Archive for the ‘World Affairs’ Category

Tony Blair & the Dan David Prize.

February 17, 2009

In today’s edition of The Guardian we get the news that Tony Blair has one of this year’s three Dan David prizes.

Tony Blair has won a prestigious million-dollar (£697,000) prize for his leadership on the world stage, it was announced today.

The former prime minister, now a Middle East peace envoy, will receive the Dan David prize for “his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict”.

The award is presented by the Dan David Foundation, based at Tel Aviv University, and a spokesman for Blair said the money would be donated to the former Labour leader’s charity for religious understanding, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Blair is an envoy of the international Quartet on the Middle East peace process, which comprises the US, EU, UN and Russia.

His entry as a Dan David laureate on the prize’s website hails him as “one of the most outstanding statesmen of our era”.

It praises his role in the Northern Ireland peace process and his “steadfast determination and morally courageous leadership” over Kosovo.

But there is no mention of the divisive decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq……

Where was that “steadfast determination and morally courageous leadership” when it was needed to stand up to Bush?


Clinton in Davos – Bill, that is.

February 2, 2009

You just have to hand it to Bill Clinton. When it comes to making America look good on the world stage once again, he may very well be the man who gets the job done faster than anyone else could.

America did not send any of its big guns to this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. The great and the good from other parts of the world who were gathered there were, it appears, only too ready to lay the blame for the current economic crisis at America’s doorstep. Some, like the Russians and Chinese for example, were gleefully rubbing their hands that this gave them an opportunity to lecture the Americans about their folly.  It was America’s banking fraternity, most had agreed, who had precipitated all the crises the world now faced.


Here Joe Conason of takes up the story:


Into this hostile territory rode Bill Clinton, the lone American to whom anyone at Davos might actually listen as he attempted to uphold the name of his country. (Presumably too busy for international confabs as they try to organize their administration and save the country, the Obama White House sent nobody except presidential aide Valerie Jarrett, who didn’t make much of an impression.)

Featured at a special plenary session with Klaus Schwab, WEF’s slightly menacing supreme impresario, the former president didn’t try to evade the responsibility attributed to the U.S. by speaker after speaker. Referring to sharp words from Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, he admitted: “The Chinese premier was right: It all started in the United States.” But he then went on to insist that China must continue subsidizing the U.S. budget and trade deficits in order to preserve its own vital export industries. “Global interdependence is more important than anything else in the world today,” he said. “We cannot escape each other. Divorce is not an option.”

 He spoke out forcefully in defense of the Obama administration’s economic policies, notably including the economic stimulus package and the proposed “bad bank” to nationalize distressed mortgage assets. He lifted the spirits of the conference at least momentarily when he demanded that world leaders act in the great American tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, although he didn’t mention FDR by name.

 “This is not a time for denial or delay. Do something. Give people confidence by showing confidence,” he urged. “Don’t give up. Don’t bet against yourself. Don’t bet against your country. This is still a good time to be alive.” If that was not sufficient to motivate the Davos audience, he later pointed out at a forum on the “philanthrocrisis” that the responsibilities of the fortunate had in no way been lessened by declining portfolios. “We’re all still doing pretty well or we wouldn’t be here,” he declared. Now is the time, he said, to redouble efforts to provide better healthcare and more robust economic development in poor countries — and to work together to forestall climate change.”

 Clinton wasted not a minute of the day he spent in Davos. There were, by Conason’s account, “ stream of private meetings with foreign dignitaries”, and there was even a neatly engineered “casua”l 90 minute discussion between himself and the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.

If Clinton is an unofficial ambassador for the White House, and there is probably little doubt that he is, then, in his first major test, he proved a good choice..

Fedral Government (US) – who limits its power?

October 1, 2008

In his September the 30th National Review Online column, Conservative talk radio host, lawyer, and columnist, Mark R. Levin, praising “the House Republicans  bold stand against what had been a stampede on a scale I have never before witnessed on matters of huge consequence”,  (in other words,  for rejecting the bail-out of Wall Street), makes the following observation:

The liberal uses crises, real or manufactured, to expand the power of government at the expense of the individual and private property. He has spent, in earnest, 70 years evading the Constitution’s limits on governmental power. If conservatives don’t stand up to this, who will? If they don’t offer serious alternatives that address the current circumstances AND defend the founding principles, who will? The House Republicans have done both.  And I, for one, thank them.

