The Sunset of 2003
George Orwell once remarked that political thought, especially on the left, is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of fact hardly matters. That's true, unfortunately, and it's part of the reason that our society lacks a genuine, responsible, serious left-wing movement.

-Noam Chomsky

Before that September in 2001, I was already on a steady pace against war. I was desperate to find a more peaceful process based on the idea that the terrorist represented the minority position and that we could nurture change through cooperation and support with the non-radical Muslims.

For every 50 people making bomb threats now to mosques, there are 500,000 people around the world behaving just the way we hoped they would, with empathy and expressions of grief. We are amazingly civilized.

-Dr. James J. Moore, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at San Diego

I wanted to understand how we had gained such enemies and what we have tried to do in the past to stop them.

Why did they come down to covert action?

Because diplomacy and military action didn't work. We took the Marines out of Lebanon after the bombing. Diplomacy was not functioning. And Reagan wanted action. And Casey went off the books on his own, and worked it out with the Saudis to pay two million dollars to get...people to build this car bomb that killed eighty innocent people in Beirut [in 1985] and not Sheik Fadlallah.

What was the final outcome of all of that?

... Well here's the frustration of dealing with terrorists. [It] reaches the point where Casey had lunch with Prince Bandar. the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, one of the most powerful figures even today in Washington. And they went for a stroll in the garden and they said, "We have to go off the books." And they agreed that the Saudis would put up the money to hire some professionals to try to car bomb Sheik Fadlallah. And it was so off the books, there's no evidence that Reagan knew about it or Weinberger or Schultz. It was Casey on his own, saying, "I'm going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon"--the car bomb.

-Frontline interview with Bob Woodward

I tried to put a humorous spin on the seemingly downward spiral our country was in.

I have tried hard to believe in a solution other than war. At times I had a lot of trouble with this. But the thing that kept me convinced was how crazy the war supporters sounded and how willing they were to call people idiots and lump them all as American-hating-peaceniks for thinking that war with Iraq might not be the best course of action.

Other times I simply slipped into sadness over the continuous corruption of every country and the contagion of cruelty that exists in many more places than Iraq. It can be summed up from a paragraph of that 1.11.2003 post.

The biggest lesson that should have been learned from the 9/11 atrocity is that technology, military might, and all the money in the world doesn't mean shit. If we continue to disregard poverty, torture, and mass murder beyond our borders it will blow back in our face. If the average American citizen does anything to support terrorism, it is not driving an SUV or doing drugs. It is our greed. It is our apathy. It is not our need for oil. It is that we buy the oil from corrupt governments and don't pressure them to change. We can't expect the world to change for the better without us following suit. This is the challenge of our generation.

It's hard to dislodge myself from the idealistic notion of finding an alternative to war or that stopping torture and murder is what we were trying to do instead of having it be the only thing left after all the other reasons failed to turn out true. I have yet to see any concrete evidence Saddam was involved with Osama or that Saddam didn't use all his weapons of mass destruction during the war with Iran. Also, I had little trust left in the administration to handle the post-war problems or to curb the use of depleted uranium in an area we were likely to occupy for years to come. For all their claims of supporting the troops, the administration and Republicans like House Speaker Dennis Hastert from my state and Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas fought to put a stop to H.R. 303 that would have repealed the disabled veterans tax.

It is still not clear whether or not things will get worse before they get better. I want to believe that since we have gone down this path that we can make things better. No matter how much I have been against this war, largely because I didn't trust those in our government to manage things in the post-conflict period, we all must make an effort to ensure its success in spite of them. It is no less impossible for Iraq to have a democracy than Turkey. Perhaps, it is idealistic and naive to come against war.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, horrified by the news from the East Coast, Victor Davis Hanson began writing. A classicist and farmer in California, Hanson kept at it everyday through that momentous fall, ultimately publishing his thoughts and pieces in a small but highly influential book entitled An Autumn of War. The collection's overarching (and, to me, convincing) theme: that war is an inherent element of the human condition and that the wisest course in a fallen world--one in which evil can strike out at innocents, without warning, on a brilliantly blue morning, widowing spouses and orphaning children--is to appreciate the tragic quality of life. Once we accept that the world will almost always fall short of our expectations, that man is not perfectible, and that answering violence with violence is sometimes the moral thing to do, we can start to make ourselves, our children, and our culture more secure. Hanson's book was read at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

-Jon Meacham, The unintended consequences of war.

