Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is McCain’s position on North Korea worse than Bush’s policy?

The current Bush policy on North Korea salvaged the situation on the Korean peninsula brought about from the bungling of the earlier Bush policy regarding the Pyongyang regime. The current policy of diplomacy replaced the earlier policy of belligerent but empty rhetoric. The previous policy resulted in North Korea developing nuclear weapon capability. The current policy defused the dangerous military situation that was developing.

So where is Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, on the issue of North Korea? Is McCain an independent moderate – the image he likes to portray to American voters – or a rigid right-wing ideologue close to the thinking of those Bush advisers responsible for the earlier North Korea policy fiasco? Unfortunately, it’s the latter. If elected president, McCain seems determined to repeat Bush policy that failed to contain North Korea’s nuclear programs rather than build on Bush policy that did engage the North Koreans and partially undid the damage from the earlier Bush position.

Fred Kaplan has this assessment of McCain’s North Korea views in Slate:
In 1994, top officials for President Bill Clinton and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il signed the Agreed Framework, an imperfect, interim accord that nonetheless froze Pyongyang's plutonium program, kept its nuclear fuel rods locked up and monitored by international inspectors, and thus prevented the tyrant from developing an A-bomb for the next eight years.

When Bush took office, his secretary of state, Colin Powell, wanted to pick up where Clinton left off—the two sides were on the verge of hammering out a treaty banning the production and export of long-range missiles—but Bush shut him down. The principle, as stated by Vice President Dick Cheney: "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it."

So, the North Koreans kicked out the inspectors, unlocked the fuel rods, reprocessed a half-dozen A-bombs' worth of plutonium—and Bush did nothing. Finally, in August 2003, Bush agreed to set up "six-party talks" on the North Korean problem—along with China, Russia, Japan, and North and South Korea—but stopped short of offering Pyongyang any incentives to reverse their course. His position was that Kim Jong-il must dismantle his nuclear program as a precondition to negotiations—an absurd stance on its face, since plutonium was Kim's only bargaining chip, and he wasn't about to cash it in before talks even began.

In October 2006, the all-but-inevitable took place: The North Koreans set off a nuclear explosion at a remote test site.

Nobody said so at the time, but what happened here was that Bush had gone eyeball-to-eyeball with the pygmy of Pyongyang—and lost. He and most of his aides had figured that all they had to do was to hold out—that Kim Jong-il's monstrous regime would collapse before it managed to set off a bomb. They were wrong.

So, at the beginning of last year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convinced Bush that it was time to negotiate for real. She sent her emissary Christopher Hill to Berlin to conduct one-on-one talks with his North Korean counterpart—something Bush had said repeatedly that he would never do. Within a few days, the two struck a deal that did not require the North Koreans to dismantle their program as a prerequisite—another violation of earlier principles.

Former Bush officials hit the ceiling—especially John Bolton, who, during the first term, had tried to disrupt the six-party talks, limited as they were. (Some aides still in office also rebelled; Eliot Abrams, Bush's deputy national security adviser, sent out e-mails to his neocon comrades, rallying them to protest.)

But guess what? The deal has worked out pretty well. The North Koreans have halted their plutonium program, shut down and started to take apart their nuclear facilities, and handed over 18,000 pages of documentation on the program to date.

Things are far from perfect. There are still outstanding—and important—questions about North Korea's role in assisting Syria and perhaps Iran in developing a nuclear program. We don't yet know how complete those 18,000 pages are. And nothing has been worked out on how to verify any future North Korean claim that they have destroyed all their nuclear materials.

Then again, it was Bush who forfeited his leverage when he stood by and let North Korea build an A-bomb to begin with. Unable to take military action (the risks of North Korean retaliation against South Korea or Japan were deemed too dreadful) and unwilling to pursue diplomacy, he instead did nothing—and the consequences were inevitable. The deal that Hill worked out isn't great; it's not even as tight as Clinton's Agreed Framework; but the North Koreans hadn't reprocessed their plutonium when Clinton was president. Hill's deal might be the best that could have been negotiated under the circumstances. In any case, it's better than nothing.

McCain wants to undo the deal; he wants to go back to nothing. In an op-ed for the
Asia edition of the Wall Street Journal, McCain and his co-author, Sen. Joe Lieberman, wrote, "We must use the leverage available from the United Nations Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of [North Korea's] nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner."

Absent knowledge of the historical context, this sounds reasonable. (Even with such knowledge, it's desirable.) The U.N. Security Council did pass a resolution that condemned the nuclear test and called on North Korea to dismantle its facilities.

However, the members of the Security Council knew, soon enough, that the resolution was unenforceable. Even Bush realized that, contrary to McCain and Lieberman's premise, the resolution gave them no "leverage" whatever.

In a similar op-ed for the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, McCain and Lieberman urged using the six-party talks "to press for a full, complete, verifiable declaration, disablement and dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program."

However, the fact is, the six-party talks really don't exist anymore, except as a ratifying body for bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea. (Hill, in fact, is reportedly in Beijing today, continuing these one-on-one sessions.) Bush decided, realistically, that demanding dismantlement as a first step was a nonstarter and that a freeze followed by a gradual disabling—prodded by the delivery of free fuel oil and other economic aid—was more feasible and imminently worthwhile. He had tried cutting off economic aid before, but it had no effect in weakening Kim's hold on power.

As Daniel Sneider, assistant director of the Shorenstein Asian-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, put it in a phone interview Tuesday night: "The policy that John McCain proposes is the policy that George W. Bush pursued—and that policy failed. There's not much to be said for going back to a policy that failed to contain North Korea's nuclear program."

… in a speech at the University of Denver, delivered the same day that the op-eds were published, McCain suggested that his demand for nuclear dismantlement was contrary to the position of the Democrats' likely presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama. "Many believe," McCain said, "all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking with the governments repeatedly over the past two decades."

In effect, McCain was really criticizing George W. Bush. It was Bush who dropped the demand for North Korean dismantlement as a first step, much less as a precondition to talks. And as for McCain's snide aside—"as if we haven't tried talking with the governments repeatedly"—well, in fact, we haven't, or at least Bush hadn't, until he let Hill talk directly with the North Koreans. And, as it happened, that was all we needed to do to end (or at least to halt and start to tear down) their nuclear program.

And so, if John McCain is elected president, it's not quite true that he'll continue the policies of George W. Bush, as Sen. Obama charges. When it comes to controlling and disarming North Korea's nuclear program, McCain would set back Bush's policy several years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

John McCain and the Goldwater legacy

If Barry Goldwater were alive today what would he think of the current Republican Party, the current Republican president and the current Republican candidate for president John McCain who likes to call himself a “Goldwater Republican”? According to his family, he would probably take a dim view of all three.

Goldwater is credited with the beginning of the takeover of the Republican Party by conservative ideologues. His brand of conservatism had a very libertarian bent to it. (For example, on the issue of gays in the military he once said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military. You just have to shoot straight.”) However, there were competing conversatisms more interested in power than principled stands that eventually carried the day.

