Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rick Margitza: “Walls” (1990)

This is the Rick Margitza Group (Rick Margitza on tenor saxophone, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Marc Johnson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, and Steve Masakowski on guitar) performing “Walls” at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in 1990.

Rick Margitza (born 1961) is a jazz tenor saxophonist. He began playing the violin when he was four. (His grandfather was a cellist and his father a violinist with the Detroit Symphony.) He later took up the piano, oboe and tenor saxophone. Since the 1980’s he was performed with Maynard Ferguson, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and Chick Corea among others.

Sara who?

Senator John McCain – a 72-year-old cancer survivor and presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States -- has selected the first term governor of Alaska as his choice for the Republican nomination for Vice President. Sara Palin was first elected to state-wide office by a plurality in 2006. Prior to that she served as city council representative and mayor of Wasilla – a town of 5469 citizens as of the 2000 census, She came in second in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant but did win the Miss Congeniality contest in Wasilla that same year. She attended the University of Idaho where she majored in journalism.

Senator McCain has reportedly met her only once and talked to her one more time – last Sunday – by telephone. According to presidential scholars she appears to be the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era since John W. Kern, Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s 1908 running mate, who had served for four years in the Indiana state Senate and then four more as city solicitor of Indianapolis. The Democratic ticket lost to Republican standard-bearer William Howard Taft and running mate James S. Sherman by an Electoral College spread of 321-162.

Governor Palin, among other things, opposes abortion as a choice for women, opposes same-sex marriage, supports a state constitutional amendment to deny benefits to gay couples, favors the teaching of creationism in public schools, supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opposed listing polar bears as endangered, and does not believe global warming is man-made. She was a supporter of the Gravina Island Bridge (a.k.a. the “bridge to nowhere”) but withdrew state support when Alaska’s congressional delegation was unable to muster federal funds for the project. She is currently being investigated for abuse of power as governor when she fired the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner in retaliation for not firing her former brother-in-law as a state trooper. The former brother-in-law is involved in a custody disputer with the Governor’s sister.

Jim Vandehei and John F. Harris at Politico have these thoughts on the Palin selection by McCain:

1. He’s desperate. Let’s stop pretending this race is as close as national polling suggests. The truth is McCain is essentially tied or trailing in every swing state that matters — and too close for comfort in several states, such as Indiana and Montana, that the GOP usually wins pretty easily in presidential races. On top of that, voters seem very inclined to elect Democrats in general this election — and very sick of the Bush years.

McCain could easily lose in an electoral landslide. That is the private view of Democrats and Republicans alike.

McCain’s pick shows he is not pretending. Politicians, even “mavericks” like McCain, play it safe when they think they are winning — or see an easy path to winning. They roll the dice only when they know that the risks of conventionality are greater than the risks of boldness.

The Republican brand is a mess. McCain is reasonably concluding that it won’t work to replicate George W. Bush and Karl Rove’s electoral formula, based around national security and a big advantage among Y chromosomes, from 2004.

“She’s a fresh new face in a party that’s dying for one — the antidote to boring white men,” a campaign official said. …

2. He’s willing to gamble — bigtime. Let’s face it: This is not the pick of a self-confident candidate. It is the political equivalent of a trick play or, as some Democrats called it, a Hail Mary pass in football. McCain talks incessantly about experience, and then goes and selects a woman he hardly knows, who hardly knows foreign policy and who can hardly be seen as instantly ready for the presidency. …

3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age. Like a driver overcorrecting out of a swerve, he chooses someone who is two years younger than the youthful Obama and 28 years younger than he is. (He turned 72 on Friday.) The father-daughter comparison was inevitable when they appeared next to each other.

4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of his age. He thinks he’s in fine fettle and Palin wouldn’t be performing the only constitutional duty of a vice president, which is standing by in case a president dies or becomes incapacitated. If he were really concerned about an inexperienced person sitting in the Oval Office, we would be writing about vice presidential nominee Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice.

There is no plausible way McCain could say that he picked Palin, who was only elected governor in 2006 and whose most extended public service was as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population 8,471), because she was ready to be president on Day One.

Nor can McCain argue that he was looking for someone he could trust as a close adviser. Most people know the staff at the local Starbucks better than McCain knows Palin. They met for the first time last February at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington. Then, they spoke again — by phone — on Sunday while she was at the Alaska state fair and he was at home in Arizona. …

5. He’s worried about his conservative base. If he had room to maneuver, there were lots of people McCain could have selected who would have represented a break from Washington politics as usual. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman comes to mind (and it certainly came to McCain’s throughout the process). He had no such room. GOP stalwarts were furious over trial balloons about the possibility of choosing a supporter of abortion rights, including the possibility that he would reach out to his friend.

Palin is an ardent opponent of abortion who was previously scheduled to keynote the Republican National Coalition for Life's "Life of the Party" event in the Twin Cities this week.

“She’s really a perfect selection,” said Darla St. Martin, the co-director of the National Right to Life Committee. It is no secret McCain wanted to shake things up in this race — and he realized he was limited to a shake-up conservatives could stomach.
Sara Palin is no Joe Biden. If elected, she would have nothing to offer a McCain presidency in the way of governance and clearly would not be part of “the team” running the government. That is probably the way McCain wants it. The previous short list of Romney, Lieberman, and Ridge represented individuals with knowledge and experience in policy and governance. Individuals like these might disagree with a President McCain but disagreement isn't the McCain style of governance as his Senate colleagues have learned over the years.

She is strictly a token right-wing female selected to solidify his sagging support on the right and possibly attract female voters more interested in identity politics than policy. This is a gamble but as the Politico piece above makes clear, politicians gamble when their strategy is losing. Presidential candidates pick running mates who can either help with their perceived weaknesses or can move them towards the center to appeal towards a greater spectrum of voters. Palin does neither for McCain. Of course, she is young and healthy in contrast to McCain but that’s not a weakness he wants to call attention to. Her right-wing positions don’t move him towards the center but away from it. That indicates he has failed to solidify his base since becoming the presumptive nominee last spring. The fact that he is trying to do this now on Labor Day weekend means the Republicans are struggling and his internal polls show he is in trouble. He won’t be the first older man who gambled on a beauty queen and lost.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dizzy Gillespie: “A Night in Tunisia” (1958)

This is Dizzy Gillespie performing "A Night in Tunisia" at Cannes in 1958 with Kenny Clark on drums.

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (1917 – 1993) was an jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer, and composer. He was born in Cheraw, South Carolina, the youngest of nine children. Dizzy's father was a local bandleader, so instruments were made available to Dizzy. He started to play the piano at the age of 4. Together with Charlie Parker, he was a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz as well as Afro-Cuban jazz,.

Gillespie's image is almost inseparable from his trademark trumpet whose bell was bent at a 45 degree angle rather than a traditional straight trumpet. According to Gillespie's autobiography, this was originally the result of accidental damage caused during a job on January 6, 1953, but the constriction caused by the bending altered the tone of the instrument, and Gillespie liked the effect. By June, 1954, Gillespie was using a professionally manufactured horn of this design, and it was to become a visual trademark for him for the rest of his life.

