Friday, January 17, 2003

FYI, Diana Moon has returned to blogging, at her original address.
Ginger Stampley has an entry up about why she's not blogging about politics as much, since restarting her blog --- nothing much is changing. The Democrats are still out of power, Dubya and co. are still building up for a war on Iraq, the purpose of which they have yet to clearly articulate, and they're trying to rush through tax cuts which are absurdly slanted towards the rich. (Well, she missed that last one, but it goes just as well to prove the point).

My own reaction to the whole thing was to consider going into reruns. There's some stuff I wrote a few months ago which seems at least as applicable now as it was when it was written --- this piece, for instance, on the incoherence of Dubya's arguments for war (including, by the way, an early hint from the since-fired Larry Lindsey about grabbing Iraqi oil), or this one about the social philosophy of our current ruling party, such as it is (more plainly so after the new dividend tax proposal), and the fecklessness of Democrats in actually opposing it. If I were writing them now, the hooks would be different, but the substance could well be the same.

And it would certainly help me kick up the posting volume...

But there is change in Washington, every once in a while. Take the case of Charlotte Beers --- a legendary ad exec, though (according to some profiles I've read) more for her managerial talent than for her own personal marketing savvy. But when, after Sept. 11th, Dubya and co. realized that the United States was unpopular enough in the Muslim world for it to be a real problem, she got tapped to be "Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy", a job which more or less amounted to being the government's in-house adman.

After a rough start, featuring some notably tin-eared interviews in which she described the United States as "a great brand", she eventually produced a series of commercials for broadcast in Arab government media which featured American Muslims talking about their lives here. The campaign was widely derided for ignoring the real concerns of Muslims living abroad --- what American foreign policy is doing to them --- and the state-sponsored media of many Arab countries just refused to run it.

Now, with remarkably little fanfare, it's been cancelled. That's a pointer to an Ad Age squib; there's a Wall Street Journal article which I read in print which gives a little more detail, particularly about the trouble that the government had even getting the ads to run. Ms. Beers was apparently unavailable for comment.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I seem to be turning into a lefty SmarterTimes lately. Put it down to pressure and time constraints. Grumpf.

That said, Safire's column today is a remarkable piece of work. Let's start with this:

The new, freely elected government in Ankara, with roots more Islamic than secular, is waffling about joining President Bush's "coalition of the willing" against Iraq. The old Turkish power structure --- the nation's military leadership and governmental establishment, which previously called the shots --- is laying back to show Europeans how sensitive to public opinion Turkey has become.

That public opinion is neither as pro-Saddam nor anti-U.S. as recent polls report it to be. When asked, "Are you for war?" of course the answer 9 times out of 10 will be "No," but if asked, "Are you for the overthrow of Saddam?" Turkish friends tell me the answer would be much more sharply divided.

So, Safire suggests tossing actual polls in favor of his own poll, based on a statistically sound random selection from among the Turks in his rolodex. So, let's try to take him at his word, and suppose that the latter procedure actually does yield a sounder result. I think a formal poll of the demonstrators at an American anti-war rally would show a strong positive response to the question "are you for the overthrow of Saddam?" --- provided it was achieved peaceably; even better if it didn't result in American support of a regime with a different face and the same basic policies (a likely result of an indigenous coup, given who makes up the current Iraqi power structure). But that doesn't mean support for that result achieved by war.

By the way, if Safire is going to take this nuanced approach to polling in Turkey, I'll trust him to note, the next time he mentions polls in America, that they only show unambiguous support for the war on conditions which Dubya hasn't yet met, particularly U.N. support, which probably won't be happening on Dubya's timetable. But back to the Turks.

Beyond the "waffling" of the Turkish government, and its failure to "prepare the public for the necessity of deposing Saddam" by force --- to Safire's evident disgust, the prime minister is actually "racing around to Arab capitals" trying to arrange a diplomatic solution (the brute!) --- Safire has a further complaint:

When the U.S. asked for permission, as required by Turkey's Constitution, to use bases in Turkey from which to stage an invasion, dickering began over how many hundreds of millions of dollars would be provided to upgrade the bases and lengthen landing fields. While this dragged on with no concrete being poured, an economic aid package was sought that Ankara estimates at $5 billion and U.S. sources say is more than double that.

Far from making such demands, Safire argues, the Turkish government should be "making parliamentary and construction arrangments to welcome the U.S. troops" at its own expense. He even suggests that the Turks should volunteer 100,000 troops of their own (and then takes it back almost instantly, noting that if that army took the Iraqi oilfields, it might not want to hand them over to the U.S.). Why?

... the unseemly hard bargaining going on now over money for military assistance is demeaning and could change the nature of the two nations' alliance.

And what is the nature of that alliance? Well, Safire describes it right at the top of his piece:

I like the Turks. They shared our human sacrifice in the Korean War, were a NATO bastion against the Soviet Union in the cold war, and provided all we asked for in gulf war I. In recent years, the "secret alliance" --- quiet military cooperation among the Turks, Israelis and Americans --- has been one of the few forces for stability in the Middle East.

