Posts tagged ‘McCain’

Monday, May 9, 2011

Assange: through the Course of his Work

I had some discussions with Ned, a Catholic blogger from Australia, in 2008 / 2009, during the American presidential election campaign, and the early days of Barack Obama‘s presidency. This short thread is the only one I can find right now – either way, Ned distrusted Obama’s liberal-asshole background (this is a more complex issue than you might think; he was by no means in love with GWB, Palin, or Limbaugh either), and he distrusted what he referred to as Obama’s messiahdom.

His objections to the hype (that’s how I understand the messiah referral) was something I could always relate to, even though I still believe that America had a choice between two good candidates in 2008  – John McCain and Barack Obama -, and chose the better one of the two, the one who focused on rebuilding America, rather than the world.

But if that hpye angered Ned, why is he silent now, as one of his very Australian compatriots, Julian Assange, has become the global hero?

Julian Assange: some insight

Julian Assange: some insight (click on this picture for video)

Assange was interviewed by Russia Today‘s (RT) Laura Emmett earlier this month, and her introductory remark and question seem to be  ideal characteristics of an interview with a hyped personality:

Julian, thanks for talking to RT. Now, through the course of your work, it’s reasonable to assume that you have some insight into how political decisions are being made. What do you make of the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. Do you think that we are seeing genuine social unrest, or are we seeing some kind of orchestrated revolt? And if so, who do you think is behind all this?

Why should Assange have particular insight into how political decisions are made – except for decisions he participates in? He knows how to shed light on confidential “cables”, and he may be called an IT expert. And if I had a chat with someone in a pub and got to hear views like his, I’d think that this is an unusually informed and observing contemporary. But that would be that. I wouldn’t think for a moment that he’d have particular insights into political decision-making, simply because what he says.

That’s not to say that the interview wouldn’t worth to be listened to. From 1’50”, Assange discusses “social networking”, and here, he is involved and both knows more than most people you could ask, and is prepared to say things that many other knowledgeable people wouldn’t be prepared to say.

When listening very closely to Assange’s answer to Emmett’s question – if the UK were still a haven for terrorists (3’10”) -, I seem to understand that Assange believes that it may still be a haven for terrorists. But it’s a quickly-mumbled reply, and he immediately switches to more exhaustive remarks about the UK’s role as a haven for oligarchs and former regime dictators.

Emmett’s next question is about why Wikileaks released Guantanamo information now – is it because Obama has recently announced his re-election campaign, and obviously, closing Guantanamo was one of his main election promises?

Seems that Emmett’s previous question about the UK’s role as a safe haven for terrorism wasn’t that important after all. What really matters is that Obama has “given up on closing Guantanamo”. The reporter is doing little more than throwing in cues for Assange. Many “mainstream media” people would do a better job in quizzing their respondents.

To be fair, the video is edited – from 40 to only 13 minutes. But in short, the only reason to watch the video is that it offers information you may not get elsewhere. If the Guardian (5’59”) sucks, Russia Today sucks even more. Mind you – the Guardian has, according to Assange, reduced the information provided by Wikileaks, beyond the reductions both sides had previously agreed to. The paper has, however, gone far beyond what Russia Today would ever dare, or ever want to do in publishing confidential information.

Mr Ed wants to share this farm's secrets with you

You can look - but you may still be clueless (click on this photo, if you like)

Confidentiality isn’t merely a tool to keep “common people” uninformed – and it isn’t meant to be such a tool in the first place. The intended structure is that members of the government’s executive branch can expect that they can discuss sensitive issues, such as how to deal with a representative of a foreign state, without having to expect that next time they meet that very representative, he will know exactly how they are viewing him – or his intentions. Another aspect of that structure is that democratically-elected members of  parliamentary committees will scrutinize the government’s work and documents – confidential ones included.

Every company of any size has the right to develop strategies without making them public – and every such company will still face some – select – scrutiny. Think of the fiscal authorities. But confidential material only needs to become a public matter when it constitutes an offense. In my humble profession, too, I have the right to talk with one, two, or several colleagues at the same time, to choose my interlocutors carefully, and I’m not obliged to reveal everything we’ve talked about to others. Such rights to confidentiality, too, are limited to what is legal, or in accordance with the rules of procedure. Some confidentiality is essential for decision-making.