You can see and hear “A Night in Tunisia” performed here by The Jazz Messengers.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Barack Obama: “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than that.”

Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States in Denver last night. Andrew Sullivan sums up his acceptance speech:

It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.

What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.

He took every assault on him and turned them around. He showed not just that he understood the experience of many middle class Americans, but that he understood how the Republicans have succeeded in smearing him. And he didn't shrink from the personal charges; he rebutted them. Whoever else this was, it was not Adlai Stevenson. It was not Jimmy Carter. And it was less afraid and less calculating than Bill Clinton.

Above all, he took on national security - face on, full-throttle, enraged, as we should all be, at how disastrously American power has been handled these past eight years. He owned this issue in a way that no Democrat has owned it since Kennedy. That's a transformative event. To my mind, it is vital that both parties get to own the war on Jihadist terror and that we escape this awful Rove-Morris trap that poisons the discourse into narrow and petty partisan abuse of patriotism. Obama did this tonight. We are in his debt.

Look: I'm biased at this point. I'm one of those people, deeply distressed at what has happened to America, deeply ashamed of my own misjudgments, who has shifted out of my ideological comfort zone because this man seems different to me, and this moment in history seems different to me. I'm not sure we have many more chances to get off the addiction to foreign oil, to prevent a calamitous terrorist attack, to restore constitutional balance in the hurricane of a terror war.

I've said it before - months and months ago. I should say it again tonight. This is a remarkable man at a vital moment. America would be crazy to throw this opportunity away. America must not throw this opportunity away.

Know hope.

You can read the entire text of the speech here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dianne Reeves: “How High the Moon” (1991)

This is Dianne Reeves performing “How High the Moon” at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in 1991. She is backed up by Billy Childs on piano, Chris Severin on bass, and Billy Kilson on drums

Dianne Reeves (born 1956) is considered one of the most important contemporary jazz singers. She is known more for her live performances than her albums. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

You can see and listen to her here performing “Love for Sale” with Dizzy Gillespie and David Sanborn.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Militias slaughter elephants for ivory destined for China

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo, Zaire and Republic of the Congo) has a history of over a century of misery. From King Leopold and the Belgian rubber plantations to the current chaos in central Africa, the Congolese people have been victims of those with power who simply take what they want and do as they please.

The First Congo War led to the toppling of 32-year Mobutu dictatorship in 1997. From 1998 through 2003 the country suffered from the Second Congo War – the world’s deadliest conflict since WWII. An estimated 3.9 million people have died since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease.

However, while the fighting is no longer on the level it was during the ’98-’03 period, it has not ceased. There are armies from a number of different countries and private militias roving the country raping, looting, enslaving and killing with no one to stop them. The central government is so corrupt and weak it cannot protect its citizens. A country wealthy with many natural resources is impoverished as coltan, diamonds, gold and cassiterite are exported to the world market and the revenue is used to fuel the ongoing fighting.

And now reports are coming out that at least the militias that rove through the countryside have slaughtered at least ten percent of the elephants of one of Africa’s oldest national parks for their valuable ivory as well as meat. There is a growing demand from China for ivory.

This from Bloomberg:
Rebels and soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed more than a 10th of the elephants in one of Africa's oldest national parks as demand for ivory in China grows, said Emmanuel de Merode, director of the Virunga National Park.

Members of a Rwandan militia in the country's eastern North Kivu province killed seven elephants in the last two weeks, taking this year's total to 24, de Merode said today in an interview from the park's headquarters in Rumangabo.

``There is a large presence of military forces,'' de Merode said. ``There is a correlation between this and the growth in Chinese ivory sales.''

Elephant numbers in the 790,000-hectare (1.9 million-acre) park have dropped from 2,889 in 1960 to fewer than 200 today, as conflict in the region spurred poaching. During the past 12 years, 120 park wardens have died while trying to protect the park from armed groups, de Merode said.

Congo's national army, a Rwandan Hutu militia, a Congolese Tutsi rebel group and local militias are battling for control over the area.

This year's poaching wave was causing by the need for meat and income from ivory sales to China, de Merode said.

Even though poaching has risen, Virunga, which is home to more different species than any other African park, has not lost a species since 1950.

The African elephant is ``considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild,'' according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sonny Rollins: “My One and Only Love” (1982)

This is Sonny Rollins performing “My One and Only Love” in Montreal in 1982. He is backed up by Jack DeJohnette , Bob Cranshaw, Bobby Broom , and Masuo Yoshiaki.

SonnyRollins (born September 7, 1930 in New York City) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Sonny Rollins has had a long, productive career in jazz, beginning his career at the age of 11 and playing with piano legend Thelonious Monk before reaching the age of 20. Rollins has outlived several of his jazz contemporaries such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey, all performers with whom he has recorded.

You can watch and listen to him perform “Weaver of Dreams” in 1950 here, “St. Thomas” in 1968 here, and “On Dolphin Street” in 1968 here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joseph Biden: a nuanced foreign-policy thinker

Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph Biden to be his running mate for the 2008 Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominations. (I received the text message on my phone at 3:29 a.m. – I had it by my bed.) The choice of a running mate is always complex with a number of pro and con factors weighing in for each possibility. This was no different for Biden but one of his major assets was his experience with foreign policy.

First elected to the Senate to represent Delaware in 1972 and has served three decades on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He is currently the chairman of that committee. In 1997, he became the ranking minority member and chaired the committee from June 2001 through 2003. He assumed the chairmanship in 2006 when the Democrats again took control of the Senate.

Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy magazine has these thoughts on Obama’s choice of Biden:

I think Joe Biden is a smart choice for Barack Obama. With nearly 36 years in Washington and much of it atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Delaware senator's got decades of knowledge about how the U.S. national-security apparatus works and a clear-eyed, unromantic view of America's role in the world.

This experience has made Biden nothing if not extremely confident in his views, which makes him well suited to play the role of Democratic attack dog on foreign policy.

One of his favorite tactics is ridicule: Everyone remembers him saying that a Rudy Giuliani sentence has only three words: "a noun, a verb, and 9/11" during the primary season. But Biden's a pretty serious guy, too. He believes Democrats, who usually poll below Republicans on national security, shouldn't "play defense on foreign affairs," and he leads by example in his frequent op-eds and appearances on the Sunday talk shows.


… as much as he likes to talk, Biden's actually a pretty nuanced foreign-policy thinker. He doesn't have strong ideological views, so he's hard to pigeonhole. Looking over his statements and policies over the years, I'd say he hews to a pragmatic form of liberal internationalism backed by American power. I think he takes his responsibilities very seriously.