John McCain succeeded Goldwater in the United State Senate representing Arizona. While the Goldwater reputation for independence has had its political uses for McCain to embrace it’s clear McCain has gone off on a different path from “Mr. Conservative.”

According to Sam Stein at The Huffington Post:
John McCain is prone to tout himself as a "Goldwater Republican," the inheritor of a party and ideology that his Senate predecessor from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, helped shape decades ago.

But Goldwater's own family members say that, if the family patriarch were alive today, he would be sour on McCain and shudder at the kind of conservatism that the current GOP nominee is proposing.

"I don't know if he would recognize the Republican Party today," Alison Goldwater Ross, a registered Democrat and granddaughter of the 1964 GOP presidential candidate, told The Huffington Post. "I'm sure if we were to raise his ashes from the Colorado River... he would be going, 'What? This is not my vision. This is not my party.'"

Such bewilderment, Ross offered, would extend to McCain, the man who took over Goldwater's seat in the Senate in 1987 and currently is the GOP standard-bearer. The two Arizonans clashed on several occasions during their political careers. Goldwater, as documented in "Pure Goldwater," a book by the Senator's son Barry Jr., was depressed and angered by McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal. Later in his career, a rift developed between the two after McCain used Goldwater's name -- without his permission -- for fundraising purposes.

"My grandfather felt that he was deceived by McCain," she said. "Because he looked at McCain and said, here was this young guy who has a lot of potential in the Republican Party, who is coming through the ranks, and then he pulled something like this. My grandfather had to ask, 'Is this something I want to be close to?'"

That Goldwater's grandchild says McCain doesn't represent her grandfather's political tradition is not an insignificant revelation. McCain has, in the past, acknowledged a deep desire to impress the elder Goldwater and continue his conservative legacy. In his memoir, "Worth the Fighting For," McCain said of his predecessor: "I admired him to the point of reverence, and I wanted him to like me.... He was usually cordial, just never as affectionate as I would have liked."

And on several occasions, McCain has deliberately taken steps to position himself as the inheritor of the Goldwater revolution. In the final speech of his "biography tour," McCain traveled to the historic Yavapai County Courthouse, a location where Goldwater started all his bids for office.

The reality, some observers claim, is that McCain and Goldwater are two contrasting breeds of Republicans. Ideologically, Matt Welch writes in "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick," the two have a fundamentally different idea about the role and scope of the federal government. But, on a broader level, the Republican Party as a whole has shifter drastically away from Goldwater's vision.

"I think, at the end of my grandfather's career, first of all he would be looking at what state we are in today with what Bush has done, and I think he would be just incredibly appalled," said Ross. "I think his head would be spinning. How in the world did we get ourselves in this state? How did this happen? What went wrong? Where did this Republican Party go?"

On the issues of Iraq, women's rights, and the separation of church in state, Goldwater's granddaughter says the gulf between Barry and McCain is vast.

"I don't think my grandfather would ever pander to the religious right like McCain did. That would get him angrier than anything. He believed in the division between church and state, he fought that constantly. And these guys are getting in there... religion is a wonderful thing but it does not have any place or purpose in politics," she said. "My grandfather was for women's rights. The idea that my body is mine, and what I want to do with it, I will do with it... McCain isn't of that mindset."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Clinton’s “apology”

Last week when asked about why she was continuing her campaign for president that is millions of dollars in debt and unable to alter the insurmountable lead in delegates by Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton cited Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in June of 1968 following the California primary as an example of why she should continue running. Presumably her point was that even Kennedy was running as late as June although this conveniently overlooked the facts that Kennedy had been running for president for only a little over two months, the 1968 primary/caucus calendar didn’t even begin until mid-March and that a significant number of delegates were chosen outside that primary/caucus system. What came across was that she was waiting for something to happen to Senator Obama with the expectation Democrats would then rally around her.

When a candidate can’t give a coherent answer as to why she is running it’s probably time for the campaign to close shop. However, if losing the race for delegates and running up huge debts are not reason enough to suspend the campaign and endorse the winner, then certainly being unable to explain why she is continuing to run without using just an awful example isn’t going to slow her down either.

Well, what about a very appropriate unconditional apology? The problem is that’s not her style because it might come across as weak. She backed off the RFK assassination comment in a rather unsatisfactory way and that says a lot about her character.

Michael Tomasky has these thoughts on why she can’t bring herself to say she’s sorry – genuinely and unconditionally – in today’s Guardian:

OK. No one actually believes that Hillary Clinton was wishing an assassination attempt on Barack Obama. She obviously would not do that and is surely aware that, because he's a black man who is getting close to the presidency of the United States, he receives such threats on a regular basis (there's a reason he's had Secret Service protection since last summer, earlier than any other candidate in his position in recent history).

She was apparently trying to say that the 1968 race lasted until June, that's all. But using the assassination of Bobby Kennedy to make the point is a pretty strange way to do it. It's akin to noting that funny things can happen in Japan in August because after all that's when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit with atom bombs.

So it was weird, but unintentional. Perhaps reflective of something rattling around somewhere in her subconscious but we've all said stupid things that we didn't really mean. The important part - the actual test of character, we might say - is what happens after we say such things.

Clinton tendered two apologies, one verbal, issued in what appears to be some sort of grocery store, and one written, in the New York Daily News on Sunday. Both were non-apology apologies. She suggested in the verbal one that perhaps she'd slipped because Ted Kennedy has been much on her mind since his cancer diagnosis - even though she said the same about Bobby K back on March 6 to Time magazine. (If she's that clairvoyant, hey, maybe she should be president.)

The written apology, presumably constructed with more care, was even worse. In the Daily News, the whole controversy happened because "some took my comments entirely out of context and interpreted them to mean something different - and completely unthinkable." So it's other people's fault.

As I stated above, we've all said things like this. And what, ideally, do we do afterwards? We say we're really, really sorry. We bare ourselves to the party we offended (and by the way, as my pal Ed Tallman noted, in neither apology did Clinton acknowledge that what she said might have caused an ounce of concern to the Obama family; only to the Kennedys). We speak to them personally, we look them in the eye, we say we don't know why those words came out of our mouths and we ask their forgiveness.

It's pretty simple. So here's the question. Why was it so impossible for Clinton to say: "You know, I screwed up. I really shouldn't have said that, and I'm sorry I did. I don't know why it came out that way, but it was wrong of me, and I'm really, really sorry." No "if I offended" anyone. No "I was misinterpreted". Just what we normal humans call a sincere apology.

I have watched Hillary Clinton in many, many situations over the years. She never shows weakness. She never admits a mistake. Actually, this year, she admitted one; she
admitted misremembering the Bosnia sniper-fire episode. She even added: "It proves I'm human."