Nobody knows the standards by which Wikileaks itself publishes the material it gains from its sources. Wikileaks accounts neither to the authors of its sources, nor to the public. And Wikileaks fans don’t seem to have a problem with that. They let explanations like these suffice:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in the leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaptation.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

But it isn’t the world’s most secretive organizations whose members will be prepared to “leak” information. Don’t hold your breath for leaks from the Chinese bureaucracy, or even from Russia’s. Either members will either be to concerned for their own safety, or too patriotic to leak anything.

Let’s get back to Obama…

There were many reasons as to why he was frequently given messiah-like treatment (hosanna one day one, crucify-that-loser on day 300 (give it a few hundred days either way), and currently he’s-cool-he-caught-Osama). When people believe that a single person or party can solve their problems, they are most probably lazy. If Obama will take care of all that undefined stuff, and we will have full employment, public happiness, or whatever within four years. Be prepared to cry.

Or Assange will take care of all that stuff, and every government will be held accountable. The problem is: everyone who reads easily accessible sources – papers, online articles, and – even if only once a year – a carefully-chosen non-fictional book, will be better informed than anyone who would care to work his way through every damned cable that has been published by Wikileaks since last year. There is no shortcut to a society that holds its government – and its corporations – accountable. It takes more than Assange’s work. And while Obama’s performance does play a certain role after all, Assange’s doesn’t.

Most European societies, plus American society, plus many more around the globe, offer the conditions it takes to be judgmental, and to act in accordance with ones judgment.

Wikileaks is doing more damage than good to such an environment. There is no shortcut to individual judgment. Only the ability to judge, and to act, can hold bureaucracies accountable.

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Related
Guantanamo Files, Wikileaks, ca. April 24, 2011

Thursday, February 5, 2009

JR’s Global Obamameter

Global Obama Meter

Global Obama Meter: 8

All India Radio‘s daily commentary which can count as semi-official was all praise on Saturday. Even though it “may or may not be so” that the government in New Delhi had neglected relations with the US Democrats before Obama’s election, the auspices for India-US relations – an Obama statement on India’s Republic Day – were looking good, noted All India Radio. There are great expectations, as everywhere:

[…..] Given the new wave of optimism set off by president Obama, a turnaround of the economy is what the world yearns for. India is fortunately not so badly hit by the economic downturn, yet fears about taking away jobs outsourced to it, after Obama’s remarks in this regard during his election campaign, haunt Indian outsourcing industry. Hauling back these jobs will indeed escalate their costs once they are given back to Americans. And thus, this has to be accounted for by the U.S., though Mr Obama is committed to create more jobs for young Americans. It was George Bush who, at the time of giving his notch to the civilian nuclear deal with India, hoped to invest the proceeds brought by it from India, through fuel supply and building reactors, for creating jobs in America. And at the time of signing this deal it was hoped in India that technology will flow from the U.S. to India in other fields too. […..]

All India’s Radio’s commentary draws to its close with a not-too-subtle sales argument:

Obviously technology-rich U.S. can bank more onto its transfer into right hands in India. […..]

The Voice of Russia had Eric S. Rubin, the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission, as a guest on its Timelines program on Sunday. “Guest status” describes it better than “interview”, as it was mostly a well-behaved chitchat about change, about when Obama might be expected for a state visit in Moscow or Medvedev in Washington D.C. respectively.

Maybe the most notable exchange of lines between the host (Estelle Winters) and Rubin was this:

Rubin: The number of Americans studying Russian has declined over the past ten years, and that’s unfortunate…

Winters: Oh, have they?

Rubin: … and partly that’s a reflection of interest in other languages like Chinese, partly its a reflection of the fact that American students don’t study foreign languages enough because English is a global language, and they are, frankly, sometimes lazy.

Radio Damascus had a commentary on America’s new president on Tuesday which was barely audible, but probably less enthusiastic than All India Radio or the Voice of Russia.

FOARP draws our attention to an also less favorable voice from China – Wang Xiaodong (王小东), the author of China can say No.

Another less Obama-friendly voice comes from Australia.

However, none of the latter two should be considered indicative.

On a scale from 10 (excellent) to 3 (Dubya’s Pub), JR’s Global Obamameter stands at 8. If it should reach 2 or 1, that would mean that Mr Obama is not popular with the global media or public.

He’s already not popular with Senator McCain. But that’s a domestic issue.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Expectations

Europe has praise and great expectations for Barack Obama’s administration, reports the VoA’s London correspondent. Nobody more than Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s slightly hysterical president:

“We are anxious to see him get to work so we can change the world with him.”

