The Peace Demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention

August 26, 2008

The Denver police are prepared to arrest thousands of people at the convention, having converted warehouses to holding tanks. My question is why were arrests on such a massive scale anticipated or at least prepared for?

The Democratic Party overseeing the herding of demonstrators into warehouses? Surely they were not anticipating massive demonstration from people on the right. Placards saying “Save Gitmo,” “keep our troops in Iraq'” “Don’t Tax the Rich,” “no welfare for injured troops,” “support pharmaceutical companies,” “a pox on the middle class,” “Let
Them Eat Cake,” that sort of thing. Probably not likely.

The demonstrators are largely involved in peace demonstrations. To my knowledge there has been no hint of unruly behavior other than some groups being in the streets. There is something a little off putting about abruptly jailing these people as the self declared but now apparently hedging candidate for peace accepts the party’s nomination. Presumably many of those jailed are people who voted for the candidate inside the building secured largely through corporate sponsorship.

I wonder if they fear something like the 1968 Chicago demonstrations which resulted in a police riot and seek to avoid that by the early jailing of anyone protesting. Kind of an ironic solution.

I wonder if this signals that Obama and party leadership are aware of a significant cleft between the party and the peace movement.

I wonder whether the peace demonstrators will be able to see from the warehouses the speech that Obama will give on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King of course led peaceful demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Pretty ironic that they want the streets cleared of anti-war demonstrators so they can commemorate a great anti-war demonstrator.

U.S. and Iraqi Polls

July 17, 2008

Today the New York Times published an article that seems to say that Iraqis do not favor U.S. troop withdrawal. Toward the end you read that there was an extremely limited sampling of opinions. The Times just published a more scientific poll that says the Iraquis want a withdrawal of U.S. troops by a 2 to 1 margin. This article also fails to mention that the Iraqi parliament, as well as Prime Minister al-Maliki, are calling for withdrawal. (The linked Christian Science Monitor article says that talks are on-going.) By all authority I have been able to find there has been ardent support for withdrawal among Iraqis since at least 2006 and strong support prior to that.

American polls are interesting. A strong majority has favored withdrawal for a long time. Bush’s handling of the invasion and occupation has for some time been viewed disfavorably by a clear majority. Almost 40% of Americans do not understand that McCain is against a timetable for withdrawal. Despite most people disfavoring his approach to the war, most Americans see McCain as the better commander in chief. Early polls on the two candidates are somewhat confusing.

Bush on Iraq civil war: what?

July 8, 2008

When Bush was asked whether we are in the middle of a civil war instead of fighting terror, his response I found baffling. He seems to say that terrorists are behind the civil war but what does that mean in terms of foreign policy? We will intercede in civil wars instigated by terrorists? I believe I’ve read quite a bit about how this civil war could have been averted with any sort of coherent post-Sadam strategy. In any case doesn’t this policy more or less deprive us of initiative and leave us reacting to terrorists?

Obama’s Advisers Supported the Iraq War

June 23, 2008

Obama announced last week his foreign policy group. Its members are identified here. This group certainly does nothing by its membership to suggest change of any sort. I’m sure that the group was composed with an eye to appearing solid on national security. But goodness what a bunch of retreads.

The interesting and intellectual group that assisted early in the campaign are all gone and replaced by people — at least those on record — who supported the war that Obama has so famously criticized. Hillary Clinton’s support of the war wa probably more conditional than that of these advisers. Given the adamance of Susan Rice and Tim Roemer about invading Iraq, I wonder whether they’d like to bomb Iran if given the chance.

The Bill for National Service

June 3, 2008

As we all know the Iraq War was carefully orchestrated.  The McClellan book calls attention to the propaganda campaign that preceded the war and continues throughout the campaign.   The historical precedent that was probably examined for the use of media for manufacturing consent to the war, or the appearance of consent, was the Spanish-American War.

At the same time, great effort was made to create a situation in which Americans would not be affected by the war; it would be nothing more than a television program here, with the media there tightly controlled.  For the first time in history taxes were reduced as a war was launched.  Mercenaries were hired to conduct much of the war.  The economy here  benefited by the extensive us of contractors, formerly called war profiteers.

The military even manufactured stories to create warrior icons, insulting the family of Pat Tillman (which still fighting to get to the truth of the coverup) and embarrassing Jessica Lynch, who gave one of the most moving speeches imaginable to Congress when she disclaimed the lies that had been concocted about her.  This was all part of an effort to re-engineer many of the social influences that contributed to the anti-war movement that brought an end to the Viet Nam War.

Perhaps the most significant factor in boosting the anti-war movement of forty years ago was the draft.  College age men were forced to go to war, excluding people such as those comprising the current administration who exploited privilege or exemptions from service.  Others went to Canada, prison or became conscientious objectors.  The fabric of society was torn by the appropriation of people to fight the war.  When the war affected the lives of most people here, there was a great deal more concern about it and the reasons for it.  The volunteer army circumvents much of this.