I was shocked when she said this, because she had never admitted a mistake publicly in her life until then. She can acknowledge misjudgements and say she'd do it differently today (healthcare, the Iraq war resolution vote), but she just can't say: "You know, I screwed up big time."

True, most politicians don't, but many do. Barack Obama is somewhere in the middle on this scale. He was pretty forthcoming in both books about certain failings of his - in sharp contrast to her tight and tense book, which was a perfect manifestation of what I'm talking about - but it took him quite a while this year to talk honestly with regard to Rev Wright. John McCain is of course the king of the mea culpa. He admits mistakes he didn't even make.

But Clinton just can't show weakness. It must always be strength. And, of course, in thinking she's showing strength, she actually looks weak. Real strength, as we all know from personal experience, comes in admitting the mistake.

I am sorry for her that she was raised this way. At the same time, self-aware people, by the time they're 60, hopefully understand that everything their parents told them to do wasn't right. This need to seem invulnerable and in control and above error has harmed her throughout her career. And it's harming her now. A genuine apology that struck the right notes might have led to feelings of unity and helped her get the vice-presidential nod. Ah well. Maybe those of us who live outside New York will only have to worry about all things Hillary for another week or two.
Yes, another week or two.

You can read the entire piece here where Tomasky explores the influence of her father on her character.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Failure of Bush diplomacy is sign of weakness

Last week President Bush felt the need to attack a fellow American using the forum of the Israeli Knesset. His remarks were aimed at Senator Obama’s foreign policy proposals regarding the greater use of diplomacy to resolve international conflicts and specifically those conflicts with Iran. Aside from the fact he traveled to another country to criticize the presumptive Democratic nominee for President using the worn out cliché of the so-called lessons of the 1938 Munich Agreement as a reason to avoid diplomacy with enemies he has nothing to show for his own policy of avoiding diplomacy in the Middle East. The result is the U.S. is left in a much weaker position than before, not stronger, by voluntarily becoming a non-player.

Today’s New York Times editorial sums it up:
Everybody knew President Bush was aiming at Senator Barack Obama last week when he likened those who endorse talks with “terrorists and radicals” to appeasers of the Nazis. But now we know what Mr. Bush knew then — that Israel is in indirect peace talks with Syria, a prominent member of Mr. Bush’s list of shunned nations — and it seems as if the president was going for a two-for-one in his crack about appeasement.

If so, it was breathtakingly cynical to compare the leadership of the Jewish state with those who stood aside in the face of the Nazi onslaught, and irresponsible to try to restrain this American ally from pursuing a settlement that it judges as possibly being in its best interests.

But Mr. Bush turned his back on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for seven years (before opening the anemic Annapolis process in November), and he resisted previous moves by Jerusalem and Damascus to revive serious negotiations, last held in 2000, over the Golan Heights. Instead, he has sought to isolate Syria.

The list of Syria’s bad behavior is long: support for Hamas and Hezbollah, interference in Iraq; objections to Israeli-Palestinian peace; a suspected role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; and increasingly close ties to Iran. But Israel has chosen to keep talking anyway and despite discovering — and bombing — an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria.

There are reasons to be skeptical that the negotiations, brokered by Turkey, will succeed. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is politically weak and under a corruption inquiry. Syria is more closely tied to Iran than ever. Many Israelis believe returning the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 war, could put their country at greater risk. There also are concerns that a focus on Syria will divert Israeli attention from peacemaking with the Palestinians.

There could, however, be a big payoff if Syria can be weaned from Iran. We’ll never know unless Damascus’s willingness to talk is tested. We trust that Israel would not accept a deal that does not meet minimum demands, including an end to Syria enabling Hezbollah and Hamas and undermining democracy in Lebanon.

When he lashes out, as he did in Israel, Mr. Bush makes it harder for reasonable people to pursue diplomacy. And it is hypocritical. His administration has negotiated successfully with Libya (formerly on the terrorism list) and North Korea (still on the terrorism list) and has had limited, largely unsuccessful, contacts with Iran over its support for insurgents in Iraq. Israel is indirectly negotiating a cease-fire in Gaza with Hamas with the help of Egypt.

Mr. Bush’s approach is increasingly undermining American interests and causing Washington to be sidelined. To wit: an Arab-brokered political settlement on Lebanon reached Wednesday strengthened Hezbollah by giving it a veto over cabinet decisions.

Like Mr. Obama (and many others), we strongly encourage diplomacy, including contacts with adversaries. If Mr. Bush cannot use his remaining months in office to do the same, he can at least get out of the way.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

John Coltrane: “My Favorite Things” (1961)

John William Coltrane (1926 - 1967) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He played with a number of jazz artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Although there are recordings of Coltrane from as early as 1946, his peers at the time didn't recognize 'genius' in the young musician. His real career spans the twelve years between 1955 and 1967, during which time he reshaped modern jazz and influenced generations of other musicians.

Performing “My Favorite Things” above are John Coltrane on soprano sax and tenor sax, Eric Dolphy on flute and alto sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. This performance took place in Baden-Baden Germany in 1961.

You can watch (and hear) Coltrane play “So What” with Miles Davis here and “Hackensack” with Stan Getz here.

Obama leads McCain in Virginia

Is Virginia the new swing state that will be in play for the 2008 general election for president? That seems increasingly likely. With the influx of new people to the Old Dominion and the growing strength of the Democratic Party in Virginia’s growing suburbs along the urban corridor (I-95 between Washington and Richmond and I-64 between Richmond and Virginia Beach), the state can no longer be counted on as safely Republican.

Survey USA has a new poll out showing Senator Barack Obama beating Senator John McCain 49% to 42%. This 7 point margin is a reversal of the 20 point margin in McCain’s favor their poll showed in the fall of 2006.

Now it is important – very important – to note that we are six months away from the election. A poll is simply a snapshot in time and this one is for mid-May not early November. Neither candidate has been formally nominated yet nor has the campaign formally began (as hard as that may be to believe). A lot can change in six months and a lot can happen in a campaign how ever long or short. That said, these numbers are still fascinating to examine especially with the additions of possible vice presidential candidates. (Edwards seems to add substantially to the ticket according to this poll but amazingly Webb was not included on the list of possibilities.)

According to Survey USA:

There’s a finite limit to the number of names we can test in a given poll; we’re aware not naming Jim Webb in Virginia (or Bill Richardson in New Mexico, among others) seems an oversight. Asking the same names in each state does mean it will take us a little time to cover most of the possibilities — and we think there’s value to getting a baseline tracking point for the less likely possibilities as well. Doing so means that SurveyUSA can show you that in October of 2006, John McCain led Barack Obama among Virginia’s registered voters by 20 points. Today, 19 months later, the same question, using the same methodology, as you can see in the table below, shows Barack Obama defeating John McCain by 7 points.