He uses the term "national interests" frequently, but he's not quite a Scowcroftian realist -- as his push for action in the Balkans and Sudan demonstrates. Nor is he quite a "liberal hawk," either. He has little patience for sweeping rhetoric about how the United States is bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, and he doesn't (unlike certain other Democratic senators who were passed over for veep) default to the hawkish position on national security just for the sake of sounding "tough". He believes that some situations call for toughness (Sudan) while others call for engagement (Iran). He understands both the need for and the limits of multilateral institutions, and he doesn't see multilateralism as an end in itself, unlike some in his party.

That said, Biden doesn't bat 100 percent. He went ahead and supported the Iraq war despite warning that President Bush was underestimating the risks (he now says he didn't realize Bush would be so incompetent and that he thought Saddam could be deposed by other means). He called the surge "a tragic mistake" in February 2007 while John McCain has backing it wholeheartedly.

But he has gotten lots of other issues right, in my view: He has been calling for years for more resources in Afghanistan, for a more coherent U.S. relationship with Russia, for engagement with Iran, for a broader U.S. strategy toward Pakistan, and so on.

Vice President Biden. I like the sound of that (even the office should be abolished)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Max Roach & Booker Little: "Love for Sale"

This is the Max Roach Quintet (Booker Little trumpet, Max Roach drums, Ray Draper tuba, George Coleman tenor saxophone, and Art Davis bass) performing Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale”. The video is poor but the audio is a good example of the hard bop style of jazz during the height of its popularity during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The date of this video clip is unknown but it appears to be a television show from the 1950’s.

Maxwell Lemuel Roach (1924 – 2007) was a jazz percussionist, drummer and composer. He was one of the originals of bebop and is considered one of the most important drummers in jazz. He worked with many of the greatest jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown as well as led his own groups.

Booker Little, Jr. (1938 – 1961) was a jazz trumpeter and composer. He died at age 23 of kidney failure. However, despite his premature death he was considered one of the best trumpet players to develop his own sound following Clifford Brown (another fantastic trumpet player who died at the age of 25). In fact, Little replaced Brown (following Kenny Dorham) on the Max Roach Quintet.

Let’s abolish the Vice Presidency

We are already hearing the worn-out cliché about how the most important decision a presidential candidate can make is about the choice for a running mate – as if every other decision before or after to take power in the primary leadership position of our national government pale by comparison. It’s not the most important decision but it is the most visible.

There is a frenzy of speculation about whom Barack Obama will select to join him on the Democratic ticket as the Vice President nominee. I must confess I too have signed up to receive announcement via text message and do have my own list of favorites I hope to see selected. However, beyond the immediate moment there is something screwy about the way we select Vice Presidents and even about the position itself. I’m in favor of just doing away with it.

First, a little history -- here is Joshua Spivak in a 2004 article:
… why do we even have a vice president? The position was not created to help balance an election ticket, nor was it intended to provide the president a surrogate for state funerals. Rather, it was an almost-accidental afterthought.

Under the rules of the original Constitution, each presidential elector was granted two equally weighted votes, which could not be cast for candidates from the same state. In order to make the second vote meaningful, the person who finished second would be the vice president. If the president were to be the best person for the job, then the vice president should be the second-most-capable person. What the constitutional conventioneers hadn't intended was that political parties would quickly reshape electoral politics.

By the fourth national election in 1800, the nascent party system exposed the design flaw. A tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr resulted in the House of Representatives deciding the presidency. After his victory, Jefferson's Republicans passed the 12th Amendment, which required a separate vote for the president and vice president. Stripped of its original position as a job for the runner-up for the presidency, the vice presidency fell into obscurity.

Without its prestige, a mostly motley collection of third-tier politicos were chosen for the No. 2 job, primarily to gain convention support for the presidential candidate.

The rehabilitation of the office began with Harry Truman, who assumed the presidency in the waning days of World War II with almost no preparation for the immense job before him. Truman saw to it that Alben Barkley, his vice president after 1948, would be at least somewhat prepared, and he made the VP a member of the National Security Council. Subsequent presidents have added substantially to the vice president's portfolio. This has reached its apex with Cheney, who has been cited as serving in a prime-ministry role.

And this is from Mathew Yglesias earlier this week:
When you think about it, it’s exceedingly odd. The Vice President has no formal role in the conduct of government to speak of. And yet, since the end of World War II the choice of VP has been very important. Not so much because the Vice President is an important person but because no many VPs go on (Truman, Nixon, Johnson, HW Bush) to become President while others (Gore, Humphrey, Mondale) become major party nominees. Consequently, even though the office is trivial, the choice is very important. But the choice is also fairly important politically to the person who does the choosing. Therefore, “would it be good for this person to become a presidential nominee” gets relatively little consideration during the decision-making process (relative to: would s/he be a good surrogate? give me a ‘bounce’? help with a state?) even though it really ought to be the primary consideration. Beyond that, you have the “Cheney Paradox.” It seems perverse to have a Vice President who doesn’t do anything. But a Vice President who does too much becomes a destabilizing influence within the government — nobody really knows who he speaks for, and he can influence things in ways that provide for no accountability.

At the end of the day, after all, the Vice President’s core job function is simply to take over the government in case the President dies. But it would be easy enough for the line of succession to simply run through the cabinet (SecState, SecDef, etc…) rather than their being a specially designated “inaugurate in case of death” figure. The original conception of the Vice Presidency was a constitutional bug that the framers hadn’t really thought through properly, and though Amendment XII works okay as a patch, it would really be better do do away with the thing entirely.

First, we don’t elect a Vice President so much as we elect a President and his shadow. I’m not aware of any other elected position in the United States where one vote is cast for two people. Even in my home state of Virginia voters are given a choice when picking Governor and Lt. Governor – they can vote for one from one party and the other from another party. I have not done a state-by-state survey but my guess is most, if not all, states have an identical system. And even though Virginia’s Lt. Governor position is similar to the Vice Presidency in the minimal duties assigned to it (see below) at least voters have a choice.

So if voters are confronted with a solid presidential candidate but a weak vice presidential candidate (or vice versa) they can’t split their votes. Candidates for Vice President are not considered or approved independently the way members of the President’s cabinet are when they are presented to the Senate for approval. The selection system is marginally democratic at best which means accountability to the voters is only indirect if at all.

Second, the Vice President has minimal duties. The formal duties are simply to become President upon in the even of death or resignation of the President and to serve as the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate. (Along with the latter duty, even though not elected as a member of the legislature, the Vice President can cast a vote in the event of a tie.) Beyond that, the role is simply what the President wants to make of it -- or, in the current White House, what the Vice President wants to make of it. Vice Presidents in the business world are definitions of rank within the company and have clearly defined responsibilities assigned to it -- they are not for purposes of succession. The Vice President in the U.S. government, on the other hand, is simply for purposes of succession. And it should be noted this is a somewhat unique position around the world in that under parliamentary systems Prime Ministers do not have the equivalent of a Vice President.

The Vice President’s two formal duties can easily be dispensed with simply taking the VP off the current list of the line of Presidential succession (defined by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947) and making the presiding officer of the Senate a member of the Senate. The tie breaking vote power of the latter would be eliminated also – ties votes on legislation simply means the legislation loses and tie votes on Senate organization means the members of the Senate need to organize themselves into a majority as any parliament around the world would do.