Congressman Rangel is concerned that the volunteer army is disproportionately composed of the poor and people of color, people who do not have a strong voice in politics.   Congressman McDermott wants a system where people will care about policies that result in the deaths of huge numbers of innocent people.  Last week two independent surveyors estimated that over 1,200,000 innocent people have been killed in Iraq.  In propaganda jargon this is “collateral damage.”

The founding fathers were quite aware of the damage to the society that could be done by an unpopular war.  So they sought to built into their government’s framework structure that would avoid such a possibility.  One measure was to forbid a standing army.  This has gone into the historical dustbin.  Another was to give Congress the duty of appropriating money for any war.  James Madison in the Federalist Papers thought that this measure assured that there could never be an unpopular war in the United States.  We have seen this aspect of governmental checks and balances fail.

Jim McDermott and Charles Rangel have sponsored a bill that is intended to create a structural impediment to unpopular war.  Like the architects of the Iraq War, they used the Viet Nam War experience as a guide.  Their bill will institute a two year period of national service, military or other service.

The bill would require people between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service of some sort for two years.  McDermott at a speech at the University of Washington characterized the bill as an attempt to re-invest democracy in our society (where service is not born disproportionately by lower economic groups) and create a sense of community in the country.

Obama Shifts Focus of Iraq War Talk

March 20, 2008

In his speech today Obama shifted his focus from race to a perspective on the Iraq War that ought to resonate in the presidential election. This speech, perhaps given while his speeches were the topic of the day and very much in the news, was very timely. Yesterday’s speech on race was widely heralded as groundbreaking in the open treatment of its subject matter and presidential in its presentation. While he had center stage he chose to give a speech that could very well be a presidential campaign theme.

There has been a great deal of comment how, while war issues may drastically influence opinion polls most of the time, come the presidential election, its the economy. Separating out the concerns of the economy from the popular success of Desert Storm, was key to Bill Clinton’s victory over Bush, the elder. For years now the primary factor in Bush, the younger’s, phenomenally low popularity ratings have been dissatisfaction with the war. The war though has not been the primary consideration in the nomination process, nor is it likely to be a huge factor in the election in the fall. Economic disasters, the recession, the threat of inflation and “stagflation,” are more likely to be critical to the swing voters.

Obama’s speech leverages the unpopularity of the war by discussing it in the context of the economy. At the same time ending the war is presented as a counter to the age-worn accusation that Democrats only “tax and spend,” although a comparison of the Bill Clinton administration with the George W. Bush administration makes this old argument pretty much untenable.

This war which we were told would cost around 60 billion dollars, including the cost of setting up the new regime and stabilizing the country, has now exceeded ten times. The General Accounting Office estimates that the cost will end up between one and two trillion dollars; others estimate somewhere around three trillion dollars. A significant portion of this money comes from credit which will create a heavy burden on the country in coming years.

Obama discussed the effect of the war on our economy and itemized what that money could have been used for instead of going to war contractors. Before today there had been mention of this but the war has been mostly cast and a bad decision, a waste of life, bad foreign policy, and a bad vote by Hillary. This emphasis on the economic impact of the war during a recession in a campaign against someone who estimates the length of the conflict as 100 years ought to be heard by the people in Kansas.

Philosophical Language

February 20, 2008

I’ve long admired the epiphany created by the Enlightenment and its gallant sallies against the boundaries of understanding, confident that all manner of things could be systematized as tidily and unerringly as Newtonian physics. One of the enterprises undertaken at that time was the creation of the Philosophical Language, inspired by Descartes, Newton and Liebniz’ development of algebra and calculus.

Mathematical statements could be proved to be true or false by the nature of the statement itself. If the mathematical statement didn’t work, if was false. Faulty mathematical logic could be revealed by showing that it did not conform to the system of mathematical rules. It was thought that perhaps language could be constructed along the mathematical model so that only a true statement would be grammatical and better still a false statement could be identified by grammatical irregularity.

Can you imagine such a language! Lie detectors would be replaced by grammarians. Diagramming sentences in grade school would be like an introduction to metaphysics. In conversations our misstatements, untruths and and prevarications would be nakedly apparent to the listener. In my profession juries would be composed of English teachers, if not grammar books.

What would this do to politics? It no doubt would radically transform society, but from what I can discern it would have little effect on politics as we know it. On the eve of our invasion of Iraq for the first time in history there was a massive world wide demonstration against a war before it occurred. It was a demonstration of unprecedented size and scope. Nothing like this had occurred before. There have been demonstration after the fact, but never anything of this scale before the action. The reason it occurred was that accurate information was widely known. Millions of people understood that the war was being justified on trumped up charges. But to the extent that this demonstration is not entirely disregarded, it is shrugged off as meaningless coincidence that an unprecedented global demonstration preceded an invasion about which our leaders at the time claimed moral certainty and now claim to have been misinformed. Accurate information, however, was also available and known to many who supported the invasion, not just those who opposed it. At the very least there was abundant reason to be skeptical of the rush to invasion.

It was deemed politically inadvisable to oppose the invasion and that consideration, and considerations of that sort, determined decision-making at all levels from much of the media to our commander guy. It was not a revelation when it was recently documented that nearly four hundred lies were told by the administration in its pre-invasion build-up. It was simply irrelevant at the time and remains of no consequence.