The breakdown of the sampling is interesting even if six months before the election. In the one-on-one match-up between Obama and McCain, men support Obama by 48% over 44% for McCain. Women support Obama 51% to 40% for McCain. Obama carries all age groups except those over 65. Obama carries all regions of the state except the western part (or what they refer to as “Shenando”). Obama carries independent voters by 45% over 41% for McCain.

Let’s hope the trend holds.

The unlearned lessons of Afghanistan in Iraq

Is there anything to be learned from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan backing the mujahideen in their fight to expel the Soviets and overthrow the Soviet backed Afghan government? Specifically, is there anything to be learned that is applicable to today’s situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq? If nothing else, it is clear that applying an exclusively military solution to a problem that is as much or more political and economic than it is military is the most obvious unlearned lesson.

MDC at Foreign Policy Watch has these thoughts after re-watching the 2007 movie, Charlie Wilson’s War based upon the story of Congressman Charlie Wilson’s attempts to first fund weapons and later non-military aid for the Afghans:
The film ends, as you might imagine, with the humiliating Soviet withdraw from Afghanistan and a jubilant American Congress congratulating itself on its assistance to the Afghan mujahideen. But Washington's political attention to Afghanistan evaporates as the first tank battalions rolled back into Moscow. In one of the last scenes, Representative Charlie Wilson - a devoted party animal that took up the Afghan cause in the US Congress - is seen urging his fellow lawmakers to support legislation allocating a handful of a million dollars to build a school in Afghanistan. After five hundred times that amount spent on anti-tank and helicopter weaponry, what's one million for a school? But he's nearly laughed out of the committee room for his efforts. He warns - to no avail - of the dangers of abandoning a country, rebounding from a decade of war, where no undisputed political authority exists and half of the population is under the age of fourteen.

The movie doesn't come out and directly say it, but implicit in the film's conclusion is that Washington's disinterest in what was to come in Afghanistan would come back to haunt the US. Much of this lesson has been absorbed as it relates to Afghanistan today, as the crux of NATO's efforts there focus on rebuilding the country as much as neutralizing then eradicating the Taliban. And to state the obvious, achieving the former makes the latter task inevitable.

While there's a world of difference between what happened during Americas' support of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and what's going on today in Iraq, there are plenty of parallels to be drawn and lessons to be learned for the future of the US' involvement in Iraq. For better or for worse, Iraq's politics have become intertwined with America's - and perhaps irreversibly so.

For the foreseeable future, the state of Iraq will be grappling with the perennially unfolding aftermath of the invasion and the subsequent political deadlocks among rival factions and bloody sectarian fighting. On top of this, the country itself will continue to exist with a bruised and potentially vengeful population, a damaged economy, and weak central authority seeking to govern the patchwork quilt that is Iraq. Fighting for control over the country's resources and vying for political, tribal, and religious influence is likely to persist for years to come. The fact that there is no military solution in sight in a country where the political "fix" doesn't often seem attainable either does not bode well. The US will have to take stock of these realities and adopt its long-term strategy in kind as it weans itself off a narrowly-focused military approach.

We shouldn't harbor any illusions that the withdrawal of the last set of troops from there or the establishment of a compliant government in Baghdad will end the country's woes. Five years into the protracted war, we're in for the long haul.

There are limits to what the American military can do in Iraq and those limits were reached some time ago. The political chaos cannot be solved with American soldiers but by diplomats and representatives from all of Iraq’s parties and neighbors. Economic stability will follow political stability. External threats from groups like Al Qaeda can more easily and effectively be isolated and dealt with by the American and Iraqi military once Iraq’s overlapping civil wars are resolved politically. American soldiers are doing their part but they cannot succeed alone. The current policy of a narrowly-focused military approach is not a prescription for peace or stability coming close to resembling democracy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sonny Rollins: “On Green Dolphin Street” (1968)

Above is Sonny Rollins performing “On Green Dolphin Street” in Denmark in 1968. Accompanying him are Kenny Drew on piano, NHØP on bass, and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums.

You can watch (and listen) Rollins perform “Weaver of Dreams” here and the classic “St. Thomas” here.

One in eight U.S. high school teachers presents creationism as a valid alternative to evolution

A recent survey of high school science teachers indicates that one in eight present creationism as a valid alternative to evolution in biology classes. According to Brandon Klein at Wired, “… 25 percent said they devoted classroom time to creationism or intelligent design. Of these, about one-half -- 12 percent of all teachers -- called creationism a 'valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species,' and the same number said that 'many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory.'"

Evolution is considered part of the foundation of biology and a working knowledge of biology is essential for any level of scientific literacy. Creationism, on the other hand, is a religious belief in the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. (Creationism is often masked as “intelligent design”, a pseudo-science that leaves out references to the Bible but claims that the universe and all living things were created by a higher intelligence rather than by an evolutionary process.)

The Great Beyond has this assessment:

A worrying number of American teachers appear to be pushing creationism and intelligent design on high school biology students.

“Three different survey questions all suggest that between 12% and 16% of the nation’s biology teachers are creationist in orientation,” write study author Michael Berkman and colleagues in
PLOS Biology. “Roughly one sixth of all teachers professed a ‘young earth’ personal belief, and about one in eight reported that they teach creationism or intelligent design in a positive light.”

They conducted what is claimed to be the first ever nationally representative survey of biology teachers’ views on evolution and found 16% of them believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”. This is way down on the general population, which picks this option 48% of the time.

Still these views appear to be filtering through to lessons, with 18% of teachers spending at least an hour on creationism, 5% spending at least three hours and 3% spending over six hours.

And, to put a little more light on the subject:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It never seemed like Clinton knew who she was. And surprisingly that sometimes seemed like it included being a woman.

As we near the end of the Democratic caucus/primary season, many questions about the fall campaign are being discussed: Whom will Senator Obama select as a running mate? How will independent voters split between Senators Obama and McCain? How will Ohio and Florida go and will Virginia join their little club as a swing state? Etc., etc.

But looking backward, there is single question on everyone’s mind: What happened to the Clinton campaign?

Up until the Iowa caucus, Senator Clinton was considered the prohibitive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to Scot LeHigh, she led Senator Obama in a Washington Post/ABC poll 53 percent to 20 percent and averaged a lead in national polls of 20 percentage points. She had all the money. She had the pick of the best staff. She had a big lead in endorsements from superdelegates before the first vote of the caucus/primary season started. She was the inevitable nominee.

How far we have come in less than a year.

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Senator Clinton herself has referred to the “glass ceiling” for women running for president. Of course, there seemed to be no glass ceiling for her just months ago when the above polls were taken. But it also seems to be dismissive of hurdles people with dark skin have had in a country that has not had a happy history on matters regarding race. Senator Obama had his own glass ceiling to crash through.

But as the Times story pointed out quoting Elaine Karmack she was an imperfect test case for the cause of women running for high office. She was running as somebody’s wife and that somebody was Bill Clinton. Association with former President Clinton is a mixed bag. Bill Clinton made as many friends as enemies while in Washington. Many Democrats admire him but others are disgusted -- and certainly many Republican fundraisers have profited from the Clinton name. Even for those with fond memories of the 90’s there was an element of Clinton fatigue. Not a few Democrats saw Senator Hillary Clinton as a Clinton first and a woman second (if at all).

