal democracy “socialism” should be a dirty word. (And must we remind ourselves that democracy is inherently liberal rather than authoritarian?)

How could the spirit of socialism more eloquently be expressed than in a question Barack posed yesterday in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people in St. Louis, Missouri:

In America, do we simply value wealth — or do we value the work that creates it?

Karl couldn’t have put it better, yet for so many Americans who’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the myth of free enterprise, the freedom of wealth creation has been abstracted from the context within which it occurs. Work is turned into a gift for those who most desperately need it, bestowed by those claim the largest portion of its rewards. But that isn’t really the work we believe in.

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The GOP could learn a thing or two from the South Africans and the Israelis: If you believe in and want to sustain a divided society, you should only cling on to such a position for as long as you can deprive your opponents of political rights.

As the McCain campaign to cruises around slicing and dicing America into its “real” and “pro-American” components, it seems to have forgotten that the other camp — those less than real, half-hearted Americans — have the right to vote. Telling an uncommitted voter that he or she is not a patriotic America unless they vote McCain-Palin, seems like the best way of pushing them off the fence — into the Obama camp.

As so often happens, once the dominant power loses its dominance, it clings on to the tactics of domination — even when they have become self defeating.

The torture time bomb

As the US presidential election reaches a climax against the background of the financial crisis, another silent, dark, time bomb of an issue hangs over the two candidates: torture. For now, there seems to be a shared desire not to delve too deeply into the circumstances in which the Bush administration allowed the US military and the CIA to embrace abusive techniques of interrogation – including waterboarding, in the case of the CIA – which violate the Geneva conventions and the 1984 UN torture convention.

The torture issue’s cancerous consequences go deep, and will cause headaches for the next president. New evidence has emerged in Congressional inquiries that throw more light on the extent to which early knowledge and approval of the abuse went to the highest levels. What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?

For three years I have followed a trail which leads unambiguously to the conclusion that the real bad eggs were not Lyndie England or others on the ground in Abu Ghraib, but the most senior officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the department of justice. Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy. [continued…]

McCain’s radical pal

One of the ways I got to know John McCain a decade or so ago was through a mutual friend—a fellow by the name of David Ifshin. I knew David through Democratic Party politics. He was a stalwart moderate, a member of the Democratic Leadership Council and an occasional adviser to Bill Clinton. Our wives were, and are, close friends. But McCain’s relationship with David was far more interesting.

Ifshin, you see, had been a vehement anti-Vietnam radical. He had even gone to Hanoi at the height at the war and given a speech denouncing the American pilots dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians as “war criminals.” The speech was broadcast repeatedly in the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain was being held captive. More than a few people thought Ifshin was guilty of treason.

After McCain was tortured and broken by the North Vietnamese and signed a confession of “criminality,” he was so ashamed that he attempted suicide—and later made a vow that he wouldn’t question the decisions or statements made by anybody else about the war. And so, when he arrived in the U.S. after his released and was asked about the antiwar protesters by Life magazine, he refused to condemn them. He kept to this policy, more or less, until 1984 when, as an ambitious young politician, he was asked by the Reagan campaign to deliver a speech slamming one of Walter Mondale’s top advisors—his campaign counsel, David Ifshin—for going to Hanoi, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy during wartime.

McCain gave the speech but, he later told me, felt great remorse about it. “I didn’t know the guy. I’d never met him,” he told me.

McCain and Ifshin met the following year at the annual AIPAC convention in Washington—and there is some disagreement what happened next: Both men later told me that the other initiated the conversation by apologizing. “McCain said, ‘I’m sorry I gave that speech. I didn’t even know you’” Ifshin told me. “And I said to him, ‘You’re apologizing to me?’ I’ve been wanting to apologize to you for years. I feel so terrible about that speech I gave in Hanoi.”

The two became fast friends. They did charitable work together in Vietnam and elsewhere. When Bill Clinton went to the Vietnam Memorial for Memorial Day 1993, both Ifshin and McCain were there, too. And when McCain saw a sign in the crowd—“Clinton: Tell Us About Ifshin”—McCain went to the floor of the Senate the next day and said, “Let me tell you about David Ifshin…David is a friend of mine.” [continued…]

Turns out there’s good news on Main St.

As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way. But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won’t be all bad in the long run. In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.

This trend toward what I call “the new localism” has been underway for some years, driven by changing demographics, new technologies and rising energy prices. But the economic downturn will probably accelerate it as individuals and corporations look not to the global stage but closer to home, concentrating and congregating on the Main Streets where we choose to live — in the suburbs, in urban neighborhoods or in small towns.

In his 1972 bestseller, “A Nation of Strangers,” social critic Vance Packard depicted the United States as “a society coming apart at the seams.” He was only one in a long cavalcade of futurists who have envisioned an America of ever-increasing “spatial mobility” that would give rise to weaker families, childlessness and anonymous communities.