Third, Vice President nominees are a distraction from the election of President. This November voters will go to the polls and cast votes to either change the direction of the country or to stay the course based on what the candidates for President stand for and say – not their running mates. Yet, the running mates may hold contrary positions or say things off message that unnecessarily complicate our already Rube Goldberg-like election process under the marginally democratic Electoral College.

While I have complete confidence Mr. Obama will select a running mate who is well qualified and someone we will be proud of let’s simplify our elections and governance. Let’s abolish the Vice Presidency.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gerry Mulligan: “Flying Scotsman” (1991)

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax) plays his composition “Flying Scotsman” with Bill Mays (piano), Dean Johnson (bass) and Dave Ratajczak (drums) at the Brecon Jazz Festival in 1991.

Gerald Joseph "Gerry" Mulligan (1927 – 1996) was a jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger. Mulligan is primarily known as one of the leading baritone saxophonist in jazz - playing the instrument with a light and airy tone in the era of cool jazz. Mulligan performed as a soloist or sideman with many of the giants of jazz including Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Billie Holiday, Marian McPartland, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Fletcher Henderson, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck.

Abortion does not cause mental illness

According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) task force on mental health and abortion, there is no evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The task force evaluated studies in peer-reviewed journals since 1989 that compared the mental health of women who had an induced abortion to comparison groups of women, or that examined factors that predict mental health among women who have had an elective abortion in the United States.

The review of previous studies comes as legislation across the country to limit abortion based upon the reasoning it is harmful to women’s mental health has either been enacted or is being considered. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The report comes at a pivotal time as some judges and lawmakers have begun to make decisions in part based on peer-reviewed studies suggesting women who have had abortions are at higher risk of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

Abortion opponents cite these studies, as well as testimony from women who describe years of psychological turmoil after abortions, to make the case that the state must restrict abortion to protect women's mental health.

The U.S. Supreme Court cited this reasoning last year in upholding a ban on a late-term procedure known as partial-birth abortion. South Dakota incorporated the same rationale into a new mandate that abortion doctors must tell prospective patients they will be putting themselves at risk for psychological distress and suicide.

The abortion-hurts-women view is also being used to promote a broad abortion ban on South Dakota's fall ballot. The argument: A woman may think she wants to end a pregnancy, may even feel relief when she does, but she will suffer for it later. So the state has a duty to stop her.

However, many of the academic studies on which the abortion-as-harmful-to-mental-health legislation is based were found to be flawed. The task force found many of the studies it reviewed to suffer from methodological problems including those that failed to control for other obvious risk factors such as poverty, social stigma, domestic violence, substance abuse, prior unwanted births, and pre-existing emotional problems. Therefore, the task force focused on those they determined to be more methodologically sound.

According to the APA:
"The best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver that pregnancy," said Brenda Major, PhD, chair of the task force. "The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain."

The task force found that some studies indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, and some may experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." However, the task force found "no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."

The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved. Failures to control for these co-occurring risk factors, the task force noted, may lead to reports of associations between abortion history and mental health problems that are misleading.

The report noted that women have abortions for many different reasons and within different personal, social, economic and cultural circumstances, all of which could affect a woman's mental state following abortion. "Consequently," the task force wrote, "global statements about the psychological impact of abortion can be misleading."

Melissa McEwan believes much of the logic of much of the abortion-is-bad-for-mental-health is based upon a misperception of women in the first place:
Thing is, not all women do suffer distress after an abortion. Some women feel distress at a pregnancy, which is why they seek out abortions. Plenty of women surely feel a combination of sadness and relief after an abortion, given that, to my understanding, abortions don't eliminate the ability to hold two thoughts in one's head at the same time.

But it's really the women who feel no regret that seems to bother and confound us. There's not a strong cultural narrative for women who are equipped to carry a child but totally don't want to, irrespective of their reasons. Most discussions of abortion axiomatically regard pregnancy as something every woman wants and to which every woman will have a special connection, which is why so much legislation is designed with the presumption that women seeking abortions have had to deny the reality of being pregnant – that if only she sees it's a baby on an ultrasound … if only she hears the fetal heartbeat … if only she just thinks about what she's doing for 24 more hours …

To the women who seek abortions, the reality of being pregnant is not something they get an abortion in spite of. It is precisely what's driving them to seek the abortion in the first place.

Maybe if we could wrap our heads around that, we could finally wrap our heads around the idea that abortions do not cause mental distress to the women who get them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tommy Flanagan: “Raincheck” (1991)

This is the Tommy Flanagan Trio -- Tommy Flanagan on the piano, George Mraz on the bass, and Lewis Nash playing the drums – performing the Billy Strayhorn tune, “Raincheck” at the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival (Japan) in 1991.

Thomas Lee Flanagan (1930 – 2001) was a jazz pianist who is often remembered as an accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald as well as recordings he made with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins and Wes Montgomery.

Flanagan was nominated for four Grammy Awards — two for Best Jazz Performance (Group) and two for Best Jazz Performance (Soloist).

Is being a liar, flip-flopper, panderer, bully, and whiner a winning formula for the 2008 presidential election? John McCain seems to think so.

Here is Michael Tomasky’s take on the McCain candidacy:
When people start running to be president, we learn new things about them. The amount and intensity of exposure – the fact that suddenly we are subjected to their thinking on every conceivable issue and non-issue – makes this inevitable. As a result of this our opinions change. We either like them more or less than at the beginning, but rarely in just the same measure.

I've been surprised at how much less I like John McCain than I did a year ago. Granted, I think the Republican party is an affliction and, as I've made clear for a long time, I want Barack Obama to be the next president. But even given that, the political analyst part of my brain can put all that aside and see other strengths and weaknesses (and we'll circle back to this point).

John McCain is a jerk. Alternately a bully and a whiner, and a bald-faced liar to perhaps a greater degree than even George Bush and Dick Cheney, McCain is running a stupid and mephitic campaign that insults even Americans of average intelligence virtually every day.

He has pandered to the right-wing to a degree that the word "shameless" can't possibly begin to describe. He has flip-flopped repeatedly, on taxes and abortion and many other matters. And he quite obviously changed his position on offshore drilling in order to raise pots of money from oil interests. Period.

He lies with abandon. He's not an idiot, so he has to know very well, for example, that offshore drilling won't affect the price of gasoline (petrol) for many years to come. Yet he repeatedly implies or says outright to audiences that if we just opened up the coasts to drilling, prices would start to come down.