And of course there was the bungled campaign. There was no post-Super Tuesday plan. There was no appreciation that this will be a “change” election when her campaign continually linked her to her husband’s past administration. She had no clear message as to why she should be president. Her campaign wrote off many states allowing Senator Obama to build a lead in delegates. She surrounded herself with a staff noted for their loyalty rather than their competence. Etc., etc.

There are many contributing factors as to why she lost but the quick answer for those uninterested in what actually happened is that it is because of sexism.

Shaun Mullen at The Moderate Voice has these thoughts on that matter:
Riding the first wave of the inevitable post-mortems about what went wrong for Hillary Clinton is an important question: To what extent did sexism play a role in her extraordinary crash and burn?

That begs another question without which the first cannot be addressed: To what extent did racism impede Barack Obama’s nevertheless triumphant march from obscurity to the verge of nomination?

The answers are that these twin isms certainly played significant roles in deflecting support from each candidate. After all, we’re talking America here, y’all. But certainly the Sour Grapes Squad at Clinton campaign HQ is not suggesting that over the long primary season there were more people turned off by the specter of a president in a pantsuit than an African-American in a three-piece suit.

That noted, some Clintonistas are deeply in denial about the overriding reason that Obama will be the first to cross the finish line, probably as early as tonight after Kentucky and Oregon vote:
Obama has earned the nomination by getting more voters and delegates without having to resort to appeals to break mutually agreed upon party rules like Clinton has. He also has run a much better campaign, and everything flows from that.

Here is some of that everything:
* Obama organized his campaign from the bottom up and with an eye on the long haul to November and the White House. Clinton organized her campaign from the top down with little thought to post-Super Tuesday concerns because it was assumed that she would have the nomination in the bag after the early primaries.

* Obama’s message was clear from Day One, if sometimes lacking in detail, and he never wavered from it. Clinton’s message was muddled from Day One and changed as her fortunes did.

* Bill Clinton. The most adept stump politician of our time became a huge liability because of his tone-deaf determination to keep going negative.

* Obama was a quicker learner. Despite a series of missteps and crises that would have sent a lesser candidate packing, some of them self inflicted like his association with the Reverend Wright, he has been far more adept than Clinton in turning political developments to his advantage.

* Clinton thought that by not conceding she could continue to campaign with however thin a veneer of credibility, but Obama has deftly one upped her by refusing to declare victory until she admits defeat.
To complete the circle, Clinton squandered an opportunity to hammer home her gender as an asset and instead used it as a crutch.

Using gender as a power point would have been somewhat risky, but for all of Clinton’s talk of leadership — and strong leaders are willing to take risks — the only risk she took was embracing the mud slinging that stopped what little momentum she had after she “found her voice” in New Hampshire.

Clinton campaigned before audiences dotted with “Iron My Shirt” signs, but never used these misogynists to talk about what made her run so personal and so historic. She declined media requests to go deep on arguably her most compelling story line, while she ham handedly used gender to try to evoke pity and to whine. This included tears-on-cue photo ops early in the primary season that deservedly provoked more ridicule than sympathy.

Finally, it never seemed like Clinton knew who she was. And surprisingly that sometimes seemed like it included being a woman.
The bottom line is the better candidate ran the better campaign and won. Period.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Holy warriors in the US armed forces

Mikey Weinstein, of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), points out the systemic problem of groups like Christian Embassy, Christian Military Fellowship and Officers’ Christian Fellowship actively evangelizing among various branches of the U.S. government and armed forces. The groups cross the well-established constitutional line between church and state by using positions of authority to promote their religious views upon others and harassing those with different beliefs.

The MRFF and Specialist Jeremy Hall filed suit in federal court in Kansas alleging Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religious under the First Amendment has been violated and that he has faced retaliation for his views that are not in lockstep with evangelical Christianity.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Did Clinton lose because she is a woman?

Did Senator Hillary Clinton lose the Democratic nomination for President because she is a woman? No. She was beat fair and square by a better candidate who ran a better campaign than she did. Scot Lehigh sums it up in the Boston Globe:

LET'S SAY Hillary Clinton's remaining primary rival were not Barack Obama but a white male. Suppose she were ahead in pledged delegates, led in the popular vote in DNC-approved contests, had raised the most money, and had attracted the most contributors.

Let's further suppose that her rival had responded to her success by suggesting he might pick her as his vice-presidential nominee. And that, as she gained more momentum, he asserted that superdelegates should nevertheless make him the nominee because he could attract the working-class voters the party needed to win in the fall.

Clinton supporters would likely find those suggestions sexist.

And yet Clinton and her camp have made the same suggestions in this campaign. Clinton's political arguments have found a broad acceptance among her backers - an acceptance that's hard to imagine if a similar case were made by a lagging rival in a race Clinton led.

And even as those arguments are offered, some of Clinton's backers, as well as some commentators, seem convinced that sexism and double standards are among the principal reasons she has fallen dauntingly behind Obama.

Now, I wouldn't assert for a second that sexism is extinct. It, like racism, is real, and one would have to be purposely oblivious not to notice it in our culture. Further, there are plenty of unhinged Hillary haters out there. And whatever the motivation, we've also seen some exceedingly silly media stories about Clinton. High among them rank the deconstruction of her laugh and the attention focused on a Clinton outfit that showed a bit of cleavage on the Senate floor. (How that must have shocked the chaste and ascetic monks who have long inhabited that storied chamber!)

People are right to decry boorish anti-Clinton comments, offensive jokes, and the bilge, bile, and billings-gate of the talk-radio blowhards, as well as occasional over-the-top utterances from cable commentators.

But let's not mistake the Bruegelian sideshow for the political mainstream. Even allowing for all that stupidity, the notion that sexism is primarily to blame for Clinton's woes doesn't pass logical muster.

Consider: Last fall, Clinton was widely judged the prohibitive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. In early October, she led Obama by a staggering 53 percent to 20 percent in the Washington Post/ABC News poll. At that point, her average lead in national polls was 20 percentage points.

Therefore, if gender bias really were the cause of her primary problem, one would have to posit that a epidemic of resurgent sexism suddenly infected the country late last year.

Further, as Clinton herself has pointed out, she has emerged as the favorite of working-class white men, a cohort sometimes viewed as resistant to women politicians.

A better explanation of her misfortune? Running against a candidate whose talents they underestimated, Clinton and her campaign simply missed the boat. They badly misconceptualized the race, casting her as the prohibitive front-runner and inevitable winner. (Remember when CBS's Katie Couric asked Clinton how disappointed she would be if she didn't become the nominee, only to have Clinton insist, "Well, it will be me"?) Running that way creates a predictable backlash. Convinced she would prevail, Clinton ran a cautious, calculating campaign, emphasizing her Washington experience and attempting to finesse difficult issues, at a time when Democrats were hungry for change and eager for something bolder.