Terrific stuff. But is anybody paying attention? I doubt it.

Glenn Greenwald, in his always-readable column of the same day, gets in a rather good riposte

Indeed. I wish those liberals would stop exploiting crises in order to expand the power of Government at the expense of the individual, but I sure am grateful that our nation is teeming with stalwart conservatives who defiantly stand up to those erosions, because if they didn’t, who would? You can read all about the conservatives’ heroic stance in defense of our Founding Principles over the last eight years…………

If it weren’t for the heroic resistance led by the small-government, Constitution-loving conservatives at National Review, Weekly Standard and right-wing talk radio — cheered on by the freedom-loving, truth-seeking investigators of the right-wing blogosphere — we’d probably be living in some sort of Lawless Surveillance State by now, complete with secret prisons, state-sanctioned torture, warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, process-less and indefinite imprisonments, a virtual abolition of Fourth Amendment guarantees, and other anti-constitutional nightmares too heinous even to contemplate. As the heroic freedom-fighter Mark Levin so memorably put it: “If conservatives don’t stand up to this, who will?”

In 2006, I … wrote a deeply admiring book chronicling the Right’s historic crusade in defense of core Constitutional liberties, as the American Left relentlessly sought during the Bush presidency to exploit the 9/11 attack, Saddam Hussein’s mushroom clouds, the evil labs of Mrs. Anthrax and Dr. Germ (the Five of Hearts in the U.S. Government’s deck of playing cards), Sinister Sleeper Cells lurking on every neighborhood playground, the revolving door of New Hitlers, and so many other crises — real or imagined — in order to expand federal government power at the expense of the individual.

Terrific stuff. But I wonder if anyone us listening? I doubt it.

Paris Blues (1961) & Paul Newman (1925-2008)

September 28, 2008

Paris Blues may not be the greatest jazz film ever made, but it remains for me a good deal more interesting many of the film critics I have read will allow. Of course, I may well say that, as it is the film sparked my interest in jazz, I like it a lot more than it deserves to be liked.

 A few films I saw around the same time as I saw Paris BluesAnatomy of a Murder and Sweet Smell of Success come readily to mind –  had, I thought, wonderful jazz scores, but I considered the scores first and formost and the jazz afterwards. They. for me, happened to be either in the jazz idiom or underpinned by what wre jazz riffs. 

As soon  Paris Blues came along I began to think of the jazz first. In fact, so besotted was I with the film, that I attended three of of the four showings it got when it came to my home town in the west of Ireland. I should add, by way of explanation, yhat even if you did like jazz, the opportunities one would have of hearing it were few. A friend of mine who owned a record shop did stock a few jazz recordings, but they were, as I recall it, of jazz singers rather than of jazz music. 

 The plot of Paris Blues wafer thin, in all probability deliberately so. Trambonist Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) and saxophonist Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) live in Paris and play in the same jazz band. Ram is studying music and  attempting to become a “serious” composer, whilst Eddie is escaping American racism by living in a city which ignores the colour of his skin and admires him as a musician. American tourists Connie Lampson (Diahann Carroll) and Lillian Corning (Joanne Woodward ) are on a two-week holiday in Paris and begin a casual romantic fling with the two jazz men. Things begin to take a  more serious  as the days go by and the two couples get to know each other. The  plot hinges on the question whether or not Ram will leave his music to return home to be with Lillian and whether or not Eddie also return home because his love for Connie is so great. And that’s about it as far as plot goes. This drama never quite gets off the ground, but the players Newman, Poitier, Woodward and Carroll, all in their prime at the time, make this slight plot convincing.

 The big pluses are a wonderful score by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong’s amazing rendition of “Battle Royal”, a nicely used version of Ellington’s  “Mood Indigo”, Christian Matras‘s luminous black and white cinemaphotography and a perless cast  that brings to the project the needed bite that the script may occasionally lack.

Matt Zoller Seitz’s Jazz on Screen: The Sparks are Electric article (April 13, 2008) for The New York Times sums up the film’s strengths and weaknesses as well as any I’ve seen.