A bit more understatement might be in order. In the first place, the new administration needs to reform America and restore its confidence in itself. If there is some time left besides, America’s new president can still help changing the world. The Economist of January 17 already sounds some notes of caution, like this one:

[Mr Bush, in 2000] presented himself as a centrist – a new kind of “compassionate conservative”, a “uniter rather than a divider”, an advocate of a “humble” and restrained foreign policy. The Economist liked this mixture enough to endorse him in 2000. — printed ed., Jan. 17 2009, page 23

And late in 2008, the Economist endorsed Barack Obama.

For everyone going overboard with enthusiasm now, this is essential food for thought. You see, if even the Economist, first published in September 1843 to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress can err that profoundly, so can an electorate, and any public.

For sure, Barack Obama has the makings to become a great president. But Europe’s stark enthusiasm will probably cool down much faster than America’s.

And that’s only natural. Americans will care most about rebuilding America itself, and they probably see the gravity of the situation. European’s expectations, as so aptly expressed by Sarkozy, are about “changing the world” with America. About foreign affairs, that is.

But there will be more change within America than in its foreign policies.

Obama may be less keen on building a “League of Democracies” than Robert Kagan, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor. Obama will also be more careful not to offend anyone without need than his predecessor.
But New York Times columnist T. Friedman put things into perspective in November: “
The minute Obama has to exercise U.S. military power somewhere in the world, you can be sure that he will get blowback.” Much of the current neocon relativism looks like wishful thinking – Krauthammer’s view that Obama is vindicating Bush is probably out of proportions, but so are Europe’s expectations.

Maybe this piece by the Economist again puts the beginnings of America’s new foreign policy approach best:

[Obama] needs to explain that, although his America will respect human rights and pay more heed to the advice of others, it will not be a pushover: he must avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter, a moralising president who made the superpower look weak. — printed ed., Nov. 8 2008, p. 14

Let’s hope that Nicolas Sarkozy has some really cool and precise plans. America got more real again during the past three or four years, concerning global politics. Now it’s Europe’s turn to get real, too. That could really be the beginning of a renewed, wonderful trans-atlantic partnership.

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Related: Barack Obama – a choice out of fear and hope, Nov. 5, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama – A Choice out of Fear and Hope

In early summer, I thought that if the Americans were afraid, they would choose Senator McCain, and if they were confident, they’d choose Obama. Now Obama has won the presidential elections, and the reasons for his victory are probably much more mixed – a combination of both fears and hopes.

We’ll never know how things might have been if the financial crisis had struck shortly after the presidential elections. But it’s probably fair to say that Senator McCain’s chances to win the presidency would have been much greater if it hadn’t happened in September.

President Ronald Reagan probably didn’t win two terms in office because most Americans (or even just a majority of those who casted their vote at all) were in love with America’s or the global financial system. But as long as it seemed to work, there weren’t too many people who’d fundamentally question Reaganomics either. Even in 2004, social injustices suffered by millions of Americans wouldn’t weigh as heavily as the fear of getting hit by a hijacked airplane. This time, the possibility of foreclosures, job loss (and loss of health insurance along with it), and probably the chance that America could lose its global standing looked far more real than four years ago.

So it looks to me like if most or many of the elders and middle-aged who have chosen Senator Obama last night did so out of fear, rather than out of hope.

But last night, when Obama got ahead in the first battleground states, dreams and realities started to merge for a while. It had been a long way coming, and the way a relative outsider had his way against the “Clinton machine” a few months ago had been spectacular already. And last night, many Obama’s supporters reaped their success, after many months of active support. Just as they had made his nomination possible, they went to the polls yesterday and put their final seal to an orderly and proud revolution. It’s hard to see any other president-elect in history who could tell his supporters with as much reason as Obama did that last night: I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to — it belongs to you.

Now begins the delicate phase where a revolution ends and where government gets started. Will Obama govern from the middle?

Maybe this depends on from the middle is now. It isn’t where it was before the financial crash. What would amount to a “radical approach”? If health insurance for every American is radical, it should be radical government. There is a Democratic majority that probably allows for that (if the Obama administration handles things right), and the least most of Obama’s active supporters – those who spent as citizens, not as corporations or lobbyists – will expect nothing less than health insurance for everyone who wants to have it.

Then there is the question if reforms in health care or education should be financed by re-shifting the budget, or by fiscal policies, or by more deficit spending.