Packard and others may not have been far off for their time: In 1970, nearly 20 percent of Americans changed their place of residence every year. But by 2004, that figure had dropped to 14 percent, the lowest level since 1950. Americans born today are actually more likely to reside near their place of birth than those who lived in the 19th century. Part of this is due to our aging population, because older people are far less likely to move than those under 30. But more limited economic options may intensify this phenomenon while bringing a host of social, economic and environmental benefits in their wake. [continued…]

Going global

The era of small government is over. Regulation is back. Governments now control finance.

Amid all the mind-boggling developments of the past two weeks, however, perhaps the greatest is this: government is going global.

Initially, the financial crisis that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers appeared confined to the United States. Within days, however, it had spread to Europe. Haltingly, governments on both sides of the Atlantic began to develop national plans to shore up their banks and unfreeze their lending. Ten years ago, such national solutions would probably have sufficed. But when they were rolled out ten days ago, they fizzled almost instantly, partly because they failed to inject enough capital into a tottering financial system, but also because their scope was merely national, while the economy they sought to save had grown so global that national solutions no longer sufficed. [continued…]

We forgot everything Keynes taught us

No one can complain of a shortage of information about the Great Financial Meltdown. The biggest growth industry today is words: A whole new vocabulary has spread from board tables to kitchen tables. Superannuated whiz kids planting cabbages to offset their newly straitened means can blame their troubles on collateralized debt obligations, special investment vehicles, credit default swaps. Subprime mortgage holders find themselves censured for a new and virulent disease called toxic debt.

But what is in even shorter supply than credit is an economic theory to explain why this financial tsunami occurred, and what its consequences might be. Over the past 30 years, economists have devoted great intellectual energy to proving that such disasters cannot happen. The market system accurately prices all trades at each moment in time. Greed, ignorance, euphoria, panic, herd behavior, predation, financial skulduggery and politics — the forces that drive boom-bust cycles — only exist offstage in their models.

The Great Financial Meltdown would not have surprised the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who died in 1946, for he thought that this was exactly how unregulated markets would behave. The New Economics, as Keynesian economics was known in the United States until it became the Obsolete Economics, was designed to prevent such turbulence. It held that governments should vary taxes and spending to offset any tendency for inflation to rise or output to fall. [continued…]

How we lost the war we won

The highway that leads south out of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, passes through a craggy range of arid, sand-colored mountains with sharp, stony peaks. Poplar trees and green fields line the road. Nomadic Kuchi women draped in colorful scarves tend to camels as small boys herd sheep. The hillsides are dotted with cemeteries: rough-hewn tombstones tilting at haphazard angles, multicolored flags flying above them. There is nothing to indicate that the terrain we are about to enter is one of the world’s deadliest war zones. On the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a routine checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The wary soldiers single me out, suspicious of my foreign accent. My companions, two Afghan men named Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince the soldiers that I am only a journalist. Ibrahim, a thin man with a wispy beard tapered beneath his chin, comes across like an Afghan version of Bob Marley, easygoing and quick to smile. He jokes with the soldiers in Dari, the Farsi dialect spoken throughout Afghanistan, assuring them that everything is OK.

As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers, he explains, thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not bother to tell them that he and Shafiq are midlevel Taliban commanders, escorting me deep into Ghazni, a province largely controlled by the spreading insurgency that now dominates much of the country.

Until recently, Ghazni, like much of central Afghanistan, was considered reasonably safe. But now the province, located 100 miles south of the capital, has fallen to the Taliban. Foreigners who venture to Ghazni often wind up kidnapped or killed. In defiance of the central government, the Taliban governor in the province issues separate ID cards and passports for the Taliban regime, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Farmers increasingly turn to the Taliban, not the American-backed authorities, for adjudication of land disputes.

By the time we reach the town of Salar, only 50 miles south of Kabul, we have already passed five tractor-trailers from military convoys that have been destroyed by the Taliban. The highway, newly rebuilt courtesy of $250 million, most of it from U.S. taxpayers, is pocked by immense craters, most of them caused by roadside bombs planted by Taliban fighters. As in Iraq, these improvised explosive devices are a key to the battle against the American invaders and their allies in the Afghan security forces, part of a haphazard but lethal campaign against coalition troops and the long, snaking convoys that provide logistical support. [continued…]

20bn barrel oil discovery puts Cuba in the big league

Friends and foes have called Cuba many things – a progressive beacon, a quixotic underdog, an oppressive tyranny – but no one has called it lucky, until now .

Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba’s share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba’s reserves on par with those of the US and into the world’s top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba’s state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: October 19

  1. Carol Elkins

    Interesting to think of how huge the element of luck is in life. So many games capture it. In card games, what have you been dealt? In life, the same question.
    But card games are great, because you will get a new hand in a very short time.
    In life, you might have to go generations with a losing hand, passing the bad deal down to your kids. But then, being life instead of a card game, you CAN change the rules, even make up a new game. You can even redefine “winning”
    to fit your own reality! That’s fun!

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