Most surprisingly of all to me, he has demonstrated over and over his lack of a grasp of, and in many cases even a passing interest in, the details of policy. Here is a man who's been a national legislator for a quarter-century. He has clearly been interested in a few things, mostly having to do with military and foreign policy, and to a certain extent energy policy. But there are dozens more realms with which responsible Solons ought to have acquainted themselves over 25 years. McCain seems to have glided through the Senate without even bothering to learn very much at all about fiscal and economic policy, healthcare, social policy (which is an umbrella rubric covering a dozen different things) and a lot of other topics. His campaign, and his partisans, accuse Obama of being a lightweight. But in truth, McCain is the policy lightweight.

And finally, on his area of supposed expertise, he's demonstrated that he would uphold the Dick Cheney tradition. He talks very tough on Iran and gives disquieting indications that he'd seriously consider a preemptive strike on their nuclear facilities, even though experts repeatedly stress that a massive strike would be required to penetrate even a small percentage of Iran's processing and storage facilities. And on Russia, his policies – force them out of the G8, are you serious? – would rekindle a new cold war with a nation that still, lest we forget, sits on upwards of 12,000 nuclear warheads (by comparison, China has 400).

And on top of all this, he runs ads featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and far worse, and then lies and denies he's running a negative campaign. He's just a joke of a candidate.

And yet, the analytical side of my brain knows that McCain has won the pre-convention summer phase of the campaign. He's cut into Obama's lead. Obama's win percentage at – that is, the likelihood in their estimation that he's going to win the election – has been above 60% most of the campaign. This morning it's at 56.9%. State-by-state, Obama still looks good, but enough states are close enough to make Obama partisans nervous.

More than that, the McCain campaign has established a negative story line about Obama – that he's shallow, just a celebrity, and so on – that is sticking, a little. It's a blustery lie. But blustery lies often work.

In the meantime, the Obama campaign hasn't established a negative story line about McCain. It's not an easy thing to do. His reputation, thanks to years of fawning media, is so ingrained and so at odds with the man we've seen on the trail thus far that arguing to voters that McCain is in fact a superficial flip-flopping panderer would just make no sense. And the McCain campaign would just respond, as it has, by saying, "How dare they say that about a former prisoner of war". And then the media will just talk about that all over again.

So Obama has a challenge here. An election about his alleged superficiality is a tough one for him to win. An election about what the Republicans have done to the country, and why McCain will be more of the same, is a lot easier to win. He's still ahead, but his campaign should have spent its summer vacation establishing the latter contest more forcefully.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ben Webster: “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

This is the Ben Webster Quartet -- Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, Kenny Drew on piano, Nils Henning Orsted Pederson on bass, and Alex Riel on drums – performing “How Long Has This Been Going On?

Benjamin Francis Webster (1909 – 1973) was born in Kansas City and considered one of the three most important “swing tenors” during his lifetime along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Nicknamed “The Brute”, he had a tough raspy and brutal tone on stomps (with his own distinctive growls), yet on ballads he would play with warmth and sentiment.

You can watch him here perform “Flying Home” and here performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The Russians in Georgia

Michael Walzer has these thoughts on the Russian incursion into Georgia:

This is an unjust war. That may seem obvious here in the U.S., but the Russians have worked hard to justify their attack, using the humanitarian language that everyone now uses to defend military operations in other people’s countries. It is important to address their claims, especially because they have received some credence in Europe. It is also relatively easy to do that since reporters and human rights activists have been allowed into parts of Georgia now under Russian control. As a result, we know that the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali has not been destroyed by the Georgian army. “Fighting appears to have been concentrated in two neighborhoods, while buildings in the rest of the city stood intact,” reports the New York Times (August 13, 2008). “Entire residential neighborhoods appear unscathed.” Nor is the Russian claim that the Georgians killed or injured 2,000 civilians credible. Human Rights Watch, checking the local hospital, has come up with the figure of 44 dead and 273 wounded in clashes between Ossetian separatists and Georgian soldiers—and one doctor told reporters that the majority of the wounded were soldiers (New York Times, August 15, 2008). The Putin government apparently believes that anything less than the Big Lie won’t be persuasive, and this Big Lie may be effective in Russia, where the government dominates the media. It shouldn’t be credited in the rest of the world. This isn’t a humanitarian intervention, and it isn’t a peacekeeping operation.

Russian intentions are not benevolent and there is every reason to believe that propped up with oil wealth they will start re-asserting the power of the old empire. The ideological force behind this move is not Communism of the old Soviet Union but nationalism of a Russian state previously humbled by the break-up of the Soviet entity and a devastated economy.

The movement of Georgian soldiers into South Ossetia was reckless, certainly, but it wasn’t the reason—it was only the excuse—for the Russian invasion. The reason lies in American policy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the years since 1989, which the Russians have interpreted, not implausibly, as aiming at and achieving a significant reduction in their power and prestige. I don’t think that the policy was necessarily wrong, or wrong at all, but it was, like President Saakashvili’s Ossetian adventure, reckless. We never reckoned on a Russian response or planned for it or consulted with our allies about what might have to be done. Russia’s strategic aggressiveness in Georgia obviously took the Bush administration by surprise. Just like the Iraqi insurgency. Just like the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Just like the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. Just like the fall of Musharraf in Pakistan.

Yes. The failure of intelligence has yet again blindsided the United States to see this coming in order to try to prevent this war. In fact, based upon previous statements of encouragement from the White House, Georgians seem surprised the U.S. did not rush to Georgia’s aid. The poor intelligence and empty rhetoric reflect a failure (or lack of) thoughtful policy for the region and, in particular, Russia. What policy exists seems ad hoc – just like Iraq, just like Afghanistan, just like Palestine, and just like Pakistan.

It is clear that another victim of this administration’s obsession with Iraq has been the complete neglect of East-West relations as it pertains to Russia. The world cannot afford such a lapse in attention from the next administration in Washington.

The European response has been particularly weak, and we have to worry that the weakness is due to European dependence on Russian oil—which would be greatly heightened if the pipeline across Georgia and Turkey were cut. I don’t think that the Russians invaded Georgia for the oil; I don’t think that America invaded Iraq for the oil. But oil is a factor in imperial politics, and the EU needs to think about a version of Russian domination that is commercial rather than political or military—an “empire” entirely appropriate to the twenty-first century. One response that the Russians would notice would be a large-scale campaign for conservation and a massive investment in alternative sources of energy.

Foreign policy and energy policy cannot be seen as separate. The primary source of oil is from countries whose democratic credentials are marginal at best and all too frequently are hostile to the West. Yet our insatiable demand for more and more oil – much of it wasted, for example, in gas-guzzling vehicles – only puts more wealth in the coffers of those with unfriendly intentions. There is not enough oil on U.S. (or Western) territory to offset this demand. Only energy conservation and energy diversification can do that.

You can read his entire piece here. (Hat tip to Jeff Weintraub.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Phil Woods: “Speak Low” (1995)

This is Phil Woods on the alto saxophone, Chris Neville on the piano, Larry Gales on the bass, and Sherman Ferguson on the drums performing “Speak Low” in 1995.

Phil Woods (born 1931) is an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, bandleader and composter. He studied music at the Manhattan School of Music and The Julliard School. Upon graduation he acquired a reputation as the preeminent bop saxophonist of the day.