It may make "no difference what men think of war." "War endures." We have only to hope to be on the right side. The thought that violence begets violence and that only non-violent resistance can break this cycle ignores the existence of the doctrine of Tawhid from the Wahhabi version of Islam. It espouses a natural resistance to peace with the west. But at the same time, we can't ignore that there are other interpretations friendlier to the west.

I have to be honest that I am not entirely comfortable with religion no matter how western it is. I am not so extreme in my reservations as some.

Becoming a possible object of respect, a religious tradition also becomes a target for criticism, and Dawkins is quite capable of mounting the true criticism of most current religiosities, including that of all the monotheistic religions of the desert, which is that they are frequently cruel, misogynistic, divisive, intolerant, and life-denying, and that they warp for the worse the emotions and the practices of countless people across the globe. The function of these religions is to regulate how people behave and think, and unfortunately people regulate how they behave in the most awful ways and think the most awful things

-Simon Blackburn, The Ethics of Belief

A major factor that has prompted a naked reactionary stance against the Bush administration is the scary similarities of the secular-hating O'Reilly's of Christianity and the ones of Islam.

A close associate of al Qaeda, al-Khudayr is known as a leader of the takfiri-jihadi stream of Islamic radicalism -- that is, as someone quick to engage in takfir, the practice of proclaiming fellow Sunnis guilty of apostasy (a crime punishable by death).* After September 11, he issued a fatwa advising his followers to rejoice at the attacks. Depicting the United States as one of the greatest enemies that Islam has ever faced, he chided those who had misgivings about the deaths of so many innocent civilians, listing a number of American "crimes" that justified the attacks: "killing and displacing Muslims, aiding the Muslims' enemies against them, spreading secularism, forcefully imposing blasphemy on peoples and states, and persecuting the mujahideen."

-The Saudi Paradox (metafilter thread)

Since we do not support political parties or push ideologies, our base support comes from regular folks, who think for themselves and who value traditionalism. In a sense, they believe America is a good country and our system of free enterprise is good.

As you know, we fight secularism, anti-Americanism, corruption, and deceit. We fight those things hard. Thus we make enemies. And some of those enemies are powerful.

-The O'Reilly Factor

So opposition, in contrast to a "with us or against us" polarization, is more a matter of fearing we all "come loose from our moorings." The problem becomes maintaining a proper balance of criticism and support. We only have to look at the spectacle of French anti-Americanism to see how criticism can get off track.

Differing ideas of how much we should sacrifice in the name of safety dovetails with economic and environmental fears.

The confusing contradictions and complex conversions of world currency and corrupt corporations conceal the unpleasant truths about our current economy.

Americans are out of work. Factory orders are sluggish. The economic news is grim yet the U.S. stock market keeps going up. Can this be consistent? Sure! It is possible to believe simultaneously that the American people are getting poorer and that the largest American corporations are going to get ever richer. How could this happen? Group A and Group B can get richer if they work together to grow the pie. Alternatively, Group B can get richer by transferring wealth from Group A.

-Philip Greenspun

We are supposed to accept that sweatshops are necessary bump on the road to a better world. When manufacturing jobs in the US fled overseas, we were told to trust in the fact that the high tech industry would provide plenty of jobs to replace those lost. That idea is losing ground. Maybe it's just a backlash against the Revenge of the Nerds.

In a speech this fall, IBM chief Sam Palmisano defended the practice of going to Asian countries for skilled labor, saying those nations not only offer lower wages but also have invested heavily in education and modern communications networks.

He said the United States should respond with increased investments of its own to remain innovative.

To want a decent wage, benefits, overtime pay, and job security are thoughts suspected to be pulled by socialist strings. Nike, Wal-Mart, and many others have shown the IT industry the way. And when you read "increased investments" think of this as a way for corporations to game government into giving out more tax breaks and other bonuses. This is a reverse of the legislative "fetcher" but it's not likely to produce much a response in government until some candidate wants to "create" more jobs by handing companies money to move jobs here.

The 'giant sucking sound' Ross Perot once said of NAFTA (Now Americans Find Temp-work Always) is spreading. Levi Strauss & Company will close the last of it's North American plants next year. The jeans once synonymous with America will no longer be made here and it's not likely to concern consumers.

"Consumers are used to buying products from all over the world," Mr. Marineau said on the telephone from company headquarters in San Francisco. "The issue is not where they're made. For most people that's not gut-wrenching anymore."