In the short run, it may be a mixture of all these measures. And here, factors outside America come into play, too. Will countries like China or Japan back more American deficit spending if they consider it a good investment? *)  Would quality education and a more competitive American economy be in the interests of investors from the Far East and elsewhere in the world? Would the right political projects make America increase America’s creditworthiness? That could be the case, if all that matters is a medium-term return on investment. In China’s case however, strategic considerations may still make China’s stakeholders say No, even if a Yes would make economic sense – because China’s political leadership will have the last say there, and a reinvigorated American society may not be in its interest. After all, in their books, this should become the Chinese Century.

Then there are the tools of reshifting the budget, and fiscal policies. Heated negotiations within NATO  (and a quick end to exaggerated European expectations to America’s new leadership) will be inevitable, if the new administration wants to save on military spending, and its allies to do their part. Europe’s own military spending, absolutely and proportionally, is much smaller than America’s so far. And for obama’s fiscal policies, there are already gridlines of orientation for what to expect.

Governing from the middle may be a good roadmap for America. It will just depend on where the middle is. It isn’t where it was when Bill Clinton took office in 1993. That’s pretty sure.

________

*) I chose a definition of the term investment which is probably unscientifically broad (my apologies to Hermit). What I want to say when using it is that there are foreign stakes in the American choices, too, and that they are both about global business and global politics.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Brookings: The Political Geography of America’s Purple States

Fractions and decimals of swing counties and swing states have become the nightmares of foreign correspondents like the BBC’s Matt Frei, but for anyone without an overdose of it, here they are:

“Five Trends that will Decide the 2008 Election.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Governor Palin “Going Rogue”?

going rogue?

going rogue?

All or most of those who speak about alleged rising tensions within the McCain / Palin campaign seem to be doing so anonymously. But the stories look credible. If the campaign goes wrong, Palin will make a great scapegoat. She has blundered before, and critical self-assassment and re-adjustment are hardly her greatest strenghts.

That said, she would still be a scapegoat. After all, it was Senator McCain who thought that she was a great choice, and if the Karl-Rove style mudslinging machinery had got the same attention as it did in 2004, Palin might have worked just as fine as people of her kind did four years ago. She’s spiteful and getting uglier one day at a time, but she’s by no means the only person to be blamed for a Republican campaign that appears to be on the brink of failure.

The Republicans haven’t addressed the issues. They haven’t done that four years ago either. But four years ago, it was enough for the Republicans to frown and to say things like Our security is too important to be left to Liberals. This time, the voters are very well aware that their vote could make a real difference for America’s future. The economy? Don’t ask Senator McCain. He will work on an honorable exit strategy for Iraq, and if that works, America will be fine (if you want to believe him).

And Palin does work fine on the mood of the desperate housewives standing behind her with angry and jerking faces. Tell ’em, Sarah, they seem to mutter. But tell em what? Telling em that Obama is “hanging out with terrorists”? Give me a break. Then again, it fits into a dirty machinery of the established Karl-Rove style. One would have wished that this campaign had been a bit more decent than that.

Those aides who are handling Governor Palin apparently haven’t told her to shut up about Senator Obama’s integrity, even though discussions about integrity “issues” are usually nothing else than hypicrite attempts to sling mud and look decent while doing it. Apparently, the handlers only became alarmed when Governor Palin called the use of robo calls “irritating”, and seemed to (you can often not be sure what she really means) disagree with the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan.

In short, Governor Palin was a bad choice. But she was Senator McCain’s choice. All you can blame her for is that she didn’t say “No” when she was asked to be candidate for Vice President.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arianna Huffington overestimates the Internet

No, I’m no internet expert, and maybe the internet has really picked up enormously within the past four years. But I don’t think that it is that much thanks to YouTube — and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails — (that) it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed.

Voters are much more preocupied with real issues than with “character issues” (usually not real issues, but artificial triggers for smear campaigns). Even if the Rove machinery is working at full speed, it isn’t as efficient as before, because people don’t really listen to it – not because they are listening that much closer to the internet.

Why does Huffington believe that it is the media, rather than the actual events that make this campaign that much different from the previous one?

Maybe the answer is in this line of her post: Back in the Dark Ages of 2004, when YouTube (and HuffPost, for that matter) didn’t exist, a campaign could tell a brazen lie, and the media might call them on it.

Nothing against HuffPost. But this is a misoverestimation, Ms Huffington.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Respect

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

Colin Powell, Meet the Press, October 19, 2008

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