His recordings have been nominated for seven Grammy Awards and won four. In 2007 he received the Jazz Master Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

You can see him here playing “And When We Were Young” in 1968.

Red paint campaign to symbolize the blood of victims of the Burmese dictatorship

As the world tuned into the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in China students in Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar) spray-painted schools, government facilities and other public buildings with red to symbolize the blood the victims of the “8888 Uprising” twenty years ago. On August 8, 1988, the Burmese pro-democracy movement rose up against the military dictatorship in peaceful demonstrations. The dictatorship responded by crushing the movement that included the murder of at least 3000 people.

Last fall activists from a new pro-democratic movement demonstrated peacefully around this south Asian country. Again, their movement was brutally suppressed by the military dictatorship.

Yet, the movement remains alive, however weakened.

Thilo Thielke offers this assessment in Der Spiegel:
A protester outside the Burmese embassy in London marks the 20th anniversary of the 1988 uprising.

The culprits came shortly before midnight. It was raining, and the traffic was light on Uyza Road in downtown Rangoon at this late hour. They sprinted across the street, pulled out their spray cans, painted a red cross onto a yellow traffic sign and disappeared into the darkness again.

The red crosses and bursts of color that are now appearing with more and more frequency in the country's major cities are meant to signal renunciation, disgust and resistance. They are the signs of a new opposition movement known as the "Red Campaign." Its members, young university students, operate in small groups of no more than five people. They risk everything for their underground struggle against the omnipotent state.

Secrecy is their highest priority, because the junta of stone-faced generals that has ruled Burma with an iron fist for decades has its spies everywhere and treats its enemies ruthlessly. When a wall at a university was found covered with inflammatory flyers a few days ago, it was the military, not a cleaning crew, that was promptly brought in.

The flyers read "Remember 88," a reference to the August 8, 1988 uprising against the military regime of former dictator Ne Win. At the time, one million Burmese took to the streets in typically Buddhist nonviolent protest, demonstrating for a democratic society. Thousands died in a hail of bullets when the military fired on the people. Although Ne Win eventually relinquished power and proposed a multiparty system, the next junta soon came to power in a military coup, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for years.

Suu Kyi is still not permitted to leave her home. Last Friday additional security, in the form of roadblocks, a fire truck and special police, was sent to guard her house, which is already surrounded with barbed wire. On the anniversary of the uprising demonstrations were staged to express solidarity with the graceful 63-year-old winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only abroad, in front of the embassies of Burma and its protector, China. There were protests in Bangkok, Manila and Tokyo to demand freedom for Burma and for Suu Kyi.

But things remained quiet in Burma, where the junta retains tight control over the country. Only one silent protest march was reported, in the city of Taunggok, where up to 50 people were arrested.

As the protests by Buddhist monks a year ago showed, open resistance requires great courage. As a result, most forms of resistance today are of the hit-and-run variety, such as the red color brigades' spray-painting campaign. Nevertheless, the historic date of 8/8/88 has remained significant to the Burmese, who are very superstitious and preoccupied with symbols of all kinds, as a constant reminder of the fact that the generals are prepared, at all times, to secure their hold on power with extreme violence.

Another movement, called "88 New Generation," uses poster campaigns. One of their leaders goes by Nay Myo Khaing, which, of course, is not his real name. The 40-year-old man, a teacher, looks around nervously and his hands shake. He destroys his notes during our conversation, anxious not to leave any traces behind. Almost all of his fellow dissidents are now in prison. Khaing says the government has seldom hunted down its opponents as mercilessly as now. For the past few days Khaing has been wearing a black T-shirt and a pair of black jeans -- as a sign of mourning and in silent protest.

Red was the color of the hour in September 2007, when tens of thousands of monks, wearing their traditional robes, spent days marching through the streets of Rangoon. The images circled the globe, and the government of General Than Shwe, 75, faltered briefly but then quickly recovered. A wave of arrests and a few killings were the result.

Since then even more fear has prevailed in Burma, and the depth of poverty and suffering among the Burmese has increased since Cyclone Nargis devastated the country. The military, with its roughly 400,000 soldiers, did virtually nothing for weeks, inaction for which the sorely afflicted and tolerant Burmese are unlikely to forgive them.

"The government has never been hated as much as it is now," says Nay Myo Khaing. But can his movement take advantage of popular resentment and turn it into political energy? Khaing seems at a loss, as the monsoon rain drums down onto the corrugated metal roof. Protests are planned for the fall, he says, but everything remains vague. Dissidents like Khaing are hesitant to pin down any plans, not knowing which activists will even be at large then -- or whether, once again, their plans will be foiled.

The people feel humiliated, spied upon and locked up. E-mail services are being blocked and newspapers censored, and the only content approved by the government consists of dull propaganda. But the Burmese are running out of the strength they need to rebel against these conditions. "Even the monks have withdrawn, after so many of them disappeared into the prisons," says Khaing. "Now our only hopes rest with the students, and more and more of them are joining us."

Khaing is especially disappointed by the international community. Of course, he says, the United States has been providing the opposition with massive amounts of financial assistance for the past year, but most of the money ends up in the hands of Burmese exile groups in Thailand. Besides, Khaing adds, nothing will change unless China is put under pressure. "The Chinese defend the regime because they want to retain control over Southeast Asia. They see us a market and they are lusting after our natural gas."

Then Khaing stands up without a sound and disappears into the throngs of Rangoon, a city of six million. He doesn't like to stay in one place for more than 15 minutes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Miles Davis: “'Round Midnight” (1967)

This is the Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams) performing “’Round Midnight” in Stockholm during 1967.

Miles Davis (1926-1991) was on the forefront of almost every development in jazz following WW II until his death including bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz and jazz fusion.

It’s time to address the Iraqi refugee crisis

Six years after the invasion of Iraq, approximately 15% of Iraqi citizens have been displaced. Those with the means – which means often the very people with skills needed to rebuild Iraq – have fled the country. Others are displaced internally. The issue has been ignored by the Bush administration in part because the recent lull in violence has been bought, in part, at the price of ridding various communities of minority members and bringing them back might spark renewed fighting.

The United States resettled 900,000 refugees from Vietnam following the war in Southeast Asia and 12,000 refugees from Iraq following the first Gulf War. Yet the U.S. has been dragging its feet on accepting Iraqi refugees and has cleared fewer than 6000 for resettlement after six years of war.

But while humanitarianism may be the overriding concern at this time it is not the only issue at stake. As the experience of the displaced Palestinian community proves, unresolved problems involving refugees can be a destabilizing influence in any region. Addressing the needs of Iraqi refugees is not only the right thing for the United States and the international community to do but also in everyone’s best interest.

Spencer Ackerman has this overview in the Washington Independent:
Even with the Iraq war yielding reduced levels of violence, a new Brookings Institution report details what could be the next Iraq-related security crisis in the Middle East: the millions of Iraqi refugees.