But it is for employees like Ms. Flores, 54, an $18-an-hour hem sewer and Unite's local president. Ms. Flores, who has worked for the company for 24 years, will soon join 819 fellow employees in San Antonio lining up for severance benefits, retraining classes and grants to start their own businesses. Workers said the company had a progressive record of providing for its laid-off employees, but Ms. Flores, noting the four weeks of annual paid vacation and family medical and dental benefits for $24 a week, asked, "Where are we ever going to find something like this?"

Marivel Gutierez, 43, a side-seam operator and union secretary, who also has 24 years of service, acknowledged that workers in Mexico and elsewhere would benefit. "There still probably is an American dream," she said of the boon to those workers. "But what about us? What happens to our American dream?"

Some economists can't see the people before the numbers. Can we re-train the US work force? What should we be training for anyway? Is it safe to say that all those Devry ads claiming that the IT industry is the fastest growing one are right only if you live in Asia?

One argument to consider is that the relationship between employees and employers has been deteriorating for some time and that we should all be self-employed. We should become a nation of entrepreneurs. Why stay consumers when you can be a corporation? At least then you can pay less taxes with a few tricks. We could all be CEO's and they always get paid even if the employees don't and the company goes bankrupt. Plus, you won't have to worry about having your company taxed away by the government if you die after 2010. The only time you have to give the government money is when you want them to ignore any nasty things you are forced to do in pursuit of profit.

But maybe people will get so tired of all this corruption and greed. Maybe they'll demand corporate reform..

JOANNA UNDERWOOD: I think this problem is much broader than a few cases of financial shenanigans, the hiding of wealth, the tax shelters.

I think that we've had over the last decade a real shift in the purpose of doing business, and that's unbridled race for wealth. And it's something that corporations are looking at putting more money into top salaries and earnings than into investment in the long term future.

It's what's happening on boards of directors that are often friends of the managers of the company and you have the auditors who want to keep their jobs auditing. You have the financial press. You've had also shareholders that, the whole list of characters that are happy as long as they see money and excitement and wealth. And…

MOYERS: Are you saying the system is rotten?

JOANNA UNDERWOOD: I think the system has a value problem and ethics problem that needs to be addressed.

STEPHEN MOORE: The system isn't rotten. In fact, if you look over the last 20 years even accounting for this meltdown in the market that we've had over the last 18 months, this has been the greatest period of wealth creation in history of civilization.

You go back to 1982 when the Reagan revolution really began and this boom market began, remember the Dow Jones was 800 in the summer of 1982. And we've seen an explosion of wealth creation. By my estimation the United States has created somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 to $10 trillion in new financial wealth.

This has made middle class Americans and wealthy Americans much wealthier.

WILLIAM LERACH: To say that the system isn't rotten really overlooks a lot of what's occurred in the past couple of years. It's rather myopic to say that over the long term there's been a great deal of wealth creation. How has that wealth been shared?

It's been shared disproportionately to corporate executives, investment bankers and the like. And a large amount of that wealth that went to the executives was created by the falsification of financial statements and the deliberate inflation of stock prices.

Now look at the price that's being paid for that: investor confidence has been undermined, capital formation has been impaired, the markets have collapsed. And none of us know how much further that has to go. Was that good for the country in the long term? I'm not sure that that's clear yet.

STEPHEN MOORE: That's an important lesson for investors to learn, that markets just don't go up, they go down.

MOYERS: How can anyone, millions of stockholders, how can they trust those investments if they can't trust the information the accounting firms are giving them, the executives are saying. I mean, that's the whole essence of...

STEPHEN MOORE: I agree with that. And certainly I'm not saying that there aren't crooks out there and I'm not saying that there isn't corruption that took place. And I do believe that those people who engaged in willing fraud should be put in jail. What I'm arguing with is this idea that there is a culture of corruption in corporate America and I reject that.

ALAN PATRICOFF: I would agree with you. I think it's really a shame that corporate America is being given this image of hoodwinking people, of corruption running through business. that's not really the case.

I mean I've been investing in companies for 30, 40 years and the number of fraud examples have been so minuscule. And what really has happened and people should distinguish it, the economy in the last couple of years has gotten very soft. And that has accounted for a lot of the declines taking place in the market.

This has now been exacerbated by a few, a handful, who knows what the number is going to be, of companies that have the appearance of things that have been done improperly.

Most companies have very little problem with their system. Does it need improvement? Absolutely. But that needed improvement before this last round.

WILLIAM LERACH: think over 900 accounting restatements in four years indicates a few bad apples? Do you realize that the companies on the NASDAQ wrote off $148 billion of previously reported profits. The companies that lead the NASDAQ never made an honest dollar of profit in the last five years of the 1990s.

ALAN PATRICOFF: That's not true.