…. less daring features have their lyrical, pure-jazz moments. Martin Ritt’s Ellington-scored 1961 movie, “Paris Blues” — a nearly plotless account of two American musicians (Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman) in Paris that is essentially an advertisement for jazz and French tourism — would rather marinate in cool than hustle toward catharsis. Good thing too. No moviegoer in his right mind would take a drum-tight plot at the expense of a dreamy-slow cover of “Mood Indigo” that could be hold music for an opium den, or the shot of Mr. Poitier and his lover (Diahann Carroll) strolling arm in arm toward the Arc de Triomphe at dawn, Ellington’s score imploring them to get a room.

Paris Blues, as I’ve already said, may not he greatest film ever made about jazz, but it is, I believe, a gem that has been all too often unfairly dismissed.


ThThe Canadian born trombonist Murray McEachern dubbed Paul Newman and the Boston born sax player Paul Gonsalves dubbed Sidney Poitier.

Louis Armstrong’s “Battle Royal” in Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues


During the time I was writing this it was announced that one for the stars of Paris Blues, Paul Newman, had passed away.

The Observer’s film critic sums up Newman’s contribution to cinema whenhe says:

James Stewart once said that film actors give their audiences ‘pieces of time’. While Newman’s best pictures hang together as creative entities (there is a kind of perfection to The Hustler and to the western Hombre), as with other actors it is unforgettable moments and sequences that come to mind and revive memories of being moved to laughter, tears, reflection, self-examination. We recall the illiterate Billy the Kid learning to read in The Left Handed Gun (a film based on a TV play by his close friend and fellow liberal, Gore Vidal); the wounded pool player’s tragic interlude with the crippled alcoholic (Piper Laurie) in The Hustler; the eponymous anarchic outsider in Cool Hand Luke engaging in an egg-eating contest with his fellow prisoners on a southern chain-gang; Newman and Redford pausing on the cliff, a posse breathing down their necks, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the freeze frame of them running out to confront the Bolivian police in the same picture; Newman and Redford shaking down Robert Shaw on the train from New York to Chicago in The Sting, that necklace of cinematic pearls; his heartbreaking scene with the treacherous old friend played by James Garner in Robert Benton’s undervalued elegiac thriller Twilight.

Government of the people, for the rich, by the rich.

September 23, 2008

In a recent entry to his blog John Naughton points to what he calls “a terrific post by Dave Winer”. Winer, the pioneer in the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software, has indeed written an excellent piece about the American government’s handling of the recent financial turmoil.

Flash back to the United Nations on 2/5/03. An impressive almost Presidential Secretary of State, Colin Powell, delivering some chilling news, not coming right out and saying it, but definitely leading you to believe that Saddam has nukes and chemical weapons and stuff even more horrible and is getting ready to use all of it in some unspecified horrible way. It’s the lack of specificity that makes it so chilling.

Consider the whole scenario. Powell can’t tell us what the danger is because that would violate some security that he can’t violate. Well, I did what a lot of Americans did that day, I sucked it up and got behind my government. And they suckered me. And I’ll never forget it. I got fooled, and used, and a lot of people died, in the name of freedom, and it was all a lie.

We all paid a huge price that day, and the bill may be coming due today, because they’re presenting us with the same scenario, this time about the economy. And we’re not going for it. You can see it in the way things flipped around overnight. A lot of people woke up this morning, like I did, and realized — wait I’ve seen this movie before.

Now we have another impressive Almost Presidential secretary, Henry Paulson, who says there’s impending doom, but he can’t say exactly what it is, it’s not security this time, but fear of starting another level of bank runs. Senators and Representatives come out of a Thursday night meeting with the secretary (would they have believed the President) won’t say exactly what he said, but they are stunned. The next day buried in a sea of press about this event is an almost innocuous paragraph in a NYT piece that talks about a flight to safety from the US Treasury money market. OMG. A point made by the secretary to the Congresspeople, a lot of your constituents have their savings in money markets. The Senators think to themselves, Fuck the constituents, that’s where my retirement savings are! (And by the way, mine.)

I have cut Winer’s piece here to make room for a not unrelated commentry by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in Salon late hast week. Greenwald thinks that the support of the bankers and banking is motivated by Washington’s need to cosy up to the rich on whom it depends for its very existence.

…the beneficiaries of this week’s extraordinary Government schemes aren’t just the coincidental recipients of largesse due to some random stroke of good luck. The people on whose behalf these schemes are being implemented — the true beneficiaries — are the very same people who have been running and owning our Government — both parties — for decades, which is why they have been able to do what they’ve been doing without interference. They were able to gamble without limit because they control the Government, and now they’re having others bear the brunt of their collapse for the same reason — because the Government is largely run for their benefit.   

