Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Iraq war seeping into our lives

An Associated Press poll which investigated U.S. knowledge of and attitudes toward the Iraq carnage seems full of interesting data -- but you'd never know it from the headline and the lead to the story.

Americans Underestimate Iraqi Death Toll
Americans are keenly aware of how many U.S. forces have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. But they woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed.
This finding is not terribly surprising; continuous daily reporting renders Iraqi dead a faceless blur of broken bodies. Many U.S. military casualties get sympathetic obituaries in their home towns, complete with high school pictures and classmate remembrances.

But the really striking finding in the poll is this:

...[the U.S.] death toll is painfully real for many Americans. Seventeen percent in the poll know someone who has been killed or wounded in Iraq. And among adults under 35, those closest to the ages of those deployed, 27 percent know someone who has been killed or wounded.

More than a quarter of all younger U.S. residents have a personal connection to the war! Considering that the object of the Bush administration has been to have its war without mobilizing the society or giving most people any awareness of the cost, this seems quite a high figure. Nothing like previous wars though.

Fewer people are likely to know someone killed or wounded in the current battles because the war is smaller than those of the past century, said military analyst John Pike of globalsecurity.org.

"Vietnam, Korea, and the World Wars were much larger and bloodier wars fought by a rather smaller America," Pike said. ... "The probability of knowing a casualty was about 100 times higher in (World War II) than today." AP-Mercury News [reg. rec.]

Yet the number of people in the U.S. who directly know someone hurt by the war is growing enough to cause concern among the powers that be. A Duke University researcher has written a calculator to estimate how rising Iraqi and Afghan civilian deaths, injuries, and detentions by the occupiers increase numbers of resistance fighters. He knows his calculations can also be applied to the U.S. antiwar movement:

Knowing how many people are influenced by a casualty through family ties, work or school becomes important as people debate whether the war effort is worth the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, said [Dr. James] Moody, who works in the growing area of sociology that studies social networks.

"What's significant about it is it has this social magnifier effect," he said.

Looks like the Bush administration has done the experiment. Opposition to an inexplicable, losing war gets significant when the level of those touched closely reaches a quarter of the younger civilian population.

Please, please, let'em drag us

The European Union, [Mitt Romney's strategy outline] says at one point, wants to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The plan even envisions "First, not France" bumper stickers.

Boston Globe, Feb. 27, 2007

Go ahead, drag us to European standards. Those folks have lots of problems about handling cultural and racial diversity, but their sane standard of living, relative demilitarization , and intellectual culture would be a big step up.

Too bad Hillary embodies none of this.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Iran for peace activists

Iranian carpet recently presented to the U.N. Source: Iranian Permanent Mission in New York.

Awhile back, I wrote that I'd been recruited by my colleagues at War Times/Tiempo de Guerras to draft a flyer for peace activists about the looming prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran. I wasn't sure just what it ought to include, but I shared a recipe for working on such a project. Events and the forms of the threat still seem unclear, but it is certain that we need a better grasp of some basics of the geopolitical context. So here is a version of a flyer text that has seen some collective editing. Remember, this is supposed to be a simple story for the curious. Opinions are very welcome, either in comments or by writing the email at the right.

Iran, the basics
  • Iran is a large West Asian country of some 69 million people. It is bounded by Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east.
  • Iran (ancient Persia) has been home to successive civilizations for 6000 years, often the bridge culture between the European West and South and East Asia.
  • Iranians are Muslims, 90 percent from the Shi'a tradition. No other country has such a high proportion of Shiite believers, though both Iraq and Lebanon are majority or near majority Shiite.
  • Although Iranians are mostly Muslims, they are not Arabs. Arabs are persons who trace their ancestry to the Arabian Peninsula (modern Saudi Arabia) but live in many countries of the Middle East (including Iraq) and North Africa. They usually speak the Arabic language. In contrast, fifty-one percent of Iranians are ethnic Persians who speak Farsi; most of the rest derive from several Central Asian peoples.
Iran, history and government
  • Iran is a quasi-theocratic/quasi-democratic state formed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The country has both contested popular elections and a very powerful governing body of Islamic clerics.
  • The Islamic Revolution arose in opposition to a brutal Western-supported monarchy. The monarch, called the Shah, seized autocratic power in 1953, after the U.S. engineered a coup against Iran's populist, democratically elected prime minister. An assertive, often anti-U.S., nationalism is part of the fabric of Iranian politics.
Iran and Iraq
  • In the 1980s, Iraq invaded Iran with United States support. The two countries fought a brutal war marked by trench combat, Iraq's use of poison gas, and nearly one million casualties on the two sides.
  • After the Gulf War of 1991, President George Bush the elder incited Iraqi Shi'a to rise against Saddam Hussein's government. When this rising was crushed, many Shiite leaders, including many now in Iraq's elected government, took refuge in Iran.
  • Southern Iraq, specifically Najaf and Karbala, are sites of holy pilgrimage for Iranian Shiites. If peace prevailed, millions of Iranian pilgrims would travel to these places annually.
Bush administration charges against Iran

Iran harbors Al-Qaeda: Not likely, Al-Qaeda preaches a Sunni-exclusive Islam deeply hostile to Iran's Shi'a rulers. Iran has handed over Al-Qaeda suspects to the U.S. as recently as 2003.
Iran is supplying forces attacking U.S. troops in Iraq:
Not likely. Most attacks on U.S. forces have been by the Sunni-based resistance to the occupation. If Iran is arming any forces in Iraq, it is the militias of various Shi'a parties -- that is, paramilitary forces of the Iraqi government. At a Baghdad "show and tell" about purported Iranian bomb materials, U.S. briefers would not allow their names to be used or pictures to be taken of the "evidence."
Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb:
Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It regularly allows U.N. International Atomic Energy Authority inspectors access to its nuclear facilities. Under that treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium in order to make electrical power. This program is the focus of arms control concern as the some process can be used to make weapons. Iran says it does not intend to make a bomb. The U.S. says it does. All intelligence agencies (with the possible exception of the Israelis) say that it would be years before Iran could make a nuclear weapon if that is its true intent. U.N. officials recently asserted that U.S. "evidence" about a planned Iranian bomb has not proved true.