Years of turmoil have created an acute Iraqi refugee crisis. Early on in the war, thousands of educated and wealthy Iraqis -- the backbone of a middle class -- fled the chaos of their country for the relative stability of neighboring Jordan and Syria. The deterioration into marked sectarian violence led to another wave, sending anyone who could afford to leave Iraq outward. As the volume of refugees mounted, both Jordan and Syria have largely stopped admitting Iraqi refugees in order not to exacerbate domestic social problems. Current estimates hold that there are one million Iraqis living in Syria; 500,000 in Jordan, and another 500,000 spread throughout the Middle East. In addition, 2.7 million Iraqis have been displaced internally due to sectarian violence, as Shiites moved into Shiite areas and Sunnis moved to Sunni enclaves in search of security.

This refugee crisis poses a serious challenge to security in the Middle East. "The implications of the refugee crisis that is the result of our ill-conceived Iraq misadventure should not be understated," said Rand Beers, a former senior counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. "The displacement of millions—both internally and to neighboring nations—only increases the potential for regional volatility and radicalization."

Elizabeth Ferris, a senior foreign-policy fellow at the moderate think tank, writes in "The Looming Crisis: Displacement and Security in Iraq" that the millions of refugees generated by the war -- most estimates place the total of internal and externally displaced Iraqis at more than 4 million, or approximately 15 percent of Iraq's entire population -- will influence Middle Eastern security in unexpected ways for decades to come.

"If the refugees do not receive sufficient support from the host governments and the international community," Ferris
writes, "there is a very real danger that political actors will seek to fill the gap as they reportedly now do inside Iraq. It is important to remember that both Hezbollah and Hamas derive much of their popular legitimacy from the fact that they created effective social support systems to help needy people when governments were unable to do so."

Iraqis in exile are traumatized people. A March 2008 finding by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, found that 80 percent of Iraqi refugees "reported being witness to a shooting"; nearly 70 percent reported "interrogation or harassment by militias or other groups with threats to life"; 23 percent had been kidnapped; and 75 percent "knew someone close to them who had been killed or murdered." Host governments in the region, Ferris writes, often do not provide adequate social services, treating Iraqi refugees as "guests" rather than citizens, in order to preserve the appearance that the refugees will return to Iraq. "But," Ferris writes, "guests -- unlike recognized refugees -- do not have rights." Repeated efforts to interview Ferris were unsuccessful.

The decision to treat Iraqi refugees as temporary instead of resettling them has everything to do with the Palestinian experience, according to Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University. The U.N.'s Palestinian relief agency, known as UNRWA, created sprawling refugee camps for millions of displaced Palestinians. But "UNHCR has not done anything like that" for Iraqis, Lynch said. "It's been a very important thing for the Jordanian government especially, and for other governments, not to want create a refugee situation like the Palestinians."

Iraq has more than 2.7 million people internally displaced. Owing to intimidation and violence, the once-mixed capitol of Baghdad became a substantially Shiite city in 2006. Most Iraqi governorates, already beleaguered by chaos and insurgency, have not been able to provide basic social services to internally-displaced people. Ferris cites a U.N. study showing nearly one in four internally displaced Iraqis "live in abandoned public buildings, former military barracks or other collective settlements" that frequently "lack basic utilities and are vulnerable to violent attacks." Only 22 percent of internally-displaced Iraqis have access to national food rations. "Any [security] gains achieved by the surge," she writes, "can quickly be erased by inadequate policies toward the displaced."

While there has been a recent push by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resettle some refugees and internally-displaced people, much of it has been for show. An
earlier study by Refugees International found that resettlement is, in fact, often a tactic of continued sectarian conflict, with various militia groups placing Shiite in formerly-Sunni homes and vice versa. Maliki, Ferris writes, "lacks political will to recognize either the magnitude or the potential consequences of the displacement. To do so would be an indication of the government's failure to protect its people."

The U.S.'s response to the refugee crisis has been vexed by similar political concerns. Fewer than 6,000 Iraqis have been cleared for resettlement in the U.S., meaning many Iraqis who collaborated with U.S. efforts in the occupation have been abandoned -- a situation literally dramatized in New Yorker writer George Packer's acclaimed play "Betrayed." U.S. policy to refugees and internally displaced Iraqis largely consists of "funding multilateral aid organizations," Ferris writes. The Bush administration plans on spending $281 million on humanitarian assistance to Iraq this fiscal year -- about 11 percent of what the U.S. spends each week on the Iraq war. The primary reason for such parsimony, Ferris writes, is "an aversion to admitting that the safest option for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis is to flee the country."

All this leads to a substantial pool of recruits for terrorists; for increased instability in Iraq's neighbors, and for continuing to fuel the Iraqi insurgency, said Beers, now the head of the liberal National Security Network. "We’ve seen elsewhere in the world the devastating effect forced mass migration can have," Beers said. "At this dangerous time for America’s national security both in the region and beyond, we need a much stronger effort to address the vulnerability of the millions who have fled their homes in Iraq. The alternative is a cauldron of unrest and instability boiling over into violence, extremism, and chaos."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

U.S./Russia relations: Pursuing policy in a vacuum

Nobody comes away from this Georgia-Russia conflict over South Ossetia looking good. The Georgia government badly bungled efforts to hold the Ossete people within the Georgian state sparking an armed confrontation with Russia that now jeopardizes not only the status of South Ossetia but also Abkhazia. The heavy hand of Russia’s military response against this tiny little country only reminds Russia’s neighbors of the old days of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union when countries on its borders were bullied into direct or indirect control by Moscow. (Russia’s siding with an ethnic indepence movements in Geogia is not without irony given Russia’s brutal suppression of an indepence movement in nearby Chechnya.)

And the failure of intelligence has yet again blindsided the United States to see this coming in order to try to prevent this war. In fact, based upon previous statements of encouragement from the White House, Georgians seem surprised the U.S. is rushing to Georgia’s aid. But the poor intelligence and empty rhetoric reflect a failure (or lack of) thoughtful policy for the region and, in particular, Russia. What policy exists seems ad hoc. Given the importance Russia (and the Soviet Union) played in U.S. foreign policy for the better part of the 20th Century, this is truly amazing. The collapse of the Soviet Union offered up a rare opportunity to redefine the relationships between nations. Instead, it looks like we may be entering a second Cold War.

Max Bergmann has these thoughts on the subject at Democracy Arsenal:
There is a lot of talk about what a mistake it was to support/offer NATO membership to Georgia. How this was naturally going to antagonize Russia and now how the idea of NATO enlargement is such a bad idea because it would naturally antagonize Russia. This to me represents a badly mistaken reading of the situation and grossly dismisses the amazing success NATO enlargement has been.

The fact is that NATO expansion was one of the most successful post-Cold War policies, as it helped anchor fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe to the west and enabled and facilitated EU expansion. Did Russia consistently view NATO expansion with trepidation and hostility? Yes. But measures were taken by the Clinton administration to assuage Russian fears. Namely, efforts were made to include Russia to a significant degree in NATO. But the important point was that NATO expansion was rooted in broader U.S. - Russia dialogue.