 I’m no expert in these matters, but I have to say that Greenwald’s the more persuasive of the two explanations. Yes, I’m sure that Senetors dof want to prevent their savings and pensions fro disappearing before their very eyes, and yes I’m sure that part of their motivation for shoring up the whole financial ediface is to protect those savings and pensions. But I, like Greenwald, thing that they might be even more worried about seeing a whole system collapse on top of them.

Obama or McCain – an economic choice?

September 9, 2008

Writing in the New York Times Magazine 27th April 2008, and touching on some of the themes he elaborates on in his book Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry M. Bartels, a professor of politics at Princeton, argues that the general belief that no political party in America can  be blamed for the state of the economy may be wrong, and that the whole of post-WW2 experience seems to suggest otherwise.

Many Americans seem to accept the conservative view that escalating inequality reflects “free market” forces immune to amelioration through public policy. As Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson put it, perhaps a bit defensively, the growing income gap “is simply an economic reality, and it is neither fair nor useful to blame any political party.” Paulson’s assertion, however, is strongly contradicted by the historical record. While technology, demographic trends and globalization are clearly important, purely economic accounts ignore what may be the most important influence on changing U.S. income distribution — the contrasting policy choices of Republican and Democratic presidents.

In support of this argument he pointed to what, even to him, are some fairly startling facts.

The Census Bureau has tracked the economic fortunes of affluent, middle-class and poor American families for six decades. According to my analysis, these tabulations reveal a wide partisan disparity in income growth. The real incomes of middle-class families grew more than twice as fast under Democratic presidents as they did under Republican presidents. Even more remarkable, the real incomes of working-poor families (at the 20th percentile of the income distribution) grew six times as fast when Democrats held the White House. Only the incomes of affluent families were relatively impervious to partisan politics, growing robustly under Democrats and Republicans alike.

Eventually, after he has said a little more about these differences and why they have occurred, Professor Bartels gets down to a question that is bound to crop, especially in this presidential election year.

If middle-class and poor people do so much better under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents, why do so many of them vote for Republicans? One popular answer, advanced by Thomas Frank and others, is that they are alienated by Democratic liberalism on cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage and gender roles. This does not appear to be the case. In recent presidential elections, affluent voters, who tend to be liberal on cultural matters, are about twice as likely as middle-class and poor voters to make their decisions on the basis of their cultural concerns.

The good professor does not think that ‘popular answer’ holds up. He has, as you’d expect, an explanation of his own.

A better explanation for Republican electoral successes may be that while most voters, rich and poor alike. do vote with their economic interests in mind, they construe those interests in a curiously myopic way. Their choices at the polls are strongly influenced by election-year income growth but only weakly related to economic performance earlier in the president’s term. And while Republicans have presided over dismal income growth for middle-class and poor families in most years, they have, remarkably enough, produced robust growth in election years.

This is thought-provoking stuff that from which some lessons could be learned

Alan Blinder, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, in an article he’s written for the Australian magazine  Business Day – a revised reprint appeared in the New York Times supplement that came with The Observer last Sunday – is in no doubt what they are...
if history is a guide, an Obama victory in November would lead to faster economic growth with less inequality, while a McCain victory would lead to slower economic growth with more inequality. Which part of the Obama menu don’t you like?




Republicans put “Country First”.

September 3, 2008

From John Naughton’s online diary.

 Republicans have radical new idea

3rd, 2008 [link]

“Theme No 1 was embodied in the overarching slogan of the evening – Country First. It is a slogan with which all Republicans are deeply comfortable…”

 Well, it makes a change from Halliburton and Exxon first, which was the motto of the Bush regime.  



Is the Bush administration “plain criminal”?

September 1, 2008

Gary Younge thinks so. Writing in today’s Guardian with all the passion he can muster, Young puts it to readers that real problem with the Bush years is not so much what he did but that America’s political class enabled him to do it, and that it now it refuses to recognise its own culpability  

 The fact that this administration has been criminally incompetent is now the stuff of water-cooler orthodoxy. The fact that it has been plain criminal is not. But it should be. Under George Bush the US has tortured, disenfranchised, lied, spied and, on more than one occasion, flouted its own constitution. Those who would not go along were fired or demoted. Those rulings it could not garner support for it simply classified or hid. Those inquiries it could not prevent it thwarted. When Major General Antonio Taguba tried to pursue his investigation of Abu Ghraib up the chain of command he was stopped. “I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority,” he told the New Yorker.

