Archive for October 31, 2002
My wife Brandy, the ratings queen, brings up a depressing thought: more
people probably watched tonight’s Presidential debate on The West Wing than watched the real Presidential debates.
A while back, Stephen DenBeste referenced an article called Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, written for the US Army War College Quarterly.
These key “failure factors” are:
* Restrictions on the free flow of information.
* The subjugation of women.
* Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
* The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
* Domination by a restrictive religion.
* A low valuation of education.
* Low prestige assigned to work.
“The seven factors discussed above offer a pattern for an initial
assessment of the future potential of states that interest us.
Obviously, the more factors present in a given country, the worse off
it will be– and these factors rarely appear in isolation. Normally, a
society that oppresses women will do it under the aegis of a
restrictive dominant religion that will also insist on the censorship
of information. Societies lacking a strong work ethic rarely value
In the Middle East, it is possible to identify states where all seven
negatives apply; in Africa, many countries score between four and
seven. Countries that formerly suffered communist dictatorships vary
enormously, from Poland and the Czech Republic, with only a few rough
edges, to Turkmenistan, which scores six out of seven. Latin America
has always been more various than Norteamericanos realized, from feudal
Mexico to dynamic, disciplined Chile.
Ultimately, our businesses have it easier than our military in one
crucial respect: business losses are counted in dollars, not lives. But
the same cultural factors that will shape future state failure and
spawn violent conflicts make it difficult to do business successfully
and legally. We even suffer under similar “rules of engagement,”
whether those placed on the military to dictate when a soldier may
shoot or the legal restraints under which US businesses must operate,
imposing a significant disadvantage vis-�-vis foreign competitors.”
Seems perfectly reasonable, and it does seem to apply well to
predicting trouble spots around the globe. A large hunk of the
Let’s take a state that interests me a great deal– the United States
under the rule of Bush II– and apply then point by point, and see how
we’ve done in the four years since the original article was written.
Restrictions on the free flow of information. Executive orders
barring the release of presidential papers; Cheney’s stonewalling on
the Energy Task Force and what Halliburton did with Iraq; and Bush’s
hiding on his Harken deals. And Bush still hasn’t told us why we should
be attacking Iraq, but we’ve been assured if we knew how bad it was
we’d be with him, it’s a shame he can’t tell us.
There’s also Bush’s usage of free-speech zones, which tend to indicate
that every where else is a censored-speech zone.
And hey, remember the Shadow Government?
There are other examples– John Ashcroft’s tendency to censor
everything in sight, from statues in Justice Department HQ to
preventing detainees from speaking with their families or attorneys to
the Children’s Online Protection Act– but we need not list them all
here. Suffice it to say that John Dean has gone on record as saying
this is the most secretive administration ever– and Dean served under
The subjugation of women. Heck, where do we start?
Why not where he did? Bush’s first action on his first day as president
was to reinstitute the global “gag rule” that no foreign aid can go to
any women’s clinic abroad that mentions the word abortion, even when
the life of the mother is at stake.
Bush chose not to send the $34 million approved by both houses of
Congress for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).
The fund provides contraception, family planning and safe births, and
works against the spread of HIV and against female genital mutilation
in the poorest countries of the world. Thirty-four million dollars goes
a long way in the parts of the world where over 600,000 women die every
year from pregnancy and childbirth, many of them children themselves.
All this from longtime Shrub watcher Molly Ivins, who goes on:
Of course, our poor government is so broke it can’t afford to waste
$34 million on women in poor countries. It has more important things to
do, like spending $100 million on “promoting marriage.”[...]
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, director of the UNFPA, said the $34 million U.S.
contribution would have helped prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies,
800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 infant and
child deaths. We don’t have $34 million to save the lives of poor
women, but President Bush wants to spend $135 million on abstinence
education, which doesn’t work worth a damn.
According to that fountain of misinformation, the Rev. Jerry Falwell:
“This announcement angered school sex educators, who concentrate on
teaching our nation’s students that they should explore their sexuality
and ignore the consequences. But Mr. Bush said government can teach
children how to exhibit sexual control.”