Why is the Bush administration threatening Iran?
Hard to know, but losing a war in Iraq and killing thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis doesn't seem to have made them more reasonable or cautious. And there is all that oil. Although there are no more U.S. troops to pour into another invasion, naval and air power could do vast human damage in Iran.

We might find ourselves longing for the days when we were merely caught in a civil war. -- David Kurtz at TPM

Congress does have the power to stop an attack on Iran. There is no question that under the Constitution, Congress can refuse to allow the executive to spend our tax money on another war.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

We are so screwed...

Great. If Seymour Hersh is right, and he usually has been, it will come out after the next Al-Qaeda attack in the U.S. that it was planned and prepared with U.S. government funds. No, he is not saying that our rulers think a nice massacre on U.S. soil would keep us in line (though they may think so). He claims, having reduced Iraq to rubble, they are trying to build a Sunni rampart against Iran by funding whoever will attack Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar Assad in Syria and Iran itself. That turns out to be Sunni jihadis of the Muslim Brotherhood/Al-Qaeda sort. Lovely.

Most improbable of all, he reports that John Negroponte left his Intelligence czar post to become a Deputy Secretary of State because he didn't want to repeat the off-the-books, amateur spy antics of the Iran-Contra affair in which he played an ugly bit part as U.S. proconsul in Honduras.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Washington Post makes itself incredible

And the mainstream media wonders why so many don't trust them...

"Voting Machines Found Not at Fault in Fla. Election"

First graf of story:

TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 23 -- An audit of touch-screen voting machines at the center of a dispute in a congressional election found no evidence of malfunction, Florida's secretary of state said Friday.

Read your own copy, nincompoop!

No, the story does not say the machines were found "not at fault." An election official said "an audit" by unspecified "independent" persons, of unspecified quality, using an unspecified procedures indicated the machines "functioned" in some unspecified way.

Now I'm actually a voting machine agnostic. I don't assume that evil corporations routinely steal elections for their Republican buddies. I do believe that competent computer scientists have been able to point out ways that could be used by interested hackers to change results without being detected. I don't know if it has ever happened. Certainly elections have been stolen in this country long before computerized voting.

When I've had some responsibility for "election protection," I've always told my comrades that the only sure way to be certain an election couldn't be stolen was to win by a comfortable margin -- so get out and hustle up our voters.

But writing about fears about computerized systems in this unsubstantiated, thoughtless way just ensures that many folks will have doubts. And democracy doesn't amount to much if people think their elections are rigged.

Go read it and weep

The Iraqi journalists in McClatchy News' Baghdad Bureau have an English language blog. Check it out here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hillary breezes through, in gusty weather

Hillary Clinton came to San Francisco today to collect tribute -- campaign cash from our leading fat cats. The San Francisco Chronicle described Hillary's audience as "enthusiastic" and "adoring." I assume they also coughed up appropriately

Inside and out, the good people of Code Pink, dogged the candidate with their message Stop Funding the War!

Medea Benjamin made sure the protesters' message got to the media.

The senator's day had not begun well. The local paper headlined on the front page: "Message to donors: don't play the field." The article was positively catty.

Hillary Clinton... expected in her presidential campaign to tap the same liberal Democratic sources of money in Hollywood and elsewhere that backed her husband's successful bids for the White House. And, [Arianna] Huffington and others say, the Clintons tend to play a style of politics that is all or nothing -- you're my friend or my enemy. ...

"The Clintons have made it very clear that, in the political world, no dalliances are allowed. There is zero tolerance for that,'' Huffington laughed. "It's sheer loyalty versus sheer fear.''

And it's reinforced, she said by the "constant e-mails being sent out about the senator's poll numbers, along with the implication that 'if you give any money to anybody else, you're on the outs.' And that when she is the nominee, and when she's the president, she will remember."

Not perhaps quite what Candidate Hillary wanted on arrival in San Francisco.

Watching all this, what interested me were the folks who attended Hillary's luncheon, running a very polite gauntlet of the Code Pink women.

Our fat cats think of themselves as "liberals" I am sure. That means Democrats, I think.

Maybe they are.

Though I don't think by and large they'd be taken for you and me.

Some took interacting with the antiwar group better than others.

Some seemed bent on ignoring any intrusion from the hoi polloi.

Oddly, Clinton's somewhat ambiguous stance on the Iraq war got a boost from the other side of the fence today. Gov. Arnold apparently offered

“people are too tied down with analyzing” whether Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war was a mistake.

“Is that what makes the country operate well, if she becomes president?” he asked. “How you twist that or spin that? We should look at what has she done as senator. What has Barack Obama done as a U.S. senator or [a state] senator. What has Rudy Giuliani done? What has McCain done? You’ve got to judge people not by this one little thing.”

Since Schwarzenegger promised in the same interview that he'd endorse whoever the Republican nominee is, so I'm not sure he was trying to help Clinton.

Best sighting of the day on one of the CodePink women, and just about wrapping it all up I think:

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I do love my neighborhood. Last night I performed my night routine, circling the block repeatedly, looking for legal parking.

What's that? There's a figure in a shiny yellow rain jacket crouching in the crosswalk. I go around again; she (it looks small) is still there. Looks to be drawing with chalk. I go around again. She is picking up the bicycle she'd dropped nearby and riding off.

Finally I find a spot to park and go exploring.

A message?

I always wondered about pink elephants.

Sadly, this morning, after a rain. Did an elephant walk on waves under a pointy sun? Was she ever there?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Talking sense:
Maybe it has to be your neighborhood...

Lebanese journalist Rami Khouri wants to know:

The North Korean precedent is very relevant to the Middle East because the United States is involved in a direct, perhaps escalating, confrontation with several important players in this region, namely Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and a series of other Islamist movements that reflect huge segments of public opinion. These are unsavory characters in Washington’s view, and should not be approached other than with ultimatums, threats, sanctions, military moves and the like.

Yet the policy of confrontation, encirclement and attack that the United States has pursued in much of the Middle East seems only to have made this region a more violent and unstable place. ...