WILLIAM LERACH: It is true, and the Wall Street Journal reported it, that every dollar of profit reported on that so called new economy index was wiped out by subsequent accounting write downs. The accounting in this country has been phony and false and it's misled investors and it's cost them trillions of dollars.

CAROLYN BRANCATO: I think going forward the problem is that there are certainly some areas of fraud that need to be rooted out. But I think the issue is that the corporations need to start taking corporate governance seriously, entirely through the organization. The board has been too collegial in most cases. The issue of managers and...

MOYERS: By collegial you mean...?


MOYERS: Cronies.

CAROLYN BRANCATO: Well, agreeing with the CEO...

MALE: Cozy.



MOYERS: Looking the other way?

RICHARD MOORE: I agree. I agree overall that markets are going to fine. It's still one of the greatest markets. In overall fairness, most people in corporate America are honest.

But here is what is new. If you want to find one thing that's new, over the last 30 years two dynamics have changed. One is that large companies in America, either the founder or the founder's children or the founder's grandchildren have disappeared from seats around the board table.

And the reason that's important is because those people were not spending somebody else's money. They were large, individual shareholders that corporate governance was a word they never thought about. But they implemented it every day because that CEO, they wanted to make sure it was a fair way so that the options will position the right way.

So we dissipated the individual or the founder's family's power at the boardroom table who, they weren't spending somebody else's money; they were spending their money. At the same time that happened, corporate pension funds in America and mutual funds in America exploded.

They exploded because the tax code in this country enticed you to go into these things. You were made to feel stupid if you didn't make these investments. The consultants told the people that ran pension funds if you don't have a 50, 60, 70 percent allocation to stocks, you're not doing the right thing.

Thirty years ago every pension fund was in bonds. So as one group is exiting from the board rooms, these passive investors are entering the board room. So if you're a student of human nature, and the only systems that work are human nature, you've set up the situation where everybody is spending everybody else's money and we'd better be careful. We have to make sure that we have safeguards.

-NOW with Bill Moyers (read the whole thing)

Do we even have time to watch what Congress does anymore? Will our democracy devolve into a plutocracy?

I've written plenty about the environment and I fear that the recent celebration of Bjorn Lomborg's vindication sidesteps the fact that one committee only said that the first one didn't show proof that Bjorn was lying, yet didn't go so far as to investigate whether or not he did lie. Many have documented his lies and that was what the first committee worked from. Plus, you all know how much I respect Edward O. Wilson.

My greatest regret about the Lomborg scam is the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat it in the media. We will always have contrarians like Lomborg whose sallies are characterized by willful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists. They are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval. The question is: How much load should be tolerated before a response is necessary? Lomborg is evidently over the threshold.

- Edward O. Wilson Vanishing Point: On Bjorn Lomborg and extinction

So it seems there's not much common ground between this administration and myself after all.

democracy in channel surfing
The DiversiTV

I try to play the optimist and I want to believe that something good will turn out of all this. I can't help but remain critical of this administration on almost every single domestic issue, but overestimation of this country's responsibility and ability to affect change in the world may induce unrealistic demands towards it. We face an uncertain future. Force cannot be our only recourse, but force in the case of Iraq has yet to become anything close to a quagmire scenario. I feel that, barring some unknown catastrophe, we can help establish something close to the democracy that Turkey enjoys in Iraq. I feel that a firm stance against governments that abuse their own people and turn a blind eye towards terrorism may eventually erode their stability and hopefully we can foster the revolutions toward more peaceful régimes abroad. Even if Libya was already on their way towards reform, we might be able to use its momentum to urge changes in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

My Mea culpa on taxes is now resulting one towards my position on Iraq. It comes after lively debate and a lot of soul searching about how sometimes the means can be justified, but at the same time never abandoning the cause for balance. It is imperative that the Democrats completely abandon their pleas for us to leave Iraq. We must ensure that both Iraq and Afghanistan become success stories and I don't see it happening without a large US presence to assure the peace until they can do so on their own. The call for the UN to take over may not be as bad as some claim as long as it doesn't mean we leave completely. We need to follow through on this. I have always tried to set aside partisan politics. I have not always been successful.

Emotion can cloud the best of minds, but it can also raise them up and give them hope. As uncertain the future is, we should remember that hope dies last. We must not let political differences jeopardize the situation in the Middle East, nor must we tolerate opportunists in Congress that wish to sell our rights for little additional safety and trade our livelihood for corporate interests.

And here's to the hope I get my ass published in 2004. Take care!