Actually, sex education is entirely about the consequences of
“exploring sexuality,” and it works. The Guttmacher Institute published
a report last week showing that the abortion rate is down by 11 percent
in this country precisely because young people are now getting more
education about sex. One would think the anti-abortion forces would be
Instead, there is every indication that in addition to taking away a
woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, the Bush
administration is going after contraception, as well.
Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
Harry Truman used to say of the presidency “The Buck Stops Here.” How
lucky we are that Bush believes in the free flow of capital. The Bush
II Administration is an administration that wants accountability for
everyone but itself. An administration that took accountability
seriously would have fired Tom White, whoever it was at the Justice
Department that gave the wrong documents to Moussaouai, and at least
some people in the FBI and CIA over 9/11.
Instead, they talk about accountability and management flexibility for
the new Department of Homeland Security by cutting out union
And look how it trickles down into the family. Laura Bush killed her
boyfriend while driving drunk. Their kids have had their own problems
with alcohol. Their niece, Noelle, has had widely documented problems
with crack cocaine– although not so severe that it caused Papa Jeb or
Uncle George to miss a fundraiser when she was in court on a parole
violation. This is
an election year, after all.
And if you extend it to the collective of the Republican party, it gets
even uglier. If a Republican does it, it’s okay and they should get a
pass. If a Democrat does it, they’re breaking the law. Witness the most
recent interpretation of election laws by Bushies. Katherine Harris
doesn’t follow the election laws, but it’s okay for her to stay on the
ballot. Robert Torricelli doesn’t, and it’s a crime against the state.
Deadlines are deadlines, and rules are rules. When candidates miss
them, especially after disgracing themselves by violating the laws
they’re sworn to uphold, they shouldn’t be on the ballot. And yet, it
seems to be okay for, say, Milt Romney to work around residency
requirements. But for Hillary, it’s a crime.
Most recently, George W. Bush has been called on his tendencies to lie. A good list– alas, eighteen items long and only the start– can be found here.
The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
Well, there’s the Bush clan. The oil clan. Many of Bush’s cronies in
power with him are friends of the family, and many are drwan from the
same area (remember how Dick Cheney claimed he lived in Wyoming to get
around the rule that the President and Vice President can’t be from the
And getting back to that Shadow Government– who’s in it? Nobody I
voted for, and neither did you. What we have is a bunch of people,
handpicked by Bush, to run the government and to run roughshod over the
line of succession.
Really, a remarkable number of people don’t cheat on their taxes, steal
when they can, fiddle their expense reports, divide themselves into
ethnic interest groups, or violate, in a hundred different ways, the
trust our society places in them, which in other countries is available
only to family members. It’s an idea that’s unique, I think, to Western
Europe, and I think that the Puritannical values, for which we’re
everywhere derided, are it’s purest form. And I think that that is what
makes America so successful. This is what Ralph Peters meant when he
said that the clan or extended family as the basic social/political
unit is the kiss of death to becoming an economic superstar. A clear
set of values, and the notion that those values apply to everyone, is a
key part of the “Operating System” on which capitalism has to be
But not the “crony capitalism” that Bush & Co. espouse.
Domination by a restrictive religion. Let’s start with Bob
Jones University, go on to “faith-based” initiatives (and the first
recipient, Pat Robertson, who had previously criticized the program on
the grounds that “non-Christian
religious minorities he doesn’t like will receive public tax dollars
under the Bush plan, including Hare Krishnas, the Church of Scientology
and followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon“) and move on, out of respect for the dearly departed horse.
A low valuation of education. George W. Bush and his pride in his “C” average from Yale. Slashing of student loan programs. And most recently, there’s his decision to replace scientists on government panels with scientists who hold ideas that he already agrees with. He’s made up his mind, don’t try to convince him otherwise.
This holding on to cherished ignorance in the face of facts is bad enough in science. But now there are reports that the Bushies are also disregarding intelligence from US agencies that contradict previously held worldviews:
These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated
evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses –
including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network –
have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq
and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the
They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that
intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports
supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an
immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action
“Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are
feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence
books,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews.