Why is the United States capable of rational compromises and large doses of healthy humility in a situation like North Korea, but not in the Middle East? No single issue can explain this. It is probably due to several factors, including powerful Israeli influences on US policy, oil and energy issues, the centrality of American-induced transformation of the Middle East in the neo-conservative agenda that drives Washington -- as well as continued reactions to the trauma of 9/11 and persistent terror fears.

The irony, it would seem, is that the United States could achieve meaningful, lasting progress on all these fronts, and a few others that interest it, if it used an approach similar to the one that has achieved a breakthrough with North Korea. It has nothing to lose, and much to gain. So why does it not do so?

Read all of it.

The horrid likelihood is that our rulers don't want peace; they see peace as a defeat. Peace would be a defeat for their contractor cronies and their militarist fantasies. Only people would benefit.

Ash Wednesday humor

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Really. Alex Beam has our culture's number. Click on the link.

Iraq moment

BAGHDAD — Unlike so many deaths in this city these days, the passing of Ahmed Lami was remarkable not for its violent end, but for its lack of bloodshed: He died of natural causes at 65.

But even peaceful death has become a magnet for violence. ...At the Lami funeral, attendance was smaller than usual for such public events, because fear of death grips the capital. Lami's family even took precautions to guard against a car bomb attack, blocking entrances to the tent with a minibus and palm trunks. ...

"The suicide bomber came in and greeted us and sat down," said Lami's cousin, Sabur Abdul-Hussein, who suffered slight shrapnel wounds in the blast. "We thought he was poor, waiting for the feast to be served. We asked each other if someone might know him." After two minutes, Abdul-Hussein said, the stranger blew himself up.

Los Angeles Times

Seven died in this incident; at least 21 are reported injured.

They thought he might be hungry. I'm sure he was. I'm sure we all are.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Better than a pride of peevish primates

On Sunday, February 18, the Primates traveled by boat to Zanzibar for a Solemn Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral -- where the altar is built over an old slave trading post -- as the people of Zanzibar commemorated the 100th anniversary of the last slave sold on the island and the 200th anniversary of the end of slavery in the British Empire. ENS article.

Reading this snippet about a meeting that otherwise seems to have merely enabled some prominent churchmen to issue an ultimatum to their U.S. branch to stop infecting them with gay cooties, I was moved to look for a picture of the Cathedral in question and found this:

This stamp pictures, from left to right: The Cathedral of Saint Joseph (Roman Catholic), The Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican), The Malindi Mosque, The Hujjatul Islam Mosque, A Hindu Temple. Link.

Hmm. Nice idea, though probably always more vision than practice.

Zanzibar then was an independent sultanate, one of the world's historic trading centers, where, for generations, seafarers from the Arab Gulf ports and the Indian sub-continent met African merchants. Yes, for far too long, the merchandise was human, as well as spices and saris. One year after that stamp was issued, Zanzibar was "married," not entirely voluntarily, with the mainland nation of Tanganika, forming the modern state of Tanzania.

The president of that new Tanzania was the leader of its anti-colonial liberation struggle, Mwalimu (Teacher) Julius K. Nyerere. After Nelson Mandela, President Nyerere (1922-1999) was one of the most widely respected theorists and practitioners of liberation in emerging post-colonial Africa. He was an enormously thoughtful man who did something almost unique (apart from Mandela) among that set of African leaders: in 1985 he voluntarily relinquished office and saw his political and development initiatives peacefully overthrown. He went on to work to broker peace among African nations struggling with poverty and arbitrary boundaries drawn by the European imperial powers.

While I feel certain that Nyerere would have shared the cultural disdain the princes of the church so evidently feel for gay people, it is hard to imagine this teacher of the Tanzanian people as one who would work for the oppression and imprisonment of some who did their country no harm. He had very strong words of wisdom about leadership to offer to poor peasant Tanzanians:

Leaders must not be masters.

We have been led to accept the division of men into masters and slaves. ...This is a bad habit. We have been treated as slaves and we have accepted that status. What is the meaning of leadership? When you are selected to lead, it does not mean you have to know everything better than they do. It does not mean you are more intelligent than they are -- especially the elders. Sometimes my own mother calls me to give me advice. ...

We fear to take decisions. That is why some people tell me to decide things for them on the grounds that we know better. This is not true. ...Our aim is to hand over responsibility to the people to make their own decisions.

If we do not remove fear from our people, and if we do not abolish the two classes of master and servants from our society, clever people will emerge from among us to take the place of the Europeans, Indians and Arabs. ...And we leaders can become the clever people.

This is what will happen to you if you do not remove fear from your minds. You will lose your property. It will be taken from you by clever people.

Uhuru Na Ujamaa: Freedom and Socialism, 1968
Unfortunately Nyerere was all too prophetic; African socialism was no match for the rapacity of the world market and for the greed of most of the functionaries of a one party state. He understood the operation of human frailty all too well.

Rather surprisingly, Nyerere was a devout Christian of the Roman Catholic sort. Some Tanzanians, especially Muslims, distrusted him for his faith, but in his time, his leadership was not much contested. Nyerere's faith idiom may have accounted for the particular messianic cast he gave to the struggle for liberation.

"We would like to light a candle, and put it on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which will shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was humiliation." October 1959

Now that's the stuff that matters; the work Christians are called to. The source of those poetic sentiments is a column by the U.S. Catholic Dorothy Day in which she waxes enthusiastic about her 1970 visit to the emerging Tanzania.

This Tanzanian teacher, a failed socialist and defeated democrat, is a lot more inspiring and a lot more true to Truth than a pride of peevish primates.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A non-partisan 2006 election report

The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network has available for download a report on "Voter Turnout in the 2006 Election." Political junkies will not find much novel in it, but nonetheless may be interested. It is constrained by the internal contradiction in such a project: nonprofits are legally barred from partisan participation in politics. Consequently it treats all enhanced voter participation as an unalloyed good, without regard for who benefits. Given the outcome in 2006, it is not hard for a progressive to feel great about additional participation, and I do. But this report necessarily comes at politics bass-ackward -- in the real world, politics is about who wins and who loses, or, at its most elevated, which policies win and which lose, so I take a "non-partisan" effort with a shaker of salt.