Team Clinton's other failings are well documented. They didn't pay enough attention to the caucus states. Expecting to wrap the nomination up on Super Tuesday, they failed to plan adequately for the contests beyond. While Obama used the Internet to build a huge base of smaller donors, Clinton's team relied for too long on big contributors. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton's finger-wagging outbursts and his dismissive comments about Obama's South Carolina victory thrust him into the forefront, sparking renewed Clinton fatigue and alienating black voters.

Bluntly put, it wasn't sexism that has brought Clinton to her current plight. Rather, Obama and his team have out-thought, out-sought, and out-fought Clinton and hers. As a candidate, Clinton is smart and tough - but Obama has proved the one who better met the moment.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stan Getz: “Desafinado & The Girl from Ipanema” (1983)

Stanley Gayetzky (1927 – 1991), usually known by his stage name Stan Getz, was an American jazz saxophone player. His parents were Ukrainian Jews who immigrated to the United States in 1903. Getz started playing professionally in 1943 and became popular in the 1950’s playing cool jazz. In the 1960’s he became a central figure in Bossa Nova and Brazilian jazz.

The above film clip is from a concert in California in 1983 featuring the Stan Getz Quartet: Getz on the saxophone, Victor Lewis on the drums, Mark Johnson on the piano and Jim McNeely on the piano. He won Grammys for both songs performed -- Desafinado and the Girl from Ipanema -- in the 1960’s.

You can see him here performing with John Coltrane.

When lazy thinkers apply the “lessons of Munich”

This week President Bush used the forum of the Israeli Knesset to attack Senator Obama’s foreign policy proposals regarding the greater use of diplomacy to resolve international conflicts and specifically those conflicts with Iran. Aside from the facts he felt he had to travel to another country to criticize the presumptive Democratic nominee for President and had nothing to show for his own policy of promoting conflict in the Middle East, he used the worn out cliché of the so-called lessons of the 1938 Munich Agreement as a reason to avoid diplomacy with enemies.

Neville Chamberlain, the U.K.’s Conservative Prime Minster from 1937 to 1940, attempted to negotiate a way out of what many saw as a growing threat of war with Germany. He was willing to purse peace at almost any cost. The British and other Europeans were very mindful of the horrors of the First World War that ended just two decades before. Following Germany’s annexation of Austria, British and French politicians agreed to Germany’s takeover of a portion of Czechoslovakia to keep the peace. The policy had widespread support and became known as appeasement. However, Hitler did not keep up his end of the deal and siezed the rest of Czechoslovakia. The British were forced to declare the war they hoped to avoid when the Germans later invaded Poland.

The “lessons” of Munich have not so much been learned as have become a simple minded slogan by those who oppose diplomacy at any cost. (Earlier this week a right-wing radio talk-show-host ranted on and on about appeasment and Munich on Hardball but didn’t have a clue as to what actually happened in 1938 other than it must have been something bad.) History must be our guide to the future but it is absolutely necessary to understand that few historical analogies are universal. Seeing every enemy or opponent as another Hitler is next to useless. It is critical to recognize false analogies. It is critical to understand what historical analogies apply to what situations. It is worth remembering that the flip side of “Munich” was 1914 when European nations did stand their ground and immediately went to war. The First World War (or, the Great War as it was known at the time) resulted in the slaughter of millions and laid the groundwork for the rise of Nazi Germany and other fascist movements across Europe.

The Munich analogy is dangerous in its haphazard use by lazy thinkers who have power. It’s time to give it a rest.

Matt Eckel of Foreign Policy Watch has these thoughts:

I would like to respectfully request that statesmen, political scientists, pundits and analysts the world over stop making historical analogies to the Munich conference, and to the supposed universal folly of "appeasement." Any benefits of Munich as an instructive historical precedent are now far outweighed by the analogy's power as an intellectually lazy rhetorical cudgel that is too often used to bludgeon any diplomatic initiatives that are, well, diplomatic. Not every autocratic country is Nazi Germany. Not every foreign dictator we don't like is Hitler. Not every threatening situation is most appropriately handled by eschewing diplomacy in favor of a "firm stance."

Please understand, I am not suggesting that thinkers and decision-makers stop allowing history to inform their judgement. Such a course would be asinie in the extreme. I would submit, though, that an oversimplified and overgeneralized reading of the events that immediately preceded the Second World War has haunted Western political elites for more than half a century. Aversion to "appeasement" among the post-war generation played a role in escalating the Cold War beyond any sane level, it played a role in America's tragic inability to rationally assess the situation in Vietnam, and in a more contemporary context, it played a central role in the thinking that led to the Iraq war, and is now informing those who would advocate the same in Iran. The "lessons of Munich" - that dictators must always be strongly opposed, that firey rhetoric must always be taken at face value, that diplomatic give-and-take is a fatal sign of weakness, that we must always be ready to fight to defend our perceived interests - obscure the reality of an international problem far more frequently than they illuminate it. Invoking such "lessons" unfairly paints those with different views as modern-day Chamberlains, unable to perceive the intractible perfidity of a determined enemy, and thus frames the debate in narrow and destructive terms wherein the only appropriate response to a problem is sanction and force, and all who think otherwise are weak, or cowardly, or both.

To bring things back to specifics, Iran is not Nazi Germany. Though the Iranian regime is anti-democratic, and espouses values that are indeed antithetical to those of the liberal West, the notion that Iranian armies and proxies are poised to make a genocidal sweep across the Middle East is absurd. Even the Iranian nuclear threat, though serious, shows every sign of being able to be contained with an intelligent deterrence policy (should things come to that). Iran does not have a particularly impressive industrial base. Its infrastructure is mediocre, its economy is sclerotic (propped up only by high oil prices), and its regime is unpopular. Even the outrageous statements about Israel made by President Ahmadinejad should be taken with a grain of salt, remembering that the Iranian President is not the head of state, and that he is actually at odds with much of Iran's clerical leaders.

Obama's willingness to talk with the Iranian leadership is not a sign of weakness or delusion. It is a sign that he understands that there are things we want from Iran (cooperation in Iraq, nuclear disarmament, reduced political and material support for Hamas and Hezbollah) and things Iran wants from us (a security guarantee, diplomatic relations, a lifting of sanctions, membership in the WTO), and that a deal might be possible that is more amenable to American interests than the current situation. Clear-headed strategic thinking is sorely needed among American leaders today. It is time to stop letting ideological blinders, reinforced by poor analysis and bad history, get in the way.

Lester Young: “Jammin’ the Blues” (1944)

Lester Willis Young (1909 – 1959) was an America jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He rose to prominence playing with Count Basie during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. He also played with a number of small bands.