No one who was interviewed disagreed. [...]
I like Michael Kinsley’s take:
The viewing of our opponents in the war against terror as evil.
Which usually signifys “stop thinking”. Who can understand evil?
Actually, I think Aquinas and Augustine made a few stabs at it. Shame
we don’t have leaders who are of that caliber– or even the caliber of
a freshman philosophy major.
Low prestige assigned to work. To be fair, this is not just a
Bush problem. There’s a large hunk of the citizenry that believes
they’re entitled to outperform the market and/or win the lottery,
mathematical odds be damned.
However, Bush seems to be a tad averse to it. All his workdays end at
five o’clock? What, have the problems magically been solved by then?
Heck, even they way he plays golf
is lazy. It’s been noted that “the Bushes tend not to play out holes
that go more than two strokes over par. That’s a sure way to get the
game over quickly and, of course, to avoid poor scores.”
But we’re glossing over how the Bush tax cut magically seems to end up
in the pockets of people who have huge amounts of money already, at the
expense of hard working folks who certainly seem to put more hours in
their workday than Bush does, many working overtime or extra jobs just
to make ends meet.
So let’s see– I get seven out of seven, how about you? Did you
get less than four? If not, how does it feel to be living in a country
going down the tubes? Angry yet?
(It’s not failing? Really? Looked at your 401(k) recently?)
UPDATE: I’ve received private email stating “Peters directly addresses
how the US stacks up in each of the seven and makes a convincing case
that the US suffers from none of them to any significant extent. [...]
I’m afraid that I consider your article one long exercise in moral
equivalence, and I find it just as convincing as every other exampe of
moral equivalence I’ve seen — which is to say, not even slightly
because it tries to equate extremely small transgressions by us with
truly huge ones by others.”
The error he makes is that I’m not comparing the US to another
country– I’m comparing it to the United States that existed when the
article was published in the Spring of 1998. You know– before Bush II.
Or, in other words, are we better off today than we were four years
No, not really. If I was really to seriously make that statement, I’d
have to be Ann Coulter. But bear with me here for a minute.
The stereotypical wife beater is somebody who’s pushed around by life,
and because he can’t do what he really wants to do, at the end of the
day he goes out and gets drunk and pushes around other guys at the bar,
and then he goes home and beats the holy hell out of his wife.
So how does this apply to Dubya? Well, he doesn’t drink anymore. We
think. But he can’t do what he really wants to do, the thing that would
make him happy and get his boss of his back– getting the guys who
caused the 9/11 attacks, catching whoever sent those letters full of
anthrax. (Okay, maybe he doesn’t really want to go after the second
one, because he sent his stuff to Democrats– but he’s doing it to get
the boss of his back, to stop the nagging from the media.)
But he hasn’t yet. It’s quite possible he can’t.
So what does he do? He takes it out on his bitch, Saddam. He’s easy to
beat on, he stays out of sight, and he really does deserve it, the
bastard just won’t listen to us; even if he does what we ask now (like
inspections) he’s just going to betray us later.
So let’s smack him. Even if he hasn’t done anything wrong. After all,
if we don’t know what he’s done to deserve it, he does.
Now, with that, let’s consider Saddam.
He knows Bush wants to hit, no matter what Saddam does. He can be nice,
he’ll get hit and publically humiliated. He can be mean, he’ll get hit.
He can fight back– maybe he won’t get hit as badly, maybe he’ll get
hit worse. So does he make it easy or hard to get hit?
This weekend I was at the wedding of Aaron and Jen, and happened to be
sitting with a bunch of other authors, editors, and right in front of
me, an agent– the sweetly smiling, deadly viper Lucienne. (No, not Lucianne. I have some
The rabbi did an excellent job, comparing marriage to role-playing
games. As soon as it’s up, I’ll post a link when it goes up. Anyway.
The happy couple is signing the katubah, the Jewish marriage contract.