That said, at least this report is looking at what I think of as the right questions: where did the 2006 elections depart from historic patterns in midterm elections, why, and especially, what happened with the youth and people of color vote.

These authors conclude the most important variable to increasing participation is the presence of competitive races. However it is hard to make the case that Michigan (19 percent turnout gain) or Nebraska (17 percent) had particularly competitive years -- no Senate or House seats changed party in either state. All incumbents won. Their winning margins were solid. On the other hand, Indiana (9 percent), where the Democrats didn't even field a candidate against Republican Senator Richard Lugar, did have 3 incumbent Republicans defeated by Democratic House candidates. The report's case is stronger that simply having two statewide races, a Governor and a Senator, on the ballot, even if the races weren't particularly competitive (Michigan fits this picture) did raise turnout. It would be nice -- reassuring to proponents of democracy -- to be able to say that competitive races are the main determinant of increased turnout, but I don't think this report's data really proves this case.

On the other hand, the data do seem to be pretty clear: states that make it easier to vote because they accommodate election day registration (Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming) have higher percentages of eligible voters exercise the franchise. From a partisan point of view, that is a mixed bag.

The report also highlights that turnout of voters under 30 was a full 2 percent higher than in 2002. This is a gain that probably is reliably progressive, because, within this age group, Latinos, Blacks and Asian-Americans made up a rising fraction of the whole. These communities will be part of the core of new Democratic majority.

Much the most useful part of the report for me was the section in which the authors examine various prescriptions for higher turnout, always putting them in the context of "where in place." The result is an interesting catalogue of locales that do such things as restore voting rights to felons, ensure disability and language access to ballots, and encourage early voting. While the report notes that discrepancies between local voting practices are one of the barriers prospective voters face in U.S. elections, as long as they exist, the more we know about them, the better. Uniformity is not the U.S. practice; negotiating the thickets of local practice is part of the grand game of electoral strategy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Yet another reason not to vote for Hillary

Today's New York Times:

She believes in executive authority and Congressional deference, her advisers say, and is careful about suggesting that Congress can overrule a commander in chief.

The last thing we need is ANOTHER president who starts from the premise that the Constitution makes any office holder a monarch.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday cat blogging
Farm cats

We work for our living.


If I glower, will you just go away?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gareth Evans speaks on conflict prevention

Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group (ICG), recently made a closing address to a Toronto conference that makes a good follow up to yesterday's post about the peace movement's need to project how we think the world should work. The full text of Evans remarks is here and very much worth reading in full.

So what is ICG and who is Evans? A look at ICG's board list reveals a "who's who" of retired politicians and functionaries who are no longer in office and perhaps have the distance to try to clean up some of the messes they became familiar with while actively in government -- think the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joschka Fischer, Christopher Patten, and Ernesto Zedillo. Gareth Evans fits the profile; he was a Labor Party Foreign Minister of Australia from 1988-96. Men and English speakers predominate, but not to the complete exclusion of other voices. The organization describes itself as "is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, with 120 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict."

Evans' speech was called "Conflict Prevention: Ten Lessons We Have Learned." It expresses the point of view of someone whose work for peace, however arduous, consists of dealing with the powers that drive the nations, not their peoples. His perspective is not mine. I am uncomfortable with thinking about our world's wars in a "conflict prevention/crisis management" framework. This kind of antiseptic language threatens to erase and overshadow demands for simple justice between people and nations. But peoples that have suffered repeated wars, as did for example Europeans throughout the 20th century, have sometimes concluded that peace may be a greater value than justice when the two collide. So who am I, sitting comfortably in the heart of the empire, to demand that justice come before people's longing for peace?

Evans' blunt assessments of the world of the rulers who he attempts to influence are bracing. Would that we had politicians so able to speak truthes.

Evans points to ten lessons. I'll quote parts of his speech below. (I'm Americanizing the spelling and adding a bit of punctuation to make this read more smoothly.)

Lesson 1. Conflict prevention effort does make a difference.
In the case of serious conflicts (defined as those with 1000 or more battle deaths in a year) and mass killings, there has been an 80 per cent decline since the early '90s, and an even more striking decrease in the number of battle deaths....

...the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face, even if a great many don't want to acknowledge it: the huge upsurge in activity in conflict prevention, conflict management, diplomatic peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding activity that has occurred over the last fifteen years, with most of this being spearheaded by the UN itself (but with the World Bank, donor states, a number of regional security organisations and literally thousands of NGOs playing significant roles of their own.) Conflict prevention is a frustrating business to be in, but those of us engaged in it -- as policymakers, as researchers or as activists -- are not wasting our time.

There's some NGO-touting, funder-pleasing horn tooting in this assertion, but I sure hope Evans is right. Count me skeptical, but willing to suspend disbelief.

Lesson 2: The Best Way to Stop Wars is Not to Start Them.
Enthusiasm for preventive warfare -- preemptive strikes to deal with non-imminent threats -- remains undiminished in some dark and unlovely corners of the US and some other administrations around the world, and we cannot assume that the bottom has entirely dropped out of the market for a strike on Iran's still very early stage nuclear installations. But my sense, from successive visits to Washington -- most recently last week -- that after nearly four years of experience in Iraq, there now a fairly complete understanding of not only the range of demons, both regionally and globally, that we would be unleashed by preventive strikes, but also the limited and short term nature of the gains that would be achieved. Life is a learning experience, even for neo-cons.

None of this means that we should swing to the opposite extreme and forswear military responses in situations where this is both legal, as a matter of international law, and legitimate, as a matter of morality and decency: there are in fact two big problems with military force, not just using it when we shouldn't, but not using it when we should (as was obviously the case in Rwanda and Srebrenica). The responsibility to protect doctrine -- to which the world is at least now paying lip service -- does now clearly acknowledges the legitimacy of coercive military force, if only in the most extreme cases.