 Younge, warming to his subject,  goes on to say:

Its violation of international law is ultimately a matter for the international community. But its violation of American laws is a matter for the American public. However, it is now clear that the political consequences of these transgressions will range from negligible to non-existent. The Bush administration should be led away in handcuffs – either indicted or impeached. Instead it is about to leave the scene of the crime in broad daylight while those tasked to police this democracy – notably politicians and the press – blind themselves with confetti.

Younge does not have much time for those who say that there is no good reason for calling Bush and his cohorts to account at this late stage.

Those who regard impeachment as merely a vindictive attempt to adjudicate the past display a chronic lack of imagination. True, it is not going to happen. But that makes it no less morally compelling or politically relevant to argue that it should. Trying to look ahead without acknowledging how you got to where you are is a surefire way to end up wandering around in circles. And the last place the Democrats want to be is where they were.

It’s a pity that Younge’s polemic will reach the ears of so few Americans.

Everybody lies under duress?

April 11, 2007

John Naughton, by way of commenting on the fact that we are expected to believe that British military personnel captured by the Iranians lied to their captors under duress while we still hold on to the belief that the people being held by the Americans will tell the truth under duress, has made this  thoughtful entry into his online diary. 

There are strong moral arguments against torture. But there is also a very good pragmatic argument against it, namely that people will say anything — anything — to stop the torture. Ergo, you cannot believe anything they tell you under such circumstances.

No matter what anybody says, the Bushs and Blairs of this world will go on insisting that that they are better at getting at the truth than the “bad guys”, whoever they may be.

Should Hillary say she was wrong about Iraq?

February 21, 2007

Paul Krugman thinks so.In an article published by The New York Times on February 19th and byThe Guardian on February the 20th  he goes to great lengths to explain why people of a Democratic persuasion think it’s  important that Senator Clinton  should say that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution. Senator John Edwards has already done so, and so should she. 

Why is it so important to admit past error? And yes, it was an error — she may not have intended to cast a vote for war, but the fact is the resolution did lead to war; she may not have believed that President Bush would abuse the power he was granted, but the fact is he did.

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes. And this pathology has had real, disastrous consequences. The situation in Iraq might not be quite so dire — and we might even have succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan — if Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney had been willing to admit early on that things weren’t going well or that their handpicked appointees weren’t the right people for the job.

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards — “I was wrong” — matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

And there’s another reason the admission by Mr. Edwards that he was wrong is important. If we want to avoid future quagmires, we need a president who is willing to fight the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom on foreign policy, which still — in spite of all that has happened — equates hawkishness with seriousness about national security, and treats those who got Iraq right as somehow unsound. By admitting his own error, Mr. Edwards makes it more credible that he would listen to a wider range of views.

In truth, it’s the second issue, not the first, that worries me about Mrs. Clinton. Although she’s smart and sensible, she’s very much the candidate of the Beltway establishment — an establishment that has yet to come to terms with its own failure of nerve and judgment over Iraq. Still, she’s at worst a triangulator, not a megalomaniac; she’s not another Dick Cheney.

Krugman does not believe that any of the other major candatates are capable of admitting they are wrong about anything.

Senator John McCain, whose reputation for straight talk is quickly getting bent out of shape, appears to share the Bush administration’s habit of rewriting history to preserve an appearance of infallibility.

Last month Senator McCain asserted that he knew full well what we were getting into by invading Iraq: “When I voted to support this war,” Mr. McCain said on MSNBC, “I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken.”

But back in September 2002, he told Larry King, “I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.”

 And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it’s hard to choose.

Here’s an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,” the then-mayor ordered the ads removed — and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait. 

So Mrs Clinton has to prove to a wearied Democratic supporters that she is going to be radically different in her approach.

……. For some reason she and her advisers failed to grasp just how fed up the country is with arrogant politicians who can do no wrong. I don’t think she falls in that category; but her campaign somehow thought it was still a good idea to follow Karl Rove’s playbook, which says that you should never, ever admit to a mistake. And that playbook has led them into a political trap.