I lean over and ask her, “You looked over that contract, right?”
smackThen they mention the lifetime part. “No, you couldn’t
have seen the contract, you’d never go for a term like that.”
“Well, there’s a very generous out-of-print clause.”
“So how long is it for?”
“Term of copyright.”
“Till death do us part isn’t long enough, now it’s life plus seventy?
John Perry Barlow is writing again.
Every so often, he goes off and writes an essay that seriously changes
the POV of the world as we know it. This is going to be one of those.
I just wish that this didn’t have to be the subject– but it’s the times we live in.
John Ellis reports
on a New York Times article about 15% of the votes cast in this year’s
mid-term elections will be cast before Election Day, and therefore
…this will make it much more difficult for the Decision
Desks of the various networks to accurately project winners quickly on
Election Night. Because of the size of the absentee vote in states
across the country, there’s an outside chance that we won’t know on
Election Night who will control the US Senate, the US House and/or key
gubernatorial seats. We may just have to wait until all the “absentee”
votes are counted.
He also says in the same post, “governors can actually help a presidential candidate win an election.” Gee, you think?
The New York Times has an editorial today saying that the copyright term is too long, in a nod to Eldred v. Ashcroft:
The purpose of the 1998 Congressional extension was not protecting
artists, but enriching media companies that hold property rights in
their creations, virtually in perpetuity. The founders did not envision
copyright being put to this use, and the Supreme Court should not allow
Bully for them. But they can do a lot to promote the issue right now.
The Times could do their own shortening of the copyright extension,
just by declaring that everything they’ve published prior to 1927 is
now in the public domain, to go back in line to that 75 year term.
Simple, no muss, no fuss, and it would show great benevolence on their
part. Think of it as form of “exceeding federal guidelines”.
My suspicion on Eldred v. Ashcroft, btw, is that the courts will not
only rule the current retroactive extension illegal, but all previously
enacted retroactive extensions– in other words, the term of copyright
will become what the term was at the time of the creation of the work.
And boy, won’t that be fun to watch.
Both the WSJ and the Boston Globe are running stories about more nasty Bush dealings with Harken, including what looks suspiciously like a payoff. Media Whores Online
\\ These reports document how a long-time Bush family political
supporter, Robert J. Stone, Jr., in league with the Cabot family oil
interests, manipulated the Harvard Management Company to invest
millions in Harken in an off-the books arrangement that bailed the
failing company out of a liquidity crisis, kept hidden from Harken
investors and the S.E.C., in 1990.
The reports further show that the financial guarantor of the deal was
none other than Robert Abboud of First City Boston — the one-time head
of the U.S.-Iraq Business Forum, a close political supporter of Bush?s
father, a personal friend of Saddam Hussein, and a figure with a
longtime history of dubious financial and political dealings.
Finally, the reports show that George W. Bush, as a member of Harken?s
audit committee, personally signed off on the secret deals, the
deception of investors, and the manipulation of Harken?s stock price.
As a result of that manipulation, the S.E.C. then justified its
suspension of its investigation into possible fraud in the younger
Bush?s earlier Harken dealings ? an investigation whose files still
remain under lock and key thanks to Harvey Pitt.
?It seems to be a simple case of Aeneas [Harvard Management Company?s
venture capital arm] bailing out Harken,? Dala Bharan, the accounting
expert consulted by the Wall Street Journal, said.
The timing of that bail-out is all-important ? coming at a time that
salvaged George W. Bush?s sinking reputation as a businessman and
fended off official federal investigations.
So are the off-the-books methods, which are almost identical to the
kinds of arrangements that the thieves at Enron indulged in.\\
on About.com has a disturbing piece on Health and Human Services
investigating organizations that criticize Bush’s AIDS policies.
Cogent Provocateur provides us with an excellent Field Guide to Bellicose Casuistry,
giving a good rundown on reasons to go to war with Iraq. Only things
missing: the idea that Bush is trying to distract America from his own
failings, hoping people focus so much on something else to hate that
they’ll forget about his screwups. (See dog, wag the.)