Again Evans is a lot more trusting that the war makers have learned some restraint and that they can discern proper occasions for the use of force than I am, but let's hope he knows something we don't. Once he's made his two essentially ICG boilerplate points, he gets more interesting.

Lesson 3. Conflict is cyclical: the trick is to stop the wheel turning.
... post-conflict peacebuilding is not the end of a process of conflict resolution, but the start of a new process of conflict prevention: as Louise Frechette reminded us, the worst horrors in the Angolan civil war came after the Bicesse Accords in 1990, and the Rwandan genocide exploded just a year after the Arusha Peace Agreement of 1993, in each case because manifestly inadequate arrangements were made for peacekeeping and general implementation follow through. We're now doing much better at getting this right...

I think this is Evans' nod to the justice problem. If some force (even just exhaustion) can get the guns to stop, then societies and peoples have to build some measure of equity and justice into their lives or the guns will probably be taken up again.

Lesson 4. One size analysis doesn't fit all: every conflict is different.
There is a whole literature now, for example, on the economic causes of war within, as well as between states, and the respective roles of greed and grievance in fostering and sustaining violence.... The short point I would make is that such general analysis has become extremely helpful in getting us to ask the right questions, but it is a mistake to think it can provide all the answers. Every conflict does have its own dynamic, and there is no substitute for comprehensively understanding all the factors at work.

For a variety of reasons, mainly security and budgetary, traditional diplomats are not performing this function in as much breadth and depth as they traditionally have -- it's hard to get out and about when you are locked up in a fortress or have minimal staff resources -- and both early warning and effective conflict prevention capacity have become more at risk as a result.

This is fascinating. He is pointing out the contemporary privatization of diplomacy. Various think tanks, journalistic entities, non-profit outfits like his, and commercial for-profit consultants like Stratfor are collecting the information that each government used to ferret out for itself. Along with privatization, some democratization is also happening. Even humble bloggers sometimes turn up real information and, thanks to the Internet, often this becomes widely accessible to those willing to look. The U.S. may have huge embassies projecting the empire all over the world, but linguistic incapacity and security threats make them more isolated castles than sources of "intelligence". The U.S. government is both blind and drowning in indigestible information.

Lesson 5. Conflict prevention requires complex strategies: one-dimensional fixes rarely work.
The crucial thing is to recognize not only that each situation has its own characteristics, and that one-size spanners [wrenches] don't fit all, but that each situation is likely to require a complex combination of measures. And the balance between them is bound to change, and to have to change, over time as circumstances evolve. Conflict prevention is a business for the fleet of foot, not the plodders -- but unfortunately in international affairs, as in life itself, the latter usually have the numbers.

That last bit about the "fleet of foot" is something that peace activists could take to heart. Every political organization I've ever been part of has had a hard time adjusting to rapid changes in circumstances. We work so hard at understanding and getting a grip on one set of problems that we become invested in those familiar definitions and solutions and have trouble moving on when change happens. Like armies, we're most comfortable fighting the last war.

Lesson 6. Conflict prevention requires effective institutional structures.
Globally, there are at least three major structural problems, only one of which was seriously tackled, and even then only partly, in the 2005 World Summit -- that was the establishment of the new Peacebuilding Commission, to ensure that there would sustained and effective international focus on, and resource commitment for, the crucial post-conflict phase.

A second big problem is the Security Council, not just ensuring its commitment and effective delivery, both of which have often been problematic, but in ensuring its continued legitimacy, when its structure is so manifestly a reflection of the world of 1945, not the 21st century. The complacency of the Permanent Five veto-wielding members is misplaced: their powers will be a diminishing asset unless the credibility issue is seriously addressed before much longer. ...

A third issue is Secretariat reform: getting more resources into the peace and security area, ensuring their quality, and enabling the Secretary-General to have available to him a large store of early warning and analysis capability -- a function that has been largely denied it so far by member states anxious not to be seen as suitable cases for treatment.

Evans wants to make the U.N. work and he knows how: reform the Security Council by doing away with the Great Power vetoes and empowering the Secretary-General. This is bold and probably currently impossible. Would it be a good thing? Certainly it would give the currently disempowered majority in the world more say in the institutions that try to prevent the missiles from flying.

Lesson 7. Conflict prevention requires application of resources.
...a formidable case can be made for conflict prevention on pure financial cost-benefit grounds alone. As Australian Foreign Minister in the early 1990s I estimated, with the help of my Department, that the first Gulf War, which cost the allied coalition some $US 70 billion to wage, could conceivably have been avoided through more effective preventive diplomacy -- which in the institutional form of six small but highly professional regional conflict prevention centres around the world would have cost the whole international community just over $20 million a year. Similar calculations have been made in many other contexts. ...

It is not only additional money that is needed for conflict prevention and resolution, but a more intelligent application of money already being spent, not least on the armed forces themselves. ... of the 2.5 million personnel nominally under arms in Europe, at most 3 per cent are deployable. A good many of the rest are presumably still waiting by their tanks for the Russians to come. And even with Mr Putin at his most adventurous, that doesn't seem terribly likely.

So rich countries mostly have completely useless armies (whose preservation presumably serves domestic political ends). We know that about the United States. I for one didn't know the same lunacy was operative in Europe.

Lesson 8: recognize that there is no substitute for cooperative internationalism.
There are limits to any country's capacity, even the U.S.'s, to do anything without allies, friends or supporters, or by extension, working through international and intergovernmental institutions, starting with the UN Security Council. And it's in every country's interest, not just small or medium sized ones like my own, to operate in a rule-based rather than raw power-based international order.

I hope the peace movement can say a whole-hearted "amen" to this.

Lesson 9. Conflict prevention requires the mobilization of political will.
What we perhaps still need to learn...is that merely lamenting the absence of political will...doesn't help very much: what we have to is work out how to mobilize it, recognizing and squarely dealing with all the institutional dynamics and personalities and interests involved. And that requires a combination of good institutional structures -- of the kind I have earlier discussed -- and good arguments. [He catalogues four kinds of "good arguments": financial, national interest, domestic political, and moral.]