He is remembered for playing with a cool tone and sophisticated harmonies. He also became a jazz legend, inventing or establishing much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with the music. He dressed distinctively, especially in his trademark pork pie hat. When he played saxophone, particularly in his younger days, he would sometimes hold the horn off to the right side at a near-horizontal angle, like a flute.

In August 1944, Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili’s film short Jammin' the Blues seen above.

In September 1944, Young was inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits, Young was put in the 'regular army' where he wasn't allowed to play his saxophone. Young was based in Ft. McClelland, Alabama when marijuana and alcohol were found among his possessions. The army also discovered that he was married to a white woman. Racist mistreatment followed and he was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945.

Young returned to music but alcohol took its toll over next several years. He died at age 49.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Are there just too many people for this planet?: Why we should be actively distributing and promoting the use of contraception

Overpopulation of humans has been has been a hot topic since Thomas Robert Malthus argued that the population will exceed the population’s resources and therefore a large segment of humanity will always be relegated to poverty. He argued that excessive population growth could only be checked by famine and war. His application of natural selection to the human species was a contributing factor in the popularity of the “survivor of the fittest” ideology known as Social Darwinism that gave rise to the concept and attempted practice of eugenics during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Malthus did not take into account the rise in living standards resulting from industrialization and later the green revolution. The planet can sustain far more people than Malthus ever imagined. Yet, there are legitimate concerns about limits of available food, water and living space that impacts on the quality of life for a constantly growing population. The heavy handed birth control policies of the Chinese government may have appeal to some but the punishments for pregnancy and forced abortions leads to a brutalization of the public by the authorities that simply is not acceptable. Rather, the world community – particularly the wealthier Western nations – should be distributing and promoting the use of contraception around the entire globe. People will act in their own self-interest if they have the means. “The funding for contraception aid has been stagnant for decades," says Robert Engleman of the Worldwatch Institute. We need to change this.

Johann Hari agrees. Here are his thoughts in The Independent:
… Every year, world population grows by 75 million people – equivalent to another Britain and Ireland whooshing fully-populated from the oceans. At the turn of the 18th century, there were 600 million people on earth. At the turn of this century, there were 6.6 billion. By the time I am in my sixties, there will be more than nine billion – at which point there will be more people alive simultaneously than in the first 17 centuries after Christ combined.

The overpopulation lobby say this will inevitably leave more and more people chasing after a diminishing amount of resources on an ecologically-ravaged planet. At their most pessimistic, they say human beings will, in the long sweep of planetary history, look like a big-brained version of a locust cloud. They eat everything in sight and multiply fifty-fold – until they have consumed everything, when they turn in desperation on each other, munch off their siblings' heads, and then fall out of the sky dead.

They say with a frown that this global swarming is driving global warming. How can you be prepared to cut back on your car emissions and your plane emissions but not on your baby emissions? Can you really celebrate the pitter-patter of tiny carbon-footprints?

Yet this subject seems to leech out all the dark toxins of environmentalism – a movement I believe is the most urgent and important in the world. There has always been an element of green thinking that viewed humans as a parasitic infestation, wrecking the Eden of planet earth. The philosopher John Gray calls our species "homo rapiens". The founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman, called us "Humanpox" and wrote: "The Aids epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population... If [it] didn't exist, radical environmentalists would have to invent [it]."

If environmentalism sounds – or is – misanthropic, we will lose the argument. Most human beings will never think the world would be better off without us. Nobody thinks they are the surplus human being who should not have been born. These strident arguments hand a huge gift to the anti-greens, who always said we were anti-human beneath the surface.

It also looks like displacement. The places where population is growing fastest – sub-Saharan Africa, rural China and Bangladesh – have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Cambodian woman would need to have 262 children. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?

Once this gut-reaction has kicked in, I then think of the horrible history of overpopulation predictions. Most famously, the 18th century demographer Thomas Malthus said mass starvation was inevitable because population increases geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. He didn't anticipate the coming of the Industrial Revolution. His successors in the 1960s, like Paul Ehrich and the Club of Rome, similarly didn't see the Green Revolution that was galloping around the corner of history.

So it is tempting to say now that the overpopulation argument will smack into some new technological development. It's not quite true to say there is a diminishing amount of resources, because the genius of human beings is to find new ways to use what is there. Two centuries ago, nobody could have conceived that the sun's rays or the waves in the ocean were a resource to be used – but solar and tidal power make it so.

And yet, and yet ... why do my own arguments leave me echoing with doubt? A dark voice in my head says: you would accept that, to pluck an absurd number, 100 billion people would be too many. You don't think human genius is infinitely expansive; there is a limit to what it can solve. So isn't the question just where you draw the line? If 100 billion is too much, why not nine billion?

Hmm. You should always take on the best arguments of your opponents, not the worst. There are good people – a world away from the British royals or the human-hating fringes – who are sincerely concerned about population levels: people like Professors Chris Rapley and John Guillebaud. They argue that although the swelling billions are not now emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, they will see that we are doing it and will (totally understandably) want to join in the carbon bonfire.

But if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn't abhorrent? Some people seem to reach instinctively for authoritarian answers. The government of China has bragged that its "greatest contribution" to the fight against global warming has been its policy of punishing, imprisoning or sterilising women who have more than one child. Some environmentalists – a small minority – eye this idea jealously.

There is a far better way – and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies – through contraception, abortion and general independence – they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries didn't want their last child, but didn't have the means to prevent it. We should be helping them by building a global anti-Vatican, distributing the pill and the words of Mary Wollstonecraft.

So after studying the evidence, I am left in a position I didn't expect. Yes, the argument about overpopulation is distasteful, often discussed inappropriately, and far from being a panacea-solution – but it can't be dismissed entirely. It will be easier for 6 billion people to cope on a heaving, boiling planet than for nine or 10 billion – and we will only get there by freeing women to make their own reproductive choices. To achieve this green goal, it's necessary to mix some oestrogen into the environmentalist palette.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The challenge for Obama is not the white working class but Appalachia

The recent conventional wisdom – promoted in no small way by the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton – is that Senator Barack Obama has a severe problem in attracting votes from the white working class in his bid for the Presidential nomination. It is a curious charge coming at this stage in the delegate selection process after Obama has won 32 of 49 contests to date. According to Jonathan Tilove, “…seven of the 10 whitest states in the nation have held their primaries or caucuses. The Illinois senator has won five and the New York senator two -- New Hampshire by an inch and now West Virginia by a country mile.” Senator Obama has won white working class and rural votes throughout the country.

However, Senator Obama did lose West Virginia by a landslide and struggled in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee and is not expected to do all that well in Kentucky next week. So what do these states have in common that sets them apart from the rest of the country? Appalachia.

Josh Marshall has this take on the vote:

There's been a lot of talk in this campaign about Barack Obama's problem with working class white voters or rural voters. But these claims are both inaccurate because they are incomplete. You can look at states like Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states and see the different numbers and they are all explained by one basic fact. Obama's problem isn't with white working class voters or rural voters. It's Appalachia. That explains why Obama had a difficult time in Ohio and Pennsylvania and why he's getting crushed in West Virginia and Kentucky.