The problem with Bush's policy toward Georgia was not support for NATO expansion or its support for a democracy on Russia's borders. The problem was that we pursued this policy in a vacuum.

For the last 8 years the Bush administration has had no Russia policy and had no corresponding approach to address Russian concerns about democratic governance along its borders. Instead, the Bush administration only cared about two things 1. Maintaining the warm relationship between Bush and Putin at apparently any cost and 2. Expanding missile defense. Our support for the colored revolutions and NATO expansion was completely divorced from any coherent policy toward Russia.

In the meantime Russia has grown stronger over the last decade fueled by its vast energy resources and became more hostile toward democracy both within Russia, as well as along its borders. Instead, of engaging or confronting Russian hostility toward democracy and its neighbors (ie. its eviction of democratic civil society groups, its conducting of cyber attacks against Baltic EU members, its connections to poisonings, its manipulation of oil and gas pipelines against its neighbors, etc. etc.) the U.S. turned a blind eye, and Europe followed. Instead, the "big" issue of discussion between the U.S. and Russia was over a strategically useless missile defense system. We went to the mat on that but failed to mention all of the other issues.

There is a ton of blame on all sides of this conflict. But the strategically stupid thing on our part was not our support of Georgian democracy, but doing so in a vacuum.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eliane Elias: “So Danço Samba” (2005)

This is Eliane Elias performing “So Danço Samba” at the San Javier Jazz Festival (Spain) in 2005. Elias was born in 1960 in São Paulo, Brazil and currently resides in New York. She is a Brazilian jazz pianist, arranger, vocalist and songwriter.

The Russian conflict with Georgia: What is the Bush administration doing?

What are we to make of this war in the Caucasus Mountains? The situation in Georgia is pretty clear. According to Anatol Lieven in the Times, “the majority of the Ossetes living south of the main Caucasus range in Georgia wish to unite with the Ossetes living to the north, in an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation; and the Georgians, regarding South Ossetia as both a legal and an historic part of their national territory, refuse to accept this.”

What is also clear is the Russians have always looked favorably upon the pro-Russian Ossetes and unfavorably upon the anti-Russian Georgians. And what is very clear is that the Bush administration, after emboldening the Georgian government with weapons and promotion of NATO membership, has been complete blindsided by the Russian invasion of South Ossetia and contrary to the threatening rhetoric has no plan of action. Given Russia’s long history of border conflicts and the fact the once near bankrupt nation is now strengthened by oil money how can the Bush administration really be surprised Russia is asserting its power?

Fred Kaplan has this assessment in Slate
… it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?

It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would. When Bush (properly) pushed for Kosovo's independence from Serbia, Putin warned that he would do the same for pro-Russian secessionists elsewhere, by which he could only have meant Georgia's separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin had taken drastic steps in earlier disputes over those regions—for instance, embargoing all trade with Georgia—with an implicit threat that he could inflict far greater punishment. Yet Bush continued to entice Saakashvili with weapons, training, and talk of entry into NATO. Of course the Georgians believed that if they got into a firefight with Russia, the Americans would bail them out.

Bush pressed the other NATO powers to place Georgia's application for membership on the fast track. The Europeans rejected the idea, understanding the geo-strategic implications of pushing NATO's boundaries right up to Russia's border. If the Europeans had let Bush have his way, we would now be obligated by treaty to send troops in Georgia's defense. That is to say, we would now be in a shooting war with the Russians. Those who might oppose entering such a war would be accused of "weakening our credibility" and "destroying the unity of the Western alliance."

This is where the heartless bastard part of the argument comes in: Is Georgia's continued control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia really worth war with Russia? Is its continued independence from Moscow's domination, if it comes to that, worth our going to war?

At this point, the neocons would enter the debate—in fact some, like Robert Kagan, already have—by invoking the West's appeasement of Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. ("A quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing," is how Neville Chamberlain famously, and catastrophically, brushed away the aggression.)

A few counterquestions for those who rise to compare every nasty leader to Hitler and every act of aggression to the onset of World War III: Do you really believe that Russia's move against Georgia is not an assertion of control over "the near abroad" (as the Russians call their border regions), but rather the first step of a campaign to restore the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe and, from there, bring back the Cold War's Continental standoff? If so—if this really is the start of a new war of civilizations—why aren't you devoting every waking hour to pressing for the revival of military conscription, for a war surtax to triple the military budget, and—here's a twist—for getting out of Iraq in order to send a few divisions right away to fight in the larger battle? If not, what exactly are you proposing?

The same question can be asked of the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly called Saakashvili on Sunday to assure him that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered." We should all be interested to know what answer he is preparing or whether he was just dangling the Georgians on another few inches of string. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council, "This is completely unacceptable and crosses a line." Talk like that demands action. What's the plan, and how does he hope to get the Security Council—on which Russia has veto power—to approve it?

Regardless of which side started this conflict, and quite apart from its tangled roots (read this and this, for starters), the crisis holds a few clear lessons for the next American president.

First, security commitments are serious things; don't make them unless you have the support, desire, and means to follow through.

Second, Russia is ruled by some nasty people these days, but they are not Hitler or Stalin, and they can't be expected to tolerate direct challenges from their border any more than an American president could from, say, Cuba. (This is not to draw any moral equations, only to point out basic facts.)

Third, the sad truth is that—in part because the Cold War is over, in part because skyrocketing oil prices have engorged the Russians' coffers—we have very little leverage over what the Russians do, at least in what they see as their own security sphere. And our top officials only announce this fact loud and clear when they issue ultimatums that go ignored without consequences.

In the short term, if an independent Georgia is worth saving, the Russians need some assurances—for instance, a pledge that Georgia won't be admitted into NATO or the European Union—in exchange for keeping the country and its elected government intact. (Those who consider this "appeasement" are invited to submit other ideas that don't lead either to Georgia's utter dismantlement or to a major war.)

If a newly expansive Russia is worth worrying about (and maybe it is), then it's time to bring back Washington-Moscow summitry. Relations have soured so intensely in recent years and over such peripheral issues (such as basing a useless missile-defense system in the Czech Republic) that a new president—not just his secretary of state, but the president himself—could do worse than sit down with Medvedev and/or Putin, if just to lay out issues of agreement and disagreement and then go from there. It's staggering that no such talks have taken place so far this century.

In the long term, the best way to take Russia down a notch (along with Iran, Venezuela, and other hostile powers overflowing with oil money) is to pursue policies and fund technologies that slash the demand for oil. The Georgia crisis should make clear, if it isn't already, that this is a matter of hard-headed national security.
Russian intentions are not benevolent and there is every reason to believe that propped up with oil wealth they will start re-asserting the power of the old empire. It is clear that another victim of this administration’s obsession with Iraq has been the complete neglect of East-West relations as it pertains to Russia. The world cannot afford such a lapse in attention from the next administration in Washington.