I wish I heard in Evans, or any political leader, more confidence in the capabilities of aroused people. Oh sure, especially if badly led, populations can be seized with passionate spasms of violent revenge. But actually, given half a chance, people come to their senses pretty quickly. At the present time, the U.S. people are way out in front of their leaders in both political parties; we know Iraq is a losing boondoggle, a colossal waste of U.S. and Iraqi lives. We're waiting, unhappily, for the kind of people Evans addresses to catch up and find the political will to stop this war.

Evans goes on to describe the problem of political will as a contest between idealism (Neo-con fantasies of imposing democracy on the Middle East) and realism. This kind of above the fray analysis is fine for the rulers of world, but the rest of us wish they'd just get around to letting us live. Evans does get off some nice zingers about those he names as "realists" and "idealists."

My Crisis Group Board member colleague Ken Adelman -- a fierce supporter of the Iraq war (he was the one who said it would be a 'cakewalk'), and the rest of original Bush 43 administration mission -- is one of those who now laments [the eclipse of "idealism"]. In the current issue of Vanity Fair, he says that after Iraq 'the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world' is 'not going to sell' for a generation. If he means the particular kind of idealistic foreign policy that has been pursued over the last six years -- impervious to demonstrable facts, naive in its assumptions, crude in its application of military power, and totally bungled in its general execution -- then we should be grateful to be spared any more of the same.

But if idealism has its limits, the alternative is not a crude and one-dimensional brand of foreign policy realism either. A foreign policy that is founded only on hard-headed realism is a policy that can all too readily descend into cynical indifference: the kind that enabled successive previous US administrations (both Bush 41's, whose foreign policy performance in many other ways I much admired, and Bill Clinton's) to shrug their shoulders about Saddam Hussein's genocidal assaults on the Kurds in the north in the late 80s and the Shiites in the south of Iraq in the early 90s, or to find reasons for ignoring the rapidly unfolding Rwandan genocide in 1994, or to talk the talk but fail to walk the walk when it comes now to Darfur.

Finally, Evans last point:

Lesson 10: recognize there is no substitute for leadership.
We all know, without me needing to take the time to spell it out, where international leadership has spectacularly failed us in recent years, most obviously in the Middle East, where it's gone astray when it hasn't gone completely missing, and where its been shown over and again, if we needed to be reminded, that tenacity is no substitute for intelligence; in Africa, where a succession of celebrated leaders of a new continental renaissance have turned out to have feet of clay; in Europe, which continues to punch well below its weight across a spectrum of global issues and is showing alarming signs of completely losing the plot on Turkey; and on weapons of mass destruction, where none of the P5 nuclear weapons states seem to begin to understand that the rest of the world is fed up with double standards, and non-proliferation can only begin to get back on track if disarmament is taken seriously.

... Of all the lessons we have learned about conflict prevention the need for good leadership is probably the single most obvious and the single most important. But it remains the hardest of all to get right. And maybe at the end of the day, the responsibility for getting it right -- in voting democracies like ours at least -- is something that we cannot pretend belongs to anyone but ourselves as ordinary, individual citizens.

My generation has not covered itself in glory either in our performance as leaders or in the choices we have made as voters. It's up to the next generation to do a lot better.

Here, Evans sounds like so many of us in the Boomer age group -- dreams unfulfilled, but hopeful that we've done enough to lay a foundation for those who come after. Was it ever any other way?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Korea accord and the peace movement

From a North Korea photo essay at BBC Online.

Today the War Times group I work with sent out this email blast. I think that text is worth posting here as reminder to those of us who make up the U.S. peace movement that we have even more to do than we sometimes realize.

U.S. Enters the Reality Zone on North Korea

Asia Times used the headline above in covering the Agreement reached by the Six-Party talks February 14. The Times interviewed Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, who said: "This is a significant step for the [George W] Bush administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step."

No surprise that the Agreement is already being fiercely attacked by the Neocon right wing. Bush's own former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the pact "contradicts fundamental premises of the president's policy". For once he's right: the pact not only contradicts Bush's previous "our-way-or-no-way" stance against North Korea, its use of negotiation and multilateralism to solve disputes is in direct contrast to the administration's usual reliance on "pre-emptive" attacks, regime change, unilateralism and war.

Also, for a window into Korean realities, check out two articles by Miriam Ching Yoon Louie written after her return from North Korea on a delegation sponsored by Nodutdol for Korean Community Development last year. "This Close" (co-authored with Yoon Mi Ran) speaks to the emotional and sensory experience of returning to half of one's divided homeland; "North Korea: Behind the Bomb Blast" shares conversations Miriam had with folks from various walks of life and is "dedicated to Americans wanting to know 'why do they hate us?'"

The War Times Staff
For five long years, the impending and actual Iraq disaster has trapped the U.S. peace movement: we've focused exclusively on working toward U.S. withdrawal from that unhappy country. That wasn't wrong. But necessity has distracted us from projecting what a more peaceful, post-imperial, world might look like. But that too must be a task for a "peace movement."

This Korea agreement reminds us that we need to be about not only "out now" but also about projecting a vision of how very different countries and societies can share a finite, fragile planet with some fairness and respect.

Freedom is on the march

[Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar] said the government would break into homes and cars it deemed dangerous, open mail and eavesdrop on phone calls. NY Times, February 14, 2007

Nice to know that the U.S. has done such a good job of teaching Iraqis about democracy and the rule of law.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Aspiring presidents face tough climb

Last week Harold Meyerson wrote an intriguing description of the political options offered by the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls:

Edwards is the best positioned to ride the populist wave that is finally and rightly hitting our shores. By his willingness to repeal tax cuts for the rich to pay for universal health care, he is wagering that Americans will favor fairness and functionality over the anti-tax ideology of recent decades.

But Edwards risks sounding like the tribune for a smaller, more marginal group of Americans than he may intend to. Defending unions, he said it was time for Democrats to stand with workers who spent their "whole lives in factories, who worked in the mills." True enough, but Democrats also have to stand with workers who spend their whole lives at their keyboards. The father of Democratic populism, William Jennings Bryan, never made it to the White House, in part because he could never add the backing of industrial workers to his support among farmers. Edwards will do well among industrial workers; it's the post-industrial workers he needs to win over.