If it were just a matter of rural voters or the white working class, the pattern would show up in other regions. But by and large it does not.

In so many words, Pennsylvania and Ohio have big chunks of Appalachia within their borders. But those regions are heavily offset by non-Appalachian sections that are cultural and demographically distinct. West Virginia is 100% Appalachian. If you look at southeastern Ohio or the middle chunk of Pennsylvania, Obama did about the same as he's doing tonight in West Virginia.


So what is it about this region?

Let me offer a series of overlapping explanations. First, some basic demographics. It's widely accepted that Hillary Clinton does better with older voters, less educated voters and white voters. These demographics perfectly match West Virginia -- and, more loosely, the entire Appalachian region. A few key points from tonight's exit polls demonstrate the point: 4 out of 10 voters were over 60 years of age. 7 out of 10 lacked a college degree -- the highest proportion of any electorate in the country. And 95% of the electorate was white.

Basically you have a state that is made up almost exclusively of Clinton's voters. But there's a deeper historical explanation that we have to apply as well -- one nicely illustrated by the origins of West Virginia itself.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, in the middle Atlantic and particularly in the Southern states, there was a long-standing cleavage between the coastal and 'piedmont' regions on the one hand and the upcountry areas to the west on the other. It's really the coastal lowlands and the Appalachian districts. On the other side of the Appalachian mountain range the pattern is flipped, with the Appalachians in the east and the lowlands in the west.

These regions were settled disproportionately by Scots-Irish immigrants who pushed into the hill country to the west in part because that's where the affordable land was but also because they wanted to get away from the more stratified and inegalitarian society of the east which was built by English settlers and their African slaves. Crucially, slavery never really took root in these areas. And this is why during the Civil War, Unionism (as in support for the federal union and opposition to the treason of secession) ran strong through the Appalachian upcountry, even into Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi.

As I alluded to earlier, this was the origin of West Virginia, which was originally the westernmost part of Virginia. The anti-slavery, anti-slaveholding upcountry seceded from Virginia to remain in the Union after Virginia seceded from the Union. Each of these regions was fiercely anti-Slavery. And most ended up raising regiments that fought in the Union Army. But they were as anti-slave as they were anti-slavery, both of which they viewed as the linchpins of the aristocratic and inegalitarian society they loathed. It was a society that was both more violent and more self-reliant.

This is history. But it shapes the region. It's overwhelmingly white, economically underdeveloped (another legacy of the pre-civil war pattern) and arguably because of that underdevelopment has very low education rates and disproportionately old populations.

For all these reasons, if you're familiar with the history, it's really no surprise that Barack Obama would have a very hard time running in this region.

Of course, these are primaries – Democrat v. Democrat – where the differences between candidates are not so much on ideas but style and skin color. The dynamics of this vote will change for the general election when ideology will take on far greater importance. How much this will change is the big question.

We are all interracial

The United States is about to elect to the Presidency for the first time the son of an interracial marriage. His parents were of the same generation as Mildred and Richard Loving whose interracial marriage was the subject of a successful legal challenge to this nation’s anti-miscegenation laws. (Mildred Loving passed away this past week.)

Brent Staples has this interesting piece below in today’s New York Times. He examines the mixed race community in Culpepper County, Virginia where the Lovings resided. The point here is the history of relationships between people of different races, particularly in areas where racial segregation was the law and allegedly the custom, were far more complex than many of us appreciate.


Americans born in the 21st century will shake their heads in disbelief on learning that 40 states once had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The Supreme Court struck down the last of these statutes in the 1967 case of Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man who were arrested and banished from Virginia for the crime of being married.

The couple became celebrities after the landmark ruling known as Loving v. Virginia. But Mildred and Richard wanted nothing to do with fame. They returned to the tiny, backwoods community of Central Point, in Caroline County, Va., and shunned publicity. Richard died of injuries sustained in a car accident in 1975. Mildred, who died this month, was quiet and self-effacing and maintained all along that they married because they were in love, not to fight a civil rights battle.

The particulars of the case — which featured a stereotypical Southern sheriff and a medieval system of laws — turned Caroline County into an emblem of blunt-force segregation. But the story was more complicated.

Like many rural areas in the Jim Crow South, Caroline County was governed by two competing racial ideologies. The impulse toward segregation was of course etched in law. But Central Point, which had been a visibly mixed-race community since the 19th century, was home to a secret but paradoxically open interracialism. The community’s story goes a long way toward explaining how the Lovings thought about race and why they behaved as they did.

Virginia slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson, were notorious for fathering children with their slaves. The 19th-century diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut could easily have been speaking of Caroline County planters when she wrote: “Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children.”

Many of the mixed-race men and women in Caroline County settled in and around Central Point. They were already thriving by the early 20th century. Their church, St. Stephen’s Baptist, was, as one historian noted, “the largest and most costly house of worship in Caroline, white or colored.” People in the congregation and community were “as a whole, very nearly white,” the historian wrote, “and, out of their community, could not be recognized or distinguished as colored people.”

Inside Caroline County, Virginia’s strict laws on segregation applied. But when they ventured beyond Caroline County — where no one knew them — many of Central Point’s residents found it a simple matter to “pass” as white. They visited white-only movie houses and restaurants. They also served in all-white units of the segregated Army during World War II.

The community developed a system for protecting the racial identities of Central Pointers who moved away and married into white families. When they took their white relatives back with them to visit, their younger brothers and sisters, who attended the colored school, just stayed home. This was well known to the teachers at the school, who apparently accepted the absences without question.

The state officials who enforced segregation were clearly aware of what Central Point’s residents were up to and tried to stop it. They circulated lists of families described as descendants of black people. For a time, the state “corrected” birth certificates to note the “real” race of the bearer. It didn’t change things much in Central Point.

By the time that Richard and Mildred had begun to date in the 1950s, they had lived their whole lives in a community that had made an art form of evading Jim Crow restrictions on relationships.

Some accounts suggest that Central Point already had many other interracial unions — both legal and common law. So why were Mildred and Richard singled out for arrest? It is possible that someone who held a grudge against the couple complained to the sheriff. Such a complaint could have come from one of the local white men who had taken a black lover and used the law as an excuse not to marry.

The Supreme Court ruling underscored the stupidity and unfairness of segregation. And the case drew back the curtain on the secret history of race in the South. But for Mildred and Richard this struggle was not about changing the world. It was about fighting for the right to be married to one another and then returning to the community that was their home.

Of course, it is worth remembering that race is a social construct – it is not based on biology. We used descriptive terms based on color – black, white, brown, red and yellow – that imply sharp differences. However, the reality is we are all simply various shades of brown. It is also the reality that our ancient ancestors produced for us a common genetic pool that is quite diverse. We are all interracial.