That history of reliable alliance is the basis for longtime American support of Turkey's interests. This has ranged from influencing the International Monetary Fund to bolster its economy to urging the anti-Muslim European Union to admit this model of a secular Muslim democratic state.

The IMF is, as everyone knows, pretty much a creature of the United States Treasury. So, the alliance has been founded for a long time now on financial quid pro quos. If Safire wants to abandon that, then he's the one proposing to change the nature of the relationship. And, if you look into the text preceding the "unseemly hard bargaining" quote, you find out he doesn't seem to really mean it himself:

If the Turkish economy, already in deep trouble, takes a hit in the coming war, our ally could legitimately turn to the U.S. as well as to New Iraq's oil resources for recompense.

Spoils of war! Loser pays! Loot for everybody! It worked out so well at Versailles after World War I!

("New Iraq" --- Dubya's puppet regime already has a name. Crikey).

There's more to say here, even about just the bits I've quoted. One might wonder, for instance, what the Turkish Kurds think of Turkey's "model of a ... democratic state". The European Union does; their continuing mistreatment is one of the major things keeping Turkey out of the "anti-Muslim European Union" (many of whose leading states support large Muslim populations). But I'll just close where Safire does, with this:

But if Turkey acted like a strategic ally rather than a nervous renter of bases, it would have an unwavering superpower on its side for decades to come.

Ah yes, America has always stood by allies who qualified themselves with a willingness to do our dirty work. They have a long-time member of a former "secret alliance" with America right to their south, who is surely reminding them right now what firm allies the Americans can be. His name is Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

A while ago, I blogged a New York Times front-pager on Dubya's plans for occupied Iraq, noting that it provided for divvying up the oil fields among American corporations, but that the administration was trying very hard to reassure its Saudi masters partners that they wouldn't use that control to undermine Saudi-dominated OPEC's control of oil prices. (Thus enraging Arab public opinion with the takeover itself, while at the same time securing no economic benefit for Americans outside the oilpatch --- a neat double fake-out some have missed).

But there's more. The plan talks of an thorough reconstruction of Iraqi civil society, eliminating the Baath fanatics who have misruled the country under Saddam, something like the de-Nazification of Germany following World War II. Except it now seems that there's going to be a wrinkle: this will be a version of de-Nazification which doesn't eliminate the Nazis.

I expect the usual parties to praise this remarkably nuanced approach to a subtle and difficult problem.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

In my weekend reading, I was struck by Ethel Roosevelt's notes on a 1917 fireside chat with her father, Theodore. Speaking as a man who knew that there was very much an upper class in this country, and that he was of it, he opined:

After declaring that all men are equal we cannot expect that permanently the 3% will own the property and have the power; the 97% will become restless, are restless. And perhaps the best way to meet it is that the 3% recognize the claim of all the others --- and give them sickness insurance and old age pensions and a share in the stock and profits etc. Then of course comes the grave danger of too much paternalism...

Things have changed somewhat in the Republican party. On the issue of economic equality, of grave concern to Roosevelt (who was predicting great things for socialist Robert La Follette), the modern upper class has perhaps found a cheaper alternative than giving the lower class a meaningful share of the pie: make them think they have one, when by any objective measure, they don't:

The most telling polling result from the 2000 election was from a Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday.

As to the rest, though, Dubya's initiatives in many spheres are nothing if not paternalistic; and not a new-age dad who wants to empower his kids, but the old-style kind, who wants control of the wimmenfolk. As Sunday's Times editorial, "The War against Women" points out, the administration has been unrelenting in attempting to take back control of the bodies of its female citizens:

The lengthening string of anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his administration suggests that undermining the reproductive freedom essential to women's health, privacy and equality is a major preoccupation of his administration --- second only, perhaps, to the war on terrorism. ...

President Bush's assault on reproductive rights is part of a larger ongoing cultural battle. If abortion were the only target, the administration would not be attempting to block women's access to contraceptives, which drive down the number of abortions. His administration would not be declaring war on any sex education that discusses ways, beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and abortion would not have begun disappearing from federal government Web sites.

Which he's extending further, with even more drastic effects, to the women of the third world, via restrictions on aid, but that's yet another rant...

TR quote source: a letter quoted on p. 493 of Kathleen Dalton's biography.

And yet more from the weekend reading:

A little while ago, I noted that recent investigations have found truly massive fraud in Enron's accounting going all the way back to the creation of the company, when one company, Internorth, bought another, Houston Natural Gas, and overvalued the assets it was buying by well over a billion dollars. A revelation that I found in a New York Times story --- buried in the back.

So, where did they learn their tricks? Buried in the back of Brian Cruver's account of his own experience at the company (the basis of the recent CBS movie), is a passage where he draws our attention to the guy who provided the financing for the deal --- Mike Milken, whose fraud was so extreme that he got hit with a half billion dollar fine (and jail time) personally.