For her part, Clinton stressed that engineers as well as mill hands face outsourcing. She articulates the scope of globalization's problems more broadly than Edwards does, even if Edwards is more likely to confront those problems with more aggressively fair-trade proposals. Clinton's grasp of the breadth of our dilemmas is offset by the incrementalism of her solutions -- a disjuncture that may disturb Democrats who feel the time is ripe for bigger things.

And Obama? His broad indictment of contemporary politics has great appeal, I suspect, to young voters in particular. But the cynicism about government that he rightly condemns didn't waft in from nowhere. It's been a tool that the right has used to undermine the bargain Clinton spelled out, creating the desperate Americans Edwards talked about, to the end of distributing more wealth to the rich. The hope Obama personifies can be a powerful force -- but not when he counterposes it to specifics or to political struggle.

These people are operating from slightly different pictures of who the Democratic electorate might be. Let's unpack some.

Edwards really wants the voters represented by organized labor -- and that is a bigger block than the 12 percent of workers currently represented by a union might imply. When "union households" are taken into account, "labor voters" were 25 percent of the 2004 Presidential electorate. Come to think of it, I'm a member of a union household, since my partner, though simply a contingent worker at a university, is a union member. Twenty-five percent is a big block in a primary. Edwards is making inroads there; this support probably accounts for his current lead in Iowa polling.

Clinton essentially assures that she'll take things back to the good old days of Bill and the dotcom boom when globalization and innovation pointed to a rosy, but never very clearly envisioned, pain-free future. It was always a chimera for most workers. Even those who flew so high on it for a little while mostly crashed pretty badly when the bubble burst. She seems to be speaking to a white professional electorate who don't much like the current condition of the country, but who are not viscerally hurt by the direction of the U.S. economy. Her pitch seems transparent nonsense to me. But for folks who have been able to afford not to pay much attention and who yearn vaguely for a better time, a time before Bush, it seems attractive. A lot of it is simply name recognition. Name recognition will make her hard to beat in big state early primaries, like the proposed Feb. 5 California vote. Will Clinton be able to hold on to her current national lead?

Then there is Obama, playing to the national yearning for something transcendent to be in favor of. Democrats cleaned up at the polls in 2006 because, in most areas, people have come down solidly against the President. But most people are uncomfortable about being negative about the country and its leaders. Many very much want to be inspired. Obama is speaking directly to these folks. And by being Mr. Highroad, he is taking the only tack that lets him be something more than "the Black guy." Eventually, if he wants to be more than a curiosity, he'll probably have to speak directly about race -- something like the defense of his Catholicism that John F. Kennedy made to hostile evangelicals at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. No African American is going to get elected President until (s)he can talk about race so comfortably that (s)he enables more white people (and brown people and yellow people and green people if there are any) to talk about it too. That's the challenge for Mr. Inspiration. Otherwise he is a flash in the pan.

None of these people have sold themselves to me yet; probably none of them will, Whichever one survives the national cattle call over the next year will get my vote in 2008. As will any other not-Republican who somehow topples the front runners and squeezes out a long shot Democratic nomination.

Monday, February 12, 2007

For Lincoln's birthday:
So you want to get elected?

Copies of letters that Abraham Lincoln sent to a great-great grandfather and a great grandfather have come down to me. In the summer of 1860 the future president wrote, in part:

Springfield, Ill.
Sep. 13, 1860
My Dear Sir.
Your short letter, with the newspaper containing your excellent speech at Rochester, was duly received, and for which I thank you sincerely. ...
Yours very truly,
A. Lincoln

Springfield, Ill.
July 29, 1860
My Dear Sir,
Yours of the 21st was duly received and I thank you sincerely for the information it contains. Some of our friends here are a little anxious about the attempted fusion of all opposition to us in New York, but I suppose our friends there, including yourself, will take care of that matter.
Please let me hear from you frequently,
Yours very truly,
A. Lincoln
Understand, Lincoln was campaigning. In those days before not only television, but also telephones, he was doing exactly what any candidate for office still must do: he was coddling, cajoling, cheering, and thanking his friends who acted as his agents in spreading his message and organizing his voters. That summer before he was elected, he wrote 1000s of those letters.

Recently I was approached as I sometimes am about whether I think a particular individual might be able to win a local election. I asked three questions.
  • 1. Was the potential candidate gripped by an almost fanatical belief that (s)he was the person for the job? Nobody should declare candidacy who isn't certain (s)he wants to win. Running for office is disruptive of normal life, painful, enormously demanding -- you shouldn't enter that arena unless you really choose to take on the task of winning with a whole heart.
  • 2. Can the potential candidate list, on paper, 75 people who will somehow work to get her/him elected, whether by donating money or labor? I think I first got this test from the section on candidate recruitment in Women for a Change: A Grassroots Guide to Activism and Politics though I can't find my copy today to be sure. The test makes sense; the number 75 is larger than most people's immediate family and friends, enough to reach into the broader circle of acquaintances who are representative of the voters, yet not so huge as to be impossible for someone who reaches out to people.
  • 3. Is the potential candidate willing to do the outreach, whether by fundraising, by going door to door, and by attending odious function after boring dinner, by turning my of their life over to campaign staff, to get elected? Campaigning is a grind, but in whatever form suits your election, you have to do it if you are serious.
Lincoln did that work. Will you, potential candidate?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Two peas in a pod

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said aloud what all the world outside the United States knows, but usually doesn't dare say:

"We are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of military force in international relations," Putin said. "One country, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way." ...

Arguing that the U.S. was ignoring international law in its use of military power, a clear reference to the invasion of Iraq, Putin said the legal constraints that once protected smaller, weaker nations were no longer viable.

"This is very dangerous," he said. "Nobody feels secure anymore. No one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course, such a policy stimulates an arms race. The force's dominance inevitably encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction."

In most of the world it would be hard to find significant numbers of people who disagree with this assessment. Think Iran, North Korea -- and of course Russia itself, bristling with nukes.
About a month ago, the New Yorker published a chilling profile of Anna Politkovskaya, the murdered journalist whose articles uncovering of the crimes done by Russia in Chechnya had made her an enemy of the state. If you are even slightly interested in the evolution of that unfortunate country, do read it all. It chronicles how, under Putin, the forms of the "democracy" thrown together in the post-Soviet state have been nearly completely eroded by a secret-police based autocracy. Too much of what Michael Specter describes seems eerily familiar.

"I really consider the president of the United States my friend," Putin said. "He's a decent man, and one can do business with him."

LA Times

"I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country," Bush declared after their 2001 visit.



Television... is the only way the vast majority of Russians get news.

New Yorker

According to the most recent survey of U.S. news consumption habits, 57 percent get news from TV. However high numbers looked at several news sources and 43 percent read a newspaper, including both print and online editions.

Pew Center for the People and the Press
[my summary]


Last July... the Duma passed a law, introduced by the Kremlin, to permit the assassination of "enemies of the Russian regime" abroad. For people like Boris Berezovsky, whose hatred for Putin has become an obsession, the new law explained [the Litvinenko assassination in London].

"This guy [Putin] is a K.G.B. guy," Berezovsky told me one afternoon over tea at a London hotel. "This guy issues a law allowing the Russians to kill opponents abroad. So they kill opponents abroad."

New Yorker

"I want justice," [Bush] said after a meeting at the Pentagon, where 188 people were killed... "And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' ...

The blunt, Texas-style rhetoric, delivered off the cuff, came a day after Vice-President Dick Cheney said he would willingly accept bin Laden's "head on a platter".

London Telegraph


[When asked about Politkovskaya after her murder, President Putin] responded curtly, "She was well known in the media community, in human-rights circles, and in the West, but her influence on political life within Russia was very minimal. . . . In my opinion, she was too radical, and by virtue of this radicalism she did not have a very strong influence on political life within the country, and especially in Chechnya."

The President's detached and clinical approach to the murder infuriated Politkovskaya's colleagues and shocked her family. "It was like he was saying she was of no value to the Kremlin, so she didn't deserve to live," Elena Kudimova told me. "I don't care what he thought of her work, but what kind of man speaks that way about the dead?"

New Yorker

George Bush took a 2 hour bike ride on Saturday, and when he got back, he was asked how he could go for a two hour bike ride when he doesn't have time to meet with me, and he said: "I have to go on with my life." (Austin Statesman, August 14)

WHAT!!!!!????? He has to get on with his life!!! I am so offended by that statement. Every person, war fan, or not, who has had a child killed in this mistake of an occupation should be highly offended by that remark. Who does he think he is?

Cindy Sheehan, summer 2005


In the late nineteen-eighties, at the urging of Mikhail Gorbachev's Kremlin, Communist newspapers began publishing exposes of Russian politics and the war in Afghanistan, and stories about many of the "blank spots" of Soviet history, going back to Lenin. The dull, formulaic journals of Soviet life—Izvestia, Literaturnaya Gazeta, Ogonyok, and Moscow News—suddenly became engrossing. Each morning, huge crowds would gather in Pushkin Square to read the papers, discuss the events of the day, and argue about what might come next.... Euphoria cannot sustain a business, however.

New Yorker

The principal value of the blogosphere is that it democratizes our political discourse almost completely. Anyone can become a "pundit," find an audience, report facts, create a community of like-minded citizens and activists, and influence the public discourse -- all without having to mold oneself into what is demanded by The Washington Post and without having to care about pleasing the editors of Time Magazine.

In that regard, the blogosphere enables a very potent freedom.

But any competing system that exists outside of the national political and media institutions has to be financially self-sustaining.

Glenn Greenwald


[In Russia,] the practice of writing biased news articles for money became routine even at the best papers.

New Yorker

[According to Eric Boehlert,] key factors included the consolidated media landscape in which owners were increasingly -- almost exclusively -- multinational corporations; the same corporations anxious to win approval from the Republican-controlled federal government to allow for even further ownership consolidation.

Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush


By 1996, with a Presidential election scheduled, [Russian President] Yeltsin's popularity ratings had fallen into the single digits. ... the oligarchs and the journalists they employed conspired to pour limitless funds into Yeltsin's campaign, and insured that the networks would provide only favorable coverage. ...

They wanted to drive Communism from Russia forever; impartiality, they felt, was too decorous a response to what they saw as a national emergency....

Andrei Norkin, a former anchor for NTV, told me..."And, even if we did not see why, the authorities understood at once: mass media could very easily be manipulated to achieve any goal. Whether the Kremlin needed to raise the rating of a President or bring down an opponent or conduct an operation to destroy a business, or a man, the media could do the job. Once the Kremlin understood that it could use journalists as instruments of its will, and saw that journalists would go along, everything that happened in the Putin era was, sadly, quite logical."

New Yorker

[Media baron Rupert] Murdoch was asked if News Corp. had managed to shape the agenda on the war in Iraq. His answer?

"No, I don't think so. We tried." Asked by Rose for further comment, he said: "We basically supported the Bush policy in the Middle East...but we have been very critical of his execution."

Raw Story


"There is no censorship—it's much more advanced. I would call it a system of contacts and agreements between the Kremlin and the heads of television networks. There is no need to start every day with instructions. It is all done with winks and nods.

New Yorker

[The Libby trial reveals] such an amateurish approach to news management, in fact, that you have to wonder how the Bush administration and, particularly, Cheney's office, got away with it for as long as they did. If you recall that there always are a certain number of high-level Washington journalists willing to play ball with any form of transparently self-interested deceit for the sake of a Page 1 byline or a few minutes of prime airtime, you don't have to wonder very long. ...

The lesson to take away from this week's unintended seminar in contemporary journalism is that the vice president and his staff, acting on behalf of the Bush administration, believe that truth is a malleable adjunct to their ambitions and that they have a well-founded confidence that some members of the Washington press corps will cynically accommodate that belief for the sake of their careers.

It's a sick little arrangement in which the parties clearly have one thing in common: a profound indifference to both the common good and to their obligation to act in its service.

Tim Rutten, LA Times

Enough. All the links bear reading, especially the New Yorker article.